Deconstructing the Year 2000: Opening Up an Alternative Future (1999)

Sohail Inayatullah[1]

How has the year 2000 functioned in discourse?  

To begin to understand how the post year 2000 future can look like, we need to analyze how the year 2000 has functioned in our discourses.

First, it has been an empirical indicator of progress, of the rise of the West. “Two thousand years and still going strong, with every attempt to dislodge the West, having been appropriated” might be the operating slogan. The rise of the West – clearly not predictable a 1000 years ago, with China or the Islamic world far more likely to ascend to world dominance – has occurred for various reasons: because of  military technology (and the willingness to use it),  through more efficient organizations, and through inflows of wealth (conquest and economic colonization). But more crucial has been through liberal ideology, where the image of the melting pot invites all in but always on the terms of the West, most recently specifically on the terms of America. Dislodging the West from its temporal claims, through rescuing one’s own authentic cultural difference, will be problematic since all other views are allowed in. This is the traditional Hindu model (now being challenged by the BJP); there is no need to convert others, since all are hindus. In the American case, everyone wants to go to Disneyland, play American football, watch the baseball world series, eat hotdogs and hamburgers and date blonde cheerleaders.

How could it be different? American-ness has become universally naturalized.  So much so that aspects of Japan, South-East Asia are far more Western than the West itself (and poor copies thereof as well).  Others see themselves through the eyes of Pax Americana – beauty, truth and reality become narrowly defined.  Of course, with the United States set to become the second largest Spanish speaking nation in the world, and with immigration the only likely savior to the rapidly ageing West, multiculturalism appears to be here to stay. The US Army also will be dramatically muslim in 30 or so years (and with many senior US government posts coming from Army leaders, we can well imagine a shift in US foreign policy around 2025). [1] The long-term net result of multiculturalism may be an entirely new set of identity arrangements. In California, where in 30-50 years there will be two distinct classes – a rich white ageing cohort and a younger Hispanic-Asian poorer cohort – the issue will be who will secede from whom. However, what has brought the West to the year 2000 is unlikely to help it continue. This is far more than Spengler’s decline thesis, wherein the evil of the money-spirit leads to the fall. It is liberalism itself, the partial opening of the doors of the West to the “other” which could herald the West’s final days. The right wing has realized this and thus attacks immigration and the other whenever possible. Social movements, the varied nongovernmental organizations too have realized the demographic and cultural shifts underway but construe the limits of the nation-state and the creation of a multicultural planet as part of our evolutionary journey, as a positive step in human evolution.

Another alternative for the West will be genocide. That is, either the West becomes authentically multicultural, disavowing the melting pot metaphor and moving a salad bar or even a global garden of varied flowers – a gaia of civilizations – or it limits intake and is undone by its own economic success. What will result will be an ageing population with no youth to help pay for pensions and to instill cultural and economic dynamism. Alternatively, taking the Roman path, the West could tax the provinces heavily, and when they rebel, send in the military. This, of course, will only hasten the decline.

A final possibility, which is central to the Year 2000 discourse, is to go it alone. This means the creation of an artificial, high-tech society, where few work (thus no need for masses of youth), biotechnology, space-technology, nano-technology, etc, maintain the West’s advantage over others. This is the “museumization” of the other, of culture in virtual space. Authentic transformation, dialogue with other cultures is avoided, since they can be uploaded and intercourse made virtually possible.

This last scenario will solve some of the pressures of the end of the modern world but not all of them. That is, what will result is a rich society living in anonymous space pretending to me in community with each other – not a virtual hell since all emotions will have been selected out – but a passive slow death of success (that is, success as the final step on the ladder of failure).

Which direction the West decides to take as forces for creating 500 nations from our current 180 or so gather momentum will be among the stories of the next 30 years. My preference would be for the 500-nation scenario in the context of a strong world government focused on international and local human rights. The development of this world would be incremental with current steps toward regional and global governance central to this story. While Europe has moved towards integration, other parts of the world are far behind, South-Asia and Africa, for example. However, expansions of size must come out in the context of equity – economic, cultural and epistemic. Merely expanding size for efficiency reasons often continues unfair terms of trade and cultural hegemony. Global governance is possible once regions themselves have a language and identity outside of those defined by the large hegemons.

Second, The year 2000, much like Kennedy’s vision of man on the moon has represented a goal to realize; a high tech, liberal, fair society where the American way can flourish, where hardwork, gusto, and splendid organization can realize anything.

The dark side of “man on the moon” has been the strengthening of the technocratic and militaristic dimensions of the US – the privileging of the military-industrial complex. Even with the new information and communication technologies, command hierarchies are required, any semblance of transparency is lost.  While certainly some large projects are needed for every civilization, the year 2000 functions as a metaphor that counters economic democracy, “small is beautiful” approaches.

What is needed is a mix of large state/global projects, along with a large people’s economic sector, a real market of buyers and sellers of goods, services, information and worldviews. A third layer of the market would ideally be the cooperative layer, wherein those who work, own. Together. Such a three layered system would function as an antidote to the command structures that operate on principles of nationalism and authority.

Third, the year 2000 has represented the future. Defined as the latest technology, the latest gee-whiz solution, the turn of the millennium represents gadgets that will make life easier. What is lost in this particular construction of the future are social technologies, changes in social institutions and management. These are lost partly as they are harder to imagine since they are seen as given (and not human created as with technologies) and partly because each institution has embedded political interests, which make social and political change difficult.

While technology will always be the great seducer, the challenge for an emancipatory futures studies is an unending critique of our social institutions and the creation of new structures that better meet our changing needs.

Fourth, the year 2000 has represented the past. Implicit in it is the mythology of Christian civilization and its prophet. How we time or calendar the world is an indicator of which civilization’s myths we accept.  Using the scientific notation of BCE, before the Common Era, exacerbates this – what is common about it, one can ask? Egypt’s television commercial that plays on CNN International – visit Egypt’s fifth Millennium – is one way to disrupt the universalization of a particular culture’s time.  Aboriginal Australian’s claims that they are celebrating their 42nd millennium serve a similar purpose. As Greg Dening writes in Time Searchers: “For 42 millennia all parts of this land – its rivers, its deserts, its coastal plains, its mountains – have been imprinted with the human spirit. It has been filled … with language. Language encultures the land. Language brushes the land with metaphor.”[2]

Fifth, the year 2000 represents hope. Humanity has survived – nuclear accidents, biological warfare, asteroids have not ended humanity. There is much to celebrate. However, in our joy, we need to ask how much we have participated in the degeneration of hope. Why must we celebrate not becoming extinct? What planet have we created wherein children in the Pacific cannot sleep at night because of French nuclear testing or in South Asia because of domestic politics, and constructing other as the enemy?

The growth data on this last Millennium does look good, though.  Economic growth in the last 1000 years, since the rise of the west, has outstripped growth for the first 1000 years. Since 1820, GDP has grown .96% a year compared to the Middle Ages when it rose .05% a year. [3]What is left unanswered is distribution; the question Marxists have focused on.  We know quite well that the world’s richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined GDP of the 48 least developed nations, and the world’s 225 richest individuals have a combined wealth of over 1 trillion US$, equal to the annual income of the poorest 47% of the entire world’s population.  We also know that the trend is toward greater inequity with the share of global income between the world’s rich and the world’s poor doubling from 30-1 in 1960 to 59 to 1 in 1989. [4]The number of people living in absolute poverty increases by nearly 25 million a year, and over 40 million people die of hunger-related diseases each year (the equivalent of over 300 jumbo jet crashes a day with no survivors). [5]

Movements from outside the centre have also focused on issues of structural violence, how skewed distribution leads to poverty and misery. Intellectuals in the cultural studies camp have added that knowledge itself is defined by the centre, such that Western hegemony has occurred not only through the conquest of local economies, the secularization and urbanization of rural space, but as well through defining others as less scientific, and more irrational. The year 2000 has remained an important benchmark in this process. The West has owned it.

Futurists have also used the year 2000 but most often uncritically oblivious to the package that comes with that year. Hoping to use the year 2000 as a way to change the present, more often than not, it is the future that has not changed. At least this dimension of futures studies will not be available any more but the codes of progress, of the “future as new” are so deep, that merely a change of sign, of symbol does not mean a change of political structure.  From the year 2000 discourses, we will move to “humanity in the third millennium” hype.

What will change?

Now that it is the morning after, shall we expect the world problematique to change?

First, we should not expect change from reports on the future, from global think-tanks pointing out the world’s problems. These merely continue the litany of everything that can go wrong or of the dramatic new technologies. They create a politics of fear. They do not question the causes behind particular futures, the worldviews that support certain interests, and the grand mythology that provides cultural legitimacy for them. Without such a layered analysis, any attempt to forecast or see the future will be trivial. Damning data will be presented, reports circulated, conferences held but it will be merely an information gathering exercise, with no possibility for social transformation.

Second, while any serious thinking of the future must have a language for transformation, we should not be stupid and forget the deep structures that mitigate against change. The symbols of progress, of velocity (the post-industrial Internet net era), of soft fascism, monoculture appopriating the other (Disneyland), of artificiality (genetics and plastic surgery) and standarization (Mcdonalds) remain dominant.

The future will be driver by technological linear progress, with corporations as the world’s leaders. Instead of the welfare state, distribution will come about through the altruistic behavior of wealthy businessmen. This is Herbert Spencer’s vision, each one of us lives it, breathes it.[6] The recent attack on the welfare state confirms Spencer’s vision of the future.

To merely engage in scenarios of the future without understanding the stronghold of these myths will only result in fantasy futures, preferred images without any basis of possibility

Opening up the future

But are there attempts to open up the future? Unfortunately, most visions of the long-term future remain technocratic. With 2000 now history, 3000 beckons. And it is being defined in the same old terms: linear, space oriented, technological, one culture, man as superior, white as normal. One example is the painting that adorns the walls and website of the Foundation for the Future ( While otherwise a foundation with some multicultural intentions, its focus on space and genetics continues the colonizing impulse of the year 2000 but now extends it toward the year 3000.  With the year 2000 now history, it will be a mixture of space, genetic and artificial intelligence that will become the defining discourse, the straightjacket of the future. The Internet is already a marketing tool for telecommunication giants, and, it has a clear double-edged nature, i.e. it is chaotic, and could become more so. Biotechnology has become equally corporatized and space exploration will follow suit.

While Johan Galtung and many others have always called on futurists to not be drawn into short term policy analysis, the long long term, when defined within current categories and technologies can be equally oppressive.[7]

Positive signs 

Where to then? Are there positive signs?

Well, first of all we do have an emerging language, ethos of an alternative future. That is, while the likely scenario is the artificial society, there is also the possibility of a communicative-inclusive society, less focused on information per se but more on a conversation between cultures, on authentic civilizational dialogue.[8] While there are certainly limits to dialogue without changes in power relations – economic, military, technological, epistemological, spatial and temporal – still the possibility of listening to how other civilizations see themselves and their futures is now possible. Travel, the net, the economic growth in East Asia, projects within Islam, Indian civilization to recover their futures silenced by external and internal colonization.

Second, the language of rights has also become dominant.[9] While the much earlier battle was to increase the rights of the nobility vis-a-vis the king, rights in the last few hundred years have expanded to include the rights of labour, the rights of the environment, the rights of women, children, and now even parents rights. Rights have become a powerful vehicle for social change because those victimized now have a language in which they can be understood. While certainly slavery continues in practice, as does racism, there is agreement that it is wrong to enslave others and construct others as racially inferior. Rights create new forms of legitimacy, new categories of possible redress.

Third, it is not so much futures studies but future generations studies which personalizes the future, locating it in family and in the real lives of our children’s children’s.[10] While a decision-maker may be less apt to concern himself with futures a decade from now – given the short term nature of electoral cycles – asking him what world he wants for his children changes the dynamic. For example, one can ask a Pakistan leader, shall I put money into nuclearization or poverty alleviation. The first almost guarantees that children generations from now will live in misery; the second guarantees, that they will live. The future must be personalized.

Future generations assert a double vision. As Greg Dening writes of Aborigines and other First people: “The first people had a double vision of their landscape. They could see it for what it really was – rocks, trees, rivers, and deserts. They could see it for what it also really was – their ancestors’ bodies, the tracks of their walking.”[11]

Feminists and others who are not part of the dominant paradigm share this double vision. They function within modernist and postmodernist modes of limited rationality, of consumerism, of hypercapitalism, of patriarchy, of quick time, and they live in spiritual time, slow time, future generations time, in gendered partnerships, in alternative visions of what it means to be human.  It is this double vision that multiculturalism seeks to embrace and enliven by supporting it, by legitimating it.[12]

Fourth, is the language of alternatives to capitalism. While the fundamental question of how and when the capitalism system will transform remains unanswered – the system survives every crash, and even as the financial economy continues to delink from the real economy – the system continues to flourish, expanding globally and temporally.[13]

Even with the next crisis to come when the current babyboomers begin to sell stocks and when there are not enough young people to pay the pensions of the elderly, the system will likely survive by allowing the Third World in. The cost to the system will be multiculturalism and the nation system, but the gain will be the survival and prospering of capitalism.

Still, at the very least there is the language of economic democracy, of corporate accountability, of the quadruple bottom-line (gender, profit, nature and society) and we can add the fifth line, future generations. Little of it is followed, however. For example, in the USA while Congress talks of environmentalism, funding for alternative energy is cut and tax support for oil corporations is increased.[14]

Fifth, globalism, even as it reduces the choices of most, gives us a language that can be used for systemic transformation. Ideally, globalism will move from the globalization of capital to the globalization of labour – its free movement without visa restrictions (a necessary approach if the West is to survive ageing). Eventually we could see the globalization of ideas, that is, the transformation of what is legitimate news and knowledge from the confines of the West.

The final stage is the globalization of security. While most likely this will be NATO-led, in the long run, we can imagine a world security insurance system (for small nations), a real world government, with four levels of governance (a house of non-governmental organizations, a house of corporations, direct voting, and a house of states).  This means the continued porousness of nations, being made less sovereign at all levels – ideational, capital flows, environmental crisis, and in the recent precedent, maltreatment of minorities.  While real-politics remains the guiding ideology behind changes in governance, one cannot underestimate chaos factors and the new technologies. Cyber-lobbying, for example, allows a small group of individuals to spread news for good and bad. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations (as social movements and not as Red Cross Band-Aid agencies) can use these technologies to challenge the hegemony of news that large powers have.

Sixth, is the language of action at a distance. Whether this comes from physics of mystics, the important point is that ideas – or more accurately fields of awareness – can transform the world. They do so through rational logic but as well through presence.  The Indian idea of microvita is crucial to this discourse, and even the TM movements flawed experiments on meditation and social peace are an important step in loosening the stranglehold of materialist science.[15] What this means is that information is not merely data but perception at far more subtle levels. It means that who you are, one’s lived life, is open for all to see. While we largely remain officially blind of such a notion of presence, it is that which is most foundational and elusive in changing the world.

What then is the model of the future?

The following criteria are implicit in the Communication-inclusive vision of the future.

1.      Epistemological pluralism – an openness to many ways of knowing, postnormal science using Jeremy Ravetz’s language.[16]

2.      Economies that include growth/distribution and are soft on nature. Ending the development paradigm and moving to an economics based on global labor, human rights, access to power and justice.

3.      Spiral view of history and future, that is, the future is not linear but can turn back on the past to reinvigorate. This means seeing the future outside of the new, allowing for emergence but not making it into a fetish.

4.      Progressive – that is, the dynamic dimension of  progress is crucial but progress  must be rescued from the exclusion of other, that is, seeing others within the terms of those that are economically currently ahead. Progress is needed for visioning the future but not as a tool for subordination. A history of progress must be about inclusion, of rights, as well as of increased economic wealth. Progress also means far better use of more subtle resources in managing our affairs, that is, imagination and spirituality.

5.      Gender balance – gender equality, access to resources, self-meanings. Without ending male dominance, any future will be more of the same.

6.      Ecological balance – living softly with nature – a commitment to future generations.

7.      A spiritual core. Without this dimension, any social justice, environmental gain, merely leads to anomie. It is the spiritual that gives meaning, that provides the sensitivity to touch upon grace, essentially this is about ananda.

Integration after postmodernity

Is any of this likely? First we need to see postmodernity, the loss of a centre, the delegitimation of the Enlightenment project, mission, as a natural end-phase of modernity. Following chaos, there will be a return to a new universalism. Ideally it will be both local and global. Political power will have to be global so as to have some way to challenge local fascisms; the danger, of course, will be a global government becoming another Pax Americana. Economies, however, must be decentralized. Alternatively, the artificial future, where only a few work and the rest of us exist without meaning or hope, remains possible, even probable.

But the “morning after” after the year 2000 means that the ideology of monoculturalism, linear economic growth, technocraticism has lost one of its ideological pillars.  Another pillar that is slipping is the idea of endless growth. Economist Robert Henry Nelson, however, believes that it is this attack on progress, on growth, that has weakened the Enlightenment project, and, from his view, social movements, instead of creating new models of growth, wrongly focus on social justice, environmental rights, and spiritual insight.[17]

As the intelligentsia for hypercapitalism search for new legitimating factors, the challenge in this possible window of opportunity will be for the anti-systemic movements to create visions and practices of a more multicultural society with an alternative economics that is spiritually grounded.

Can it be done? Perhaps.

Will it be done? Yes. Once realized will it be a better future? For the majority of the world, it will be a vast improvement, as they will finally regain their lost dignity. Feudalism, slavery, sexism, and capitalism will disappear from most pockets of the planet. Virtual futures will not disappear nor will space exploration. Exploitation of the other will not be eliminated either but at least it will be minimized. Still, with a multicultural spiritual episteme defining the real, it will be a balanced society, prama, with glimmers of bliss for all.



[1] Ayeda Husain Naqvi writes in “The Rise of the Muslim Marine” (NewsLine, July 1996, 75-77) that while

hate crimes against Muslims rise all over the world, surprising the US military is one of the safest places to be a muslim. Indeed, Qasem Ali Uda forecasts that in 20 years, 25% of all US marines will be Muslims and in a 100 years, most will be Muslim. Given the incredible influence that that former military personnel have on US policies (ie a look at Who’s Who in America shows that military background and law school education are the two common denominators on the resumes of America’s most influential people.)

[2] Dening, Greg. “Time Searchers,” The Australian Review of Books (August, 1999), 11.

[3]  Maddison, Angus. “The Millennium – Poor Until 1820,”Wall Street Journal (Jan, 11, 1999).

[4] United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Summary is from: Horin, Adele. “For Richer … For Poorer, “Sydney Morning Herald, 45.

[5] http: – Wealth and poverty.

[6]  Inayatullah, Sohail.  “Herbert Spencer: Progress and Evolution,” in Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah, eds., Macrohistory and Macrohistorians. Westport, Ct: Praeger, 1997, 68-75.

[7]  Galtung, Johan. Peace, Vision and the Future in Inayatullah, Sohail and Wildman, Paul,  eds. Futures Studies: Methods, Emerging Issues and Civilizational Visions – A Multimedia CDROM Reader. Brisbane: Prosperity Press, 1998.

[8] For a series of essays that explore this possibility, see, Sardar, Ziauddin, ed. Rescuing All of Our Futures: The Futures of Futures Studies. Twickenham, England: Adamantine Press, 1999.

[9] For more on this, see Inayatullah, Sohail. “The Rights of Your Robots: the Politics of Exclusion and Inclusion in History and Future,” in Ryden, Edmund, ed., Human Rights and Values in East Asia. Taiwan: Fujen Catholic University, 1998, 143-162.

[10]  See the special issue of Futures titled, Learning and Teaching About Future Generations edited by Slaughter, Richard and Tough. Futures. 1997. 29 (8).

[11]  Dening Ibid., 13.

[12] Milojevic, Ivana. “Women and Holistic Education,”New Renaissance, 1996. 6(3), 16-17.

[13] See the symposium titled Beyond Capitalism. Journal of Futures Studies. 1999. 3(2).  It includes essays by Charles Paprocki, John Robinson, Alan Fricker, Brenda Hall-Taylor, and Sohail Inayatullah.

[14] Thompson, Dick. “Capitol Hill Meltdown,”Time. 1999, August, 9, 50-51.

[15] See Gauthier, Richard, The Microvita Revolution in Inayatullah, Sohail and Wildman, Paul. ,  eds. Futures Studies: Methods, Emerging Issues and Civilizational Visions – A Multimedia CDROM Reader. Brisbane: Prosperity Press, 1998. For the TM movement, see their various sites, including:

[16] Ravetz, Jerome, special issue of Futures.

[17] Nelson, Robert H. “Why Capitalism Hasn’t Won Yet,” Forbes (November 125, 1991), 104.