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A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the
By Jacques Attali
Arcade Publishing; 312 pages
Imagine a world where pirates run amok, blowing themselves up in European city centers; where wars are ignited over lack
of drinking water; where a global face-off between Islam and Christianity
makes World War II look like a water-balloon fight. According to economist
and political scientist Jacques Attali, that is what the future has in store
for us by 2025. In the belief that past experiences are indicative future
events, Attali combs through the history of human kind, all the way back to Homo Habilis, separating the past into nine distinct periods to isolate "what is possible, what changes and
what is unvarying" and applies those trends to the coming century. Attali's
predictions range from the future of journalism (completely paperless) to
the end of the economic crisis (around 2011), offering a glimpse into the
future that is both provocative and petrifying. (See 10 ideas that are changing the world right now.)
Highlight Reel: On the future of the American empire: "After a very long struggle and in the
midst of a serious ecological crisis, the still dominant empire- the United
States- will finally be defeated around 2035 by the same globalization of
the markets (particularly the financial ones), and by the power of
corporations. Financially and politically exhausted, like all other empires
before it, the United States will cease to run the world. But it will remain
the planet's major power; no new empire or dominant nation will replace it.
The world will temporarily become polycentric with a dozen or so regional
powers managing its affairs."
On the future of the climate: "With the marked increase in temperature
changes, very important alterations will take place in nature. Trees will
grow faster and will become more fragile... Much more serious: many more
coastlines could become uninhabitable. Seven of the worlds biggest cities
are ports, and a third of the world's population lives on a coastline...
Eco-exiles will become ten times more numerous by 2050."
On the future of weapons of mass destruction: "Now pointed at Japan, North
Korea's missiles will one day target the United States and China. The
missiles of Pakistan fallen into the hands of fundamentalists will threaten
first India, then Europe. Those of Hezbollah in other words, Iran that now
target Israel will one day be pointed at Cairo, Riyadh, Algiers, Tunis,
Casablanca, Istanbul, then at Rome, Madrid, London and Paris. Should the
battle lines harden and the country be threatened with annihilation, China's
missiles could one day target Japan and the United States."
On the future of cloning: "After repairing diseased organs, they will want
to produce them, then create replacement bodies. First they will produce
lineages of stem cells without destroying the embryo, which will make
genetic therapy ethically acceptable, and then reproductive cloning. Finally
they will manufacture the human being like a made-to-measure artifact, in an
artificial uterus, which will allow the brain to further develop with
characteristics chosen in advance. The human being will thus have become a
As the cofounder and first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction
and Development, Attali won fame for calling the U.S. financial collapse as
early as 2006 giving him more credibility than the average
soothsayer. However, many of his predictions range from the absurd to the,
well... predictable. His belief that Israel must keep its status as a regional
power in order to survive is not exactly rocket science, while his belief
that a utopia of altruistic "transhumans" will emerge from the ashes of
mid-21st century planetary warfare is a bit hard to swallow.
His more outrageous predictions notwithstanding, Attali correctly notes that
our future is not inevitable. Mankind must learn how to appropriately
respond to the crises and opportunities that await us, and grow cognizant of the
fact that large-scale violence can be so dangerous to humanity so that we become "aware of the need for a radical change in attitude." Whether his
predictions are worth taking seriously or not, they all inevitably turn on
the endless capacity of human resilience a notion that appears to be the
only true constant for the future, and the most reassuring.