Turn off the TV and chill.  Image: iStock/Belitas
Turn off the TV and chill. Image: iStock/Belitas

In 2013, the book The Spiritual Imperative: Sex, Age, and Caste Move the Future by American futurist Lawrence (Larry) Taub reached the top of the Japanese bestsellers list. Taub had attracted attention in Japan since the 1970s, giving lectures and predicting global developments. Some of his forecasts seemed far-fetched. He predicted that a country in the “religious belt” — the broad region from the Indian subcontinent to North Africa — would experience a religious revolution. A few years later, Ayatollah Khomeini led the Iranian revolution to overthrow the shah. Taub also predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, unlikely at the time but a reality in 1989.

In the foreword to the book’s Japanese edition, renowned Japanese management consultant and marketer Masanori Kanda wrote that Taub was futurist Alvin Toffler, management guru Peter Drucker and economist John Kenneth Galbraith all rolled into one. But Taub is different in that he predicts the future with great (geographical) specificity. Toffler’s Future Shock, for instance, saw humankind moving from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural to an industrial and finally to a post-industrial society. It is hard to dispute that prediction. But Toffler’s model provided no geographic specificity. Taub takes social and cultural factors into account and tells us not only what will happen and approximately when, but also where. In other words, Toffler gave us a road map, Taub gives us GPS.

Taub shows that humans create systems, not the other way around. Ask him about the drivers of history and he will say: “It is not technology, economics, money, business, religion or ideology. The real drivers of history are changes in human values and world views.” This starting point sets Taub apart from all other futurists.

The world’s first psychological profilers

The source of Taub’s human-centered macro history is Varna, a profound concept developed in ancient India. It’s the first “socio-psychological profiling” in history. The Sanskrit word is variously translated as caste, color, type or order and dates from the early Vedic era (2nd millennium BCE). Varna is often confused with the related term Jāti, meaning birth, and translated by the Europeans as caste. Jāti, the basis of India’s much-maligned caste system, is a corruption of Varna, in the same way Stalinism is a corruption of Marxism.

Varna defines four generic human characteristics or archetypes: the Brahmins (priests, scholars, and teachers), the Kshatriyas (rulers, royalty, and warriors), the Vaishyas (merchants, tradesmen, and farmers), and Shudras (workers, the lowest of the four Varnas). According to Sanskrit scriptures, the four caste types “take turns in ruling the world” (they become the dominant caste of their age). True to its cyclical worldview, the ancient sages believed this cycle was never-ending. But Taub realized that the cycle of the four castes can be mapped to actual linear history.

In his book, Taub shows that a spiritual caste ruled societies in pre-historic times (think of shamans), followed by a land-conquering warrior caste (think Ashoka, Alexander the Great). Spain was the last great power of the warrior-caste age. They, in turn, were challenged by the merchant caste, first by the Dutch merchants who opened the world’s first stock market in the 17th century. In the 19th century it was the turn of the worker caste who challenged the dominant merchant caste with Marxism, worker-rights movement, and universal suffrage. Taub describes the dynamics of caste struggle here (click the free preview tab.)

Values and self-identity change with each caste

Each caste, as it takes power, imposes its own values on society, and gradually on the world at large. When the worker caste challenged the merchant caste in the 19th century, they embraced solidarity and democracy and demanded an end to slavery and imperialism. Human values and self-identity changed. During the merchant-caste age, your family name and wealth determined your role, identity, and station in society. In the worker caste age, your job, skill, or profession came to define your identity. Today, when people meet for the first time, often the first question they ask is: “What do you do?” Even newly minted billionaires commonly pride themselves on their “hard work.”

Taub shows that specific cultural-geographic regions ruled the world because they have the most affinity with one of the four caste types. For instance, the West (Europe and later the US) dominated the merchant-caste age because its culture and worldview were most in tune with the merchant-caste worldview. East Asia (the Confucian region of China, Japan, and Korea) will dominate the peak stage of the worker-caste age because its “collectivist” culture is most in tune with the worker-caste values and worldview. The “religious belt” will dominate the next spiritual-caste age because it values religion and spirituality above all else

Taub emphasizes that caste ages overlap. We are currently moving toward the peak of the worker-caste age, but vestiges of the preceding warrior- and merchant-caste ages are still with us. Remnants of the warrior-caste age are royalty and military honor guards. Remnants of the merchant-caste age are predatory capitalism that values money over human life and ecology. And while the worker-caste age still has to reach its peak in East Asia (between 2040 and 2050, according to Taub), signs of the next spiritual-caste age are everywhere: growing interest in meditation, self-knowledge, mindfulness, (Eastern) spirituality, ecology and animal rights.

Religious/spiritual services are a growth market

When Taub first predicted that the religious/spiritual market would become the main driver of economic growth, it was an exotic idea. Today, the market, which includes everything from meditation classes to Halal food and religious tourism, is enormous and by some measures already larger than the tech industry. Religious and spiritual services in the United States contribute an estimated $1.2 to $4.2 trillion to the US economy and society. The spiritual and religious market in India is estimated to be worth $30 billion annually and growing. The global Halal market is expected to reach $1.6 trillion in 2018. China is actively courting Muslim countries in a bid to become the world’s leading Halal producer.

The future is fast catching up with Taub’s predictions. Yet scholars in both the East and West remain ambivalent about his model. A Finnish scholar compared the Spiritual Imperative to the I Ching (both books use archetypes and both require the active participation and imagination of the reader). An Indian scholar called Taub “either totally nuts or a genius.” But anyone reading his book could agree that Taub offers a bird’s-eye view of the word. He clarifies many seemingly contradictory developments, whether religious extremism or the crisis in democratic capitalism and shows where we are likely to go from here.

Jan Krikke

Jan Krikke is a former Japan correspondent for various media, former managing editor of Asia 2000 in Hong Kong, and author of Leibniz, Einstein, and China (2021).

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