Last year, I received an e-mail from a long-time Australian client requesting a brief list of the "meta-trends" having the greatest impact on global human psychology. What the client wanted to know was, which global trends would most powerfully affect human consciousness and behavior around the world?
The Greek root meta denotes a transformational or transcendent phenomenon, not simply a big, pervasive one. A meta-trend implies multidimensional or catalytic change, as opposed to a linear or sequential change.
What follows are five meta-trends I believe are profoundly changing the world. They are evolutionary, system-wide developments arising from the simultaneous occurrence of a number of individual demographic, economic, and technological trends. Instead of each being individual freestanding global trends, they are composites of trends.
Trend 1--Cultural Modernization
Around the world over the past generation, the basic tenets of modern cultures--including equality, personal freedom, and self-fulfillment--have been eroding the domains of traditional cultures that value authority, filial obedience, and self-discipline. The children of traditional societies are growing up wearing Western clothes, eating Western food, listening to Western music, and (most importantly of all) thinking Western thoughts. Most Westerners--certainly most Americans--have been unaware of the personal intensities of this culture war because they are so far away from the "battle lines." Moreover, people in the West regard the basic institutions of modernization, including universal education, meritocracy, and civil law, as benchmarks of social progress, while the defenders of traditional cultures see them as threats to social order.
Demographers have identified several leading social indicators as key measures of the extent to which a nation's culture is modern. They cite the average level of education for men and for women, the percentage of the salaried workforce that is female, and the percentage of population that lives in urban areas. Other indicators include the percentage of the workforce that is salaried (as opposed to self-employed) and the percentage of GDP spent on institutionalized socioeconomic support services, including insurance, pensions, social security, civil law courts, worker's compensation, unemployment benefits, and welfare.
As each of these indicators rises in a society, the birthrate in that society goes down. The principal measurable consequence of cultural modernization is declining fertility. As the world's developing nations have become better educated, more urbanized, and more institutionalized during the past 20 years, their birthrates have fallen dramatically. In 1988, the United Nations forecast that the world's population would double to 12 billion by 2100. In 1992, their estimate dropped to 10 billion, and they currently expect global population to peak at 9.1 billion in 2100. After that, demographers expect the world's population will begin to slowly decline, as has already begun to happen in Europe and Japan.
The effects of cultural modernization on fertility are so powerful that they are reflected clearly in local vital statistics. In India, urban birthrates are similar to those in the United States, while rural birthrates remain unmanageably high. Cultural modernization is the linchpin of human sustainability on the planet.
The forces of cultural modernization, accelerated by economic globalization and the rapidly spreading wireless telecommunications info-structure, are likely to marginalize the world's traditional cultures well before the century is over. And because the wellsprings of modernization--secular industrial economies--are so unassailably powerful, terrorism is the only means by which the defenders of traditional culture can fight to preserve their values and way of life. In the near-term future, most observers believe that ongoing cultural conflict is likely to produce at least a few further extreme acts of terrorism, security measures not withstanding. …