PROPHETS OF THE 21ST CENTURY

Every age has its prophets - thinkers or agitators whose ideas shape civilisation for a generation or more. Whose will be the voices of the new millennium? Matthew Sweet identifies 40 thinkers with followings
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Prophets no longer need worry about being without honour in their own country: according to most of today's futurologists, the nation state will soon be a thing of the past. So might the British countryside, the job, liberal democracy and the difference between biology and technology. On the other hand, there may be gains as well as such losses: equal rights for chimpanzees and gorillas; the immortality of the mind through electronic media; the aestheticisation of agriculture and the resurrection of the GLC.

Millennial angst is not enough to explain the current boom in such quasi- prophetic pronouncements: it is as much to do with the triumph of Mickey Mouse over Marx. Not only does the end of the Cold War seem to have averted Armageddon and assured us of a future about which we can speculate, but the demise of Communism has made historical determinism into anyone's game. Enter the new futurologists.

The cast of 40 seers assembled overleaf forms a mix of professional speculators, cutting-edge thinkers, visionaries and, in the odd case, charlatans. Some of them make grand pronouncements about the shape of things to come; others are quietly making discoveries and developing discourses that may determine what form the future will take. What gives them prophetic status is the fact that all of them have authority of some sort, whether it comes from the respect of their peers, the adulation of their followers or the intensity with which their advice is sought by colleagues, politicians, opinion-formers or the public. Readers will almost certainly find particular faults - of omission or inclusion - in the selection, but its general range is probably right. This is how prophets should be: cranky but persuasive, on the borders of acceptability. They can't all be right; it's doubtful whether all of them are wrong. And, aside from the question of their accuracy, their ranks might just hold a figure whose prophetic thoughts will have the lasting impact of a Luther, Malthus, Edison or Freud. Others may vanish as quietly as Menocchio Friuli, the 16th-century miller who speculated that the earth was a decaying ball of cheese.

Those who attempt to map coming ordeals generally do so by meditating upon present trends; yet anticipating the future remains a distinctly nostalgic science. Among the prophets listed here, Samuel Huntington's theories of inter-cultural war refer back to the Crusades, those of Rudolf Bahro to medieval monasticism. The rest are largely haunted by the spectre of the 19th century. Max Nordau and HG Wells have ghost-written the dystopian narratives of Paul Kennedy and Charles Murray. Edward Carpenter's theories of the Third Sex inform the future for gay men anticipated by Mark Thompson. Behind the fluffy mysticism of Hollywood gurus like Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra is the theosophy and spiritualism that titillated the late-Victorian middle classes. Most significantly, neo-Darwinian theories are being enthusiastically taken up by those shaping the future of disciplines and discourses as diverse as neurology, social theory and the creation of Artificial Life.

George Eliot, eminent Victorian and careful reader of Darwin, wrote that "among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous". Some of the latter-day prophets on the list overleaf might do well to remember that.' .Columnist on the Wash- ington Post and author of They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives will Dominate the Next Political Era (1996). Rep- ortedly Gordon Brown's bedtime reading, the book contends that America's "anxious middle" will reject Gingrich-style anti-government rhetoric and accept a role for the state in moulding the market for the greater good. Electorates, he argues, are sickening of small-government conservatism "dressed up in the finery of a hi-tech age." Bad news for social Darwinists like Charles Murray (qv), good news for Bill Clinton, whom Dionne credits with "a reinvention of the progressive tradition".

HANS MAGNUS ENZENSBERGER

German historian, poet, essayist, journalist and dramatist, Enzensberger is a survivor of Sixties radicalism turned raffish guru, much-beloved of the Granta set. His idiosyncratic brand of eco-Marxism gives Paul Kennedy's (qv) ideas on population movement a radical twist, laying the blame for anticipated social disintegrations on Western greed. Historian Eric Hobsbawm lent heavyweight support to Enzensberger's latest, Civil Wars from LA to Bosnia (1996), which identifies the growth of what he terms an "autism of violence", a tide of "self-destruction and collective madness" produced across the globe by the collapse of Cold War certainties.

AMITAI ETZIONI

Born in Germany, raised in Israel and now Professor of Sociology at George Washington Uni-versity, Etzioni is the champion of communitarianism, a post-socialist political philosophy based on community responsibility and social cohesion. The Spirit of Community (1995), en-courages communities to govern and police themselves, with an emphasis on family discipline. "Too many people shirk our communal responsibilities," he argues. Critics consider his ideas a recipe for putting women back into the kitchen, but his fashionable course between welfare culture and individualist anarchy has won him influential friends, including Clinton.

LOUIS FARRAKHAN

Controversial African-American firebrand, who, in his capacity as leader of the radical Nation of Islam movement, argues for the racial segregation of the US. Despite allegations of misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia, 1 million men joined him in October 1995 on a march for black rights (women were excluded). His newspaper, The Final Call, is the largest circulation black newspaper in the US. "If you don't change your ways," he has warned whites, "the same God that des-troyed Babylon, Sodom and Gomorrah and Egypt will now bring plagues on America." He's recently opened a restaurant in Chicago.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON

Old White House war-horse, and Director of the John M Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. His major works include The Third Wave: Democrati-sation in the late-20th Century (1991). A 1993 essay predicts that "the next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilisations," contending that conflict will occur between cultural regions rather than individual nation states; in practice, this is taken to mean war between Western democracy and Islam. His critics argue that this is no more than a desperate attempt to construct a new enemy, and consequently a coherent foreign policy, for the United States.

PAUL KENNEDY

Political historian, adviser to the Clinton administration, and apocalyptic prophet. Kennedy's neo-Malthusian proclamations have led his students at Yale to dub him "Doctor Doom". Author of Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1988), an entropic theory of "imperial overstretch", and of Preparing for the 21st Century (1995), predicting massive migrations from poor nations to rich, the collapse of the nation state, decline for the US and general woe for "a troubled and fractured planet". Urges states to "rethink, retrain and retool" or risk economic collapse. Has been attacked for his relish for the jetsetting life of the professional futurologist.

CHARLES MURRAY

Social Darwinist and Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Wash- ington. Co-author of The Bell Curve (1994), a reheated helping of 19th-century eugenics. Argues that modern societies are evolving a genetically self-perpetuating underclass. Murray predicts civilisation's split into two groups, the New Victorians and the New Rabble, polarised by their members' refusal to interbreed. Despite widespread denunciation of his ideas, racist axe-grinders have gleefully taken to them: one of his more controversial predictions is that the US will develop into a "custodial state", with a cognitive elite banishing the ethnic underclasses to reservations and ghettos.

OLARA UTUNU

Ugandan-born director of the International Peace Academy in New York. In contrast to the usual Great Migration catastrophism (cf Kennedy), Utunu, who was mentioned as a possible UN Secretary-General, anticipates the political and economic rise of Third World states, whose new confidence will force the West to take them seriously. In this process, which Utunu terms "decolonisation via merit and performance", African economies would exploit their own huge resources and form partnerships with the West to succeed on the Asian model. "For the first time in history we will see the rise of a group of states not drawn from European stock."

ETHICS

NOAM CHOMSKY

Revolutionary linguist, Professor at the Massa-chusetts Institute of Tech-nology, and stern critic of American imperialism and the media which collaborates with it. Chomsky is attempting to keep the Enlightenment ethos alive into the next century, despite the apathy with which he charges the American intellectual establisment. His dissections of the incompetence underlying US foreign policy are depressingly acute, but he's no shrugging nihilist. "There are no magic answers," he warns, only "commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment ... inspired by the hope of a brighter future."

MARTHA NUSSBAUM

Liberal philosopher, literary critic, "herstorian" and vocal advocate of same-sex marriages. In her position as Professor of Law and Ethics at Chicago University, she is at the forefront of a radical liberalism transforming ethics from a discipline focused on the isolated individual to one "based on affiliation and care". Rationalism uninformed by emotion, she reasons, is no basis for human progress, a tenet shared with Theodore Zeldin (qv). Most significantly, she argues for change informed by her contention that, on the basis of global economic and social statistics, "being a woman is not yet a way of being a human being".

RICHARD RORTY

Mild-mannered, Pragmatist philosopher at the University of Virginia, purveyor of a folksy version of ethics that's guaranteed to make unreconstructed Marxists spit but that's helped him to establish himself as the firm-but- fair voice of American post-modern thought. Rorty has undergone an epistemological mid-life crisis that has led him to question the value of philosophical inquiry itself. Seekers after universal truths are "old-fashioned prigs", according to the argument of his Essays on Heidegger (1991). More recently, he has contended that sentimentality is a virtue, and that it can be used as a force for political change.

PETER SINGER

Animal liberation theorist, Professor of Philosophy and deputy director of the Centre for Human Bioethics at Monash University, Melbourne. Co-founder of the Great Ape Project, aiming to extend basic human rights to the higher apes through the proposed creation of "Gorillastan", an area of habitat that would fall under UN protection. "We are now at the stage of a kind of Copernican revolution in ethics," he's written; "we are dethroning human beings from the centre of the moral sphere, and we are including the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet for the first time as morally significant beings."

ENVIRONMENT

RUDOLPH BAHRO

Eco-Marxist who was expelled from East Germany in 1979, then split with the West German Green Party in 1985, and has since produced New Age- inflected visions of an agrarian, post-capitalist Utopia that have made him a guru for Europe's environmental radicals. In books such as Avoiding Social and Ecological Disaster, The Politics of World Transformation (1994), he conceives a future shaped by world-wide abdication from industry to subsistence farming. Humanity will be reorganised into Benedictine-style self-sufficient communities living "a life of frugal beauty". Now teaches at Humboldt University, Berlin.

ULRICH BECK

Sociology professor at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, author of The Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (1992), which argues for a sceptical attitude to science and technology in a world in which "alarmingly large risks are nobody's responsibility". The BSE crisis has considerably increased his kudos in Europe, and led to him pronounce that "our society has become a laboratory with nobody responsible for the out- come of the experiment".

Extending his argument in Ecological Enlightenment: Essays on the Politics of the Risk Society (1996), he predicts that environ-mental conflict will be the 21st century's successor to industrial strife.

GEORGE MONBIOT

Dapper gentleman-hero, spokesman for This Land is Ours, an environmental pressure group which aims to give public access to all uncultivated land. Fervent anti-roads campaigner who has been taking direct action against environmental spoilers since the age of six. Veteran of the battle of Newbury bypass, recipient of the UN's Global Environment award and one- time visiting fellow at the Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding at Green College, Oxford, he is the author of several acclaimed anthropoligcal studies of indigenous peoples. Energetic defender of our "God-given right to enjoy the gifts that nature has bestowed."

THEODORE ROSZAK

Guru of mystical green anarchism; director of the Ecopsychology Institute at California State University. Roszak's seminal work is The Voice of the Earth (1993), in which he takes issue with Western society's "militantly secular liberal thought". He offers his pantheistic system of neo-Freudian "Ecopsychology" to fill this spiritual vacuum and restore the collective human mind to sanity. Critics accuse him of narcissism and intellectual flakiness; he retorts: "Whenever I read one of Richard Dawkins's tirades, I feel trapped inside an Edwardian melodrama." His latest work is an "eco-parable", The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein (1996).

EMPLOYMENT

IAN ANGELL

Nietzsche-toting Professor of Information Systems at the LSE, darling of the doom-and-gloom conference circuit, whose 21st-century predictions include off-planet banking, an underclass of between 20 and 40 per cent of the population, another class of "knowledge workers" (5-20 per cent), and civil unrest. The "information rich" will presumably work from home (it will be too dangerous to leave). The unskilled "information poor" will, he argues, see their wages sink to Third World levels and their taxes rise, as the rich elite refuse to pay theirs. "The big political question... is how to find a socially acceptable means of dismantling democracy."

PETER DRUCKER

Octogenarian Austrian, who hobnobbed with Freud as a child, established his own business school and has 26 books and thousands of articles to his name. Supporters salute him as the only "great thinker" of management theory. In the late Sixties, he accurately predicted the widespread privatisation of public industry and the emergence of evangelism as a political force. Now preaches on the "network society", not far from Handy's (qv) vision of portfolio working, and the "futility of politics". His imagination only fails him when it comes to book titles: eg, Managing in Turbulent Times (1980) and Managing in a Time of Great Change (1996).

CHARLES HANDY

Veteran management guru, author of The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future (1994) and Beyond Certainty: The Changing World of Organisations (1995). His is a vision of a freelance future, in which "portfolio" workers build up packages of jobs. "Loyalty will be first to one's own career, then to one's profession and only thirdly to the employer." His buoyant optimism contrasts with the more gloomy predictions of his London Business School colleague, Linda Grattan, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, who anticipates economic disaster for the UK due to dwindling skill levels in areas such as IT.

KENICHI OHAME

Nuclear engineer turned management guru, advocate of the global information culture, prophet of the "borderless economy" and its transcendence of the nation state. In such an economy, he says, "national interest (which has become little more than a cloak for subsidy and protection) has no meaningful place". Dismisses the G7 group of economies as "a joke"; has been dismissed himself as being oblivious to all but economic forces. Author of The End of the Nation State: the Rise of Regional Economies (1995). Contends that history isn't ending, but is in the hands of acquisitive, individualist "Nintendo kids". And that's a good thing, apparently.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

HELENA CRONIN

Author of The Ant and the Peacock (1992), Darwin-ian psychologist at the LSE, arguing that murder is a genetic rather than a social problem. "Males kill each other openly to teach everybody what their status is." Cronin speculates that our sense of morality may be "just another of natural selection's tricks". Other problems such as the nature of sex, the development of the human mind and the relationship between cultural and genetic evolution will, she suspects, be resolved by Darwinian enquiry. Cronin is part of a vocal hit squad of best-selling neo-Darwinists that includes Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steve Jones and Stephen Jay Gould.

ESTHER DYSON

Powerful New York-based computer business analyst, and chair of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Dyson is the Mystic Meg of the Digital Age. Her company, EDventure Ventures produces influential industry newsletter, Release 1.0, and pours money into hi-tech business in the former USSR, which she sees - unfashionably - as the cradle of the Digital Age. "Your 25-year-old Russian physicist is more likely to `get it'. He's seen an entire society's rules change overnight." She was recently given a Martin Amis-size advance for her book, Release 2.0: Second Thoughts on the Digital Age, compiled from digital pundits' e-mailed responses.

GERALD EDELMAN

Urbane, Nobel Prize-winning immunologist-turned-neuroscientist with eminent supporters including Oliver Sacks, who has generously dubbed him the "new Darwin". In works such as Neural Darwinism (1987) and Bright Air, Brilliant Fire (1992), he reconceives the brain as an evolving ecosystem rather than a mechanistic computer - an idea, he argues, that places us "at the threshold of knowing how we know". From his research institute in San Diego, he's engaged in work that he claims may trigger "the largest possible scientific revolution". But eminent critics like Lewis Wolpert detect an "uncomfortable emptiness" in his work.

KEVIN KELLY

Former publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue, now executive editor of Wired magazine in the US. Also author of Out of Control (1995), which attempts to do for computer technology what Edelman (qv) has done for the brain. Kelly argues that computer technology has generated its own evolutionary momentum, and that it will force us to recast ideas of the difference between machine and organism: "Our future is technological, but it will not be a world of grey steel. Rather, our technological future is headed toward a neo-biological civilisation". The "vivisystem" - the beehive or termite nest - is one of his favourite concepts.

CHRIS LANGTON

Man with a mission to promote the development of Artificial Life, a science he named in 1987 by convening a conference under the title in the New Mexico desert. He has attracted a dedicated group of disciples to his Santa Fe research institute, where he uses notions of chaos and quantum theory to investigate the workings of artificial intelligence systems (A-Life, to the initiated). Fans include Dennett, Dawkins and Murray Gell-Mann, Nobel Prize-winning father of the Quark. "If scientists are going to develop a broad theory of life," he argues, "it's going to require them to accept radically non-organic things as being alive."

HANS MORAVEC

Robotics expert at Pitts-burgh's Carnegie Mellon University, who envisions a "postbiological future" in which self-replicating, intelligent machines ensure that "DNA will find itself out of a job". The robots of the future may look like bushes with millions of twig arms and antennae. Such creations "will transcend everything we know and become our evolutionary descendants". Furthermore, he speculates in Mind Children (1988) that in 40 years' time, the technology will exist to download the contents of the human brain into electronic media - making us all more or less immortal, and Dennis Potter's Cold Lazarus a matter of scientific fact.

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE

Multimedia pioneer and virtual reality guru, dubbed "Nostradamus of the Digital Age" by the US media. Director of the MIT media lab. Memorised train timetables as a child, a first step to his proud status of "Being Digital". This may explain the semi-literate prose of his 1995 book of the same name. Proclaims that "the information superhighway is more than a short cut to every book in the library. It is creating a totally new global social fabric" - ie, a triumphant "digerati" rising ever higher above the "unwired" underclass. Like Ohame (qv) he's exhilarated by the prospect of a future shaped by the computer-gaming generation.

NEIL POSTMAN

Head of New York University's Department of Communications, a neo-Luddite predicting our subjugation to technocracy rather than the liberation anticipated by Negroponte (qv). Author of Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992), a polemic which owes much to work of early sociologist Emile Durkheim, in which he argues that "the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity ... it creates a culture without moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living." So don't try to e-mail him with your opinion.

RELIGION

DAVID (PAUL) YONGGI CHO

Pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Seoul, whose congregation of 700,000 is the largest individual church congregation in the world. His mix of faith-healing and prophecy was filling football stadiums on a recent trip to Russia, and is bound to please when he addresses the 1997 March for Jesus in Atlanta. His writings about church growth are avidly studied by evangelists in the US and Europe. Pet pronouncements include the prediction that bodies will be piled as high as mountains in the coming Armageddon between the Antichrist and 200 million Chinese. Book your pew now, as only those faithful to his church will survive. Indian-born executive director of the Sharp Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body Medicine, San Diego, and unblinking exponent of New Age mysticism. Guru read by millions and much courted by celebrities from Prince Charles to Michael Jackson, who were no doubt soothed by his assertion that wealth is a divine blessing. Demi Moore believes that Chopra's health-and-wealth-oriented teachings may help her live to the age of 130. Chopra dispenses spiritual advice in bestselling manuals and from his popular Internet homepage, which also offers immodest summaries of his "life and work".

MATTHEW FOX

San Francisco-based New Age Christian, ex-monk, founder of Creation Spirituality, a "prophetic, sensual" religion which argues that any form of ecstasy - drugs, sex, yoga, drumming - is "the experience of God". Advocate of the notion of Original Blessing (as opposed to original sin). He is often dismissed as a charlatan by the church establishment, his world-wide following includes many in the UK, who thrill to the rhythmic prose of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (1988); Chris Brain's Nine O'Clock Service was Fox-inspired. Lately, Fox's Reinvention of Work (1994) suggests how to "reconnect the postindustrial world with the Great Work of the Universe".

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON

Hugely influential proponent of New Age Spirituality - lightweight theology mixed with ecology, feminism and anti-racism. Currently engaged in an Internet-based project, "Renaissance America", promoting social regeneration through a spiritual "cybercommunity". Bases her teachings on a "channelled" book of spiritual psychology, A Course in Miracles; she officiated at Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky's wedding. "As we pray and meditate and actualise our highest potential," she claims, "we become shock absorbers for the excess electro-magnetic energy that bombards the planet. If we do this en masse, the earth will calm down".

CULTURE

JEAN BAUDRILLARD

Premier pundit of post-modernism, who contends that the media is vandalising history, and - most provocatively - that the Gulf War didn't happen. He envisions a future of bewildering digital chaos in which "events have no more meaning than their anticipated meaning, their programme and their broadcasting." With this comes the threat of a new barbarism, fleshed out in The Transparency of Evil (1993). "Everything we thought left behind forever by the ineluctable march of progress is not dead at all, but on the contrary, likely to return ... and to reach into the very heart of our ultra-sophisticated but ultra-vulnerable system".

WILLIAM GIBSON

Founder of the "Cyberpunk" school of science fiction: author of anorak classics like Neuromancer (1984), in which he coined the word "Cyberspace"; now exploring virtual reality in his fiction. His latest work, Idoru (1996), features a marriage between a corporeal man and a computer-generated woman. The structures of the Internet, he argues, "could one day be seen as being terrifically significant: something akin to the building of cities". It's widely held that those working on real VR are chasing his ideas, not vice versa. As for the future of fiction, "all naturalistic novels will seem like Cyberpunk, by nature of the world we live in."

PETER HALL

Professor of Planning at University College, London. Millennium commissioner and dispenser of big ideas about transforming the capital. These involve a huge reduction in the number of private cars, massive investment in public transport, and the creation of an authority to administrate Greater London. Mastermind of and adviser to the Government on the Thames Gateway project to redevelop 40 miles of Thames riverbank to be completed by c2025. He says that city planners must release the creative ambitions of urban inhabitants: success, he argues, will bring about "a 21st-century Golden Age; if not, an urban Dark Age".

TERUAKI KAWAI

President of MOA Inter-national, one of the largest and wealthiest religious organisations in Japan. Established to further the teachings of Mokichi Okada (1885-1955), which argue for the reorganisation of life - especially agriculture - on aesthetic lines. "Everything will be art" in such a future. As Okada's successor, Kawai offers East-West co-operation as the key to building "an ideal world of health and peace for the 21st century". In 1994, the MOA spent pounds 7.7m on a 3,000-year-old Assyrian carving that, oddly, had been discovered in a school in Dorset. Prince Philip and British philanthropist Brian Pilkington have endorsed his activities.

GENDER AND SEXUALITY

RENE DENFELD

Best-selling pragmatic neo-feminist who outraged followers of old-school misandrist and anti-pornography campaigner Andrea Dworkin by announcing in her book, The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge To the Old Feminist Order (1995) that "women of my generation have not failed feminism - feminism has failed us". Advocates a reorientation of the movement away from abstract principles and towards practical instances, such as discrimination in the workplace. Detractors dub her ideas "Feminism Lite"; she retorts that they suffer from "a religious... fervour, where those who question are heretics..."

SADIE PLANT

Broadcaster, journalist and precocious research fellow in philosophy at Warwick University; named by Radio 4's Beyond the Millennium as a key voice of the 21st century. Attacking "the purposeless pessimism of post- modernism", Plant has little time for the theory that technology is an extension of male tyranny, and expects to see gender identities revolutionised by the new forms of technology that will transform professional and social relationships. As a result, "management positions and political life will not be where it's at." Women and men will be freed from patriarchal structures, and free to "explore their identities and live fuller, more expansive lives".

MARK THOMPSON

Longtime editor of The Advocate, the US's leading gay journal; author of Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning (1987) and Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature (1994), pursuing an argument out of 19th- century sexual theorist Edward Carpenter, contending that "gay men constitute a third gender", functioning "as carriers of soul in a world that prefers to dwell on surfaces". Has an authoritative ally in Montana sociologist Will Roscoe, author of Queer Spirits: A Gay Man's Myth-Book (1995), who urges America's gay men to learn from the intersexual role of the American Indian berdache, a powerful shamanic figure.

THEODORE ZELDIN

Senior fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford, author of An Intimate History of Humanity (1994) a persuasively touchy-feely manifesto, arguing that we've only just started to explore the potential for the depth and complexity of human interaction. Zeldin contends hopefully that "the age of discovery has barely begun. So far individuals have spent more time trying to understand themselves than discover others. But now curiosity is expanding as never before". The influential French journal, Magazine Litteraire, listed him among the world's 100 most important living thinkers. To his many readers he's simply the historian of people's hearts.

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