FORECASTING THE FUTURE WILL LIKELY BECOME THE GROWTH INDUSTRY OF THE 1990s
All over Europe, Christians were gripped by a terrible fear. One writer told of a gigantic torch that flashed across the heavens. In England, a meteor so bright that it made the night seem like day caused widespread panic. Thousands of people, exhorted by fanatics, sold all their possessions and joined a despairing, wailing army of pilgrims headed for Jerusalem and the Last Judgment. In Rome, crowds carrying flaming torches thronged the streets, and in St. Peter’s Basilica, terrified, sobbing mourners in sackcloth and ashes prostrated themselves on the marble floor before Pope Sylvester lí, who was celebrating midnight mass. Then the cathedral bells began to toll and the awesome moment was at hand—the end of the first Christian millennium and, according to the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which would also mark the end of the world.
But as 999 AD gave way to 1000, nothing extraordinary happened—except a vast tidal wave of relief among the disoriented and emo-
tionally drained populace. Now, the end of the second millennium is approaching. But in a more secular, supposedly less superstitious world, the abiding passion that the approaching millennium excites is not primitive fear. It is curiosity about the third millennium—and the future beyond.
The future, in fact, promises to become the philosophical and literary growth industry of the 1990s. In Canada, the United States and Western Europe, people calling themselves futurists, widely regarded only a few years ago as amusing eccentrics, are influencing social and economic attitudes and planning. In July, more than 400 speakers showed up in Washington for the World Future Society’s four-day sixth general assembly.
Trends: In the worlds of politics and business, private institutes run by futurists advise governments and corporations on probable trends well into the next century. Many writers have already made that leap: U.S. author Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth, which foresees China assaulting Israel, nuclear wars and the Second Coming of Christ, has sold more than 25 million copies and become the bestselling book in North America since the 1970s. Scientists talk of a joint U.S.-Soviet base
on Mars, and from billions of miles away in the icy near-vacuum of outer space, Voyager 2’s television images beckon man toward a destiny among the stars.
Space may not be—as avid fans of the Star Trek movies and television series would have it—the final frontier, but merely the next one, challenging the insatiable human curiosity that first drew the Vikings westward over uncharted seas a thousand years ago. Science is already studying the problems in the path of populating the neighboring planets of our solar
system. Robert Haynes, a consultant to the U.S. space program, told the 16th International Congress of Genetics in Ottawa earlier this year that some of the genetic engineering technology already exists for the creation of plants and other life forms that could survive in the Martian environment.
Leap: Short of that ultimate giant leap for mankind, there already are scores of scenarios for the world’s rendezvous with the third millennium and the decades beyond. There is general agreement among social scientists that
AIDS, global political instability, the war on drugs and the deteriorating environment will dominate the 1990s. Beyond that, the consensus dissolves into a predictive free-for-all. U.S. evangelist Jerry Falwell says that Communists, homosexuals and feminists are wrecking Western society, American futuristic author Marvin Cetron talks of a booming job market in geriatric care and toxic waste disposal, and Vancouver futurist Frank Ogden foresees biological robots with sexual appetites to suit the buyer.
However, not all futurists reach that far. Some, like Jan Drabek of Vancouver, the 54year-old Czech-born author of The Golden Revolution-. Retirement Styles for the 1990s, are content to be relatively prosaic. Drabek says that, by the dawn of the third millennium, nearly half of Canada’s population will be over 40 and one-third will be over 50, compared with the 12 per cent of Canadians who are now over 40 and the 25 per cent who are over 50. Because of declining fertility rates in Canada, Yuppies will have given way to so-called Woopies—well-off older people. The result, says Drabek: people will continue working well beyond 65 and
“youth-oriented structures will start to crumble.” So will Canada’s credit rating, say economists—if Ottawa has not wiped out the deficit and begun to show surpluses early in the next century.
Chaos: Yet as Canada and the rest of the West reach the coming 1,000-year threshold, there will be compensations for the tedium of government affairs. By then, the so-called Smart House will have started to simplify daily living. Officials at Bell-Northern Research in Ottawa say that, within the next decade, a single cable will deliver electricity together with telecommunications and television signals. A washing machine will send a message to the television set, telling the viewer that the laundry is done. An appliance repairman will be able to find out by phone what is wrong with a microwave oven.
But even the prospect of appliances talking to one another pales beside some of the spectacular—and often contradictory—utterances generated by the countdown to 2000. Rev. Timothy LaHaye, a Falwell disciple, says that the third millennium will witness a Second Coming against a background of global plane, bus and train wrecks. Said LaHaye recently: “Who can imagine the chaos on the freeways when automobile drivers are snatched out of their cars?” Economic visionary Ravi Batra, whose book The Great Depression of1990predicts a global financial Armageddon, says that economic and social collapse will be followed by a new morality that will condemn pornography and great wealth. Rabbi Gunther Plaut of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple offers a more modest forecast: religious fanaticism will soon peak. Said Plaut: “In the long run, humanity’s more rational impulses will come to the fore.” Rationality may still be some way off: the world still has to survive the psychological stress of getting from one millennium to the next. That stress, say various authorities, will be fed by the forecasts and interpretations of ^ events by mystics, psychics ¥ and the fanatic right-wing 'i fringe of religious fundamenti talism. Those aberrations, 9 like the second millennium, £ will pass into history. And £ man, his knowledge expandit ing at an ever-quickening u rate, will continue to propel G himself into the challenges and mysteries of the unknowz able future.
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