Eugene Linden
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Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...

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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ And Other Clues to the Coming Instability Eugene Linden With a New Afterword by the Author for the Plume Edition In THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ and Other Clues to the Coming Instability (A Plume Book; On-Sale: February 5, 2002), veteran journalist and social critic Eugene Linden offers a provocative way of thinking about the future. “We will know much,” writes Linden, “...if we can answer one question: Will life in the next century be less stable than it is now.” Linden argues that the remarkable stability and economic growth since World War II gave baby boomers a false sense of security, and, more importantly, camouflaged deep forces that will likely plunge the world into a protracted period of economic and social upheaval. Since September 11, Linden’s argument has taken on new urgency as some of these forces have been violently thrust before the public. By outlining the nine clues that will play the greatest roles in shaping our future and examining the potential effects each of them will have on society, Linden presents a clear picture of the challenges that need to be addressed, and the pitfalls of not heeding these warnings. In the chapter entitled “The Rise of the ‘True Believers’” Linden describes how radicals and religious fanatics are both a product of instability in the world today and a likely indicator of greater instability to come. As recent events have proven, any of the clues to the coming instability can have momentous effect; taken as a whole, the nine clues outlined in THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT could reshape the known world, and in as little as 50 years. Since the dawn of history, prophets, seers and marketing gurus have sought to answer what the future holds, almost to always find their predictions humbled by the whims of fate. In Linden’s case, however, what was published in 1998 as a look at the future looks more and more like a description of the present. Prescient sections of the book examine the destabilizing aspects of religious fanaticism and infectious disease, and describe as well as how they might transform the way we live. For those people wondering whether the world is at the point of a major transition, Linden offers a clear and useful way of looking at the future by taking a fresh look at the landscape of the present. The book deciphers the larger meanings of the wage gap, recurring currency crises in the developing world, changing climate, migration, shriveling supplies of water and other clues to future instability. Then, in a series of scenarios set in such places as New York (where Linden describes a future that Americans can now more easily imagine), London, Northern California, Mexico and the Congo, the author shows the various and often surprising ways in which people react to instability. Some will welcome stronger family ties and the end of youth culture, but an unstable world also may see less innovation and investment. Finally, Linden describes how the potential for instability lies in the very nature of the consumer society itself, and how the world might side step the pitfalls of instability. In a new afterword Linden updates the book to address events, including the attacks on September 11, 2001, that have occurred since initial publication in 1998. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eugene Linden is an award-winning writer on science, nature, and the environment, whose articles have appeared in many publications, including Time magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times. In recent years he has consulted for the U.S. State department and the United Nations Development Program, and he is a widely traveled speaker and lecturer. In 2001, Yale University named Linden a Poynter Fellow in recognition of his writing on the environment. Linden is also the author of The Parrot’s Lament (available in a Plume edition), as well as five other books. His newest book, The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, will be published by Dutton in August 2002. Linden lives in Nyack, New York. Visit Plume Books on the web at www.penguinputnam.com Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

A Slippery Slope?

I’ve had some back and forth with some friends on the insurrection last week and the subsequent media bans. Some see a slippery slope towards censorship; I see a unique set of circumstances. 

With regard to the invasion of the Capitol, it speaks to the sheer lunacy of the moment I would be quoting a  Wall Street Journal editorial, but they put it best: The head of the executive branch incited an attack on the legislative branch with the hope of overturning a lawful election. Zip-tie carrying paramilitary troops thinking that they were aiding Trump’s cause, came within minutes of kidnapping members of Congress. They were actively seeking Pelosi and knew where they were going. Trump had urged them to come to DC, and then urged the march on Congress, using the word “fight” 20 times in his speech, and saying he would be with them.

Even before the insurrectionists were driven from the Capitol, violent fringe elements had begun planning major events for Jan. 17, and also to disrupt the inauguration.

This is a unique set of circumstances.

The uniqueness comes from the relatively new element of social media, particularly Twitter, and the instantaneous reach and enormous scale of the internet.  These factors turbocharged the volatility of this already combustible situation. Never before in our history have people been able to instantaneously recruit like-minded people. Given the explosion of human numbers, this means that truly dangerous psychotics have a lot of company. 

They no longer have to seethe alone and can join with others who share their delusions. And they have guns.

Truly dangerous psychotics are rare. I don’t know what the numbers are, but probably upwards of one in a thousand. Even that low guess would amount to 330,000 people in the U.S., and the number is probably far larger. 

The point is that if a meme gets out there – e.g. that Democrats are led by blood-drinking pedophiles who stole the election – it might gain casual traction with large numbers of people due to a long-standing susceptibility to conspiracies in the U.S.  (I’ve been thinking about this susceptibility since I first investigated fragging in Vietnam).  Much more dangerous: the meme will also gain recruits among that tiny, really violent, really delusional, fringe. And if there’s a goal or an event, even though that cohort represents a tiny percentage of the population, they can be rallied and brought together to become a significant force. And again, they have guns.

We saw this last week. Yes, there were a lot of people who sincerely bought Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, and came to DC thinking there was still a chance to pressure Pence and others to overturn the election.

But, we also saw a Who’s Who of nut groups leading the charge -- neo-Nazi’s, Proud Boys, Confederate flags wavers, holocaust deniers, holocaust embracers (!), militia members, and God knows who else. Most of these were feckless blowhards, but the invaders also included  the zip tie guys, and others who were blood brothers to the fanatics who wanted to kidnap and lynch Gretchen Whitmer.

The execs of Twitter, Facebook, etc. saw what happened and recognized that their platforms were being used, either directly or through Parler, to organize similar, violent events in the run-up to the inauguration. They also saw that the fomenters were using Trump’s tweets to bless their crusades with a patina of legitimacy, even nobility. 

At Twitter the staff was in near open rebellion, and I’m sure that execs at the other companies wondered about liability, culpability, ad boycotts, and Elizabeth Warren campaigning to break them up if another violent event resulted from their passivity. (Apparently, a potential ad boycott was one reason why the head of content at Cumulus radio threatened to fire Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, and Dan Bongino if they didn’t STFU about the election being stolen.)

So, the tech and social media giants acted, and in doing so, dramatically underscored their awesome power. This show of force is going to provoke a lot of discussion about how these companies exercise discretion about content, about whether they should be broken up, regulated, or otherwise held responsible for their content and their decisions about content (which would dramatically shrink them). 

I don’t think they are going to come out of this unscathed. 

One other thought. IMO, the biggest disruption of the internet can be summed up in one word: disintermedition. The internet has given people direct access to data, markets, people, information, and endowed everyone with the ability to be a pundit, reporter, influencer, or brand. 

The disappearing intermediaries are the editors, producers, fact checkers, brokers, market makers, etc., who previously, maintained standards, buffered markets, and in myriad ways provided some friction that in the case of mainstream media, prevented complete fabrications from gaining traction with the broader public, and, in the case of markets, modulated price movements and reduced the probability of panics. We’re going to miss them.

 



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