Extreme Boredom, Occasional Horror

The Failed States Index:

“Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace, an independent research organization, have conducted a global ranking of weak and failing states. Using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, they have ranked 60 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict. (For each indicator, the Fund for Peace computed scores using software that analyzed data from tens of thousands of international and local media sources from the last half of 2004.)”

Thanks to Matt Jones for pointing out that this is illustrative of the gulf between our future and what Joshua Ellis calls the ‘Grim Meathook Future’ of the rest of the world:

“Feeding poor people is useful tech, but it’s not very sexy and it won’t get you on the cover of Wired. Talk about it too much and you sound like an earnest hippie. So nobody wants to do that.

“They want to make cell phones that can scan your personal measurements and send them real-time to potential sex partners. Because, you know, the fucking Japanese teenagers love it, and Japanese teenagers are clearly the smartest people on the planet.

“The upshot of all of this is that the Future gets divided; the cute, insulated future that Joi Ito and Cory Doctorow and you and I inhabit, and the grim meathook future that most of the world is facing, in which they watch their squats and under-developed fields get turned into a giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.

“Of course, nobody really wants to talk about that future, because it’s depressing and not fun and doesn’t have Fischerspooner doing the soundtrack. So everybody pretends they don’t know what the future holds, when the unfortunate fact is that — unless we start paying very serious attention — it holds what the past holds: a great deal of extreme boredom punctuated by occasional horror and the odd moment of grace.”

15 Responses to “Extreme Boredom, Occasional Horror”

  • Bobsy Says:

    Whoa, whoa, hang on. Angola is ranked only as “borderline”, the same as Turkey? That’s such bollocks.

  • Rossignol Says:

    Bear in mind though that this is multiple factors combined to give a single outcome, which will fog the issue. Turkey’s Kurd situation is pretty bad, and the major reason for EU problems, for example.

  • Dan Hartung Says:

    I’m not nearly as depressed about this.

    Yes, there is a grim meathook future for a lot of people, but it isn’t ordained as inevitable, and the opportunities for people to escape a local future are wider than they have ever been.

    If you look at that map, you’ll notice a strong correlation with this map of late 20th century armed conflict. When you consider what that map might look like, it’s not nearly the disaster zone that I knew growing up in the 1970s, when hunger ripped an ugly scar across three or four continents, and what we now know as a “failed state” was simply the way most countries limped by for a long time. This map of military governments in the postwar era correlates well with where things were most fucked up back then. The amazing thing is how quickly that map turned into this map of democracies.

    White — that’s an amazing, classic site, by the way — doesn’t show much more recent data, but there have been major developments even since 1995. South America is now almost wholly democratic, with several former military dictatorships having experienced multipled civilian constitutional handovers. India is a more vibrant democracy than ever, making some of the most significant detente moves in its history with Pakistan. Southeast Asian nations from Indonesia to Fiji to Cambodia have worked their way past military dictatorships and worse to become somewhat normal countries.

    Most relevant ot this discussion, Africa is more in charge of its own destiny that it has ever been in my lifetime, with a surprisingly muscular African Union unafraid to condemn and suspend members like Mauritania after a military coup (which claims to be benign), and global reproach able to force Togo to back off of an unconstitutional transfer of power. Regional institutions are heavily invested in peacekeeping and conflict management in places like Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, and Sudan. The AU is politically dominated by popularly elected democratic leaders from South Africa (!) and Nigeria.

    Hunger has been “solved” in many countries through Borlaug’s green revolution, and more important, by something we didn’t expect back in the 70s — birthrate stabilization. The more affluent, industrialized, and educated a population becomes, the less it depends on sheer manpower to keep a family economic unit going. Even India is seeing a populatin plateau within the next few decades.

    In fact, I think the mere fact that we’re discussing an index of failed states means that we’re understanding, fianlly, some things about human enterprise that we didn’t even very recently. We now have a long track record we can examine for every post-colonial society, and we can say what worked and what didn’t. We’re smarter than we used to be.

    I remember back in college I was in a country simulation. There was opportunity for trade wars, politics, even war, but most of us figured out that hte game favored domestic spending for quick economic growth. Whether that model is fully accurate is debatable, but we all ended up pursuing that growth and ignoring the built-in conflict triggers. It was a boring simulation. But I think there’s something similar going on in a lot of “former” failed states, right now.

  • Rossignol Says:

    Interesting that you should end on a ‘games as educational model’ note there.

    I think that Josh, like other writers, is aware that this dark future is only a *possible* future, but its nevertheless important for writers to highlight where the troublesome futures lie, and to get people to concentrate on them for a while, rather than just flicking tracks on their iPod.

    That aside: you win the award for the most effort in a Rossignol blog comment, ever.

  • Janine Says:

    Who cares about hacks like Cory Doctorow? By his own publisher’s admission, his most successfull novel “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” only sold about 10,000 copies in the two years it has been out.

    His latest novel, “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town” has been out for one month and it is already ranked in the tens to hundreds of thousands on Amazon. Guys like this don’t have the brainpower to imagine the future — hell, they can’t even write the present!

  • chuckles Says:

    “(A) giant game of Counterstrike between crazy faith-ridden jihadist motherfuckers and crazy faith-ridden American redneck motherfuckers, each doing their best to turn the entire world into one type of fascist nightmare or another.” Now that quote, besides being the gratuitious use of potty-language, is a myopic and reductive misjudgement of the future this world faces.

    Not that I have any sympathy for ill-advised unilateralist American interventionist fiascoes, but if you’d check, you’d notice that most of the violence-related human misery on this sorrowful little globe is what one might call mud-people-on-mud-people, as in Sri Lanka, Congo, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and Sudan.

    The future is not likely to be as grim as many fear. First, the Jihadist movement, like past revolutionary upheavals (Anarchism in the 19th century, Fascism and Communism in the 20th) will burn itself out in a couple of decades.

    Second, the present confligration in Iraq, (the Vietnam tragedy replayed as farce, complete with a crazy old lady in a tent upstaging the leader of the free world) should keep the grubby little fingers of overeager American imperialist fauntleroys out of further geopolitical cookie jars.

    Finally, in Africa, things should straighten out once AIDS burns off a few more million excess people (currently at 9,000 a day and counting. I’m sure Bob Geldof is throwing a concert together as I type this).

    Which is not to say some kind of Neoconstupidhead rosy future of democracy is in the cards, most non-western nations except India being too backward to really implement any kind of liberal order. More likely they will face an indefinite future of quiet backwater despotism similar to that of Vietnam or Iran. Still, better than war.

    Of course there’s always the possibility some country might go crazy and start setting off atomic bombs, in which case all bets are off. As Caligula put it: aren’t people awful?

  • Rossignol Says:

    Always one for the snappy quote, that Caligula.

    Isn’t 10,000 copies quite a lot for an off-mainstream novel these days?

  • daniel Says:

    The question isn’t how many books the techobabies sell, or how many website hits they get. The question is how long and how wide a tech culture that is politically progressive and emotionally regressive will spread. The shiny-shiny mentality of a Boing-Boing or Wired are infantile but well-meaning. Is it too much to hope for a gradual maturation from pretend-vital issues like “copyfight” to real issues like hunger? I’m often horrified but I live in hope.

  • Rossignol Says:

    Undoubtedly. Social hope my be the one weapon liberals have left in their armoury. Here’s a man who thinks so: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140262881/qid=1123958832/sr=1-3/ref=sr_1_11_3/202-0316821-9332621

  • batatas Says:

    This may sound (and it is) a pointless comment, but I just wanted to say this post just hit the spot.
    Or maybe I’m a pessimist.
    Great blog, BTW.
    Greetings from Portugal,

  • Rossignol Says:

    Thanks. The credit has to go to others though, really.

  • Forge Says:

    Good post, true. Though we mud people have been grunting similar things about the Grim Meathook Divide to each other for many years now. Mostly from the other side.

  • stephen Says:

    I am really bored. So bored that I performed a Google search for “extremely bored”…

    And here I am.

    Tomorrow is a new day?

  • Rossignol Says:

    I was immunised from boredom aged 3 months.

  • Jonah Says:

    I think Hurricane Katrina, especially the federal response to that disaster, is a pretty good indicator that a dark and not so shiny & happy future are in the cards for all of us.