Book Report: Future: Tense


Thomas Kuhn wrote in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1]:

“Confronted with anomaly or with crisis, scientists take a different attitude towards existing paradigms, and the nature of their research changes accordingly. The proliferation of competing articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals, all these are symptoms of a transition from normal to extraordinary research. It is upon their existence more than upon that of revolutions that the notion of normal science depends.”

Gwynne Dyer argues in his book Future: Tense, the coming world order [2] that we are some 60 years into a 100 + year project to establish a system of international rules of conduct (or laws) and the institutional support to see them through. Dyer argues a central role for the United Nations in this project. While some have attributed failure to the UN, Dyer claims success with the simple statement that it has met its purpose: to avert World War 3.

Dyer’s thesis is that this project is in jeopardy because of the execution of a policy of unilateral, pre-emptive action against suspected criminal or terrorist nations being executed by the Bush administration which is outside the established framework of laws developed over the last 60 years. The concern put is that if this action is successful and continues it could lead us back to the time of the early 20th century when alliances where the mechanisms used by states to protect themselves. Based on history, alliances have not been successful in averting war.

Dyer offers an interesting perspective providing insight into why certain things have and are happening on the world stage. His argument on the success of the Unitied Nations and the world community to establish a framework of law to manage war (basically make it illegal) is compelling. The argument of the value of this framework just makes the risks seem all that more intense.

One can only hope that the period we are going through is like a period in science described by Thomas Kuhn as a revolution and although it may be uncomfortable, it is a normal part of the process and we should have faith that we will make it through. However, if one argues that the project actually started with the League of Nations and the first “revolution” has already been transitioned–World War 2–then faith may not be enough.


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