Universal Basic Income for all (Terms and conditions apply)
On behalf of trendsetting businesses around the world, we'd like to thank all semi-skilled workers for your tireless devotion to the complex industrial system on which we all depend. We are truly grateful to all our past and present colleagues and business partners including production line operatives, meat packers, welders, textile workers, millers, steelworkers, coal miners, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, builders, carpenters, farm labourers, fruit pickers, truckers, bus drivers, cleaners, shop assistants, cooks, waiters, typists, accountants and the thousands of other specialised roles that have served us well over the last 250 years.
Over the decades we have endeavoured to improve working conditions, raise salaries and address emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and interpersonal relations that may arise in the modern workplace. However, we have always had to strike a fine balance between the wellbeing of our staff and our commercial viability.
To this end, our team of robotics engineers and artificial intelligence programmers have now successfully developed a range of smart automatons who will relieve you of your daily drudgery and let you spend more time with your friends and family, unleashing a new world of playful creativity and exploration. As a sign of our lasting appreciation we have lobbied your governments to provide a global basic income, which you may spend online or at any of our authorised retail outlets or leisure centres. In keeping with our commitment to universal human rights and inter-community tolerance, we will extend our universal basic income to all world citizens, irrespective of gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religious affiliation, ethnic origin or mental health challenges, provided you agree to our terms and conditions* and cooperate fully with our friendly social harmony supervisors.
George Soros, primary supporter of the Open Society Foundation
The above announcement is of course fictitious, but based on current social trends. A populace fully controlled by a technocratic elite and totally subservient to an army of humanoid robots, social workers and psychiatric nurses is no longer science fiction, it's an emerging reality. The main questions relate to its implications for personal freedom and our sense of purpose in life as well as the likelihood of societal breakdown if things do not work out as planned.
In the great debate on the relative merits of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and atheism as dominant ideologies, let me declare my relative agnosticism. Sure, on a purely empirical level I've long been an atheist and have yet to find any credible evidence of the existence of supernatural beings. However, I doubt we will ever gain a complete understanding of nature so we will always have to account for phenomena beyond our control, but I digress. I'm much more concerned with the way ethno-religious and ideological allegiances warp our worldview and more importantly how the elites can manipulate our prejudices to further their own hegemonic ends. Do the ruling elite really care whether we adhere to Islam or postmodern narcissism? Do they really care whether we support Israel or pan-Arabism?
In the globalised era, old national divisions are giving way to new culture clashes among rival sections of an atomised populace. Last year's UK-wide EU referendum, the Trump phenomenon in the USA and the French presidential dual between Macron and Le Pen, all pitted the somewheres against the anywheres, as David Goodhart theorised in the New Statesman (Anywheres vs Somewheres: the split that made Brexit inevitable). The former group are still rooted in their town, region or country. They have over several generations adapted to their locale's dominant culture in terms of language, cuisine, social customs and worldview. As such they are more likely to cherish the quintessential cultural oddities of their neck of the woods. For decades Northern European holiday makers in Spanish seaside resorts would tend to socialise in largely national groups. Language was not the only barrier. By contrast the university-educated professional classes tend to identify more with an amorphous global culture and can thus much more easily socialise with professional elites from other countries than they can with working class people from their own home town. If you want to discuss the subtleties of English Premiership football and real ale with people well-versed in the vernaculars and idioms of the English Midlands, you'll find it much easier with others who share your cultural heritage. By contrast if you want to discuss the relative merits of keyhole surgery, fine wines and Mediterranean holiday villas, you'd probably be quite at ease to converse with affluent medical professionals from any country, who are more likely not only to be proficient in medical English, but to belong to the same social class. The rooted somewheres tend to be sceptical of globalisation, rapid cultural change and mass migration, while the more erudite anywheres welcome these changes as long as they can afford their exclusivity to keep the riffraff at bay. The political landscape mirrors this split too. On the one hand we have openly globalist parties posing on the lifestyle left that champion the rights of welfare dependents, migrants and ethno-religious minorities and on the other we have conservative or nationalist parties who promise to retain nation states with more socially cohesive communities, but with some boundaries and labour market protections. Often big business will support both sides as long as they can successfully lobby government to defend their commercial interests. Globalist parties tend to attract votes from wishful thinking affluent professionals, idealistic students, new migrants and welfare dependents. As I noted in another recent post Realignment in the age of Elitism, more conservative or nationalist parties tend to appeal to the true middle ground of ordinary patriotic working and lower middle class voters. By contrast more openly globalist parties tend to appeal either to the professional and managerial classes who have benefited most from recent techno-economic developments or to the growing underclasses of welfare dependents and special socio-cultural minorities. The latter group is naturally very heterogenous, anybody from Muslims with large families (and thus very keen on welfare provision, schooling and healthcare) and migrant workers (keen to have unrestricted access to the global labour market) to gays, transsexuals, and some categories of mentally ill people who feel estranged from their heteronormative or neurotypical mainstream culture. It hardly matters that these disparate groups privately hate each other. All that matters is that they depend on the kind of welfare largesse that only big business can provide.
Old rooted identities had a geographic reality, with greater homogeneity within a given region, but more cultural diversity worldwide because each culture could thrive in its own self-contained niche. Large corporations find it easier to rule over transient, volatile, heterogeneous and intersectional communities with competing interests and conflicting demands than over culturally homogenous communities with shared values. The mainstream media may preach universal harmony, but its constant re-categorisation of humanity engenders more distrust and thus justifies more social surveillance. As the native working classes abandon our cities, we see the emergence of transient ghettoes interspersed with gated neighbourhoods for the affluent classes everwhere from Paris to Berlin, from London to Rome or from Madrid to Stockholm. While electronic media can pacify most of the underclasses, police forces are already preparing for street battles on an unprecedented scale in high-density trouble spots. In just ten years the banlieues of Paris have evolved from mixed working class neighbourhoods into ghettoes with few French natives, where women dare not walk the streets alone. Some see these developments as evidence of growing Islamisation, a by-product of former Western colonialism and destabilisation. Yet I see a different scenario emerging, as the technocratic elite take advantage of the conflict between infantilised decadent Westerners and regressive Muslims to impose their new caste system.
Two faces of the same Monster
The globalist left has two rival faces. On the one hand we have mainstream social democratic parties who have thrown their weight behind neoliberal economics, seeking a new partnership between the state and transnational businesses to promote progressive social and cultural change. In the UK we called this strategy Blairism. In Italy the old Communist Party morphed into a bland imitation of the US Democratic Party, implementing policies that penalised small businesses and empowered big businesses to the detriment of blue-collar workers who saw their jobs outsourced. France is a little different. While Macron won the recent French Presidential election by a handsome margin, the mainstream globalist left failed to get much more than 30% of the vote if we combine his votes with those of socialists in the first round. However, France's youthful Blairite, who welcomed the support of former President Obama, is likely to have only a very short honeymoon as his administration proves powerless to tackle the growing disaffection of most ordinary French people with their out-of-touch metropolitan elites. Many on the old radical left opposed this lurch to corporatism, but found it virtually impossible to organise strikes or unite an increasingly fragmented and mobile workforce, whose bargaining power is limited by both extreme labour mobility and by smarter automation. Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece have so far failed catastrophically to offer workers an alternative, simply because their countries' economy and institutions are too enmeshed in a globalised system for them to do anything but negotiate with the powers that be. National governments have become little more than parish councils and trade unions act like student councils whose infantile policy suggestions our real rulers can happily ignore.
Useful Social Justice Warriors
Another faction of the radical left proves immensely useful to large corporations, busy planning for a near future when artificially intelligent robots can displace most low-skill jobs transforming the labour market. Some argue greater automation will just create new jobs for people to do, but that's not how the economy works. Big business needs a reliable and malleable workforce and who could be more malleable and more reliable than robots? They will only deploy human resources if we have niche intellectual skills or can act as friendly humanoid operatives in the growing marketing, social care and awareness raising industries. Today more people, ranging from high street charity promoters to call centre marketers, are employed to persuade us to change our lifestyles and/or consumption patterns than to make the goods we need. The old mixed economy worked on the assumption that and better-educated and better-paid workers would boost demand for the products they helped to make. If the labour market is tightly controlled and industries rely on a large number of skilled workers, businesses will have to acquiesce to workers' demands and accommodate their idiosyncratic customs and regional cultural preferences. Now big business is much interested in socially engineering a new kind of culturally homogenised but synthetically diverse team of enthusiastic colleagues. Many of the lifestyle causes once associated with the radical cultural left, such as women's rights, gay rights, disabled peoples' rights, transgender rights, migrant rights, mental health rights, have been embraced by large corporations. Some see this as progress. Should we not welcome the fact that big business has now come on board in our struggle for social justice or should we just cynically dismiss any corporate initiatives? None of these lifestyle issues affect the economic relationship between social classes, they merely address our perception of the relationships and roles of new and old categories of people within the same socio-economic class. Indeed some of these new categories are a product of recent societal changes. Feminism has morphed from a worthy campaign for women's rights to the redefinition of biologically based genders and traditional two-parent families. Some social critics such as Camille Paglia and Germaine Greer, who once called themselves feminists, now question the role of postmodern feminism as no longer being about empowering women as women, but more about the ideologically driven re-engineering of natural variations of humanity. I've previously observed how the roles of men and women respond to underlying societal conditions. Technological advances over the last 150 years have significantly empowered women, arguably more so than men. Not only do women have more time to pursue careers and not only have strenuous manual jobs been first mechanised and then automated, but women excel in modern higher education and in professions requiring advanced emotional intelligence or people skills (marketing, surveillance, social work, recruitment etc.) more than their male peers. Yet these jobs do not produce any concrete results, except to ensure the smooth functioning of an increasingly complex system that values compliance and harmony more than creativity and personal freedom. We now only need a small minority of the workforce to design, develop, test, build and maintain our goods and infrastructure. Our mixed economy rewards everyone else not so much based on their productivity but on their strategic worth as social regulators and persuaders as well as consumers. Many low achievers already work as product testers, mystery shoppers or product reviewers. That's right big business will pay you to act as guinea pigs for their products or services. The aim is not simply to boost sales or short-term profits, but to analyse the long-term psychological impact of their wares. Some lucky souls even get paid to test games or compete in online role playing tournements.
These lifestyle trends will not only transform the world of work, but traditional family structures and may eventually redefine the purpose of life itself. To enact the kind of far-reaching societal changes required for a Brave New World of intellectually superior creative elites and compliant underclasses of subjugated consumers, today's policy makers have first to suppress traditional social structures. Just as Mao Zedong's cultural revolution paved the way for his country's later conversion to state-managed neoliberalism and extreme wealth disparity, albeit overseen by the Communist Party of China, large corporations are now using social justice idealists to campaign for the kind of social changes that will eventually lead us to an era of hyper-dependence.
So what do transgender teenagers, Muslim migrants, learning disabled adults and other special categories of people have in common? How can we confuse the complex problems that may arise from sexual identity, religion, migration and intellectual impairments? These are mere aspects of humanity that could potentially affect us all. Religion is at heart a belief system that manages human behaviour. Migration is driven largely economic and environmental forces. Sexual identity may be problematic if one is unable to succeed with one's biologically determined gender. Last but not least, intellectual impairment is very relative. But all these categories of people rely not only on state or corporate intervention, but on the blurring of traditional boundaries between countries, close-knit communities and natural categories of people (such as men and women). It hardly matters if many Muslim migrants have regressive views on women's rights or homosexuality, as this provides the perfect pretext for more social intervention. A globalist policy planner does not care so much about a specific self-sustaining community, but how to subjugate the whole of humanity to a handful of corporations. If you're a goat herder in the Yemeni mountains or a Scottish fisherman, you may still retain some degree of independence from the global banking system. If the same Yemeni goat herder becomes a refugee in some godforsaken suburb of a Northern European city and the former Scottish fisherman ends up on incapacity benefit after a spurious psychiatric diagnosis, both owe their continued existence to the illusory generosity of a corporate monster few of us can understand. Yet social justice warriors will fight for migrant/refugee rights and champion the cause of mental illness sufferers, without a moment questioning the system that created these problems or contemplating the long-term consequences of our loss of personal autonomy.
Antifa (antifascist action) have deservedly won their reputation as intolerant agent provocateurs who serve to shut down debate on a wide range of contentious social issues. We now have mounting evidence of collusion between corporate NGOs and far-left political activists, most notably via George Soros's Open Society Foundation, but also via governmental agencies such as Europeans without borders funded by none other than the European Commission. The young idealists who genuinely believe in these causes have the same degree of intellectual autonomy as the cigarette salespeople of yesteryear. They are marketing a dream of a brave new world that can only end in more subjugation with a police state to manage the hyper-dependent masses.