Categories
Power Dynamics

How the Blair Era begat Corbynism

Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn
And how powerful forces commandeer youthful idealism to further totalitarian aims

Labour's new army of social justice warriors have learned a bitter lesson. While they may appeal to some special interest groups and social service professionals, they have lost touch with their base outside a few culturally diverse inner-city areas. As the results of the snap December 2019 election poured in, it turned out Labour's vote share of around 32% was not quite as low as many of its supporters may have feared. Let's get things into perspective, in 1983 under Michael Foot Labour's vote plunged below 28% and in 2005 under Tony Blair Labour managed to win a comfortable majority on just 35% of the vote. In both 2010 and 2015 under fairly orthodox centrist leaders Labour polled just 29% and 30.4% of the vote respectively. However, with a radically changed demographic the quirky arithmetic of the First Past the Post electoral system now works against them and favours the Tories and SNP.

Two cheeks of the same Backside

It's hardly a coincidence that both Blairism and Corbynism hail from the trendy inner London borough of Islington with sky high property prices and extremes of wealth. Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson lived there in the 1990s as they planned to take over the Labour Party, as do Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry and Jon Lansman, the architect of the Momentum cult. Many Blairites had been Trotskyists, Maoists or Stalinists in their youth. They just recognised the need to embrace big business and strategically support the projection of US-led cultural and military hegemony. However, their goal has long been a technocratic one-world government that suppresses true cultural diversity and undermines the last vestiges of self-determination. Their apparent differences centred on short-term strategy, mainly support for destabilising global policing operations and endless debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Broadly speaking both Blairites and Corbynites come from the same privileged social class with an entourage of token working class acolytes. The sycophantic Blair babes of the early 2000s seemed to have now been replaced by a new breed of wishful thinkers such as Rebecca Long Bailey and Jess Phillips. It may be hard to understand the common purpose of Jeremy Corbyn, who rebelled against all of Blair's military escapades, and Tony Blair, who joined forces with George W Bush to invade Iraq. To the architects of a borderless new world order, these military conflicts serve mainly to destabilise nation states. Indeed they may welcome the destabilisation of Europe and North America in the 2020s as much as they relished the dismemberment of the Middle East and Central Asia in the first two decades of this century. Periodically they will engineer a changing of the guard, so the new management team can dissociate itself from the mistakes of the previous leadership. You can't get more pro-establishment than Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, now working for Facebook. Yet in public he claimed to have opposed UK involvement in the invasion of Iraq to earn street credibility among disillusioned Labour voters. Admittedly I almost voted LibDem myself before I fully grasped the consequences of the cultural revolution that started under Blair and has continued ever since under the fake Conservatives.

How Millennials who grew up under Blair embraced Cultural Marxism

Back in the mid 1990s I wrongly saw Tony Blair as the heir to Thatcher. Indeed, New Labour embraced Thatcher-era privatisation, expanded private sector involvement in the National Health Service via controversial Private Finance Initiatives and continued to outsource more and more public services to commercial service providers. It steadfastly refused to nationalise the railways, but committed to the renewal of Britain's ageing nuclear deterrent and eagerly assisted the US military industrial complex in its global policing operations in the Balkans, Africa and in the Middle East. Tony Blair enjoyed being a loyal sidekick of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush alike. Many traditional Labour supporters opposed these policies from the left. The late 1990s were in the context of the impending cultural revolution a historical hiatus. Seven years after the Soviet Union had disbanded and 4 years after South Africa inaugurated Nelson Mandela as its first black President, representatives of Northern Ireland's warring factions, including Sinn Fein and the Ulster Defence Association, agreed to a ceasefire in the much heralded 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brokered by Labour's new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, but building on negotiations that had begun under the previous Conservative government. As devolved parliaments opened in Scotland and Wales, we seemed to be on the verge of a new era of greater social peace and prosperity, while retaining our cherished personal freedoms and cultural heritage. Alas few observers fully appreciated the scale of the impending cultural revolution as fewer and fewer young adults could get on the housing ladder and all too often succumbed to culture of hyper-dependence.

While Thatcher appealed to traditional family values and championed small businesses, Blair appealed to pop culture and embraced the entertainment business. In reality Thatcher-era reforms had not just destroyed millions of stable manufacturing jobs, they had prevented many young men from marrying and starting families as the primary breadwinner. Attitudes to traditional marriage had begun to change in the swinging 1960s, but the demise of secure jobs for working class young men without good academic qualifications meant many young women turned to the state rather than marriage to help them fulfil their natural desire for motherhood.

Despite the hype the all-powerful state has never really receded, it's merely handed over some of its operations to unaccountable large corporations with labyrinthine management structures, while expanding in other areas, most notably in social surveillance and welfare provision. Contrary to popular perceptions, public spending rose in the first years of the Thatcher government and only declined as a percentage of GDP in the more prosperous late 1980s as the economy grew and unemployment fell. In no year since 1946 has public spending fallen in absolute terms, even accounting for inflation. What really matters more than the proportion of the economy under direct state control is personal independence or the extent to which we are masters of our own destiny or beholden to external agencies. Over the last four decades a growing proportion of our income goes not to life's essentials but to rent, mortgage payments, loan repayments, insurance, commuting and various communication and entertainment services we never used to need. It's often much easier to divorce your spouse than to end legally binding contracts that limit your personal budget to a mere fraction of your theoretical net earnings. We spend much of our remaining disposable income in a handful of supermarket chains and other retail outlets, restaurants, pubs, gyms, leisure centres and clubs controlled by big business. In the early 2000s I had to reassess my earlier analysis that our ruling classes wanted to roll back the state leaving only bare bones public services for the poor. Instead it dawned on me that a growing underclass was trapped in a vicious cycle of welfare dependency, substance abuse, family breakdowns and myriad emotional challenges interpreted as mental illnesses. To escape this trap, you'd expect government agencies to help young adults gain the kind of skills that today's high-tech job market needs. Yet they only ever made half-hearted attempts at workfare and seemed quite happy for an influx of Eastern European migrants to fill vacancies that local youngsters could have snapped up with the right incentives, thereby denying hundreds of thousands of young adults of an opportunity not just to gain critical work experience, but greater personal independence.

One of New Labour's flagship policies, besides the national minimum wage, was the introduction of working family tax credits. On paper this sounded like a great idea making low-paid jobs pay and helping young families make ends meet. In practice it subsidised penny-pinching employers and naturally redefined families as any combination of adults and children who live together. More significantly, these new benefits were available to all EU citizens no matter how long they had lived in the UK or paid into the system. One of the main reasons many youngsters from deprived neighbourhoods in the North of England do not move to London to take advantage of a buoyant labour market and higher wages in the bustling service sector are sky-high rents and the hurdles you have to cross to gain access to housing benefit. I know from talking with many Eastern European bar staff that recruitment agencies and their extended ex-pat community would often help with shared accommodation for new migrant workers.

I still think New Labour missed a golden opportunity. From day one they should have fulfilled their promises by investing heavily in technical skills in the most deprived communities of their former industrial heartlands and weaned the welfare-dependent underclasses off benefits not through uninspiring temporary jobs, but through re-training and a culture of creative innovation. They could have expressed their love of continental Europe not through slavish devotion to a federal superstate, but by emulating German and Dutch vocational colleges and subsidised apprenticeships. If we lack good plumbers, mechanics, electricians, nurses and doctors, surely we can train our own. That doesn't mean we can't have exchanges with other countries, it just means employers don't have to keep recruiting from abroad because of a dearth of qualified candidates locally. However, it should now be abundantly clear the government's senior policy advisors had no intention of empowering the local working classes. As Andrew Nether revealed, they wanted to rub the right's nose in diversity, but their definition of right-wing did not mean a small band of wealthy stockbrokers and aristocrats, but rather the socially conservative native working classes. If you did not embrace our new multicultural reality and were not involved in our growing media, marketing and social engineering sectors, our globally minded managerial classes considered you an ignorant country bumpkin at best or a racist thug in urgent need of psychiatric treatment. By multiculturalism, they did not mean respecting the many cultures that have evolved gradually over many generations in different parts of the world, but rather a post-modern reality of parallel ethnoreligious communities struggling to intermingle and cope with cultural convergence in their new neighbourhoods alongside other groups of newcomers. Their idea of diversity is a wide range of ethnically themed restaurants, boutiques, dress codes and skin colours, more chicken tikka masala than smörgåsbord, but a convergence of lifestyles submerged by mass-marketed universalism. To the cheerleaders of fake diversity what matters most is helplessness, namely complete dependence on external authorities. They see identity groups as constituents thankful for more social surveillance to keep the peace. It hardly matters if Christian Afro-Caribbeans value traditional two-parent families or young English gay party revellers distrust Islamic fundamentalists in their neighbourhood, everyone is supposed to unite in their superficial diversity.

Who's behind Cultural Marxism?

Just as Blair built on many Thatcher-era policies favouring big business interests, Cameron and May continued New Labour's cultural revolution, with key public policies emanating not from nominally Conservative politicians, but from corporate thinktanks and NGOs. Increasingly over recent decades large corporations, nominally in the private sector, have promoted dysfunctional lifestyle choices and fake diversity.

You need only watch advertisements for leading retail outlets. They would once portray typical families broadly representative of their customer base, but today they clearly go out of their way to overemphasise diversity, often showing happy households with mixed race gay parents enjoying a meal with their Muslim neighbours. Rather than simply reflecting reality on the ground, advertisers seek to drive cultural change by presenting a rose-tinted glimpse of our projected future.

Take for example the controversy over self-identification of one's perceived gender, which featured in both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. This is still a fringe issue that concerns only a few confused individuals who have been persuaded to attribute their psychological challenges to a redefinition of gender roles. It turns out the Liberal Democratic Party had accepted a large donation from a pharmaceutical multinational that produces puberty-blocker drugs. Yet we are somehow led to believe by the virtue-signalling echo chamber of social justice warriors that the campaign for transgender rights comes from grassroots activism and not from corporate lobbyists. This begs the question as to why businesses that theoretically want to make profits and expand their clientele should invest so much money promoting lifestyle choices that greatly limit personal independence? It's because they need captive consumers more than conscientious workers who actually provide the products and services we need.

Cultural Marxism has only taken root in the millennial generation because both academia and big business actively promote it. You're hardly rebelling against the system if you're faithfully recycling talking points coined by advertising agencies. When I worked as a contractor in the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi (the advertising agencies behind the election of both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair), marketing staff would religiously read the Huffington Post and embrace the key tenets of identity politics. Social conservatism is much more prevalent in working class communities. Indeed the coming years may see the emergence of new and unexpected alliances to resist top-down social engineering. I think most parents across the British Isles disagree with gender theory lessons in primary schools. At least they would do, if they understood what their sons and daughters were learning in deceptively childish language. When mainly Muslim parents protested the No Outsiders programme in Birmingham schools, the mainstream media tried to dismiss these protests as the bigoted views of religious fundamentalists. If you watch Channel 4, you may have welcomed a break from the usual derision of the xenophobic white Anglo-Saxon working classes to focus instead on transphobic and homophobic Muslims. Sooner or later the parallel ethno-religious communities of our big cities may actually find common cause to resist wokeness and stand up for common sense. Finally people on the ground may realise how disparate groups are being played against each other.

What will happen to Momentum?

I suspect the masterminds of the Corbyn Cult knew full well they could never really win over the working classes outside their metropolitan bubbles. That's why they cheer on the proliferation of new welfare-dependent communities in large cities and the ethnic cleansing of many towns. If only we could extend the vote to 16 year olds or let new migrants vote before they've gained full citizenship? If only we could encourage more apolitical misfits to opt for postal votes in the hope they will opt for the nice party promising them more free stuff. While Blair's spin doctors knew how to appeal to the core Labour vote with platitudes about better education and job creation, Corbyn's handlers offered only patronising charity and public spending commitments they clearly could not honour. However, Momentum will not disappear, it will merely morph into a permanent vanguard movement driving dysfunctional lifestyle changes that ultimately serve the interests of the same big businesses, who for now, are happy with Boris Johnson's fake Conservatives. The only consolation prize is we may have at least exposed the true agenda of global totalitarians.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics War Crimes

The Abolition of Britain and the rise of Global Governance

How the quest for greater independence is being usurped by power-hungry control freaks

I make no bets on the outcome of the snap General Election scheduled for 12th December. Last time a healthy Tory majority seemed almost certain until a couple of weeks before polling and after a disastrous Conservative election campaign. For the first time in recent history Labour did much better than expected. My hunch is Boris Johnson's party will win a comfortable majority of seats because the core working class electorate have lost all faith in Labour, but I doubt the resulting managerial team will do much to protect British workers from the excesses of globalism. I hope the government's ineptitude may oddly strengthen the resilience of ambitious youngsters as they realise the state will not help them fulfil their dreams and thus avoid succumbing to a prevailing culture of victimhood and entitlement.

We may well see another shift among the affluent managerial and business classes from the Tories to the misnamed Liberal Democrats (or the illiberal unDemocrats as I call them), while many traditional Labour voters either sit at home, strategically vote Conservative or flirt with the Brexit Party to keep out Labour, whom they now see as the party of unlimited mass migration, toxic identity politics and undeliverable spending commitments. However, in Scotland Labour will lose out not only to the Conservatives, but to a resurgent SNP capitalising on fashionable anti-English sentiment. They see Brexit as the brainchild of English Tories eager to resurrect the British Empire. If we assume current polling is correct, the political map of mainland Britain will be split into four. The Tories will dominate English shires and towns, the Liberal Democrats will do well in the most affluent neighbourhoods, while Labour will keep most of its metropolitan strongholds among its special victim groups, welfare-dependents, social engineers and trendy students. By contrast, owing to the vagaries of the First Past the Post system, Nicola Sturgeon's cult movement look set to snap up most Scottish seats, as the anti-SNP vote is too evenly split. The Brexit Party will be lucky to gain 1 or 2 seats in former UKIP strongholds, but they may succeed only in letting Labour hold on to a few more marginals.

The ongoing Brexit saga amid yet another General Election with very uninspiring choices has revealed two unwelcome realities. First most nation states have limited independence from global banks and corporations, supranational institutions and a well-funded network of nominally independent non-governmental organisations (NGOs) posing as humanitarian charities. Second, and perhaps more important, it has exposed what our ruling classes really think about democracy. If they cannot persuade the great unwashed masses to endorse their social engineering plans by electing a bunch of middle managers who will cooperate with the agents of change, they will destabilise your country and have you begging for their intervention.

Whatever the relative merits of the European Union may be, the outcome represented a huge kick in the backside for the metropolitan elite, who for decades have presided over the steady transfer of power from time-honoured local institutions to more remote international entities in the name of progress. Let us be under no illusions the EU is only a means to an end, not the end itself. There are many good reasons to welcome close cooperation among Europe's disparate peoples to protect our cultural heritage and defend us against the worst excesses of what we once viewed as neoliberal globalism, especially as a counterbalance to the North American and Chinese models with their extreme forms of plutocracy. Just 15 years ago in the aftermath of the joint US and UK occupation of Iraq, many of us wanted to distance ourselves from the British and American foreign policy establishment. Many of us hoped a Europe Community of independent peace-loving and democratic nation states with strong protections both for personal freedom and social justice could offer an alternative to Anglo-American capitalism.

While many other countries appeared insecure and in imminent danger of fragmentation, civil war and greater subjugation to imperial forces, Britain seemed impervious. Only the Northern Irish conflict ever posed a security threat, although behind the scenes the British Civil Service has long viewed the province as more of a burden than a strategic asset. Scottish and Welsh nationalism remained relatively tame disputes, quibbling mainly about the extent of autonomy within the United Kingdom. Few thought any major part of the UK would join another major superstate. The Republic of Ireland has since its inception remained steadfastly neutral, so even if Northern Ireland voted to join the Republic, there would be no fundamental shift in the balance of power. Leaving aside widespread opposition to the deployment of the Trident nuclear missiles in Faslane just northwest of Glasgow, Scotland has long been way too reliant on tight integration with the British military industrial complex for mainstream politicians to advocate military independence from the rest of the UK and from NATO, although this was the official SNP position until 2012.

Sea Change

Before around 2012 the European issue seemed very much off the radar. Transnational bodies like the EU, NATO and the UN were just facts of our increasingly internationalised lives, but not things we felt affected our everyday lives. Broadly speaking most Europeans opposed further centralisation preferring to keep control of economic, social and military policy at a more accountable national level, but many still believed our politicians somehow represented our interests at various international gatherings. We saw this in referendums in Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Denmark where voters rejected new treaties (respectively of Nice and Lisbon) only to see their votes either ignored or to be forced to vote again after cosmetic changes. However, we could also argue that the public have grown so disillusioned with the sorry state of national politics that they'd rather place their trust in shiny new progressive institutions that transcend traditional boundaries. For decades the establishment media has tried to persuade Europeans that they can trust the EU and NATO more than their local regimes with their chequered history of corruption and despotism. In the early 1970s not only was most of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain, but Greece, Spain and Portugal still had military dictatorships appealing to traditional Christian values to ward off the dual dangers of Eastern communism and Western decadence. Not surprisingly millions of younger Europeans welcomed the fall of these paternalistic regimes and embraced a new era of mass consumerism combined with a comfortable social safety net. While millions of Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese may be critical of the budgetary constraints imposed on their governments to keep alive the Euro, they still tend to associate the EU with the greater prosperity they've enjoyed since the 1980s. The situation in Britain is very different. The golden era of the British working classes was the 1950s and 60s. Sure we lacked many of the modern conveniences made more affordable by recent technological progress, e.g. many had outside toilets, coal fires instead of central heating and cars were still a luxury for many, but what mattered most is that the relative quality of life was steadily improving with a high level of upwards social mobility. A typical school leaver could aspire to getting a decent skilled job as an apprentice and earn enough to be able to marry, buy a house and start a family by his or her mid to late twenties, all without welfare handouts. We hoped progress would empower families to lead more independent lives while still enjoying the fruits of a civil society with a high degree of social trust and mutual respect. Little did we know that many of our mission-critical jobs would be first outsourced and then automated as big business had to rein in the collective bargaining power of trade unions. The long-drawn-out demise of British industry, kept on life support during the 1970s, weakened the resolve and resilience of the working classes, blamed for demanding unmerited pay rises, being too lazy and lacking the industriousness of their European and Japanese colleagues. Yet to this day, many observers simply blame Thatcher for turning off the life support machine that squandered countless billions on trying to save outdated industries that could not survive the challenge of global competition able not only to tap into a seemingly limitless supply of cheap labour, but to quickly close or retool outdated manufacturing facilities with little regard to job security.

I noticed even as long ago as the 1979 General Election that saw Margaret Thatcher's Tories win a healthy majority of seats, Labour had begun to shift its focus from standing up for workers' rights to championing welfare and public services. Thatcher managed to appeal to the aspirational working classes, the kind of people who wanted to own a house, drive a car, holiday in Spain and earn a decent living through a career in the growing service sector. While some workers adapted and some new light manufacturing outfits took the place of heavy industry, many youngsters in Labour's working class heartlands outside the more prosperous South East of England inherited the helplessness of their parents who had failed to adapt and thus became trapped on welfare or short-term jobs in call centres leading inevitably to dysfunctional households and social dislocation. Nonetheless a major rebranding effort saved the Labour Party as it embraced Thatcherite reforms, the information revolution and pop culture while promising not to raise taxes. I was an early sceptic of Blairite Magic. Somehow his soundbites lacked substance or analytical integrity, but one slogan stuck in my mind "Education, Education, Education". If you believed the hype, we were on the verge of a quantum leap in scientific excellence. The next generation would become talented doctors, inventors, bioscientists, software developers and robotics engineers. Alas very few did, but many more became recruiters, public relations officers, graphic designers, creative directors or worked on the peripheries of emerging high-tech industries in new-fangled specialisations such as forensic science or environmental science, learning how to engage with technologies that someone else developed to monitor other people's behaviour, market goods or ensure minimum healthy and safety standards. With such a dearth of tech-savvy innovators and entrepreneurs, British professionals have focused mainly on people management and persuasion, a sector encompassing not only advertising, public relations and entertainment, but behaviour and attitude modification through charities and education. For every engineer developing new technology to help us solve practical environmental challenges, there are many more climate change awareness officers or busy bodies lecturing parents on how to deal with tantrums without smacking. The net result is a dual culture of dependence, either on state handouts or on corporate largesse, and greatly reduced personal resilience. The first Blair government famously rebranded Britain as Cool Britannia, more about rock stars than scientific pioneers. Now the last gasp of British cultural innovation has been co-opted by the multibillion dollar entertainment industry and blended into a global culture disconnected from the specific locales of post-imperial suburban Britain. In the same period Global English has begun its shift from a high-status international language modelled on standard British or American English to a rapidly mutating form of NewSpeak inspired by a worldwide intelligentsia with little reference to the speech patterns of the transient residents of London or New York City. Native speakers have thus lost the relative advantage they once had over those who acquired the language later in life.

As a historical paradox the country that has given the world its dominant lingua franca now suffers from an acute identity crisis as progressive opinion leaders attempt to deny there is such a thing as a native English person. This mirrors trends in other European countries with almost identical claims going mainstream in Germany and Sweden too. National identity for many in cosmopolitan areas has been reduced to mere temporary allegiance to your country of residence in occasional sporting events.

What's left of Britishness anyway?

Many Ulster unionists are none too happy about Boris Johnson's deal to keep their province in regulatory alignment with the EU's Customs Union and Single Market with customs checks in the Irish Sea rather than along the meandering border with the Republic of Ireland. Increasingly only the Democratic Unionist Party defend traditional values, while Sinn Fein, claiming to represent the Catholic community, has recently endorsed positions on gay marriage, LGBTQ-friendly sex education and abortion perfectly aligned with the cultural left, but at variance with Catholic teachings. However, a growing proportion of the younger generation identify neither with Protestantism nor Catholicism and are very open to unification with what has become a secular Ireland. The British Deep State seems more concerned about the perceived Russian threat than subsidising Northern Ireland.

The begs the question whether the CEOs of UK PLC really care that much about the constitutional status of Scotland, now they know a nominally independent Scotland would both stay in NATO and join the new European Defence Union. Universalist media outlets treat Nicola Sturgeon's SNP much more favourably than the Brexit Party or even the Tory Party.

However, I sense a split between the Atlanticist and Europhile wings of British intelligentsia. Recent statements from Emanuel Macron, Guy Verhofstadt and the EU's new President Ursula von der Leyen have revealed a gradual shift from a unified European military command working within NATO alongside the USA to a European Army taking over from the USA in global policing operations in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. More disturbing is the growing hostility among the Western European elites towards Russia. In just a few years neo-conservative war hawks have shifted their lobbying operations from Washington DC to Brussels. To match US military spending, the Europe Union would have to double spending, something that would be very unpopular at a national level, but could only be justified by the spectre of a Russian and/or Chinese threat. Even if Trump is re-elected in 2020, US military adventurism has peaked. The federal government can no longer justify such a massive defence budget when they have bigger challenges at home with rapidly changing demographics. It's only a matter of time before someone like Tulsi Gabbard or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez becomes the president of a debt-ridden federation in a post-dollar world order, dominated by the Chinese and Indian economies.

Without Scotland and Ulster, England and Wales would be a very disunited place with London behaving more and more like a city state divorced from its geographic hinterland and parallel communities in many other towns and cities.

In all likelihood Boris Johnson's BRINO or Brexit In Name Only will avert Scottish Independence for a few years before other events overshadow it, Ulster quietly merges with a post-Christian Eire and the Scots turn against the SNP. Meanwhile continental Europe will struggle to cope with the fast pace of cultural and demographic metamorphosis, a looming banking crisis and an escalation of the civil unrest that has spread across France over the last year. We may just be able to salvage a federation of the British Isles, but with waning faith in traditional British institutions such as Monarchy (and far be it from me to comment on Prince Andrew's close friendship with American sex predator Jeffrey Epstein) this island seems ripe for Balkan-style destabilisation with the people's splat over Brexit serving as a trial run for a much deeper conflict over culture, identity and power.

Categories
Power Dynamics

The engineered breakup of the Yookay

Before sometime around 1990, while I lived abroad in Italy, most large institutions and the establishment media in the North West of Europe liked to refer a place called Britain and proudly used adjectives like British to include England, Wales, Scotland and, by loose extension, Northern Ireland too. Outside the UK confusion reigns supreme as England, Great Britain and United Kingdom are often used interchangeably. Indeed, many English people often struggle to recall the correct name for their country. This may sometimes lead to false positives with regular references to British Law, when as a result to the 1707 Act of the Union, Scotland has always retained a separate legal system and Northern Ireland's juridical framework has its roots in Irish common law.

If you want to be pedantic, then the island that comprises England, Wales and Scotland is Great Britain, while Britain alone may refer to just England and Wales and the United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland too.

Scotland and Wales have never lost their distinctive identities, but over the generations, and especially since the industrial revolution, there had been so much intermarriage and movement among the peoples of the home nations, that Scottish and Welsh separatism seldom gained more 25% of the vote. Welsh nationalism focused mainly on protecting the Welsh language after centuries of suppression, while Scottish nationalism only really gained momentum after the discovery of vast oil reserves in the North Sea in the 1960s. If anything Scotland has long been overrepresented within the Union, relative to its population, which has declined from around 1/9 of the UK total circa 1900 to less than 1/11 today (although still rising in absolute terms) with more than its fair share of prime ministers, entrepreneurs and inventors.

British identity grew in the Victorian era on the back of the industrial revolution and expansion of the British empire over a quarter of the Earth's landmass. Without Scotland and Ireland's plentiful natural resources and critical mass of engineers, Great Britain may never have gained such a large competitive edge over its main rivals, France and Spain, in its quest to colonise North America and dominate world trade. Although Britain's relative importance declined with the emergence of Germany as the main European powerhouse and the United States as the world's dominant economic superpower at the turn of the 20th century, British identity remained strong through two calamitous world wars and the Great Depression. Britain emerged from the Second World War very much as a junior partner of the United States with an oversized empire it could no longer afford to maintain, but it had at least escaped the worst ravages of Nazi occupation and widespread ethnic cleansing. The peoples of England, Wales and Scotland were still proud to identify with Britishness as the country transitioned to a new role as a medium-sized Western European power on a par with France, West Germany and Japan and subservient only to the USA. The old empire had become a motley collection of new nation states. Some, like Canada and Australia, retained very strong cultural affiliation, but soon integrated much more with the booming North American or East Asian economies. Others, like India and most of British Africa, retained the English language as a commercial and scientific lingua franca, but sought new alliances. The continuing importance of global English bears little relation to the current status of the UK. It is a legacy of Britain's Mercantile hegemony in the 19th century and the USA's economic and cultural dominance of the 20th century.

An irony of history is that despite losing two world wars and much of its eastern territories, West Germany regained its role as the motor of the European economy. Having your main industrial areas carpet-bombed may lead to temporary loss of human life and manufacturing capacity, but it certainly facilitates productivity-boosting modernisation. By the 1970s Britain was the sick man of Europe, plagued by industrial strife and inefficient infrastructure. Much of British industry either outsourced production overseas or gave up entirely, refocusing instead on the growing service sector. To add insult to injury, in the mid 1980s the Italian economy briefly overtook the UK's. Indeed despite recent economic decline, Northern Italy remains much more affluent than most of the UK with larger houses and higher car ownership. More recently India, Russia and Brazil have overtaken the UK's GDP once adjusted for purchasing power parity and it's only a matter of time before they do so in absolute terms too.

When did the new generation of UK citizens stop identifying as British?

It all depends what you mean by British? As a loose synonym of English, then most people in provincial England are probably happy to call themselves either. But only English is a true ethnic marker close to people's heart. Naturalised UK citizens, especially from Commonwealth countries, often prefer hyphenated British identities as being more inclusive. The more integrated someone with an immigrant background is, the more likely they are to identify as English, Scottish or Welsh. I used to think that the millions of Britons with mixed English, Scottish and Welsh heritage would more readily identify as British, but outside the London area, this no longer appears to be the case. Your childhood friends, especially in your core school years, tend to instil ethnic identity in you more than anything else. Just as the Scots are reasserting their rebranded Scottish identity, even if their parents come from England, Italy or Poland, so too are the working classes in provincial England once again identifying first and foremost as English.

In the late 1990s I noticed a shift in the mainstream media, especially in one of the last institutions to incorporate British in its name (the BBC). All of a sudden presenters and politicians started to avoid references to Britain and Britishness in favour of the Yookay, the United Kingdom, just "this country" or weird concoctions like England and Wales or England, Wales and Scotland if one or more parts of the UK were excluded. Tony Blair's New Labour government seemed happy to acquiesce to demands for greater devolution in Scotland and Wales, although support for the Welsh Assembly only won the narrowest of majorities in the 1997 referendums on the matter. As Scotland and Wales had suffered much from the industrial decline of the 1970s and 80s, devolution seemed like a long overdue constitutional reform. In the early years Labour dominated both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish parliament but had to seek an alliance with the Liberal Democrats due to the new mixed proportional representation voting system. For a while the Scottish National Party's failed to make any significant headway. As recently as 2005 the SNP gained just 17.7% of Scottish votes in the UK general election after polling a disappointing 20.9% in the 2003 Scottish Parliamentary Elections, despite the unpopularity of Blair's Iraqi misadventure. Four years later the SNP under Alex Salmond managed to pip Labour at the post winning 31% against 29.2% and just 1 more seat. The SNP formed its first minority government. Yet in the 2010 general election the Scots bucked the national trend with Labour gaining 42% of the vote, possibly because Gordon Brown remained popular north of the border, and the SNP just 19.9%. A year later the vote shares of Scotland's two main parties were almost reversed in the 2011 elections for the Scottish Parliament, giving the SNP a working majority and paving the way to the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence. Few observers would have predicted that in just 10 short years support for Scottish separatism could rise from a rump of 20% to just shy of 45%. The big question is why David Cameron's coalition government so willingly acquiesced to the SNP's demands

Mood Change

Traditionally the main institutions of successful nation states tend to resist separatism. We may be accustomed to the acrimonious breakup of unstable federations like the former Yugoslavia or the more amicable divorce of Czechoslovakia, but many have long suspected foreign intervention in their demise. When the levers of political and economic power move from compact nation states to supranational bodies like the European Union or NATO, the business classes shift their allegiance from their current national entity to the remote organisations best able to protect their commercial interests. In the era of international commuting, outsourcing and globalised supply chains, nation states appear to growing sections of the professional classes as anachronisms of the 19th century, discredited by the excesses of fascism and national socialism. If a country the size of Italy has limited operational autonomy, constrained militarily by NATO and economically by the IMF and the EU, what chance does a country the size of Slovakia, Croatia, Latvia or indeed Scotland have? Despite the much-maligned project fear during the Scottish independence referendum, the main arguments hinged on social security, oil revenues, currency, Trident nuclear warheads based in Faslane and Scottish jobs dependent on UK military contracts. Big businesses, while preferring easy access to the nearby English market, seemed almost indifferent. Tesco does not really care whether Scotland is nominally in some abstract entity called the UK as long as it can continue to bribe local councils to expand its retail empire, which now stretches as far as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Thailand. The main reason the British Civil Service wanted to avert Scottish independence was the country's tight integration into the British armed forces and, more importantly, NATO, but the SNP ditched its earlier opposition to NATO in 2012. Until recently the United States relied on the UK as its most loyal ally in its various military endeavours around the globe, but with shifting global alliances Uncle Sam is suffering from battle fatigue. The failure to overthrow the Syrian government and the rapid rise in China's military budget and soft power have led military lobbyists to seek new vehicles for their nation-building operations. Recent US-led wars have done little to project American power, something much better accomplished by US-based tech giants. If anything, the USA's military adventurism has weakened the country's soft power, while the main hubs of technical innovation are moving away from California and elsewhere in the United States to the Far East, China, Russia and Europe. We should watch not so much the sales revenues of tech behemoths, but the concentration of talented engineers able to drive future innovation. Gone are the days when the best Chinese, Russian, Korean or Japanese engineers would be snapped up by American multinationals. Today, they often have better opportunities in their home countries and thanks to the wonders of modern telecommunications can collaborate with others around the world without having to emigrate. When the CEOs of American IT enterprises like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are happy to lambast the current resident of the White House and seem more concerned with adhering to the edicts of the Chinese government than training young American software engineers, it must be crystal clear that they owe no special allegiance to their fellow Americans.

The Brexit Delusion seen from postmodern Scotland

Some believe the outcome of the 2016 referendum on the UK membership of EU marked a protest against the excesses of globalism and the disenfranchisement of the native working classes. Yet for all the bluster about taking back control and national self-determination, the United Kingdom appears less united than at any time since World War Two in the terms of social class, national identity and outlook on life. There are many good democratic reasons to advocate the transfer of power from remote superstates to viable nation states, but while a clear majority in the English provinces and in most of Wales voted to leave the EU, Scotland, Northern Ireland and inner city areas of England voted to remain. Two groups in particular opposed any attempts to restore national sovereignty, the affluent professional classes, especially in academia, and Britons with a recent immigrant background. The results in Scotland would have been very different if the SNP had opposed continued EU membership as they did the 1975 referendum. Many Scots voted to stay in the EU because they believed it made Scottish independence easier if the whole of the Former United Kingdom (FUK?) remained deeply embedded in the EU facilitating seamless trade and movement of people.

Let me suggest they were wrong for two simple reasons. First the Brexit saga has provided Nicola Sturgeon with a pretext to call another referendum on Scottish separatism. Second joining the EU as a separate member state would make Scotland a net contributor but without any subsidies from the UK government. So unless crude oil prices return to the heady heights of $120 a barrel, the SNP will be forced to drastically slash public services and welfare spending, especially as all new member states have to join the ERM and prepare to adopt the Euro. No pragmatic Scot could contemplate such socially divisive policies that could turn Scotland into a wetter and windier version of Greece under the now disgraced Syriza government (who promised to reverse EU-enforced austerity before agreeing to another loan requiring even greater cutbacks than anticipated). While many English workers have bought into the illusion of a strong and independent UK outside the EU, the Scottish working class have sold a European pipedream that reflects the widespread middle class affluence of 1990s Germany much more than the grim reality of Macron's regime unable to contain open revolt from his country's yellow vests movement.

The SNP's love for identity politics and mass migration have set the party's leadership on a collision course with their supporters who overwhelmingly want Scotland to be more Scottish in the traditional sense and less like the multicultural chaos they see in England's metropolises. It appears the SNP leadership would be quite happy for Glasgow and Edinburgh to emulate London and Birmingham, while many of their supporters would much prefer the Norwegian model. Scottish nationalists and Northern Irish Republicans have been co-opted into the virtue-signalling no-borders movement. Their leaders not only oppose traditional family values, they want to redefine Scottishness or Irishness to mean temporary loyalty to your current jurisdiction rather than longstanding family ties or full cultural assimilation.

Over the last decade Scotland's main cities have belatedly succumbed to the lure of global harmonisation, with segregated transient communities, gentrification of inner city neighbourhoods and sky-rocketing property prices in the wee nation's capital. The SNP's priorities have at best addressed short-term populist concerns, e.g. removing bridge tolls and offering free prescriptions, and at worst transferred more power to a centralised police force and invasive social services, especially the notorious named person act.

Most disturbingly the SNP's education policies have significantly lowered standards, widening the gulf between the offspring of Scotland's professional classes who can either provide an intellectually stimulating home environment or afford private tuition and the rest whose stressed parents struggle to deal with precarious employment and unstable relationships. The SNP may champion Scotland's integration with the rest of Europe, but it's made foreign languages optional guiding underperforming students to easier subjects. You might imagine that Scotland's love affair with the games industry might have inspired a new generation of budding programmers. Alas tech companies struggle to find local whiz kids for mission-critical software development roles. The main advantage of moving an IT business from London to Scotland is not the availability of local talent, but lower property prices and smaller social extremes. If you have to import your best developers from Poland, Ukraine or India, then London, once a magnet for the best and brightest professionals, has no inherent advantage. A small country dependent not only on international trade, but also on imported human resources only has limited leeway to fine-tune its fiscal regime and employment laws to attract greater inward investment. The Irish government may have tempted Google and Twitter to set up their European HQs in its capital city, but the multinationals hired mainly non-Irish staff driving up property prices while a growing number of born and bred Dubliners are homeless. Under its new Taoiseach, Eire (more commonly known as Republic of Ireland) is currently undergoing its fastest rate of cultural transformation since it gained independence in 1920. Irish journalist, Gemma O'Doherty, has gone as far as to describe the government's Project Ireland 2040 initiative as state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, aiming to add 25% to the existing population while the country's best and brightest continue to emigrate. The leaderships of Sinn Fein and the SNP may appeal to anti-British nationalist sentiment, but advocate socially engineered post-national identities for their respective fiefdoms.

Nicola Sturgeon and Alastair Campbell

The post-national Alliance

One photograph captures more succinctly than any others the duplicity of politicians we once believed had some principles, the spectre of Nicola Sturgeon hugging Alastair Campbell. I remember seeing Nicola speak at a small demonstration in Glasgow against the UK's enthusiastic participation in the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo back in 1999, a courageous stance that involved challenging the bias and disinformation of much of the mainstream media. The SNP also opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but fast forward to the current year and the same SNP has shifted its focus from opposing military adventurism and making the case for full fiscal autonomy to supporting full integration with the European superstate with its own plans for a unified military command and fiscal harmonisation. Rather than being deployed in conflict zones as British soldiers under the auspices of NATO, Scotland's future military personnel could well serve in places as diverse as Ukraine, Mali or France as part of the new European Defence Force. Over the decades many high profile politicians as diverse as Bill Clinton and François Hollande have built their political reputations on opposition to imperialist wars, only to fall into line once in power. So what do the likes of Tony Blair's former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, and Nicola Sturgeon really care about? Their appeals to Britishness, Scottishness or working class solidarity have only ever been ploys to win electoral support. Both have failed their core electorates dismally, much preferring global grandstanding over local solutions. Alastair Campbell may have strategically supported US-led military interventions and nominally opposed Scottish independence, but that's mere water under the bridge when faced with the prospect of the dismemberment of the wonderful European Union and the potential unravelling of a greater project to bring all countries within the purview of a one world government. Both appear diametrically opposed to the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but are they? As Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson fell into line with the foreign policy priorities of successive US and UK administrations to push for regime change in Syria and seek confrontation with Russia. While previously critical of the Iraq war and disastrous interventions in Libya and Syria, Nigel Farage has remained loyal to Donald Trump's presidency.

Could Brexit be a mere charade to engineer the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Reading between the Lines

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by British civil servants and EU Bureaucrats under Theresa May's premiership did little to restore sovereignty to the British electorate. The UK would nominally be outside the EU, but still bound by the rules and regulations of the Customs Union and Single Market, all for a little extra control over labour mobility from EU countries, e.g. not allowing workers to claim in-work benefit until they have paid into the system for at least 5 years. Given the much greater challenge of smart automation displacing millions of monotonous manual and clerical jobs, the native workforce would compete over fewer and fewer entry level jobs. The only way to make a success out of greater economic autonomy would be to invest heavily in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), all areas where British students lag behind their Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Indian counterparts. Yet while the public debated the dreaded Northern Irish backstop, that would stop the UK from striking new trade deals independent of the EU until it had definitely resolved the Irish border issue to the EU's full satisfaction, the UK government was busy agreeing to military unification with the armed forces of other EU members with hardly a murmur of dissent from any of the parties represented in Westminster. The DUP were too obsessed with the constitutional status of Ulster, while the Liberal Democrats and Labour probably welcomed the move. While the military budgets of most continental European countries, with the notable exception of France, have remained subdued over the last 20 years, they have begun to creep up as European military integration became a reality. Germany's former Minister of Defence and now President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had the blessing of US-based military strategist, Henry Kissinger for Europe's remilitarisation. Global strategists owe no special allegiance to their nation states. In the mid to late 20th century it made sense for the superpowers to contain the military ambitions of the main European countries, but with monetary union and only nominal national sovereignty, in the eyes of world chess players, a unified European military command can assume the role of global cop in conflict zones in Africa, the Middle East and most disturbingly of all seek direct confrontation with Russia. One thread that unites most European federalists is their visceral hatred of Vladimir Putin's Russia, whom they accuse of meddling in European politics, while simultaneously letting American and Chinese tech giants run vast swathes of the continent's telecommunications infrastructure. In the dying days of her administration Theresa May agreed to let Chinese multinational, Huawei, manage the roll-out of the UK's controversial 5G network, only a couple of years after the same government let China's General Power Corporation build new nuclear plants in the UK despite obvious security risks. With the current pace of globalisation it may not matter if the British Isles are whole or only partly in the EU, our lives will be managed by the same corporations.

The Ultimate Con Trick

Many EU-flag-wavers have suggested the true aim of Tory Brexiteers is to hand over British public services to North American big business, which could potentially lead to the privatisation of the revered NHS. There's only one flaw in this analysis, the neoliberal dream of dynamic private enterprises competing in a regulated free market is on life support. Neoliberalism has outlived its purpose as the main driver of economic growth and technological innovation, as big business no longer needs the services of most working age adults and relies instead on welfare largesse to subsidise its customers. As private healthcare can only serve those able to pay, the global trend is towards public healthcare, not least because local authorities prefer one-size-fits-all social medicine with mandatory vaccinations, mental health screening and regular check-ups for common medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma. In early capitalism, successful enterprises remained largely indifferent to the plight of the great unwashed masses. Today the largest commercial ventures do not want only to satisfy their consumers, but to actively shape their lifestyle and thus to regulate their behaviour. Gay Pride Parades are no longer fringe events of a marginalised minority, they're sponsored by banks, supermarkets and mobile phone networks with the full blessing of local authorities and the police. New shopping centres bear little semblance to their geographic surroundings with variants of the same ubiquitous brand names and chain stores. Slowly but surely our urban landscape is beginning to resemble a maze of playgrounds with different sets of prefects monitoring puerile plebeians. At the same time countries with proud histories, strong traditions and distinctive cultures have become mere social engineering pilot projects.

UK PLC (the British version of USA Inc.) is so enmeshed with the world economy, that it no longer needs the loyalty of its hapless inhabitants, known affectionately in Germany as Inselaffen (island apes) partly due to their drunken antics in Mediterranean resorts. The business elites only supported the UK's continued existence to placate remnant patriotism and maintain a tightly integrated military industrial complex.

I seriously doubt whether Boris Johnson, whose family can trace their roots to Germany, Russia and Turkey and who was born in New York city and partly schooled in Brussels, cares more about British self-determination than his pro-EU siblings or the likes of Richard Branson for that matter. They probably care even less about Ulster, the ramifications of Scottish separatism or even the future of the Conservative Party. A no-deal Brexit may not be such a big deal after all for Boris's corporate friends, but the mainstream media could easily blame Brexit for the looming European financial meltdown as Germany fails to bail out insolvent Italian banks and the London Stock Market crashes. With rising unemployment and a devalued currency, Scotland and Northern Ireland may well vote to leave the UK, conveniently blaming the hated Tories for inevitable cutbacks to public services. That may well be one of the better outcomes. The worst case scenario may be a Yugoslav-style civil war.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Extinguishing Open Debate and Personal Freedom

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.

Intellectual Honesty

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.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Falling Apart

Technocracy

In the age of Coming Together

The beginning of the end for neoliberalism

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.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

The Brexit Delusion and the End of Neoliberalism

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 €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.

For some time now large corporations, third sector agencies and governments have been working in unison to facilitate the kind of rapid cultural change that empowers technocrats and undermines traditional support structures. Nominally Tesco may appear to compete with Sainsbury's and Asda (currently planning to merge awaiting approval), but in practice most shoppers gravitate towards the nearest and most convenient supermarket. The real competition is with independent retailers and farmers. Likewise Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and IBM may appear to compete. For a while I would religiously boycott Microsoft products, probably due to a virus that wiped two hard drives in 2001 (and which had not been fully backed up), preferring Linux instead and then falling into the clutches of Google and the even more restrictive Apple[1] instead. Yet away from the public gaze these tech giants cooperate a good deal. For instance Microsoft has just announced that is abandoning its own Edge Browser (the successor to IE) in favour of Chromium, making the default Web client on Windows 10 just a Microsoft-themed version of Chrome. Meanwhile Google has adopted Microsoft's open source Javascript successor, Typescript, for their Angular framework and have long desisted from seriously challenging Microsoft's main cash cow, its desktop Office suite, which works just as well on Mac OS as on Windows and has fully functional mobile version running on Android and IoS, and distancing itself from underfunded open-source projects like LibreOffice. I suspect behind the scenes their collaboration may be much deeper as Google invests heavily in the development of the Fuschia operating system, optimised for embedded systems, and Microsoft ports its flagship database system to Linux and promotes its cloud Azure services much more aggressively than its ageing desktop OS and has all but abandoned Windows Phone in favour, temporarily at least, of Android. Alphabet Inc. dominates search, video streaming and smartphones, while Microsoft prevails in core productivity software, keeps its grip on desktop computing and diversifies into Web services and artificial intelligence. Meanwhile the other main players, Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Huwei and Amazon use variants of each other's technology stacks. Samsung makes screens not just for their ubiquitous gadgets, but for Apple's iPhones too, which are mainly assembled in China using variants of the same components that Huwei installs in its more competitively priced products. Most of the world's estimated 3 billion micro-computers are made in a handful of large manufacturing facilities employing only a few hundred thousand workers at most. Smart automation will reduce these numbers further in years to come.

Our lives are increasingly run by a tangled web of tech companies and parastatal[2] 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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Do the elites want to eliminate us?

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.

Hyperdependence

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?

Categories
Computing

The Destabilisation Game

Urban warfare

How warmongers and open-borders activists collude to disrupt viable societies

If you have a romantically humanitarian worldview, you may well welcome all policies that seem to help other people in need and oppose all actions that may either harm or hinder others. An idealist would resist all wars, abhor all violence and accommodate all victims of military repression and socio-economic upheaval, receiving refugees and economic migrants with open arms.

Such extreme altruism rests on a Rousseauian interpretation of human nature, i.e. that we are all good at heart and only corrupted by an oppressive system that concentrates power in a few hands and pits one group of people against another. Its antithesis is the Hobbesian view that we are mainly self-interested and can, if left to our own devices, resort to savagery to further our selfish ends. I believe the truth lies somewhere in between, but one thing remains certain: civilisation affects human behaviour and some civilisations are much more violent or coercive than others.

Alas we are a socially competitive species. We don't just strive to better ourselves, but to win a competitive advantage over others. We see this behaviour at play in mate selection, in creative pursuits that require strong motivation and in our desire to gain influence over others. However, we can only live together peacefully if we fully respect each other's personhood and agree to a set of a ground rules to resolve conflicts. This begs the question: to what extent do we need the supervision of coercive authorities to maintain social order?

While opinion leaders may appeal to our idealism and emotions, in the real world ordinary people appear powerless to change the course of events. We may yearn for a harmonious world free of the deep-seated rivalry that once divided us, but such a paradise remains little more than a pipe dream. On the burning issues of military adventurism and mass migration we have four camps:

  1. Pacifists oppose all wars and all borders, i.e. infantile leftists or anarcho-communists.
  2. Jingoists always support wars against rogue regimes, but expect their governments to keep them safe by enforcing strict border controls, i.e. many rightwing nationalists or Trumpian neoconservatives.
  3. Extreme interventionists support military interventions against the perceived enemies of progress, but also welcome the erosion of national borders and transfer of power to superstates, i.e. globalists such as American neoliberals, European federalists or the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony, Blair, Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron.
  4. Non-interventionists oppose most wars, but still want borders to protect their way of life and cultural traditions, i.e. most ordinary working people.

Proponents of the first position clearly live in cloud cuckoo land. National borders are just one of many barriers between different groups of people. The biggest divider between us remains the power of wealth to control our access to private property. While an unemployed Portuguese woman can hop on a bus and travel within the Schengen zone to the wealthier regions of Northern Europe without ever having her passport checked, the intervening landscape is replete with countless other manmade barriers denying us access to buildings and land. I can't just turn up at a five star hotel and demand access to a vacant room because I have nowhere else to stay. I need to prove my ability to pay the going rate. Sure, in an ideal environmentally sustainable world without extremes of poverty and opulence, we may not need border checks at all, just as people in safe neighbourhoods do not feel the need to lock their premises at night. Do I lock my front and back doors because I distrust my neighbours or assume all passers-by are ill-intentioned? Of course not, I do so because in an imperfect society burglars may take advantage of my vulnerability.

The other three options have many nuances, but the real contrast lies between conservatives and interventionists. Pragmatically most governments of affluent countries need to maintain social order at home and may acquiesce to the demands of their more conservative citizens to keep their towns and cities safe from the worst excesses of gangland violence that plagues bustling metropolises across the developing world. Likewise many European governments seek to distance themselves from unpopular US-led wars to maintain trust with the general public. This gives us the illusion of a diversity of opinions among political leaders and national governments. It may seem that some politicians talk about the dangers posed by terrorists and foreign dictators, while others are concerned with helping those displaced by wars. It's a truism that if you don't want refugees in your country, you should oppose the arms sales and wars that caused so many to flee these war-torn regions.

I now think it's too facile to lay the blame for the endless wars and social dislocation in much of the developing world on Western military interventions alone. Most migrants who have fled to Europe with the help of people smugglers and aid agencies do not come from regions directly affected by recent US-led wars. Moreover, many civil wars rage in regions where the main Western powers have been more noticeable by their indifference, allowing some analysts like neocolonialist historian Andrew Roberts to suggest that we need more not less proactive intervention to stabilise Africa and the Middle East. It's hardly a coincidence most new low-skilled migrants (i.e. not those who could easily obtain a work visa) come from regions with a high fertility rate and a fast rate of urbanisation. People tend not to flee stable communities unless they are no longer able to fend for themselves or are enticed by promises of untold riches in faraway cities. Rural Africans experience their biggest culture shock when they move to a big city where they are likely to meet many other itinerants, not when they later decide to move another city in a more affluent country with a more advanced welfare system.

War is not the only cause of death and destruction. Environmental mismanagement is a much bigger killer. Moreover, many technological solutions, such as better sanitation, modern medicine and higher agricultural yields through irrigation and fertilisers, may lead to other problems further down the line like rapid population growth and an exodus of young adults to large cities. If the economy fails to provide most men of working age with gainful employment without a social safety net, many will turn either to crime or fanaticism, hoping for salvation through submission to a political or religious cult. Just as the professional classes in the affluent West embrace green solutions to meet the challenges of the coming century, Africa's upwardly mobile middle classes embrace mass consumption with a verve reminiscent of the swinging 60s.

Many of us have theorised that Western powers intervened in the Middle East mainly to gain control of the oil supply, but demand for this oil is growing faster in China, India and Africa as their car ownership approaches European levels and within the next ten to twenty years most vehicles will be electric anyway, reliant more on the availability of lithium and abundant cheap electricity than on the price of crude oil. However, we will need massive infrastructure to power billions of vehicles, robotised manufacturing facilities, domestic appliances, air conditioners, hospital equipment and other machines essential to our high tech way of life. Whether we bedeck deserts with giant solar panels or invest in next generation nuclear fusion reactors, only large corporations will have the resources to build and maintain such phenomenal infrastructure further reducing regional independence. Billions of urbanites are already at the mercy of remote organisations responsible for their energy, water and food supply. People may protest, but are powerless to challenge the hegemony of tech giants. If even oil-rich Venezuela, which used to be self-sufficient in food, cannot develop the technology to gain functional autonomy from big business, there is little hope for countries like Nigeria or South Africa whose restless populations are demanding a bigger slice of the global cake.

If neoliberal lobbyists really cared about people in the third world, they'd promote greater self-reliance to minimise the kind of sudden cultural and demographic change that can destabilise societies and trigger internecine conflict. They see the destabilisation of previously viable societies not as a threat to world peace, but as an opportunity for yet more intervention. So it should come as no surprise that many of the same global actors lobbying for more humanitarian wars, which tend to empower local militias and create more refugees, also welcome mass migration, not as a temporary side effect of environmental mismanagement, but as a desirable end in and of itself. The same players also seem quite happy to witness social dislocation across many European and North American cities. The spectres of Islamic fundamentalism, gang violence and rightwing extremism serve to justify more surveillance and a clampdown on free speech, while divided communities only empower social workers to engineer new identities detached from our cultural heritage.

Flag-waving nineteenth century imperialism has now morphed into progressive globalism coopting trendy social justice activists as its missionaries, but supported by the same banking cartels and industrial behemoths that once bankrolled Western colonialism. Once the middle classes of the home countries of the great empires may have enjoyed some economic privileges and cultivated a sense of moral superiority over the apparently less civilised peoples of their colonies. By contrast today, outside a few safe havens of general opulence and social stability, the whole urban world has become an occupied territory that nobody can truly call home.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

We cannot stop wars unless we tackle their causes

Police keeping

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 will 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.

Categories
Power Dynamics

The Eclipse of the Democratic Delusion

 edical  rofessional stock

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.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/RFV8IkY52iY

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.