Feel Lousy About the Future? Dr. Doomsayer Says It Can Only Get Worse

November 13, 1994|By RICHARD O'MARA

Surveys taken over the past months in anticipation of Tuesday's national elections revealed widespread apprehension among people about the future. One Michigan voter, asked what people are so discontented about, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: "The unknown. What could be."

But it's not only about politics, and it's not only here: the same anxiety is evident in Europe and elsewhere.

All this is not so mysterious as many would make it out to be. People tend to focus warily on the future in times like these when immense changes disturb the relationships set for years, among states and within societies.

Also, the approach to the turn of a century always stimulates future thought. Conjunctures in time, dates on a calendar, activate a desire to sum up, and look ahead.

We are only half a dozen years from a new century, and a new millennium (at least for Christians). As it approaches, speculation will grow. The earth will be like an anthill kicked by a celestial boot.

Already there is movement. Everywhere social critics, strategic thinkers, academics, pundits of every stripe try to explain what's going on, where we are going.

Predicting the future is always chancy. It lives in the imagination, and the shape of it usually reflects the desires and fears of those imagining it. But what people expect is not always what they get.

Sometimes things turn out badly, sometimes better. Consider the horse manure analogy.

Bob Kargon, a science historian at the Johns Hopkins University, recalled that back at the turn of the century with the proliferation of horse-drawn carriages, and the growing craze for these conveyances, thoughtful people actually worried about what they were going to do with all the horse manure. No one had factored in the automobile.

"It just shows how difficult it is to predict what is likely to happen by following a trend line," said Dr. Kargon.

Thus, we were rescued from horse manure for carbon-monoxide.

'Clash of Civilizations'

Currently the scenario on the future generating the most discussion is Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations," which appeared in the 1993 summer issue of Foreign Affairs.

Dr. Huntington is director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard. He foresees a future in which the nation state will no longer drive world political activity, nor will ideologies, as they have through much of this century.

"The fault lines between civilizations are replacing the political 11 and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed," he writes.

Dr. Huntington believes civilizations offer a more indelible identity to people than political, national or ideological groupings.

They encompass a greater array of human connections: language, culture, tradition and religion. He identifies eight active civilizations in today's world: the Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic Orthodox, Latin American and African.

Though the borders that separate these entities on the planet seem blurred and porous, they are in fact virtually uncrossable, mainly because of their religious dimension.

This can be more uncompromising even than blood. One can be half European and half Arab. One can even a citizen of two countries. But one can never be half Christian and half Muslim.

Conflicts growing

Conflicts between civilizations have been growing since the end of World War II, Dr. Huntington points out. They have multiplied since the collapse of the Soviet Union. That event, as everyone knows, sparked a flurry of small wars in the region formerly

controlled by Soviet force, and even outside of it in areas once influenced by the ideology emanating from Moscow, as for example in Yugoslavia.

These are not all nationalist or ethnic conflicts, as they have been reported to be. Many are culture clashes: Muslim Azerbaijanis war with Christian Armenians, Catholic Croats battle Serbian Orthodox, and the latter try to suppress the rise of a Muslim state in Bosnia, which in turn receives arms and money from Islamic states far from the Balkans, in the Persian Gulf.

Dr. Huntington identifies the Islamic civilization as the most restive and resentful of Western hegemony in the world -- but not necessarily the most threatening to the security of the West.

That is the Confucian civilization, centered in China. As the United States, Western Europe, even Russia, draw down their military establishments, China is going in the opposite direction, "increasing its military spending and vigorously moving forward with the modernization of its armed forces."

And what should the West do "to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations?"

"Arm itself, economically and militarily," he says.

So much for the peace dividend.

'The Coming Anarchy'

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