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“We Discovered You!” A Look At Asia’s Possible Future

Is a new Asia emerging? Growth rates are important but the alleged discovery of a map showing that Chinese explorer, Zheng He knew of the new world – indeed, had a decent map of the world – strengthens the confidence of Asia, creates the possibility of cultural transformation.

While it may be a forgery, its impact on the emergence of an Asia that can say “Yes” to itself is pivotal. "We discovered you," is the new story. Add this new confidence to the China and India joining the economic miracle of the past fifty years and suddenly the future looks quite different.

A new fusion Asia – traditional but far more egalitarian than anything in the past – may indeed be possible. This Asia would continue to learn from others, but instead of only copying, innovation is the path forward. South Korea has already begun to heavily invest in the creative industries – connectivity through the eyes of the artist not just the corporate executive. And with South Korea quickly having moved up the ladder to near the top in new patents - joining Japan and the USA - new futures are indeed possible.

DIVIDED ASIA

However, along with the bright future of Asia Fusion is another scenario. This is Divided Asia. Continued conflicts between the two Koreas, between China and Japan, China and Taiwan, India and Pakistan, to mention just a few fault lines. Add to that corruption and mindless bureaucracy, tempered with hundreds of years of feudalism, and any bright future for Asia seems impossible.

The past few years of crisis provides testimony to this. The financial crisis, SARS, HIV, the tsunami, extremist Islamic terrorism all point to deep systemic problems. These cannot be solved merely by more efficiency but by changes in worldview. Surveillance helped stop the SARS epidemic but now it is bird flu. Farming practices, certain diets, men searching for exotic foods to enhance sexual potency – all need to change in Asia. The pathology of tradition must be transformed.

And yet it is in tradition where the future of Asia lies.

Meditation, yoga, tai-chi, feng shui, jain paradoxical logic, future generations thinking (life for our children's children) all are part of the solution to a sustainable and transformed planet. After all, Grameen bank's micro lending program was a dramatic innovation and yet at the root of it was: community, the local village economy, and Yunus' understandings of not just the dignity of the poor, but their desire for a better material life.

USED FUTURE

The last fifty years, however, has not been the story of the village economy but of the city. Asia has purchased the used future of the West. Bigger buildings, endless shopping malls, designer clothes and the attendant problems of pollution, congestion (billion dollar problems) still seem unconnected to many Asian city planners. But with more and more evidence showing that car exhaust, suburbanization are bad for your heart, for your breathing and for your immune system generally, something has to give. It is western cities that are now looking for ways out, for a return to the garden city – the urban village – even as Asian mayors battle it out for the world's tallest building. Some mayors in the West are even asking the age old question of what would a spiritual city look like? How can urban spaces be linked to green spaces to create feeling of well-being and even invite the presence of the transcendental?

SNAKES AND LADDERS

But many Asian cities continue the rise. And yet, along with the rise is the fall. Perhaps it is snakes and ladders that is the more appropriate image of the future. Hard work, capital, savings has led to the rise, but since the problems of patriarchy, environment, feudalism have not been resolved, the snake is next – the slippery road back to poverty. After all, it is still men who run things, still the male gaze that dominates, the environment is not yet respected and it is the big man who demands respect.

Underneath this all is worldview – karma. The future understood is that which the astrologer sees not that which we create. It is fear of disaster and not the imagination of a new future that holds sway. And the leader uses this fear to ensure that innovation does not become epidemic.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

For Asia to transform – to avoid the problems of the endless rise, the used future of the West; the grand divisions of politics and nations and the fall of the snake, much needs to be changed.

1. Designing cities that are green – create community, soft on the earth, recycle at every level and even as they grow financially retain equity.

2. Transform bureaucracy from red tape to green tape – rules that help innovation

3. Real innovation not just powerpoints from representatives of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Asia has its own version of the Ministry of Funny Walks)

4. Integrating consciousness technologies in education – meditation and yoga for primary and secondary schools, in corporations and certainly in business

5. Ensuring that Asian leaders leave instead staying way past their welcome – deep democracy, not just regular elections.

6. Healing the wounds of past genocides – thinking of desired future, not who was right or wrong – transcend peace solutions, as in South Africa.

7. Gender partnership – women and men working together.

If change can move in this direction then a new Asia is possible. If not, then it does not matter if Zheng He did discover the new world – he is not here now to create it. Or is he?

Submitted by:

Sohail Inayatullah

Sohail Inayatullah is a futurist and political scientist. He is presently a professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan and is the author of several books and hundreds of journal and magazine articles. You can read more of his articles at his website http://www.metafuture.org




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