Archive for the 'Perspectives' Category

May 11 2008

Global Conflict — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

The last 200 years teach us that every 56 years or so, when an unparalleled economic boom produces the exceptional affluence and eventually even the widespread ebullience that we call a Maslow Window, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is major human explorations like Apollo and spectacular macro-engineering projects like the Panama Canal. The bad news is the tragic death and destruction associated with a major war like W.W. I.

In the last 200 years there are no exceptions: every Maslow Window ended shortly before a major war. Although the wars themselves may not have directly terminated Maslow Windows, the destructive psychological and economic effects of the wars were sufficient to reduce the unusually high ebullience and affluence characteristic of society during a typical Maslow Window.

However, one bad omen is that the most recent Maslow Window (Apollo) was clearly terminated directly by the intensification of the Vietnam War in 1968. During this time there was campus unrest, budget and political pressure, and considerable anti-war feeling across the U.S.. President Nixon responded by canceling the last three Apollo missions (18, 19, and 20) and eventually by terminating the entire manned space program except for the Shuttle.

It is sobering to consider what might have happened if Vietnam had exploded just a few years earlier. All the Moon landings — not just the last 3 — might have been lost. Indeed, the most troubling and uncertain wildcard for the 2020s is the timing of future major military conflicts and their negative effects for society, including the potential loss of MEPs and the long-term postponement of human expansion into the cosmos.

Upcoming posts in Wave Guide 9 will focus on parallels between the previous Cold War and the current War on Terror as well as specific potential flashpoints (e.g., Taiwan) that political scientists and strategists have identified as future threats. If, as some analysts suggest, a new cold war has already begun, this will be partly an unfortunate consequence of generational and economic patterns of 56 years ago that are starting to repeat again today. A new cold war superimposed on the current War on Terror in the context of an increasingly multipolar world (e.g., including China and others), while potentially dangerous, would definitely be consistent with the specific forecasts of this blog.

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May 11 2008

Pop Culture — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Pop culture and entertainment provide windows into people’s thoughts and passions without explicitly revealing them as in an opinion poll, and the obvious catch is their meaning must be inferred. The most obvious targets are pop music and movies, but other genres like television, novels, and fashion can also provide signals of increasing interest in space.

For example, Elton John’s 1972 top 10 hit – “Rocket Man” — was directly inspired by a story by famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury. It’s about an astronaut on his way to Mars who was lonesome for his wife. Rocket Man went to #6 in the U.S. so it obviously resonated with a large audience. David Bowie’s much less well-known song “Space Oddity” was timed for a 1969 release to coincide with the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned Moon landing mission. But it didn’t chart in the U.S. indicating the artist and the material are at least as important as audience interests!

Science fiction films in the 1950s (one 56 year energy cycle ago) were of uneven quality but explored several themes of interest to post-war audiences, including: extraterrestrial life and UFOs, and space travel to distant worlds. The best of these were, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1952) about a space alien (Klaatu) and his robot (Gort) who came to warn Earthlings about their violent tendencies, and “Forbidden Planet” (1956) that pioneered several elements later featured in various, immensely popular Star Trek TV series and movies. If you Google “Klaatu” you’ll see the rock group is organizing a letter writing campaign to get their music included in the re-make of the original movie!

Science fiction films have been released to large audiences consistently throughout the last 30-40 years. The list includes: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), possibly the greatest science fiction film ever, Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Trek, TMP (1979), ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Independence Day (1996), and many others. This suggests they are simply resonating with deeply held, long-lived interests of large numbers of people about the cosmos. In 2003, author Marina Benjamin (Rocket Dreams) suggested that since the death of the space program (!), frustrated would-be space travelers had taken refuge in cyberspace – another form of pop culture — where they now focus most of their “cosmic” energies.

The popular animated sci-fi sitcom, Futuruama does a good job reflecting popular attitudes about where we’re headed as a global society. The plot line chronicles the adventures of a 21st Century pizza delivery boy who is frozen for 1000 years and lives in the year 3000. In the year 3000, space has been fully colonized and Earth is headed by a unified government, lead by the preserved talking head of President Nixon. The Universe is a multicultural place with humans, robots, and extraterrestrials living in harmony. Although Matt Groening may not know it, he has depicted a future not too different from 21st Century Waves expectations.

One of the more interesting books you’ll ever read is by Howard McCurdy, called Space and the American Imagination. He contends that space advocates oversold the potential for space by highlighting fundamental American cultural themes like the frontier, the heroic explorer, and progress through technology. Both McCurdy and Benjamin apparently do not fully appreciate the relation of space exploration to major human explorations and MEPs over the last 200 years, as well as its strong interactions with long-term waves in human generations and economics. Upcoming posts in Wave Guide 10 will identify and comment on signals in pop culture of hightened public interest in space, exploration, and technology as we approach the opening of the next Maslow Window near 2015.

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