“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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.