What’s the future of society in a world where ideologies create facts, billionaires run countries and isolationism invites global war?

The previous entry was about the future of a post-capitalist world, and contains lots of sources to facts for further reading.

This topic is deeper. It’s about a future where facts themselves come second to ideologies, and where ideologies include large-scale war as a viable option.

We have two widely accepted versions of reality on offer now, bolstered by social networks and mass media.

1. Mainstream mass media, which adheres to a journalistic standard while reporting some facts and under-reporting or ignoring others.

2. Non-mainstream mass media across the political spectrum. The non-mainstream media is based on pushing a polarized, identity-based set of talking points that require the audience to pick a “team”. Once you support one ideology, the other becomes the “enemy”. Ideas become personal possessions and are instantly accepted or rejected based on ideology.

Solipsism Becomes Dogma

The tribalistic “non-mainstream” media is, at core, based on the principle of solipsism — that if you can’t physically verify a fact, it could be false and is therefore suspect. Ideology then defines what is and is not a fact. And ideologies are, at core, tools to inform (and manipulate) large numbers of people. Religions offer metaphysical ideologies. Economic theories become religion-like dogma (capitalism vs. Marxism, for example).

In a functioning society, citizens first accept that facts exist independently from ideology. If citizens prioritize ideology over acceptance of facts, facts become tools for ideological manipulation. This is true regardless of your particular ideological preferences.

Third War

We now have regressive tendencies on display across the planet, for example in France, Germany, the U.K. and the United States.

Nativism, protectionism, xenophobia, isolationism, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are all rising. Even Naziism — an ideology explicitly based on calls for genocide — is being normalized as “free speech”. These are the same dynamics that gave rise to the second world war.

Dictatorship

In the United States, the president’s administration — based on constant, blatant lies — is now gutting institutions like health care and environmental protection. Tapping into citizens’ mistrust of globalisation, the American president champions a “strongman” approach that promises to crush dissent in the press and across society. These are the first steps toward dictatorship, and they are accelerating by the day.

Pretences and Guarantees

The American president has literally ushered Wall Street into the White House, under the proven false pretence that rich people will help common citizens become rich, too. Gullible working-class Americans immersed in an alternative media bubble have apparently forgotten what happened to them as recently as 2008 (i.e. the Great Recession). Revocation of trade deals with China and support of the fossil fuel industry virtually guarantee that the United States will fall far behind in four years.

Overall, it seems like the world is headed for pre-World War II conditions. Now, though, several nations have nuclear capabilities. The world’s largest economies have forgotten what made them great — cooperation rather than antagonism. And billionaires seem to be trying to take what they can before global corporate capitalism based on oil and American Empire finally destroys itself.

What’s next?

– Will people keep pretending that dismantlement of social services, glorification of militarism, and destruction of the environment will somehow yield social mobility and opportunity instead of terrorism, poverty, war and chaos?

– Will people wake up in sufficient numbers before it’s too late?

And if they do wake up, what kind of government will take the place of the current corrupt and dysfunctional one? Clinton was an opportunistic politician who took money from Wall Street. Trump is an egomaniacal billionaire who embodies the concept of vulture capitalism.

It all begins from how we define and accept the meaning of a fact.

Apocalyptic visions aside, if this isn’t the end of democracy in the U.S. and across the world, how does global civilization repair itself?

Now may be the perfect time to start a new story — almost definitely a story that includes less talk and more action.

The New Dark Age of Demagogues

Keiner Soll Hungern! Keiner Soll Frieren! Nazi propaganda poster, promising and end to cold and hunger.

“Keiner Soll Hungern! Keiner Soll Frieren!” Nazi propaganda poster, promising and end to cold and hunger.

Future dystopian story world: beginning in the year 2026, emergency elections in Greece and Spain become dominated by demagogues promising to “make their countries great again”. Their platform slogans promise ironfisted national security and mythically boundless personal prosperity. Anti-refugee propaganda is bolstered by struggling European Union economies and terrorist incidents, creating flashpoints of unrest amid widespread financial hardship and discontent. Italy is soon drawn in, as is the U.K. All of Europe is eventually consumed by nationalist whirlwinds that spread to allies and enemies alike as all are forced to take sides.

Violence intensifies due to terrorist attacks by both foreign opportunists and domestic reactionaries. Mass expulsions begin. Borders close. Discrimination becomes an acceptable aspect of political narrative, actively promulgated by extremists and tacitly accepted by mass media channels.

Polarisation of opinion hardens into the willingness to take up arms. Scapegoats are fashioned from popular demonologies that rely on skin tone, ethnicity and concomitant jingoistic marketing demographics. Stones thrown become bullets fired. Bullets become bombs. Bombs become guided missiles fired across continents as allies take sides and offer arms to their strategic partners.

Humanity seems once again to have undone its hard-won learning: lessons written in blood flowing in rivers, bone meal sewn into the soil of Europe after two World Wars. The last great war ended as nuclear blast waves incinerating cities full of human beings, leaving shadows of dreams, shattering families and emasculating once-proud nations.

The time has come for the blood tide to rise once again, for a fresh coat of ashen snow to fall on already-weary shoulders. Nuclear technology has become the rule rather than the exception for both rogue agents and first-world states. Rhetorical dehumanization has left a hollowness in the eyes that now stare emptily to an oblivion that seems inevitable. We make a game of anticipating the second hand of our antique analog watchfaces, creeping closer to atomic zero hour. This is a game of the gallows in a worldwide party of the damned, shadows lengthening as the clock counts down. The Reaper’s accelerating drumbeat echoes in the footsteps of soldiers on the march across the globe. Beautiful flowering mushroom clouds may now grow to encompass us all. The end will begin in a blinding flash of light.

. . .

The Witches’ Sabbath

If vast portions of the United States’ population are swayed in 2016 by media-fueled rhetorical frenzy, imagine a time when deeper financial hardship grips the world. If a new Great Recession were to occur within the next decade, the appeal of demagoguery may be too strong to resist. This is why the prevalent mood in post-Word War I Germany bears revisiting.

After four disastrous years Germany had lost the war… prices doubled between 1914 and 1919. Why did the German government not act to halt the inflation? More than inflation, the Germans feared unemployment.

So the printing presses ran, and once they began to run, they were hard to stop. Price increases began to be dizzying.

Berlin had a “witches’ Sabbath” atmosphere. Prostitutes of both sexes roamed the streets. Cocaine was the fashionable drug. In the cabarets the newly rich and their foreign friends could dance and spend money. Other reports noted that not all the young people had a bad time. Their parents had taught them to work and save, and that was clearly wrong, so they could spend money, enjoy themselves, and flout the old.

All money is a matter of belief. Credit derives from Latin, credere, “to believe.” Belief was there, the factories functioned, the farmers delivered their produce. The Central Bank kept the belief alive when it would not let even the government borrow further.

But although the country functioned again, the savings were never restored, nor were the values of hard work and decency that had accompanied the savings. There was a different temper in the country, a temper that Hitler would later exploit with diabolical talent. Thomas Mann wrote: “The market woman who without batting an eyelash demanded 100 million for an egg lost the capacity for surprise. And nothing that has happened since has been insane or cruel enough to surprise her.” [1]

Keep It Simple, Even When It’s Not: High-Concept Dehumanization

Realistic dystopian plotlines merely need to chart the confluence between factual history, present rhetoric and plausible future outcomes.

Believable fictional villains aren’t “high concept” monstrous caricatures or cartoonish exaggerations. Dehumanization allows a group to delegitimize the existence of a person, and thereby destroy the lessons to be learned from that person’s example. Adolf Hitler wasn’t a monster. Neither were the German people bloodthirsty zombies after World War I. Hitler was a shrewd-yet-deluded megalomaniac, and the people were badly downtrodden, partly resulting from enthusiastic French enforcement of reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles.

Even today, generations later, much of it sounds pretty incredible.

Few could laugh at “the macabre joke of inflation,” as writer Klaus Mann termed it. “What breathtaking fun it is to watch the world coming off the rails,” he wrote in undisguised fascination. Germany was now witnessing “the complete depreciation of the only truly credible value in this godforsaken era: that of money.”

People lived in a strange kind of tension. On the one hand there was the daily fight for survival, for food, and for heating fuel.

On the other hand it was also a time of phenomenal wastefulness. The people were gripped by the urge to panic-buy. They squandered their money, and lived from one day to the next. “We’re drinking away Grandma’s house” proclaimed one popular tune of the day.

Never before had Germany witnessed such a fundamental redistribution of wealth, and many of the winners were those who had previously been wealthy. [2]

Mass discontent and the tendency toward dehumanization of the “other” becomes the urge to find a simple enemy and a simple solution. A final solution. Salvation for the true believer, extracted from the DNA of the dead.

“The enemy is among us,” wrote the Hildesheimer Allgemeine newspaper… “He has crept into the heart of the German economy to suck out our life-blood and destroy our very existence as a nation.” A 10,000-mark note issued the year before was nicknamed the “vampire bill” because it depicted a man who appeared to have a bite-mark on his neck.

It’s no coincidence that Adolf Hitler’s inexorable rise to power began in November 1923, the highpoint of Germany’s inflation, when he organized the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

Catalan Germany correspondent Eugeni Xammar witnessed the spectacle at close quarters, having recently conducted an interview with “the future ex-dictator of Germany.” In this interview Hitler claimed the high cost of living was Germany’s biggest problem, promising “We intend to make life cheaper.” To this end he demanded that shops — many of which were in Jewish hands — be brought under state control. And he stressed, “We expect all kinds of miracles of these national stores.”

The journalist from Barcelona wasn’t shy about stating what he thought of his interviewee. Hitler was, Xammar wrote, “the stupidest person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”

Tragically, most Germans were soon to have a very different opinion of him. [2]

Notice how patterns of historical precedence tend to repeat themselves. Future scenarios can serve as timely, entertaining signposts, even if only a few take heed before it’s too late. The rest can laugh, be amused and continue forward on the ceaseless march of progress to the end of human history.

We will make our nation great again, and we will gleefully watch the world burn. Has there ever been any other way?

Take the opportunity to write your own ending to the story, before the second hand reaches midnight. The next bright flash of light we see may not be the sun.

Read More

1. Goodman, George J.W. (1981). Paper Money, pp. 57-62. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/ess_germanhyperinflation.html.

2. Jung, Alexander (2009, August 14). Millions, Billions, Trillions: Germany in the Era of Hyperinflation. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/millions-billions-trillions-germany-in-the-era-of-hyperinflation-a-641758.html.

Is World War III Inevitable? What Can Smart Independent Science Fiction Say About It?

Now may be a crucial time for intelligent indie sci-fi to paint a plausible picture of the next global conflict.

Recent news has made clear that a “hands-off” approach to war in the Middle East isn’t working. Does this mean that a United States-led ground war is imminent?

Officially called the New Syrian Force, the contingent was trained by the U.S. military at a base in Turkey and sent across the border into Northern Syria, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported. But instead of fighting ISIS, they unexpectedly came under attack by al Nusra, a different radical Islamic group.

The New Syrian Force called for American airstrikes, and the al Nusra attack was repulsed. Only one member of the New Syrian Force was killed while the enemy lost an estimated 30 fighters.

But what appeared to be a victory turned into a defeat when the rest of the New Syrian Force scattered. Some were captured by al Nusra. Some made it back to Turkey. Others were simply missing. 1

As seen after the most recent Iraq war led by George Bush, the American public rejects the prospect of a U.S.-led ground war unless attack is imminent. This is at least in part because it is now common knowledge that the war was based on deception.

We know now that American sentiment for the 2003 Iraq war was the result of a series of public relations gambits. Those gambits, from handpicked persuasive stories to falsely interpreted satellite imagery, were crafted to manufacture and manipulate public opinion:

The first Gulf War was sold on a mountain of war propaganda. It took a campaign worthy of George Orwell to convince Americans that our erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein — whom the US had aided in his war with Iran as late as 1988 — had become an irrational monster by 1990.

Twelve years later, the second invasion of Iraq was premised on Hussein’s supposed cooperation with al Qaeda, vials of anthrax, Nigerian yellowcake and claims that Iraq had missiles poised to strike British territory in little as 45 minutes. 2

None of the claims and justifications were true.

The current, globally expanding conflict has been met with political banter and fashionable rhetoric about “religions of peace” and “troops on the ground”. No religion is inherently peaceful or warlike; regardless, religious dogma can be used either to incite war or promote peace, as has been done from their inception. It is also clear that Americans do not want to send ground troops back to Iraq (or into Syria) while nursing fresh memories of the catastrophic nine-year Bush-lead war. 3

Isolation versus Engagement

Most Americans’ “head-in-the-sand” mentality is strikingly similar to World War II isolationism.

During the debate over whether to invade Iraq, or whether to stay in Afghanistan, many people looked back to World War II, describing it as a good and just war — a war the U.S. knew it had to fight. In reality, it wasn’t that simple. When Britain and France went to war with Germany in 1939, Americans were divided about offering military aid, and the debate over the U.S. joining the war was even more heated. It wasn’t until two years later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war against the U.S., that Americans officially entered the conflict.

. . .

“It’s so easy, again, to look back and say, ‘Well, all the things that the isolationists said were wrong,’ ” author Lynne Olson tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. ” … But back then, you know, in ’39, ’40 and most of ’41, people didn’t know that. People had no idea what was going to happen.” 4

Are we headed for another world war as we were back then?

Two major problems with the current American minimalist military strategy1:

1. Aerial bombardment has made essentially zero progress and surely won’t win on its own;
2. The tried-and-true “train rebels to fight” approach has failed yet again.

One apparently inevitable outcome: militant extremism spreads across the world,
eventually encroaching on U.S./allied interests. Ultimately, isolationists and hawks will join hands only to fight an enemy that looms on the existential scale of World War III.

War Never Went Away — It Evolved

Beginning in 2011, professionals as knowledgeable as celebrated Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker predicted the decline and eventual demise of conventional warfare. “Violence has declined because historical circumstances have increasingly favored our better angels,” Pinker explains. 5

The intervening years of destructive human ingenuity have seen the rise of a different kind of threat. Conflict has morphed into “hybrid war”, which is a new buzzword for asymmetric, unconventional tactics used by adversaries of varying size and strength.

The term ‘hybrid warfare’ appeared at least as early as 2005 and was subsequently used to describe the strategy used by the Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon War. Since then, the term “hybrid” has dominated much of the discussion about modern and future warfare, to the point where it has been adopted by senior military leaders and promoted as a basis for modern military strategies.

The gist of the debate is that modern adversaries make use of conventional/unconventional, regular/irregular, overt/covert means, and exploit all the dimensions of war to combat the Western superiority in conventional warfare. Hybrid threats exploit the “full-spectrum” of modern warfare; they are not restricted to conventional means.

In practice, any threat can be hybrid as long as it is not limited to a single form and dimension of warfare. When any threat or use of force is defined as hybrid, the term loses its value and causes confusion instead of clarifying the “reality” of modern warfare.

. . .

Most, if not all, conflicts in the history of mankind have been defined by the use of asymmetries that exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, thus leading to complex situations involving regular/irregular and conventional/unconventional tactics. Similarly, the rise of cyber warfare has not fundamentally changed the nature of warfare, but expanded its use in a new dimension. 6

As noted by Pinker and colleagues, conventional warfare among developed nations may have declined. Hybrid war, though, is most often fought in the so-called “third world”, where almost half of the human population lives. 7

By 2050, seventy percent of the world — those in “developing” (i.e. third-world) nations — will live in megacity slums. Protoype: Mumbai, India.

These staggering statistical trends are driving the evolution of the “megacity,” defined as an urban agglomeration of more than 10 million people. Sixty years ago there were only two: New York/Newark and Tokyo. Today there are 22 such megacities – the majority in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America – and by 2025 there will probably be 30 or more.

Consider just India. Though the country is still largely one of villagers – about 70 percent of India’s 1.2 billion inhabitants live in rural areas – immigration and internal migrations have transformed it into a country with 25 of the 100 fastest-growing cities worldwide. Two of them, Mumbai (Bombay) and Delhi, already rank among the top five most populous urban areas. 8

Manipulative Media Hysteria is Now Business as Usual

The American public is currently too short-sighted and fear-driven to prevent the conflagration that has already begun. As we’ve seen in the 2003 Iraq war, both fear and short-sightedness are attitudes eagerly driven by mass media. Both history and future stand as casualties of the twentyfour-hour “shock and awe” coverage of news and incessant “expert” opinion. Practically every news story now has the word “terrifying” in the headline.

If you want to create (or enjoy) a hard sci-fi — that is, reality-based — style in your science fiction, the paragraphs you’ll read below are a primer on what will likely be the backstory for World War III.

Iraq May Be Remembered as Where It All Began

Similar to the division between North and South Korea, “Iraq” is a set of political boundaries that were not designed with consideration of the people living within those boundaries.

Iraq and Syria were artificial creations of British and French diplomats when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated on the eve of World War I. Each contains communities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Iraq is run by a Shiite-dominated government with ties to Iran, while the Bashar Assad government in Syria is dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect. The Islamic State is a fundamentalist Sunni group.

Iraq and Syria were artificial creations of British and French diplomats when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated on the eve of World War I. Each contains communities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Iraq is run by a Shiite-dominated government with ties to Iran, while the Bashar Assad government in Syria is dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect. The Islamic State is a fundamentalist Sunni group.

Ironically, it was Vice President Joe Biden who initially called for a more human-centric approach:

In 2006, then Sen. Joe Biden argued for splitting Iraq into three autonomous ethnic zones with a limited role for a central government. The George W. Bush administration sought to keep Iraq unified, but Sunnis eventually became disaffected with a Shiite government in Baghdad that excluded them. Kurds have been in continual disputes over budgets and oil with Bagdad, and they have seized control of the strategic northern city of Kirkuk. 9

In 2011, American President Barack Obama faced a conundrum:

1. Remain in Iraq.
This decision, as mentioned above, was becoming increasingly unpopular with the public. Moreover, sustained military presence in the country would most likely have done little to solve the sectarian disputes that were the source of ongoing strife.

2. Pull American troops out of Iraq.
Popular with the public, this choice would leave Iraq with an unprepared army, fractious political situation, and a perfect opportunity for those who sought power and/or revenge against their sectarian enemies.

Of course, we know that President Obama had little choice at all, after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded complete American withdrawal from Iraq. 10

This created an ideal opening for the revival of old grievances and the settling of scores — and what quickly degenerated into the present predicament.

The Rise of Militainment

Sketchy “official sources” are relatively rarely fact-checked in any depth; dissent is framed as the actions of hooligans, criminals and potential “terrorists”.

Such an incessantly churning, attention-deficient media climate makes hard, necessary choices about war impossible to support publicly, while turning war propaganda itself into jingoistic “militainment”.

Challenges for Smart Sci-Fi

For science fiction, one key question is this: how can we create speculative fiction about a third world war that is not:

– nihilistic prognostication about inherent human evil,
– conveniently defeatist oversimplification about a “post-apocalypse” world;
– pornographic indulgence about the destructive beauty of future warfighting technology?

Science fiction can be used as part of what Steven Pinker calls “cosmopolitanism”. Pinker writes: “These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.” 5

It’s an exciting challenge, and one that, in the end, we may not be able to afford to ignore.

Further Reading:

1. Congress hears bombshell admission on program to fight ISIS. (September 16, 2015). Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-program-isis-fighters-syria-general-lloyd-austin-congress/.

2. Holland, Joshua. (June 27, 2014). The First Iraq War Was Also Sold to the Public Based on a Pack of Lies. Retrieved from http://billmoyers.com/2014/06/27/the-first-iraq-war-was-also-sold-to-the-public-based-on-a-pack-of-lies/.

3. Clement, Scott and Peyton M. Craighill. (August 8, 2014). Iraq airstrikes will test a war-weary American public. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/08/08/iraq-airstrikes-will-test-americans-tolerance-for-military-action/.

4. ‘Angry Days’ Shows An America Torn Over Entering World War II. (March 26, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2013/03/26/175288241/angry-days-shows-an-america-torn-over-entering-world-war-ii.

5. Pinker, Steven. (September 24, 2011). Violence Vanquished. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111904106704576583203589408180.

6. Hybrid war – does it even exist? (2015). Retrieved from http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/Also-in-2015/hybrid-modern-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/index.htm.

7. Shah, Anup. (January 07, 2013). Poverty Facts and Stats. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats.

8. Bruinius, Harry. (May 5, 2010). Megacities of the world: a glimpse of how we’ll live tomorrow. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2010/0505/Megacities-of-the-world-a-glimpse-of-how-we-ll-live-tomorrow.

9. Intelligence Chief: Iraq and Syria May Not Survive as States. (Sep 11 2015). Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/intelligence-chief-iraq-syria-may-not-survive-states-n425251.

10. MacAskill, Ewen. (21 October 2011). Iraq rejects US request to maintain bases after troop withdrawal. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/21/iraq-rejects-us-plea-bases.