War Is Coming

Something dark is swelling up in the world. A fear, a dangerous fear, boiling over into anger and hate.

The kind of fear we've seen before. The kind that leads down a road we know too well.

The signs are happening everywhere, all at once. People are rising to the clarion calls of nationalism. Brexit in the UK. Trump in the US. Far-right chauvinism in Europe. Jingoism in Russia. Machoism in China and India. Sectarianism in the Middle East. Scary identity politics, everywhere you look.

Where did this come from? Why are people everywhere turning to nationalism? Why does everyone suddenly want to draw a line between themselves and the rest of the world?

Because of fear. A single, gripping fear that's sweeping the world, from England to Ohio, from Vienna to Moscow to Raqqa to Delhi to Rome.

The fear that the future isn't nearly as big as we were promised it was. That it doesn't have space for all of us.

This fear is very real, and it's driving people to fight for their place in a suddenly shrinking future. What we're seeing them do, all over the world, is decide who they're willing to fight alongside, and who they're not.

What we're watching is the world draw battle lines.

To be honest, the future has never had space for everyone. There have always been winners and losers, and not everyone makes it. Why would we expect anything else now?

Because we made the cardinal mistake of history: we thought things would be different this time. We believed we live in a new age, an age of technology and globalization, where we can solve the problems to build a future large enough to hold everyone. An age where anyone with the dream of a better life could have it. All they had to do was try.

That promise might just have doomed us all.

True, technology and globalization did solve a lot of problems. They unequivocally improved the standard of living around the world, and they did make the future bigger. They just happened to do it for a much smaller share of people than we thought they would.

In fact, that's the problem: technology and globalization radically expanded the pie, but they also shrank the number of people who got the big pieces.

How? By simple economics. Globalization collapsed multiple, smaller markets into single, winner-take-all ones -- expanding the size of the prizes, while reducing the number of prizes overall. Meanwhile, technology provided the leverage of automation, letting much smaller groups of people capture those prizes. The model of the future are tech startups -- small teams winning giant global markets.

So instead of a harmonious global order with lots of winners, we got hegemonies of very few. We got globe-spanning corporations in winner-take-all markets. We got corrupt governments selling their country to the highest bidder. We got powerful elites who wrote rulebooks for everyone else that they didn't follow themselves. We got gridlocked political systems, widening inequality, and smaller pieces of the pie.

Yes, in absolute terms, technology and globalization gave people more things. Thanks to lower costs of production, many people have access to cheap cell phones and a wide array of consumer choice -- more than the richest kings did 500 years ago.

But human psychology doesn't work in absolute terms. It works in relative ones. And in relative terms, technology and globalization have led to a shrinking winners' circle. In relative terms, the number of people who feel like they're losing, like they don't even have a chance in this new game, far outweigh the ones who do.

This brings us back to the crazies. The Donald Trumps and the Marine LePens. See, the scariest thing about them isn't what they say. The scariest thing about them is how many people agree.

When Trump says no one's winning any more, when Putin says the system is rigged, when Brexiteers say they want to take their country back, it makes sense to a lot of people in a very visceral way. Even to people who vehemently dislike them. Because across the political spectrum, we know these things are real.

That's why the crazies are not going away. Maybe Trump won't win. The UK might even reverse Brexit. But we won't get back to the way things were. What's supporting the rise of Trump, what's behind Brexit, what's driving all the unrest is not going away. At its root, it's about something much bigger than immigration and jobs and the fears of old, white people. At its root, it's about a fundamental shift in the way the world works.

It's about the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer winners. It's about all the people who feel left out. It's about their fear, and what they're willing to do about it.

Now, here's the scary part. We know where this kind of fear utlimately leads. We've taken this road many, many times in our history, and we know exactly where it goes.

It leads to people looking out for their own. It leads to them making enemies out of others. It leads to mob nationalism, to strongmen, to brinksmanship. It leads to us frantically searching for alternatives, desparately trying to hold onto the hope we still live in a new age.

And ultimately, when all the alternatives have been found lacking, when there are still too many people who feel the future doesn't have space for them, it leads to the inevitable conclusion.


Not the small-scale, proxy wars we've been fighting off and on for the last 50 years. Big war. The kind that happens when an irresistable force meets an immovable object. The kind that breaks the world.

You might think there are some really obvious reasons the world won't go to war on a large scale. Not the least because large-scale warfare today would be a blind jump by humanity into the abyss. But fear doesn't obey logic. Especially not on this scale.

Believing, really believing that the future doesn't have space for you, your loved ones, and your way of life -- believing that you are on the verge of extinction -- is so scary that people will fight to the death for it. It is almost always why we do.

And that's exactly how many, many people feel today. Too many people. Sure, we can sneer at them. We can call them racist for blaming immigrants and stupid for blaming trade. But it frankly doesn't matter. It doesn't change the fact that they're pissed off. It doesn't change the fact that we don't have enough to go around -- not enough energy, not enough water, not enough jobs. It doesn't change the truth that there are winners and losers on a scale we've rarely if ever seen before.

We still have some time. For now, most people are fighting peacefully enough, with words and votes. We might still be able to find a way out from under the steamroller of history, but the chances look slim and we're running out of time.

Because if history teaches us one thing, it's that ultimately, push come to shove, people will fight any way they have to, in order to survive. And make no mistake. Push is coming to shove.

The future is coming, whether we're ready or not.