The convergence of many negative world trends, reinforced by political mismanagement and its supporter, the excessive war institution, could endanger the survival of human civilization.
As we approach the 21st century, the dangers to human survival multiply. A rapidly growing world population is afflicted in many countries with a harmful way of thinking. A First Brain mindset, which is conducive to enmity against different clans, tribes, nations, ethnic groups, religions and others is reinforced by New Brain logic inventions of technologies. Thus, authoritarian leadership can use communications and military technologies to gain and stay in power, frequently by waging war against domestic opposition or neighboring countries. Religious fundamentalists are using electronic communications to spread their message of hate. Even in democratic countries many politicians use racial or religious appeals in their election campaigns. The following are some of the causes and results of this fatal human weakness.
The Development of Human Societies
Physiologist and evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel provides a basic classification of human societies as evolved from the primitive origin of our species.
"Bands are the tiniest societies, consisting typically of 5 to 80 people, most or all of them close relatives by birth or by marriage. In effect, a band is an extended family or several related extended families." Chimpanzees and gorillas also live in bands, but today human bands exist only in remote parts of New Guinea and Amazonia.
The next stage of human society development is the tribe. The tribe "...differs in being larger (typically comprising hundreds rather than dozens of people) and usually having fixed settlements." Both bands and tribes lack a bureaucracy, police force, and taxes. Their economies are based on reciprocal exchanges between individuals or families, rather than on tribute paid to a central authority.
The subsequent stage of human society development took place in the Fertile Crescent around 5500 B.C., with the emergence of chiefdoms. Chiefdoms were considerably larger than tribes, ranging from several thousand to several tens of thousands of people. The problem of potential internal conflict among thousands of people was solved by the appointment of "one person, the chief, to exercise a monopoly on the right to use force."
The final stage of society development is the modern state. The first states emerged around 3700 B.C. in Mesopotamia, but today they rule all the world's habitable surface. "Central control is more far-reaching, and economic redistribution in the form of taxes is more extensive in states than in chiefdoms. Economic specialization is more extreme." "Internal conflict resolution within states has become increasingly formalized by law, a judiciary and police."
All existing societies now have complex centralized organizations. There are several obvious reasons for this human condition:
While the development of human societies was strongly facilitated by the creation of centralized states, a negative condition emerged in parallel with these developments:
"Considerations of conflict resolution, decision making, economics and space thus converge in requiring large societies to be centralized. But centralization of power inevitably opens the door -- for those who hold the power, are privy to information, make the decisions, and redistribute the goods -- to exploit the resulting opportunities to reward themselves and their supporters." Taken to an extreme, this condition converts many societies into "complex kleptocracies."
Kleptocracy: A government characterized by rampant greed and corruption.
Kleptocratic governments are very common in authoritative societies. But even in democracies politicians and other powerholders are corrupted by their desire to obtain power and maintain it. Their need to gain and hold office (and power) requires contributions from special interests. These in turn expect and receive favorable legislation, government contracts and other economic and financial benefits. This excessive shifting of resources to the well-to-do ensures that many social and economic problems remain unresolved. In effect, a form of mild kleptocracy comes into existence, based on the human weaknesses of greed and hunger for power.
Negative Social Developments
While the development of human civilization provided great advances in science, technology and general prosperity, some negative conditions also emerged. As human societies evolved from bands to states, basic human characteristics shared with other primates remained. The many institutions of civilization converted the human savages into intelligent and civilized beings, with ambitions even to extend into space and the exploration of other planets. But frequently the institutions of humankind are controlled by men and women more interested in power and domination than in advancing human survival and progress.
The "Conditions of Human Societies" table (Exhibit A.2) provides an overview of the negative evolutions. Centralized decision making leadership facilitates the keeping of power. The establishment of powerful military forces is supported by modern technology able to develop affordable weapons of high killing power. Such institutions as secret police, supported by the military, can easily control populations and suppress dissent. The leadership of political institutions can use ideologies and other motivations to threaten and even attack other states, if motivated by their quest for power.
Thus the emergence of organized warfare paralleled the development of human societies. As societies emerged into chiefdoms and states, more violence-prone males became available for combat. Economic specialization provided the means to support standing armies. The development of increasingly sophisticated tools for killing -- weapons -- made the military forces more decisive. The powerholders of the more powerful states find it rewarding to threaten, attack and even conquer their neighbors. To defend against these threats, even relatively peaceful nations need to maintain armed forces, with the resulting wasteful military expenditures.
Worldwide Political Mismanagement
Both democratic and non-democratic governments suffer from a chronic condition of political mismanagement. This is not surprising in authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian leaders use mass propaganda, brutal repression, control of the media, electronic surveillance, secret police and the military to stay in power. They have no mechanism for the orderly transition of authority -- in fact, the sole purpose of such regimes is to stay in power, regardless of the costs to their unfortunate subjects. The continuous struggle against their own people leaves few resources to improve the economy and society. Thus the world's environmental and social problems continue to worsen, and human development is even regressing in many places. Only in countries where repressive governments are allowing market forces to emerge is there economic and social progress.
Democratic governments are also becoming the victims of political mismanagement. The need to gain office requires an excessive amount of time for non-governing activities, the courting of special interests, fund raising and the like. In some nations -- such as Italy and Japan -- links to organized crime exist. Pork barrel politics and political corruption are encouraged, and ethnic and class divisions are fomented. All this contributes to a gradual withdrawal of the electorate from the governing process, which is very damaging to democracy.
Political mismanagement is intensified by the war institution and militarism. In non-democratic countries the military either controls the government directly, or provides the means for maintaining the powerholders. In democratic countries the military is under civilian control. But in either situation the war institution and the military divert huge resources from their country's social and economic problems.
The Emergence of the "Political Class"
Gradually it is recognized -- and increasingly mentioned in the media -- that political mismanagement is caused by a "political class." This terms refers to the powerseekers and powerholders in most of the countries of the world. In democratic societies the politicians may be elected. But their need to secure funding for their election campaigns often requires the selling of their office to special interests. In non-democratic countries the dictators, military regimes or other authoritarian forces become impossible to dislodge, because of their control of the secret police, military, communications media and other attributes of the modern state. The desire to stay in power overrides any other consideration, no matter how harmful it may be to their societies. This short-term focus causes the neglect of both current and emerging future problems. In many countries the political class diverts resources that may be used for development into their pockets. In democracies the behavior of the political class not only prevents the solving of problems, but causes disillusionment with the entire political system. In the United States this disillusionment is strongly facilitated by the emergence of "professional political consultants." Increasingly these political consultants rely on First Brain appeals to polarize and inflame voters, to ensure the keeping of the political class in power. In this they are assisted by the press and mass media spreading misinformation and negative messages against opponents.
The Excessive War Institution
Over the centuries mighty empires have risen and fallen. The Assyrian, Persian, Macedonian, Roman, Mongol, Spanish, British and other empires grew and then collapsed. All these empires were created and maintained by military force. But one constant remained throughout the creation and dissolution of these super-states: the continuing growth of military technology and war making capacity. New scientific discoveries and technological developments are immediately applied to devise ever more lethal weapons systems. We have now reached a situation where our own inventions may annihilate us.
The 20th century, with its two World Wars and an obsessive focus on military strength and conflict, marked a huge increase in military technology and potential. By 1991 worldwide military expenditures reached nearly a trillion dollars. These expenditures purchased a tremendous amount of killing power or weapons lethality.
Military scientists have studied extensively the lethality of weapons employed during wars. It is possible to evaluate the effectiveness of weapons according to their ability to inflict damage. For example, Col. T.N. Dupuy defined weapon lethality as "the inherent capability of a given weapon to kill personnel, in a given period of time, where capability includes the factors of weapon range, rate of fire, accuracy, radius of effects, and battlefield mobility." The various factors involved can be quantified, and valid comparisons can be made of the different weapons used in warfare.
Until the middle of the 19th century weapons lethality, in a normal combat situation, remained fairly low. Most of the military deaths were caused by exposure and disease. But the second half of the 19th century started a revolution in military technology. With the growth of science and technology weapons became increasingly accurate, powerful and deadly. With the mastery of nuclear technology weapons lethality became almost unmeasurable. On a comparative basis these lethality indexes may be applied (see Table 4):
|Lethality Index||Weapon/Weapon System|
|= Early musket|
|= World War I/II rifle|
|= Modern assault rifle|
|= World War I tank|
|= World War I fighter/bomber|
|= World War II tank|
|= World War II fighter/bomber|
|= Modern battle tank|
|= Conventional fighter/bomber|
|= Short-range nuclear missile (20 kiloton warhead)|
|= Nuclear-armed fighter/bomber (350 kiloton warhead)|
|= Strategic nuclear missile (25-megaton warhead)|
These numbers are difficult to believe. Yet a brief historical reflection confirms the unfortunate reality. The Roman Empire of about 60 million inhabitants was maintained for four centuries primarily by the foot soldier, armed with a short sword (gladius) to enforce the Pax Romana. Perhaps a hundred million may have been killed by this weapon over time, as the result of wars of conquests, the suppression of revolts, civil wars, border conflicts and so on. If a full-scale nuclear exchange had taken place between the United States and the Soviet Union, this number of victims would have been killed in one hour.
The table does not consider the lethality of biological warfare. During the 14th century the Black Death plague (Pasteurella pestis) caused twenty-five million deaths, up to one-third of the populations affected. What would be the death toll today from the application of genetic engineering technologies to biological warfare? Entire populations, or specific racial or ethnic groups, could be targeted and destroyed. A biological agent -- bacteria, virus, protozoa -- could even mutate and spread worldwide destruction to the entire human species. For example, an outbreak of the Ebola virus in 1976 killed 88% of the people it infected. Yet several countries -- including the United States and Russia -- are conducting research into this lethal military technology.
Another danger is emerging from lack of economic development. Rapidly growing populations intrude into subtropical forests and make contact with dormant, but highly lethal viruses. Subsequent migrations into cities afflicted with poverty, crowding and poor hygiene then spread such fatal diseases as AIDS.
As science and technology continue to unravel the mysteries of the universe, their discoveries are soon applied to develop increasingly more lethal weapons. Military establishments continue to absorb the lethal technologies. Eventually, growing tensions and mistrust among countries will erupt into wars -- wars that will be fought with tremendously lethal weapons. How can we save the human species from annihilation by its own inventions?
Diversion of Resources
Armed with increasingly powerful weapons, military forces rule or dominate much of the world's population. If we count the totalitarian and authoritarian governments, which could not exist without military force, probably half the world's population lives under direct or indirect military rule. But even in democratic countries huge amounts are spent every year on maintaining their military forces and on weapons research and procurement. These expenditures by necessity are diverted from solving or alleviating the many social and economic problems of the world. Authoritarian leaders of many Third World countries also find it more useful to maintain large armed forces than to increase the living standards of their oppressed subjects.
This diversion of resources from human needs creates the following conditions:
Low-Intensity Conflicts (LICs)
Currently about 40 wars are going on in various parts of the world that involve regular armed forces. Increasingly these wars are fought on home grounds against a country's own citizens or subjects. These tribal, ethnic, religious or political conflicts frequently do not result in large military casualties. But the consequences of these so-called low-intensity conflicts (LICs) can be very harmful, as normal agricultural, transportation and other economic activities are disrupted. Famines and disease frequently produce large numbers of victims, mostly children and other innocent bystanders. Many LICs are accompanied by unofficial terrorist acts -- bombings, hijackings, kidnapping, armed attack. Still worse is the official terror -- assassinations, abductions, torture in detention and arbitrary actions by police and judges of many countries.
Unless we correct the global political mismanagement, which prevents the resolving of the economic and social problems of humanity, LICs will continue to spread. Even the prosperous, democratic countries of the developed world are not immune to this contagion. A leading scholar of warfare warned in 1991:
"America's current economic decline must be halted; or else one day the crime that is rampant in the streets of New York and Washington, D.C., may develop into low-intensity conflict by coalescing along racial, religious, social and political lines, and run completely out of control."
Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War
One year after this written the riots in Los Angeles erupted. None of the conditions that contributed to that catastrophe have been remedied in the United States. Meanwhile, the existence of discontented minority youth organized into gangs, well armed with automatic weapons, remains a threat to civil order. (Indeed, the inability to achieve gun control is another evidence of serious political mismanagement in the U.S.) Only leadership and a command infrastructure is needed for these gangs to plunge this country into disruption and chaos.
Now a new type of gang is emerging in rural America -- the anti-government militias. Well armed and trained, the militias could become a future source of LICs, as indicated by the Oklahoma City bombing of the federal building that was applauded by many militia supporters.
The End of the Cold War -- Emergence of New Problems
The Cold War entailed a tremendous sacrifice in resources and energies by the two superpowers and their allies. But the separation of humanity into two blocks had at least the benefit of suppressing many lesser conflicts that might have emerged.
The demise of the Soviet Union essentially terminated the Cold War, at least for the present. But in some ways we are left in a worse condition than before. Most of the nuclear arsenals remain in place, though efforts are made to dismantle many of the more dangerous missiles and warheads. But the weakening of the central authority structures released suppressed ethnic, tribal, religious and other tensions. Much of Eastern Europe and parts of Africa and Asia are plunged into conflict, hostilities and civil war. We can now see how badly politicians mishandled the external affairs of their countries and others dependent on them. For example, after World War I the relatively stable Austrian-Hungarian empire was carved up to secure "national self-determination." Now the successor states are major sources of unrest. Czechoslovakia separated into the Czech and Slovak republics. The South Slavs and other ethnic groups bundled into a greater Yugoslavia are slaughtering each other. Greater Romania oppressed its minorities, in spite of the human rights guarantees the politicians promised, and so on.
Colonial "diplomacy" also had its share of disasters. The Kurdish nation of 20 million people never received its right to self-determination. An artificial Iraq was cobbled together out of disparate nationalities and religions, and became a threat to its more peaceful neighbors. The endless supply of weapons and armaments, and the support of incompetent political misleaders are now the source of the many civil wars, famines and other disasters that plague millions of unfortunate people.
The demand of ethnic groups for self-government is a symptom of the new tribalism that is sweeping the world. Unfortunately, the distribution of tribes, nationalities and other ethnic groups seldom follows simple boundaries. Only about 20 states (out of 174) in the world are ethnically homogeneous. Only about half the countries have one ethnic group that numbers at least 75% of the population. Since many of these non-dominant ethnic groups are ruled in a non-democratic fashion, they feel aggrieved and try to gain independence. Further complications emerge from the fact that frequently these groups are commingled, and cannot be separated peacefully. These conditions provide a fertile field for authoritarian leaders, both in the endeavors to suppress and in the efforts to gain independence. These political demagogues may masquerade as benevolent despots, presidents-for-life, warlords, religious redeemers or military saviors -- the outcomes are the same. Basic human rights are denied; massacres of opponents take place; ethnic cleansing (accompanied by looting and rape) is undertaken; famines result from the interruption of agriculture; and millions of refugees flood neighboring countries.
This manifestation of the First Brain mindset now disrupts the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, most of Africa, the Middle East, India and Southwest Asia. It is now even spreading to parts of Latin America, with no end in sight. Because this new tribalism is accompanied by the breakdown of economies and agriculture, much environmental destruction and the intensifying of social problems, the impact on human survival is very negative.
Three contemporary events illustrate the tragic results of political mismanagement combined with the new tribalism:
The Yugoslav Disaster
The Western "peacemakers" (perhaps more accurately called war instigators) after World War I provided a classic example of political mismanagement. They combined nine states and provinces totally fragmented by regional, historical, economic, linguistic, cultural and religious differences into the new kingdom of Yugoslavia. Dominated by an oppressive Serb minority, the new country became increasingly turbulent. During World War II the Croats separated into a fascistic state, which conducted genocidal massacres of Serbs and Jews. Even Bosnian Muslims allowed themselves to be recruited into two SS divisions, which then participated in atrocities against the Serbs. Reconstituted by Tito as a communist state after the war, Yugoslavia fragmented again after his death. Now we witness ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, hundreds of thousands of refugees and unmentionable atrocities.
A modicum of foresight and planning would have prevented these tragedies. But incompetent politicians are not capable or interested in anticipating problems that might arise in the future. Germany's recognition of Croatia before strong constitutional rights for the Serbian minority were in place is a current example of this pattern. Fearing a new genocide because of the resurgence of the fascistic Ustasha and the racist statements of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, the Serbs of Croatia declared their independence. Their compatriots in Bosnia followed their example, and started the ethnic cleansing modeled after the actions of Nazi Germany and its satellites during World War II.
The Somalian Tragedy
The unfortunate people of Somalia were also victims of the twin malaise of First Brain thinking and political mismanagement. Unlike Yugoslavs, Somalis mostly are of the same ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Here, authoritarian leaders were using differences in tribes, clans and sub-clans to gain power. Because of the past military support -- at different times -- of both the United States and the Soviet Union, the country was flooded with weapons and armaments. This enabled politicians to become warlords and conduct civil wars in attempts to gain or retain their illegitimate power. The next stage was the emergence of a large mass of hopeless young men with easy access to guns, who became bandits. They destroyed the agriculture and economy of Somalia, with results we witnessed on television. The United States had a dual role. First we were arming the Somali warlords with hundreds of millions dollars worth of weapons. Then we sent in the Marines to disarm the very same warlords. The logical mind rightfully can raise the question: Where is the end to political mismanagement? How can we facilitate the emergence of gifted and benign leaders?
The Genocide of Rwanda
Fifty years after the Jewish-Slavic Holocaust of World War II a new genocide took place, this time in Africa. Unlike the previous genocide, this tragedy took place under the scrutiny of the media and the existence of the United Nations, an organization supposedly established to promote peace and prevent violence.
European colonial rule favored the domination of the minority Tutsi tribe over the majority Hutus. The groundwork for future violence was created by not preparing the inhabitants for resolving their differences through peaceful actions. Consequently, a continuous condition of political unrest and bloody conflict ensued, exacerbated by economic problems created in part by overpopulation and lack of development. The rule of the Hutus was challenged by the Tutsis through a virtual civil war. Finally in 1993 a peace accord was was signed between the two tribes after political reform and a new democratic constitution promised to bring peace to the unfortunate inhabitants of Rwanda. But once again the extremist powerseekers intervened. The assassination of the moderate Hutu president was followed by highly organized genocidal massacres of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, claiming at least 500,000 victims between April and June 1994. During the genocide none of the powers -- such as France claiming influence in the region -- intervened to halt the massacres. Only the victory of the Tutsi-led guerrilla army halted the slaughter. But this in turn caused the flight of millions of refugees to neighboring countries, causing many more deaths through disease and malnutrition.
Is the Rwanda genocide the precursor of future genocides and dislocations of massive populations? There are many other countries with population groups available to be demonized and massacred. The political instabilities of these countries are not very promising for the future of the human species in the coming new millennium.
The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism
Another troubling expression of the First Brain mindset is the rise of religious fundamentalism. The manifestation of a fundamentalist Christianity is relatively minor. But the aggrieved masses in India and the Islamic countries find an outlet in expressing their frustrations through religious extremism. In this they are encouraged by religious leaders turned into authoritarian political leaders.
The Holy War Mentality
The idea of the Jihad or Holy War is an integral part of Islam. Jihad means "striving," to be used in spreading Islam, and can be of four types -- of the heart, of the tongue, of the hand and of the sword. Two conditions now favor the moving of the Holy War toward violence. Authoritarian leaders can divert the belligerence of Islamic communities against the non-Muslim "infidels." In addition, the easy access to weapons and armaments favors the use of the violent version of the Holy War.
Fundamentalist Islam, strongly supported by Iran, is now on the rise throughout much of the Arab world. The poverty and desperation of the masses -- frequently caused or amplified by political mismanagement -- is behind this development. But again, powerseeking politicians find it advantageous to latch onto fundamentalism in trying to gain or retain power in such countries as the Sudan, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. There is also now Islamic fundamentalist violence in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan. The current violence in Bosnia was to some extent precipitated by the Islamic fundamentalist notions of the Bosnian president.
Because the most radical elements of Islamic fundamentalism espouse a virulent form of anti-Western ideology, future wars and violence become very probable. Since Iran and some other Islamic countries are engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction, this could be a very dangerous future development.
Authoritarian leaders were behind the recent upsurge of Hindu fundamentalist violence against Muslims. This involved the usual political ploy of trying to capture power by arousing religious frenzy against minorities. The large numbers of people involved -- 100 million Muslims and 700 million Hindus -- make this a worrisome situation.
The Convergence of Unsolved Problems
Human history has been marked continuously with problems of varying magnitudes and seriousness. But never before have so many unsolved problems converged in time and space. The population explosion to 5.5 billion people, and rapidly growing, is a major element of our dilemma. Following is a brief overview of these threats to human existence as we approach the new millennium. The interactions and interrelations among the various impacts further intensify and worsen the problems and conditions. The Exhibit B interactions chart, "Human Devolution -- The Need to End Political Mismanagement and War" illustrates the major relationships among the various elements. (Note: The items listed are capitalized, just as they appear in the interactions chart.)
The Inter-State Impacts include Fear and Mistrust Among Governments; Major and Minor Wars; Spread of Religious and Ethnic Conflicts; Genocides and Mass Casualties. The total cost in human lives in the 20th century is at least 208 million deaths caused by the war institution and political mismanagement. See Exhibit C, "Death by Government in the 20th Century."
The Political Impacts cause the Suppression of Democratic Forces; Power Retention by Oppressive Governments; Terrorism; Spread of Low-Intensity Conflicts (LICs); Support of Militarism; Arms Race; International Arms Trade. The ultimate harm is the Diversion of Resources from Human Needs.
The Knowledge Explosion Impacts result in Misapplied Science and Technology, which causes Increasing Lethality of Weapons; Nuclear Weapons and possible Nuclear Winter. Biological Weapons and the Emergence of New Diseases may cause Global Epidemics.
The Economic Impacts cause Hampered Economic Development; Economic Exploitation; Poverty; Inadequate Housing; Poor Infrastructure (water and sanitation); Malnutrition and Famine.
The Environmental Impacts include Soil Erosion; Desertification; Deforestation; Environmental Pollution; Diminished Biodiversity.
The Social Impacts result in the Violation of Human Rights; Impaired
Social Development; Lack of Education; Lack of Health Care; Emergence of New Diseases;
Oppression of Women; Excessive Population Growth.
The Exhibit B (Supplement) illustrates these negative interactions in the form of a graphic drawing.
The Emerging Catastrophe -- The Breakdown of Civilization
Activists concerned about the environment worry a great deal about endangered species of animal life, such as the spotted owl. Yet ironically, they -- as members of Homo sapiens -- are also becoming an endangered species. Global political mismanagement, reinforced by the war institution -- with its enormous armies, navies and air forces -- is now placing the human species in the endangered category. Here we are joining such members of the animal kingdom as the rhinoceros, the humpback whale and the giant panda.
"The animal species chiefly at risk for the near term is humankind. If there is to be a mass extinction just ahead, we will be the most conspicuous victims. Despite our vast numbers, we should now be classifying ourselves as an immediately endangered species, on ground of our total dependence on other vulnerable species for our food, and our simultaneous dependence, as a social species, on each other."
Lewis Thomas, The Fragile Species
How can we forecast that the breakdown of civilization and even human extinction is a high probability event? Who is more credible in today's world: an optimist who believes that "all is for the best in this best of possible worlds," or a realist who warns about future dangers well documented by current events and conditions? Who could have foreseen the Holocaust and the other genocides at the beginning of the 20th century, with the optimistic mindset then existing?
Increasingly, serious students of the human condition are expressing pessimistic views. For example, Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee wrote:
"Together with our destruction of our own environmental resources, our genocidal tendencies coupled to nuclear weapons now constitute the two most likely means by which the human species may reverse all its progress virtually overnight."
Even the extinction of the entire human species is not beyond the realm of possibility. Culturally programmed differences in behavior, genetically programmed differences in appearance combine into xenophobia -- a fear and hatred of strangers. When we combine xenophobia with weapons and other techniques of mass murder the result is genocide. "xenophobic murder developed to the point of threatening to bring about our fall as a species. Threatening our own existence has now joined art and language as a human hallmark."
While Anthony Storr and Jared Diamond look at the human condition as scholars of physiology and psychology, experts on international affairs are equally concerned.
Zbigniew Brzezinski in Out of Control explains the political background that enabled the human genocidal instincts to flourish in the 20th century. Authoritarian leaders were able to appeal to their subjects' xenophobia through First Brain manipulations made possible by technological developments. Brzezinski's comprehensive analysis of the human condition concludes: "power now can destroy all of humanity directly as well as indirectly through mindless exploitation of the environment and human self-alterations."
Similarly, Paul Kennedy in Preparing for the Twenty-first Century explores general world trends and their impact on the future. He is especially concerned about the surge of population and the rising demographic imbalances between rich and poor countries; environmental deterioration; and growing politically instability. The combined effect of these trends " now threaten to exacerbate social relations in all manner of ways, and may even threaten the long-term existence of humankind itself."
British military historian John Keegan in A History of Warfare summarizes a life-time study of war and militarism with a similar warning. "Unless we unlearn the habits [of excessive warmaking] we have taught ourselves, we shall not survive." His conclusion is that "as man's powers of destruction have grown, so has the awareness that survival ultimately depends on taming his enormous and enduring capacity for violence."
Those who study and attempt to forecast the future also are not exactly exuding optimism. In a recent communication, Edward Cornish, president of the World Future Society (an association for the study of alternative futures), stated the consensus of many serious students of the future:
"Whether we are on the threshold of a Golden Age or on the brink of a global cataclysm that will extinguish our civilization is not only unknowable, but undecided. The decision will emerge through what we do in the years ahead We can do nothing to change the past, but we have enormous power to shape the future. Once we grasp that essential insight, we recognize our responsibility and capability for building our dreams of tomorrow and avoiding the nightmares."
Because the stakes are so high, we must be realistic in evaluating our predicament. We must start by looking at the past and verifying the existence of similarities in our current conditions.
It is possible to make projections and forecasts based on the existence of potentially harmful conditions. For example, the early Zionists foresaw the need for separate nationhood for the Jewish populations in Europe. This was at a time when the situation of the Jews was favorable in such countries as Great Britain, France, Germany and Austria-Hungary. Similarly, John Maynard Keynes and others clearly saw that political mismanagement would make the Versailles Peace Conference -- between the victorious allies of World War I and Germany -- fail and cause future strife.
The state of Europe and the world in 1913 was ripe for a future condition of peace and prosperity. There were only eight great military and economic powers. Disputes could have been easily resolved. Science, industry and the arts were thriving. Economic development was strong and continuing. Democracy was emerging even in the German and Russian empires. World population was less than two billion. Ethnic and tribal conflict was restrained by the strong central authorities of empires and powerful nation-states. The global environment was relatively unharmed. Military technology was not highly advanced. Yet two catastrophic and devastating world wars emerged out of these generally favorable conditions.
The world situation and conditions today are far more serious than they were in 1913, eighty-seven years earlier. Table 5 highlights some comparative indicators:
|Number of governments||
|Types of governments||
Many stable monarchies and republics
Many authoritarian governments
Weak, breaking down
|Number of wars||
One war, two civil wars
38 severe wars and conflicts
|Number of refugees||
|Serving in the armed forces||
|Main battle tanks||
|Mass destruction weapons||
Some poison gas
Extremely lethal nuclear weapons (20,000), chemical and biological agents
|Condition of environment||
Rapidly deteriorating (deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, species extinction, pollution)
The interactions of the indicators in Table 5 further worsen the human condition. For example, while world population increased significantly, tremendous amounts of the resources devoted to the war institution were diverted from the meeting of human needs. This resulted in a growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the developed countries and the undeveloped countries, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. According to the 1999 Human Development Report (published by the U.N. Development Program), the industrial countries enjoy an average life expectancy of 78 years, while the developing countries average only 64 years. Only 45 countries were in the category of high human development out of a total of 174 countries in 1999. Between 1960 and 1990, the incomes of countries with the richest 20% of the world population grew two and a half times faster than the bottom 20%. This resulted in a situation where the richest 20% of the world's population enjoyed an income 59 times greater than the poorest 20% possessed.
Because of these inequalities, the conditions of the modern world begin to form a veritable "witches' brew." Into the cauldron of the planet Earth hundreds of millions of young males are born. Their undeveloped or declining communities offer little hope or opportunity. Because they have little to lose, they become angry, resentful and hostile. Their First Brain mindsets carry a legacy of ethnic, religious, tribal and other hostilities and enmities, which prevent cooperation for economic and social development. Seeing and envying a rich, developed world, they can easily be stirred up by demagogic, authoritarian leaders. A limitless supply of weapons and armaments is available to transform them into predators ready to turn against civilization. Their governments eagerly seek out or develop nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction. The inevitable outcome will be violence and revolutions -- expressed as wars, massacres, genocides, low-intensity conflicts, terrorism, and ultimately even catastrophic confrontations between major groups of nation-states.
Unfortunately, this process is already well underway. In an article titled The Coming Anarchy Robert D. Kaplan described "How scarcity, overpopulation, tribalism and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet." His preview of the coming anarchy was based on observations in West Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and other parts of the less developed world. His conclusion: "Nations break up under the tidal flow of refugees from environmental and social disaster. As borders crumble, another type of boundary is erected -- a wall of disease. Wars are fought over scarce resources, especially water, and war itself becomes continuous with crime, as armed bands of stateless marauders clash with the private security forces of the elites." While the article has perhaps an unduly pessimistic tone, it is not far from the reality of what is taking place and what is likely to continue in the future.
At present, in Asia and Africa alone there are serious conflicts in 26 countries. These range from relatively minor violence connected to politics to major civil wars between ethnic groups and tribes. The death toll of these conflicts is now in hundreds of thousand following the recent genocide in Rwanda, with refugees and displaced people in the millions.
Humans and Nation-States as Predators
Modern technology and the traits of aggressiveness, obedience and the genetic predisposition to kill contribute to an increasingly harmful and dangerous development. Humans -- both as individuals and as members of groups -- can easily become predators. Predators not in the sense of exploitation, but literally preying on and physically destroying other humans and devouring (robbing or looting) their possessions. Criminals engaging in violent crimes -- individually or in gangs -- can be classified as predators. It is now recognized that repetitive offenders of vicious sex crimes cannot be reformed. Since 1990 the state of Washington has a sexual predator law, which imprisons career sexual predators before they can commit new crimes. Similarly, professional criminals engaged in robbery, mugging, holdup and other crimes involving threatened or actual violence must be considered as human predators. The attacks on visitors in Florida by "tourist hunters" in 1994 are among the examples of this predatorial behavior.
The human body -- with relatively weak teeth and fingernails -- by itself does not create a very formidable predator. But the development of the tools known as "weapons" changed this situation tremendously. Well-armed individuals and countries, fueled by the aggression instinct and lack of inhibition of violence against others, can easily become predators. The ready availability of weapons of all sizes -- from handguns to military aircraft, battle tanks, guided missiles, naval vessels and even clandestine poison gas and nuclear factories -- make human predator conditions easy to achieve.
Most societies can cope with the individual predators. But when entire cultures and even nation-states become predators, the danger to human survival becomes formidable. Unfortunately, many human cultures were originally based on the predatorial practices of hunting and the domestication of animals. It is not just a coincidence that some of the worst genocides originated from such cultures. The culture of the Germanic cattle nomads produced Hitler, and the Mongolian horse nomads contributed Genghis Khan to the history of genocide.
One would have thought that advances in human civilization, and especially the influence of organized religion, would have abolished this human trait. Sadly, the First Brain mindset encourages predatorial behavior. People of different race, ethnicity and other differing characteristics are looked upon with suspicion and potential hostility, especially if a society's culture encourages such attitudes. Authoritarian leaders can then use this trait to focus and inflame their followers onto enmity. If a predatory tribe or supertribe, i.e., a nation-state, is powerful enough, then such predatorial practices as massacres, ethnic cleansing and even genocides will be conducted.
The turning of Germany into a predator nation is especially instructive. Following the unification of Germany in 1871, the educational system was changed to stress the superiority of the German race and culture. Stimulated by the powerful Prussian military, a highly aggressive foreign policy was initiated. This led to World War I and Imperial Germany's defeat. Naturally, the powerholders and the military would not admit their foolish mistakes. Instead they blamed the Jews, the socialists and others who allegedly "stabbed in the back" the superior German nation. The blunders of the victorious Allied politicians then abetted the rise of Hitler, who intensified German feelings of superiority with the "master race" concept, destined to dominate the world. Under this plan some groups were destined to be domesticated and used -- like the Slavs. Others -- political opponents, Jews, Gypsies -- had to be exterminated. Fortunately the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain refused to cooperate and administered a humiliating defeat to this predator nation. But the ultimate cost of about 55 million deaths was a high price to pay for overcoming this manifestation of the potentially fatal human tendencies -- political mismanagement, the ability of demagogues to inflame their subjects and the excessive war institution.
Of course, Nazi Germany was not unique as a predator nation. On the other side of the Eurasian continent the Japanese Empire also became a predator nation. Its attempts to conquer an "East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere" led to many war crimes and millions of deaths.
In truth, any country without a responsible government can engage in predatorial activities. Some of today's disasters are thus traceable to nation-states behaving as predators. The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and the aggression against the Muslims of Bosnia by Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia are gruesome examples of this human catastrophe. As usual, political mismanagement and a runaway war institution are the real culprits.
Neither the weak U.N. nor the feeble protests of the democracies are likely to prevent the emerge of future predator nations. Society has the right to protect itself from the sexual and other criminal predators. Similarly, if the human species is to survive, we must expunge the political mismanagement and uncontrolled war institution that create the predators among nations.
Back to the Future
From the vantage of the early '50s it was possible to look back to an earlier period and trace the origins and causes of the Jewish-Slavic Holocaust. Similarly, the origins of our present day crises and predicaments had their start in the period just before World War I. The relatively benign conditions of that era still produced a period of tremendous turmoil and bloodshed. Political mismanagement and an excessive influence of the military on domestic and foreign policy caused the deaths of almost all the 208 million war and conflict related victims in the 20th century. There were some attempts to forestall the emerging crises. For example, these were some of the efforts toward peace in Europe in 1913:
But these feeble actions had little impact on the catastrophic conditions that were slowly developing. The war institution was flourishing throughout the world. Politicians and powerholders lacked the foresight to manage emerging crises. Gradually a condition was built up where a single terrorist incident -- the assassination of the Austrian crown prince at Sarajevo -- precipitated World War I, and all the other wars, massacres and famines that can be traced to it. This is a real-world example of the previously mentioned catastrophe theory.
If the relatively favorable conditions of the early 20th century resulted in so much harm, what can we anticipate in our future? We are starting from a much higher plateau of population size, far more massive armed forces and incredibly greater weapons lethality than we had in 1913. There are also many more authoritarian governments with their demagogic leaders, ready to stir up First Brain conflicts and enmities against other groups. Some of these irresponsible governments are even trying to buttress their power by acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The logic of our New Brain gave us tremendous technological and scientific developments -- most very beneficial, but also some very harmful, especially if they are misapplied by political mismanagement and the war institution. Unfortunately, our moral development did not keep abreast of our scientific and technological inventions.
The End of the World?
John Leslie, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Guelph (Canada) explores thoroughly the risks facing the human species. His book, The End of the World: The Science and Ethics of Human Extinction summarizes the most advanced scientific and scholarly findings. His conclusions include the following:
Natural disasters are beyond the realm of our control. Such catastrophes as huge volcanic eruptions, collision with asteroids or comets, a supernova or other astronomical explosions are fortunately not very likely to occur.
Much more worrisome are threats already well recognized, but still within our
control if we take preventive actions. These include:
By nation-states or terrorists or criminals:
Through population explosion and harmful technological developments:
Man-made disasters as byproducts of scientific research or malfunctioning technology :
In conclusion, Prof. Leslie cautions his readers:
"The continued career of the human race is endangered by chemical, biological and nuclear war, by destruction of the ozone layer and greenhouse-effect overheating ... by desertification and pollution of land and sea, by loss of biodiversity and by diseases. Overpopulation, a main cause of the deterioration of the environment, may also lead to global warfare."
Our technological advances encouraged a huge population explosion, tremendous consumption of natural resources and resulting proliferation of environmental destruction and pollution, and an almost unbelievable increase in the lethality of mass destruction weapons. Unfortunately, we are also victimized by a condition of world-wide political mismanagement that is unable or unwilling to reduce the growing threats to human survival. In fact, powerholders in many countries continue to engage in, or support activities that threaten our very existence.
The gravest danger resulting from our apparent inability to curb political mismanagement and the war institution is that a catastrophic explosion is likely to result from the pent-up tensions of the world. Such a huge conflict would be far greater in extent than World War II, just as World War II far exceeded in magnitude and cost the first World War. And because the lethality of weapons is now also much greater than those used in prior conflicts, the outcome would be truly catastrophic. For the first time in human history, the biblical prophecy of the Armageddon -- a terminal conflict between two opposing forces -- could become a tragic reality.
The dictionary defines armageddon as "a final and conclusive conflict between the forces of good and evil." This definition suggests a supernatural battle at the end of world history. As the 20th century is drawing to a close, some doomsayers are prophesying such apocalyptic scenarios. Frequently, First Brain appeals are used by cult leaders, who promise their followers salvation and guaranteed passage to Heaven, and everybody else eternal torment in Hell. Many of these prophecies are very specific, giving exact dates for their version of the apocalypse. Naturally, none of the mainline organized religions agree with these unsubstantiated "prophecies."
The second, more realistic definition is: "a widespread annihilating war; a vast conflict that is marked by great slaughter and widespread destruction that is so decisive as to make further conflict impossible." The human condition -- with global population in billions, armies of tens of millions, and tremendously lethal mass destruction armaments -- provides the infrastructure for such an armageddon. Only human folly and the stupidities of political mismanagement will be needed to stimulate and ignite seething enmities and hostilities into a terminal conflict.
The following potential, armageddon-type conflicts would result, at a minimum, in the breakdown of civilization as we know it. The destruction of urban centers and the interruption of transportation and communications networks would put hundreds of millions in jeopardy. If the lethality of military technology continues its unparalleled increase, then any major conflict also would threaten the environment and life-systems critical for human existence. The human species, which relies totally on the environment and the intertwined life-systems for its food and much of its economy, may not survive such a disaster.
Unlike the prophecies of the doomsayers, there are neither certainties nor specific times attached to the scenarios suggested. Still, as world problems remain unaddressed, there is a critical mass forming, which could cause one or more major conflicts within the next 25 to 50 years. Fortunately, if we admit that the problems and dangers are real, and if we are willing to take the necessary actions to forestall them, then the potential conflicts will never happen.
The Coming "Clash of Civilizations"?
Samuel P. Huntington in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order offers a pessimistic, though not unrealistic future for the human species. His thesis is that the post-Cold War period global politics are becoming multipolar and multicivilizational. Cultural differences, based on ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs and institutions are causing an increased fragmentations of humanity along the lines of the nine major civilizations: Western, Sinic, Islamic, Hindu, Orthodox, Japanese, Buddhist, Latin American and African. The relative decline of the West (including that of the United States) is accompanied by the expansion of the Asian civilizations' economic, military and political strength, brought about by modernization and development. The demographic explosion of Islam threatens further destabilizations among civilizations.
Powerholders and powerseekers of many of the countries are finding it useful to denounce the still considerable power of the West. The domestic social and economic problems of the United States and the European countries suggest a civilization in decline, while economic power is rapidly shifting to East Asia. The modernization and economic development facilitates the acquisition of sophisticated military capabilities, including mass destruction weapons. But the processes of social, economic and cultural modernization also cause a global religious resurgence, which further adds to the creation of future conflicts. Too often, "religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and nonbelievers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group." Many of the existing and potential conflicts will be exploited by the world-wide political class appealing to religious, national, ethnic and other sentiments useful for gaining and keeping power. Frequently opponents will be demonized as subhuman, legitimizing mass murders, ethnic cleansing, genocides and other practices of 20th century political entities.
Potential Future Armageddons
There are several plausible scenarios for large scale, extended, all-out wars that could destroy civilization as we know it and, under some unfortunate events, could even initiate the extinction of the human species.
Totalitarianism vs. Democracy
a. Existing or new authoritarian regimes resist attempts of democratization and expanding human rights.
b. Authoritarian and democratic countries confront and destroy each other through extensive use of mass destruction weapons (this could have happened in the '70s and early '80s between the United States and the Soviet Union).
a. Religious fundamentalism will be triumphant in the Islamic countries.
b. Fundamentalist governments acquire full nuclear and other mass destruction capabilities.
c. Islamic fundamentalism provokes rise of Christian and Hindu fundamentalism.
d. Eventually Islamic countries wage total war against an alliance of Christian and
Hindu fundamentalist governments, resulting in mutual destruction.
Global Intercivilizational War
a. The rise of China as the dominant economic and military power in Asia makes its powerholders increasingly assertive.
b. China's invasion of Vietnam results in the involvement of the United States and Japan in the conflict.
c. Europe, Russia and India join the United States in a coalition against China, Japan and most of Islam.
d. The contending coalitions become engaged in a global war, resulting in mutual nuclear devastation.
(Source: Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington. The recent nuclear tests by India and Pakistan appear to confirm this potentially fatal trend.)
Breakdown of Civilizations by Low-intensity Conflicts
a. Political mismanagement spreads throughout the world, combined with wide distribution of weapons and armaments.
b. Uncontrolled population growth combines with tribal, ethnic and social class separatism, resulting in Balkanization and Lebanonization of most countries.
c. Civil wars, terrorism, riots and other forms of low-intensity conflicts cause the breakdown of civil society and economies, including agricultural production.
d. Environmental destruction and species extinction gradually destroy the existing web of life.
e. The interruption of food production and the breakdown of sanitation results in mass starvation and epidemics, killing most of humanity.
The Ultimate Threat
Arnold Toynbee in his Choose Life, after a lifetime study of history, perceptively summarized the ultimate threat to humanity by political mismanagement and the war institution:
"The threat to mankind's survival comes from mankind itself; human technology, misused to serve the diabolic purposes of human egoism and wickedness, is a more deadly danger than earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, storms, floods, droughts, viruses, microbes"
If we translate Toynbee's statement about misused human technology as the uncontrolled war institution; and human egoism and wickedness as political mismanagement, then our current predicament is clear. More than ever, new social inventions and institutions are needed to overcome the fatal human tendency toward self-destruction.
The preceding chapters focused on attempting to understand the causes of the Holocaust and learn from them lessons for the future; the next chapter describes the actions needed to avert the ultimate danger to human survival.
Return to Contents