The 21st Century (so far and through a glass darkly)
The first quarter of it, remarkably, is racing to a close. When it began, I was in "middle middle age;" I would have then given myself only even odds to make it this far. Perhaps I will make it a lot farther before my time is done; perhaps not.
The eggheads can debate what Francis Fukuyama really meant by "the end of history" in 1992. But earth shocks aplenty have arisen since then, and one gets the feeling that we ain't done yet.
Sept. 11 and the chaos in the Middle East that it precipitated. The decline of the American political class into a confederacy of dunces and buffoons, left and right, and with it the disappearance of the ideological center. A global pandemic that has been mismanaged nearly everywhere, in good and in bad faith. A brutal war on European soil. Anxieties about changes in global climate that the feel-good policies adopted so far in the Western world will do precisely nothing to ameliorate. A rise in the power of AI -- AI that does not, I believe, threaten to evolve into machine consciousness, but does threaten to evolve into a tool for the further erosion of individual agency, both in authoritarian states and in states like our own with a long history of liberal democracy.
On this bumpy road, we reach for the straps that hang from the top of the bus.
I hope that the next major shock is not a nuclear one. I feel in my bones that the next major shock will be, as the saying goes, an epistemological one, brought on by irrefutable proof that our whole world is but a petri dish that other, far more evolved forms of consciousness can do with as they please, without being bound by fealty to the benevolent, paternal Supreme Being that we have, up to now, fashioned largely in our own image and likeness.
The historian/philosopher/ufologist Richard Dolan is one of those rare people, like Fukuyama himself, who can see things that others don't see, simply because he pays more careful attention and draws the rather obvious inferences that the rest of us feel obliged to file away in the drawer marked "Do Not Open!" He sees us as in a transition now as momentous as the First Great Transition -- from a hunter/gatherer culture to an agricultural one -- and the Second Great Transition -- from an agricultural existence to an urban, industrial one. And yes, the other side of this Third Great Transition looks dystopian to him.
If Dolan holds out any hope for humankind, it's a fragile hope that circumstances will force an unprecedented kind of maturation on us, across all political boundaries on the planet. My thought, not his -- such a maturation will be largely from the ground up, but perhaps it can only be triggered by the appearance on the scene of a figure, male or female, with a level of charisma, gravitas and inspirational power that we have not seen since the Buddha or the Christ. Indeed, on appearance, s/he no doubt will be tagged, slandered as, "the Antichrist"!