The Turning of the Wheel

The wheel is the perfect metaphor for history. It moves forward while cycling at the same time. It combines in one concrete object the grounding philosophies of both the West and the East. Technology and knowledge push the wheel forward (or backwards under circumstances of war and mass destruction). Fortunes rise and fall. Generations live and die.

Eventually, every wheel fails and crumbles into dust after it has exhausted all of its inner and outer resources. Most individuals are hardly aware of the wheel’s turning. Yet, today, for anyone not asleep, the wheel of our civilization is accelerating towards its ultimate destination. A fixed point on the wheel can rise to a pinnicle and then fall downward while still apparently moving forward. Wheels can warp out of round or rust and stop turning. Cultures can freeze up, stultify and stop working. Or, as with our civilization, the wheel can speed up and turn faster and faster.

Half seriously, technologists and futurists discuss how artifical intelligence and robotics will replace most human labor. Self-driving cars, self-monitoring houses and refrigerators that order groceries are either here or soon to be here. And what will the people do who are replaced by these instrumentalities? Will they become creative geniuses or indugle themselves in pastimes of sport or hedonism? This question hangs limply in the air and no one can answer it satisfactorily. Yet, most of humanity still lives in poverty and squalor. No AI-enhanced machine will fix that.

The complexity of systems and their unknowable dependencies and interconnctions threaten all of us with some form of annihilation: financial, pandemic, nuclear,…. Our cleverness has outpaced our wisdom and virtue by several orders of magnitude. But an invisible destruction has already taken place. We have unleashed centrifigal forces that ruthlessly tear every social struture apart. The core of spiritual health for humanity is characterized by the needs of the soul: the embrace of an extended family, kin and clan living in proximity in an organic community, satisfying roles, meaningful labor, and transcendent belief. Our wheel has turned so fast and so furiously, that the requisites for the satisfaction of these needs have been destroyed. Destroyed not by design but by unintended consequenses, by so-called rational planning, ideology, centralized control, and the fact that for most of our lives we are strangers to each other.

It is not surprising that even such a profoundly warped system as Islam can infiltrate our society because it satisfies just enough soul needs to be able to trump the vacuousness of the West. We stupidly look to politics and leaders for solutions. That leads to futility raised to a higher power. There are no heroes on white horses because every path that they can take leads back again into the same darkness. We have wandered so far into stygian darkness that even a strong light cannot help us find the way out.

Mythology tells us how this will end: conflagration and rebirth. A new wheel is forged in the hot flames of our auto-da-fé.

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Predictions for 2016

Prognostication is a risky business. Soothsayers in the old world risked more than unkind words for inaccurate forecasting, especially if a false prediction resulted in wasted resources or serious loses. But, undoubtedly the principal reason for the cloud of uncertainty around any prediction is the disorderliness and randomness of human life: its fundamental unpredictability.

Issac Asimov, in his classic Foundation trilogy, imagined that prediction could be made into a mathematical science if (and only if) the target of the prediction was statistically large enough (in his case, a galactic empire).  He called this science “psychohistory”. It was based on a layered scheme that had at its base the fundaments of human nature: primitive emotions, power-seeking, sociopathy, self-aggrandizement, etc.. These were then projected outward through the characteristics of leaders and political groupings scaled from a single city to the entire confederation of populated worlds. The inventor of psychohistory was Hari Seldon. He reasoned that if you could accurately predict that a man would most likely be afraid of a snake in close proximity, you could predict with some degree of probability that a country or planet would be similarly scared of a country or planet they perceived as a political snake (i.e. ready to strike and kill with little warning).

In truth, we make predications all the time. We try to forecast the traffic we will encounter when we take our car out and the likelihood of finding a parking spot. The experiences of our life can be divided into (near) certainties and probabilistic events.  We instinctively believe that a convicted felon is more likely to commit another crime than someone who has never had an encounter with the criminal justice system.  However, when we try to turn ratiocination towards predicting far-away events, we must recognize that it is no better than using a divining rod. Will we locate water? Perhaps. Most likely not, however. With these caveats, I shall dive into the deep end of the prediction pool.
 
Hillary Clinton will not be the nominee of the Democrat Party. She will be charged with multiple violations of the Federal code regarding the protection of classified information. Even though President Obama will short-circuit the process with an almost instantaneous pardon, her reputation will not survive intact. Either Vice President Biden or Al Gore will be the Democrat nominee.
 
Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination in a bruising, ugly battle with the Republican establishment. However, being an astute man, he will try to heal the rift by promising to pick men for his administration who are acceptable to the powers within the Republican party. Trump will go on to win the presidency in a close battle. The House will remain Republican, but by a lower margin as will the Senate. 
 
There will be a series of horrific ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe. However, there will be no 9/11-size attack.
 
Starting this winter, the Muslim immigrants in Europe will grow into a major social disruption as they demand housing and other benefits. Demonstrations will be angry and violent. Nationalist parties, especially in Central / Eastern Europe will dramatically increase in strength. Germany and France will try to neutralize this growth by proposing / implementing much tougher immigration restriction policies.
 
Stock markets around the world will fall into recession territory and remain there for at least three quarters. World trade will continue to slow and commodity prices continue to decline. Oil prices will stabilize around $55 / bbl by around the third quarter.
 
Interest rates will not rise above 1% but instead, will remain around .5% for most of the year. 
 
Star Wars: The Force Awakens will win four Oscars, but not Best Picture. By the end of 2016, it will have grossed $1.75 billion on its way to a total of over $4 billion.
 
The rout of high-yield bonds and bond funds will continue. 
 
Real estate prices will continue to decline and will accelerate their downward slide. Overall, real estate prices will drop 10-15% in 2016. Even rapid-growth international cities such as London, New York and Miami will experience a pull-back.
 
ISIS will be contained in Syria by the Russians. They will steadily be pushed back by the Kurds and the Iraqis. However, there will be no final battle or resolution and ISIS and related Jihadi groups will continue to fester and cause trouble.
 
Turkey will experience political turmoil as a result of its support of ISIS.
 
Towards the end of the year, Iran will experience serious internal problems resulting from a power struggle among the ruling mullahs. (In 2017, President Trump will start to exert pressure on Iran which will exacerbate the problem.) 
 
The Black Lives Matter movement will begin to fade early in the year and be almost forgotten by the end of the year.
 
There will be the start of a pushback against the throttling of free speech on college campuses.
 
The end of 2016 will see the rise of a new hopeful spirt with the election of Donald Trump, especially among middle Americans. The desire to see President Obama leave office will rise to a fever-pitch, especially as he tries to force his policies through with a flurry of executive orders and administrative procedures.
 
After the election, President Obama will pardon a record number of Federal prisoners, especially those incarcerated for drug offenses and related crimes.

So, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet and challenged Fate to a bout of arm-wrestling. I blithely ignored the bulging muscles rippling on Fate’s arms and instead blundered forward with reckless abandon. Come back in a year and see whose hand has been forced onto the table.

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The Soul In Torment – An Introduction

In 1949, Simone Weil published The Need for Roots, it was a response to the upending of the European world arising from World War II. As the moral order fractured and politics became blood sport, the supposedly civilized world slide into mass murder on a never before seen scale. Weil understood that a just and compassionate moral order arises out of societies where the soul’s needs are met and not trampled upon. Weil, being a religious mystic as well as a philosopher, listed fourteen needs that she believed were essential to the health of the spirit: order, liberty, obedience, responsibility, equality, hierarchism, honor, punishment, freedom of opinion, security, risk, private property, collective property, and truth. Of these, truth was the most sacred of all needs. She also believed that up-rootedness was the cause of the breakdown of the systems that provide for the satisfaction of human needs.

In attempting to understand the evolution of a society, it is often a case of the blind men and the elephant. The political scientist sees the corruption and inefficiency of the political process. The sociologist sees changes in the quality of social relations, and the city planner looks at the social environment created by urbanization. Hundreds of books and many thousands of papers have been written to analyze each element of a polity and, based on the particular specialty of the author, solutions proposed which, if the author is to be believed, will solve the seemingly intractable problems of a modern society (crime, pollution, infrastructure decay, differences in group achievement, etc.).

While I believe that Weil mostly got it right, she did not (or could not) see how the expanding capabilities of technology would foster a profound acceleration of the up-rootedness that lies at the root of the soul sickness infecting modern societies. Technology is centrifugal – it drives everything and everyone further apart from a common center. There has been no fundamental transformation of human nature in the last ten thousand years. We are still Cro-Magnons with the core of our evolutionary biology in tact. When our environment is contra naturam we suffer psychologically and spiritually.

Almost every aspect of art and literature from ancient times has illuminated the essential elements needed for spiritual and psychological health: a close, protecting, and loving extended family, membership in a larger kinship grouping (clan / tribe), a sufficiently large, yet still small enough number of non-kin but still genetically-related others to allow mutual recognition in order to create an organic community, a powerful relationship to a place in all of its aspects and elements, and finally, a shared spiritual relationship to the eternal in terms of transcendent belief. If any one of those elements is missing, it is replaced by a defuse feeling of anxiety or dissatisfaction. If most or all of the elements are missing, the soul shrivels up and leaves behind an empty shell that tries desperately to escape its torment by creating a false sense of security and meaning using artificial means. And that is precisely the situation of the West today.

The powerful magic of modern technology continues to destroy extended families and organic communities, all in the name of social progress. Every great invention has accelerated the trend to delocalizing and decentering: the car, the airplane, television, and especially, the Internet. What has been provided instead are poor substitutes that do not and cannot satisfy the soul’s cravings.  Unless we begin collectively to understand the needs of the soul and how to prioritize them, society will continue to careen off the rails until it finally dies.

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A Tale of One City

”Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Here’s my hope that Robert Conway will find his Shangri-La. Here’s my hope that we all find our Shangri-La.”
— Lord Gainsford, Lost Horizon, 1937

Utopias have a dispirating tendency to evaporate like a desert mirage. Dreams of universal brotherhood, when they become flesh, often cause said flesh to be rendered, burnt or stripped clean from the bones. It is a fact that one does not find utopias as a result of a quest; rather, they find you when your eyes are turned in a different direction. They slowly ascend into your consciousness and when a critical point is reached, they turn and stare directly into your eyes and crinkle their lips in a soft, knowing smile. Then the shock of recognition electrifies you and you realize that your destination has reached you. You embrace and the real love affair commences.

When I arrived in my Shangri-La, I was greated not by the High Lama, but rather by a twinkle-eyed Yorkshireman who is transforming American ballet with his genius and tenacity. We sat opposite each other in his office and a kind of electric spark crossed the gap. He opened a door and I happily walked through it.

The week I arrived I found myself at a dinner party with a group of people who were strangers. Within a few short hours they were strangers no longer. Now we gather every month to break bread. Walking down the main street of the town is often a chance to stop in at stores and share stories with the proprietors.

There are no parking meters. The garages do not charge.

The summer thunderstorms lit up the waters of the bay. The sun’s warmth, unrelenting to some, but beneficent to me, kept the memories of cold mornings and chilly nights far away. Every sunset seems to have been ordered from a catalog of skyborn perfection.

My calendar is repleat with events. I have a ticket folder that is bursting its seams.

I’ve watched my soul as it shed its carapace of worry and doubt. Friends who have known me for many years have noticed this change.

And now to complete the journey, next Spring, I will marry the woman who has shared my life for the past four years.

Sarasota….

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Semi-Paradise

“In Los Angeles all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn’t tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California.”  -Saul Bellow

“California is a queer place — in a way, it has turned its back on the world, and looks into the void Pacific. It is absolutely selfish, very empty, but not false, and at least, not full of false effort.”   -D.H Lawrence

How Silicon Valley’s billionaires are trying to defy death”  -Headline, This Week

What is it about California where modernity meets the Pacific Ocean? What did Nathaniel West, the author of The Day of the Locust, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Robert Towne who wrote the script for Chinatown know?

As a catastrophic chronic drought threatens to upend the state and spill all of its inhabitants back East, as periodic earthquakes rumble around, as late Fall fires burn orange bright, as the sun rises and shines nearly every day post the morning fog / marine layer, as the cold wind from the ocean whips the shorts-wearing denizens of San Francisco, so the souls of Californians conform to the multi-dimensional social, political and environmental manifold that holds them in a smothering embrace.

California regurgitates and spits up rancid dreams like a skid row alcoholic. But it also lifts scraggly-bearded code pounders up to the financial stratosphere (if not beyond). A fancy taxi service is valued at over $40 billion. Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter rule almost 2 billion of the world’s online population. Tower cranes line the San Francisco skyline building aeries for the winners. Yet, on the street, more and more strung-out broken people walk through the city. During the first great wave of the Internet, many African Americans were driven out of their historic neighborhoods by the rising cost of living there. Rents now start at $2,800 / month. Soon, the entire city will be engulfed in a fathomless ocean of money. The old, the working class and even the traditional middle class are slowly being driven out. The $40-$100+ million condominium is now becoming a reality. New businesses catering to the ultra-successful are appearing daily.

Creating life-like augmented reality, machine-embodied super-intelligence, powerful general purpose robots and bodies that can thrive for 150 years are now in the gunsites, not to mention space exploration, and new sources of efficient energy.

America’s winners are now found in technology, finance and government. Everyone else can move to less salubrious settings.

California is the epicenter of technological transformation. Human beings will just have to adjust to the new worlds that are being synthesized here. Booth Tarkington’s Magnificent Ambersons, who fell from grace resisting the automobile, would last less than a few microseconds today. “That was so 15 minutes ago,” used to be a joke. Today, it’s a reality. The environment churns and churns and races forward running over anyone who might be stuck in the road. A dedicated Luddite might even create their own app to spread the message about the evils of apps.

When I arrived for the first time in the Bay Area in the early summer of 1990 after spending nearly seventeen years in the Boston area, my first response was the shock that every day was a carbon copy of the previous day: morning cloudiness followed by brilliant sunshine in a cloudless sky. A 4.8 temblor did shake me the first week I was here. I honestly thought I was the butt of some kind of cosmic one-liner. I showed up at Apple and found a rabbit (“Bowser”) running around the office. People wore t-shirts and shorts. I continued to wear blue oxfords and khakis, however.

One of the more brilliant young people in my group, who went on from Apple to sell his start-up company to Microsoft for $64 million died of a dissecting aorta in 2004. He was an exercise fanatic as was David Goldberg, the husband of Facebook’s Sheryl “Lean In” Sandberg who died a few days ago, also in the throes of vigorous exercise. One of the smartest and successful of my old group committed suicide last year. He had conquered every technology height and then some. But, the black dog finally overcame even his strong will.

I lived in a house in a bucolic suburb of Apple. When I would drive down the winding road to El Camino Real, I would see muscular young women, pumping their mountain bikes in the other direction. Was this a concomitant to the many nail salons that lined the main thoroughfare I wondered.

I never missed the nasty people of Boston and their tribal animosities generally expressed in their rambunctiously obnoxious driving habits. But, I found a strange vacuum in California. The ever present sun seemed to act as a social toxin; it drove away the desire to make good friends.

As I come to the end of my third and last tour of duty in the Bay Area, I’ve observed that one of the most popular pastimes is the “California disconnect.” It’s a variation of the Hollywood question “What can you do for me?” that seems to hang over every social interaction. Acquaintances are discarded like old newspapers. One of my friends who has lived for decades in San Francisco and is planning to leave the Bay Area for the South said something quite revealing to me: “San Francisco is a cold, cold city.” It is also a singularly un-erotic city in the sense that men and women do not flirt with each other. And public displays of affection are almost non-existent. It values food over friends. Simply put, it is a dynamic economic opportunity zone (like Shanghai, New York, London and Moscow) and a profound anti-community.

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The Great Reset

The waters are mostly calm and the moon is radiantly bright. The lookouts are keeping watch. Reports of icebergs have been passing on the wireless, but the captain feels secure in the unsinkable miracle ship. Full speed ahead! The first class passengers are secure in their staterooms having fed on a sumptuous repast of rare delicacies. In steerage, the sounds of Gaelic songs are fading and the crowded bunk beds are rapidly filling. But wait, what was that sound? The ship seemed to shiver. No matter. The morning will come and all be well.

Not since the approaches of the first millennium and Y2K has there ever been a greater golden age of doomsayers than today. Y2K brought out loonies like Gary North who predicated the end of civilization as all the computer programs written in the (relative) dark ages of the 50’s – 80’s rolled over and died at 12:00:01 AM on 1/1/2000. Of course, the planning for this had been going on for many years and almost all the critical programs had already been fixed. So at 12:00.02 AM when the world was still very much with us, the Y2K’ers closed up their bunkers and shelters, shut down their websites and returned, techno-tail between their legs to the real world.

Today, however, the arsenic-laced juices are flowing as never before. YouTube is the repository of many gigabytes of gloom and doom videos. Spend a day watching these and you will feel that your days are definitely numbered. A zombie apocalypse is inevitable as is civil war, racial war, martial law, economic collapse, currency collapse, stock market collapse, bond market collapse, global depression, sovereign debt default, total financial Armageddon, peak oil, peak debt, World War III, Ebola, bird flu, the New World Order, Fukushima, the End of Days, terrorism, EMP-disabled power grid and last, and certainly not least, global warming, global cooling, and bee-mageddon. William Miller, founder of the Seventh-day Adventists was a piker compared to the army of doomists that now run free in the jungles of the Internet. The terrifying thought is that some of these gloomy predictions may come true. In fact, the odds almost certainly favor it.

Our desire for stability and order and our normalcy bias do not allow us to easily entertain the idea that we may be headed for a profound discontinuity. The more intelligent prognosticators do not set specific dates for the unfolding of their scenarios. However, the consensus is that something truly terrifying is in store for us, with the probable starting date in the later part of 2015 and running through 2025.

Historical and financial cyclicality are favorite memes. Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform’s hobby horse is The Fourth Turning – an 80-year generation-based theory of rise and collapse. Martin Armstrong’s cycles key off of the tendency towards governmental corruption of the dominant world power. There are debt expansion and collapse cycles (David Stockman, Gregory Mannarino, Jim Rickards).

Without a doubt, the principal villain in almost all of these collapse models is the rapid expansion of non-collateral based debt by central bankers (the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of China). This has led to massive asset bubbles (stock and bond markets, housing, collectables), the debasement of fiat currencies, and will ultimately lead to the collapse of confidence in the central bankers to manage the financial and economic situation. This in turn will lead to rapidly rising interest rates, collapsing asset prices (deflation) and economic chaos and breakdown. This scenario has been termed “The Great Reset” caused by “financial repression” – the inability to have honest asset price discovery due to massive money / debt creation.

Different scenarios branch off the main one. Some involve the collapse of the 500+ trillion dollar derivative market, perhaps spurred by the collapse of oil prices. A favorite is the replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency – scheduled to begin in 2015. If this happens, the dollars that have been kept in reserve will flow back into the United States and potentially lead to hyperinflation.

The logic of these scenarios seem quite sound. There has to be a debt limit. Interest rates cannot be maintained at zero indefinitely. The stand-down scenarios for a slow unwinding face the problem that the markets are tuned to the current direction of the central bankers. Once there is a clear indication that this has changed, asset prices could rapidly collapse to their historic norms.

The wilder reaches of The Great Reset all involve bringing about a war by TPTB (The Powers That Be) in order to create an excuse for the economic collapse. In this model favored by (among others) Gerald Celente, Alex Jones and Dave of the X22 Report, the stage is being set by the “globalists” to achieve their dream – elimination of the world’s “excess” population and the creation of a New World Order.

The ultimate doom scenario is an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) attack by a rogue state like North Korea or Iran or even a massive solar storm. This could bring down the nation’s electric grid for years and result in the death of 90% of Americans as all supply chains break down and most people starve to death in a few weeks to months.

What is a reasonable person to make of all this? Should a prudent person “prep” by moving to a rural location and loading up on non-perishable food, gold, silver, guns and ammo? Or is the world actually a semi-stable system that will always find a new equilibrium even after a series of serious shocks? Here are some thought questions that should be helpful.

  • Does the current situation fall within normal historical bounds or is it unique? What is the best historical analogy?
  • How resilient is the system to breakdowns?
  • What responses could be expected from government at all levels to different crises?
  • What vulnerabilities cannot be fixed, either because of lack of resources or political will?

The current debt situation falls outside the observed historic range. With the exception of low debt Russia, the normalized total debt-to-GDP ratio is unprecedented and rising. No significant deleveraging has taken place in the United States or in Western Europe. By these measures, the debt is unsustainable. The collateral (asset) basis for this high level of debt is significantly below historic norms with a global leverage ratio approaching twenty. The mountain of derivatives and bonds rests on an increasingly small sliver of collateral. Little of the debt generated in the last ten years has gone into productivity or real wealth (as opposed to paper wealth) generating activities. Corporations are using cheap money to repurchase their stock thus increasing its price. Corporate stock activists lobby against productive investment as the payoff period for this is measured in years instead of months.

The system has not been designed with significant resilience. There is a lack of redundancy, negative feedback (to dampen out-of-bounds events), and rapid response to threats. Even though public stock markets have so-called circuit breakers, much asset trading is done by hedge funds in so-called dark pools. These have no controls on them. The first ones out will be safe, all others will be ruined. There is no control environment or regulation for derivatives. Counter-party risk could create a potential domino effect in a crisis. Very little was learned from the near collapse of the financial industry in 2008. The primary response was to pump massive amounts of low-cost liquidity into the banking system though the purchase by the Federal Reserve of underwater mortgage-backed securities and other bonds.

Governments have proven singularly incapable of doing anything helpful to reduce the current risk environment. In fact, risk is increasing at every level of government while they are simultaneously raising taxes and draining resources from productive enterprises and individuals. In a crisis, the government can be expected to protect the powerful and ignore the powerless. There is a de facto oligarchy that decides policy regardless of the platitudes that are mouthed by various officials and their media janissaries. In addition, the government is now positioned to overreact to almost any perceived threat or challenge to its authority, while simultaneously ignoring other threats.

The current vulnerabilities to our critical infrastructure (electric grid, dams, water supply) are not being sufficiently addressed because the political will to fix these problems is not present. The most scandalous of these is the electric grid. Even though it is estimated that only $20 billion is all that is needed to build sufficient protection in to prevent a multi-year nationwide grid failure, nothing is being done.

While no one knows if, how and when The Great Reset will manifest, it is certain that the conditions for such an event are propitious and that little is being done to forestall or meliorate it.

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Four Religions of the 21st Century : Christianity, Islam, Secular Progressivism and Techno-transcendentalism

Although the second decade of the 21st century is only half over, the emerging outlines of the better part of what remains of the century suggests it will be a period of intense religious conflict. Not since the 16th & 17th century intra-Christian wars of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation has the prospect of religiously-inspired violence been as great.

Christianity is restructuring itself into a religion primarily of the Third World.

Resurgent Islam is on the move with the most radical elements of its two competing branches (Sunni and Shi’ite) each projecting themselves as the fons et origo of the next Caliphate.

Secular Progressivism is now the informally established religion of the West.

Techno-transcendentalism is just being born. It will challenge both the progressives and the older religious orders with promises of immortality clothed in the liniments of the present and not in some realm of ethereal afterlife.

And what of Hinduism, the religion of 1 billion Indians? It will be relevant only as it confronts Islam as is true of the 380 million Buddhists.

Christianity

Universal Christianity and its tribal elder brother, Judaism were the foundational belief systems of the West. Greek and Roman philosophy gave it intellectual sinews to add to its potent mythology of forgiveness and redemption clothed in human form. The Reformation enabled Christianity to live comfortably with the post-Renaissance world of reason and increasing scientific knowledge. While this road had numerous ruts, Christianity moved forward until the Enlightenment drove a fatal blade through its heart. Since then, it has stumbled around like a zombie pretending to be the paragon of health. It is rapidly becoming a kind of common folk religion for the non-elite, underdeveloped and underprivileged.

Its fight with Islam for European domination which was settled at the Gates of Vienna in 1529 is no longer a viable path. The robust virility which allowed Christianity to circumnavigate the world and control most of it is depleted. Yet, it stubbornly hangs on with significant growth in Asia, Africa and South America. The current Pope’s pronunciamentos, sounding more like Marxist liberation theology, would have been met with utter befuddlement by the Catholic hierarchy of the 20th century.

In the United States, evangelicalism still holds sway among non-coastal residents. But it is a rear-guard action that cannot ultimately withstand the cultural onslaughts that have been aimed at it by the minions of secular progressivism.

But, but … with all of this Christianity is still a powerful force that may like its founder be resurrected this century, clothed in newer garments, and given a newly burnished sword. Once the current Pope has been laid in the Vatican vault, a new Pope, might find the inspiration to return to the sources of Christian spiritual strength and face the three demons that threaten humanity.

Islam

Islam was hardly spoken of in the West until the late 1960’s when the Palestinians started their campaign of airplane hijackings and terrorism. Its resurgence has been periodically punctuated by dramatic murder sprees that are now ritualistically invoked: 9/11, London / July 2005, the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and many less visible ones. Islam has periodically invaded the West and been driven back across the Mediterranean or from the Balkans.

Few people recognized the silent revolution that started in Islam with the publication of Sayyid Qutb’s Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones) in 1964 which was the spark that led to the development of political Islam and the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The deadly 1000 plus year conflict between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches was invisible to the West. When the oil cartel OPEC forced the price of oil to quadruple in 1973 and double again in 1979, the flood of money fueled the development of Jihadism, one of the cornerstones of Islam – the conversion of the world to Islam and punishment for those who refuse the call.

The Middle East is now heading for another significantly more deadly chapter in the battle between the two branches of Islam. Iran, emboldened by Western weakness is spreading its tentacles across the Shi’ite crescent while the Islamic State (ISIS) is the Sunni tip-of-the-spear in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Libya. While currently keeping their distance, ultimately, they will collide with utmost violence and possibly even nuclear results. The crypto-Islamic state of Turkey sees itself as the seat of the next Caliphate along with ISIS and Iran. Saudi and Egypt are negotiating with Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons to balance Iran when they announce their anticipated breakout from an illusory agreement with the US and Europe.

Russia and China are playing a dangerous chess game with the forces of Islam. They feed the beast with technology, weapons and collateral logistical support because (in Russia’s case) they see the Islamist anti-Western stance as a counterforce against the aggressive push by Nato and the U.S. in Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Islamists will accept these gifts and at the right moment, when the West has been neutered, they will turn north and eastward. Revenge is in the cards for the treatment of Chechnya (Russia) and the Uighurs (China). However, neither of those two countries will tolerate what the West seems resigned to accept.

The history of Islam is one of push then pullback. Periods of hyper-aggressive conquest have alternated with periods of quiescence. Islam now sees world dominance as its achievable goal. The stage is being set for an apocalyptic confrontation.

Secular Progressivism

Secular progressivism emerged in the 19th and 20th century as the “heaven on Earth” alternative belief system to Christianity. It is now the religion of the elites in every Western country. It is often confused with a political system. But like Islam, the political ramifications are secondary to the inherent promises of salvation and redemption.

To question its tenets is to risk being labeled a dangerous heretic who should rightfully be cast out of society. Enforcing political correctness is no different from the acts of the Inquisition. After all, heresy is still heresy. Conservatives do not understand this. They still believe that they are confronting what are fundamentally political issues that can be discussed and where compromises can be reached. That is a dangerous illusion. Secular progressives seek total domination of all institutions of society in order to enforce doctrinal purity. Their holy trinity is race, gender and class. Equalism, the absence of inherent differences among groups and the ritual purification and purging of heterodoxical thinking is their mantra. This is leading to the slow conquest of Europe by Islamic immigration and the conversion of the United States into a fragmented, racially-charged, divided nation.

But like all true religions, when things turn out badly, the response is always: “we must try harder.” The communist true believers in the West in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the “social justice warriors” of today burn with the same righteous indignation and determination to do “whatever is necessary” to create a noble utopian world without sexism, homophobia, racism, and every related “ism” one can imagine. And like the history of communism, it does not matter how many lives are destroyed or even snuffed out in the process. All that matters is the end. Any means that advances the process is acceptable.

But there is one minor problem with secular progressivism – it doesn’t work. And like the collapse of communism, ultimately its failures will first undermine and then overthrow it. The loss of belief and the despair of those who cast their lot with it could result in social upheavals that could rival the Thirty Years War. Religions do not die easily.

Techno-transcendentalism

Techno-transcendentalism has gone by a different name since the late 80’s and early 90’s when it was first conceived: Transhumanism. It is religion of transformation and consequent salvation through technology. The foothills of this new religion can be found in the early empowerment philosophy of personal computers espoused by Steve Jobs. That has continued and grown to now embrace the mobile app world with an almost evangelical fervor. The Apple Watch may turn out to be the emblematic talisman for this stage of development in this religion – the equivalent of the Cross. After all it could save your life through the monitoring and communicating of your vital signs.

However, it is in the next generation of emerging technologies where true salvation will be found. The scientists and engineers at Google Labs and others are already openly talking of the possibility of reengineering humanity to enable immortality through a combination of genetic engineering and micro-miniaturized “smart” devices. Uploading one’s personality to a computer was once pure science fiction, today it is being actively researched. If the current vector of development continues, these will not be only the dreams of the tech elite – they will become real. AI and robots are parallel technologies that promise to remove the need for most human labor. This Faustian pursuit cannot be stopped. Technology has a momentum of its own independent of any human intervention.

Regardless of how the capabilities evolve over the next 10 to 30 years, there is no doubt that techno-transcendentalism will become a powerful force and belief system. The promise of a dramatically extended life with a non-aging, disease-free body where people commune through direct interconnection and not through clumsy instrumentalities such as texting and Facebook will become the Holy Grail for many.

Isaac Asimov said “people don’t change, only technology changes.” Well, as brilliant as Asimov was, he was wrong. People will be changed because technology does indeed change.

Exactly how these four belief systems will intersect in the next decades of the 21st century cannot be easily predicted. What will happen when the 7th century Islamic purists are faced with the power of transformative technologies? Who will inherit the Earth? And how many people will fall victim in the inevitable clashes?

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