Another Forty Years of Folly

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Antônio Sales Rios Neto*

Current social, economic and, above all, ecological indicators tell us that we will have a long night ahead of us. Hopefully, Attali's vision of planetary hyperdemocracy will prevail against the possibility of the darkness feared by Hobsbawm.

The Portuguese writer José Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1998), during one of his trips to Brazil, stated that “The history of mankind is one continuous disaster. There was never anything like a moment of peace.”. The history of humanity has always been marked by foolishness. If, on the one hand, there was a technical-scientific progress that allowed a considerable social, cultural and economic advance, on the other hand, there was a great mismatch with human freedom and dignity. Not to mention that in recent decades we have adopted a way of life that is totally incompatible with the cyclical processes of nature, which may compromise (or have already compromised) the sustainability of the Earth system in conditions that ensure the permanence of human beings.

There are many world-renowned thinkers and scientists who share the understanding that we are going to face a global crisis without precedent in human history. One of them was the English historian Eric Hobsbawm, for whom “History is the record of the crimes and follies of humanity.” In his work “Age of Extremes: the Brief Twentieth Century”, published in 1994, Hobsbawm analyzed how humanity produced, in the period from the beginning of the first world war to the collapse of the USSR (1914-1991), an "age of catastrophes", referring to the two world wars (1914-1945), and how, after a short “golden age” (1947-1973), in which first world countries experienced a state that promoted social welfare, the references of our civilization collapsed from the mid-70s, mainly caused by the forces of a transnational economy that weakened state regimes and systems, plunging the world “in an unknown and problematic future”. For Hobsbawm, “If humanity wants to have a recognizable future, it cannot be an extension of the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on this foundation, we will fail. And the price of failure, that is, the alternative to a change in society, is darkness.”

Another thinker who follows a convergent understanding is the French anthropologist, sociologist and philosopher Edgar Morin, who made great contributions to the advancement of the new complexity sciences. Morin has warned about the risks of continuing with the current model of civilization. In his book “Towards the Abyss? – Essay on the Destiny of Humanity ”(2011), he shows the worsening of the world crisis and the inability of current political thought to propose a new civilization policy that avoids the plunge into chaos. For Morin, we need to abandon the dream of domination and “replacing the notion of development with that of a politics of humanity and a politics of civilization”. However, how to make this possible if, at the moment when we most need politics, it is captured and blocked by market forces. In situations like this, we have more than ever to take refuge in the imponderable. As Morin states, “the door remains open to the improbable, even if the worldwide growth of barbarism makes it inconceivable at this time”.

Today we have reached a moment of historic crisis in which we find ourselves in a condition of extreme vulnerability, from human beings to the planet, and we do not know where we are going. We are experiencing a change of times, the emergence of a new civilizational paradigm. According to the teachings of the Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, a historical epoch changes when the relations of production, power relations, human experience and dominant culture are transformed. The last one occurred when the historical epoch of agrarianism was surpassed by that of industrialism, during the XNUMXth century. According to Embrapa researcher José de Souza Silva, a change of era is a “a moment marked by uncertainty, instability, discontinuity, disorientation, fragmentation, insecurity, perplexity and vulnerability”, which is generating the psychic disorders of the XNUMXst century: stress, anxiety and depression. The change in times that we experience today can also be understood as a crisis in the perception of reality, in which the dominant observation method is no longer able to provide adequate responses to the multiple and growing crises we face. As the wisdom of the Aymara indigenous people (Andean region) says, “when we had all the answers, they changed the questions”.

In recent decades humanity has been facing a great dilemma reflected in the dispute between two worldviews. On the one hand, the currently hegemonic worldview of the world-market, which from the 80s onwards entered its globalized and financialized phase – the so-called neoliberalism – and already shows unequivocal signs of decoupling from a recognizable future, especially in terms of sustainability. from the planet. On the other hand, a contextual cosmovision of the world, which gradually emerges from a silent sociocultural revolution, in which the world is perceived as a complex adaptive system, a network of relationships between different forms of life, which embraces the uncertainty and contradictions of human condition, which understands that we are enmeshed in a dynamic system with multiple dimensions. That understands that the economy is just one of these dimensions and that, therefore, it is necessary to include and take care of the other dimensions: historical, ecological, social, political, institutional, ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, among others, so that we can continue the process civilizing.

Faced with this scenario of changing times in which humanity lives, who was able to envision the most likely outcome of the current civilizational crisis for the coming decades was the French economist and writer Jacques Attali, who served as advisor and advisor to the government of François Mitterrand and currently is CEO of A&A, an international strategy consulting firm based in Paris, and president of Positive Planet, an international non-profit organization that assists microfinance institutions around the world. Attali narrated, with extreme skill and clarity, in his book “A Brief History of the Future” (2006), how humanity got here and how it projects itself into the future, taking serious risks of being unfeasible in the near future.

According to Attali, “there is a structure of History that allows projecting the organization of the coming decades”, that is, there are patterns, rules, or laws of history that “will still be operating in the future, in addition to predicting its course”, and which therefore allow us to predict with reasonable assertiveness where we are going. I say assertiveness because, after more than 20 years of the conception of Attali's ideas, very well articulated in his book, it is possible today, for the reader more attentive to the transformations that are taking place in the world, to observe that many of his predictions are being confirmed. The main premise on which Attali relies to understand the flow of history, extracted from the oldest information about humanity, is that “the same force is always at work: that of the progressive liberation of man from all constraints”.

In Attali's understanding, three powers always coexisted: the religious (Ritual Order), the military (Imperial Order) and the commercial (Commercial Order), which alternated, controlled the riches and forged the course of human history. More than talking about the future, he narrates the long history of the Commercial Order, identifying its functioning patterns. A history modeled over the last 3 thousand years, which is intertwined with the history of the relationship between the two forces that have led humanity to the present day: the market and politics, which created market democracy and the capitalist system as we know it today. This symbiosis between market and politics explains the evolution of the economic view of the world that prevails until today. For Attali, the “most believable face of the future” will be that, by 2060, three waves of the future will burst one after the other: the hyper-empire, the hyper-conflict and, if we do not succumb to the first two waves, planetary hyper-democracy.

The first wave, the hyper-empire, would begin to take shape between 2025 and 2035, when we would have a polycentric world in which the US would lose its status as the world economic center and market forces, represented by transnational corporations, would overwhelm the State. The World Order"will unify around a planetary market, without a State”. It is no coincidence that new concepts such as “necropolitics” and “necropower”, by the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, and necro-State, used by the Brazilian philosopher Vladimir Safatle, are being introduced to explain and understand the weaknesses of the State today. There has also been a consensus on the understanding of the growing phenomenon of capturing the State or political power by large financial corporations. To better understand this subject, it is worth reading the book “The Age of Unproductive Capital: the new architecture of power, under financial domination, kidnapping of democracy and destruction of the planet”, by economist Ladislau Dowbor, who reveals, supported by many sources of research, as it operates today to the financialized capital that dictates the functioning of the world.

Then, between 2050 and 2060, the second wave would come, the hyperconflict “much more destructive than all those, local or worldwide, that will have preceded it”, a series of wars of extreme violence, as a derivation of one of the rules of history identified by Attali: “after the violence of money, will come, as is already happening, the violence of guns”. We know that in the absence of the State, which has the function of guaranteeing order, any possibility of channeling and dominating violence disappears. If we survive these two waves, Attali believes, showing a certain effort of optimism to avoid what he fears the future may turn out to be, that there is a possibility of inaugurating planetary hyperdemocracy around 2060, whose main protagonists, already active today, it would be transhumans and relational companies, altruistic and universalist forces, with a contextual vision of the world, which “will take power worldwide, due to an ecological, ethical, economic, cultural and political urgency".

We would therefore have to endure something around forty more years of folly, in a dangerous combination of crises (economic, political, social and climatic) feeding each other, with catastrophic potential unprecedented in the history of humanity, which could lead us to a situation of collapse. And now Jose? How should we face the possibility of enduring so long without a State and without democracy, living with such deep and devastating crises? What to do in the face of the possibility of a humanitarian scourge announced for the coming decades, which could drag us towards a civilizing collapse? Until then, it only remains for each of us to reflect on how we are relating to the world around us. Whether from an economic view of the world, a priori self-destructive, or whether from a contextual view of the world, which gives centrality to life and the culture of caring for others, for the Earth and for everything that is alive.

Current social, economic and, above all, ecological indicators tell us that we will have a long night ahead of us. Hopefully, Attali's vision of planetary hyperdemocracy will prevail against the possibility of the darkness feared by Hobsbawm.

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto is a Civil Engineer and Organizational Consultant

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