Lately I’ve been reading up on futurological scenarios where the current system breaks down. More specifically attempts to map the various tendencies for what the system could be transformed into and where these paths bifurcate, splitting up into roads towards different futures.
These scenarios have it in common that they see a converging of crisis (economic, energy, political, ecological, climate) that finally makes the current system break down.
The greatest crossroads is the one between the extinction and survival of the human species. Climate change and ecological collapse could, in a worst case scenario, lead to a world where we are not only unable to maintain a civilized society but even unable to reproduce our species.
Frank Fenner, emeritus professor in microbiology at the Australian National University, believes that we’re heading towards a mass extinction event and that whatever we do now is too late (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/frank-fenner-sees-no-hope-for-humans/story-e6frgcjx-1225880091722).
However, others believe that total extinction is unlikely and say that ”collapse of civilization” or “rapid population decline” might be a more reasonable forecast.
If we manage to avoid wiping ourselves out entirely we may still face a situation where our current global culture breaks down and is replaced with a return to a simpler and less civilized society. Most likely accompanied with an unprecedented drop in global population numbers.
Joseph Tainter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Tainter) has written about the collapse of complex societies, where the social organisation (public, private, doesn’t matter) grows larger and more diversified than can be supported. The advent of global peak oil may be the death for our society given its dependency on cheap carbon fuels for energy, transportation and as key ingredient in many fabrication processes.
A recent study made by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center makes the same conclusions: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists
Hierarchy or egalitarianism?
If our modern high-tech society does not collapse into neo-barbarism there is still the question of what kind of system will replace the roughly 500-years old capitalist system that slouches towards its grave.
Immanuel Wallerstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Wallerstein) who has been studying the historical tendencies of the world system for decades says that we basically have two choices - either a system that is post-capitalistic but still based on hierarchy and exploitation, or something never before seen in history, a relatively democratic and egalitarian society (communism / socialism by any other name…).
Peter Frase has described a more nuanced scenario with four possible futures (https://www.jacobinmag.com/2011/12/four-futures/), based on whether we have an abundance or scarcity of resources and whether this economic condition is handled by a hierarchic or egalitarian society. This yields four possibilities:
* communism (abundance with equality),
* rentism (abundance with hierarchy),
* socialism (scarcity with equality), and
* exterminism (scarcity with hierarchy)
Communism (in this sense, not the 20th-century sense) makes for a society of free and equal individuals in democratic cooperation. Here’s a sketch of how such a communism could look like: http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-1/invited-comments/a-new-communist-horizon/ The same goes for socialism, but this is the egalitarianism of scarcity and of equally shared burdens. Rentism is a post-capitalist society where a ruling class exploits the labor of a working class but through other means than wage labor and commodity production. Finally we have exterminism… This is actually also a communist scenario, but it is communism for the few and mighty who manage to monopolize the scarce resources and then simply gets rid of the working masses made unnecessary by the fall of capitalism. ”Once mass labor has been rendered superfluous, a final solution lurks: the genocidal war of the rich against the poor.”