barbarism prospect can prompt great transition

fortress world scenario

Can't help myself: I'm a top-spin kind of guy. A diehard optimist.

Still, in reviewing the GSG scenario for the "Great Transition", I couldn't help sneaking a peak back at that other scenario. You know, the one with that 'B' word (barbarization).

And somewhere in there, I started thinking about how the Bushies seem to be banking on barbarism. I mean, how else can you rationalize the 'cowboy' attitude?

OK, I admit it, I recently saw the new docudrama on 'Bobby', and I was thrown back to America's earlier days when we believed we could lead the world.

That's not only NOT happening now, my country eschews any notion of 'high-road' leadership, opting instead for the 'gonna get mine' attitude.

So it goes.

Can this lead anywhere other than a 'fortress world'?

Yes, says GSG, it can lead to 'breakdown'.

What if the Cheney gang is wrong about being able to play global cop. What if the center cannot hold.*

Says GSG:

"Barbarization scenarios explore the alarming possibility that a Market Forces future veers toward a world of conflict in which the moral underpinnings of civilization erode. Such grim scenarios are plausible. For those who are pessimistic about the current drift of world development, they are probable. We explore them to be forewarned, to identify early warning signs and to motivate efforts that counteract the conditions that could initiate them."

Here's a clue:

As the crisis unfolds, a key uncertainty is the reaction of the remaining powerful institutions—country alliances, transnational corporations, international organizations, armed forces. In the Breakdown variant, their response is fragmented as conflict and rivalry amongst them overwhelm all efforts to impose order."

Here's how that spins out:

"The separate spheres of the haves and have-nots, the included and excluded, are codified in asymmetrical and authoritarian legal and institutional frameworks. The affluent live in protected enclaves in rich nations and in strongholds in poor nations—bubbles of privilege amidst oceans of misery. In the police state outside the fortress, the majority is mired in poverty and denied basic freedoms. The authorities use high-tech surveillance and old-fashioned brutality to control social unrest and migration, and to protect valued environmental resources. The elite have halted barbarism at their gates and enforced a kind of environmental management and uneasy stability."

All of which sets the stage for a re-read of Yeats:

The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- William Butler Yeats, January 1919

Yup, 88 years ago, that pithy poet Yeats saw this coming: a reign of terror haunted by war (via secret doors).

Guess it shows my own cognitive dissonance to reveal that this obstinate optimist believes we're headed for barbarism.

FWIW, I wrote about this in my book 5 years ago. Here's the chart of GSG 'scenario forces' I posted in the conclusion to Chapter 4 on 'Where We Are Headed':

3 scenarios

"What if the world changes around us and falls into barbarism?", I asked back then. "What if we are overly optimistic or fail to anticipate future setbacks?"

Said I (optimistically):

"Kauaians have new practices for shaping our foresight and leveraging our community initiatives."

That's wot the second half of my book is about. Mebbe I should go re-read the whole thang...

Published by Ken on April 19th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, HI-specific

2 Responses to “barbarism prospect can prompt great transition”

  1. DJ Says:

    While I agree with you on the risk of barbarism, I am much less optimistic about the prospects for transitioning out of it. I've been working with a group trying to end the Sri Lanka civil war for almost ten years, and it appears to me that once barbarism rears its ugly head, it's very difficult to get rid of it. We almost ended that war in 2002, but failed to follow through because we all mistook cease-fire for peace. Guess what? The war is back.

    Barbarism is more easily prevented than ended. But it takes analysis like yours to see it coming-- and charisma to get people to listen and change their behaviors.

  2. Orion Kriegman Says:

    I agree that things seem fairly bleak -- especially if you have your nose to the grindstone in some of the most intractable conflicts in the world (I visited Sri Lanka looking at a flawed UN effort to prevent the use of child soldiers -- let alone end the conflict in its entirety!).

    Anyhow, there is always the possibility that things will get worse before they get better. You might be interested in the short essay, Is a Global Crisis Necessary?, by James Goldstein, a senior fellow at the Tellus Institute:

    Paul Raskin and I seek to address some of the questions about human agency in shaping a Great Transition in our short essay titled, Who Will Change the World? It can be found here:
    (along with links to more elaborate papers on the topic)

    As Lewis Mumford once said, "I am pessimistic about the probabilities, but optimistic about the possibilities." So while it may not be probable, a future of enriched lives, human solidarity and a healthy planet is still very much possible.

    The question is: how? I will continue to post my thoughts on these and related topics. I'd love to get your thoughts and comments as I explore this question, you can read me at:

    We appreciate your hearfelt review of the GSG scenarios! Thanks for taking the time.


    Orion Kriegman, GTI Organizer

    Tellus Institute