On the Future of the World: Some Notes

EDITORIAL, 3 Dec 2018

#563 | Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service

Two Big Words, “Future” and “World”; one small word, “notes”.

To think about a dialectic holon, the world, to speak it, act it.  For sure it will act upon us, so let us try a word on us upon it.

The Tetralateral World.  But what world are we talking about?  First, one known to all: the tetralateral world divided into four parts, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast.  Also known as the First, Second, Third and–usually left out, forgotten–Fourth world.

The first three have dominated the discourse for decades and made us blind to the fourth, with very important parts: China, put in the Second as communist; Japan, put in the First as developed, even in G7.

No doubt there has been a North-South division of the world holon with North dominating, and a West-East division with West dominating.  Making the world Northwest–US-Canada and EU-Western Europe–dominant.

But divisions of holons are dialectic with force/counter-force. Drawing on Chinese thinking, older than Western–let alone US-versions: dominant yin will yield, dominated yang will emerge. And vice versa. Thus a world with South and East dominating has been in the process for some time, making the world Southeast, Japan-China, dominant.

But that is not the end of the (hi)story.  Nothing is the end; dialectics is forever.  The North and the West will re-emerge, and there will be other divisions, and other dialectics.  The world holon accommodates much of that, as a glance at world history convinces us.

The Octagonal world.  But there is also an octagonal world with US-EU as dominant, Russia-China-India-Islam as emerging, and Latin America-Caribbean (ELAC) and Africa dominated by US and EU–but later also to emerge, and blossom.  What is down will come up, and up down.

These two aspects of world future combine into a near future–around, say, 2025–world with Northwest, US-EU, not only declining but falling, and Russia-China-India-Islam not only emerging, but dominating.

So much for world future as the geo-politic regions and states, with North and West coming back into power, on it again, for a while. In Toynbee’s “accelerating history”, with a strong warning against seeing any future as the final stage.  Too many futurists fall into that trap, even predicting the future they like as the final future.

Futures, in plural, like in the World Futures Studies Federation.

We move on to the so-called domestic sphere of the world, the insides of societies in general and states in particular. The focus is on social, not geographical force-counterforce dialectics, especially on gender, generation, race, class, nation, land.

Gender.  The enormous rise of women almost all over the world will be followed by a new rise of men; coming soon.  For some time.

Generation.  The enormous rise of the middle-aged over the old, even in China, will be followed by a return of the old, and by the emergence of the young and the very young, children.  For some time.

Race.  The rise of the non-white–the brown and the yellow, the black and the red–after centuries of domination by “whitey” will be followed by a return of white domination.  For some time.

Class.  Complex, with four class dimensions: economic, military, cultural, political–power by carrots, sticks, values and decisions.  Are the dimensions correlated, high-high-high-high vs low-low-low-low, or not? Equilibrated or disequilibrated? With dialectic from one to the other, between equilibrated class and disequilibrated class.

Nation, defined by language and-or religion.  Dialectics applies: with repressed languages-religions rising and dominant declining, and then the other way around.  And so on, and so forth.

Land.  Usually divided in terms of center and periphery, heading to a turn-around pitting the under-used resources of the periphery against the expended resources of the center.  And then, vice versa.

With new divisions and dialectics emerging, and the old fading.

A basic question of futurology emerges: are humans predestined, doomed to a future?  Is that our karma, destiny?  Do we possess a spiritual force that can make us change our karma, destiny?

Maybe, maybe not.  Take the prognosis of desertification of some areas of the world: massive processes, covering big enough space to accommodate all 7 billion humans, spiritual or not.  Happening, unless we act upon, but then materially, technically, not spiritually.

Yet we can act upon ourselves spiritually.  Thus, it has taken the present author about 60 years of re-search–hard spiritual work–to arrive at these views.  The process has moved me and some others, but not the world. We move the world through knowledge and technology, not through spirituality alone. But, with that–our spiritual capacity to reflect and to change–we can move ourselves.

Divide the “spiritual capacity” in cognitive and emotional in an effort to demystify it.  And let us assume that the dialectics above also applies to this division.  Less of one makes space for more of the other, and vice versa, and that inner dialectic is forever.

Moreover, it may be contagious among humans; the potentials for both are in us all and dialectically related, but that dialectics is also stimulated by what we see or sense around us.

Thus, there is a time for cognition, and a time for emotion.

And a time for exploring, and for deploring.  And celebrating.

So, what does all this lead us to about the world future?

There is no end point with the world saying “j’y suis, je reste“, but an eternal dialectic based on old and new divisions/faultlines.

And where does it lead us about our thinking about world future?

There is no “this is the truth” but an eternal cognition-emotion dialectic.  Like for all “science”. Read some science history, please.

But the world evolves and so do we, one impacting on the other. And one day we may accept this double dialectic.  And even enjoy it.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of TRANSCEND International and rector of TRANSCEND Peace University. He was awarded among others the 1987 High Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. Galtung has mediated in over 150 conflicts in more than 150 countries, and written more than 170 books on peace and related issues, 96 as the only author. More than 40 have been translated to other languages, including 50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives published by TRANSCEND University Press. Transcend and Transform was translated to 25 languages. He has published more than 1500 articles and book chapters and over 500 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service. More information about Prof. Galtung and all of his publications can be found at transcend.org/galtung.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Dec 2018.

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4 Responses to “On the Future of the World: Some Notes”

  1. Joanna Santa Barbara says:

    Dear Johan,
    Acting upon all the complex dynamics you delineate we surely must consider the physics of our biosphere. There’s increasing evidence that we may have entered the phase of runaway climate chaos. If so, social and economic collapse will dominate the picture. This is a deeply upsetting theme to introduce to notes on the future of the world, but it must surely be faced.
    Warm wishes,

  2. Erika Butler says:

    >The rise of the non-white–the brown and the yellow, the black and the red–after centuries of domination by “whitey” will be followed by a return of white damnation.

    Damnation? That’s a strong word, and how do we know these kinds of divisions will exist in the future?