The future: What history reveals about our fate

2011-04-20 00:00

THIS is history on a grand scale with an added touch of futurism. Boiled down to the essentials, it’s all been said before. The driving forces of the affairs of humankind are biology, social development and geography.

Since racial explanations are unacceptable and genetic differences negligible, and development has its limits and is constantly adapting, Morris falls back on geography.

The Mediterranean and Atlantic, he argues, gave their adjacent territories a massive advantage. Clearly the geographical determinism of late nineteenth-century academia is back in fashion.

To his credit Morris evokes Marx — humankind makes history, but not necessarily in circumstances of its own choosing. And the probable, not the inevitable, governs Morris’s view: even geography is relative and has to be given meaning.

He shows convincingly that the histories of East and West are broadly similar, but developed within different time spans.

Rewinding history to 1100, the European Dark Ages, Morris argues that the odds were on the East to experience an industrial revolution and dominate the world by the twentieth century. By 1800, the chances were down to 5% with geography providing both the opportunity and probability for this outcome.

Now, of course, it is commonly accepted that power is shifting east.

The recent financial crisis may have signalled the end of the mutually dependent relationship between the United States and China known as Chimerica. Will a dominant China be Westernised; or will it create a Sinocentric world?

Morris is not sure, but argues that the geography of East and West may no longer matter. Having identified patterns in human history, he feels entitled to speculate on what is to come.

His crystal ball produces either Nightfall, any one of a number of familiar catastrophes or an unimaginable combination; or Singularity, in which the whole meaning of being human is changed by technology and we are wired into the Internet.

Thank heavens I won’t be around.

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