The art of questioning: A complete set of predictions for 2023

I would like to give a systematic set of predictions — some general and abstract, some more precise and concrete — for the coming year. I make predictions not principally to make a ‘prophecy’ about the future. Rather, I wish to test, in a very loose way, my analysis of the present by extending current trends into the future. That way, how right or wrong my predictions are will indicate flaws or merits in my analysis and underlying assumptions. With better analysis, comes better predictions. Or at least, that is my present assumption — subject to revision. So here goes: my predictions for 2023. … Ready for it?

Socrates, philosopher of the ancient world.

A. Music

1. Lalisa Manobal (from K-Pop group BLACKPINK), a.k.a. Lisa, will rise to prominence as a pop star in her own right. A major new record deal is on the cards, as is Lisa’s entry into western markets on the back of her existing single ‘Lalisa’, with the B-side ‘Money’. Expect a new single, at least, and a new album, perhaps, but also magazine covers and general recognition of new pop star status. The coveted ‘Best New Artist’ award at the Grammys may be on the cards for 2024, but that is going beyond the remit of my predictions for the year of 2023.

2. Hip hop will enter its terminal phase as a genre. Everything ends. Such is the case in the history of politics — and the history of music is, I think, no exception. This is not to say that hip hop will not continue expanding as a genre. But hip hop itself will not generate much that is genuinely new. This is because hip hop is being surpassed by a new genre, which will pick up where hip hop left off in 2022.

3. Wambop will begin in earnest. Don’t get me wrong — the charts will remain dominated by hip hop and other more established genres. But just as hip hop becomes more widely accepted and entrenched as a musical art form in its own right, on the level of jazz, rock, and classical music, we will see the early fits and starts of wambop as its own controversial, trailblazing genre in its own right, the new fountain of originality in modern music.

4. Sabrina Carpenter will emerge as the all-American pop star that billboards have been looking for for years. I am not sure how this will play out. The details do not seem to be in Sabrina’s favour. But as with Lisa, I think Sabrina’s raw talent looks set to overcome the odds and pave an untrodden path towards superstardom, bridging between pop luminaries like Taylor Swift in the mainstream and Billie Eilish in the alternative pop space. Dove Cameron was the industry’s first bet on the new synthesis. I think 2023 is Carpenter’s year to try her luck in centre stage.

5. Kendrick Lamar will make one last bid at hip hop hegemony. Honestly, this prediction is least likely to come to fruition, given Kendrick’s album-closing statement in 2022: ‘I choose me, I’m sorry.’ But after wearing a crown of thorns on his world tour this year, echoing the Rolling Stone cover of Ye (the artist/musician/rapper formerly known as Kanye West) in 2010 on the eve of his coronation at the helm of hip hop (during the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), Kendrick’s ambition to rule over the end of hip hop remains. He did withdraw his ambition to surpass Michael Jackson, but he remains competent and original as an artist. I think he has a chance of being the central late bloomer of hip hop, akin to Pink Floyd and the progressive rock movement, together with the Radiohead-infused aftermath of this moment. His elusive pgLang company may make waves, too.

B. Politics

6. The war in Ukraine will continue, with no clear end in sight. The conflict will echo the proxy war between the West and Russia in Syria. Russian bombing will increase. Military aid from the West to Ukraine will continue. What happens next is anyone’s guess: probably either an escalation to a near-fatal level for the planet if the conflict intensifies severely due to increased ammunitions and arms on both sides, or an eventual ceasefire resulting in a division of Ukraine between Western- and Russian-aligned sides. The ideal outcome of a neutral Ukraine will be avoided, and no-one will win. This will be the result of an application of the prisoner’s dilemma to the conflict, which resulted from causes predicted by realists such as John J. Mearsheimer, and whose results will also vindicate the effects predicted by Mearsheimer’s theory.

7. China will not invade Taiwan, yet, unless something big changes in 2023. A spring invasion would seem logical given Russia’s fateful decision in 2022, but observation of Russia’s lack of success will make China hesitate. China will prefer to launch an invasion when its success is almost guaranteed. I think its chances of success are quite high, anyway, so an invasion is not off the cards. I just think it will bide its time. Escalation of sanctions may or may not change its view; it is quite possible more western sanctions lead China to refocus on its domestic economy rather than resorting to military means of shoring up its political legitimacy, which matters in autocracies just as much as in democracies, as noted by theorist Francis Fukuyama, who has a domestic equivalent to Mearsheimer’s international ‘realism’, which rightly emphasises the economic foundations of military might. In general, China will remain the greater threat to world peace in 2023, even if (as in 2022) this seems contradicted by daily news cycle, which thrives off particular events rather than general trends.

8. The international economy will continue its tendency towards 1970s-style stagflation, a combination of inflation driven by supply constraints centring on energy and risks of recession driven by the lethargy of demand and heightening of inequality in recent years. Recovery from coronavirus-related economic woes will remain slow. I expect 2022 trends to continue into 2023 here. A temporary return to global economic growth is not, however, inconceivable — it is on schedule, after all. However, I sense the beginnings of a new finance-centred crisis on the horizon. Coronavirus lockdowns halted world trade except in capital goods. Even China has responded to the Trump/Biden trade war by integrating itself into western finance circuits more closely than ever before. China’s own domestic equivalent of Lehman Brothers has not abated, and the overleveraged state of western economies has not been remedied. In 2019 I was worried about levels of corporate debt, a worry demonstrated in the effects of lockdown on many businesses. In the mist of the first ecological crisis of our era of ultracapitalism, I think a classical crisis of finance capitalism is on the horizon. The birth pangs of this crisis will be shown in 2023 as banks, investors, entrepreneurs, and corporations attempt to imitate the early successes (and avoid the more recent failures) of cryptocurrency. But dollar hegemony will endure, and the renminbi will fail to be completely internationalised. As Gramsci said about interregnums: ‘The old is dying and the new cannot yet be born. This is the time of monsters.’ The idiosyncratic monstrosities of the market will rear their heads in 2023, in a way that returns us to the science of political economy, in the shadow of culture war.

9. Nuclear fusion reaction will continue to make scientific progress, and nuclear fission reactors will make some commercial improvements as concerns about climate change rise. Renewable energy will be disseminated more widely, but overall results on emissions will be negligible. Conspiracy theories about climate change will abound, as the use of science in political ways during the coronavirus crisis end up delegitimising the scientific discipline in the fight against climate change. However, coal will decline, and certain emissions-saving technologies may be circulated more. Overall progress on tackling the fundamental energy dilemmas of our time will remain elusive. Renewable energy and nuclear fission will remain impossible to provide the energic foundation for economic progress. Rather, oil and gas, particularly in the shadow of the American shale revolution, will remain dominant internationally, as the world awaits the scientists of fusion to find the knowledge or (more importantly) the (government-provided, or if necessary privately funded) resources for scaling up fusion from the Quantum level to the economic level in the coming decades. In 2023, climate change will remain the plaything of states and classes, but will not be tackled until the laboratory really cracks the code of our nuclear DNA of social evolution: technology, especially pertaining to nuclear fusion.

10 (i). The rise of Caesarism in western democracies will continue unabated. The age of populism and of technocracy will fade from view, though the wounds will remain prominent. A future conflict between Caesarism and centrism will begin to rise, echoing the 2010s conflict between populism and technocracy, where technocracy won hands-down. I think the 2020s conflict is less likely to favour the elites, whose stranglehold over western democracies is weakening by the day. Proto-Caesar figures such as Trump will resurface, while bridging figures such as Musk will continue to cause havoc in circles of middle-class opinion. The capitalist class will continue to fund centrism, but some fragments, led by such individuals as Musk’s old PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will lead a ‘Straussian’ pacific insurrection, fuelling the (again, potentially pacifying) fires of Caesaropopulism. Technocentrism will remain hegemonic in mass media, but as alternative media sources rise in popularity this stranglehold will lessen.

10 (ii). The ongoing war between the elites and the people, echoing the Roman Republic’s conflict between the senatorial oligarchy and the people of Rome and surrounding areas of the germinating empire (the Senate and the People of Rome, or the ‘grandi’ and the ‘popolo’, in Machiavelli’s Renaissance terms), will continue. Its implicit character in trade competition will become explicit in conflicts of class, accompanying the return of the old logic of interstate war in the international arena. Machiavellianism, economic and geopolitical, will rise in the shadow of liberal utopianism. But new religious movements will also rise, just as the old religions spread — Islam in the Western Hemisphere, and Christianity in the Eastern Hemisphere, with China facing a potential new Taiping-style Rebellion in the future, centring on a Christian movement. This political translation of religious tidal change will not occur for some years, or even decades, however. In 2023, the tides will continue to turn, slowly but surely.

10 (iii). Meanwhile we will see the intellectual return of what Eric Nelsen referred to as the Hebrew Republic of early modernity, centring then on figures like James Harrington, and now on hitherto-unannounced prophets of new beginnings in history. The old Manichean division between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ will continue to face inversions in popular culture, but any attempt to bridge the divide between the Yin and Yang of modernity will remain elusive so long as the central institutions of capitalism, the modern state, and representative democracy endure — which, I think, they will, so long as Caesarism can be contained (which, in 2023, it will, even as it grows under — and over — the radar of political mass media).

C. Synthesis?

11 (i). In popular culture, the rise of ‘woke liberalism’ and conservative reaction to this movement will reach a boiling point. We will see a wholesale deconstruction of prominent university and media talking points, even as the neo-liberal revolution in culture continues unabated. So even as the flaws in the movements are exposed, its underlying successes will remain and expand. Just as a new cynicism about new dogmas emerges, so will an acceptance of their inevitability. But similarly, just as the ‘alt-right’ faces critique, some of its underlying resentments will come to be accepted, even on a subliminal level. The possibility of a reconciliation between the movements for progress or reform and conservation or reaction will rise to the fore, but a true synthesis will elude us in 2023. Conflict will trump concord in reality and therefore also in consciousness. The possibility of unity will remain a distant, but real, hope for a divided humanity.

11 (ii). Meanwhile, the political conflict between centrism and Caesarism will heighten in its contradiction even as the cultural conflict starts to show faint signs of softening in tone. The transition from a market conflict over values to a political conflict over interests will begin, but we will also therefore see the beginnings of a new bronze, silver, or even golden age in capitalist culture. Such an age occurs every twenty years or so, and sometimes centres around a crisis such as the one of 2008, bordered by such artistic expressions as Lord of the Rings films in the early 2000s and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and its aftermath for music in the early 2010s. The political failure of capitalism will be masked by the appearance of cultural success. The economic endurance of capitalism remains. Whether we can do things differently this time — economically, politically, aesthetically, or even substantially / philosophically / morally — depends both on ourselves and on the world around us.

11 (iii). As human beings, we have little to offer but our will and representation of the world, to echo Schopenhauer. We play language games, as Wittgenstein noted, to move beyond good and evil, but these games often entrench us in the ‘slave morality’ of this distinction, as Nietzsche emphasised beforehand. Marx’s class conflicts will continue alongside Mearsheimer’s interstate conflicts, and disciplines of Aristotle’s naturalism flourish even as glimmers of Platonic form shine through the dark clouds of nihilism and ‘capitalist realism’ (Mark Fisher’s classic, ironic description of the idealism of liberalism). But as Socrates found in the shadow of Homer’s poetry, philosophy can only do so much. Making predictions is but a shadow of the art of Socratic questioning, which has been parodied in the modern day by inquisition-ing, akin to the trial which led to Socrates’ execution by hemlock.

11 (iv). But totalitarianism, while tempting for a tired world, cannot endure in a world of change. Peace cannot last forever, but neither can servitude. War, tragically, seems to be the only condition where people are free from higher authority, but it also produces servitude to higher authority, and is itself a tyranny of grotesque proportions. To find a middle way between the personality of Caesar and impersonality of capital — this is surely the task of the twenty-first century. To find a peace and indeed some freedom in the union between Homo sapiens and the cosmos we inhabit is the great journey of the third millennium. In 2023, we shall not end this journey. Nor shall we properly begin it, for it has already begun. But we shall continue our journey, in frequent conflict and occasional concord, into the light of the stars. The only question left for my predictive sketch of 2023 is: Shall we start?

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