The XXI century gets nearer

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
24 April, 2018
Editorial: 196
Fecha de publicación original: 4 enero, 2000

He who buys an umbrella when it rains, pays nine when it’s only worth six

Well, can you believe it ! Here I am writing the first article of the year 2000, on a computer, and it will be published and read on the Internet. Only five years ago few people would have invested the time, energy and money on what was considered, then, to be a novel and transient way of wasting time. 15 years ago the idea didn’t exist even in books. Despite being such a recent experience with such obvious repercussions, it is curious to see what a socially clean image it has been given in the multitude of predictions the media have inundated us with over the last few days to celebrate the arrival of the three zeroes. Intellectuals, artists, journalists, writers, philosophers, economists, political scientists, scientists and “tutti quanti” with flashy media attraction were forced (as we were) to participate in the great “visions of the future” celebration. In the vast majority of cases, the predictions were tainted with an irremediable pessimism although some couched it in grandiloquent talk of great scientific advances. What they were really saying, the underlying message, was that the future will just be more of the same. Any change will be part of a fundamental mechanism to ensure that nothing changes.

One is left with the impression that if we transferred this pyrotechnical prophetising back to the year 1900, the vast majority of fortune-tellers would have agreed that the new inventions of the time –the automobile, air travel, the telegraph, electricity, etc.– would revolutionise the world, in other words England, France, perhaps Germany, a part of Italy, Argentina and the US. Nevertheless, very few would have got down to the nitty gritty of the real questions at hand, just as they have failed to do now. Will new nations arise? Will there be revolutions –of whatever kind– altering the layout of the international community? Will international trade continue along neo-liberal market lines? And, depending on the answer to these questions, what type of power correlations would this give way to? Will countries or peoples relegated to a back seat during the last century emerge as leaders in the next? There have been very few answers to these questions. Things are what they are and won’t change much, has been the message regurgitated repeatedly by newspapers, magazines, radios and TV. The optimism or pessimism of the people interviewed in some surveys dealt mainly with improvements in individual life styles and very little guessing went on as regards the social context of the planet. Seattle has obviously not sunk in yet.

It would seem that the big questions are –and they are undoubtedly, though not exclusively– those related to what medicine, genetics, telecommunications, ageing, family life, education, sex, hunger, the environment, religion, immigration and even ethics are going to do to us. But, it is taken for granted that the basis, something as ethereal, and at the same time as solid as power, will continue to exist by submission, imposition and the defence of the privileges of a few minorities. This, despite the fact that there is more than enough writing on the wall announcing the contrary. Right before our eyes those that have always been rich are disappearing, gobbled up by new masters, most of them young, without any tried experience in the culture of power, obliged to negotiate constantly with interlocutors that the previously rich never took into account and in a context of latent social turbulence without precedent, even compared to the socialist movement that threatened the bastions of capitalist power at the turn of the last century.

At the other extreme, if we can give the concept a geographical basis, power is breaking up into hundreds of thousands, millions of intangible atoms through de-heirarchified networks, sometimes based on well-worn traditions –mafias, informal economies, family networks–, or on other new emerging models which have a long way to go yet. The Internet, in this sense, is like the metaphor of an era of social change which has, possibly, not even shown the tip of its nose around the corner yet. And the driving force behind this change is something we have seen very little of during the century which has just ended: consensus, negotiation, and agreements on a global scale and with interlocutors that, up until now, in order to be heard –if they were at all– have had to invest the energy of several generations just to produce an episode that would force some changes in the structure of power.

One begins to suspect that we are moving towards an age where these type of situations will be the rule rather than the exception and where the energy investment, in addition, will be much more spread out, more collective. Does that sound over-optimistic? Obviously not from my point of view. All it means is that decision-making tools will come closer to people whether they act as individuals, associations, companies, bodies, administrations, etc. Consequently, the responsibility for these decisions will also be more direct, more immediate. It is here where we should be putting forward our pessimistic or optimistic visions of the future. Will we be capable of using these tools to assume these responsibilities? Will we learn how to develop strategies for pact making and horizontal power to reconstruct our present society on different political, economic and social foundations? What kind of tensions and conflicts will this dispersion of power unleash over the length and breadth of our coexistence, from the heart of the business world, to education, the family, public administrations, organisations –local and global, national or international, existent or in the making– or large or small identity mechanisms –religion, nationalism, cultural diversity–? We have twelve months to find a more intelligent response than those already proposed, because in December, when the XX century comes to an end, we will once again find ourselves caught up in the “visions of the future” game. Let’s hope that, by that time, instead of just kneeling down to worship the golden calf of technology, we will be able to say something more interesting about those that will be using it.

​Translation: Bridget King​