global trends, values, and ethics

Chapter 7

Toward a Logic of One World

So far we have looked at the possible worlds in 2030 from American, European, Russian, and NATO perspectives. We have also traced the trends of past future worlds. We can now better appreciate the four scenarios in US “Global Trends 2030” as illustrative of only several worlds among an infinite number of possible worlds. This could have been a more daunting task. Some infinites, after all, are greater than others, and the finite mind can only process so much. However, this task has been simplified into a more manageable, delimited set of possibilities arranged in a systematic manner. Drawing these worlds along a spectrum of increasing global political unity allows us to begin understanding what will be necessary, impossible, and possible in 2030. We are nearly able to understand what is most important not only to policymakers but for all people evaluating global trends: the future state of our values. In 2030, will human liberty necessarily be a feature of everyday life for all people? Will perpetual peace be impossible? Will the less-well off be better off? Will a plurality of cultures endure?

In order to precisely answer the question of what determines the variance of our future values, we need to first form a more rigorous conceptualization of necessity, impossibility, and possibility. These ideas should not be seen as new at this point since, aside from being intuitive, these ideas have been informally intertwined throughout this book. However, they do require refinement for more precise policy prescriptions. In the beginning of this book, I asked how could all of the global trends reports predict so many different possible worlds if we are all bound to live in just one future world. The simple answer might be indeterminacy. Since we cannot know what will happen with 100 percent certainty, many answers are possible. However, this “your guess is as good as mine” response does not inform us how to plan for the future. I will now offer a formal philosophical response, using modal logic and the possible worlds semantics pioneered by the philosopher Saul Kripke in order to frame a logic of one world.[45]

Possible, Impossible, and Necessary Worlds

Assume that we have our set of ten possible worlds given by the global trends reports. Our definition of a possible world is more than simply saying that a world could happen. Worlds in this set may be possible in our definition if and only if they are not necessarily false. Since these worlds have not yet existed we cannot categorically dismiss their future existence—however likely or improbable their existence may be.

Further, by definition, any world outside of this set is deemed an impossible world. In the conventional sense one might say that an impossible world could happen. After all, worlds once thought impossible have happened. The earth is not flat, the sun does not rotate around us, and mankind has set foot on the moon. However, such worlds can only be made possible, according to our definition, by incorporating them into the original set of worlds. This choice to include or exclude worlds into a set is key to whether or not worlds are thought to be possible or impossible. Thus, the selection biases of tradition, methodology, and time have the utmost relevance for people in charge of directing the future of the world. Needless restrictions or too ambitious of goals may prevent better decisions. When biases are mitigated, amazing potentials can be realized. Magellan, Copernicus, Armstrong, and Aldrin defied tradition, understood methods, and transcended their times. It is in this rigorous sense that the impossible can be made possible.

Finally, a world is necessary if and only if it is not possibly false. Based on this definition, within the set of worlds presented in the global trends reports there is no necessary world. These worlds could possibly be false: none of the worlds has come to existence yet nor may they ever. This, however, does not mean that that there is no necessity. Given this set of possible worlds, a value may be considered necessarily true if it exists in all possible worlds. Thus, even if a value exists in nine of the ten worlds, we might say that the value will exist in many possible worlds, but we cannot say that it will necessarily exist. This subtle distinction can make the difference between working toward making the best of all worlds or needlessly ending up with some inferior world. For example, not preparing for a world wherein a nuclear winter could annihilate half of humanity because planners thought that this would not be necessary would be catastrophic.

Possible Worlds Semantics

The purpose of formal logic is to establish a set of axioms and rules that will allow us to distinguish valid arguments from invalid ones. An argument can be said to be valid if an only if its premises entail its conclusions. A proposition “A” in an argument is assigned a truth-value and can take classic logical operands, including negation “¬ A”, conjunctions “A & B”, disjunctions “A v B”, and if-then conditionals “A → B”. Here is an example of a valid argument:

All individuals in 2030 will be more empowered by technology.    "A → B" = True
I am an individual and will live in 2030.    "A" = True
Therefore, technology will empower me in the future. ∴ "B" = True

Modal logic on the other hand deals with two notions, possibility and necessity, that cannot have truth-values assigned to them in classic predicate logic. Possible operands may be represented as “◊”. Necessary operands may be represented as “□”. Given these operands, we can define the possibility of a proposition symbolically as "◊ A ↔ ¬ □ ¬ A". Proposition "A" is possible if and only if it is not necessary for "A" not to be true.

Necessity for a proposition may be defined as "□ A → A". It is necessary for A to be the case, so A is the case. We want to be able to say that it is necessary that all individuals in the future will be empowered, so they will be. However, we cannot assign truth or falseness to "□ A → A" based solely on the semantics of classic logic. We need a more robust semantics.

Validity within a logical system is only possible if that system is both sound and complete. Soundness entails that every argument proven with a system’s axioms and rules is in fact valid. Completeness entails that every valid argument can be proven with the logical system. Kripke developed possible worlds semantics in order to achieve both ends. This new semantics introduced the notion that possibility and necessity could be treated in a similar manner in classical logic as existential and universal quantifiers. First, Kripke assumes that there is a set of possible worlds. The set may be labeled as “S,” and possible worlds belonging to that set may be labeled {“W1”, “W2” . . . "Wn"}. The truth-value of a proposition "A" in different possible worlds may be represented as “v (A, W1)" = True, “v (A, W2)" = False, and “v (A, W3)" = False. Kripke then introduces an axiom into the logical system that will make it sound and complete:

"v (□ A, W)" = True

for every world "Wx" in "S", "v(A, Wx)" = True

A proposition is necessarily true if and only if the value of that proposition is true in all possible worlds. For example, say that we want to argue that peace for all people will be a necessary feature of the world in 2030. We would have to show that peace will exist in every world in our set of worlds for this to be the case. This dual nature of necessity highlights an important distinction. Worlds are not the only subjects that may be possible, impossible, or necessary: values that inhere in each of these worlds can also take their own attributes. In each of these worlds, we can also assume that our four values may be necessary, impossible, or contingent.[46] Values may be said to be impossible if and only if they do not exist in any possible world or if they only exist in impossible worlds. Finally these values are contingent if and only if they are true in some possible world but not others. I will make these attributes more evident in the sections below.


Necessity is what is true in all possible worlds. The 2030 global trends reports left us with a total of ten possible worlds, which fall into four of Walzer’s categories. We can gather from our possible worlds semantics that two values will in general be necessary in 2030: liberty and pluralism (see Table A).

Table A: Future Attainment of Values for More People

Liberty Justice Peace Pluralism
Anarchy True
Most free from government, but uncertain
No mechanisms
War/conflict is most prevalent
Greatest chance for those able/willing to fight for it
Weak States and Institutions True
Free, more stable and restricted by government
Worst off are better off within states, but not in other states
Poor, but states provide some security to individuals/groups
Good, but weaker groups are less protected
International Civil Society True
More free without government, but uncertain who will enforce
Networks can provide more for the worst off
Decent, but unclear who will organize and enforce
Good for individuals/groups across borders, but less certain within states
Decentered World True
Freer and safer
Multiple ways to help the worst off
Multiple means to achieve
Good for national, regional, and transnational identities

We can say this because both individual liberty and pluralism will exist in all of these archetypical worlds. If there were some additional unified global state world, for example, neither pluralism nor liberty would necessarily exist because such a world does not possess individuals in a sense greater than physical bodies or significant group differences. If everyone is the same and radically equal, there can be no individuals because no distinctions can be made.[47] In this case, we could not say that individual liberty will necessarily prevail in all possible worlds due to this one possible-world exception.

This is likewise true for pluralism. Notions of necessity have profound consequences on how we will have in some cases to protect and in other cases to relax standards of liberty, justice, peace, and pluralism.

Although we are still left not knowing what particular future world lies ahead, Walzer’s spectrum of centralization gives us a clearer resolution of what features will exist in kind, if not in degree. Within this delimited set of ten worlds, we now have a clearer understanding of not only the reasonable range of possibilities that we can prepare for, but we also have a sense of what will be necessary features of any future world. The future world may fall within a range from international anarchy, weak states and institutions, international civil society, and a decentered world. In all of these possible worlds two of our values will exist in some kind. Dangers and opportunities may abound for our four values, however, at the bare minimum, we can rest assured that global trends bend in such a way that two of those values will necessarily exist. We can also observe that while justice and peace are not guaranteed for all, they are possible in more worlds than not. We can be guardedly optimistic about the future.


The impossible is that which does not exist in any possible world or only exists in some impossible world. If an impossible world is excluded, particular flavors of that world will not exist either. Neither a unified global state nor a hegemonic global empire will prevail in fifteen years, according to all of the reports. By this account, what is impossible may not seem too surprising for conventional foreign policy thinkers. The end of the Cold War signaled to many the end of communism as a competitive world ideology to Western values of individual and group rights.[48] The end of such a history is a decades-old story.[49]

What receives less attention but warrants more, however, is what we lose and what we gain from these impossible worlds. What is deemed impossible has profound consequences on how we should address liberty, justice, peace, and pluralism. With the impossibility of these two idealized worlds come both positive and negative tradeoffs.

For years now scholars and experts have argued that America’s unipolar moment is coming to an end.[50] Thus, the expectation of a new hegemonic global empire instantiated as a Pax Americana is more a nostalgic fantasy rather than a forthcoming, expected reality. At most, as the Russian “Strategic Global Outlook 2030” report predicted, America may remain the most dominant player on the global scene that will preside over all other states in a global federation. But even then the US will not be a full-fledged hegemon dictating what other countries should do. With the impossibility of a hegemonic world, the prospects for a highly stable and peaceful world are relatively diminished according to Walzer’s spectrum.[51]

For those American patriots who see with a sense of loss America’s declining role in the world as a stabilizer and peacemaker, there may still be some silver lining. No other country will assume that role either: there will be no Pax China or Pax India. Further, as these countries rise, they will increasingly—even if unevenly—share our values. I do not think that a patriot whose values will spread to the rest of the world should be too disappointed with such a future. Thus, although peace may be uncertain, no one country will arbitrarily determine or endanger an individual’s liberty or a people’s freedom in another country without legitimate contest. Our values may be unevenly distributed in our possible worlds, but they will be more shared than if we were living in such an idealized hegemonic world. This relative lack of order and peace may be the direst for people and peoples in weak, conflict-ridden, or tyrannical states since these states will still be insulated enough from the rest of the world to rule over their own sovereignty, even if in atrocious ways. Although these peoples’ position is disconcerting and our values may vary within countries, at least on a different level, globalized tyranny will not be in any of our immediate futures.

Further, in regard to the impossibility of a unified global state, the world in 2030 would never be a utopian perpetual peace wherein true individuals and unique peoples would exist as many of us know ourselves in the world today. In such a utopian world, no individual would be guaranteed a robust sense of liberty, nor would unique cultures be allowed to flourish. For those today living in the most horrific of conflict-ridden environments, this is a devastating prospect since peace will not be necessary for them. Further, for some cosmopolitans, this is also no small loss: all of the virtues of equality and distributive justice can do nothing to allow individuals and peoples to live good lives.[52] This is the “soul-less despotism” of a world government forewarned by Immanuel Kant in the first supplement of his “Perpetual Peace”:

The idea of international law presupposes the separate existence of many independent but neighboring states. Although this condition is itself a state of war (unless a federative union prevents the outbreak of hostilities), this is rationally preferable to the amalgamation of states under one superior power, as this would end in one universal monarchy, and laws always lose in vigor what government gains in extent; hence a soul-less despotism falls into anarchy after stifling the seeds of the good. Nevertheless, every state, or its ruler, desires to establish lasting peace in this way, aspiring if possible to rule the whole world. But nature wills otherwise. She employs two means to separate peoples and to prevent them from mixing: differences of language and of religion. These differences involve a tendency to mutual hatred and pretexts for war, but the progress of civilization and men's gradual approach to greater harmony in their principles finally leads to peaceful agreement. This is not like that peace which despotism (in the burial ground of freedom) produces through a weakening of all powers; it is, on the contrary, produced and maintained by their equilibrium in liveliest competition.[53]

In simpler terms, what good are peace and justice, if life is boring and meaningless and stripped of its individual subjectivity and cultural diversity? This is not meant to insult the lives of the suffering. Peace, after all, is arguably the first-order condition for the good life. However, as the deficiencies of the NATO worlds suggested, even the poorest and most misfortunate among us in the direst of situations want to lead good lives beyond mere existence. People do not only fight for their lives; they also struggle for their livelihoods.

Yet at the same time, there is a positive tradeoff. Those disappointed with the loss of the prospects of a world characterized by complete equality and complete peace, should take a great deal of solace in the idea that individuals will not be “soul-less” in all cases and they will necessarily be guaranteed a greater degree of equality and peace and that individuals and groups will thrive in greater numbers without the threat of monolithic cultural convergence in fifteen years. And to say that there will be no such perpetual peace is not to say that there will be no peace or that peace will never be perpetual in some other form in some later future after 2030. The same can be said for justice. So for any possible future world, for the worst-off, their fight will go on for peace and justice as well as for each individual’s liberty and each peoples’ identities. And it is in this “liveliest of competition” where a better equilibrium of values can be achieved.


If global trends are so determinative that they shape events that are bound to happen or preclude worlds that will never happen, then no one can alter the structural contours of the future beyond these four archetypes described by Walzer. After biases have been mitigated, we cannot make impossible worlds possible nor can we determine what will be necessary. For some, the conclusion that the two values of liberty and pluralism will necessarily exist may seem trivial. After all, who would expect these values to end in a mere fifteen years? Why bother creating such an elaborate scheme of definitions, theories, and illustrations if our values are bound to happen?

Here is my reason. It is not the contours that matter most: it is the content of the future world and the texture of the values themselves that are the most important considerations for individuals to think about when choosing—to the extent that we can—what should be the quality of our future lives and livelihoods.

Hence, the most actionable decision-making sphere for us to consider should focus on what is contingent, i.e., that which is true in some possible world but false in others. Since there is no such thing as a perfect world, this is a choice of tradeoffs. Quite simply, what are we willing to give up in order to gain? As I have shown, our four values can take a wide variety of gradients and resolutions—even within each of Walzer’s idealized archetypes. For example, to say that liberty will necessarily exist is not the same as saying that it is necessary that liberty will be monolithic, that liberty will be enjoyed by all people, that new liberties enabled by technology will not come at the cost of lost liberties of privacy, or that pursuing one’s liberty will always lead to security and peace. Necessity can take a myriad of possible forms, and we have some ability to both bend and adapt to the trending arches of an untold, yet determinate history. These contingencies leave us with a set of policy options for worlds to aspire toward. Under further examination and a stricter consideration of the attainment of values for all people, we can see that pluralism will still be a necessary feature of the world, however, liberty may not be as necessary as the weaker general case may suggest (compare Table A and Table B). Based on this assessment, it is clear to me, as it was for Walzer, that the decentered worlds offer us the greatest potential to optimize our values. What is less clear to me, however, is which world will actually happen. Our biases should be no substitute for future knowledge.

Table B: Future Attainment of Values for All People

Liberty Justice Peace Pluralism
Darkside of Exclusivity False False False True
Gini Out-of-the Bottle False False False True
Deceptive Stability False False False True
Nonstate World True True True True
Clash of Modernities False True/False False True
Interconnected Polycentric True True True True
Stalled Engines True True/False True/False True
New Powers True True False True
Fusion True True True True
Hierarchical Polycentric True True True True

Although a decentered world may rationally be the most preferable, reasonable people may argue that it is not the best world that is achievable. For example, even NATO’s conflict-ridden New Power Politics decentered variant might be considered normatively inferior to the US’s cooperative Nonstate World. On the other hand, the most cynical of realists may be right. Perhaps when history is finally told, NATO’s Darkside of Exclusivity world might be the only feasible world that would inhere some form of our values, privileging only people in Western and developed countries with liberty, wealth, and calm because power dynamics are so determinative that there could be no other way even though we might want better lives for the rest. Or perhaps, the best of all possible worlds will reflect our world today in the form of NATO’s Deceptive Stability. Indeed, it may be argued that we can do very little to alter the contours of the future.

However, impotence should be no excuse for ignorance. It is what we knowingly do that is most valuable, since consciousness, after all, allows us to be aware of our own values. Although some realists may initially decry that the decentered Fusion and Interconnected Polycentric worlds are liberal fantasies and that a global government cannot exist, I would argue that such worlds are not radical departures from an anarchic one. A decentered world is still a government-less one at the global level, and self-interested states may still be the dominant actors. However, other actors and superstructures will still take form out of self-interest.[54] That rules and global governance take form is certainly no sign alone that fundamental power dynamics have changed by orders of magnitude, but, on the other hand, that they are formed and followed out of prudence is also by no means trivial. Earnestness about our own limits and ambitions will help our planning in any case.

These definitions, theories, and illustrations should be grounded in the actual world today—the only world that is truly necessary because it is the only one that we know exists. What we do now in this moment cannot possibly be false, although our interpretations of these actions may be right or wrong. The choice among these future worlds should not be seen as a choice among impossible, idealistic worlds, but rather they should be seen as approximations of what the preeminent political philosopher John Rawls called realistic utopias:[55] possible worlds that illustrate “how reasonable citizens and peoples might live peacefully in a just world.”[56] While we start now from unequal positions, there is indeed a veil of ignorance cast over our future. The challenge, thus, is a classic one posed before by Kant, Rousseau, and Rawls: “taking [people] as they are and laws as they might be.”[57] Reasonable people may disagree over which particular world we should aspire toward. The most difficult task is to choose a right course of action that optimizes our values given the constraints and possibilities of these global trends. How are we to choose the right course? And is there only one right way?

[45] See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Modal Logic,” available at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-modal/#PosWorSem ; Saul Kripke, “A Completeness Theorem in Modal Logic”, Journal of Symbolic Logic 24, No. 1 (March 1959): 1–14; “Semantical Considerations on Modal Logic,” Acta Philosophica Fennica, 16 (1963): 83–94.

[46] Although the terms “contingent” and “possible” may at times be used interchangeably, I consider “contingent” as a special consideration of what is “possible.” I use the term here to not only refer to possibility, but more so to emphasize the truth and falseness of values in these possible worlds.

[47] Here, I am not referring to legal equality—which from a rational perspective is what we all aspire toward. Instead, I am referring to individuals from a more idiosyncratic, personal perspective.

[48] Many readers might associate a Unified Global State with that ideology. However, a number of different forms of a Unified Global State are possible, including a democratic, united order. Kant, after all, envisioned the threats to individuals and groups from the democratic despotism of an extremely centralized order.

[49] See Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?,” The National Interest 16, (Summer 1989): 3–18.

[50] For popular, yet still academic, discussions see Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment,” Foreign Affairs 70, No. 1 (1990/1991): 23–33; Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World and the Rise of the Rest (New York: Penguin Books, 2009); Ian Bremmer, Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World (New York: Portfolio, 2012); and Charles Kupchan, No One’s World: The West, The Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[51] This holds, at least, according to the hegemonic stability thesis. See Robert Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[52] This notion is in the same key as Amartya Sen’s capability approach, which focuses foremost on what people are actually able to be and do. In Sen’s terms, although a person’s utilization function will be ameliorated in the parameters of individual physiology, local environments, and some social conditions, the capability to achieve meaningful subjective utility is limited by the lack of variation in social conditions and differences in relational perspectives.

[53] Immanuel Kant, "Perpetual Peace" (I795) in The Philosophy of Kant, edited by Carl J. Friedrich (New York: Modem Library, I949).

[54] Respected realist scholars have admitted this. “Much Realism argues—or assumes—that the anarchic structure of the international system leads to recurring patterns, many of them involving violence, and rules out long-term peace in the absence of clear deterrence. There is much to this perspective, but cost-benefit calculations, norms and values . . . can and have changed over time.” See Robert Jervis, “Force in Our Times,” International Relations 25, No. 4 (December 2011): p. 420.

[55] John Rawls, The Laws of Peoples with "The Idea of Public Reason Revisited" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 7.

[56] Ibid., p. vi.

[57] Jean Jaques Rousseau, Social Contract and Discourses, translated by G. D. H. Cole (New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1913), preface.

Copyright © 2014 by Thong Nguyen

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