A History of the Future, part 7.

Belief Systems in the Early 22nd Century

The fate of religion in the 21st century was not what might have been predicted. In Europe and America, which had seemed headed toward creeping atheism, four things happened together, which historically have always been correlated: population movements slowed, as rising transport costs and house/land prices encouraged children to stay with or near their parents and extended families; ‘organised’ occupations involving job stability, unions, and co-operation between well-known colleagues became more prominent, replacing transient and individualist work; birth rates began to increase again; and organised religion became more popular.

In America, religion was largely class-based. Among the (mainly Hispanic) working classes, so-called ‘union Catholicism’, which stressed family values, fraternal solidarity, traditionalism, charity, redistribution, and social justice became dominant. ‘Mainline’ Protestant churches evolved to fill the same niche in the non-Hispanic working class, with religion becoming a proxy for race. Likewise, among the transient lower classes, Catholicism (often excommunicated) and Protestantism evolved to fill similar functions, with charismatic churches stressing miracles and divine intervention, the power of the priest and of faith, and the glories of the afterlife. For the upper classes, Evangelicalism was the preferred religion: conservative, unifying values married to a personal faith that demanded dedication but not public display. The Barons themselves, however, preferred more ritual religions: ‘high’ Catholicism and ‘high Protestantism, of any denomination, to which they donated generously. The Third Estate, meanwhile, largely abandoned traditional religion, but their tight-knit communities were perfect breeding grounds for new faiths, based chiefly on the human potential movement, the environmental movement, and various pseudosciences. These religions penetrated to some degree into the other classes, but usually clandestinely, and they were usually held up for public mockery.

Indeed, they found greater favour outside America than in it. American new religions became deeply rooted in (primarily) Protestant areas of Europe, as a new piety was rediscovered there that their existing religions were unable to meet. In Catholic Europe, however, new religion formed under the umbrella of Catholicism, Old Catholicism, and moderate Anglicanism. This ‘Free Catholicism’, though initially sponsored by the Vatican to renew the faith, grew out of control, and became excommunicated; nonetheless, by the end of the century it had taken over the continent. Free Catholicism, or ‘Oratorism’ or ‘Nerianism’, after the organisation most associated with its birth, harked back to the ideals of the counter-revolution: it sought to bring people back into the flock by increasing the attractiveness of church, demonstrating how it could be relevant to daily life, and not something that was an alternative to modernity. The effort had three prongs: monasteries flourished as refuges from modernity, emphasising the possibilities of lay monasticism and part-time monasticism; in turn the new monks became more visible in the cities as charity workers and bringers of peace; and theologians, in seeking to stress relevance and the sanctification of life, reached eclectically, becoming as likely to quote Marcus Aurelius, Charles Darwin or, particularly, Lao Tse as they were to quote the Bible. Abstruse theological debates were shelved as irrelevant.

Islam was also a major force within Europe, spread by Turkish and Moroccan laborials. However, these immigrant and largely transient populations tended toward atheism and secularism as their old social structures were broken down by the pressures of integration, and European Islam adopted a marked anti-clerical bent. Indeed, by the end of the century, European Muslims were identified more by their sense of shared community, however hypothetical, than by any religious behaviour. In Turkey and Morocco themselves, more devout forms of the faith continued, but even these were strongly moderated by ‘Western’ secular liberalism. Indeed, as Europe moved toward a more authoritarian ideology, it was the Muslim populations that most strongly held to the old liberal-democratic ideals.

However, this liberal Islam was only one strand of the religion. In Muslim areas of Central Asia and the Caucasus, the extremist, reactionary religion that had caused so many troubles at the start of the century refused to die away, becoming a beacon for rebellion against Russian and Chinese dominion; despite their avowed hatred of the West, before long they returned to being funded by American and Canadian intelligence agencies to destabilise their Asian rivals. In North Africa and the Middle East, meanwhile, de facto American rule created resentment. Partly in order to harness this resentment more completely, and partly to secure Chinese funding, Islamic revolutionaries in these areas articulated a faith that focused less on personal morality and more upon social justice. In effect, this movement merged Islam with a form of communism, although they did not officially quote Marx or Mao. For most of the century, the region, with its oil reserves, was too important to be left to such rebels, and so a range of dictators were supported by American troops; but during the Long Winter, as those reserves dried up completely and American coffers ran out, foreign soldiers were withdrawn, and a wave of Islamocommunist regimes arose. Foremost among these was Egypt, whose capital, Cairo, was the largest city anywhere in the Muslim world, and the largest in Africa. Although the new regimes kept their countries independent from one another, nonetheless the heads of the ‘Cairo School’ were unofficially recognised as the supreme instructors of the revolution.

In China, the urban middle classes initially abandoned all forms of religion – all that had been good in religion was now contained in Maoism, which had been shorn of superstition and feudalism. Later in the century, however, when the new populations were settled, a minor but substantial craze began for the ‘mysteries of the West’ – chiefly the new American religions, and also several forms of Christianity: chief among them the new Nerian faith, which was able to combine its own appeal with that of traditional Taoism and Buddhism. This religion, along with charismatic Protestantism, had already become extremely popular among the poorest and most transient classes.

Similarly, the export of Chinese and Western religion to the developing world had immense impact, thanks to the influence of the diaspora of educators. Among the poorer classes, the more charismatic and conservative branches of Christianity continued to dominate, but the new faiths, Maoism, Buddhism, and also atheism, gained important footholds in the educated, ruling classes.

 

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A History of the Future, part 6

Russia

Russia’s weak position at the start of the century was strengthened by its control of sizeable oil reserves and other natural resources. These brought wealth, and helped quieten the separatist demands of many regions, as well as increasing geopolitical influence. Kazakstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus all fell under Russian sway, though the remaining Central Asian states were more likely to look to Beijing than Moscow.

The unfettered capitalism of the late twentieth century was realised to be a mistake, and the first priority of the authoritarian government became crushing the dangerous power of the oligarchs. This, and the threat of secession, forced the development of a strongly repressive regime, ameliorated by guarantees of effective democracy at the local level. In this, Russia eagerly studied the successes of China, though it continued to formally reject communism. Nonetheless, by the end of the Long Winter, Russians were more likely to speak Mandarin than English, and Maoism was the philosophy of choice for the young student dissidents. To prevent this ‘decadence’, the leadership clamped down on all expressions of opposition, largely banned access to the free internet and its pro-Communist propaganda, and encouraged a cult of nationalism and leader-worship through mandatory enrolment in paramilitary youth organisations, and compulsory conscription. With economic opportunities controlled by the State, membership in and support of the appropriate civil-society organisations became essential. This elected dictatorship was further legitimised by the threat of terrorism, made clear by the Volgograd Incident of 2033, in which a terrorist nuclear device killed thousands. In the economic sphere, businesses remained private and free, but extensive regulation and state support for favoured companies allowed the State to direct production itself, although more to maintain power than to maximise efficiency.

This regime attempted to ensure full employment, but in the Long Winter it failed terribly, and could no longer claim popular support. Maoist insurrection and foreign interference lead to civil war, which became horrifically bloody, with all sides employing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. As a result of this war, a variant of smallpox created a global pandemic; fortunately, the variant strain had lower infectiousness, and only millions perished. It was clear, however, that Russia could not be allowed to destroy itself, and the country was partitioned between the major powers – chiefly America and China. All parts were broadly ruled by military dictatorships charged with finding and destroying all remaining weapons of mass destruction.

However, the Partition of Russia did not end Russian nationalism, only strengthen it, and Russian Nationalist terrorists became a major global threat in the following decades.

West India

The travails of Russia were nothing compared to those of India. Lauded as a future world power, it in fact entered the century with crippling inadequacies of economy and institutions: only 10% of the workforce held formal and regular jobs; half of all children were malnourished; the proportion of underweight children was higher than in sub-Saharan Africa; one third of all local authorities were experiencing regular terrorist incidents; one quarter of the national legislature were under investigation or facing charges, not only for corruption but also for such crimes as rape and murder; several states had legislatures composed predominately of convicted criminals. The agricultural system was immensely inefficient, characterised by extremely small private holdings each with an unnecessarily large workforce; the government bureaucracy was extensive but inefficient, and the public sector faced endemic absenteeism, with a quarter of education staff, and two-fifths of all medical staff, not being present at their posts according to some studies. At the same time, the country faced deep divisions of race, caste, religion, wealth and ideology; and was neighbour to a nuclear-armed enemy.

The collapse of India began with the collapse of Pakistan in the 2020s; Indian forces rushed in, with the backing of the Pakistan military, to secure Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, but were only 99% successful: one silo was able to launch nuclear weapons that penetrated the Indian shield and struck Mumbai, Ahmadabad, and Kanpur, in the so-called ‘Rain of Fire’. The attacks triggered ethnic and religious violence that killed millions, as Hindus persecuted minority groups, particularly Muslims, in retaliation – the unordered nuclear revenge by the Indian army further inflamed Muslims, who in turn massacred Hindus. The failure of the central government to end the strife caused many separatist movements to rebel.

Although the violence was quelled, and peace and prosperity regained, the foundations of the state had been fatally wounded. A military dictatorship attempted to hold the country together, but was insufficient to the task. Eventually, India was irreversibly divided into three parts: West India, Naxalite East India (a Maoist dictatorship) and South India; all of which in turn suffered varying degrees of civil unrest. Other areas also declared independence: Assam, Kashmir, and Punjab.

West India at the end of the Long Winter was ruled by a religiously fundamentalist cadre of extremist nationalists. It remained a largely agricultural society, continually threatened by famine, although it had also developed industrial and high-tech sectors, which together with its immense population was enough to make it a significant world power. However, there was widespread unrest in the countryside and among the urban youth, the government was perceived to be corrupt, and the nuclear standoff with the increasingly unstable Naxalite state to the east was growing uncomfortably tense. Liberals argued for a return to democracy, but in the absence of food and water the cause of tolerance seemed doomed: war appeared inevitable.

A History of the Future, part 5.

Secondary Powers

The Triangle: Japan, Korea and Taiwan

Korea entered the century sundered in two; but in the face of famine and intradynastic conflict, the dictatorship of North Korea collapsed, and Korea merged once more into a single, albeit confused, polity. Although the immediate outcome of accepting their poorer neighbours was disastrous for South Korea, in the long term it brought considerable economic benefits, as the money of the South was wedded to the cheap labour of the North to produce a manufacturing giant. Threatened by the might of neighbouring China, the unified Korea sought alliances with fellow developed economies Japan and Taiwan, leading eventually to a customs union and a single market, although their governments remained distinct. This co-operation to some extent ameliorated the economic problems caused by decreasing international trade, although this, combined with the trinity’s lack of natural resources, was nonetheless an almost crippling factor, which prevented the three states from keeping pace with the Chinese.

The Triangle remained democratic throughout the century, but was not always liberal. Politics was dominated by the great conglomerates, who held all political parties in line. Eventually, a corporate career was seen as an easier route to political power than the parties themselves. The conglomerates, however, were not the tyrannical giants of America – workers had considerable representation, and an ethos prevailed of responsibility toward the company workers. While decrying the dictatorship in China, the Triangle increasingly imitated its programme of cultural purification, and Chinese fashion became more important than American.

Unfortunately, with a dependence on exports and imports, the Triangle crashed particularly hard during the Long Winter, falling from ‘superpower’ status. The conglomerates provided welfare for the poor as a way of gaining popularity and political power, and so became more central than the State itself. At the same time, the populace sought to deal with the disaster through a reversion to older sureties, and a resurrection of a more nationalistic, family-oriented culture.

Demographically, the Triangle, and in particular Japan, also led the way in urbanisation: by the end of the era, more than 90% of the population of Japan lived in a single conurbation. This further limited the power of the state, as mayors became more powerful than prime ministers, and an increasing proportion of the population came to live in cities or city-districts created, owned and run by a single conglomerate. These high-density arcologies allowed individuals to live their entire lives under the wing of their parent company.

With little oil, the Triangle sought early on to lead the world in other energy sources. Between renewable resources and fission, they had already completely removed fossil fuels from their electricity production by the time of the Collapse, and came to use battery and hydrogen technology for much of their domestic transport. As a result, their domestic economies remained largely stable throughout the Long Winter, after the initial crash, with only declining demands for their goods pulling them down. However, by the end of the depression, their greater energy resources were being exploited in high-tech, high-mechanisation factories, when much of the world was reverting to manual labour – consequently, they were able to make small recoveries by exporting cheaply to China, and although they crashed further at first, their status improved over time as other countries gradually fell past them.

The first economically-viable fusion reactor was created in Japan – although it was supported by Chinese and European investment, both financial and intellectual.

The Federal Kingdom of Canada

Canada grew dramatically in the Second Age of Oil, supported by the world’s second-largest oil reserves. With wealth, and hence power, resting with a handful of oil barons, Canada soon became America writ large, though its manufacturing sector never grew to the same degree as that in America, the economy remaining more focused on services. With less competition for power, the Canadian barons developed more benign policies than their southern neighbours, and the country became seen as a little Europe, with the barons supporting substantial welfare payments and being concerned with intangible life-benefits. However, their benevolence was not weakness: they resisted all attempts to introduce worker control of their companies, and eventually took over the state. When the succession of the British monarchy fell to a Prince who was seen as being ‘anti-Canada’, ‘socialist’, and ‘decadent’, the barons organised a referendum on the monarchy that led to the appointment of a distant cousin as the new and sovereign King of Canada. The new King was politically active, and when deadlock occurred in Parliament, he appointed a neutral board of experts to manage a caretaker government. The caretakers, unofficially selected by the oligarchs, never handed over power, and Canada ceased to be a democracy, at least at the upper levels. As this occurred in a time of popular discontent with corrupt politicians, it was widely approved of. Dissent in the east was dealt with by granting independence to Quebec, and to the Atlantic provinces.

Manual and farm labour in Canada was largely undertaken by migrants from America.

Brazil

For much of the Second Age of Oil, Brazil was barely independent, as it came to be ruled by the corporate proxies of richer nations, all desperate to exploit the nation’s vast resources. During this time, official policy aligned Brazil with European-style Corporatism, but the de facto independence of the foreign companies undermined this considerably. In effect, Brazil became a ‘wild west’ for untrammelled competition; the government was corrupt, unstable, and incapable of effecting any real change. This only accelerated after the Collapse: as the owner of a large portion of the earth’s dwindling resources, Brazil actually grew in the early years of the depression. But the cost was terrible hardships for the poor, and a loss of security for a large middle-class that had been established by foreign investment. With the government unable to reign in the plutocrats, the middle classes abandoned the system, and supported first a military coup and then an elected but strongly authoritarian government. This new, ‘verticalist’ government was corporatist, but unlike Europe it was corporatist only at the upper levels: the government set policy under advice from unions and small business leaders. Large business leaders no longer existed: the first campaign of verticalism was to seize the assets of the multinationals and redistribute them to the middle classes, while the second was to send the army into the favelas to crack down on crime. Political and cultural purges soon followed. Foreign governments protested loudly, and America threatened to send troops – but the thought of the largest guerrilla war in history and the threat of Chinese intervention forced them to back down. It was better to support the government and trade with it than lose out entirely on Brazil’s resources.

A key part of verticalism was military spending, and the internal war against urban and Amazonian guerrillas was not enough to support such expenditure; in addition, the dramatic deficit budgeting risked hyperinflation. The only solution was an expansionary war: the Brazilian army moved in support of local revolutionaries to establish vassal states in first Uruguay and then Paraguay, before conquering a belligerent Peru. This lead to a far greater war, for Peru and Paraguay were allies (indeed, near-vassals) of the other regional power, Venezuela. Venezuela had immense oil reserves in the Orinoco region, and only constant political conflicts had kept it from becoming a major world power – it had, however, come to dominate the Andes, the Caribbean and much of Central America, as a result of its wealth. It declared war on Brazil. The Orinoco War was the largest in a century, other than the various civil wars in India, and although foreign troops were not involved, the superpowers tacitly backed one side or the other: China and Europe supporting Venezuela; America, Canada and the Triangle sponsoring Brazil. In the end, Brazil could not be stopped, and what remained of the Orinoco reserves fell to it, to be used to pay for the costs of the war. Venezuela was crippled, and reduced to its Atlantic coastline. Brazil became the dominant power in on the continent, opposed only by Chinese-backed Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and the American colony of Colombia. Venezuela, for its part, finally established stable democratic government, and became a minor but reasonably developed country following the European model.

Themes update

OK, after some looking:

– I do indeed hate my current theme (appearance of the blog)

– None of the alternatives are ideal

– Very few are even tolerable. In particular, how hard can it be to put the categories and pages and links on the left-hand-side where the LORD intended them to be?

– I might be tempted to change to something else for a while to see how I get along with it… but the current theme I have is no longer available, so if I change, I can’t change back.

 

Damn you, WordPress!

Doing some house-keeping

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been doing some housekeeping. This includes not only adding those index pages (on the left there!) for book reviews and other reviews, but also (which may have been less obvious) filling up the Mythopoeic Index page. No point having that empty, really… Anyway, I don’t imagine I’ll keep up-to-date with any of those indices, but it’s probably a good idea to tidy them up as we head into the new year.

 

I’m also thinking about changing the appearance of the blog. I’ve never liked this one, it’s too dark and fussy – it’s just I don’t like any of the others either, and this one is at least unusual. But who know, maybe one of the ones they’ve added since I last looked will be good. We’ll see…

Index of Other Reviews

Along with giving my impressions of some books, I also occasionally talk about other things. These tend to be more rambling and less structured, because I don’t feel sufficiently competent when it comes to other media to even express my evaluations cogently.

Nonetheless, I’ve waffled on a bit about some films:

This is the most coherent: a comparison of the film version of The Prestige to the book.

This ramble give a controversial ranking of some superhero films, and then gives comments on some of them to justify that ranking.

This, extremely meta, rumination begins as my immediate reaction to watching the first half of Synecdoche, N.Y., takes in some abstract and ill-formed thoughts about the perspectival nature of evaluation itself, and also includes some comparisons between the film and Six Feet Under.

I also was moved at one point to post this, a brief “review” of a lesser-known work of classical music.


 

A History of the Future, part 4

The People’s Republic of China

China did not overtake America in the 21st century; nor did it abandon Maoism, at least in name. The liberalising, Westernising tendencies of the early decades ended with the New Depression of the 2020s, after which popular pressure forced the regime to adopt more socialist policies. This change in emphasis was explained as a third stage of socialism – where Mao had fought off imperialism, and Deng had combated stagnation, the new rulers, taking their lead from Hu Jintao’s ‘Scientific Development Concept’, realised they had to bring about social harmony. This meant dealing with inequalities of wealth, and, integrally, with corruption both private and public.

The Maoist route to harmony was based on the principle ‘rivalry within, unity without’ – a strong, authoritarian and unified state that not only permitted but sponsored many forms of competition within itself, so long as that competition never threatened the State as a whole. This principle could be seen in commerce, finance, media, and politics. In commerce, free competition was encouraged – but only under the strict directional control of the State, expressed through total control of capital. In finance, the banks that lent money to businesses were all state-owned, but there was a great plurality of them, from local to national levels, all encouraged to compete among each other subject to policy guidance. The analogy was to a ship: the captain sets the destination, the helmsman steers the course. The responsible behaviour of private business was further enforced by demanding that the majority of wages for high officials be in the form of conditional pension payments: if a company collapsed after a CEO left, the CEO would be left with hardly any pension. As a result, CEOs were forced to act sustainably, and to hand-pick appropriate successors. In the media, meanwhile, steps were taken to ‘mobilise the eyes of the people’ in popular journalism, in which criticism of officials was encouraged but criticism of policy was forbidden – the intention being to root out corruption, from the sexual misdemeanours of a local party boss to the embezzlement of millions by regional leaders. Journalists who succeeded in proving corruption were handsomely rewarded as famous heroes of the state. In politics, although ideology was enforced, democracy was increasingly allowed within the party to provide oversight and scrutiny, legal structures became more independent, and considerable power was devolved to the regions. The system was generally popular, and described to the outside world as a constitutional monarchy, except that the ‘monarch’ was selected on merit rather than by birth.

As a result, China did not grow particularly quickly during the century, but it did grow steadily, and with lessening inequality. The political trends were accentuated in response to the Long Winter. To inure themselves from criticism, the leadership increasingly avoided direct responsibility for policy, preferring to blame regional and local officials. Around this time, ideology changed focus to a new, ‘fourth stage’ of Maoism: after the removal of imperial feudalism, the promotion of economic growth, and the establishment of social harmony, what was need now was cultural unity. Only then could the revolution be safeguarded in perpetuity. Increasingly, the hierarchy focused itself upon ideological and cultural matters, setting the tools of Western consumerism toward the goal of Maoist-Confucian virtue: perfect faces still beamed down from giant billboards, only now they were faces of reformers, journalists, sportsmen, artists, all of whom typified in their public and private lives (if indeed the two could be distinguished at all) the virtues the State approved of – in theory, the ‘Eight Honours and Disgraces’ of Hu Jintao, but in practice a broader platform of ‘corrected Confucianism’. Morality would now be imposed by the state: forced re-education camps and internal exile awaited dissidents and corrupting influences. Yet the State was not naive about the extent of its powers: it preferred symbolic, educational gestures and a light touch, rather than attempting to bring about utopia. For instance, crimes like pre-marital sex and public intoxication were not punished directly – but so-called ethical crimes would have to be listed in job applications, and questions would be asked of those who did not employ the most virtuous candidate.

In consequence, China in the early 22nd century had much in common with medieval Europe, with the Paramount Leader as the Chinese Pope, superior to, yet aloof from, a gaggle of regional political leaders. The Leader issued proclamations of a generally moral and ideological character, and enforced orthodoxy through what was essentially a ‘Maoist Inquisition’, but let mundane matters fall to the Prefectural rulers, among whom he would adjudicate when disputes arose.