Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: A Brief History of the Future, by Jacques Attali

I have just posted a review of Jacques Attali's A Brief History of the Future over at my other blog. According to Attali's analysis, the twenty-first century will be defined principally by three different waves of change. The first is the growth and ever-increasing pervasiveness of a super-capitalism which will trump all other institutions (up to and including the dismantling of nation-states). The second is the violence of a crowded, resource-starved, unequal, deeply divided and increasingly destabilized world. The third is the efforts of what may be described as international civil society, which he expects will be the source of solutions to the mess the first two waves will ultimately create.

Reading Attali's book it struck me that this is a striking parallel with Bruce Sterling's The Caryatids, with the Dispensation embodying the first wave, the violent assertion of the Chinese state representative of the second, and the Aquis the third. Of course, much of this thinking seems to be in the air: the ideas regarding both the market, and the forms of violence we may see, common currency since the 1990s. At the same time, in the wake of disillusionment with the potentials and prospects of government as a source of solutions to our problems, hope seems to have been increasingly invested in that "fourth sector" of nongovernmental organizations. (I recall, for instance, Jeremy Rifkin's 1994 book The End of Work, in which he anticipated it providing the solution to unemployment and tackling the problems the market can't or won't deal with as the economy becomes more and more automated. Those looking for a taste of his argument can check out a 2005 article he wrote on the subject here.) Nonetheless, the differences are as important as the similarities (the element of Hegel and Marx in Attali's view as opposed to Sterling's libertarianism, their differing attitudes toward the posthuman), they offer quite different overall views of how the next hundred years will go.

The Caryatids, by Bruce Sterling

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