Posted by: spacewritinguy | October 13, 2008

How the Future Might See Us

The following interpretation of current history is based on the works of British historian Arnold Toynbee, (April 14, 1889 – October 22, 1975), who believed that civilizations rose and fell as a result of “challenge and response.” The process runs something like this:

  1. The first “challenge” any new civilization must face is the physical environment in which it is placed. For example, ancient Egypt was situated in the Nile Valley, surrounded on both sides by desert. As a result, this civilization concentrated most of its efforts on coping with and eking a living from the regular floods which plagued the Nile Delta, but also blessed it with fertile soil.
  2. The social and physical arrangements used to cope with the physical environment–for example, large numbers of individual human beings working together to cope with a known and regular quantity (the flooding of the Nile) eventually led to a centralized system, where one individual (the Pharaoh) came to lead the bulk of society as a cultural/spiritual leader.
  3. Within each civilization, there are “proletariats”–groups of people who are not accepted or enfranchised by the majority civilization that accepts the prevailing cultural/spiritual position. These are divided into internal proletariats (for Rome, the Christian minority) and external proletariats (such as the Germanic barbarians, who plundered and then took over Rome).
  4. A civilization remains healthy as long as it is able to devise creative solutions to social or physical challenges. When the responses lead to a disintegration of the majority society, a couple of institutions emerge:
    1. A Universal State (empire), which ensures that the society remains militarily strong but socially stagnant, in an effort to retain solutions thought to be beneficial. In Roman history, this state is marked by the transition from the increasingly chaotic Roman Republic to the harsher Roman Empire.
    2. A Universal Church, which often arises from the internal proletariat, and provides the genesis for the next civilization after the original civilization dies. Again, in Roman history, this development is represented by the Christian Church, which gave rise to Western Civilization as we know it today.
  5. The cycle then begins anew, with a new potential set of proletariats.

The American civilization grew out of two groups: the Northern religious colonies and the Southern slaveholding plantation holders, both born out of British colonization. This mixed civilization, in response to the vastness of the American continent, developed a hardy, independence-minded culture derived partially from Christian morality and partially from Graeco-Roman and Enlightenment science. It maintained African slaves as an internal proletariat for the first 200 years of its existence before a civil war broke out between the slaveholding aristocracy of the South and the egalitarian, industrialized North. The North won the civil war, and set the terms for the remainder of the American civilization’s development.

An industrial and military power, the American civilization grew to expand westward between the British civilization to the North and the Hispanic civilization to the South. While the Anglo-Saxon-dominated United States mostly grew up in partnership with the British Canadians, it came to treat the Hispanic civilization of Mexico as an external proletariat.

As the United States grew, it gradually increased the scope of individuals who were allowed political power, including unpropertied males, freed slaves, and women (in chronological order). The expansion of democracy led to social unrest and greater direct participation in political activities, as well as an expectation by elected officials that all of these groups must be appealed to in order to remain in power. In aftermath of the Second World, the government gradually came to incorporate more and more indviiduals into the decision-making apparatus and expanded the scope of government services to meet a broader set of demands from the population. This increased taxation, government employment, and government regulation of the private sector.

Eventually, the intellectual classes came to believe the notion that cultural ideas not part of the nation’s original constitution or traditions should also be accepted by the population as a whole. While these ideas began to gain currency, the Communist civilization centered in Soviet Russia began to collapse, and the United States became the premier economic, social, and military power in the world. This brief period (1989-2001) was accompanied by massive economic and technological growth, as well as mass migration of Hispanic external proletarians across the U.S.-Mexico border, while the military became both underfunded and overextended in the United States’s efforts to expand its affluence to other parts of the world.

The brief peace was disrupted by a series of terrorist attacks on the U.S. by another external proletariat, militant members of the weakening Islamic civilization. In reaction to this attack, the government expanded both its external military strength and internal security measures and even invaded one nation in the Islamic sphere of influence in retaliation for the attack while invading a second to prevent a local dictator from engaging in direct attacks against the nation, however improbable.

Meanwhile the first election of the 21st century saw the candidacy of the first individual representing the American internal proletariat. This election occurred in the midst of a financial crisis brought about by a failed bid by the government to expand the opportunities for more internal (and, illegally, some external) proletarians to own private property. The voting electorate then faced an ideological and moral conflict between further government support of internal and external proletariats and a return to (or restrengthening) of the original Anglo-Saxon-derived civilization.

The majority Anglo-Saxon culture managed a victory, just barely, but its candidate was forced to continue the government’s role in expanding welfare payments, property loans, and other benefits to internal and external proletarians in order to maintain the peace. The bankruptcy of the American government forced the President to invoke martial law in places where conflicts between majoritarians and proletarians became violent. At the same time, the bankruptcy forced the government to withdraw from or greatly scale back its military commitments abroad. Soldiers were brought home and forced to maintain reinforced border walls to prevent the infiltration of additional external proletarians from Mexico and elsewhere. The American Empire lasted scarcely a generation before it was divided into provinces representing weakening pockets of majoritarians, external proletarians, and internal proletarians.


What new civilization might be growing out of the American civilization? What might it constitute? It could be a space-based civilization, which might combine the capitalism and meritocracy of Western Civilization with the radically inclusive democracy of America. This is, indeed, the hope of many space advocates–that America will remain free long enough to establish a freedom-based civilization beyond this planet before things go seriously to heck here on Earth. One can hope.


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