Towards a Planetary Civilization

“The culmination of all these upheavals is the formation of planetary civilization, what physicists call a Type I civilization. This transition is perhaps the greatest transition in history, marking a sharp departure from all civilizations of the past…

Every headline that dominates the news reflects, in some way, the birth pangs of the planetary civilization” – Michio Kaku

 

Recently, I have been rereading (my first time was in community college) Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future, and I have to say that I have been getting a lot more out of it this time around than I did the first time.

You see, I have been giving a great deal of thought lately about what kind of world would I create. If I had the power to imagine what the future would look like, what would it be? It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I have a fairly optimistic attitude towards the future. Or at least, a kind of pragmatic optimism. In short, I don’t think we will likely ever see a perfect utopia, but I don’t think there is anything that stops us from trying.

Our culture, as it is, is chock full of dystopian stories and grim predictions. There is not shortage of pagans and thinkers that think there is a storm coming, whether this is due to climate change, peak oil, late stage capitalism, or what have you. The end is nigh! Or at least, that is what they keep saying.

This is not to say there is no truth in these claims, in fact I think there is a fair bit of truth in some of them. We live in troubled times, especially if you are like me and live in the United States of America. There is a certain darkness that hangs over all that we do.

Yet, at the same time I think there are reasons to hope. I think there are reasons that this darkness will pass, and that there is a more optimistic dawn on the other side. The reasons for that, if the quote at the top of this article is any indication, is because I think we are moving into the transition, and towards a Type 1 civilization. Which is where Kaku’s book comes in.

A Type I civilization, as Kaku describes it, has access to all the energy that reaches the planet from the local star. In our case, that would be the sun, or about 10^17 watts. On a sliding scale of Type 0 to Type 1, we are estimated to be a type 0.7. Kaku predicts, that we will reach that status in the next century or two.

But the transition from our current state of civilization, to a Type 1 civilization will not necessarily be an easy process. If we extend the metaphor of birthing a new world, there are also reasons to suspect it may well be a messy process. We could in fact even fail, and fade as a civilization entirely.

As such, over the course of the next few blog posts, my intent is to lay out some of my ideas on what that transition and the next world might look like. After a certain point, this will be speculative. It is, at best, what I hope the future might look like. But what kind of sci-fi author would I be if I didn’t imagine what our future might look like?

Besides, there is a great deal to be said about imagining future worlds. Our stories can serve as guides, and help us figure out what kind of future we would like to live in. If all our stories are doom and gloom, blood and fire, then there is good reasons to suspect our future won’t be all that great. We should take great care to ensure our dytopian fictions don’t become self-fulfilling prophecies. I think dytopian fiction best serves as a warning, of futures best avoided. No good will come of us if the world looks like Fallout, Mad Max, or even The Long Descent.

As such, let’s look a little deeper into what vision Kaku lays out for us on our path towards the future.

Planetary Civilization

“The transition between our current Type 0 civilization and a future Type 1 is perhaps the greatest transition in history. It will determine whether we will continue to thrive and flourish, or perish due to our own folly.” Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

Kaku lays out a Type 1 civilization as a truly global and planetary civilization; one that is scientific, pluralistic, multicultural and tolerant. I would go on to add it would also have to be more democratic (in the ideal sense), more autonomous, and more networked. I will explore these ideas more deeply in the next part of this series.

There are lots of aspects of that already taking shape. The internet is what Kaku considers to be a Type 1 kind of communication system, allowing people across the globe to communicate in real time. He also suspects that a single language will become the common global language, and the top contenders right now are English or Mandarin. I guess that all depends on the how the geopolitical landscape plays out.

He also points out that a common language will not be the death of all others. In fact, tools such as the internet may provide a means for a kind of linguistic renaissance. In my imagined future world, English/Mandarin is only a common language, and does not dominate the others. The vast majority of people would be bilingual, or even multilingual, allowing for a diverse interplay between local and global cultures. It could actually, if played right, result in the resurgence of indigenous, minority, and even new local cultures.

Kaku also thinks that a planetary civilization will lean towards greater political and economic integration. The EU may be the blueprint for this, and may represent one version of a post-national planetary civilization. He also points out that certain cultural aspects have become quite global, such as the Olympic Games and musical trends such as hip-hop and rock & roll. Environmental problems such as Climate Change are also being addressed on a global scale.

None of this necessarily means there will be a One World Government, but that the shape of a future planetary civilization will depend on a lot of factors. These trends may be historical, cultural, and/or national. In many ways, the shape of the future is still being determined and is very difficult to predict.

However, Kaku does claim that Nation-States will become less relevant and central to political power in the long run. They will likely still exists, albeit in diminished form. As economies further integrate, and scale up, more power will likely fall on larger regional and more local forms of governance. For now, suffice to say this is the “upshift” model of State decline. Collapse, on the other hand, is a “downshift” model. I do not see this as necessarily a bad thing, and my own thoughts will appear in a later parts of this series.

No Guarantees

All throughout the book, Kaku is careful to point out that there is no guarantees that we will ever reach a Type 1 Civilization. We could fail, and our civilization (and maybe well our species), could go extinct and crumble into dust.

The point is, we are facing one of the greatest transitions in our history. Our decisions, right now, as a species will determine what that future looks like. Will we trudge our way through, and see the dawn of a planetary civilization, or will we fail, and fall into some long (or catastrophic) descent into irrelevance. There are factors both for and against both scenarios, and ultimately it is here that speculation fails. We don’t know how exactly how the future will play out, and honestly, I think it will be a little bit of both. But more on that in a later part.

There are a lot of factors working against a multicultural, tolerant, and democratic society. Because the sad truth is, not every one wants that kind of world. Some people want a “simpler” life in some form of primitivism, some want the world of 1000 AD. In addition, many of the factors pointing towards a planetary civilization run into the dialectic of reactionaries.

Just for example, we can see the rise of thing like “Incel” as a reaction against growing trends towards women’s equality and feminism. We can also see Straight White Males (TM) openly reacting against LGBTQ rights, and against gender equality more generally. White Supremacy is in open revolt against diversity and multiculturalism, and we can see that in the current immigration crises. Christian Fundamentalists are reacting against a world full of “sin”. Hell, the rise of Trump combines all of these reactionaries in a disturbing and obscene way.

But those like Trump and others, are only a symptom a lot bigger than any individual. They are reactions, rebellions against the inertia of world history. More than this, they also are symptoms of toxic systems struggling to stay relevant, such as capitalism and White Supremacy. It would take a much longer to tease out all the interrelations between many of these topics, so let’s move on.

Wisdom

At the conclusion of the book, Kaku says it is wisdom that can help us navigate the coming decades, and only with wisdom can we possibly find our way to a planetary civilization. This wisdom could take a lot of forms, but I think one way is to take a longer view, and to shape new cultural narratives. In short, and in no uncertain terms, I think animism is one of many things that will help us find our way through uncertain weather.

Here, Stephan Harding lays out it so wonderfully;

Clearly, modern science and technology have brought us many benefits and are without doubt among humanity’s greatest intellectual achievements, but they have also unwittingly contributed to the massive global crisis we are now facing. In essence, science has made us clever, but it has not made us wise. If we are to have any chance of surviving the looming catastrophe that science and technology have inadvertently helped to create we will need more wisdom, not more analytically capacity, of which there is a plentiful supply…

…And so, along with a growing number of fellow scientists, philosophers and activists, I believe that we now urgently need to develop a new approach in science that integrates analysis with wisdom, fact with value and nature with culture. We think this can be done by replacing our demonstrably unwise (and until recently, unconscious) assumption that the world is an inert machine with the arguable wiser and more accurate metaphor of the world as a vast animate (and hence “sentient”) being. Thus, strange and trite as it may seem, the survival of civilization itself could in part depend on a fusion of science and animism.”

This is where we must end off for the time being, but I am not willing to let this stop here. In the next part of this project, I will run with a lot of what I raised here. I will talk more about the (speculative) future of our civilizations, and I will also talk more about the Earth as an entire planetary system, as an organism in a wide sense, and the animistic implications that emerge from that.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_civilization

Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future. 2011

Harding, Stephan. Towards an animistic science of the Earth. Within, “The Handbook of Contemporary Animism” Edited by Graham Harvey.

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

6 responses to “Towards a Planetary Civilization

  • migdalit

    While you are at it I recommend you take the time and read even Rosling’s last book (Factfullness) if you haven’t already. In it you will find masses of facts that point towards the world actually having never been better than today (on a global, statistical scale which doesn’t necessarily say anything about the individual).

    Another book I can warmly recommend as you set out on your journey of imagining the future is Yuval Hararis’s second book “Homo Deus”. Harari is a historian who imagines the history of the future, or rather what topics are likely to have an impact on the coming decades. A very interesting read, I found.

    I, myself, are that rare beast of an optimist – or rather I have become one over the last years. The world isn’t really as bad as it seems once you take a closer look (or rather once you step back and take a look at the big picture) and it is actually getting even better at a completely mind-boggling speed. I find that often it is the apparent set-backs that show this best: Even though the turmoil in the EU and the GFC during last decade Europe – a continent with a dark war-torn history of many hundreds if not thousands of years – still hasn’t descended into chaos. Even though Trump and all his ways of trying to dismantel democracy in the US he has, actually, achieved almost nothing in doing so because the US political system has been built with the right safe-guards in place for exactly this case. As scary as it is right now Trump will pass and the US will prevail on the long run. And that’s no coincidence, it is a sign of the maturity and resilience of the democratic system.

    I could not agree more with you and Kaku that we are nearing the dawn of a new age of man-kind, and that we are living in incredibly exciting, important times where each and every one of us really has the chance to make an impact on the world for generations to come. In another century or two I trust we will be a fully transformed not just planetary but inter-planetary civilisation busy with inventing itself and its society all over again. We, who are born in the 20th century probably won’t even recognise this new world that is coming into being.

    • Nicholas Haney

      Hello there!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I get them so rarely, that it’s a real treat when they show up.

      I will certainly look into Rosling’s book, as you have recommended. As a matter of fact, I finished Homo Deus about a month or so back. It’s on my worklist to write about, and it really is a great book. Whether or not that is part of this ongoing series, I don’t know at the current time.

      I consider myself to be an optimistic pragmatist, or maybe pragmatic optimist. Either way you slice it, I tend to gravitate towards optimistic futures. Certainly, as you said, there are some wonderful things happening in the world. There are some pretty crappy things too. Trump, Brexit… ect. I like to think these things will pass, but there will be a lot of work to get through it for sure.

      As I wrote in the piece, there are no guarantees at the current time. We are making the choices RIGHT now on what our future will look like. I would love a future along the lines of what Kaku posits, and that is a vision I will work towards. We are in this time of transition, and success or failure is really in our hands now.

      That’s really the whole point of this post, and the coming posts that are all interconnected. If I could build the future, what would that look like? And more importantly, what would it take to work towards that future? For ourselves, and for future generations?

      I think Kaku is on to something, but there is more to my vision as well. In the next couple of posts I will be covering an article by Y. Bar Yam about a networked civilization, and working my way through Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank (a highly recommended book, that adds a lot to Kaku’s work.)

      Thanks for commenting!

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