21st century  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"The 21st century saw the September 11 attacks which resulted in a War on Terror, a financial crisis which resulted in a recession and socioeconomic dislocations aggravated by the robotization of work and the export of industries to cheaper-workforce countries which resulted in a further draining of Western financial resources."--Sholem Stein

Related e



<< 20th century 22nd century >>

The 21st century is the current century of the Common Era, in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. It began on January 1, 2001 and will end on December 31, 2100. It is the first century of the 3rd millennium.

The symbolic beginning of the 21st century were the 9/11 attacks.

After a prolonged military buildup, Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine.



The 21st century has been marked by growing economic globalization and integration, with consequent increased risk to interlinked economies; and by the expansion of communications with mobile phones and the Internet, which have caused fundamental societal changes in business, politics, and individuals' personal lives, including the advent of social-media platforms such as Facebook.

The early 21st century saw escalating intra- and international strife in the Near East and Afghanistan, stimulated by vast economic disparities, by dissatisfaction with governments dominated by Western interests, by inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian feuds, and by the longest war in the history of the United States, the proximate cause for which was Osama bin Laden's provocative 2001 destruction of New York City's World Trade Center.

In consequence, write Robert Malley and Jon Finer in Foreign Affairs, "The United States has become captive to a national security paradigm that ends up magnifying the very fears from which it was born.... One possible explanation for the resilience of the terrorist threat is that an overly militarized approach aggravates the very conditions on which terrorist recruitment thrives. The destruction of entire cities and the unintentional killing of civilians, in addition to being tragic, serve as powerful propaganda tools for jihadists. Such incidents feed resentment, grievances, and anti-Americanism." The Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010's, produced power vacuums that led to a resurgence of authoritarianism and the advent of reactionary groups like the Islamic State.

U.S. military involvements in the Near East and Afghanistan

Andrew J. Bacevich urges "a fundamental reassessment of US national-security policy in those parts of the Islamic world [at a time when US] political elites... manifest... indifference to endless war [and when] American wars continue as if on autopilot." The public, writes Bacevich, needs to be informed that "the national security of the United States may not require... stationing... US troops in [over] 170 countries around the world, a massive military budget... or the continuous dropping of ordnance on targets in distant lands of marginal or nonexistent relevance to [the US's] well-being.", along with a financial crisis and resultant recession, have drained U.S. economic resources at a time when the U.S. and other Western countries are experiencing mounting socioeconomic dislocations aggravated by the robotization of work and the export of industries to cheaper-workforce countries.

Shlomo Ben-Ami writes that "the West is beset by deep social inequalities, reinforced in recent decades by poorly managed globalization." He urges the necessity of [g]iving a humane face to the embrace of globalization and innovation..." and in Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice (1797).

Nathan Heller writes that a Universal Basic Income in the United States, of perhaps $1,000 a month per individual, would automatically provide a modest social safety net for everyone who could become redundant in the job market due to automation or job exportation – without the current cumbersome, often demeaning bureaucratic mechanisms for means testing and beneficiary supervision. UBI would create, for many persons, life choices not now available to them, and might reduce criminality spawned by desperate living conditions. UBI's supporters have included politicians across the political spectrum such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, ancient and populous Asian civilizations, namely India and especially China, have been emerging from centuries of relative scientific, technological, and economic languishment to become potential economic and political rivals for Western powers.

Worldwide competition for resources has risen due to growing populations and industrialization, especially in India, China, and Brazil. The increased demand is contributing to increased environmental degradation and global warming. That, and a need for safe, reliable energy supplies independent of politically volatile regions, has spurred the development of renewable sources of energy, chiefly solar and wind energy, in place of carbon-based energy (petroleum, coal, natural gas) and nuclear energy. existential threat posed by climate change is recognized.

The "greenhouse effect", substantially responsible for Earth's global warming, was first described in 1824 by the French mathematician Joseph Fourier. The greenhouse effect is a natural mechanism that becomes dangerous if the atmosphere's greenhouse-gas concentrations exceed environmentally safe levels, as they have gradually been doing since the start of the Industrial Revolution. As predicted, this is already increasing the frequency and severity of floods and droughts due to accelerated melting of icecaps, glaciers, and snowpacks; flooding of low-lying coasts; storms; agricultural disruption and famines; ecological displacements; ocean acidification with havoc to marine life; release, from thawing Arctic permafrost, of methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide; and intra- and intersocietal conflicts, with increased crime and warfare. The multifarious, irreversible damage from global warming will accelerate as environmental tipping points are reached. The late physicistcosmologist Stephen Hawking on 2 July 2017, belatedly celebrating his 75th birthday, warned that planet Earth is rapidly approaching an irreversible tipping point that will leave the planet with an uninhabitable environment like that of Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees and sulfuric-acid rain. The U.S. military are already forced to factor global-warming effects into their planning for military infrastructure, war, and disaster relief.

In December 2015 195 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement, though in 2017 President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal of the United States from the Agreement.

Astrophysicist John Gribbin, writing in Scientific American, contemplates the evolution of the cosmic infrastructure that made the history of the world possible, and concludes that "we are probably the only intelligent life in the Milky Way galaxy.... And if our planet is so special, it becomes all the more important to preserve this unique world for ourselves, our descendants and the many creatures that call Earth home." He explains that the universe's first stars after the Big Bang, 13 billion years ago, could not have had planets because chemical elements heavier than hydrogen and helium had not yet been cooked up inside stars. By the time our star, the Sun, came into being 4.5 billion years ago, there were sufficient amounts of heavier elements available to form Earth. The Sun resides within a fairly narrow "galactic habitable zone" that is at reduced risk from destructive supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. An orderly arrangement of planets in nearly circular orbits providing long-term stability – as in our solar system – is uncommon. "Earth-like planets" that have been discovered are generally uninhabitable, by contrast with Earth with its thin mobile crust where tectonic activity brings ores and nutrients to the surface through volcanism. Earth also has a large metallic core that, coupled with Earth's rapid rotation, produces a strong magnetic field that shields Earth from harmful cosmic radiation; without this screen, "our atomosphere would probably erode, and any living thing on the surface would get fried." These planetary attributes are diredtly related to our Moon, which probably formed early in the solar system's history when a Mars-size object struck the nascent Earth a glancing blow, causing both protoplanets to melt; the metallic material from the two objects settled into Earth's center, and much of Earth's original lighter rocky material splashed out to become the Moon, leaving Earth with a thinner crust. Without that impact, Earth would lack its crucial magnetic field and plate tectonics. The presence of such a large Moon stabilizes Earth, preventing it from toppling far from the vertical, as happened with Mars. Once the Earth-Moon system settled down, "life emerged with almost indecent rapidity": fossils of single-celled prokaryotes have been found in rocks 3.4 billion years old – about a billion years younger than Earth. But it was only about 1.5 billion years ago that more complex, eukaryote cells, the stuff of all plants and animals, arose from a single merging of two types of primordial single-celled organisms: bacteria and archaea. "It is a measure of how unlikely such a single fusion of cells was that it took two billion years of evolution to occur." Even then, little changed for about a billion years, apart from early eukaryotes forming flat, soft-bodied multicellular organisms, until the Cambrian explosion some 550 million years ago. DNA analysis, showing extremely close similarities among the most diverse human populations, indicates that all humans are descended from a tiny population, possibly survivors of some catastrophe or catastrophes. DNA evidence pinpoints two evolutionary bottlenecks: 150,000 years ago, the human population was reduced to no more than a few thousand breeding pairs; and about 70,000 years ago, the entire human population fell to about 1,000. "Is life likely to exist elsewhere in the galaxy?" asks John Gribbin. "Almost certainly, given the speed with which it appeared on Earth. Is another technological civilization likely to exist today? Almost certainly no, given the chain of circumstances that led to our existence."

Historian Christopher R. Browning concludes an article on "The Suffocation of Democracy": "[W]ithin several decades after Trump's presidency has ended, the looming effects of ecological disaster due to human-caused climate change—which Trump not only denies but is doing so much to accelerate—will be inescapable. Desertification of continental interiors, flooding of populous coastal areas, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, with concomitant shortages of fresh water and food, will set in motion both population flight and conflicts over scarce resources that dwarf the current fate of Central Africa and Syria. No wall will be high enough to shelter the US from these events...."

Environmentalist Bill McKibben explains that the 2018 IPCC Special Report understates the climatic perils to Earth and adds: "[E]ngineers have [made] remarkable advances, and the price of [electrical energy] generated by the sun or wind has continued to plunge... these are now the cheapest sources of power across much of the globe. Battery storage technology has progressed too; the fact that the sun goes down at night is no longer the obstacle to solar power many once presumed.... California, the planet's fifth-largest economy, promise[s] to be carbon-neutral by 2045.... [The] paramount reason we didn't heed... earlier warnings [is] the power of the fossil fuel industry.... [But] the relentless floods and storms and fires have gotten Americans' attention... 93 percent of Democrats want more solar farms; so do 84 percent of Republicans.... In October [2017] the [New York State] attorney general...filed suit against Exxon-Mobil, claiming the company defrauded shareholders by downplaying the risks of climate change. In January [2018] New York City joined the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign... Mayor Bill de Blasio is working with London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, to convince their colleagues around the world to do likewise. In July [2018] Ireland became the first nation to join the campaign... This kind of pressure on [fossil-fuel] investors needs to continue..."

International tensions were heightened in connection with the efforts of some nuclear-armed states to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Historian Christopher Clark writes: "The quest for peace, like the struggle to arrest climate change, requires that we think of ourselves not just as states, tribes, or nations, but as the human inhabitants of a shared space."

Issues and concerns

Issues that have been frequently discussed and debated so far in this century include:

  • Globalization. Advances in telecommunications and transportation, the expansion of capitalism and democracy, and free trade agreements have resulted in unprecedented global economic and cultural integration. This has caused (and is continuing to cause) economic and cultural shifts which have been the subject of considerable controversy.
  • Overpopulation. The United Nations estimates that world population will reach 9.2 billion by mid-century. Such growth raises questions of ecological sustainability and creates many economic and political disruptions. In response, many countries have adopted policies which either force or encourage their citizens to have fewer children, and others have limited immigration. Considerable debate exists over what the ultimate carrying capacity of the planet may be; whether or not population growth containment policies are necessary; to what degree growth can safely occur thanks to increased economic and ecological efficiency; and how distribution mechanisms should accommodate demographic shifts. Evidence suggests that developed countries (such as Japan) suffer population implosion, and the population debate is strongly tied with discussions about the distribution of wealth.
  • Authoritarianism. Some currently democratic states, such as the United Kingdom, are felt by some to be moving quickly in the direction of a police state, continuous surveillance and long term detainment without trial all having been introduced by the government. A shift in education can be noticed towards more emphasis on discipline and control mechanisms by the state. A good indicator of authoritarianism being a serious concern for the 21st century are the recent anti-authoritarian protests staged around the world. Examples include the 1999 Carnival Against Capitalism, the protest activities surrounding the 2001 Genova G8 Summit and the 2007 Heiligendamm G8 Summit, as well as the 2008 civil unrest in Greece, all with strong anarchistic and thus anti-authoritarian character.
  • Abortion. Debates between "Pro-choice" and "Pro-life" factions on the controversial procedure continue. The approximate number of induced abortions performed worldwide in 2003 was 42 million.
  • Dysgenics. Due to the negative correlation between fertility and intelligence, human genetic integrity may be deteriorating, lowering the intellectual capacity of the average human.
  • Poverty. Poverty remains the root cause of many of the world's other ills, including famine, disease, and insufficient education. Poverty contains many self-reinforcing elements (for instance, poverty can make education an unaffordable luxury, which tends to result in continuing poverty) that various aid groups hope to rectify in this century. Microcredit lending has also started to gain a profile as a useful anti-poverty tool.
  • Disease. AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria each kill over a million people annually. HIV remains without a cure or vaccine, and is growing rapidly in India and much of the African continent. Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern for organisms such as tuberculosis. Other diseases, such as SARS, ebola, and flu variations, are also causes for concern. The World Health Organization has warned of a possible coming flu pandemic resulting from bird flu mutations. In 2009, the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and later around the world caused widespread panic and concern, and is currently still a problem.
  • War and terrorism. Active conflicts continue around the world, including civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the largest war since World War II), Chechnya, Côte d'Ivoire, Somalia, Senegal, Colombia, and Sudan (mainly in Darfur). The 9/11 terrorist attacks triggered invasions of Afghanistan and partially and controversially Iraq. The War on Terrorism has seen controversies over civil liberties, accusations of torture, continued terrorist attacks and ongoing instability, violence, and military occupation. Violence continues in the Arab–Israeli conflict. Considerable concern remains about nuclear proliferation, especially in Iran and North Korea, and the availability of weapons of mass destruction to rogue groups.
  • Global warming. Climate scientists have postulated that the earth is currently undergoing significant anthropogenic (human-induced) global warming. [1] The resulting economic and ecological costs are hard to predict. Some scientists argue that human-induced global warming risks considerable losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services unless considerable sociopolitical changes are introduced, particularly in patterns of mass consumption and transportation. Others, however, doubt or deny human influence and counter-action were in effect significant, or question whether global warming will actually be a significant detriment to the planet.
  • Power in international relations. Issues surrounding the cultural, economic, and military dominance of the United States and its role in the world community have become even more pointed given its recent military activities, problematic relations with the United Nations, disagreement over several international treaties, and its economic policies with regard to globalization. Integration of the European Union and the African Union have proceeded.
  • Intellectual property. The increasing popularity of digital formats for entertainment media such as movies and music, and the ease of copying and distributing it via the Internet and peer-to-peer networks, has raised concerns in the media industry about copyright infringement. Much debate is proceeding about the proper bounds between protection of copyright, trademark and patent rights versus fair use and the public domain, where some argue that such laws have shifted greatly towards intellectual property owners and away from the interests of the general public in recent years, while others say that such legal change is needed to deal with a perceived threat of new technologies against the rights of authors and artists (or, as others put it, against the outmoded business models of the current entertainment industry). Domain name "cybersquatting" and access to patented drugs and generics to combat epidemics in third-world countries are other IP concerns.
  • Technology developments show no sign of ending. Communications and control technology continues to augment the intelligence of individual humans, collections of humans, and machines. Cultures are forced into the position of sharply defining humanity and determining boundaries on desire, thought, communication, behavior, and manufacturing. Some, notably Ray Kurzweil, have predicted that by the middle of the century there will be a Technological Singularity if artificial intelligence that outsmart humans is created. If these AIs then create even smarter AI's technological change could accelerate in ways that are impossible for us to foresee. (However, gradual and simultaneous use of AI technology to increase our own intelligence might prevent this from ever occurring.)
  • Fossil fuels are becoming scarce and more expensive, due to the escalating demand for petroleum ("oil") and oil-based products such as gasoline and kerosene, unmatched by production. Discovery of new oil fields has not been sufficient to sustain current levels of production, and some fear that the earth may be running out of economically viable oil, pressing for alternatives. As Agrofuel, one possible alternative, yields further hazards for the environment and endangers food security, debate is far from over.
  • NATO–Russia relations seem to remain strained as the "Western Alliance" and NATO square off with Russia and other nations over international policy and the future of the ex-Soviet sphere. An Eastern Europe Missile Defense Shield, military and social conflicts in former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus (particularly Georgia and Chechnya), fossil fuel infrastructures like the Nabucco pipeline and the future of nuclear arsenals are among the topics that have strained the relations between the two sides with eerie reminders reminiscent of the Cold War.


At the beginning of the century, the compact disc (CD) was the standard form of music media, but alternative forms of music media started to take it place such as music downloading and online streaming. A resurgence in sales of vinyl records in the 2010s was driven by record collectors and audiophiles who prefer the sound of analog vinyl records to digital recordings. In 2020, for the first time since the 1980s, vinyl surpassed CDs as the primary form of physical media for consumers of music, though both were still surpassed by online streaming, which by the 2020s became the predominant way that people consumed music. As of 2020, the most active music streaming services were YouTube (1 billion monthly music users, 20 million premium subscribers), Tencent Music (657 million monthly users, 42.7 million premium subscribers), 130 million premium subscribers), SoundCloud (175 million monthly users), Gaana (152 million monthly users), JioSaavn (104 million monthly users), Spotify (286 million monthly users), Pandora (60.9 million monthly users), and Apple Music (60 million subscribers).

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "21st century" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools