When I Dipt into the Future

I. What I am Trying to Do

As some readers will no doubt know, the title of this post has been taken from Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Locksley Hall.” Written in 1835, and first published seven years later, it recounts the musings of a rejected suitor. Wandering about, at one point he reminisces about the happy times when he “dipt into the future/far as human eye could see/Saw the vision of the world/And all the wonder that would be.” But just how did he do so? Metaphorically speaking, what kind of “bucket” did he bring to bear?

Tennyson’s unnamed protagonist was hardly the only one who ever tried his hand at this game. To mention a few outstanding names only, when the prophets Isaiah (and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and all the rest) tried to foresee what the future would bring, what methodology did they use? And how about the Greek Pythia? The Roman Sybil? Nostradamus? Jules Verne? H. G. Wells? Stephen Hawking? Ray Kurzweil? Yuval Harari?

By now, I have spent a year trying to answer these questions. In the hope, of course, of one day writing a book about them. One that will put the matter into perspective and explain, if not how good or bad the various methods are and how they may be improved, at any rate when and where they originated, how they developed, the principles on which they rested, and how they related to others of their kind. As a first step, I want to devote today’s post to providing a brief summary of some the most important methods people have been using.

II. Some Methods of Looking into the Future Explained

1. Shamanism. Shamanism is widespread all over the world, particularly among societies made up of hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists. Tribes without rulers, as I have called them in another book. Imported into modern cities, especially those of the so-called Third World, in many places it is active even today. At the root of shamanism is the assumption that, to look into the future, it is necessary first of all to leave the “normal” world by entering into an altered state of consciousness (ASC). The methods used to do so vary enormously from one culture to another. Among the most common are music (especially drumming), dancing, prayer, solitude, fasting, long vigils, sexual abstinence (or its opposite, engaging in orgies), breathing exercises, alcoholic drinks, hallucinogenic drugs, and many others.
In each of these cases, the objective is to embark the shaman on a mysterious voyage which will take him into a different country, realm, or reality. One in which the difference between present, past and future is eliminated and the last-named becomes an open book to read.

2. Prophecy. Also known as revelation, prophecy of the kind many of us are familiar with from the Old Testament in particular is little but a more institutionalized form of shamanism. The difference is that it is not the spirits but God Himself who supposedly reveals himself to the prophet and speaks through his mouth. Sometimes, as in the famous case of Jonah, he does so even against the prophet’s will. Whereas shamans were almost always illiterate prophets tended to spend their lives in societies where either they themselves or others were able to read and write. Often the outcome was a more detailed, more cohesive, idea of what the future might bring.

3. The interpretation of dreams. Like prophecy, the interpretation of dreams goes back at least as far as the Old Testament. It, too, rests on the assumption that, by entering upon an ASC, people will be enabled to see things which, in their waking state, they cannot.

As the Biblical story about Joseph shows, dreams were supposed to deliver their message not in simple form but with the aid of symbols. Lists of such symbols are known from ninth-century century BCE Assyria and continue to be published today. Note, however, that interpreting the dreams and relating them to future events was the task, not of the person who had them but of specialists who approached the problem in a cool, analytic manner. Before delivering their verdict, they often took the dreamer’s age, sex and personal circumstances into account.

4. The Greek oracles. Oracles were extremely popular in Greece and Rome. To use the example of Delphi as the most important one of all, it centered on the Pythia. She was a woman who, sitting on a tripod in a dark subterranean abode, came under the influence of foul gasses emanating from a split in the earth. Going into a sort of trance, the Pythia let forth confused gibberish which was supposed to contain the clue to the future. Next, a special college of priests interpreted her words. Oracles, in other words, resembled the interpretation of dreams in that prediction was divided into two stages, each of these was the responsibility of a different person or persons.

5. Necromancy. The best-known case of necromancy (from the Greek, nekros, dead, and manteia, divination) is the one described in the Old Testament. King Saul, wishing to learn the outcome of a battle which will take place on the next day, asks a witch to raise the spirit of the prophet Samuel from the dead. Whereupon Samuel tells Saul that, tomorrow, he and his sons too would be dead. Necromancy also occurs in Greek and Roman sources. Virgil in particular has Aeneas visit the underground abode of the dead where he is shown the future of Rome over a period of about a millennium, no less. The basic assumption underlying necromancy is that the dead, having crossed a certain threshold, know more than the living do. Even today in some cultures, procedures for raising the dead and consulting them concerning the future are commonplace.

6. Astrology. Along with shamanism, astrology is probably the oldest method for trying to look into the future. Its roots go as far back as Babylon around 3,000 BCE. That is why, in Imperial Rome, it was known as the “Chaldean” science. At the heart of astrology is the proposition, so obvious as to be self-evident, that the sun and moon (which, before Copernicus, were classified as planets) have a great and even decisive impact on life here on earth. Building on this, its students try to make that impact more specific by also taking into account the movements of the remaining planets, the fixed stars, and the relationships among all of these.

Even today, almost one third of Americans are said to believe in astrology. True or false, that does not change the fact that, unlike any of the above-mentioned methods, it is based not on any kind of ASC but on observation and calculation. Of the kind that is practiced, and can only be practiced, by perfectly sober people in full possession of their faculties. So mathematically-rooted was astrology that it acted as the midwife of astronomy, helping the latter become the queen of the sciences. This position it retained right until the onset of the scientific revolution during the seventeenth century.

7. Divination. As Cicero in his book on the topic makes clear, neither the Greeks nor the Romans ever took an important decision without trying to divine its consequences first. Both civilizations also maintained colleges of specialized priests who were in charge of the process. The most important types of divination were the flight of birds on one hand and examining the entrails of sacrificial animals on the other.

Like astrology, but unlike shamanism, prophecy, dreams, the oracles, and necromancy, divination did not depend on people becoming in any way ecstatic, mysteriously travelling from one world to another, and the like. Instead it was a “rational” art, coolly and methodically practiced by experts who had spent years studying it and perfecting it. Today the same is true for such techniques as numerology, Tarot-card reading, etc.

8. History (a). The idea that history is a linear, non-repeating, process that leads in a straight line from far in the past to far into the future is a relatively recent one. In this form it only made its appearance after 1750 or so. Before that date history was considered to be, either the province of “again and again” (as the historian Jacob Bronowski used to put it) or of regularly occurring cycles (as Plato and many others did). If the former, and assuming that the same circumstances always lead to the same effects, then the resulting patterns could be used to look into the future; such a view is very evident both in Thucydides and in Machiavelli. If the latter, then in principle at any rate the future could be predicted on the base of the point in the cycle that had been reached.

9. History (b). Both the idea that historical patterns repeat themselves and that history itself moves in cycles are alive and well. Starting with the Enlightenment, though, they have been joined by two other ideas both of which are often used for prediction. The first, which has since become easily the most common of all, was the discovery of “trends,” a term which was hardly used before 1880 or so but which has since grown into one of the buzzwords of our age. Trends made extrapolation possible. A good example is Moore’s Law which predicted that the speed of computer would double every eighteen months. Used by countless people, the characteristic hallmark of this method are the oft-repeated words, “already now.” “Already now” the situation is such and such; hence we can expect it to be even more so in the future.

The second method consisted of dialectics. The basic idea goes back to Heraclitus’ saying, around 500 BCE, that all things originate in agon, i.e. “strife.” In its modern form, the first to bring it to the fore was the nineteenth-century German philosopher Georg Hegel. In his hands it was applied to intellectual history above all. Next, it was taken over by Karl Marx. The latter, turning Hegel on his head, applied it to material factors. Both men believed that any historical trend must of necessity give rise to its opposite, thus making prediction possible in principle.

To retrace our steps, history (a) and (b) provides four different ways of looking into the future. Two of those, based on the idea that there is no change, are age-old; whereas the other two, assuming that change is the very stuff of which history is made, are of more recent vintage. What all have in common is that there is no room, in them, for ASC. Instead they are based, or are supposed to be based on sober study of recorded facts to which anyone has access.

10. Models. Modeling, like history, owes nothing to ASC. Essentially it consists of building models in order to understand how various factors that shape reality, past and hopefully future, are related and interact. The earliest, and for millennia almost the only, models were developed in order to represent the movements of the heavenly bodies. A very good example, which still survives, is the great astronomical clock of Strasbourg whose origins go back to the fourteenth century.

By definition, models are based on mathematical calculations. The more accurate the calculations, the better the model. But not all mathematical attempts to understand the world have been translated into nuts and bolts. Most remained on paper in the form of algorithms. Following the publication of Newton’s Principia Mathematica in 1687 the popularity of models of this kind increased. Applied to the physical world around us, currently they represent the most sophisticated, often almost the only, method for looking into the future we have. Some go so far as to predict developments that will take place in millions and even billions of years.

Attempts to extend mathematical modelling of the future from astronomy and physics to social life go back to the Renaissance when the first firms specializing in insurance were created. Assisted by the establishment of statistical bureaus from about 1800, their use increased during the second half of the nineteenth century in particular. The introduction of computers, which made possible the procession of vast bodies of data at enormous speed, caused reliance on them to grow exponentially. This has now been taken to the point where anyone who does not use, or pretend to use, computers for prediction is likely to be regarded as a simpleton.

III. Some Tentative Concluding Comments

To misquote Tennyson, methods for looking into the future go far back as human eye can see. Probably there never has been, nor ever will be, a society which did not have them or tried to devise them as best it could. Broadly speaking, methods for looking into the future may be divided into two kinds. The first relies on ASC and focuses on applying a variety of methods for entering upon those states. The second is based, or is supposed to be based, on rational, often mathematical, analysis and calculation. Some methods, such as the interpretation of dreams and oracles, separate the person who experiences an ASC from the one who explains her or his visions and utterances. By so doing they combine them.

The two basic methods have always existed side by side. However, with the advent of the scientific revolution their relative importance changed. Previously even educated people—often enough, the best-educated people—put their trust in ASC in its various forms. Not so in the centuries since 1700 or so when they were pushed into the margins, so to speak.

However, there is no proof that even the most “rational” methods, used with or without the aid of computers, obtain better results than the rest. Generally speaking, the less grounded in physics the future we are trying to foresee the more true this is. Furthermore, and presumably because visions have greater emotional appeal than equations, the greater the stress on individuals and societies the more likely they are to revert to ASC.

The topic is enormous in size, fascinating, and very difficult. Which is why, at this point, this is all I have to say about the topic.

A Visit to Warsaw

I have been to Warsaw before. This was in the spring of 1989, just weeks before the first free elections that put an end to Communism in Poland. And twenty-two years after Poland had broken diplomatic relations with Israel, which meant that my colleagues and I were the first Israeli delegation to visit the country in all those years.

At the time Warsaw was a weird place. Clean and safe, or so we were told. Built almost entirely of bare concrete, painted exclusively in gray, a sea of unintentional brutalism gone mad. And with hardly any colored signs to relieve the depressing monotony. People living on $ 20 a month. People queuing in front of small kiosks to buy various kinds of preserved fruit, apparently the only food that was freely available. Every corner occupied by old women holding out small transparent plastic bags with a single tomato or cucumber inside. Every street swarming with black market dealers trying to con you as they changed your dollars into zloti.

Very little traffic, consisting almost entirely of locally-produced, antiquated Fiat (Polski) cars on the streets. A hotel with lousy food and no running hot water (when I called reception to tell them of the problem, they sent up a waiter with a glass containing it). Big “magazines” staffed by lazy saleswomen who spoke nothing but Polish and refused to get up if you were looking for something. Returning home, people asked me what Warsaw was like. I used to tell them it was a place where you spent a week looking for a present for an eight-year old—but could not find any.

Twenty-eight years later Warsaw is still clean—as my wife and I could see with our own eyes—and quite safe—as we were told. In other ways, though, such is the change as to merit just one description: stunning. The kiosks, the old ladies, the black market dealers, and the antiquated cars are gone. While traffic is as heavy as in any Western city drivers are, if anything more polite. People are very well dressed. Public utilities gleam with cleanliness. Color is everywhere. Shops, many of them first class (and, for those of you who are contemplating a trip, very cheap indeed) are bursting with the best imaginable merchandise: clothing shoes, leatherware, cosmetics, electronic appliances, what have you. Any number of excellent restaurants serving every imaginable kind of food. Some truly excellent museums. An extremely lively cultural scene. To be sure, compared with London or Paris Warsaw remains quite poor; the minimum wage is about 400 Euro per month. But it has gone a long, long way towards catching up.

All this is interesting, but it is not what I want to talk about today. The reason I went to Warsaw was because the Polish Staff College asked me to give some talks. I readily agreed, and so I found myself lecturing to 40-50 officers, most of them colonels (on their way to becoming generals) and lieutenant-colonels with the odd major thrown in. Average age about 35-50. As agreed, the lectures were based on my book, More on War. The course was a success and the members of the audience, most of whom spoke very good English, seemed very interested. They kept asking questions, which is always a good sign.

Again, though, this is not what I want to write about. What I do want to write about as the fact that, for the first time in God knows how many years, I found myself in a class that did not include any women. Having asked, I was told that the Polish military, which like other Western ones consists entirely of volunteers, does in fact take women; they are, however, mostly limited to ancillary tasks such as medicine, logistics, administration, etc. In the higher ranks there are hardly any women at all. One outcome being that, unlike most Western militaries, the Polish one has no difficulty attracting as many young men as it needs.

Finding myself in this unaccustomed situation, at first I kept opening my talks by saying, “ladies and gentlemen.” As the week went on, though, I discovered that not having females around has its advantages. I found myself able to mention some sensitive, but serious and interesting and important questions; and do so, what is more, without having to follow the obligatory wisdom whereby women are no different from men and can and should imitate the latter in everything. Or having to worry about some crybully getting “insulted” and running off to admin to make a tearful complaint.

Briefly, the evil winds blowing from Brussels did not make their effect felt. Political correctness did not reign. I did not have to worry about anyone feeling “embarrassed” by what I said. Though I only spent five mornings lecturing, the experience of liberation was overwhelming. What a blessing, not having to constantly look over one’s shoulder! All, paradoxically, in the one institution—the military—which is normally considered the most hierarchical and the least open to freedom of thought.

Shame on those who have brought us all to this point. However, I am happy to say that the Director of the College has asked me to come back next year. Health permitting, I most certainly will.


The cat is out of the bag: the U.S is in decline. If, perhaps, not yet in absolute terms—economic and demographic growth still continue—then at any rate relative to the rest of the world. Why this is so, and when the decline got under way, is moot. Perhaps the turning point was 1945 when 140 million Americans, forming less than six percent of the world’s population, producing fifty percent of the world’s GDP, and monopolizing nuclear weapons as well as their delivery vehicles, reached what in retrospect appears to have been the peak of their power. Perhaps 1949, when the Soviet Union tested its first nuke and started working towards parity in this respect, a situation it finally attained during the 1960s. Perhaps 1965, when the effects of de-industrialization first began to make themselves felt. Perhaps 1971, when vast balance of payment and budget deficits (which have only got worse since) forced Nixon to take the dollar off gold. Perhaps 1975, when the various wars in Indochina (Vietnam and Cambodia) ended in defeat, demonstrating the limitations of U.S military power. Perhaps 2000, when Vladimir Putin started turning his near moribund country around and when China, growing rapidly, first began to emerge as a serious competitor. Perhaps, perhaps.
Looking back, American reactions to the process have varied. Kennedy, building on Eisenhower’s Domino Theory, worried that America might be losing the Cold War. In response he initiated an enormous arms buildup and started the war in Vietnam which Johnson continued. Nixon, with Kissinger’s help, sought détente as well as a closer relationship with China. Carter seemed to resign himself to becoming number two; whereas Reagan, by way of a reaction to him, engaged in an even larger (or, at any rate, more expensive) arms buildup. To show that the US had overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome,” he even invaded Grenada. Bush Sr. invaded Panama and defeated Iraq, and Bush Jr. invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. All, basically, to no avail.
Next, Barak Obama. The last word on his presidency has certainly not yet been written. Looking back, though, he appears to have been one of the sanest men to inhabit the White House during the last few decades. Aware of his immediate predecessor’s military failures, and even more so of the American people’s reluctance to continue shedding their blood and treasure in hopeless wars, basically he went back to the Nixon-Kissinger approach. As, for example, by trying to engage China in a vast economic web (the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership) so designed as to leave many of the cards in America’s hands. As by signing an agreement with Iran so as to avoid the need for what might very well have turned into another disastrous war. And as by cutting the defense budget so as to reduce the deficit, albeit only by a little. His reward? To be accused of short-sightedness, weakness, cowardice, and what not.
Next, Donald Trump. Kennedy, older readers will recall, rode to power on Eisenhower’s supposed weakness. Substituting Obama’s name for Eisenhower’s, Trump did the same. Personally I was ready to give him the benefit of doubt; see Jakobsen’s article, “To Trump or Not to Trump,” on this blog, 23 March 2017. Now that Trump’s own Secretary of State has been calling him a “moron,” though, all argument seems to be at the end. In less than a year Trump has failed to improve relations with Russia as he promised to do. He has also alienated his European allies, Germany above all, while at the same time pushing relations with North Korea and Iran to the point where a nuclear war no longer looks utterly impossible. All against the background of a budget deficit that is growing day by day; causing every American man, woman and child to owe him- or herself $ 60,000 or so.
Any society needs heroes. There used to be a time when America had them. Davy Crockett, who could swallow a Nigger whole if you buttered his head and pinned his ears back. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Co. John Wayne, who fought first bad Indians and then even worse Communists. Rambo, who fought and killed anyone who showed himself for miles around. Rocky, who at one point in his career engaged and defeated his Soviet opposite number in a sort of global boxing match.
Meanwhile the U.S went on losing one war after another—see on this my book, Pussycats. The outcome was to make these and other male heroes lose any credibility they had ever had. So what to do? Enter the women. Wonderwoman I (Lynda Carter) who, back in the 1970s, beat the stuffing out of her wicked male enemies. Xena the Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless) who, armed with a sort of wonder ring she alone possessed, did the same during the 1990s.Wonderwoman II (Gal Gadot) who took over the role in 2016 and killed countless ferocious enemies of civilization with her bare hands. And these are just four out of dozens who made their appearance in the movies and on TV; to say nothing of any number of video- and computer games.
All these ladies have this in common that they are poor actresses (none could have played a Shakespearian heroine, not even for a zillion bucks; to be fair, though, the same applies to their male opposite numbers). Perhaps to compensate for this fact, all “fight” while dressed in some sort of outlandish swimsuit. One which, had it been real, would have directed their enemies’ weapons straight between their oh-so desirable breasts. As to the movies and TV series, what they have in common is that they are simply attempts to save America’s lost honor.
And the fact that they fit the IQ of a nine year old, of course.

Guest Article: The View from Olympus: The North Korean Threat to China

By William S. Lind

America’s fixation on the threat from North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons evinces the usual American dive into the weeds.  If we instead stand back a bit and look at the strategic picture, we quickly see that the North Korean threat to China is far greater than its threat to us.

North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the United States.  However, if North Korea retains its nuclear weapons, it is likely to lead South Korea, Japan, and possibly Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam to go nuclear themselves.  From the Chinese perspective, that would be a strategic catastrophe. 

China has never sought world domination, nor is it likely to do so.  Its distaste for barbarians, who include everyone not Chinese, is such that it wants to maintain its distance from them.  However, maintaining that distance requires a buffer zone around China, which historically China has sought and is seeking again now.

At present, the main obstacle to creating that buffer zone of semi-independent client states is the United States.  That is a strategic blunder on our part.  Such a buffer zone is no threat to the U.S. or to its vital interests.

However, China knows American power is waning and the American people are tired of meaningless wars on the other side of the world.  Despite America, China’s influence on the states in her proximity is rising.  She can afford to be patient.

In contrast, if the states on China’s periphery get nuclear weapons, her quest to dominate them is permanently blocked.  An American presence is no longer required to balk her ambitions.  Even weak states such as Vietnam can stop her cold if they have nukes.  Her border states, instead of serving as a buffer, become dangerous threats sitting right on her frontiers.  Even if she should defeat one of them, the damage she would suffer in a nuclear exchange would knock her out of the ranks of the great powers and might cause her to come apart internally, which is the Chinese leadership’s greatest fear because it has so often happened throughout her history. 

President Trump will soon be visiting China.  If he and those around him ask the all-important question, “What would Bismarck do?”, they should be able to motivate China to finally do what is necessary with North Korea, namely give it an offer it cannot refuse.

The script runs roughly like this.  President Trump makes the case about the need to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program.  Instead of threatening trade or other measures if China refuses, he simply says, “If North Korea retains its nukes and delivery systems, we can no longer advise our allies in Asia not to go nuclear.  We will of course regret such nuclear proliferation, but we will also understand why they have to develop their own nuclear weapons.  In some cases, we may find it necessary to assist them with delivery systems such as missile-equipped submarines.  Of course, nuclear weapons in the hands of our allies are not a threat to the United States.”  He need not add that they will be a threat to China.

Nation’s foreign policies are not motivated by other nation’s needs.  Beijing does not care about the threat North Korean nukes pose to the U.S.  But nations are motivated by their own interests, and if we put North Korea’s nukes in this context, the context of the strategic threat reactions to them pose to China, that is a different kettle of fish.

In turn, we need to remember Bismarck’s dictum that politics is the art of the possible.  North Korea is unlikely to give up all its nuclear weapons.  However, at the demand of Beijing, Pyongyang can probably be brought to limiting their number and the range of their delivery systems.  Beijing could also offer to put an anti-missile system such as the Russians’ S-400 on North Korea’s border to shoot down any South Korean first strike.  North Korea could still use its few nukes to deter an American first strike, even if they could not reach beyond South Korea.

Are the Pentagon, State Department, and White House capable of Bismarckian Realpolitik? President Trump’s own instincts lead him that way.  Whether his administration can follow is open to doubt.

Back to the Burqa?

As I noted last week, we keep reading and hearing of rape. Almost always it is men who do it to women, rarely the opposite. There are three reasons for this, all of them important. First, as the French sage Denis Diderot (1713-84) once wrote and the absence of male brothels indicates, perhaps the most important difference between men and women is the formers’ greater ability to enjoy the embraces of strangers. Second, there is the overall difference in physical strength. In lower body it is as five to three; in upper body, as two to one. Third, there is the obvious anatomical difference between the genitalia of people of both sexes. For a woman to rape a man is almost impossible; even if she can overcome him in a hand to hand struggle, or else by threatening him weapon in hand, when the critical moment arrives his apparatus may very well not function.

The three factors are linked. Women’s physiology puts them at risk of becoming pregnant and also makes them more vulnerable to STD. As a result, throughout history they have had more to lose from casual intercourse than men did. True, the introduction of modern contraceptives has gone a considerable way to alleviate these problems. But this does not change the fact that women, having weaker bodies overall, still have more to fear in one-on-one encounters where most sex takes place.

The difference in strength means that, other things equal and except under rather unusual circumstances, the only ones who can save women from being raped by men are other men. Occasional suggestions, put forward by feminists and others, that women should take self-defense classes or carry some kind of weapons from pepper spray upwards tend to be not only useless but counterproductive. Men, after all, can learn judo and the use weapons at least as well as women can. That is why chances are that, if women take up these suggestions, they will only add physical injury to the unpleasantness, humiliation, and psychological trauma that being raped entails.

Rebus sic stantibus—and I do not see that they are going to change any time soon—the only remaining question is: Which men should do the protecting, and what forms should the latter assume? Note that, during the first ninety-something percent of their existence on earth and in many places until very recently, humans have lived in tribes. One outstanding characteristic of tribal life is the absence of a strong, centrally-run, police force able and willing to deal with crimes of every kind. All the more so, of course, in case the tribe in question is nomadic as most were for a long, long time. Rather, should any kind of crime be committed, it is the victim and his or her relatives who are expected to deal with it by demanding revenge and inflicting retaliation.

Focusing on rape, an excellent example of the way these things worked is provided by the book of Genesis (34.1-31). “And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Schechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her… And it came to pass… that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each men his sword and came upon the city boldly and slew all the males,” Schechem and Hamor included. Taken to task by Jacob their father, who feared the possible consequences, the two retorted: “Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?”

With the shift to more settled societies, things gradually changed. The more hierarchical, strongly governed and policed a community, the greater the pressure on women’s male relatives not to resort to self-justice but leave the task of apprehending, judging and punishing the perpetrator to the authorities. However, progress in this direction tended to be slow. As late as the nineteenth century European women, for fear of being harassed and attacked, were strongly advised not to travel on their own. By one story, those of them who did so by rail were told to put needles in their mouths to prevent strangers from kissing them while the train was passing through dark tunnels. The higher women’s own social rank and that of their relatives, the more true this was. In less developed countries women who travelled often disguised themselves as men, as the British explorer Gertrude Bell did.

Nor is the change by any means complete even today. In her 1998 book, Desert Flower, former supermodel and U.N special ambassador Waris Dirie recounts how, during her youth in her native Somalia, she was threatened with sexual assault. In response, her father—the same, incidentally, who insisted that she should be circumcised—went about armed with a knife. As, on pain of his honor and following a centuries- if not millennia-old tradition, he was supposed to do. Two decades later there still is no shortage of countries where powerful but thoroughly disciplined (disciplined, also in the sense that their members will not themselves turn into rapists) police forces do not exist. By default, it is women’s male relatives who are entrusted with the task of protecting them.

The protection women demand, however, will come at a price. To obtain it a woman must, as far as possible, be sequestered and kept within the home. Even if that means she cannot work or go to school. If she goes out nevertheless she must not only be chaperoned but dressed in such a way as to conceal her, as far as possible, from prying male eyes. Her freedom to communicate with the opposite sex must also be limited—because, unless it is, her male relatives, trying to save her from being raped, are going to get a knife between their ribs or a bullet into their backs. These facts go a long way to explain, and to some extent justify, the way Islamic societies, many of which remain tribal in spite of the recent move towards urbanization, treat their womenfolk. Including, among other things, the recently lifted Saudi ban on driving.

And the future? Starting in the late eighteenth century when the first modern police forces were set up in countries such as France, there has been a strong trend to abolish the right to self-defense. To the point that, if one catches a burglar and injures him during the subsequent struggle, one may well end up by being prosecuted.

There is, however, no guarantee that the trend will continue. Take Europe. Owing to a combination of modernity and a dense population, it has long been perhaps the most strongly-policed continent of all. Now, however, the presence of large numbers of immigrants has created enclaves where the police is afraid to go. The enclaves are inhabited by populations whose ideas concerning what is and is not allowable, is and is not desirable, in relations between men and women differ sharply from those of the native majority.

Even in Germany, the country which a century ago gave rise to the so-called FKP (Freie Korper Kultur, aka nudism), that movement is now on the retreat. As I myself, having visited the lakes of Potsdam every year over the last eighteen years, can testify. There was a time when many people went swimming naked; now it is mostly old people who do. And they seem to be dying out. Meanwhile more and more parents are warning their daughters to avoid going out at night, visit dark and lonely places, and the like. With good reason, let me add. Separate swimming classes, separate taxis, and separate hotel floors are gaining in popularity. Social change is driving fear of rape, and fear of rape is driving social change.

How far these changes will go, and where they will lead, no one knows. Back to the burqa, perhaps? If so, don’t be surprised.