Predictions for the Next Millennium - Y3K
Published by "New Works Review"
(Volume 3, Number 2, April-May-June 2000)
The airwaves have been busy. Who were the most important people of the last millennium? What were the most important events? With this essay, I would like to look ahead. What will happen during the next 1000 years? Well do this by looking back, generating some millennium summaries, then trying to use what we have learned to look into the future with an educated eye. We will be painting our portraits of the past with broad brush strokes, distilling mammoth amounts of history into a few manageable generalizations. Well look at where humanity was at the beginning of each millennium, where humanity arrived at the end, and assess the changes. Events, even pivotal events, like the fall of the Roman Empire, or Christopher Columbuss voyage to the American continents, will not be referred to specifically. They were part of the journey, but do not describe the destinations. Well go back three millenniums, then look ahead.
1000 B.C. to 0 -
In 1000 B.C., political units contended for dominance in regional areas, with regional empires rising and falling over a few generations. (The Egyptian dynasties would seem to be the exception, but they went through their periods of ebb and flow, and were confined to the immediate region.) By 0, large multi-regional empires ruled much of the planetthe Roman Empire in Europe and the Middle East, the Parthian Empire to the east of the Romans, the Kushan Empire in India and Western Asia, and the Han Dynasty in China. This situation evolved throughout the millennium, with Alexander the Great improving on the Persian empires, followed by the huge, long-lasting Roman Empire. Humans began cross-pollinating, culturally, politically and spiritually. But, significant world regions remained isolatedAfrica south of the Sahara Desert, North and South America, and Australia. Even the thriving empires of the Far East and Europe were mostly isolated from each other (though trade routes created some contact at various times). Military technology and the evolution of political systems drove the transformation for this millennium.
0 to 1000 A.D. -
As of 0, Buddhism was a regional religion in India, Judaism was a religion confined to a small captive ethnic group in the Middle East, and Christianity and Islam did not exist. By 1000 A.D., three of these religions claimed huge numbers of followers, and major political entities. (Judaism, the common ancestor of Islam and Christianity, holds a unique position. It ironically spread as a result of persecution and flight, not subjugation and conversion.) Christian political entities were in declineIslam ruled much of the civilized world, and preserved the knowledge of the past empires. Feudal systems of one sort or another predominated across much of the planet. The American continents, Australia, and Africa south of the Sahara remained isolated from Europe and Asia. Contact between the eastern parts of Asia were confined to nomadic waves flowing west from the steppe regions to claim the wealth of the decaying Roman Empire. Religion dominated everyday livesunswerving faith in God and Gods religious leaders on earth permeated the political structures. Peoples realities were dictated by their religious allegiances.
1000 to 2000 -
Economic/Political Transformation Fueled by the Knowledge Revolution
For the first few hundred years of the millennium we are just completing, feudal systems and religious dogmas continued to shape the lives of much of the worlds population. But a revolution in knowledge, fueled by readily available information in printed books, drove an explosion in scientific and technological capabilities. Each advance fueled the next advancethe availability of information allowed new explorers in the quest for knowledge to stand on the shoulders of giants. This knowledge brought unimagined (in 1000) material prosperity, as well as the increased ability to destroy each other. The world of 2000 has few isolated areas left. Surprisingly, the major religions of the previous millennium still predominate, though they are under a serious and sustained assault from the knowledge revolution. As a result of political and intellectual evolution, the major religions have fragmented, both formally and informally. Christianity and Catholicism were the same religion in 1000. Within one hundred years, there was an eastern and western Christianity, and sects continued to break from the Catholic establishment throughout the millennium. Islam has its divideso does Buddhism and even Judaism.
Where are We Now, in the Year 2000?
1. The knowledge revolution continues and accelerates, driven by the speed of computers and the ability to share information instantaneously.
2. We face uncertainties about the long-term effects of our technological capabilities, including global climate change, environmental pollution and population explosion (a result of the increased material prosperity, particularly in medical technology).
3. We are evolving toward less and less isolation, toward more integration. But old ethnic and religious loyalties fuel fierce confrontations that often have global ramifications when in the past, they might have been confined to specific regions.
4. Unlike 1000, humanity now possesses the knowledge for species suicide, and we are self-consciously aware of that knowledge. This has profoundly affected the way foreign relations, and military operations, are formulated. Political entities can no longer act solely on the basis of whether they have the superior military power.
5. The heroes of 2000 tend to be political leaders, spiritual leaders, athletes and entertainers. The common denominator for the most popular heroes is access to the international communications media. (In 1000, as far as we know, heroes were military, political and religious leaders. We really have little reliable information as to whether the largely illiterate masses considered these leaders heroes, or oppressors.)
What events can we predict for the period between 2000 and 3000, based on our examination of the previous three millenniums?
1. Religious fragmentation will continue and accelerate. By 3000, todays major religions will have evolved into spiritual ideas that blend physics with metaphysics. Systems of thought will be retained, such as the moral and ethical ideas taught by Buddha and Jesus. But blind faith in Gods will will be replaced by informed ideas about how the physical and spiritual worlds interact.
2. There will, unfortunately, be some human-generated apocalyptic events. As knowledge spreads farther and faster, it will be impossible to keep this knowledge away from people who have a desire to destroy. Possible apocalypses will be the detonation of a nuclear device in a major population center, a regional nuclear war between fanatic governments, a deliberately manufactured plague, and/or a poison gas attack in a large city. These events will be devastating in the affected regions, but will not destroy humanity. The frequency of these events, and humanitys responses to them, will shape humanitys destiny.
3. Global warming will be all but obvious early in the 2000's (if it isnt already). It will create disruptions, and shifts of regional capabilities (as past climate disruptions have) and over the 1000 year period, major adjustments will occur. Russia and Canada, for instance, will have major areas of their northern territories become habitable and fertile. Coastlines will be battered by storms, and will recede. Low-lying islands will disappear. But again, humanity will manage these slow-developing problems, and the conflicts stemming from them. There will be adversity, but the species will survive.
4. Political boundaries will shift. No 1000 year period saw political boundaries remain constant. There is no reason to believe the next 1000 years will be any different. In fact, the continuing knowledge revolution could arguably create more political instability. The new political boundaries will result from the effects of the previous two predictions. Based on a review of the previous 1000 year periods, it would be very difficult to predict how those boundaries will change. The controversies and concerns of 2000 will be obsolete by 2100. By 2900, those controversies and concerns will be distant historical curiosities. So to predict precise political boundaries 1000 years from now, based on todays concerns, would be silly.
5. Humanity will colonize space. Significant numbers of humans will live and die off the planet by the year 3000. This will enrich human culture and prosperity. It will also create political and social controversies barely imaginable today. And, space will offer an escape from the fanatically-generated apocalypses predicted above, because of the ability to control access by unwanted individuals, and the ability to control access to destructive materials. The extent to which space governments will control humanitys space habitats will be a significant issue that may produce political, even armed, conflict.
6. Capitalism, in the form of a monetary system of exchanging goods and services, will remain recognizable in the year 3000 (as it has existed for thousand of years in one form or another, even before the term capitalism was invented). But it will become more social and egalitarian in nature, with employees and shareholders voting on corporate policies, as well as leadership. (There are certainly aspects of this already in place in 2000.)
7. In fact, the concept of mass democracy will spread beyond political institutions, to economic and even religious institutions. This will be an attempt to correct injustices, and placate potential fanatics, left out of the fruits of the quickly evolving human culture.
8. A united world government is unlikely. The trend toward integration could produce such a government briefly, especially in response to some apocalyptic event, or global environmental crisis. But the differences among humans will render it too unstable to last very long.
9. Travel to other planets is almost certain. Terra forming is even possible, if humanity remains relatively peaceful and prosperous. But if humanity is required to expend resources on political, religious or economic conflicts, particularly if large-scale military action becomes necessary, terra forming will be a luxury humanity cannot afford.
10. Travel to other solar systems will not occur by any technology known presently. A new revolution in physics, possibly coupled with metaphysics (see #1 above) would be necessary to cover the distances between stars within manageable time frames.
11. Two areas of concern now, environmental degradation and overpopulation, will not become significant issues by themselves. Their effects will cause stresses, creating isolated famines, and some local disruptions. But these situations will be dealt with issue by issue, and will not threaten humanity globally.
12. There will be storytelling (in some form of literature, and some descendant of movies and television, as well as some totally new storytelling mediums), music, art, dancing, and other cultural activities, of course. As has been consistent throughout humanity, from prehistory, human artistic expression will reflect the era. A few artistic works will have the chance to alter the human condition, but most will document and mirror rather than create the state of human society. Transmission of artistic products will become more and more pervasive, crossing cultural, political and even linguistic boundaries, with computer technologies that will instantaneously translate from language to language. (The mess created by the Tower of Babel will be reversed.)
13. As with political boundaries, predictions about specific technological developments are almost impossible. This is because profound technological innovation has not occurred in a straight line, with simple short steps from innovation to innovation. And this will continue to be true. Technological advances will be made, but in grand, unpredictable breakthroughs. Apocalypses, and the threat of apocalypses, will inspire technological innovation that we have no concept of today. And, humanitys move into space will produce undreamed of inventions spurred by easy access to the unique conditions of zero-g and vacuums.
14. Humanity in 3000 as a whole will probably be taller, smarter, healthier and live longer, if the apocalypses predicted above are managed and isolated without too much disruption. And it is likely they will be. The fruits of the knowledge revolution will provide the means to assure this. But humans will still live life spans no more than in the 100-year area. If life spans increase much beyond that, there will be a major conflict between the younger elements of the population, and its aging members. If the apocalypses cannot be managed (a less probable scenario), then the knowledge revolution could be compromised and reversed, creating a dark age comparable to the so-called "dark age" of western culture between the 400's A.D. and the Renaissance.
Who will be the heroes of the years between 2000 and 3000? Who will people speak of as the most influential people of the next millennium? In order of importance they will be:
1. The leader or leaders who meld the spiritual with the scientific, creating new and updated religions for humanity, and bringing science and spirituality into harmony with each other as discussed above in #1. Humanity has not established a major new religious/spiritual institution in well over one thousand years. Updating spirituality in the context of the knowledge revolution is overdue.
2. The leader or leaders who manage the apocalypses and/or environmental challenges referred to above.
3. The leader or leaders of humanitys moves to colonize space, and establish a permanent presence there. This would include scientists who conceive the technologies needed for terra forming, and lead the terra forming efforts, if they occur, and pioneering political leaders of space settlements.
4. The leader or leaders who democratize economic and religious institutions, as also described above in #7.
5. The scientific and/or technological innovators who, through unique insight, cause a jump from the straight-line evolution of technology with a unique innovation (#13).
6. Leaders who fight social and political injustices created by the fast-occurring results of the continuing knowledge revolution.
7. Evil but effective fanatics who disrupt the political, social and economic status quo with wide-reaching acts of disruption and destruction.
So humanity will still thrive on this planet in the year 3000. That is my admittedly optimistic prediction. Will we make it without difficulties? That would be too optimistic. But we will be here. Maybe someone will be reading this essay, in the year 3000, and laughing at the folly of my efforts to peer into the future. Then, that reader will write his or her own set of predictions for 4000!
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