Power Dynamics

A Numerical Paradox

If we want to strike a sensible balance between individual freedom, self-realisation, social cohesion, democracy and good community relations, we should be aware these noble aims can only coexist and thrive in optimal socio-environmental conditions that have stood the test of time. For too long we have worshipped the abstract world of economics rather than the concrete world of ecology that ultimately determines our real quality of life. If history has taught us anything, it should be that all predatory empires come to an end sooner or later and only those civilisations that live within their means survive more than a few generations. The American dream, on which the current hyperconsumption model is based, may well prove to be one the shortest-lived empires in global history, lasting little more than century.

I've corresponded with a friend about the biggest paradox facing humanity, scarcity and numbers. While well informed and sincere, he insists that latter-day Malthusianism is ideologically driven by misanthropy. For the ruling elite we are just numbers of human resources who can be manipulated as workers, soldiers, managers or consumers. We all know the feeling after travelling in the overcrowded public transport system of a bustling metropolis, only to witness on a quiet break in the country vast expanses of greenbelt serving as little more than the private playground of the new aristocracy escaping the social pressure cooker we call a city. We may then contrast the conspicuous waste of food in wealthy countries reliant on imports to sustain their standard of living with the near famine conditions of much of the world's poor still reliant on local produce. If only these resources were shared more equitably, we could all live happily ever after. I don't know how many times I've heard or read that the world produces four times the food its population needs, a figure pulled out of the hat way back in the early 70s. As most of us have long ceased to have any direct involvement in the harvesting or production of the goods we consume, our whole concepts of abundance and scarcity are manufactured. In post-industrial Britain few of us can remember the time when small close-knit communities would provide most of life's essentials. Such attempts to recreate a self-reliant past are parodied in TV sitcoms like the Good Life of the early 70s or dismissed as the pipe dreams of New Age communities. Some experiments in ideal conditions have met with some success. The Findhorn community near Inverness, Scotland, comes to mind, but that's in a relatively sparsely populated region that is surprisingly fertile for its latitude, but unpopular owing to Scotland renowned dreich weather. The whole of the UK population would not survive if everyone joined a similar commune.

Instead we rely on technology and trade to feed over sixty million UK residents, now projected to rise to over 75 million by 2050 as per capita oil, gas, coal and potable water resources dwindle. This means not only the widespread use of petrochemical to boost agricultural yield, but huge economies of scale. Last year nearly a billion animals, mainly chickens and turkeys, were slaughtered to meet the country's insatiable demand for meat, most of it sold through a handful of supermarket chains. Although the pastures of much of Scotland, Wales and Northern England are dotted with characteristic sheep, most food-grade livestock is raised in buildings, transported to large abattoirs possibly over 100 miles away for slaughter, prepared and sold in bulk to large retail chains. Without refrigeration and/or preservatives such a food distribution would be impossible and we'd have to eat produce originating from a relatively small radius with the exception of low-volume non-perishables such as spices.

Anyone Been To Inner London Lately?

Take the 266 bus from Acton all the way to Cricklewood as I had to the other day owing to a strike by low-paid Silverlink workers (London's inner city overground rail network). It took over an hour to travel 8 miles (13km). Not only was the bus laden with an underclass recently imported from Eastern Europe and various Asian locales, the streets were lined with newcomers, many towing suitcases, and a never-ending parade of Internet cafés, pawn shops, betting shops, pubs, mobile phone shops and buffet bars, in short more reminiscent of a bustling third world metropolis and a society in moral decay than the cultural and economic hub of the civilised world. One cannot escape a foreboding sense of ephemerality, with the social fabric teetering on the brink of civil war. Contrast this reality with recent events held in London's Earls Court Exhibition Centre urging Brits to buy property to Spain, Bulgaria, Cyprus and even Berlin and the globalist tendency to break up traditional communities becomes apparent. What is obvious is the near total absence of wishful-thinking Guardian and Independent readers on London buses outside some trendy central districts. Sadly most just vote with their feet, wallets or automobiles, while subconsciously denying the incipient disaster, framing it in media-filtered terms of global warming or blaming foreign dictators. If so many Poles are unemployed at home and urged to migrate to the UK, might it be because in the post-Stalinist era foreign multinationals like Tesco have moved in to take control of the labour market. Yet those who deny the disastrous socio-environmental effects of overcrowding are as myopic (or short-sighted as non-Guardian readers might prefer) as those who choose to deny the human role in triggering climate change.

Today's shrink-wrapped Independent leads on the Italian government's purported intolerance for immigrants, discretely slurring even the mildest critics of globalisation as xenophobes. Ironically the countries we associate most with tolerance, such as Sweden or Finland, are those that attract fewer desperate migrants and have more available land and resources, while former bastions of open-door immigration like the Netherlands and Denmark have seen a huge backlash from their native populations. Contrary to popular misconceptions the debate is not between freedom of movement and harsh immigration controls, but between market-driven driven migration, as favoured by neoliberals, and sustainable communities able to control their own destiny within limits imposed by nature and non-destructive technology. You cannot have it both ways by letting big business exploit cheap labour and letting ordinary citizens have a say in the country's migration policy. No-one can deny the untold human suffering and human rights abuses all over the planet from Iraq, to China, the US, Nigeria to humble old Blighty. Yet the neoliberal media entertains us with the illusion that only foreign politicians are to blame and encouraging more overpopulation and more overconsumption is the answer rather than the problem. With around the same surface area and population as the UK, Italy has witnessed a huge influx of newcomers and is simply unable to cope with the inevitable structural and social difficulties that result from migratory pressure caused by a failed economic model. If the Balkans had not been destabilised, if Eastern European economies had not been taken over by Western multinationals, if oil-rich Middle Eastern countries were in control of their own destiny, if Africans could reap the benefits of their own resources and be left to develop within the constraints of home-grown technology, none of these migratory pressures would exist. A mass exodus from the world's trouble spots is a direct result of the globalist policies that the neoliberal media promote in an endless self-reinforcing cycle of social and cultural transformation.

One wonders where Independent editorial writers and other advocates of massive economically driven immigration live. On a parallel planet would seem a good answer, but more realistically they live in a Bohemian bubble where wealth generated largely by the propaganda industry meets a plentiful supply of cheap labour. If you earn £200K per annum, as many in the media business do and most neoliberal pundits get much more, and can afford the mortgage on your four bedroom townhouse, then the availability of cheap labour brings many benefits in the short term. Housemaids, child-minders plumbers, gardeners, painter-decorators, general handymen, hairdressers, massageuses and purveyors of sexual services, once offering their services at a premium are now very easy to recruit and replace at the drop of hat. They moneyed classes enjoy eating out and discussing their media projects amidst a vibrant café culture, staffed predominantly by new immigrants. This is what economists mean by a flexible labour market. Of course, it is absolutely true that many indigenous Brits are either unwilling or simply unable to perform these tasks, but this is largely because a culture of instant gratification has persuaded them that they should aspire to cushy careers rather than real jobs where they might get their hands dirty.

The most absurd argument that the Independent has used to justify the government's immigration policy is that an ageing population needs more carers and presumably young British workers are simply too busy to take time out of their new media careers to care for their elderly relatives. As life expectancy is almost the same in the UK and Poland, but lower than in Italy, France, Spain or Greece, one wonders who is going to look after elderly Poles and Ukrainians, if their offspring are busy serving work-shy, disabled and ageing Brits.

Carrying Capacity

No rationally minded empiricist (and I see no conflict between empiricism and rationalism) would deny a finite planet imposes limits on growth. Just in case you fantasise colonising Mars or some more hospitable earth-like planet in a distant solar system, please bear in mind the huge logistical problems in taming an environment millions of miles or scores of light years away from our home planet, something that may take millennia even when we acquire the technology. For the time being we'll have to make do with planet earth whose human carrying capacity depends largely on two factors, our per capita consumption and diligent use of technology to reduce our impact on the ecosystem that provides us with vital oxygen, water and nutrients. Currently we rely on a technocratic elite, whether under state or corporate auspices, to provide the majority of the globe's inhabitants with sustenance. Whether you're a Chinese factory worker or a French office worker, you use high-tech tools you could not conceivably make on your own and act as one small cog in much more complex industrial machine, even where the purpose of your job is clear. You might know how to assemble the components of your tools, but extracting and processing the raw materials is beyond the means of most of us. To co-ordinate numerous micro-specialisations and achieve sufficient economies of scale, we need a large and disciplined organisation, able to delegate responsibility for implementation of its business objects to lesser minions. Suppose a large retail chains wishes to offer European consumers affordable mp3 players, to cut costs it outsources production to a Chinese manufacturer, who in turn decides how to maximise its competitive edge over European rivals. In this case the European retail chain merely dictates the price and lets the Chinese manufacturer decide how to deliver the desired goods at the requested prices. Thanks to the logic of globalised trade, if the Chinese manufacturer raises prices to pay its workers better, the European buyer can simply source the same products elsewhere. Logically we may also argue that if the Chinese workers earned more, they'd be able to buy more consumer products, but then if the price of consumer products rose beyond a certain level in the opulent world workers would buy less affecting something we call consumer confidence. More important it is unlikely that all the raw materials required for the budget mp3 players (petroleum, silicon and aluminium) could be sourced from China alone.

If your idea of utopia is based on the more affluent neighbourhoods of the USA's sprawling suburbs with their double or triple garages, water sprinklers and easy access to large road network connecting residents to the centres of work, leisure and shopping, the world has almost certainly long surpassed its medium term carrying capacity. Just consider the futility of driving twenty miles from a plush gated neighbourhood to an office building for the sole purpose of writing reports and attending meetings whose concrete purpose few participants comprehend. The only reason these tasks are not conducted remotely is the crucial role of people management in the modern corporate bureaucracy. If people worked from home, they might not only lack motivation, but might start to unleash the kind of creativity that corporate control freaks can ill-afford. They need workers to be fine-tuned to a hive mentality and all, metaphorically, bat for the same team, hence the importance of bonding rituals such as drinks after work on Fridays, conferences or weekend breaks. Only a fortunate few highly skilled freelancers can choose for which masters to serve and on what terms and even they have travel far and wide to socialise with their corporate clients. While short-term fixes such as tele-working with the wonders of broadband and Web cams, may save some fuel, the Suburban lifestyle still requires us to travel long distances to procure food, clothes and other wares, drop the kids at numerous activities and participate in a leisure culture, the alternative often being exclusion from real flesh and blood social life. The incessant drive to suburban bliss in much of the prosperous world has not only fractured traditional communities, but driven millions to depression as they feel unable to compete on new terms dictated by media role models. A quick tour of many lower middle class housing estates in the UK soon reveals the stark reality that most residents are engaged in some form of virtual reality with home cinemas, game consoles, Internet access to gaming and gambling sites or even just busy bidding or selling on ebay. When it comes to actually replenishing supplies, off we go to the nearest retail chain. When life at home gets the better of us, we might splash out on some form of mass-marketed entertainment. Dunfermline, the ancient seat of the Scottish Royal Family with a proud history, now offers its residents little more than four large supermarkets (two Asda outlets, one Tesco and a smaller Somerfield) and a new retail park with an Odeon multiplex cinema, fitness centre, bowling alley, bingo hall and the usual array of chain restaurants. The town has no greengrocers and only one butcher's. If you don't like mass-marketed fake individualism, you can either migrate to remote rural retreats relatively untouched by corporate Gleichschaltung or as it is known today, cultural harmonisation, or return to the cosmopolitan urban heartlands long abandoned by the indigenous working classes, but where there is usually a critical mass of human beings interested in some form of alternative lifestyle and where ironically it is still possible to live a varied life away from the country's dominant cultural institution, TV. However, only a select few can afford the exorbitantly priced properties in the gentrified inner urban locales of London, Manchester, Edinburgh or even humble Cardiff, leaving only substandard crowded accommodation for those unable or unwilling to commute.

Richard Heinberg ) has considered the changes required to reduce aggregate human consumption while saving as many lives as possible. While mainstream politicians may pay lip-service to the challenges presented by climate change or rising crude oil prices, they are completely incapable of considering any alternative to the dominant mantra of our times, the need for constant economic growth and greater globalisation. Critics of economic migration and outsourcing are routinely lambasted as reactionary isolationists with little respect for the world's poor or wonders of ethnic diversity. That mass migration at historically unprecedented levels destroys genuine cultural differences and exacerbates social inequality to the detriment of the poorest and to the benefit of the moneyed professional classes hardly occurs to many wishful-thinking Independent or Guardian readers, as they contemplate ads for a Volvo people carrier or a cheap European city break. Waste-reducing initiatives are seen as dialogues between positive-thinking citizens and large corporate institutions. We may asked to consider whether Tesco should reduce packaging, charge for plastic bags or sell sturdy reusable carrier bags, but not whether we should rely on multinational grocery chains for life's essentials. We entrust our future in distant experts whose importance only large corporate or state media outlets may determine. Instead to power down, we need to rethink the whole concept of progress by relocalising agriculture, production and distribution. Rather than appealing the Tescos and Walmarts of the world to source more of their produce from local providers, we should switch to an alternative network of local independent farmers, retailers and manufacturers to drastically cut food miles and plan for a more sustainable future, but in large cities like London such reasonable solutions would only be feasible with radical depopulation. Instead the powers that be seem hell-bent on permitting the construction of three million more homes in the Southeast of England, already Europe's least sustainable province in terms of fending for itself.

Get a Grip on Reality

Before you read another Independent shock horror story about the imminent deportation of a small number of Zimbabwean asylum seekers, consider the real victims of globalised insanity. Zimbabwe is a nation founded, moulded and thoroughly exploited by British colonialists. When the country finally gained independence and majority rule in 1980, 7 million people could be fed by a self-sufficient farming and the proceeds of tobacco plantations and minerals. 27 years later with around 13 million inhabitants, the flight of many white-owned businesses, previously the country's prime source of the hard cash it needed to import technology only available abroad, and vast tracts of former farm land laid barren owing to the effects of soil erosion and climate change. The British media, including the liberal lefties, conveniently blames Robert Mugabe and mismanagement of land reform. The harsh reality on the ground is that any government that doesn't toe a line dictated by the IMF and the the World Bank will, unless it has vast reserves of natural resources like oil or uranium and masters the technology to exploit them, be compelled to power down, and in the case of most so-called developing countries with a rapidly rising population, have to cope with rapidly declining per capita resources. Thus is just two decades Zimbabwe has transitioned from a net food exporter to a net importer. Had its population remained stable, land could have been redistributed more equitably and bought itself time to develop the technological infrastructure required for long -term sustainability, but the myth of material progress divorced from environmental reality, ironically shared by Marxists and neoliberal capitalists alike, has condemned the country to dependence on international trade. However, Zimbabwe's neighbours have profound structural problems of their own. The US and South Africa have long funded civil wars in Mozambique and Angola. Zambia has swallowed a bitter IMF-administered pill condemning much of population to starvation conditions with a dramatically lower population growth estimates, and South Africa with 40% of its working age population jobless has struggled to accommodate refugees from the rest of the Africa. Unlike the peoples of the British Isles in the late 18th century Zimbabweans have nowhere else to go, so why not accommodate them all in London, England. In my 1999 visit I was rather taken aback, after spending a couple of weeks in South Africa, to meet so many well-educated unemployed Zimbabweans. Despite horror stories of Mugabe's autocratic rule, the country's education system resembled that found 1950s Britain with little attention devoted to literacy in either Shona or Sindebele and plenty to English-medium basic education, reading, writing and arithmetic. Despite all the Pan-African rhetoric, the new African ruling elite has by and large attempted to emulate the model of development pioneered by their former colonial occupiers, which is hardly surprising as most graduated in European or American universities. You have cars, we want cars. You have home cinemas, we want electronic gadgetry too. Now if we had the technology to let millions of Indians, Chinese and Sub-Saharan Africans enjoy the same high-consumption lifestyle, that would, at least in theory, be exceedingly good for our economy.

What is beyond dispute is that millions of Africans live in very precarious conditions and are denied rights we take for granted, such as easy access to potable water, safe shelter and a cooked meal every day. Never mind whether they are locked up in jail for daring to criticise their local line managers, let us look at what our multinationals are doing, yes the same friendly institutions that via lobbying firms like Price House Cooper or KPMG shape our government's policies. Well Exxon, Texaco and BP Amoco, key supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, consider the Angolan exclave of Cabinda their personal fiefdom, paying kickbacks to the former Marxists now in technically charge of Angola. The civil war in former Zaire, now affectionately known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with its at least three million excess deaths, largely concerns control of mineral resources. As for Darfur, has anyone noticed the copious reserves of black gold in a region extending into neighbouring Chad. To understand the real intentions of the globalist British elite we need look no further than historians Niall Ferguson and in, more overt terms, Robert Cooper, former advisor to multimillionaire keynote speaker Tony Blair. Roberts unashamedly advocates the recolonisation of Africa, but cunningly adorns his greedy intentions with humanitarian waffle. The lobbying efforts of many professional political advisors close to the New Labour establishment have not only helped large corporations secure lucrative PFI contracts or forced health and education services to waste tax payers' money on expensive proprietary software solutions, but have also secured state funding for multibillion pound military hardware projects such as the Eurofighter, which have never been deployed in defensive operations and whose only conceivable use would be in wars of resource appropriation. More important they have represented private security firms such as Blackwater supplying mercenaries to war zones like Iraq. Unlike many new army recruits, hardened mercenaries often boasting experience in Africa's forgotten wars (indeed many were raised in Apartheid era South Africa), have few qualms about shoot-to-kill policies. As

Stephen Lendman notes ()

The Bush administration believes anything government can do private business does better, so let it. And that applies to the military as well with Blackwater and SandlineUSA's powerful emergence Exhibit A. Author Jeremy Scahill portrays the company as "the world's most powerful mercenary army" in his frightening new book about it. It describes a "shadowy mercenary company (employing) some of the most feared professional killers in the world....accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences....largely off the congressional radar." It has "remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus" with unaccountable license to practice street violence with impunity that includes cold-blooded murder.

The numerical paradox is that immigration proponents who claim human rights abuses as a reason to let in more newcomers grossly understate the problem and evade their responsibility for human suffering. If Britain's population grows, as predicted, by a further 15 million over the next 40 years, mainly through immigration as the indigenous people count is actually declining, this is but a small drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds or even thousands of millions who may meet early deaths as a result of the failure of the current globalised high-consumption model of development. 15 million is but 1.5% of the Indian population or 2% of the Sub-Saharan population. More important current migration policy depends entirely surplus wealth generated by large corporations who produce little of what we really need. Besides banking and media, the three biggest UK industries are now the defence (read attack), energy and pharmaceutical/biotech sectors, all engaged in controlling access to vital resources and undermining economic autonomy. We could add other arguments such as the inevitable brain drain of countries of net emigration, but the most important fact is when the temporary economic boom that drew so many to the centres of wealth accumulation bursts, we will face social and environmental disaster.

Many of us aspire to noble aims such as social cohesion, democracy, tolerance, good community relations, plentiful and essential resources and more important breathing space for each individual. Before you think of the vast expanses of inhabited land in North Africa, Siberia, Northern Canada, Central Australia, Antarctica and the Pacific Ocean, just remember only a small fraction of the earth's land mass lends itself to comfortable human habitation. With oil extraction now past its peak and with alternatives sadly much less feasible than many of us would hope, we will have to readapt our lifestyles if we are to salvage the best of what humanity can offer. That means powering down everywhere, less consumption beyond that essential for sustaining life, less migration to high consumption areas and more economic incentives to lower the birth rate in proliferous nations. A stepping stone to a more sustainable world is to make each community responsible for its own actions. Globalisation lets wealthy communities export pollution and import food and cheap labour. If a community can sustain itself autonomously balancing material exports and imports, then nobody has a right to dictate their behaviour. But if a community depends on global banking cartels, handouts from remote governments and patented technology only available from a handful of multinationals, it has no freedom and any remnants of democracy are a mere illusion.

Many leftists don't like any talk of population simply because that might mean eliminating many of those already blessed with life on this planet. It's hard to imagine a society more obsessed with slaughter and destruction more than our own, though usually only through virtual media and possibly because we are largely shielded from its immediate human consequences, but the earth's carrying capacity is not moral issue, but a scientific one. By blindly placing our faith in the power of human ingenuity to cope with an unprecedented rise in our population, we are merely sowing the seeds of our own destruction, but by reversing gear we will actually allow more people to live more peacefully, more fruitfully and over more generations, just not all at the same time and in the same place. To survive as species we need to refocus our attention on the quality of human existence rather than quantity of potential consumers.

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