We all trust our senses to keep us aware of what’s going on around us, but sometimes things happen gradually enough that we can’t even tell major change has happened until it’s too late. Watch this video and see whether you can see the change happening right in front of your eyes. I didn’t notice until at the end when the change is made obvious. Of course, when I watched it the second time, I knew what to look for.
That’s the way change in the world works, too. When you’re looking to the future, you almost never see what’s really coming. But when you’re looking back at what’s already happened, it’s easy to spot the change and to believe you would have known what was going on if you’d been there.
It’s easy to think the German people in 1932 must have known what Adolph Hitler was going to represent. It’s easy to think that the U.S. president who made the early decisions to commit the United States in Vietnam must have known what it would lead to. It’s easy to think that the intellectuals and liberal-minded people who supported Fidel Castro in Cuba must have known the kind of brutal dictator he would be.
The problem is that the German people didn’t know Hitler would become a mass-murdering thug who would try to conquer Europe. President Dwight Eisenhower didn’t know that U.S. troops would end up being caught up in a long-running quagmire where they would be dying for no good reason and that the war would humiliate the United States in the end. And Casto’s supporters didn’t know they were supporting a man who would brutally repress Cuba. They just believed they were supporting change from the current dictator.
We’re not nearly as good at perceiving what’s around us as we think we are. The illustration to the right is a well-known example of how different people see identical things in very different ways. Is it a white vase or is it two black figures of people looking at each other? This classic English TV commercial illustrates better than anything I can think of the notion that we’re blind to what’s taking place around us, especially if we’re been taught to look for one particular thing. (Here’s a whole collection of other examples of our blindness to change. It’s worth watching them all.)
So this is sort of interesting, but what does it have to do with the future? It’s simply this. Most people today believe that the future is going to look pretty much like an extension of what we see right now. They believe that we’re generally going to continue to be ruled by majoritarian states, which claim the power to make pretty much every decision for the people who live in their boundaries. But what if there’s a different future? What if we’re all paying attention to how many times the team is white is passing the ball — and we’ve missed the moon-walking bear? (That won’t make sense unless you’ve seen the TV spot linked in the previous paragraph.)
I believe the era of exclusive statist control of the world is coming to an end. We’re entering what I call a post-statist era, during which we’re going to see a transition to small enclaves being set up to operate under systems other than traditional nation-states. For a long time, the state will continue to dominate, but as those non-traditional enclaves become successful and attract “customers” to live in them, we’re going to see a shift in how the world is organized.
The changes that are happening are subtle. You’re not going to see them reflected on your evening TV news. (Does anybody still watch the evening news?) You’re not going to see it reflected in your newspaper or online news site. You’re only going to see hints of it here and there based on experiments such as the current one coming for Honduras and in ideas from people such as Michael Strong (free cities) and Paul Romer (charter cities) and Patri Friedman (seasteading).
Change is coming. It’s hard to see. But if you’ve been warned where to look, you can be a part of it if you choose to.