Fernandez-Armesto’s final prediction is almost too mild. It would seem like stating the obvious until you recall how often the obvious is ignored. Cultures freeze their minds at the moment of their triumph, and continue to regard themselves as global leaders while decay is obvious to all. The United States with its eternally replenishing liberal fantasy of itself as the indispensable nation is the most blatant example. The rest of the world moves on as this wounded giant thrashes in its death throes, unable to project authority abroad, paralysed by ideology in protecting its own citizens from random gun violence at home.
Fernandez-Armesto sees these shifts gathering pace, with the rapid decline of the Atlantic century, and a possible brief passage of initiative through California and Japan. Even Australia is mentioned as a possible source of future initiative, as a nation of under-exploited resources – minerals, minds and mores, I would add.
But future initiative may not settle in regions, and here Fernandez-Armesto goes against the grain of his otherwise localised thought. “Collective self-perceptions can be shared by very widespread groups; and the shifts of initiative in the next millennium may be in the hands of worldwide elites or of a few masters of cybernetics , mouldings world culture from a specific location through millions of modems.” Fernandez-Armesto did not anticipate the blow to national identities and indeed to elite culture with the shift of initiative to collective selfies or hesitated through empty agit-prop in social media. Billions of cell phones have provoked an implosion of world culture and an outbreak of narcissistic idiocy.