How’s your world these days? I wonder about the world sometimes, the countries that have spent two hundred years meshing with each other and are fast losing power to the fat-cat corporations, China excepted. Here’s how I see the puzzle:
United States: They spent 170 years building themselves up, sixty more being an empire, but what are they going to do now that they are faltering? How long will they still be on top? Probably only another fifty years at best. Strange, because Rome stayed put for hundreds of years.
Cheney and Bush killed them, eventually, even as they thought they were flexing American muscle. Now nobody believes them, their credo of wealthy living collapsed last September and proved just as flawed as the theory of communism, and while every country is still bound to America for the moment, they are starting to understand that they don’t have to listen anymore.
Barack Obama is a new example of sharing, thinky policy that everyone (those in power and observers like us) will love while it lasts but that, rather than heralding a new age, will only last eight years. America has a deep conservative heart that will never be denied. They will never get rid of their guns, their cash mentality, their ways. America’s main problem, apart from the fact that they bully other countries around and think there will be no consequences, is that as a people they are too resistant to change. This futile fight against the inevitability of change will ultimately bring them down, probably in the second half of this century.
China: They suddenly know the American adrenaline rush of being answerable to no one. When economic strength kicks in all we’ll be able to do is work with their whims. They have the manpower to be able to call the shots, the complete strength in numbers to achieve anything from a construction point of view. They can build anything they may need. For the moment only economics work against them, but that will fade once their economy gets a bit of money seeping into it. The Confucism and family-centeredness of their culture is an honourable backdrop, but money society is taking over in China.
Their fairly primitive rule-the-world ways seem pretty stupid, even stupider than America’s. They don’t care about the environment, they don’t care about local feelings (the way they are currently ravaging Africa is pretty 19th Century). They order people around, yet are hypersensitive to any sort of criticism. Once China takes over the globe people will end up hating them as much as they hated America, because they are too pushy in the way they act at a higher level.
Europe: What they lack in current glory they make up for in social advancement. Gay marriage, competent health care systems, an once-upon-a-time openness to immigrants (that by now is finished, they got saturated and got tired of it), to new ideas, an ability to adapt to change, and liberal ideas, are the things that keep me from spitting on Europe’s hypocrisy. Its people tour the globe lecturing everyone on how their countries could be better, while they dine out and relax on the proceeds that Europe plundered from those very places while destroying their institutions back in the days of colonialism.
Europe now is where America will be, a matron reliving past glories, with a bit of clout but likewise no one really has to listen to what any of them has to say.
Europe, unlike America, is not reactionary, and now that they’ve satisfied monetary urges that the rest of the world is still obsessed with, is probably where the advancement of the human race is going to happen, if your opinion of advancement is based on increased social acceptance rather than mechanical advancement, which is probably still slightly America’s domain.
Europe is probably where it’s still at in a day-to-day sense, at a lower level. It is the place to go to make money and get jobs, to experience ‘culture’ (I hate that word!), to learn relatively simple languages, to backpack and meet locals relatively painlessly. Relatively desperate people from Africa and South America will swarm into Europe this century: will they contribute to Europe’s grandeur or lower its standard of living?
Africa and South America: The brains will perennially leave these places, seeing a better economic opportunity to save themselves elsewhere (see above). That will leave a bunch of menial people back home doing a bunch of menial jobs, and hence these continents will not improve compared to the rest of the world. The increased wealth of the planet seeps down bit by bit in the form of mobile phones and the internet and all that, but these people will still have to waste their lives working hour after hour at meaningless jobs for scant wages. At the top level, debt servicing to the first world will keep these countries down. Economics forever kills them; we basically keep them down on purpose, and order them around because of the power of our better economics.
Collectively there’s an undercurrent of bitterness that I don’t see going away anytime soon. Colonialism took their possessions and destroyed their once well-functioning institutions, to be replaced by twisted parodies of Western ways that didn’t work too well at the level of governing and business. I’ll go back in 500 years when colonialism is a distant dream and see how they’re doing, and maybe then everyone will be free of historical bitterness and a sense of having been wronged. (Ditto Iraq: see you in 2511.) For a wrong to be forgotten, first the oppressor must acknowledge that what they did mattered, then the oppressed must acknowledge that the second step is up to them to let that bitterness go and let what happened not matter so much. But we never even do the first step, so there’s no chance of the second. In fact, the wrong in these continents is perennial and has never ended.
It must be added that many of their infortunes are also self-inflicted, due to a deep-seated corruption, which must be shed if these places are to have any hope of advancement. Is corruption a product of poverty? Is poverty a product of corruption? Either way, corruption is killing these countries.
Middle East: So much money and yet it never seeps down to their general societies. Will they one day mesh with the rest of the world in anything other than business? Probably not, because I feel the deep religion of their society keeps them at arm’s length from the rest of the world, separating them (anti-religious crusaders would say that religion separates people on purpose).
At the top level the Middle East countries have to be tip-toed around as much as China because of their hypersensitivity, and while oil still calls the shots, so do they. What does the Middle East do when the world runs out of oil? I personally will celebrate the day, since it will facilitate the cleaner energy that we should undoubtedly already be using. But does that mean that the Middle East stops being relevant to the world, and becomes even more insular? Have they set up to use oil revenue to benefit themselves in the future? Can it be used to better the standard of living of Joe Middle East? It hasn’t yet, and why would it ever? We’ve been buying oil for years already and the money just goes to the sheiks.
So the 2000s are building to become the Asian century at a higher level, but it can’t yet be called that while their people underneath still have no personal money. End of layman analysis.