How Scary Does The Future Look Like?


The robots are coming. And boy are we screwed!

But before you go into panic mode, let me quote Yuval Noah Harari from 21 Lessons For The 21st Century.

“If you feel like running down the street crying ‘The apocalypse is upon us!’ try telling yourself ‘No, it’s not that. Truth is, I just don’t understand what’s going on in the world.”

The key word here is “try.” Damage control is necessary. Even if that means lying to yourself.

And just like most who’ve written about the future, I have to put up a disclaimer here. I am not predicting and cannot predict the future – this is how you know I have a way out in case I completely misconstrue something. I am simply rolling the dice.

Hopefully, I’ll be right…or wrong. It depends.

So put on your kimono my little grasshopper. And if you’re a dude, put on your samurai hat or whatever. Cause our journey begins in Japan.

But first, a little detour.

Globalization On Culture

Globalization is a phenomenon most are aware of. And for the sake of this article, I’ll let Thomas L. Friedman’s theory guide us.

There are three periods of globalization. Globalization 1.0 (1491 – 1800), seen as the globalization of countries, Globalization 2.0 (1800 – 2000), the globalization of companies, and Globalization 3.0 (2000 – present), the globalization of individuals. Can you guess which period we’re in? Good boy.

There’s a lot of talk about going into Globalization 4.0 but I’ll be trashing that kind of talk for now. Why? Because.

The phenomenon as a whole almost always has to have some impact on culture irrespective of the period. Some see this as a bad thing, claiming that the interaction and diffusion of cultures might lead to the dilution of the inferior culture; the culture that got the raw end of the deal and had to do most of the assimilating.

Another camp sees this as being a good thing, claiming that the interaction of cultures is important and can propel both cultures, even leading to the birth of something new. A language, a musical instrument. Whatever tickles your brain.

This right here is where the Japanese come in. Or more specifically, Japanese art.

A Spanish Missionary Walks Into A Japanese Bar

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never understood how something like this can be seen as art.

Patate by Giuseppe Penone
Patate by Giuseppe Penone

But the Japanese art scene is very interesting. And when it comes to the effect of globalization on culture, the influence of Western culture on Japanese art is one to look at.

August 15th, 1549, the missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Japan, bringing with him some Christian-themed paintings. The Japanese loved them, so much so that Lord Shimizu requested copies of some of the paintings for his mother. No one was able to replicate them. This in turn led to the spread of Christian education over the years which included education on western art.

It went on until Christianity was banished in 1614 for the next 200 years or so. Still trading with the Dutch and the Chinese during this ‘isolation’ period, the Japanese got most of their inspiration from them, making contact with other kinds of Western art by way of Chinese art, like a weird version of the telephone game. (which, ironically, is also called Chinese whispers.)

Fast forward to the 1800s and Japan once again “opened itself to the outside” as Tamon Miki puts it. Concluding in The Influence of Western Culture on Japanese Art, he states that, “this general tendency characterizes Japanese culture to the present day. The necessity of being active in receiving from abroad is acutely felt.”

This right here is globalization at its finest. Some might even call it cultural imperialism. I see this as the kind of situation that falls into both camps.

The West held up a mirror for the Japanese to see the ‘inferiority’ of their art, but at the same time, the fusion of both worlds led to the emergence of new artistic styles in part of the Japanese.

Despite paying the price in letting go of some aspects of their culture, the Japanese art scene came away with some positives.

What You Don’t Know

Quoting 21 Lessons For The 21st Century again, Harari claims, “people rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.”

Ignorance is more prevalent in the age of information.

You are accustomed to seek people who are like you and information that reinforces what you know – scratch that, information that reinforces what you think you know. In turn, you become more immersed in your beliefs.

You listen to what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. And that’s scary.

Compare this with the Japanese when Francis Xavier came through with the Christian paintings. About an oil painting of the Virgin Mary, Mika writes that “The Japanese must have scanned this realistic painting with wonder, for they were making their first acquaintance with European painting.”

The scarcity of information made them more willing to accept their ignorance, and thus come to the conclusion that there is something worth looking into regarding what was going on in the world outside their own.

Does this now mean that life was better back then? Please. Slavery was a bitch, capital punishment was the order of the day, and who wants to live in a world without sliced bread?

What it does is raise some concern about the future.

The Role of Fear

If your first thought is “at least I surround myself with information that is different from my beliefs,” then you should watch out. Ignorance is probably not the only thing you should be worried about.

Looking into the future after considering all this, there’s a bit of conflict on what actually lies ahead. There’s no clarity. But then again, that’s how the future is supposed to be.

Sure, when looking at concepts like global warming, it can be a bit easier to predict what the world might look like if we don’t recycle or omit the use of fossil fuels and all that.

But when looking into human nature, my first instinct is to oppose Harari’s theory introduced at the beginning of this post. You should be scared.

The fear of what humanity might look like tomorrow can help you mould yourself into a better person. Not for the good of yourself. But for the good of those around you.

Is the fear I’m calling for the same as panic or worry? Of course not. Understanding the world is key, sure, but the fear of not knowing what is going on in the world can be the driving force behind your trying to understand it.

My guess is that we’re moving into a dystopia. One disguised as a utopia. I’d even say we’re already living in that time. This is the part where you expect me to blame social media for turning you into an antisocial monster.

And on the technological revolution, the fear can help you better understand how the present is structuring the future. Because unlike your father, you’ll be lucky to stay in the same job for 10 years.

And that’s scary. Or is it?

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