Hegemonies Lost?

Ricky Gervais (with the assistance of the too seldom mentioned Stephen Merchant) is making a foray into the world of podcasting. The Ricky Gervais Show podcast, though there’s only one episode to judge from so far, might just be the best podcast ever. It’s certainly the funniest, and it might also be the smartest. The effortlessness with which Gervais and Merchant have mastered another medium–they’re smart without being pretentious, sharp without being cruel, loose without being aimless, and just unspeakably funny–evoked for me an alternate (and vastly preferable) world where Ricky Gervais and not Howard Stern is the “King of All Media.” Forgive me my utopian reverie.

In a very different podcast (also originating from England), the BBC World Service‘s Documentary Archive podcast is just beginning a series called “Building Beijing.” It’s an examination of the astonishing surge of building that’s underway in Beijing, driven in part by the 2008 Olympics that will be held there. I learned that one-third of the world’s concrete production and half of its steel production is being consumed by construction in Beijing, that there was more construction in Beijing in the last year than there was on the entire continent of Europe over the last three years, and that Beijing is expanding the capacity of its airport from 36 million passengers per year to 66 million passengers per year by adding a terminal building that will be more than 2 miles long. It struck me that, for good or bad, China will have much more to say about what will happen in the world over the next century or two than the United States, Europe, or anyone else.

3 Replies to “Hegemonies Lost?”

  1. About China, you bet. The upcoming Olympics hardly explains most of it, either. And, based on the example of our own society, it seems only very well-established, fully industrialized cultures show veins of the eco-conscious guilt we’ve observed here in the past 3-4 decades. Right now, in terms of China’s drain on planetary resources, it’s just a free-for-all.

  2. Yeah, they mentioned some of those same points. Though the Olympics provide a nice focus for the article, most of the construction isn’t being driven by them. For instance, they expect 90% of the traffic going through the Beijing airport to come from within China.

    And the evironmental issues are enormous. There are rumors that the government may impose a statutory cap on Beijing’s population at 18 million, but others point out that the city will run out of usable water before that figure is reached. Among that, the smog, and the sprawl, Beijing sounds like the Asian version of Los Angeles, just larger and less liveable.

  3. My favorite Neal Stephenson book, _The Diamond Age_, is set in a future in which China is the dominant power. It was published ten years ago. But it’s not great literature, just good science fiction.

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