Few subjects trigger stronger feelings than race, ethnicity and religion. While related, these three anthropological concepts have distinct meanings and are not as readily interchangeable as many ideologues may prefer. Broadly speaking race refers to our genetic inheritance, ethnicity to our cultural background and religion to our belief system. While we cannot change our genetic inheritance or choose our upbringing and the community of our early years, we may, at least in liberal secular societies, adapt to new cultural influences and choose our faith later in life. Put another way, while race is a matter of nature alone and religion is wholly nurture, ethnicity is at the crossroads between society and biology.
People tend to mate with other members of the same ethnic group who share the same core cultural traits and moral codes. At least this was the norm before the current era of easy long distance transport and international commuting. As a result in-group racial diversity wanes over successive generations. While racial differences are a product of gradual genetic adaptations over extended periods of separate evolution, ethnic allegiances are much more fluid. Historically outlier tribes have regularly merged with more successful communities to form new larger national groups. However, full integration is often hampered by divergent racial profiles within different social classes of a large ethnic group. In the age of colonisation, many new nations were formed this way. Although Brazil and the United States of America have distinctive national cultures, social classes still reflect the racially segregated reality of the slave trade. Both countries are products of relatively recent European settlement of what we once called the New World and supplanted well-established indigenous nations.
In Europe and much of Asia, modern culturally homogeneous nation states evolved from smaller organisational units such as fiefdoms, principalities or city states. Over time larger nations helped accelerate the process of ethnic integration, usually favouring the culture of the more influential urban professional classes. Regional differences remained strong in much of Europe until the advent of compulsory schooling that spread literacy in the standard national language. Nonetheless the concepts of nationhood and ethnicity are usually closely related. The former has to be more inclusive of variant and minority identities, but neither necessarily matches current geopolitical boundaries, e.g. the Hungarian nation may be either the citizens of the geopolitical entity of Hungary with internationally agreed borders, whether or not they consider themselves Hungarian, or the aggregation of settled Hungarian-speaking communities spread over a wider area in parts of neighbouring Slovakia, Ukraine, Vojvoidina and Transylvania. To confuse matters further, we may refer to larger groupings of people with shared racial and cultural characteristics as ethnoracial groups, where broad ethnic categories correlate strongly with genetics, but often to the exclusion of minorities within cultural communities that do not share these traits. The last UK census asked broad-brush questions about racial and ethnic identity with categories such as white British (in England and Wales), Scottish (in Scotland only), Afro-Caribbean, Black African, Indian, Pakistani and East Asian. These categories, reflecting migratory and settlement patterns in Britain since the 1950s, are of questionable value to anthropologists. Historians seldom hesitate to distinguish native Australians from subsequent settlers who arrived from Europe, and later from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. A native Australian is someone who can trace their ancestors to the land Down Under before European colonisation displaced them from the continent's most fertile regions. Yet terms like native British have all of a sudden become problematic as it excludes everyone who descends from more recent migratory waves and more poignantly implies a significant break from the recent past.
One of the greatest ironies of recent history is that the same forces of first mercantile imperialism and later global corporatism that led to the almost complete ethnic cleansing of Australia in 18th and 19th centuries are now having similar effects in many towns and cities across Western Europe, as the autochthonous peoples become an ethnic minority in what they once believed was their country. In both cases we see a sudden break in cultural continuity that disproportionally impacts people with the least economic means.
The world's leading religions have long transcended both racial and national boundaries, although religion is often a key ethnic identifier, e.g. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or Croats and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. Christianity spread from the Middle East among largely Semitic peoples to Europe and West Asia and as far as India Sri Lanka long before the expansion of European empires. Likewise Islam expanded to Indonesia in the east, to Morocco in the west, to Zanzibar in the south and Bosnia to the north long before the current era of mass migration. While some religions may be more common among some ethnoracial groups, e.g. Hinduism has spread mainly in the Indian subcontinent, they are belief systems that govern morality and socialisation.
Some would prefer to deny race exists at all, thus confusing ethnicity, relying on strong cultural bonds which anyone could adopt with enough willpower, with genetic traits beyond our control. While traditional groupings like Sub-Saharan African, Caucasian or East Asian oversimplify our genetic ancestry to fit broad criteria such as geography and complexion, no serious anthropologist can deny biological differences within the human species on ideological grounds. Science has to distance itself from politics. Sometimes small adaptations that evolved gradually over thousands of years of natural selection in distinctive habitats can lead to big differences to performance in competitive pursuits and occupations. It's not a coincidence that the world's fastest sprinters are overwhelmingly of Caribbean African descent. White Europeans and North Americans only faired better in the first half of the 20th century because they had access to better training facilities, but with an even playing field small evolutionary adaptations within subsets of the same species matter. The fastest white European is Christophe Lemaitre, who only broke the 10 second barrier for the 100 metres dash in 2010, compared to Usain Bolt's 9.58 seconds. That difference may seem small, but would leave the Frenchman around 4 metres behind the world record breaker. This begs the question whether genetic differences could impact intellectual performance. However, to muddy the waters analytical intelligence may vary greatly within members of the same ethno-racial group. A complex society needs both conscientious workers able to follow instructions in a socially cohesive way and more creative innovators with strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but often lacking in empathy. Nonetheless it is not beyond the realms of scientific probability that if tens of thousands of years of separate evolution can lead to differences in physical pursuits such as running or swimming, adaptation to new hostile environments, requiring the development of new technologies, could lead to neurological differences among subsets of the human population. Is it a mere coincidence that East Asians are overrepresented among hardcore software developers? These are big and controversial questions that only objective and dispassionate science can answer.
In the age of narcissism, mass-consumerism and hyper-dependence
All of a sudden, the streets of major European cities are full of impressionable virtue-signallers demanding immediate action against our modern way of life to save the planet from the spectre of man-made climate change. I instinctively sympathise with rebels, even if I don't always share either their analysis or priorities, but are these latter-day hippies really rebelling against the system or are they simply being used to soften public opposition to unpopular policies that could empower global corporations to limit the personal freedom of all but the privileged few? Moreover, why has the British media remained almost silent about ongoing yellow vests protests in France as it champions climate activists and their celebrity spokespeople?
If we are to begin to tackle the very real environmental and human challenges of the new millennium to help us regain our sense of purpose in life and restore our symbiotic relationship with the rest of our wider community and mother nature, we must be prepared not just to sacrifice some of the ephemeral luxuries of our era, but also to critically examine the long-term human implications of the technological solutions we put in place.
There we go, I said it. There's much more to life than abstract money and economic growth, but does that mean we should suddenly stop all wasteful activities that contribute to our carbon footprint like driving cars, taking cheap flights to foreign beach resorts, buying ready-packaged convenience foods, filling our wardrobes with more garments and shoes than we really need, having one or more power showers a day, ironing our clothes, overheating or air-conditioning our homes and offices? There's no getting away from it, but our modern way of life thrives on consumption and public image. In practice we have little choice if we want to succeed in mainstream society. If you want to build a life around a successful career and attract the right calibre of partner, you'll need means to turn up to work on time in a fresh and presentable condition and be culturally attuned which usually means partaking in some form of inevitably commercialised recreation. Almost everything easily accessible to most urbanites these days is commoditised, including access to the great outdoors off the beaten track. There may still be plenty of seemingly untouched wildernesses, but they're usually pretty inhospitable environments without the right equipment. Whether you like or not, any sudden change to our way of life would lead not just to massive disruption and economic stagnation, but to much avoidable loss of human life. For a start millions of people with physical handicaps or ageing bodies rely on energy-intensive assistive technology to undertake some of the most basic tasks of everyday life. Our eco-warriors may fleetingly imagine a bright future of fit office workers cycling to work with their reusable coffee mugs, before they consider everyone else who need other means of transport to do the shopping or visit friends and family, or heaven forbid, do a practical job that requires a motor vehicle and/or other high-consumption tools.
The real environmental challenges
The aggregate human impact on our planet's ecosystem has risen exponentially since the advent of the industrial revolution, especially since modern medicine and the green revolution, boost farming yields as much as seven-fold, spread across the developing world in the 1960s. We have escaped the much-feared Malthusian trap largely because of an unprecedented rate of technological innovation. Despite dire predictions of mass famines by the year 2000 in Paul Ehrlich's infamous 1969 book, the Population Bomb, the proportion of malnourished children has fallen dramatically as the global people count approaches 8 billion. Somehow despite growing numbers of mouths to feed, desertification of vast tracts of previously arable land and late rain seasons, infant mortality has continued to decline in Africa, India and South America. More strikingly the biggest development over the last 20 years has been the rapid urbanisation of Africa, meaning most of the continent's teeming masses are within easy reach of food distribution chains. If you like statistics, here's another. As recently as 2015 only 42% of Indians had access to a toilet in their home. When I first visited India in 1982, most people outside the major cities had to cope without access to the mains water supply. Today the figure is 82%. Yet each water closet requires extensive infrastructure such as sewage treatment plants. Now you might naively imagine that Sub-Saharan Africans and Indians are so glad to benefit from modern plumbing and electricity that they'd be happy to settle for an eco-friendly urban existence riding bicycles to work and wearing only second-hand clothes. Alas while many may not have much choice, those that can have already embraced mass consumerism. The real problem is not the prospect of 10 billion human beings, but the environmental challenge of accommodating the 3 to 5 billion vehicles our future global citizens will inevitably want to drive by mid century. Even if we can persuade more people to use public transport, walk or cycle where feasible, we will still need to deliver raw materials and manufactured goods thousands of miles to meet growing demand.
Yet in the face of all hard evidence, many principled environmentalists insist the main problem is a mere by-product of our modern lifestyle, CO2 emissions leading to catastrophic climate change. I'm not going to fall into the trap of disputing the hard science linking CO2 emissions from industrial activity to climatic instability. However, we should at least have the intellectual honesty to analyse similar claims made over the last 30 years. Some ice-sheets are expanding and some are retreating. Average global temperatures have barely changed. Some deserts have grown while some arid regions have been reclaimed as arable land. Irrigation, fertilisers and greenhouses can easily offset any shortfalls due to regional events such as late rain seasons or soil erosion. The real problem is whereas only 30 years ago most Africans and Indians were subsistence farmers, they are now trapped in the same techno-industrial complex as Western Europeans or North Americans with consequences for personal freedom that many observers have failed to foresee.
The Technocratic Trap
Hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers are in intimate contact with mother nature. Their livelihoods depend on a mix of hard work and their interactions with their immediate ecosystem. In just two generations more than half the world's population has escaped the limited prospects of traditional low-tech lifestyles, only to fall into a new trap of hyper-dependence on global distribution chains, banking cartels and tech giants. Had they remained in their traditional settlements without access to electricity, telecommunications or modern medicine, much higher infant mortality would have contained population growth, but leave isolated rural dwellers in blissful ignorance of the wonders of television, smartphones, refrigerators and microwave ovens. Yet governments, big business and NGOs saw it as their mission to reach out to every stranded community on the planet to ensure they participated fully in modern education and preventive healthcare. Some remote regions bypassed the transitionary era of community television halls and public phone booths to embrace the marvels of smartphones putting locals in immediate touch with a consumer world they had only heard about before from occasional visitors and returning relatives. Unsurprisingly millions abandoned their ancestral homelands to seek fortune in big cities often coming into contact for the first time in their lives with extremes of opulence and helplessness. In today's bustling metropolises the main cause of worklessness is neither a lack of resources nor a lack of investment in education. It's an economic system that commoditises human beings as mere economic actors and has become so efficient at satisfying insatiable consumer demand that it has few practical jobs for the world's new urbanites other than as temporary sales reps or van drivers. Early capitalism relied on masses of workers to produce either essential goods or satisfy the consumer habits of the upper middle classes. Today large car manufacturers only need to a few thousand production workers to meet the automotive needs of whole nations. With the next wave of smart automation, a few hundred highly skilled robotics engineers will be able oversee the production of millions of vehicles. While the service sector will continue to grow, we will all become dependent on tangible wealth generated by a technocratic superclass.
Politically Correct Narratives
The world's managerial classes face two key dilemmas. First how can they manage the expectations of billions of new consumers. Second how can they prevent the underclasses from demanding more than their fair share of the goods that our techno-industrial complex can sustainably produce without triggering unmanageable populist backlash from the middle classes of wealthier countries as they stand to lose most from any levelling of per capita consumption? The answer is to come up with a humanitarian narrative that appeals to the wishful thinking middle classes, but does not offend the billions of new consumers in the developing world. The climate change narrative is neither the gospel nor a complete hoax as some naysayers may claim. It's simply a camouflage for much bigger environmental and social challenges that it would be, to put it mildly, politically incorrect to discuss openly. What are the managerial classes going to do with all the superfluous consumers if and when their economic model no longer needs us? Whether our planet can sustain 4, 8, 16 or 32 billion human beings may be a reasonable subject of scientific inquiry, but technocrats will only respect the masses if they do not challenge their hegemony. They cannot just tell useless eaters in developing countries to stop breeding. In today's climate of political correctness, that would be outright racism. But they can incentivise mass migration from poorer regions to trigger internecine conflict between newcomers and the native working classes. This creates a perfect storm where the perceived threats of far-right xenophobia among the native peoples and religious fundamentalism among many migrant communities serve to limit free speech and open debate. Climate change thus becomes a catch-all explanation for all disruptive changes to our way of life. Why do working class Europeans have to welcome millions of newcomers from disparate cultures into their neighbourhoods? Climate change. How do we explain the rise of Islamic fundamentalism? Climate change. Why are millions leaving their homelands? Climate change. How do we explain London's knife crime epidemic or riots in once orderly Swedish cities? You guessed it, climate change as locals cannot cope with heatwaves. If climate change is supposed to be such a big emergency in North Africa and Middle East, why have the urban middle classes there embraced automotive culture with a passion that would make Jeremy Clarkson look like an eco-warrior. Most large conurbations in countries as diverse as Nigeria, China, Turkey and Malaysia are practically gridlocked with a mix of private cars, minibuses and lorries.
In an ideal world we could all maximise our happiness and prosperity and minimise human suffering. We could literally have our cake and eat it, enjoying the wonders of modern technology and pristine nature, meeting all natural human desires, such as our instincts to go forth and multiply and to compete with each other, while ensuring everyone's emotional and material needs are fully satisfied. One of the biggest achievements of the liberal enlightenment was the recognition of other people's free will, namely the right of all human beings to act as autonomous living and breathing agents endeavouring to fulfil their personal ambitions. This means giving people equal opportunities to prove their worth and affording enough space for everyone to find their niche. Alas we are not all equally blessed either with extraordinary physiques or with exceptional talent.
This means each virtuous ideal conflicts with other ideals. For instance, the desire for scientific excellence and technological innovation may come at the expense of equality if we are to motivate the most talented engineers, physicians and inventors. Like or not, capitalism proved much more successful at driving innovation than command economies like the USSR or Maoist China. Yet even the Soviet Union had to reward its scientists and engineers handsomely to play catch-up with the West. Likewise, our natural desire to spread our genes and raise families may ultimately conflict with our wish for a clean and hospitable environment, especially if we want our large families to enjoy all modern conveniences. And last but not least, technofixes may indeed boost our carrying capacity and at least temporarily overcome the contradictions of rapid techno-social change, but usually come at the expense of personal independence, meaning any perceived liberties we may enjoy rely on infrastructure and technology controlled by remote organisations entrusted with the power of life or death over us.
Simply stating that these conflicts exist does not mean wishing for the worst outcome, but being smart enough to foresee other adverse effects and avert catastrophes. We should always consider drastic solutions with the utmost caution. Overpopulation is not, as many would prefer to believe, a myth, but a likely scenario if we fail to adapt fast enough to a new environmental reality beyond our control. The point is who's in charge of our destiny? In a socially engineered world at the mercy of a handful of tech giants who oversee every aspect of our lives, it's easy to imagine that unscrupulous bureaucrats may hatch plans to limit natural procreation to maintain an optimum population level and to prevent certain categories of people from challenging their grip on power.
However, our wishful-thinking extinction rebels present an apocalyptic vision of our near future lest we adopt drastic measures on a global scale that will not only restrict our personal freedoms, but also drive into the clutches of the very technocrats they claim to oppose. Few will retreat to self-sufficient farms in remote wilderness, but many more will be confined to micro-apartments in large conurbations under continuous surveillance.
How can we reconcile shifting alliances and growing cultural divisions among parallel communities in the same geographic region on the one hand with the long-term trend of global convergence on the other? We see this at multiple levels. Is the USA reverting to trade protectionism after outsourcing much of its manufacturing base to China? Is the EU leadership distancing itself from the US? More intriguingly, why is Israel courting nationalist movements across Europe while appearing almost neutral in the rivalry between Russia and the USA?
In the old neoliberal world order as it emerged after the demise of the former Soviet Union, the US-centred military industrial complex reigned supreme in all four main spheres of domination:
Strategic technology, especially computing and bioscience
Culture, mainly via the entertainment and news industries
Finance, facilitating the acquisition of strategic natural resources and exerting power of national governments
Military might, ability to resolve disputes by force or to destabilise potential rivals should the other means of persuasion and coercion fail.
Without technological supremacy, no power can gain control of the media, banking or military. More important, in an increasingly interconnected world the battle of minds and money matters much more than old-fashioned physical force. Once a country is locked into the global banking system, dependent on trade and abstract wealth generated abroad, military force is not just unnecessary, but often counterproductive.
The US military industrial complex has just suffered one of its worst setbacks since the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975. You wouldn't know it if your main source of news is CNN or BBC, but the United States squandered billions on the deliberate destabilisation of Syria with the primary purpose of overthrowing the current government headed by Bashar Al Assad. If the narrative we have heard from the mainstream Western media were remotely correct, i.e. that Assad loyalists are responsible for most death and destruction, then how can they explain the scenes of jubilation as Syrian Defence Forces retake the last enclaves held by Islamic fundamentalist militias? How can they explain that nearly all religious and ethnic minorities in Syria feel safer under Assad than under Al Qaeda, Al Nusra or ISIS? How can they explain that most ISIS fighters were not even Syrian? Yet we really have to ask why the promoters of a purportedly democratic and tolerant multicultural world would back some of the most intolerant religious fundamentalists imaginable?
The NeoCon cabal may still infest the White House, but the new generation of media-savvy American political leaders from Tulsi Gabbard to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have grown tired of bankrolling the Global Police Force or at least being held responsible for proxy war shenanigans in far-flung regions. Donald Trump's unexpected electoral triumph put paid not just to Hillary Clinton's dreams of becoming US President, but to his country's role as the guardian of the New World Order that emerged after the fall of the old Soviet Union.
The North American and European big business classes are fast reorienting their strategy around a new multipolar reality, commanded by a network of Deep State operators with no vested interests in the wellbeing or cultural excellence of any country. The next two decades are likely to see a growing divide between the native working classes who see their interests best protected by compact nation states they can hold to account and the technocratic elites with their armies of middle managers and professional persuaders who aim to guide the masses to their vision of a socially engineered progressive future. In the neoliberal era, which is fast receding, business leaders hoped that market forces alone could regulate consumer behaviour. The hidden hand of free market capitalism would not just produce more fuel-efficient cars and faster computers, but could segment the leisure and education sectors to cater for all variations of hedonism and sophistication. Just thirty years ago it seemed we would all eventually converge on a lifestyle inspired by the ephemeral North American dream of widespread middle class affluence. We can retain the illusion of democracy as long as governments appear to cater for the aspirations of their citizens by providing the core services advanced societies need and ensuring a relative equality of opportunities without interfering unduly in family and community life. As long as malcontents compromise a small and easily manageable minority whose misfortunes can be appeased with social welfare and low-key policing, the majority may retain the illusion of personal freedom. Fast forward to early 21st century Britain and the disconnect between the remnants of the old working classes and the affluent professional elites is all too apparent. On a median salary of just 30K it is practically impossible to get onto the housing ladder within easy commuting distance of the most lucrative cities. You'll spend most of your income on accommodation, transport and utility bills. It's hardly a surprise that more and more young adults live with their parents, which also explains the rise in young people claiming some special vulnerability status to gain access to subsidised accommodation. Some governments have tried all sorts of tricks to hide the scale of worklessness. The first is to encourage most school leavers to go to university rather than learn practical skills as apprentices. Rather than prepare young adults for today's competitive job market, it devalues degrees for all but the most challenging subjects at the best colleges. The second trick is to expand the definition of learning disability to encompass anyone who struggles to some extent with a range of intellectually taxing tasks. The third is to promote part-time and zero-hours contracts that merely supplement welfare handouts and act as a kind of occupational therapy.
The Battle for Self-determination
Opposition to growing technocratic centralisation shares one common denominator: self-determination of communities and private citizens. However, to take back control of our lives, we need to retain some degree of functional independence and bargaining power to handle interactions with other key players. This works at multiple levels. Self-sufficient communities are better able to resist the temptation of succumbing to the economic influence of more powerful organisations as long they retain ownership of their land and maritime resources. As private citizens we have much more bargaining power if we're not expendable, i.e. we do a job that very few others can do. If your sole purpose in life is to behave yourself and not to rock the boat, your life is at the mercy of your supervisors and carers whether or not you technically have a paid job because you offer nothing more than your good will, which may be an admirable trait if combined with other skills that other people need.
We face a choice between dependence on global corporations and acquiescence with myriad agencies of social control or greater autonomy at a personal, family or community level. Today's rebels may be hard to place on the traditional left to right scale, but the one thing most of us share is a desire to redress the balance of power away from emerging technocratic elite to ordinary people, so we can decide how to run our lives as autonomous human beings with free will.
For all its faults, the neoliberal experiment kept alive some positive aspects of regulated capitalism enabling the middle classes to thrive and leading perhaps to the most sustained rate of economic growth and technological innovation since the industrial revolution. Yet it's fast becoming a victim of its own success as growing swathes of the middle classes in the world's wealthiest countries fail to compete as their jobs are outsourced or automated. A mixed economy cannot survive with most of its population reliant on welfare handouts. The populist left wants to tax the tech giants to bankroll their panacea of a universal basic income. Only a fool could believe they'd subsidise our online shopping and leisure pursuits without wishing to control our behaviour and suppress what's left of our personal autonomy.
We may like to think of people as progressive or conservative, collectivist or individualist, egalitarian or meritocratic, caring or competitive, libertarian or authoritarian, selfless or selfish, nature-loving or materialist. All too often we simplify these issues along an arbitrary left to right spectrum, usually with the more virtuous stances on the left. However, one criterion sets us apart from the crowd, dissent. What kind of people will go against the flow and challenge contemporary orthodoxy out of personal conviction risking social opprobrium?
In the 19th century the prevailing doctrinal system across much of Western Europe preached love of God, monarch and country, moral superiority of European civilisations, traditional two parent families and a rigid class system in which everyone knew their place. Critical thinkers would naturally look to alternatives that challenged the hegemony of the old aristocracy, the clergy and the emerging capitalist classes in pursuit of greater freedom, independence, morality or social justice. In short people rebel because they are dissatisfied with the current system and envision a better world for themselves, their loved ones or for wider society, which they see threatened by vested interests. Likewise, people conform to gain favour with the managerial classes and win the trust of their neighbours and colleagues around shared allegiances.
A rebel in 1960's North America may have opposed the worst excesses of capitalism with its unbridled cut-throat competition and its promotion of wasteful mass consumerism. By contrast a rebel in the Soviet Union of the same era would oppose the state repression of personal liberties, censorship, pervasive surveillance and the extreme concentration of power in the party machine. While we may place one rebel on the left and the other on the right, they may well have been striving for the same fundamental human values that seek to marry personal freedom with social responsibility. Soviet-era propaganda would routinely portray dissidents like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as neo-fascists or dangerous reactionaries eager to unravel the great progressive gains of the workers' revolution. By the same token Western rebels before the precipitous fall of the Soviet Union were often portrayed as communists who would threaten our cherished family life, Christian values, democracy or free market economy.
Anarcho-communists and Metro-elitists against the Traditional Working Classes
In country after country we're witnessing a rather odd spectacle. Social conservatives with a strong belief in two-parent families, nation states and cultural traditions have become the new nonconformists, rejecting the prevailing mantra of endless progressive social engineering. If you support gay marriage, open borders, cultural homogenisation and the re-categorisation of humanity into competing victim groups, you will enjoy the whole-hearted support of much of the mainstream media, academia, many well-funded NGOs, big business and many large governments. For decades the growing leisure sector has openly promoted a carefree lifestyle of boundless explorative indulgence. Two recent referenda in Ireland reveal the emerging divide between universalist conformists, easily swayed by celebrity opinion leaders and subliminal media conditioning, on the one hand and traditionalist nonconformists on the other. In both the gay marriage and abortion consultations, organisations such as Amnesty International and the Open Society Foundation joined the main political parties, the Irish Times and many high-profile celebrities such as Bono and former President Mary McAleese to push for change. Only ten to fifteen years earlier the Irish people would have rejected both referendum propositions.
On the other side of the big pond the intellectual gulf lies between conservative rednecks and liberal professionals with their large fan base of special interest groups dependent either on welfare largesse or beneficiaries of the postmodern lifestyle revolution. North American terminology often confuses outsiders. While American liberals may have once advocated less state interference into people's personal lives and championed small businesses and free speech, today they invariably advocate greater state involvement in every aspect of our lives presumably to tackle the scourges of social isolation, discrimination, mental ill-health and manage the complexities of rapid cultural change and apparent hyperdiversity, empowering state and corporate actors to monitor the masses for their own good. Indian-American author Dinesh D'Souza has coined a metaphor for the transformation of the American Democratic Party, from supporters of slavery, racial segregation and the infamous Klu Klux Klan, to the champion of all purportedly disadvantaged victim groups. Whereas 19th century Democrat politicians wanted to confine African Americans to the rural plantations, dependent on the benevolence of their slave masters, it now relies increasingly on votes from denizens of the urban welfare plantations, dependent on state handouts. 150 years ago farmers and manufacturers still needed plenty of cheap manual labour. Today they need loyal consumers more than conscientious workers.
We have progressed from an age when the authorities treated homosexuality as a mental disorder, often prescribing hormone treatment to suppress undesirable erotic urges, to an age when teachers, social workers and medical professions collude to indulge transgender fantasies in young children, often prescribing hormones to suppress natural puberty. Whereas once sexual deviants may have run foul of the law, today parents and carers who adhere to traditional family values may attract the ire of busy-body social workers and even have their children removed.
Meanwhile in old Blighty we see the Guardian-reading professional classes take to the streets to express their support for the European superstate and their distaste for the maverick US President, who seems too keen on enforcing border controls and not keen enough on military adventurism. Europe is inconceivable without France, but just 15 months after reluctantly opting for establishment wonder boy, Emanuel Macron, in a run-off with the much-maligned nationalist candidate, Marine Le Pen, the French have had enough of more global convergence. The yellow vests, or lesgilets jaunes, represent the grievances of the squeezed provincial working classes and small business owners, most affected by higher fuel duties, extreme labour mobility, outsourcing and smart automation. Recent socio-economic trends have had two main sets of perceived beneficiaries: the affluent professional classes and a growing array of welfare-dependent victim groups, who have acquired a sense of entitlement denied to previous generations, who before the expansion of their modern welfare state had either to earn their keep or appeal to the generosity of their extended family. Combined these groups still form a minority of the general population. While artificial intelligence may see the professional classes (currently around 15-20%) shrink further, the welfare classes are growing across Western and Northern Europe (anywhere between 15 and 25%). The squeezed middle of normal hard-working families, struggling to make ends meet, have become a little inconvenient for social policy planners as they tend to have conservative views on most contemporary controversies, i.e. wanting to conserve the viable society that helped millions of ordinary people earn enough to marry, start a family, afford a house and buy a car to entertain the illusion of personal independence. Most citizens were happy for the state to offer a helping hand when they fell on bad times, but did not want the state to run their lives, raise their children or eavesdrop on their private conversations. The public sector should serve the interests of the people and not vice versa. However, today sociologists, and many politicians, talk increasingly of communities rather the people, as the fast pace of demographic change, migratory flows and labour market fluidity has destabilised traditional rooted communities and replaced them with transient communities of disparate special interest groups, which may be as diverse as single mothers, gays, lesbians, Muslims, West Africans, Chinese, sufferers of mental illnesses, online gamers or Python programmers. We now identify people more by their behaviour than by their family or ethnicity.
The cosmopolitan professional elites and rooted masses have two conflicting worldviews. The former views grievances and civil unrest as social policy challenges that require more proactive intervention and outreach groups to engineer a more harmonious social reality by reconciling the divergent interests of our new intersectional communities. They see themselves helping other people adapt to globalisation and rapid cultural change rather than trying to preserve their former way of life. In short, the progressive managerial classes view the rest of us as overgrown children who must learn to play together without fighting or bullying.
By contrast advocates of nation states, still the vast majority of Europeans, view citizens as the architects of their common social landscape who agree on shared values and participate actively in their geographic community, i.e. a country is what its people make of it. Naturally some communities may have radically divergent cultural practices that impair social cohesion. To resolve such conflicts, we may either confine some activities to private properties or designated public zones, or seek greater regional autonomy to manage affairs more in tune with the wishes of local residents. Europe's largest nation states evolved after a lengthy process of cultural convergence largely along linguistic and religious lines. Multi-ethnic empires such as the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth could survive in feudal times as convenient alliances of fiefdoms and royal dynasties, but few countries could nurture liberal democratic institutions without a strong sense of shared identity and usually a common language. Belgium and Switzerland have finely tuned federal systems to accommodate multiple national languages, while Spain has granted Catalonia considerable autonomy over language policy. Large multilingual federations as diverse as India, Nigeria or South Africa struggle to build a unified identity around an administrative language only spoken proficiently by the managerial classes. To this day the native peoples of Europe retain a strong sense of shared national identity and history, supplemented only by new universal behavioural identities and postmodern universalist values, but such parochial feelings are much weaker among the professional classes and young adults immersed in a world of pop culture and easy travel. As natives are now distinct minorities in many Western European towns and cities (e.g. in only 3 of London's 32 boroughs are a majority of primary school children classed as White British), we can only expect further weakening of shared nationhood.
However, we live in an era of shifting alliances. In France the latter-day Trotskyists of Jean-Luc Mélenchon's La France Insoumise make common cause with socially conservative lorry drivers, small business owners and farmers. Some on the left still remember the days when we supported workers' strugglers against outsourcing and imported agency workers. Some old school trade unionists still realise the workers' struggle needs a united working class able to disempower their bosses through targeted industrial action. Globalisation has severely weakened the bargaining power of European workers. If they strike, their manufacturing facilities will simply be relocated, automated or operated by a new team of temporary labourers. The descendants of the old syndicalist left have failed to reconcile their universalist ideals of international solidarity and equality for all disadvantaged groups with the practical needs of today's core working classes who struggle to compete in a dynamic labour market with an endless supply of transient human resources at the bottom end of the salary scale and forever higher levels of expertise required at the top end. What's worse lucrative careers demand extreme specialisation with extraordinary personal qualities. Conscientiousness, or as we often call it today a can-do attitude, no longer suffices, leaving many redundant workers with a bleak choice between competing at the bottom end of the labour market for breadcrumbs and learning new intellectually challenging skills to outwit the best and brightest university graduates. Not surprisingly, many just give up and join the welfare classes. In 1980s Britain unsuccessful young adults would often blame Thatcherism for their misfortunes, but the old manufacturing and mining jobs that employed millions of workers are not coming back as robots take over. Today's Labour Party would like us to blame the Tories for cutting public spending. Yet such cuts are an illusion as government spending continues to rise year on year. The paternalist left would have us believe that minor adjustments to welfare provision, namely in a British context the roll-out of the new universal credit system, are fuelling the growth of foodbanks and homelessness in a country whose primary causes of premature death are all related to obesity and/or junk food and whose housing crisis is only exacerbated by unbalanced migratory flows, which they dare not criticise.
To fully understand the transition of the mainstream left from rebels to establishment cheerleaders, one need look no further than Aaron Bastani's new book about our emerging technotopia bankrolled by the world's leading tech giants. Would it be too far-fetched if a future worldwide government took the likes Amazon, Huweii, Samsung, Microsoft, Google and Apple into public ownership and proceeded to redistribute their massive profits as universal basic income? As Chinese industries begin to invest billions of Yuan in intelligent robotics, the sleeping giant is poised to become the world's largest consumer market with the government rolling out a social credit system to reward its citizens not for their hard work, but for their compliance. Currently, social credits entitle well-behaved citizens to discounts, easier Just Spend loans and travel passes, but it doesn't take a huge leap of faith to imagine that one day such a system could form the basis of universal basic income. Your basic income would be supplemented by rewards if you acted as a model citizen proselytising preferred lifestyle choices and cultural outlooks. While it may seem fair to reward you for taking good care of your health through regular exercise and a wise diet to minimise your burden on the public healthcare service, you may not be so pleased about the state's undue interest in your mental health, whose definition now extends to your political and moral views. Only last week Humberside police questioned a man who retweeted a transgender limerick, which they flagged as a hate incident, after a serious of social media message critical of gender theory. Now imagine having your UBI cut because you failed to attend a gay pride event, expressed your disagreement with euthanasia (already legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland) or just failed to cooperate fully with the government's social engineering initiatives. Bastani may envisage our idyllic future as a large holiday resort interspersed with parks, playgrounds, sports centres, dance halls, libraries, cafés and canteens where highly educated professionals only work a few hours a week. The trouble is only a tiny fraction of the general population will understand the complex technologies that make such a world possible or be fully aware of the advanced people management techniques required to maintain the illusion of social tranquillity.
Agitating against Wrongthink
Back in the day fascists were autocrats who did not trust the people at large to participate fully in open debate about how to run their society. From a fascist perspective, benevolent dictators may occasionally consult the people via stage-managed plebiscites, but only the upper echelons of the managerial classes can be trusted with the administration of our collective infrastructure and organs of indoctrination and supervision. In this regard, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain or Salazar's Portugal had much in common with Stalin's Soviet Union, except the latter aspired to worldwide socialism while often appealing to pan-Slavism and Russian nationalism. Not only did Mussolini start his political career as a socialist and as editor of the Italian Socialist Party's newspaper Avanti, but his fascist government pioneered the role of state intervention to accelerate industrial growth in a kind of public-private partnership known at the time as corporativismo.
Today many on the universalist left accuse anyone opposed to corporate globalisation of, wait for it, fascism. That's right. Fascists used to be corporate authoritarians, while today it's the opponents of corporate hegemony and cultural convergence who get labelled perversely as fascist. Even more perversely free speech is now tarnished by its association with the so-called far right. In practice that means we can longer freely discuss multifaceted issues such as migration, surveillance, sex education in primary schools or censorship without being accused of racism, terrorism, homophobia or hatred. Just as we asserted the right to intellectual freedom in the 1960s and 70s in the name of social progress, many left-leaning social justice warriors now spend much of their time campaigning to censor socially conservative viewpoints. They have become the new arbiters of politically incorrect thought every bit as bad as Mussolini's Ministry of Popular Culture (Ministero della Cultura Popolare) or the infamous East German Stasi (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit). They are not rebels, but enforcers.
True rebels challenge the powers that be and without the freedom to criticise orthodoxy we will slide ineluctably into authoritarianism, albeit of a high-tech variety.
I've long been critical of superstates and any extreme concentration of power, but only really from around 2014 did anti-EU feeling in the UK gain enough momentum to call into question Britain's integration with the European project and to force a referendum, which the establishment hoped would endorse the status quo's trajectory of ever-closer union. The real underlying cause of widespread public distrust in remote political elites remains the rapid pace of corporate globalisation with its extreme labour mobility, job insecurity, transient communities and fast cultural change. The biggest issue of all is the perceived disenfranchisement of the traditional working classes. I say perceived because some may argue that democratic accountability has always been an illusion, but at least until the late 1970s, British workers had a sense that some politicians in power actually cared about their plight and would negotiate with big business to secure better working conditions, higher pay and above all job security with subsidised training and apprenticeship schemes.
If you think the prospect of Brexit is bad, then you may wonder whom to blame for this calamity. The Guardian's favourite culprits are Tory aristocrats, Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and naturally the ominous Russian connection. Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian has taken Putin-themed conspiracy theories to the next level, even claiming Russian involvement in the recent drone incident at Gatwick Airport. Yet they fail to identify the real cause of people's distrust in remote elites, lying politicians, and most notably the former New Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who not only evangelised European integration and opened up the UK Labour market to agency workers from poorer Eastern European countries, but fully supported military interventionism in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Iraq. New Labour had 13 years to help train British youngsters to meet the technological challenges of the new millennium, yet succeeded mainly in producing more project managers and recruitment consultants to organise ready-trained human resources, while more and more British youngsters failed to gain any practical work experience except in dispiriting part-time promotional gigs.
However, the whole Brexit Saga does reveal divisions within the ruling elites, which reflect shifting global alliances as the relative strength of the USA wanes and European governments embrace a more interventionist form of corporatism with the transfer of power away from national governments to supranational organisations. While big business may once have backed continued US Hegemony by supporting resources wars in the Middle East, they now openly despise President Donald Trump's advocacy of America First. When Macron and Trump spoke at the centennial commemoration of the Armistice ending the First World War, news outlets favourable to more global governance (BBC, CNN, the Guardian, New York Times, France 24, ZDF, Le Monde etc.) supported Macron's denunciation of nationalism and his redefinition of patriotism to the mean the exact opposite, while they ridiculed Trump's defence of nationhood. The USA may have a gigantic military industrial complex, but its endless escapades do little to defend US citizens back home, but rather serve mainly to project the power of a global network of banks and corporations on the whole world. Until recently North Americans have been more willing to support their nation's military endeavours than their European counterparts. As the wider American public begin to realise that their country's huge military outlay does not help them and may promote the kind of corporate globalism that will strip them of any economic advantages they may once have had, we can expect peacekeeping activities to be managed more at a supranational level with missions outsourced not only to multinational armed forces but to mercenary outfits posing as NGOs not associated with a specific country. Just consider the example James Le Mesurier's outfit, Academi (formerly known as Blackwater). Judging from their website and many promotional videos available online, you'd seriously think their main mission were to provide humanitarian relief to conflict zones, rather than arm and train insurgents and rescue workers specialised in the art of atrocity simulation. Such organisations are happy to work for the highest bidder, especially with the implicit support of global corporations. As rapid cultural and ethno-demographic transformation destabilises many urban areas, we can expect to see heavily armed transnational security forces deployed in Western Europe in the same way as NATO peacekeeping intervened in the former Yugoslavia.
The Free Market Myth
Western Europe and North America converged in the post-war period on a mixed economy compromise where local small businesses could thrive alongside larger corporations while the government intervened to provide essential services and infrastructure as well as regulate markets in the best interests of social cohesion and general prosperity. Until the 1990s Europe remained a very heterogenous continent. Global brands and culture may well have permeated home-grown traditions, but if you scratched beneath the surface of ubiquitous Anglo-American movies and pop music, young Europeans could still identify with their cultural roots, which they interpreted mainly along regional and national lines. Moreover, each country chose to manage its economy, social welfare and security in different ways. Italy and Greece would offer very limited benefits for the workshy and single parents, as they just assumed extended families should take care of relatives who had fallen on bad times or made unwise lifestyle choices, but offered comparatively generous pensions and early retirement for many categories of workers and state employees. The bedrock of Southern European economies remained family-run businesses, which naturally favoured local or culturally attuned workers. The last twenty years of rapid demographic change has seen hundreds of thousands of longstanding small businesses close as young adults seek better temporary career opportunities in remote cities, often abroad, in the emerging gig economy, dominated by transient design, development and marketing companies whose fortunes are intimately tied to a handful of tech giants, global corps and NGOs. Rather than help their family business adapt to modern technology or a changing clientele, many of the smartest young Europeans are creating marketing media for consumer lifestyle options or awareness-raising initiatives at a design agenc in London, Frankfurt, Paris or Barcelona, while struggling to pay sky-high rents for modest mini-apartments and only being a few pay cheques away from bankruptcy, eviction and a future of welfare dependence and emotional insecurity. Today's knowledge workers are paid not just for their expertise, but for their positive attitude to recent social changes and their compliance with the evolving progressive orthodoxy. Money talks. If you can get â‚¬300 a day as a graphic designer in one of Europe's major cities for an advertising agency producing a transgender awareness campaign, why would you refuse? Yet this is precisely what happens. There's a lot more money in transformative social engineering than in good wholesome conservative values. Big business does not want young women to marry and start families in their home region staying at home to give their children the best chance in life. It wants them working for advertising agencies in remote metropolises paying sky-high rents and partaking in commercialised hedonism while the state brings up their offspring in a foreign land instilling postmodern cultural uniformity in their young minds.
Our lives are increasingly run by a tangled web of tech companies and parastatal agencies, over whom we have no meaningful control except by asking our governments to negotiate with our technocratic overlords, who in practice do not so much compete as agree to divvy up different market segments. Neoliberalism assumes vibrant competition both between companies and among workers. Yet modern technology requires massive investment only available to the biggest players and most workers compete for crumbs as their monotonous occupations give way to smart automation. This explains the shift in terminology from personnel and staff (the usual terms until sometime in the 1980s) to human resources, emphasising the need to employ real flesh and blood human beings rather than assign a task to machines. While people may compete socially and usually respond positively to financial rewards or other privileges, machines have highly predictable physical needs and do not compete with each other unless programmed to do so. Neoliberalism works when market forces and technological innovation demand healthy competition. It doesn't work when new scientific advances require both substantial investment only available to transnational organisations and multidisciplinary cooperation, while most consumers rely more on welfare than paid employment. This is already the case in the UK where the median annual salary is still just £29,000, which entitles most employees to working family tax credits meaning its often makes little practical difference if you work full, part-time or just claim incapacity benefits. The furore about the UK government's controversial roll-out of universal credit with thousands of severely disabled people deemed to fit to work masks the objective reality an increasingly dynamic labour market marginalises a growing section of the population unable to compete. The privatisation frenzy of the 1980s and 90s simply let large corporations wrest control of key public services from local governmental bodies. Private healthcare and education only empower the wealthy, giving them more specialised medical treatment and greater choice over how their children are educated. I've discussed in earlier blog posts how corporations behave more like states, with massive bureaucracies, legal teams and security services, than agile businesses focused on commercial success. A business may respond to customer demand, while a corporation seeks not just to manipulate customer demand, but to regulate customers. If someone provides you a service almost free of charge, chances are that you are their product. If you use Google's ubiquitous services, the search giant probably knows more about you than your spouse or close friends. In theory the main search providers track your search history to suggest products and services that meet your very personal and idiosyncratic needs. If you enquire about the causes of sciatica, you may well see ads for recliner chairs pop up on your screen on favourite news site, but smart recommendation engines can analyse the demographics of users who seek information about sciatica and guess you may be approaching retirement or be open to considering life insurance. And it gets more sinister if you investigate any contentious issues that challenge vested interests.
The problem is not Europe, but its Rulers
The great European ideal, as many of us understood it in the more upbeat 1990s, stood in contrast to the North American melting pot or the autocratic Soviet model with its extensive ethnic cleansing. If Europe means anything, other than being the Western section of the Eurasian landmass stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic, it is defined by a rich mosaic of interweaving cultures that have evolved gradually over many centuries rather than a new nation of recent settlers who have embraced a shared identity. Europe is simply not European without its constituent nations, and most important of all, cultural continuity linking us with past generations. When communities have deep regional roots, state planners struggle to mould new universalist identities. Britain and France took centuries to suppress regionalism, while Germany and Italy only formed unified states in the mid 19th century. Historically attempts to accelerate the gradual process of cultural convergence have involved some degree of coercion. That was naturally before the emergence of sophisticated modern advertising, global youth culture, radio, television and more recently the Internet. While the European Union may once have championed the continent's distinctive national traditions to placate popular opinion and appear more inclusive, its socio-economic policies have promoted mass migration, both within the bloc itself and more recently from further afield, undermining regional identity and social cohesion. While the towns and villages of poorer outlying regions have been deprived of their best and brightest young adults, the continent's main conurbations have been transformed by transient migrant communities often outnumbering the autochthonous inhabitants. While previous waves of migrants to Europe's richer cities usually assimilated with the dominant local culture (if we exclude ethnic cleansing in the wake of wars of conquest), today's migrants only find localised variants of global consumer culture with which to integrate. What does it mean to be French, German, Dutch, Italian or Polish anyway? Is it just about watching the same American movies, listening to the same pop music, buying variants of the same consumer products, adopting dialects of the same lingua franca or redefining human relationships and family structures at the same rate? Some may dream of a new pan-European community of hipster professionals joining forces to create a more egalitarian and socially just version of the United States of America. Alas the latter dream is eclipsing too as the once affluent middle classes struggle to make ends meet.
The French yellow vest protests took European observers by surprise. Just 18 months after Emanuel had defeated the leader of the country's main nationalist party, Marine Le Pen, in the presidential election, reaffirming France's commitment to European project, its squeezed provincial working classes have revolted taking to streets in their gilets jaunes. While their ruling elites extol the virtues of more globalism and accuse their indigenous peoples of xenophobia, the working classes expect their governments to protect their livelihoods and let their families thrive in their home regions. The emerging conflict is not between rival national identities, who are quite happy to coexist peacefully, but between the arrogant elites eager to socially engineer a more compliant populace and the demos, who just want to get on with their lives.
 Mac OS X is based on BSD Unix and thus behaves under the hood more like Linux, which provides some advantages for developers like me who target Linux servers, but may need desktop applications that have not been ported to desktop Linux. The alternative is often running Linux as virtual machine on Windows.
 Run directly by government or indirectly with corporate funding. Parastatal organisations may thus include local councils, service companies like Capita or Serco, charities, lobbies and research institutes.
Or do they just want to control us by getting us hooked on their technology?
As we progress into the 21st century, most of us find it harder and harder to understand the pervasive technologies that underpin our daily lives. This emerging reality can lead us to radically divergent conclusions. While many of us may fear a techno-apocalypse as we fail to tame the sophisticated systems that support our high-consumption lifestyle, others believe a tiny cabal plans to reduce the world's population by forcing most of us into big cities and depriving us of the means of self-reliance. Richie Allen, whose online radio show often discusses controversial subjects ignored by the mainstream media, recently interviewed Deborah Tavares of Stop The Crime . She honestly believes in a plot to kill off around 70% of humanity through carcinogenic radio waves (5G), vaccines, toxic additives in processed foods or the spread of manmade viruses and that this could happen as early as 2025. Proponents of the Agenda 2030 depopulation theory also contend that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax to justify the deindustrialisation of modern societies and force us out of our cars and spacious suburban houses into compact apartments serviced by automated public transit systems.
If we believed some ardent techno-pessimists like Paul Ehrlich or Richard Heinberg, by 2018 we should have suffered a massive worldwide famine as we would have failed to feed a record number of human beings or would have endured a total collapse of our industrial civilisation in the wake of Peak OIl. Alas not only are the scourges of infant mortality and malnutrition still in decline, but car ownership continues to rise steeply across much of the developing world. If our secretive overlords wanted to kill us, why would they let us survive and endlessly promote a wasteful consumer lifestyle? The technophobic doomsayers may have been proven wrong, at least for the time being, but what of the disciples of David Icke and Jeff Rense, who view all recent cultural trends as part of a plot to deny us access to safe technologies, boundless zero-point energy and almost unlimited resources? Their narrative appeals to a North American redneck mindset that favours personal freedom over state interference, gun ownership over police surveillance and affordable automobiles over public transportation. Ironically it also appeals to many leftwingers who view capitalism as the main cause of poverty rather than a system that has enabled more people than ever to live longer lives with greater material wealth. If there are limits to growth on a finite planet, then we have to contend with the ethical consequences of limiting human numbers. More external intervention can both boost our population by reducing infant mortality and limit family sizes by encouraging women to pursue careers rather than devote their lives to motherhood alone.
A common theme is the theory that mass vaccination programmes, e.g. as promoted by the infamous Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation, are part of a deliberate depopulation agenda. Whatever adverse effects some vaccines may have, especially if they are for diseases that our immune system will usually defeat, more children than ever survive into adulthood. In most developing countries, a growing population tends to hasten the process of urbanisation and people's dependence on imported resources.
All of a sudden, disruptions in broadband or mobile networks can render us helpless because in just 20 years we have transitioned from a world largely off the grid to a hyperconnected world, where social media validates your existence. Now imagine how many young millennials would cope with a prolonged power outage. Not only would washing machines, refrigerators and lights stop working, but within hours most domestic water supplies would run out too as they rely on electric pumps. Large cities would soon experience a public sanitation crisis as uncooled imported fresh food rots and residents fight over limited reserves of clean water. In short without drastic emergency measures, such as the immediate deployment of backup generators to keep essential services alive and the possible evacuation of many residents where these services cannot be restored, the death rate would skyrocket. Yet many urbanites ask not what practical help they could offer, but rather whom they should blame for such a catastrophic failure. Did the power supply fail because of lack of investment in infrastructure or because some technocrats wanted to kill off the population or did just fail because even with the best planning something always goes awry sooner or later?
We saw this dilemma at play in the aftermath of last year's gruesome Grenfell Tower fire. Many jumped on the bandwagon to assume the authorities were somehow complicit in the tragedy that killed 70 to 80 residents of an overcrowded high-rise block. If this were the case, then they could kill far more among the conurbation's nine million residents by simply cutting off the water supply. Now some may argue that the local council did not prioritise these mainly low-income residents and predominantly recent immigrants. However, they had just spent £8.7 million to refurbish the building or £72,500 per flat as well as subsidising the rent of most tenants as few could afford the going rate of over £2,000 a month. That money would go a lot further in provincial Britain. If anything the Grenfell tragedy should warn against the wisdom of mass migration without adequate infrastructure and environmental resources, but instead many have exploited the calamity to blame the rich for not spending enough to accommodate more newcomers in one of the most expensive and densely populated boroughs of Inner London. This is the politics of vengeance. The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea is home to many of London's 80 billionaires including Indian-born Lakshmi Mittal at 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens, just a stone's throw from Grenfell Tower. Few ordinary English men and women on modest wages could afford to live there.
Could more people empower the power-hungry?
Let us just imagine two scenarios: one utopian and another dystopian. In one society everyone belongs to the affluent professional classes with a large private villa, plenty of nearby parks and countryside, one car per adult, a short working week and open participation in the democratic process with full access to the information, analyses and alternative perspectives we might need to reach informed decisions on public policies. Such a society would combine the best of public services and personal freedom. While we've yet to attain such societal perfection, we can see glimpses of it in the wealthy suburbs of European and North American cities, except we seldom need travel far to witness the rough edges and incongruences of our current system, e.g. the need for extensive transport infrastructure, industry, invasive policing and our continued reliance on low-paid workers in other neighbourhoods or countries. In other words the affluent professional classes inhabit a mere simulation of an ideal world, in which we all enjoy not just equal rights, but are equally involved the micromanagement of our complex society, equally intelligent and equally privileged. In such a society nobody would be a mere cleaner, nurse or machinist. We'd all have well-remunerated roles as health and safety supervisors, patient care coordinators or industrial automation engineers, managing specialised robots and unmanned production plants.
However, this idyllic future vision has three main pitfalls. First it relies on a high-consumption lifestyle with massive waste, essentially extending the North American dream to the whole world. To accommodate the projected peak of ten to eleven billion world citizens, we'd need substantial technological innovation with much higher efficiency. The trouble with technology is that it does not always work as desired. While some scientists have calculated that we could accommodate as many as 32 billion human beings with existing proven technology, this is only in theory assuming minimal waste. It's like claiming that a small lift measuring just 4 square metres (or 2x2m) could accommodate as many as 32 people (assuming an area of 25x50cm for each person). It all depends on how large these people are and what degree of personal freedom they're willing to relinquish for the duration of their short elevator journey. Yet our current way of life is constantly interrupted by seemingly trivial, easily avoidable but unpredictable mishaps, e.g. a traffic accident on a major motorway can lead to significant delays not just for commuters, but for food supplies and emergency services or a burst mains water pipe could deny thousands of residents of safe drinking water and spread life-threatening contaminants.
Second it fails to account for human nature, which is naturally socially competitive. While we may theoretically all thrive in different spheres, e.g. one neighbour could be an award-winning playwright, another a renowned architect and another a molecular biologist, most of us have rather mediocre skillsets. We may have relative strengths and weaknesses, but very few of us are genuinely top of our game. Yet without the fierce competition that motivates the most talented among us to excel, we could easily regress to a comfortably numb existence of subservience to a master race of technocrats.
However, there is a third downside to our hipster utopia. While our privileged denizens may lack motivation to hone their technical skills, they will have plenty of time to engage in political activism and challenge the ideological hegemony of the managerial classes. We would have an endless battle between the technocrats who know what's best for masses and the empowered lay-people keen to challenge their monopoly on wisdom. If nuclear power proves to be the only practical means of generating enough energy for such a perfect world, what would happen if voters decided to ban it and rely on wind turbines and solar panels instead? Would the demos be responsible for the increased death rate as vital services stop working?
Our ruling elites do not want us all to become hipsters, because this category of trendy affluent professionals are exceedingly hard to manage and constantly challenge the authority of anyone who tells them how to lead their lives. The managerial classes may tolerate this subset of humanity in segregated Bohemian neighbourhoods or as a minority caste of creatives and intellectuals, whose disruptive influence they can easily contain by subverting any movements that may challenge their grip on power. However, they'd much prefer a dumbed-down populace with minimal intellectual or economic independence, totally hooked on commercialised simulacra that technocrats can both control and monitor. It's much easier to manage online gamers ensconced in their bedrooms and engrossed in a captivating alternate reality, but oblivious to the machinations of the real ruling classes, than it is to tame intellectual rebels who want to free themselves from pervasive surveillance and mass consumerism.
The high-tech alternative to our hipster utopia of cycleways, vegetable patches, wind turbines, art galleries and pristine swimming lakes is a global network of megacities accommodating a large population of consumer drones rewarded not for their intellectual talent, but for their compliance with our brave new world of shiny happy people, unable to conceive of independent life. While our recent ancestors believed in a high degree self-reliance with most people working hard to provide for themselves and their family, we're drifting towards a new reality where either big business or state institutions, whose roles are rapidly merging anyway, are solely responsible for our well-being. In the not too distant past we would attribute our misfortunes either to spiritual forces beyond our control or to personal responsibility. While in the past we may have striven to overcome injustices suffered by large groups of people (e.g. the campaign against slavery), we now obsess with perceived disadvantages and inconveniences that various categories of people may subjectively experience, as if we all had an inalienable right to be whoever or whatever we want to be. Rather than accepting our natural limitations and trying to do our best to succeed in life, we now expect society to compensate for our weaknesses and facilitate our ephemeral ambitions. Our achievements thus become not the fruits of tireless endeavour, but rewards for compliant behaviour.
It's hardly a coincidence that the most universalist cults, from Islam to Catholicism and from big business to big government, encourage their followers to go forth and multiply. In the past devotees may have adhered to strict commandments, limiting their personal freedom, while today's rulers much prefer a new breed of self-pitying victim groups whose dysfunctional lifestyle choices will keep them at the mercy of welfare handouts. American-Indian political commentator and author, Dinesh D'Souza, correctly observed the transformation of the American Democratic Party from a champion of slave owners to a bastion of state interference. The same ruling elites who once kept their subordinates as slaves in plantations, now champion welfare-dependency and identity politics as a new kind of plantation of loyal subjects. Whereas once slaves had to work, now they only have to consume as subjects of endless screening. If big business is happy to bankroll the state to subsidise your consumer products, just be aware you are the product.
So the depopulation theorists are wrong, global megalomaniacs do not want to kill most of us so they can have the whole planet to themselves, they want us locked into an interconnected system that they control and without which we would die. It may be an unsettling thought, but a freer world may well be one with greater room for autonomous communities and individual creativity, supporting a smaller, but more self-reliant population than the tens of billions that genetic engineering, nuclear fusion and nanorobotics could theoretically support. The question is no longer whether we can feed ten billion or more human beings, but whether our descendants will have any control over their destiny. One billion is a very big number for a large mammal. For most of human history our numbers remained below 750 million before the advent of the industrial revolution and hovered between 200 and 450 million from early Roman times to the Rennaissance and the European discovery of the Americas. Today just 3% of land mammals by weight live in the wild. Should our destiny resemble domestic sheep, captive tigers on display in zoos and wildlife parks, guinea pigs under 24/7 surveillance or the last wild animals who have adapted to habitats unfit for human explotation?
How greed, distrust, decadence and unsustainability engender conflicts
Most of us agree wars are best avoided, but we have long debated whether and when they can ever be justified. In theory at least, we can assert the right of all communities to self-defence against incursions and conquest, but in practice life is seldom that simple, as outside forces may easily manipulate disaffected insurgents with well-founded grievances for their own ends. Today most nation states seldom fight wars for territorial gain in the way European and Asian powers regularly did until the mid 20th century. In an increasingly interdependent world national governments play second fiddle to corporate lobbies, supranational bodies and borderless banks. As migratory flows have grown rapidly in an age of job insecurity and international commuting, regional identity has waned especially in our more cosmopolitan cities. Why spend billions of pounds to defend the right to self-determination of around 2000 Anglophile Falkland Islanders, when the ethnic composition of towns and cities across the British Isles and the rest of Western Europe is changing at a rate not seen since the mass people movements of the Second World War? Why invade a country if you can just move there, buy up properties and take over entire neighbourhoods? While global superculture with its familiar brands and transient communities often imposes itself on a backdrop of distinctive historical landmarks and geographic surroundings, we may ask if the blurring of national borders willÂ end military conflicts, set in motion a new era of intensified internecine conflicts policed by transnational militias or trigger heightened superpower rivalry? After two decades of decline following the fall of the Soviet Union, military budgets in the world"™s main jurisdictions show a marked upward trend. However, the world"™s most active military powers do not seem very concerned with the defence of their own people, but rather with global peace-keeping and counter-insurgency operations.
The progressive narrative holds that enlightened superpowers may intervene to restore peaceful coexistence and protect human rights in more backward regions. Recent boundary changes in the Balkans occurred only after the Yugoslav federation went bankrupt and the wealthier republics of Slovenia and Croatia seceded. Most fighting took place in the contested regions of Slavonia, with a large Serb minority, Bosnia-Hercegovina and most notoriously in Kosovo. While the civil war rekindled old wounds dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the shifting alliances of Croat, Serbian and Bosnian militias during the First and Second World Wars, its main victim was national sovereignty as NATO assumed a peacekeeping role in the Bosnia and Kosovo while Slovenia and Croatia integrated with the European Union widening the economic gap with their southern neighbours. Other border disputes since the collapse of the former Soviet Union relate more to superpower rivalry than to aspirations of national aggrandisement, e.g. the Russian annexation of Crimea merely reflected the will of most Crimeans, who had only been part of Ukraine since 1954 and only divorced from Russia since Ukraine gained independence in 1992. With over 17 million square kilometres of land, the Russian federation hardly needed more living space and the region"™s key port of Sevastopol was only of limited strategic value to counter a massive US military presence in the Black Sea region. The backdrop to this dispute was the westward expansion of the EU and NATO through an association agreement with the Ukraine, a borderland whose eastern half had been part of the Russian Empire since the 17th century and before that was split between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossacks (Zaporozhian Sich) and Crimean Khanate under Ottoman rule. Ironically today ordinary people value nationhood more in Eastern Europe and Russia than in Western Europe, where it has fallen out of favour among the chattering classes, except when secessionist movements as in Scotland or Catalonia can help undermine larger nation states whose integrity stands in the way of global convergence.
Social Stability and Peace
Idealists may well oppose all wars, no matter how evil the enemy may be, while simultaneously expressing their love of all peoples and all cultures, no matter how oppressive or depraved they may be. However, our desires for greater prosperity, social justice and tranquility have often motivated us to support the military endeavours of our ruling classes or to unite behind freedom fighters. Like it or not, today"™s world would look very different without the legacy of Western imperialism, the industrial revolution and the liberal enlightenment. While the industrial revolution led to the growth of entrepreneurial capitalism and the abolition of slavery, it is also helped create the sophisticated infrastructure that have enabled such widespread prosperity.
To most of us peace does not just mean an absence of state-sponsored military conflicts, but freedom from the scourges of state repression and violent crime. We can think of peace as a state of social harmony where we resolve disputes without resorting to acts of coercion against individual liberty. We can only approach this ideal when we moderate our desires to goals we can attain without depriving others of their livelihood or personal space. Violence may ensue when we perceive that another group of people have denied us of our material and spiritual wellbeing and we have no other means to better ourselves through education and hard work.
Without innovation, we would still be fighting over finite resources with a much lower human carrying capacity. In some ways we still fight over access to life"™s necessities. For millions in the world"™s most densely populated arid regions of the Middle East, North Africa, Australia and the Southwestern United States, potable water has become a scarce resource, often only available as a packaged product. With widespread unemployment and limited welfare provision, price rises of staple foods and fuel can trigger social unrest that fanatical insurgents can easily exploit for their own ends or to empower rival superpowers. In previous ages if a region"™s population grew beyond a level that the local environment could reasonably sustain with contemporary technology, most people would simply die through malnutrition, disease or warfare. Today"™s youngsters have two other options. They can either emigrate to wealthier regions or demand more foreign aid or corporate taxes to subsidise technofixes, shifting social problems to the opulent countries most economic migrants choose and transferring responsibility for their environmental adversity away from local leaders and personal responsibility (i.e. only having as many children as you can feed unaided) to external powers, whose influence we could best describe as neocolonial. If you can only feed, house and clothe your people with the aid of large multinationals, foreign banks and NGOs, you are not independent at all. China is now by far the largest investor in African infrastructure projects. While local leaders gain their share of the proceeds, they train pitifully few local technicians preferring to rely on their own engineers.
A low-level civil war has been raging in the mainly Muslim regions of Northern Nigeria against infidels (non-Muslims) since around 2011. It only reached the Western public"™s attention when Boko Haram abducted 276 school girls in the town of Chibok, Borno State. While many observers have focused on the spread of Islamic extremism, another factor is the country"™s high fertility rate alongside widespread unemployment and a mass exodus of the fittest young adults to the country"™s sprawling conurbations and abroad. Many philanthropists hoped that better education and sustainable local business development could guide Nigeria towards the kind of social democracy that emerged in Western Europe in the latter half of the 20th century. Alas desires for larger families and consumer products, especially cars, have thus far trumped the impetus for greater engineering excellence and more sustainable technological solutions, i.e. more solar panels, greater use of bicycles, better public transport and smaller families. This begs two questions: Who is responsible for solving Nigeria"™s developmental woes or how can we both meet the people"™s expectations for a more prosperous future and ensure social stability? It all depends what we mean by we? Do we mean external powers such as UN agencies, charities, tech giants and foreign governments seeking to gain influence over Africa? Or do we mean the Nigerian people taking responsibility for their own future and living with the consequences of their decisions? Some would still blame the legacy of colonialism and the dominance of foreign multinationals in the country"™s lucrative petroleum sector. Yet one startling and easily verifiable fact stands out. At Independence in 1960, the country had just 40 million inhabitants. Yet despite the Biafran civil wars of the late 60s and occasional famines in the arid north, the population has grown to around 200 million not because women are having more babies but because more babies are surviving into adulthood and beyond.
Instability breeds conflict
While I still believe greed, envy and vindictiveness are the ultimate drivers of violence, in complex societies unsustainable development leads to greater coercion, whether in the form of state repression, heightened surveillance, militarism, violent crime or gang fights. When society can no longer foster prosperity and social stability through responsible management of a shared environment and high levels of communal trust, it will inevitably resort to more overt means of social control. When advanced people management techniques fail, social unrest ensues and the administrative classes have little choice but to suppress the personal liberties of the great unwashed masses. These days only the affluent professional classes can afford to buy more private space.
However, high tech societies with largely unarmed and welfare-dependent citizens need not resort to the kind of overbearing brute force that the great dictatorships of the 20th century had to deploy against insurrections long before most young adults were immersed in social media and online entertainment. The biggest threats to today"™s ruling classes are not drug addicts, low-life gangsters or even remorseless terrorists, whose actions conveniently serve to justify more intrusive surveillance, but the politically aware skilled working classes, whose expertise our rulers still need, but whose conservative beliefs may stand in the way of the kind of progress that our elites envisage. What the managerial classes fear most are not troublesome malcontents, but intelligent, conscientious and independently minded workers with families and strong roots in their local community. That may explain partly why many employers prefer a smaller number of well-remunerated technicians working over 40 hours a week, than investing in training more specialised staff so they can spread the burden. They want to limit the number of well-connected mission-critical operators who could challenge their hegemony. As we rely more and more on smart automation and lucrative jobs require forever higher levels of analytical intelligence, expect the captive disempowered welfare classes to grow. This transition to a subsidised consumer economy, where people are paid for their acquiescence rather than any real work, will affect military strategy too. A hyper-dependent populace, engrossed by social media and online entertainment, is much easer to control through non-violent means, e.g. psychotropic drugs, operant conditioning and financial incentives.
The future of warfare depends on the success of the global convergence project, which would eventually lead to the disappearance of practical cultural and economic diversity, with lifestyle homogenisation in locales as diverse as Beijing, Istanbul, Lagos, Berlin or New York City. In such a scenario, the workless classes would have little to fight over except access to the bounties of tech giants. Cities may still have different climates and landscapes, but each would have similar mixes of submissive consumer classes, social supervisors and technically literate professionals.
Sadly I don"™t share the optimism of many leading proponents of a borderless utopia with universal basic income for all. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the relative economic decline of the United States, the inability of Western military alliances to tame the Middle East, the failure of the European multicultural experiment with parallel communities and Africa"™s delayed demographic transition could all destabilise a fragile peace in the prosperous world. While Western elites focus on the perceived Russian threat, they are playing with fire in the Muslim world.
If you want social tranquility in a relatively free and fair society as much as I do, then you should not just campaign against military adventurism, but identify the causes of future conflicts. Bad environmental management and unsustainable rates of cultural and demographic change pose by far the greatest threats to world peace.
No post-agrarian society has ever transferred all power to the people, but some have been fairly successful at involving broad cross-sections of their populace in the decision-making process through stage-managed consultation exercises. At various stages in history we may have fleetingly entertained the illusion of people power in workers' councils set up in the midst of revolutionary uprisings or in experimental communes, but sooner or later new elites would emerge as most practical day-to-day decisions have to be delegated to professionals well versed not just in their field of expertise, but in the nuts and bolts of an interconnected system. The trouble with complex societies reliant on modern technology to help us overcome nature's limitations is our growing dependence on external forces over which we only have theoretical control. The managerial classes, usually specialised much more in arts or liberal studies than hard science, have long endeavoured to isolate and tame the talented engineering classes by rewarding them handsomely for their excellence, but limiting their remit to a small piece of a much larger jigsaw puzzle. If your field of expertise is developing the encryption software for remote access locks purportedly to protect home owners, you cannot be held responsible if your application is used for nefarious purposes, e.g. enabling the police to gain easy access to the private properties of political dissidents.
A key component of the social pact that emerged in most Western (and some Eastern) countries in the four decades following the historical watershed of the Second World War was the enlightenment concept that all human beings are equally valid. Whoever we may be, we all have our needs, feelings and, most important, sense of self. It doesn't matter whether you're a mere street cleaner or the CEO of a large enterprise, you have just one vote in a democratic consultation. In theory the street cleaner is as free to express her views and campaign for her political ideas as a multibillionaire. In practice business leaders can buy influence through their control of the media, funding of academia and lobby groups. Corporations can literally buy the opposition and bankroll campaign groups whose deceptively progressive causes may have hidden agendas.
However, nobody could pretend for long that we are all the same. Arguably our advanced civilisations would fall apart if we were all perfectly homogenised clones devoid of independent thoughts, unless there were some upper tier of more self-aware and analytically minded engineers, whether human or just humanoid robots. In many ways we have replaced earlier deference to our religious and royal leaders with our worship of celebrity opinion leaders and technocratic gurus. Just as we try to sell ourselves the illusion of parallel social progress and material growth, we become forever more dependent on technology few understand. Yet is it unreasonable to ask if we can demand endless entitlements without assuming attendant responsibilities or if we can exert any meaningful control over our labyrinthine system without actively participating in its administration (a task which requires detailed knowledge of complex scientific issues)? In the past we could hold our masters to account by threatening to withdraw our labour. A lorry driver may not have a degree in nuclear physics, but until recently transport workers played a key role in the functioning of finely tuned system. Now it's only a matter of time before all but the shortest deliveries will be made by driverless vehicles or drones. Robots may malfunction, but they do not consciously decide to withdraw their labour. A faulty robot can easily be repaired or replaced without any concerns about its welfare or feelings.
Epistocracy or Expertocracy
Recent democratic consultations in the UK, US, Italy, Austria and Eastern Europe have yielded results that have disappointed the more metropolitan intelligentsia. Yet rather than overtly overturn the democratic will of the people, transnational power brokers have preferred to exert gentle economic pressure on their elected leaders to guide each country towards global governance, albeit with some degree of localisation. When voters fail to endorse progressive policies, the establishment media will dismiss their outlook as populist. Some on the wishful-thinking kum-ba-yah left struggle to understand why the descendants of the local working classes oppose progressive policies such as welcoming more immigrants and greater cultural diversity or embracing the redefinition of families and genders. More surprising is the finding that low to middle income workers are growing sceptical of the benefits of more welfare dependency, as they see their workless neighbours earn more on state handouts than they get toiling away 40 or more hours a week. Sadly as smart automation replaces medium-skill jobs, industrious strugglers will either have to retrain in more cerebral pursuits, a transition that's not always very easy, or give up and join the growing welfare classes. This begs the question if our rulers will ever allow mere consumers with little expertise in any scientific field any meaningful say in the way society is run. And by scientific fields I do not just mean nuclear physics or biogenetics, but social sciences. In the recent debate on gender theory, we've seen the way influential lobbies treat the views of laypersons. If most commoners believe there are only two biological sexes and thus only two accompanying gender roles because that reality is deeply embedded in our collective psyche and confirmed by our everyday experiences, then anointed opinion leaders see it as their duty to educate us. Experts used to mean specialists in particular fields who may share their knowledge with the rest of us so we can make more informed choices. However, experts are often wrong, either because their expertise is too narrow or because their bosses want to pursue an ideological agenda. An expert working for a large organisation is more likely to consider the common good of society than personal needs as people become little more statistics and their bosses are more concerned with maintaining social order than empowering individuals.
Modern multi-party democracies with universal suffrage are a relatively recent development. For much of history parliamentary politics was a game mainly for the landed gentry. Even in the USA the franchise was limited to property owning men until reforms in the late 19th century. As recently as 1970, not only was the whole of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain with only state-managed political parties, but Spain, Portugal and Greece all had paternalistic dictatorships that preferred occasional plebiscites with state-managed media over pluralism with a free press. One may reasonably argue that ruling elites only allow multi-party democracy when they can tame their populace and contain radical dissident to the fringes by providing widespread prosperity and social cohesion through inclusive cultural values. This made sense in an age when advanced societies relied on the efforts of most working-age adults. If society could no longer function without the specialised endeavours of most pre-retirement adults, its managerial classes had both to reward and to respect their underlings. Back in the 1970s key groups of skilled workers could literally bring the country's economy to a halt. While that may inconvenience ordinary people with disruptions of essential service like electricity, railways or coal supply, many could still recall coping with much worse mishaps during the Second World War, in its immediate aftermath or even during natural disasters such as the harsh winter of 1946 / 47. People were still prepared to make do with temporary hardships for the greater good. Business leaders and state planners knew that in order to keep the economy afloat and retain their privileged positions, they had to make concessions to organised labour. While low-skill workers are easily expendable, high-skill professionals need years of hands-on experience as well as a mindset that nurtures technical excellence. Many of today's brightest college students do not learn practical engineering skills at all, but rather how to manage engineering projects, treating the many tricky technical tasks that past generations took countless years to learn as little more than abstract academic subjects. The trials and tribulations of a ship welder gain the same strategic importance as dealing with the mental health of a former employee of a typewriter factory who has failed to transition to a new trade. If a job is both mission-critical and cannot yet be automated, project managers have to deal with human resources. The terminological shift from workforce, personnel or staff to human resources reflects a move away from lifelong professions, often working at the same company for most of one's working life, to temporary agency work or, as some call it, the gig economy. This works well for some intellectually demanding and highly dynamic professions such as software developers. Your market worth depends not just on your portfolio of experience, but also on your proven ability to learn new techniques. If you've specialised in an outmoded language such as Cobol and refuse to learn any more modern programming paradigms, you may find your employability wanes over the years, while if you combine your knowledge of legacy technology stacks with more modern frameworks you may well get a lucrative gig migrating an old code base to a more efficient, versatile and powerful system. Sadly, there is dwindling demand for hyperactive code monkeys who keep, figuratively speaking, reinventing the wheel. Why would you pay someone to solve a problem that has been solved thousands of times before or has a specialised shortcut function of your framework of choice? The only logical answers is that the code monkey is unaware of simpler time-saving options or the project manager has little idea of what the human resource is actually doing. It's usually a bit of both, but often managers will prefer mediocre, but docile, developers over accomplished software engineers whose ingenuity may win them too much power. As time goes by, we can only expect ever greater levels of specialisation in emotional and analytical intelligence to the exclusion of mediocre all-rounders, who have no niche competitive advantages in any endeavour that cannot be assigned to artificially intelligent robots.
Whereas the working classes once meant most economically active adults on low or medium pay, in the near future it may refer to a privileged group of professionals whose talent is mission-critical. Many others may be employed in some perfunctory roles as customer support advisors or lifestyle awareness raisers, mainly to humanise our interaction with a machine-operated system. Such auxiliary workers are expendable. A supermarket with automatic checkouts, RFID-tagged products and shelf-stacking robots could with current technology already run smoothly without human resources, but most customers still like to interact with real flesh-and-blood human beings, whose roles will only be advisory.
Let us just imagine what would happen if all social workers and health and safety inspectors went on strike. Would the economy grind to halt? Would vital services be interrupted? Would there be an instant breakdown in law and order? The answer is in the short-term nothing would change, but over time the managerial classes would have to find other means to monitor their finely tuned system.
The problem with Marxism
Marxist theory foresaw a class struggle in which the workers would rise up to overthrow their capitalist bosses and seize control of the commanding heights of the economy. We may debate whether this could ever have been achieved without transferring power to a new ruling elite or destroying an economy dependent on the technological innovation of highly motivated skilled professionals, but the shrinking size of the proletariat may soon make this controversy rather academic. This begs the question what pressure can the welfare-dependent classes exert on the technocratic and administrative classes?
I suspect our rulers will keep alive democratic consultations in some form, but that professional policy makers and opinion leaders will restrict mainstream debate to a narrow range of policy options. All other perspectives will be labelled extremist, reactionary or delusional and at odds with official sources of scientific truth. Slowly but surely the professional elites have begun to treat populist opinions, e.g. favouring traditional two-parent families or compact nation states, as mental health issues that they need to address with better education and more extensive social surveillance. All four main parties in the Scottish Parliament support what we can best call the progressive agenda, with a few of caveats to placate conservative popular opinion. Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservative Party has not only championed gay rights as newly wed lesbian women expecting her first child from the local fertility clinic, but she has argued vociferously for high levels of net migration and continued membership of European Union. In effect social conservatives in Scotland have no elected representatives. Yet a recent opinion poll in the Sun found that only 15% of Scottish youngsters between the ages of 18 and 25 wanted higher levels of immigration and most wanted a reduction, although the effects of mass migration are much less pronounced in provincial Scotland outside Glasgow and Edinburgh. I wonder what percentage of Scottish parents welcome their government's decision to teach gender theory (the idea that gender is a social construct and you can choose your gender identity) to primary school children. I suspect it may be even lower than 15%, but this policy is supported by over 80% of parliamentarians and the official Conservative position is we should wait until children are 8 rather than introduce such concepts as young as 5 years of age.
Jason Brennan calls this new form of rule by the enlightened elite Epistocracy formalising the current roles of unaccountable policy planning institutes in setting the agenda for the infantilised masses, whose disapproval in any consultation exercises may only temporarily slow the pace of change and prompt social engineers to adjust their persuasion strategies. That's why complex subjects such as migration are often reduced to feelings rather than objective analysis of decades of social research. By emotionalising complex subjects and artificially creating new victim groups, opinion leaders can dismiss thoughtful dissent as hate speech.
Once we have defined progress as a transition to a technocratic utopia, in which human feelings are treated as medical conditions and all human interactions are micromanaged to ensure social stability and protect the interests of the professional elites, we need only debate how to persuade the masses to accept their new engineered reality.
The affluent professional classes, along with their army of assorted victim groups and infantile self-righteous student types, have set it upon themselves to amplify the mainstream media's disapproval of leading proponents of the old world order of nation states, two-parent families and cohesive communities with shared values. Three weeks ago we saw a large demonstration against the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum with a sea of blue twelve-star flags. Our trendy elitists wanted to vent their anger at those who tricked the English and Welsh working classes into rejecting their beloved European superstate. This week they gathered to oppose a caricature of the US President.
Don't get me wrong, there are many good reasons for protesting the excesses of US imperialism with its endless series of destabilising proxy wars. However, I cannot remember any large demos specifically against the presence of former US presidents with the possible exception of small impromptu protests against George W. Bush. Before Donald J Trump entered the White House global media giants in North America and Europe supported the purported leader of the free world. Now they welcome colourful processions of virtue-signallers opposed not so much to US-led wars, but to the spectre of outmoded nationalism, which rather perversely US foreign policy has done much suppress over the last 70 years. Just over 2 years ago President Obama urged us to support the EU, while his administration armed and funded Islamic fundamentalists in Syria to break up one of the oldest countries in the Middle East.
Alas our motley crew of professional whingers expressed their disapproval of the President's alleged phobias against people of other races, creeds, sexual orientations, gender identities and disability statuses. Most notably they took a stand against his support for strong borders. Yet when Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, visited 10 Downing Street as an official guest of Her Majesty's government, we saw only muted protests. His regime not only jails homosexuals and stones adulterous women, it has singularly failed to accommodate nearby Syrian refugees while bombing North Yemen. By contrast Trump presides over one of the most ethnically diverse and tolerant nations on earth, which, unlike Britain, can truly claim to have been built on successive waves of immigration, but has traditionally expected its new citizens to embrace their new American cultural identity. However, we now live in an age of hypermobility, instant communication and, by any fair historic standards, generous welfare provision. The United States, despite its vast expanses, has a limited capacity for absorbing the tens of millions of immigrants who would love to live the American dream. 350 million US residents still consume more than Africa, India and China combined. The open-borders brigade effectively urge millions of opportunists to bypass legal migration routes, open mainly to talented professionals, and demand access to the US labour market and public services just as big business is investing heavily in smart automation. How are we supposed to tackle climate change and our overreliance on imported goods, if we welcome the mass movement of human beings from regions with relatively low per-capita consumption to countries where most of life's necessities are shipped from hundreds or thousand of miles away to warehouses and supermarkets?
Far from bringing about a more egalitarian and harmonious world, mass migration tends to exacerbate existing social divides creating more competition and rivalry among the underclasses. More important as Robert D. Putnam has amply documented after extensive fieldwork, culture clashes brought about by rapid demographic changes weaken social trust largely to the detriment of the weakest in society.
Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to 'hunker down'. Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration." E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.
The most successful examples of peaceful and prosperous social democracies are all compact nation states with low levels of migration and a high degree of ethnic conformity (i.e. newcomers have to adapt to their new homeland and not vice versa). Bernie Sanders loves to cite Scandinavia as a model. Of course he meant Sweden, Denmark and Norway in 1970s, 80s and 90s long before mass migration transformed neighbourhoods and led to the creation of parallel communities that barely interact, necessitating an expansion of social surveillance and restrictions on the personal freedoms that Scandinavians cherish. The professional classes have hardly noticed because they have benefited most from recent economic trends. All over Europe the remnants of the traditional working classes are abandoning the social democratic parties that presided over the post-WW2 social stability pact. In Italy the heirs to the old Communist Party rebranded as the Democratic Party who once attracted over 35% of the vote have fallen below 20% in recent polls. The same trend has occurred in Germany where Martin Schulz's SPD has sunk below the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and in Sweden the Swedish Democrats, which the mainstream media smears as the anti-migration far-right, are now ahead of the Social Democrats in the polls with the affluent professional classes often opting for the Greens instead. The latter group promise a clean and tolerant world devoid of ethnic conflict or extreme inequality. Their only recipe is to tax the very multinationals they claim to oppose rendering us all slaves to the likes of Amazon and Bayer-Monsanto.
I wish we could wish away any historical or geopolitical controversies related to Jews or Muslims and all live together in peace and harmony. As it happens, for many years Jews, Christians and Muslims managed somehow to reconcile their differences in countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq where today Islamic fundamentalism threatens religious minorities.
As I write the world is undergoing technological and cultural change at such a rapid rate that makes it hard to foresee the future trajectory of human civilisation over the next couple of generations. Yet just as artificial intelligence colludes with nano-robotics to supplant human workers and biotechnology conspires to render motherhood obsolete, many remain obsessed with time-honoured theological disputes over allegiance to religious cults. Let us be in no doubt to discuss either Islamism or Zionism is to invite ridicule.
How can we interpret our modern world through the ideological lenses of Islamism and Zionism? This narrow obsession with the Jewish and Islamic questions can lead to some odd alliances that transcend the traditional left versus right split with severe implications for intellectual freedom.
One may rationally analyse the power of international cabals over traditional societies. If we look at the most influential movers and shakers in media, banking, literature, science, politics and academia, it's hard to deny that some ethnic groups are much more prevalent than others. For instance of 892 Nobel prizes awarded as of 2017, 201 or 22.5% went to Jews, despite being only around 0.2% of the world's population. Likewise Sikhs exert disproportionate influence on Indian business and administration.
We may also objectively study the causes of the current conflict between the Zionist State and Palestinian peoples and attempt to sift through a sea of claims and counter-claims about heavy-handed Israeli suppression and Islamic terrorism. I've listened to both sides of the debate. I shared a flat with three Palestinians in Italy and my former Jewish landlady in North London kept complaining to the BBC and the Independent whenever they highlighted Israeli war crimes. I know the arguments off by heart. The Palestinian version is that the Zionists stole their land and created an apartheid state in all but name, using American and European (mainly German) money to build new Jewish settlements in territories assigned to the Palestinians in 1948. The pro-Israeli version is that Palestinian Arabs are Jordanians who can easily move to any of the surrounding Arab countries, while Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations who want to drive Jews into the sea. However, this tittle tattle ignores two other indisputable facts. First Israel is about the same size as Wales and even if we add the Palestinian territories its total land area is still just 28,000 km2. Second the population of this combined area has grown from just shy of 2 million in 1948 (with 800,000 in Israel proper) to 13 million today, that's 7.7 million in Israel proper and 4.9 million in the Palestinian territories. Yet much of the land is semi-arid or desert. It's only through the miracles of modern irrigation and trade that Israel not only feeds its people, but is now a net food exporter. Life is much tougher for most in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but in part due to overcrowding and larger families. The fledgling Jewish state was built on two historical injustices, the expulsion of around 700,000 Palestinians from its newly assigned territories and, of course, the Nazi-era genocide of European Jews. By no stretch of imagination does the latter justify the former, however hard some revisionist historians try to blame Palestinian collaborators, such as the former Mufti of Jerusalem Al-Husseini, for the Nazi Holocaust, as one could just as easily highlight the 1933 Haavara agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the new National Socialist regime. The classic mistake many part-time historians make is to blame ordinary people for the machinations of their ruling classes or for atrocities in far-flung lands over which they have no control. Some Arab Palestinians may well have sympathised with the Axis powers for the same reason that some Irishmen did, on the misguided grounds that my enemy's enemy must be my friend. Nonetheless the current demographic reality of the former British mandate precludes an easy solution that can please all parties concerned and guarantee lasting harmony. Unless all parties concerned are prepared to compromise, I do not foresee an easy solution that does not inconvenience a large section of Israeli / Palestinian inhabitants.
The Holy Land conflict acts as a proxy among shifting alliances. Few are really interested in the plight of Palestinians or the protection and self-determination of religious Jews in a hostile world. Of greater interest to me has always been the influence of leading Zionists on international politics and their role in fomenting endless internecine wars in the Middle East and further afield. Of note is substantial collusion between Saudi Arabia and the Israeli government, both staunch allies of the United States. If Israeli leaders really wanted to secure a prosperous Jewish homeland living in peace with its neighbours, why would they arm and train the most fanatical Islamic fundamentalists? Just as US-led military adventurism does not serve the interests of ordinary working class Americans, covert Israeli support for Islamic militias in Syria actively imperils Orthodox Jews in Israel with nowhere else to go, while affluent global Zionists with dual nationality can easily relocate. How odd it must seem that the latter group are now befriending proponents of the growing nationalist counterculture. Back in the day many on the real far right, by which I mean those who openly sympathise with the fascist or national socialist dictatorships of the mid twentieth century, would oppose Zionism, sometimes seeking common cause with Islamists. Indeed a propensity towards Shoah revisionism often served as a litmus test for far-right thinking as country after country banned denial of Hitler's death camps. More important than the tragic historical episode itself, which sadly we cannot undo, is the exploitation of its memory to justify modern wars or stifle rational debate on key scientific and historical issues. Today's Judaeophobic right has shrunk to a hardcore of Third Reich nostalgics mainly found in a few areas of Eastern Europe such as Lithuania and Western Ukraine where the memory of Stalinist betrayal and ethnic cleansing lingers on. The Soviet Union invaded the Baltic Republics as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Fast forward 70 years the German intelligentsia not only champions a federal European Union with the eventual dissolution of traditional nation states, but has welcomed a massive influx of Muslim newcomers with very different views on morality and twentieth century history.
Why people choose to believe one version of history
In a perfect world we would critically analyse all historical and current events in a cool, calm and collected way. Yet we tend to decide many key controversies on emotions rather than with any regard to facts on the ground, which are often complex or open to multiple interpretations. How many people died the US kill during the Vietnam war or indeed how many did it murder during its occupation of Iraq? It all depends how we count and attribute deaths.
How political factions squabble over the Semitic Question
The old far right, sympathising with twentieth century fascist regimes, often sided with Muslims as the enemy of their enemy and attempted to downplay the industrial scale of Nazi crimes.
The new populist right usually sides with Israel against Islamic expansionism as they want to defend the concept of compact nation states built on ethnic identity and shared cultural norms.
The old left defended the rights of all oppressed peoples to self-determination and often sympathised with the Zionist cause, viewing Israel as a bastion of social democracy.
Since the 1967 six day war the radical left has usually opposed the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and its role in supporting or driving US foreign policy. Noam Chomsky's The Fateful Triangle sets forth an exhaustive critique of Israeli foreign and domestic policy, but still advocates a two-state solution with a Jewish homeland as envisaged in the 1947 partition of Israel and Palestine/
The far left have openly sided with radical Muslims in their principled opposition to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish ethno-state. This takes two forms. One championed by some anti-Zionist Jews, such as Gilad Atzmon, foresee a united secular Palestine/Israel where Jews, Muslims, Christians and Atheists live together happily in peace. Others just want a complete Islamic takeover of the Levant. Some on the fringes of far left have internalised a radical critique of Jewish power and, like many Islamists, call into question the orthodox narrative of the Shoah.
Most Muslims denounce Israeli suppression of Palestinian self-determination, yet seem much less concerned about the plight of other Muslims living under repressive Islamic regimes. Divisions within the Muslim diaspora seldom adhere to the traditional Western left / right paradigm. The views of many radical Muslims may vehemently oppose US and Israel imperialism, while espousing a regressive ideology antithetical to the values of the liberal enlightenment.
Most Jews support Israel and often its wider neoconservative foreign policy agenda, i.e. instinctively distrusting Israel's enemies and ignoring its frenemies such as Saudi Arabia. However, many Jews do not, most notably Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein in the US or the late Gerald Kaufman in the UK. By contrast ultra-Zionist attitudes are prevalent among much of the new populist right in North America and Europe. You're much more likely to see blue and white Star of David flags at rightwing rallies these days than swastikas.
If you don't have close ties to the region, you may well project your own insecurities and prejudices onto the dispute in the same way as many Scottish nationalists may wish for any team but England to win in the World Cup. Yet one big question remains unanswered in the age of global convergence. Why do some influential Jewish billionaires, such as George Soros, support open borders with so much zeal, while Israel continues to enforce strict immigration controls? Here many make a fundamental error of analysis, conflating the interests of powerful international elites with those of plebeians with strong ethno-religious affiliation. Today we witness a battle between the unrooted professional classes or anywheres, who can easily move as long as they find accommodation within a secluded neighbourhood and stay in touch with other like-minded professionals, and the rooted somewheres, who often find their neighbourhoods and wider social support networks utterly transformed by rapid waves of mass migration, a thesis that David Goodhard has popularised in his recent book A Road to Somewhere.