Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Books not read: Futurecast 2020

Letter to Resurgence magazine

Many thanks for Tony Juniper's review of Robert Shapiro's Futurecast 2020 in Resurgence 254. Most Resurgence reviews make me want to rush out and buy the book, leading to a rather major reading backlog. However, as Mr Juniper makes clear, here is a book I need never bother with.

As a futurologist Mr Shapiro, who failed to spot the Credit Crunch even whilst it was happening, clearly leaves a lot to be desired, but he is an interesting case study in how clever people can be extremely daft. George Orwell was also very interested in this. He wondered why, whilst the ordinary person in the street never doubted that the allies would win the war, most intellectuals were betting on Hitler.

It's appropriate that this review appeared in an issue subtitled "Countering the Tyranny of Trends" because what Orwell saw was a form of power worship where people simply took the forces that appeared to be in ascendancy (Hitler's tanks in 1940, neoliberal economics in 2007) and imagined them carrying on for ever.

An example of futurology to rival Shapiro's appeared in the The Book of Predictions in 1980. A CIA expert on the Soviet Union confidently predicted that the USSR would win the Cold War and go on to dominate the world. By contrast this same volume contained an article by a Catholic priest who predicted that by 1990 Communism would be overthrown from within.

Sometimes the people who know what's going on are not those who claim to be experts, so I think I'll carry on taking my predictions for the future from Resurgence and not the likes of Mr Shapiro.