The Intelligence Community's Supposed Big Thinkers Share Their Fantasy Vision of a Still Mighty USA in 2030
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You’ll note that the thing that makes our intelligence futurologists jump for joy and gives them the equivalent of a drug high is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to which they return again and again. I kid you not. For them, frack is the new crack and if this document (god save us) were ever made into a movie, it might be called Frack to the Future. Yes, in most of their future scenarios, fracking, releasing all that “ extreme energy,” makes the U.S. energy independent, a natural gas exporter, and practically ensures that 2030 will once again be an American year! Yippee!
Above all, the National Intelligence Council’s analysts have managed to largely banish the single most essential, unavoidable, and bracing aspect of the future: surprise. That tells you far more about the Washington world the authors inhabit than what may happen in 2030. But before I get to that, give me just a second to pat myself on the back.
After all, I’ve done you an enormous favor. I’ve actually read Global Trends 2030 from its two-page “dear reader” letter from the chairman of the NIC and the report's “executive summary” though its 136 two-columned pages, and even its interminable acknowledgements. And let me assure you, it’s put together by perfectly intelligent people and has some interesting nuggets in it. The assembled crew has even tried its hand at writing bits of futuristic fiction and at least one of them, a “Marxist” analysis “updated” for the twenty-first century, has some passing entertainment value.
In the end, though, the document, like the IC itself, is an overblown artifact of Washington’s own limitations and fears. It’s also mind-numbingly, bone-blisteringly dull and repetitive, featuring elaborate charts laying out what you’ve just read as if you were simply too thick to take it in paragraph by paragraph. It’s exactly the sort of thing that no bureaucratic collective should be allowed to inflict on the great unknown, and that no one raised on H.G. Wells, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip Dick, Ursula Le Guin, George Orwell, William Gibson, or for that matter, Suzanne Collins should ever have to endure.
And yet, the strangeness of this project, historically speaking, should get your attention. Stop for a moment and think about time and the state. States have traditionally had an urge to control the past (sometimes working hard to gain a monopoly on the writing of history). And -- no surprise here -- most states have the urge to control the present. But the future? The future is time’s democracy. No government can secure it. No military can invade it. No intelligence agency can embed its operatives in it.
This is why the Global Trends series that originally emerged from the increasingly self-confident world of the “sole superpower” holds a certain fascination. It represents a unique state foray into the future, a singular attempt to corral and possess it. Once upon a time, the distant future was the province of utopian or dystopian thinkers, pulp fiction writers, oddballs, visionaries, even cranks, but not government intelligence services. Peering into it was, at its best, a movingly strange individual adventure of the imagination, whether you were reading Edward Bellamy or Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin or H.G. Wells, George Orwell or Aldous Huxley.
That was, of course, before the Pentagon began planning for the weaponry of 2020, 2035, and 2050; before war turned nuclear and so, with the exception of two cities in 1945, could only be "fought" in think tanks via futuristic scenario writing. It was before the leaders of the sole superpower were so overcome by hubris that they began to suspect the future, like the present, might indeed be theirs.