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The Big Change

Mircea MALIȚA

Whatever the mix in the third scenario, the seed of the Big Change has been sown and it will feed the generations to come. The advantage of futurologists, who do not measure history in days and years, but in decades and centuries, is that, much as immediate reality contradicts them, they will remain optimistic.

I invite my young interlocutor to take a seat next to me and to agree to work with me towards outlining a foresight analysis of the world that will come to be in the forthcoming years. We agree to draw it up not as an essay, but as an endeavour as scientific as the current status of futures studies allows. In other words: facts, not speculations. Should it adopt the Ame­ricans’ trend-based style? Not really, because the crisis has brought down all statistics, and a predictable trend is hard to pick out. Too much confusion to look for trends. The Europeans’ “scenario-based” method would be more suitable. We describe possible scenarios and then weigh their likelihood.
For which period? A lot has been written about 2020, but it is too close. Generations nowadays change every 25-30 years. In 2020 my friend will be a grownup, with family and children, so there will be three successive “consensual” generations around the table—a formula able to see projects though. So he will be interested in what he does in his first decade of full-fledged maturity. In light of what we have said about the dual spiral of learning and work, his factsheet includes the following data: born in 1986, begins active life in 2002, undergoes training or retraining in 2009, halfway through active life too much. We can assume that by that time he will have changed professions three times (roughly) and will have completed 6-8 retraining sessions, according to lifelong learning standards.
Before outlining the world and society he will be living in, we need to take a brief look at how they are today. What could make for an encouraging and at times brilliant starting point?
At first sight, today the world can take pride in:
The progress of science and technological innovation;
Instant communication networks around the globe and widespread computer use;
Top-level joint projects in exploring the cosmic space, in biology and healthcare. Approach of global issues that bring together vital topics for mankind.
Negative features include:
Gaps and divides between countries, societies and regions in terms of development stage, with incredible poverty rates for one-quarter of all people.
Large number of bloody conflicts, of protracted disputes, global, local and individual insecurity;
Disease and epidemics, scarce protection against natural and man-made disasters.
An observer of Sirius, of Voltaire, would wonder how the same human mind can produce so different things. What kind of mind is that, which lights the path towards knowledge, to then hinder it? We had talked about it extensively, so now we could begin the foresight analysis, from accepting this tragic duality. We were aware that when the mind is sick, the world is sick. Amid confusion, there emerges exacerbation, followed by fraud and violence. Homo Sapiens lives with Homo Fraudens. Both are subject to study. Exacerbation and then manipulation of individua­lism is a datum as well. Just as the wisdom, reason and intelligence of certain minds can coun­ter the damages caused by the disturbed ones. Because of these, the world is rather disarticulated. In spite of the integrative processes that we have closely completed, harmony is ruined by the dissonance of splinter groups. The opposition and tension between two trends is so deep, that we may wonder whether integration vs. splintering will be the core topic of concern in the coming decades. The fate of “mankind’s all-encompassing family” and the “strengthening of its survival strategies” will very likely depend on such a “war of the roses,” as a famous dynastic civil conflict in England’s history was dubbed.
But this is about more than just an opposition. It seems that all myths have converged to fight against realism, that all pairs of opposites—civilisation/cultures, knowledge/beliefs, func­tion/struc­ture, whole/part—and that all the inseparable opposites that we have studied are about to explode, engaged as they are in a decisive clash.
The aforesaid phenomenon may well have been triggered by an unexpected and serious development. It is the global economic and political crisis. It has cracked through the system, exposing its components: structures, mechanisms, bodies that tick or stop ticking, that work or collapse. The same crisis indicates which the top priorities are.
We will start off with the Success Scenario, written for mankind, but read in the personal interest of the young co-author who thinks about the path he may take in the turmoil typical to crises and transitions.
Succes

Experts converge in stating that the global economic crisis can be overcome, and will be in the foreseeable future, which is certainly sooner than 2030 (let’s say, 2020). In any case, the crisis will be over in the period under analysis in our scenario.  
In early 2009, we may see a climate that favours international cooperation, which every­body regards as a prerequisite for resolving the crisis. The signals so far, with natural reserves and nuances, give us reason to hope that this climate will strengthen. It may prove able to also favour the settlement of the political crisis, which covers a plethora of dysfunctions of the inter­national system, including current or potential conflicts. (Each assessment draws on official relea­ses, texts, statements and tentative diplo­matic steps).
The most important conversion of the enhanced confidence climate (or gradual easing of tensions) would consist in targeting a more ambitious goal: conciliation among the great powers. It is not the first time when global peace depends on their relations. When these relations were good, their cooperation managed to hinder hege­monic or imperialistic ambitions or the temp­tation of conquering and occupying territories, and to settle a number of economic interests. Naturally, when emphasising the role of the great powers in the fate of mankind, we do not overlook the contribution by other, small or medium-sized countries or of regional groups to the wellbeing of the system as a whole. The fact that, while retaining their leadership, the great powers broaden the scope of their partnerships, as it happened with the G20 London summit in April 2009, indicates that the change in the world’s power configuration is a perceived pheno­menon, subject to negotiations and discussion.
A number of summit meetings (concerning the crisis, more or less) will bring together these days the main powers: USA, China, Europe and Russia, all of which have a privileged position in the UN Security Council. During this period, Europe will probably have one voice. Other continental powers, such as Brazil, India or Japan will be given a role as well, as observers and special guests.
Disarmament will likely be the top priority among political problems. As we have seen more than once, an integrative project starts from approaching a technical topic, as a first step. Disarmament existed on the agenda, but it was unilaterally taken out by Bush. So resuming it would be an easy initiative. And it is a negotiable topic, at a time when weapons have grown into a costly burden for the states, and their effec­tiveness is questioned.
Discussing disarmament leads to tackling the issue of global security and of the most serious threat for the world: nuclear weapons. This latter topic, which is over half a century old, has never had adequate solutions and has never stopped deepening. Today, it is on the unwritten agenda on summit meetings again.
Hardly do great powers convene, that they renew their non-belligerence declarations. And they make new commitments, as required by the new circumstances and possible changes. Although tense, the relations between the USA and USSR ruled out the option of a nuclear conflict or even of a conventional one, which could have escalated for decades. A topic that emerged towards the end of the Cold War was that of parties undertaking not to make use of other states’ domestic problems in order to further their own interests or to weaken those states’ international position. As the great powers undertake to guarantee peace in the world, the first natural step is for them to rule out any prospects of conflicts between them.
If the political agenda is broadened to gradually include more dynamic aspects, one of these is trickier: the issue of spheres of influence, dependence or domination. Always put forward for reasons of state security, the issue has been closely tied to the development and politics of great powers. Even so, international relations methods and futurologists’ imagination do not shy from looking for solutions. Why couldn’t the solution be a broader trend, that also includes the great powers, a trend aimed at renewing and developing good neighbourhood policies? All states would want not to have enemies at their borders, and a sure way to achieve that is to build mutual good neighbour­hood relations. This solution may have such a substantial echo in all states, large or small, that the project may be named for history: Peace of the neighbours.
The same series of peace and security issues includes one more aspect. As we remember, since World War 2 major efforts have been made to uphold a stable peace regime. Two key elements converged here: norms (obligations of states, the commitment not to resort to force and the other provisions in the UN Charter) and the (UN) institution itself, through which member states were bound to contribute to suppressing aggressors through the collective security mechanism. It is the same principle that NATO is based on: conflict with one member is conflict with all members. The system did not work because of disagreements between great powers, norms were no longer complied with, and the institution has weakened steadily. They say that in 50 years, an institution is to such an extent undermined by either corruption or bureaucracy, that it loses its relevance. It may be refurbished or replaced. This question is considered in the UN, and there are many voices in favour of an overhaul. How will the great powers feel about this, when the topic reaches the UN agenda? The attempts made over the past few years failed, because of their disagreement. But once they get accustomed to solving even more difficult problems, won’t they be able to find an acceptable formula? Architectural solutions already exist, and historical monumental buildings may be restored to fresh use.
Since the international state system is under discussion, and the crisis forced states to analyse the international economic and financial institutions, then all prerequisites are met to respond to the advent of globality, which will have proper norms and institutions. In a Success scenario, it will be worthy of its name, as gradual changes will have been completed, that will replace the fragmented and mistimed international system of states and institutions with a global system broadened to include multiple non-state agents.
We have insisted above on topics related to the civilisation, rescue and promotion of mankind. And since civilisation relies on science and technology, supported by economy and knowledge society, the new global configuration of peace is expected to invite international projects that are now awaiting their sponsors. They are not only grand, but also feasible. Bridges across straits, artificial islands, enlargement of those islands that are too small, railway construction, anti-desertification measures, food and water projects. These decades will be probably dubbed The Age of Macroprojects.
But the influence may be mutual. Power or healthcare breakthroughs are able to produce such shocks, that their application in daily life may generate significant changes in the political, economic and social arena.
 The peace climate established by political and diplomatic means will give new chances to cultures and their indisputable right to diversity. Science will have its reinforced role, but cultures too will be invited to display and communicate their distinctive features. This broad horizon will help weaken (or fully prevent) the hijacking of culture and their manipulation in vicious and criminal power games. The rebirth of a Baghdad that for 5 centuries was at the heart of the world, is awaiting its players, driven away by tribes and clans. Many peoples want to use this opportunity to remind the world that they, too, had contributed to mankind’s common heritage.
 The impact of global peace of civilisation and cultures reminds the young that the former offers them roles, and the latter—identity. In this scenario, roles will be largely multiplied. Futures studies already announce new professions. The chances of getting a job also improve. The role-induced dignity of one’s social position is also enhanced.
The status offered by culture to an individual is defined by one’s identity. It is inborn, encoded in one’s mother tongue, belongs to an extended family (in space and time). One acquires traditions, skills, interests specific to one’s identity and, more importantly, according to modern psychology and biology, one builds a specific form of one’s mind based on the pattern of the environment one has lived in since early childhood. We may talk about the special case of multiple identities (mixed families, emigrants, foreign students, etc), but the youth know that there is nothing as steady and as resilient as national identity. A Latin proverb says, Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurrit (you may drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she will keep coming back). Experience proves that identity contributes to self-respect and to “aiming high.” Proof of this is the impulsiveness that leads to myth and violence, war and destruction. At Bach’s well-tempered clavier, identity is a heart that beats constantly, generating affirmation and creation.
Thoughts between scenarios

As regards the Success scenario, there is a notable politician who has won over the people in his country and abroad: Barack Obama. His active presence in the global anti-crisis campaign links him to this scenario, as well as the fact that, in doing so, he launched most of the post-crisis topics. In his contacts during this period (he took over the US presidency shortly after the crisis broke out) he uses the cooperation and confi­dence periods in order to launch future projects addressing the political crisis. With Russia he voices openness to disarmament negotiations, in the Carribeans he speaks about “good neighbourhood” in Latin America’s foreign and regional relations, he extends a hand to the other great powers, and then to the states engaged in conflicts and which, in some cases, are on the other side of the barricade than the US. He upholds the role of political and diplomatic means to find solutions, rejects Bush’s unilateralism, but embraces no other doctrine, so as not to restrict his freedom of choice, he acknowledges one identity alone—that of American citizen, and the status of watching out for the interests of his country. Meanwhile, he outlines peace and prosperity goals for mankind as a whole, peaceful relations and, more importantly, he looks for cooperation partners everywhere.
There is yet another reason why we mention him. In the beginning of our futures exercise, we mentioned studies of the human mind, as it reflects on societies and history. And Obama is relevant for the potential of human mind to provide wisdom (as a strategist), reason (as a tactician), and intelligence (imagination and innovation). Whoever reads his two-volume autobiography, about 4-5 books written about him, his 4 influential addresses and some of his press conferences or public speeches, needs no further proof of the power of his mind. Also worth mentioning is the steadiness with which he has developed as a supporter for the “insulted and humiliated”, as Dostoyevsky would put it, for the under-privileged, for the basis of the society. There has been another president who meant to reach out to the “bottom of the pyramid” (Roosevelt). Apparently, with every step of his rise, he reached the conclusion that only those who hold power can address the problems of this category. At an international level, he plans to restore the leadership (rather than hegemony) of the USA, reflecting in the establishment of a community tied by shared goals. They say that during his campaign, while in a black community, Obama borrowed the style of religious meetings, with questions answered collectively. He asked, “Will you come and change America?” “We will,” came the answer. After several questions, he asked an unexpected one: “Will you come and change the world?” Baffled at the scope of the task, the public shouted, nonetheless, ”We will”.
Obama devoted his presidency years to bringing change, at home and abroad. This is why we may refer to him as a core chance for meeting the objectives in the first half of the Success stage.     
Failure

This scenario consists, in part, in the failing of the success scenario. There are factors that need considering, and that incessantly and deliberately work to destroy Scenario no. 1. This is more than mere speculation based on the experience that any change is countered by a “counter-reform”. We see a movement emerging, of those who feel threatened by the reshaping of the world system. First of all, it is those who see a decrease in their ability to “rig,” “manipulate,” or “influence” others. Then there are many scholars who put on the veil of innocence when discussing the crisis, but forget that they had put together subtle methods to facilitate fraud, either by complicity or collusion. And there are always people born and trained to fight; anarchists, professional revolutionaries, mercenaries, smugglers, illegal speculators and sophisticated fraud. They will react violently to a reform trend. This mobilisation is also evident during crisis debates. The topic is not so much the crisis, but the post-crisis period, which may prove detri­mental to them.
This scenario reflects the attempt to divert the energy of the society from following essential goals, to consume it in false conflicts, artificial dramas, imaginary crises. Distrust and fear start being systematically induced, along with confusion in debates and opinions. In short, the escessive dissemination of all the elements of troubled times.
Still unfulfilled, the dispersed front of hatred may cause civil wars, rebellions, civil unrest, and all those symptoms that affect irrational and naive people, who are easy to win over through emotional slogans and stimuli.
What is almost certain is the closure of the settlement procedures for intractable conflicts for a new waiting period. In the wake of a political crisis that has drawn off all solutions, we can expect not a status-quo-ante, but a worsening. The list of open conflicts will be increasing, and their force will reach new heights. The countries currently outside the sphere of reason will find new reasons to deepen insecurity in the world, possibly prompting a second thriving of terrorism and occult undermining.
In this scenario, the crisis will be a lot harder to overcome; instead, it will be long-lasting and will deepen into a food and water crisis. With major states no longer working together, there will be lower crime control, and “crisis pirates” will emerge as a new breed of profiteers.
Disappointed and powerless, the middle class will see its fear and anxiety fuelling the “post-crisis” failure, which will bring it back to the situation it thought it had left behind. This is where a new phenomenon threatens to emerge, which had previously been reduced to a dormant state. It is the European or global-type nationalism, which had previously been content with international turmoil.
Identity will loudly beat its drums, and on all continents, Europe included, there will be extreme nationalist and avowed anti-democratic movements and governments. This time around, manipulators will not target abused consumers, but youth looking for a thrill.
The exploration of cultures for politics and war will continue, and in all likelihood will expand. The young will be proud to belong to a culture which is above other, opposite and competing cultures, and will smother the idea of belonging to a large, human family, that all nations have served with the best they had.
Foreign insecurity and the failure of global initiatives will push a large public to the old domestic agenda, that they will address with the fervour of localism and in the tradition of tribal conflicts. The future is not bright for you, my dear friend, and I hope you have the strength to withstand it all. You may find comfort in something proved by the history of crises: bubbles grow larger and larger, until they inevitably burst out. So with the brief, but promising experience of the start of a Success Scenario, it is hard to believe that a world that had a chance to start growing mature might persist in the sin of gluttony and hot-headedness.
Meanwhile, the self-evident scale of an error, the abuse of unhindered power or the imminence of a severe threat to the survival of the species may rekindle some sense of reality and of good measure, hindering a relapse of the bad times.
Obama’s connection with the Success Scenario warns us that, should his authority come under threat, the failure may contaminate the fate of the scenario. There are disquieting signals. The emergence of a “front of hatred” has been noted by publications that are his enemies. For the time being, the public support for Obama is impressing, as the 100 days in office have proved. But Obama’s supporters around the world, who are increasingly attracted to his global projects, will closely watch the political arena in the US, the persistence or weakening of a yet flawless authority.
The mixed scenario

Success was the most researched scenario. The second, Failure, was the frailest. It merely recorded what was happening in the former, and change the sign from + to -.
Things may happen neither in the terms of the robust optimism in the first scenario, nor in the apocalyptic view of second. This is why an intermediary scenario is generally drawn up, which combines elements of the two scenarios. There is a huge number of possible combi­na­tions.
This is why we will only mention a few possible situations.
Obama will only serve one term in office (2008-2012), and will be defeated by the Republican front, whose hostility will strengthen with the population won over for the opposition.
In this case the fate of The Big Shift, as we may call the achievement of that peaceful global community, may become questionable. The heritage of these 4 years of efforts may be capitalised on in several directions, yet the radical nature of the change will be lost.
Obama will have a second term in office. The efforts of his 8-year presidency will almost certainly be capitalised on in many, if not all directions.
Obama’s energy will be eaten up by the domestic political and electoral struggle. This will make his foreign endeavours cautious or even shy. Indeed, this may be a feature of his first term in office, until 2012. But in the second, he will be able to put some inhibitions behind and channel more energy into such endeavours.
The remaining 17 years until 2030 (three new US presidents after Obama) largely depend on his success. But there may be considerable chances for the journey to The Big Shift to continue.
The fact that we used only one great power as a factor influencing the future until 2030 does not mean that similar analyses, regarding the progress of the other great powers, may not be equally relevant. But the US, which, under Bush’s presidency, generated two global crises—a political one (Bush’s unilateralism) and the recent economic one—are particularly responsible.
The other developments that may weaken the change trend until 2016 are as follows:
The achievement of a solution for peace in the Middle East, between Israel and the Palestinians.
The rise or fall of terrorism and of Islamic trends in the Arab world.
The acknowledgement or acceptance of Iran’s and North Korea’s access to atomic weapons.
A rise or fall in the number of local conflicts and of identity wars.
Destabilising effects in larger actors, such as Russia, China and Europe, in their relations in the neighbourhood area.
And we should not overlook natural disaster.
The best assumption for a successful final route is the absence of a global conflict, of a great war, and accepting the idea that some local conflicts will persist, though they will not extend. In a summit meeting of the alliance in Tehran, Churchill said, “How small I feel, as an Englishman, among these giants”.


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