In our not so recent, yet first ever, podcast I presented a single adjective to describe what I thought entailed the near future of our ever increasingly connected world. I opined “unknown” and cited the general fallibility that entails human kind’s ability to accurately express what any given future holds.* In saying “human kind’s” ability I include not only the laymen or journeymen of geopolitics but also the widely accepted experts in any given field.
I’d opine that predicting the future of global affairs is, undoubtably, a rather dicey endeavor. A bit more akin to reading Tarot cards than anything resembling scientific method. The nature of human kind presents too many variables in such a spasmatic fashion that our understanding of what <i>happened</i> and <i>why</i> is oft challenged, to say nothing of what <i>will</i> happen and why. This isn’t to say that we are completely bereft of any ability to see future trends (though the current economic conditions might beg to differ) rather that what the world will look like ten years from now is, on the whole, a virtual mystery. We may see wispy outlines but the true form remains a fog.
And so I always enjoy Foreign Policy Magazine’s annual round up
of the “Ten Worst Predictions.” Some notably failed predictions for our year, 2009:
The Swine Flu:
Media hype had this thing on par with the Black Death
. The Obama administration’s scientists admitted their ability to predict H1N1′s impact in 2009 was negligible. However their plausible (read that as worst case, I suppose) scenario was way overstated. Which, in terms of contingency, makes sense. But, on the whole, this thing has been blown way out of proportion, as I wrote about earlier this year
(and Younghusband exemplified with this excellent image.
) 1,445 flu deaths overall (this includes all strains of influenza) as compared to the “plausible” 30-90,000 from H1N1 alone.
Because of his abject partisanship, I’m not a huge fan of Krauthammer. However, in our podcast, I cited President Obama’s then indecision regarding the Afghan theater as an example of our fallible abilities in prediction and his seemingly increasing distance away from the campaign rhetoric of Iraq=”bad war,” Afghanistan=”good war.” Needless to say, General McChrystal hasn’t resigned, indeed President Obama nearly met his request for 80,000 additional boots on the ground. Of course there remains the 18 month timetable, which could be perceived as either a politically motivated caveat or a strategic effort to plant a boot on the neck of the obviously corrupt Karzai regime. The history books will likely decide where the President stands on that aspect. In the interest of keeping with the nature of this post, I won’t attempt any predicative opinions.
China will dominate Panama:
The right wing vision of China as some fomenting, hidden dragon waiting to leap on the throat of America persists to this day. There’s a marked difference between a rival and a belligerent. China’s ownership of American debt is trumpeted by the more bellicose rhetoric of American firebrands. Less mentioned is the symbiotic nature of America the debtor to China’s investment and China the debtor to American consumerism. No reports yet of Chinese missiles nesting along the canal.
I don’t resent the game of prediction. How could I, as I’ve played plenty of that game writing here? In fact, I consider it an obvious and important element of studying the issues that present themselves in the increasingly complex matter of world affairs. I do, however, counterbalance it with a hefty bit of skepticism. We are, by nature, a fickle species and our collective actions are subsequently, on the large part, unpredictable.
*I also imbued a sense of optimism regarding our future. I retain that optimism. However tough we are to predict, history does illustrate a general legacy of progression away from (let’s say) Hobbes’ determination of “nasty and brutish.”