The three major problems currently confronting the world - Islamic extremism, the financial meltdown and the conflict between the West and Russia - appear to be three different issues but they are strategically related. Lurking in the background is China, the new kid on the block that is slowly chipping away at the global power structures the West has developed since the end of World War II.
How did we get to the current triple crisis? Three Western strategic blunders stand out, all directly or indirectly related to oil and Western global dominance. Each time, the West willfully took the wrong decision.
In the 1950s, the US and Britain overthrows the democratic government of Iran to reclaim control of Iranian oil. Blowback came in the 1970s: the religious revolution of the Ayatollahs. In the 1980s, the West provides arms to the Mujahideen to fight the Soviets. The blowback: Taliban rule. In 2003, the West invades Iraq. The blowback: ISIS, - the Islamic State. In 2011, the West attacks Libya. The result: a failed state with countless militias and a feeding ground for ISIS.
Strategic blunder number two. In 1989 the Berlin Wall falls, the USSR disintegrates and the Warsaw Pact dissolves. American neoliberal economists (the so-called Harvard Gang) advise Boris Yeltsin on "economic reform". The corporate plundering of Russia begins, soon followed by an exodus of newly minted Russian billionaires to Western tax havens. NATO expands eastward and the Russians wonder why. The blowback: strongman Putin, who comes to power with the promise to end the plundering of Russia by vulture capitalism and who refuses to be intimidated by NATO or "sanctions" (economic warfare).
Next, the "coup" of the Western banksters. In the 1990s, the US government liberalizes the financial services industry, leading to the biggest financial heist in human history - the taxpayer bailout of failed banks that operated like a pyramid scheme. Millions of people lost their jobs, millions more lost their savings. The laws of the land? Car thieves go to jail, banksters get fined. What was not illegal was the most notable feature of the financial meltdown.
Meanwhile in the East … While millions of people in the West drop out of the middle class, China pulls 300 million people into the middle class, becoming the largest trading nation in the world, the largest creditor to the US, and a bellwether for the global economy - all without firing a shot. What a reversal of fortunes in breath-taking speed! Was this by design, or the work of some invisible hand?
Thirty years ago, very few policy makers, "think-tankers" or futurists predicted the scenario that is playing out in the world today. On the contrary. Most experts, futurists and policy makers looked at the world through a Western prism. Personifying the era was Francis Fukuyama, who, in the 1980s argued that the fall of communism meant "the end of history" - that the "free market" had won.
Fukuyama, and with him many Western policy makers, assumed that China and other emerging markets would follow the Western model. He was right up to a point; China modernized its economy. But Fukuyama overlooked a crucial difference between the US and China. In the US, the oligarchs took control of the government; in China the government controls the oligarchs. The same is true of most other East-Asian countries. Russia under Putin has moved closer to the China model, courtesy of the vulture capitalists who plundered Russia.
The futurists (or macrohistorians) who attracted public attention in the 1970s and 1980s had several things in common. For one, their macrohistories were based on a single, linear model: we came from A and went to B and will go to C. Alvin Toffler's famous model is based on the sequence of pre-industrial, industrial to post-industrial society; Paul Kennedy argued the power rise and fall of civilizations, and Samuel Huntington argued that the source of conflict in the future would not be primarily ideological or economic but cultural.
All these macrohistories contained a kernel of truth, but they are one-dimensional. They don't tell us when and where a certain event will occur. Toffler's "Third Wave" model predicts the emergence of post-industrial society, but his model cannot pin-point the geographical center of post-industrial society. For Fukuyama, the notion of "free markets" is a new kind of ideology that assumes humans are merely economic creatures.
Huntington does take a broader view. He sees the world as dividing into nine primary religious-cultural regions: Western, Orthodox (Russia and South-Eastern Europe), Islamic, African, Latin American, Sinic (China, Vietnam and Korea), Hindu, Buddhist and Japanese. But, like the other macrohistorians, Huntington does not give us the tools to orient ourselves in the future - where will something big happen and how will it affect me.
Enter the American futurist Lawrence Taub. In the mid-1970s, while teaching in Japan, Taub gave a series of lectures making forecasts that were remarkably specific and would form the basis of his book. Among others, he predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, a religious revolution in the Islamic region (which turned out to be Iran), and the rise of what he called "Confucio" - an emerging powerhouse consisting of Confucian countries with China at its center.
When Taub made his predictions, Mikhail Gorbachev was an anonymous Soviet apparatchik, Deng Xiaoping had yet to start the modernization of the Chinese economy and Islamic fundamentalism was practically non-existent.
How was Taub able to make such accurate forecasts about events in specific regions? The short answer is that his macrohistory is based not on one but three models - the Sex Model, the Age Model and the Caste Model. Using three models, he gives us parameters in time and space. Put in another way, "conventional" futurists give us an odometer, Taub gives us a GPS system.
The center piece of Taub's macrohistory is the Caste Model. It is based on the ancient Hindu concept of caste - not the abusive social structure that developed in India but caste in its original, ancient meaning. The Hindu concept of caste (a Portuguese mistranslation of the Sanskrit word Varna ("casta", but literally "color") was an early version of what we today could call a "psychological profile".
The Hindu sages identified four human profiles or archetypes that distinguished humans in four broad categories: the religious or spiritual type, the warrior type, the merchant type and the worker type. These four types are generic (in the sense that yin and yang are generic). Each caste type has its own dominant traits, and every human being, male and female, fits into one of these four categories. An individual may have traits of two, three, or four caste types, but one of the four usually dominates within an individual.
Like their Jewish, Christian and Muslim brethren, the ancient Hindus prophesied about the destiny of humankind. They predicted that the four castes would take turns in "ruling the world". In other words, the traits, tendencies and world views of each of the four castes would take turns in dominating humanity for certain periods (or Ages) in a sequential and eternal cycle.
Taub gives this ancient Hindu macrohistory a remarkable twist. He matches the prophetic Hindu caste cycle to actual historical periods, identifying the specific periods in human history that the four castes dominated and in which specific geographical regions. He was able to do so because each of the four castes has its own unique features such as world view, ruling elite, social ideals, source of power and economic-political unit.
Based on these traits, Taub shows that the dominant caste in the world today is the Worker Caste (sudra in Sanskrit). The current Worker Caste Age is characterized by the identification with work, technocrats and bureaucrats, public and private enterprise, managerial knowledge and so forth. Let's briefly look at the rise of our current Worker Caste Age.
The past 150 years were marked by enormous upheaval because the Worker Caste wrestled control from the preceding Merchant Caste. The Merchant Caste in turn had wrestled control from the Warrior Caste in the 17th century. The pioneers of the Merchant Caste struggle were the Dutch. They wrestled control from the Iberian Warrior Caste and launched the world's first "multinationals", the Dutch East India Company, or VOC, and opened the world's first stock exchange, typical attributes of the Merchant Caste Age.
Remnants of the Warrior Caste survive today as royalty, military honor guards and other displays of pomp and circumstance. Remnants of the Merchant Caste survive in small businesses and shops, in large, individually or family-owned and - run enterprises, in disregard for nature, and in the urge to go back to free-for-all capitalism.
However, the Worker Caste is firmly entrenched in the industrialized world. A tell-tale sign? In the preceding Warrior and Merchant Castes Ages, (family) name, (land) holdings, money and wealth defined one's status in society. Today, most people are defined by, and identify with, the work they do. "What is your job?" is commonly the first question people ask when meeting others.
The ongoing caste struggle explains the current upheaval in the world in all its dimensions. The upper echelons of the Merchant Caste are struggling to hold on to their wealth and privilege. Neoliberalism, developed in the US in the 1980s, is a last-gasp and destructive attempt to derail the rise of the Worker Caste. Aided by corporate media, neoliberalism has been remarkably successful in convincing a large part of Western public opinion that "free markets" without political interference (that is, without democratic control) justify war, regime change and militarizing the economy.
TTIP and TTP, trade deals primarily intended to prolong the dollar hegemony, are the latest and perhaps last of the neoliberal grand designs to prolong Merchant Age dynamics. TTIP is meant to isolate China from its Asian neighbors and TTP (an "economic NATO") aims to prevent the development of a Eurasian economic corridor linking the EU with China. These "free trade" deals require many countries to act against the interests of their own people and will ultimately fail.
Watch for the main stream Western media and think-tankers to continue their mantra that the Chinese economy will collapse "any moment now", as it has done for the past 25 years. But in the next decade, East Asia, led by China, will finally remove the last power vestiges of the Merchant Caste Age.
As Taub explains in his book, China and its Confucian cousins are most "in tune" with the values, world view and social ideals of the Worker Caste. The region will account for some 60% of the global economy and will rejig the global economic, financial, and political architecture.
Caste struggle, or one caste overthrowing the established caste, always results in chaos and mayhem. Today, we see not only the struggle between the Worker Caste and the remnants of the Merchant Caste, we are also witnessing the rise of the Religious-Spiritual Caste.
The starting shot, as Taub so remarkably predicted, was the religious revolution in Iran. If the 20th century was defined by the struggle between the Merchant Caste and the Worker Caste, the 21st century will be defined by the struggle between the Worker Caste and the new Religious-Spiritual Caste.
Like the other three castes, the Religious-Spiritual Caste Age has its own world view, a ruling elite (religious and spiritual leaders), social ideals (self-knowledge), source of power (self-knowledge), etc. Skeptics will wonder how Iran, not to mention religious extremists with their indiscriminate violence, can be the avant garde of a Spiritual-Religious Age, which after all suggests peace.
As Taub explains in his book, fundamentalists and extremists are always the "shock troop" at the start of a new caste struggle. The Dutch "Sea Beggars" (Watergeuzen) were the brutal and merciless shock troops for the rising, Amsterdam-based Merchant Caste fighting the occupying Warrior Caste from Spain. Likewise, the Russian Bolsheviks acted as shock troops of the Worker Caste against the Merchant Caste. The current jihadis are the shock troops of the now emerging Religious-Spiritual Caste. And, as in previous caste revolution, the Islamist firebrands will ultimately be subdued once victory is achieved.
Despite the current havoc in Islamic countries, the 21st century is unlikely to be as bloody as the 20th century - for two reasons.
First, the East-Asian dominated Worker Caste Age, which will reach the peak of its power between 2040 and 2050, will have an impact on the rise of the Religious-Spiritual Caste. The latter will need many of the skills and tools of the Worker Caste in order to blossom. China, together with Japan, Korea and Taiwan are already having a huge economic impact on the "religious belt". A case in point: Afghanistan is gradually being pulled into China's economic orbit and Chinese government officials have met with Taliban representatives in an attempt to broker a peace deal.
A second reason to be optimistic about the 21st century leads us to Taub's Sex Model, the second parameter in his magnificent macrohistory. Women are gradually undermining the patriarchal structures that still dominate many countries, not only in advanced, post-industrial societies but also in developing, male-dominated countries in the "religious belt" and in Africa. How remarkable that none of the other futurists we have mentioned takes account of the growing role of women in their macrohistories.
Taub in fact is strongly influenced by feminist thought and he may be regarded as the first feminist futurist. In his book, he forecasts that women will overtake men as the dominant force in most societies by 2030. Various studies on the growing power of women prove him right. In many countries, females already outnumber males in universities. Companies with the highest number of women in management roles perform better than those run predominantly by men. Other studies suggest that women are better able to think holistically, a crucial skill in the 21st century.
The Sex Model puts female sensibility at the center of society, and it reinforces the Caste Model: a society dominated by female sensibilities makes the emergence of a peaceful Religious-Spiritual Age easier to imagine.
And what about the Age Model, the third parameter in Taub's macrohistorical GPS system? That would be giving away too much. It would be like revealing the plot of a mystery novel.
Jan Krikke is a former Asia correspondent for various media and author of The Corridor of Space