What does 2017 hold in store for us—for you? What events will dominate the news in the year to come, and how might they affect you?
On Sept. 20, 2016, outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave his final address to the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. In this state-of-the-world overview, delivered partly in English and partly in French, he mentioned several key trends on the world scene that are likely to dominate the year ahead. He pulled few punches, stating that he stood before the assembly “with deep concern,” and that whatever progress the United Nations has been able to accomplish toward peace is “threatened by grave security threats.”
What are those trends and threats?
Alienation of the governed from those who rule
“Gulfs of mistrust divide citizens from their leaders.” Mr. Ban stated specifically, “Armed conflicts have grown more protracted and complex. Governance failures have pushed societies past the brink. Radicalization has threatened social cohesion—precisely the response that violent extremists seek and welcome.”
He gave examples: Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sahel (the zone between the Sahara and African savannah) and the Lake Chad Basin. Mr. Ban castigated in particular the government of Syria, which is killing its own citizens in horrific ways in order to maintain power. “Indeed, in too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power.”
We have learned in recent years that such crises, even occurring on the other side of the world, can have a powerful and violent impact on other nations far away. Radicalized citizens of Middle Eastern nations have perpetrated terror attacks in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany and other European nations, as well as in the United States. This instability and violence show no sign of abating and are likely to affect more and more people in 2017.
This alienation leads to open conflict in certain nations, but in others it brings a marked breakdown in social cohesion. The success of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump represented rejections of established political orders by concerned and disgruntled citizens. This polarization will continue to grow.
Migrants bring contentious societal changes
Mr. Ban spoke of the need to continue “helping people find a haven from conflict and tyranny.” He went on to say that such migrants are not always welcome. Some immigrants have behaved in shocking and abusive manners. Terrorists have used lax screening procedures to gain entry into Western countries to perpetrate attacks, raising understandable concerns.
There are essentially two schools of thought on the issue of immigration. One can be called globalist and the other nationalist. Jonathan Haidt in his essay “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism,” which appeared in The American Interest, explains the difference:
“As societies become more prosperous and safe, they generally become more open and tolerant. Combined with vastly greater access to the food, movies, and consumer products of other cultures brought to us by globalization and the internet, this openness leads almost inevitably to the rise of a cosmopolitan attitude, usually most visible in the young urban elite. Local ties weaken, parochialism becomes a dirty word, and people begin to think of their fellow human beings as fellow ‘citizens of the world.’ … [These] cosmopolitans embrace diversity and welcome immigration, often turning those topics into litmus tests for moral respectability.”
On the other hand, “nationalists see patriotism as a virtue; they think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving. This is a real moral commitment, not a pose to cover up racist bigotry. … Nationalists feel a bond with their country, and they believe that this bond imposes moral obligations both ways: Citizens have a duty to love and serve their country, and governments are duty bound to protect their own people. Governments should place their citizens’ interests above the interests of people in other countries.”
These different worldviews explain varying hierarchies of desires and fears for one’s homeland. Immigration into Western countries has increased in recent years, particularly due to the flood of refugees fleeing failed states.
USA Today reported last year that the percentage of foreign-born people living in the United States reached 13.7 percent in 2015 and is set to break its absolute record in 2025, when it is projected to reach 14.9 percent. Many of these people bring different religious beliefs and social views compared to the traditions of the host nation.
Globalists believe this is all to the good. Nationalists view it with concern or alarm. This clash of worldviews will lead to increasing polarization among Western nations.
More epidemics to come
Mr. Ban also mentioned recent and future disease epidemics. He stated in French (our translation), “The measures we have taken together to contain the epidemic of Ebola, have prepared us against future health emergencies.”
It is a given that there will be future epidemics, even pandemics, after the recent Ebola outbreak that killed over 11,000. In the early 1980s, when journalist Laurie Garrett began her career, the medical community generally believed infectious disease had been vanquished by antibiotics. The research that led to her groundbreaking work, The Coming Plague, highlighted how diseases mutate to become resistant to antibiotics, so that this battle will never be won. Newly emerging diseases are now counted among national security issues demanding constant state preparation.
Health-care experts are currently calling attention to a crisis of antibiotic resistance that threatens to leave humanity defenseless against certain diseases. The Centers for Disease Control currently estimate that in the U.S. each year 2 million fall ill with an antibiotic-resistant disease and at least 23,000 die.
This issue will not disappear and will certainly become more acute with time. (See more in the article “Why the Surge in Infectious Diseases?”)
Technology’s mixed bag
Ban Ki Moon also mentioned the rapid changes brought to the world by Internet and telecommunications technology. He stated, “It is hard to believe, but when I took office, a smartphone like this had not even been introduced to the world. Today it is a lifeline and, perhaps at times, the bane of our existence!”
The Pew Research Center reports that 87 percent of people in the developed world use the Internet, and 68 percent have a smartphone. The numbers in the developing world are lower, but still impressive: 54 percent report using the Internet at least occasionally or owning a smartphone.
The growing interconnectedness represents progress as more people have access to information about the world. But increased Internet usage also has negative effects. As much as a third of all Internet use is viewing pornography, which destroys families.
The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a Pulitzer-prize finalist written by Nicholas Carr, underlines research showing that Internet use modifies the way we think. Many people are losing the ability to concentrate for longer periods and to think deeply about complex concepts—it’s too much work. Short texts, photos and video are much easier to process and more entertaining.
Henry Kissinger alludes to these changes in his recent book World Order. He writes, “Philosophers and poets have long separated the mind’s purview into three components: information, knowledge, and wisdom. The Internet focuses on the realm of information, whose spread it facilitates exponentially. … Yet a surfeit of information may paradoxically inhibit the acquisition of knowledge and push wisdom even further away than it was before” (pp. 349-350).
People have access to more facts, but they don’t know what they mean or how to assemble them coherently so as to act on them effectively. This can actually disconnect people from reality.
Trends in prophecy
These and other trends underscored by Ban Ki-moon are setting the stage for events of the prophesied period called the time of the end.
The societal upheavals we see in so many places in the world will be a continuing source of contention and strife leading to violence of various degrees both within nations and between them.Jesus foretold that the time just before His return would see a massive increase in “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6-7). This is certainly the case today, and the trend is sure to intensify further in coming years. Russia is reasserting itself. China seeks regional domination. The Middle East continues to be a powder keg with a short fuse.
The societal upheavals we see in so many places in the world will be a continuing source of contention and strife leading to violence of various degrees both within nations and between them.
Jesus also prophesied “pestilences,” epidemics of disease (Matthew 24:7). Health authorities around the world are, quite independently of any Bible understanding, preparing now against such plagues. This trend will also continue.
Many of the trends to which Mr. Ban alluded concern the way people think. Frustration, anger and alienation within a nation or concerning classes of its citizens stem from destructive modes of thinking. In large part because of the Internet, our thinking is becoming more shallow, more emotional and less reasonable.
A fascinating prophecy of the end time is found in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (King James Version).
The selfishness, anger, betrayal, hedonism, amorality and violence that alarm the outgoing secretary-general today have long been prophesied. And the world scene will grow much worse before the situation improves.
Hope on the horizon
Mr. Ban finished his discourse with hope and confidence. He said, “A perfect world may be on the far horizon. But a route to a better world, a safer world, a more just world, is in each and every one of us.”
A perfect world is truly on the horizon, but the route to that world does not lie in the United Nations, or in any human being. In spite of the best efforts of well-intended people, they will not find the way to world harmony on their own.
God states, “The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace” (Isaiah 59:8).
But with the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God will come, through the gift of the Holy Spirit made available to all, a change in the heart of man. This amazing revolution will finally allow perfect peace on earth.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26-28).
Only then will the problems of humanity be resolved and the nations of the world truly be united.
Read more about that wonderful future in our free booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.