Archive for October, 2010

On why it's a potentially Nutso time to be alive

October 13th, 2010  |  Published in justin-bieber, upon-the-forehead-of-the-whore-shall-be-written-MYSTERY-BABYLON-THE-GREAT

It is an insane time to be alive. The sorts of geopolitical, demographic, and economic changes we are going to see in the coming decades are potentially mindboggling. Granted, just about every single period in time is an insane time to be alive for one reason or another, but here's a short list of reasons why the situation may hold in the coming decades.

  1. The world economy is going to be, on average, in a terrible state for the next decade, at least. Widespread cyclical unemployment is poised to become widespread structural unemployment, GDP growth of many nations will lag behind population growth, and so on. The potential for social problems here is truly amazing -- this is the kind of thing that convinces people to put fascists in power or believe Glenn Beck.
  2. The global balance of power is shifting. Granted this isn't a particularly novel thing -- this has been happening in a big way for the entirety of human history. It's still interesting, and I happen to be a citizen of the current hegemonic global superpower!
  3. The climate is changing. This will, in my lifetime (assuming I don't die that soon), produce billions of indigent people made into migrants by fluctuating land patterns (farmlands will become arid, polar areas will become habitable, sea-level land will turn to water, etc.). The global migration patterns and ensuing demography changes will be, if not necessarily unparalleled, astounding in magnitude.
  4. Peak oil. This has the potential to have a truly mindnumbing effect on every aspect of human life in every country of the globe. If we haven't actually hit peak oil yet, we will soon. Many will tell you that the markets will produce a magical solution to the problem when it arises, so don't even think about it and also go buy ten SUVs. However, count me among the skeptics who think that, given how dependent the economy is on cheap transportation costs (think about the supply chain of nearly every product in your house) and how expensive alternative energy is right now, the short- to mid-term will hurt. A lot.
  5. We're figuring out what the Internet can do. Among the things it can do are: (1) kill record labels, (2) kill book publishers, (3) kill newspapers, (4) kill encyclopedia companies, (5) kill travel agencies, (6) kill many other types of old-world businesses, (7) help whistleblowers distribute materials to billions of people instantaneously, (8) change the paradigm of connectedness we have with other human beings, (9) completely and utterly obliterate our expectations and desires for privacy in many activities. And so on. This one's already really fun (and sometimes terrifying) to watch, and will continue being so!
  6. The function representing human growth is going to have to start flattening out. OK, I admit that I don't know whether this will happen in our lifetimes or not (since I don't know where the ceiling is), but the exponential growth of the human population cannot last -- it will turn into a sigmoid. Anyone who says otherwise has not had to deal with exponential growth functions enough. After a while, they grow really, really, really quickly. This growth will slow down. It would be absolutely wonderful if it did so painlessly (e.g. if economic factors decreased the fertility rate, as has happened in most first-world countries). I suspect, however, there is a good chance the primary mechanisms limiting human growth will be famine and war rather than birth control. :C.

I'm perhaps being a bit sensationalist, but, really, the next half-century is, I think, going to be off the chain nutso.