Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Getting a taste of your own medicine

Corporate censorship

How hate speech laws have come back to bite their proponents

This week Corbynites, who often call for the no-platforming of social conservatives, were on the receiving end of antisemitism allegations. Yet the same BBC stands accused of suppressing the scale of rape gangs to appease the Muslim community. It seems we must now think twice before expressing any opinions that may be deemed misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, antisemitic or in any way critical of our emerging Brave New World of rootless world citizens. For a while it seemed these constraints only applied to the evil far right or rather those who took a firm stand against social engineering, but now censorship hinders dissent on the left too.

More and more people with different political outlooks are getting well and truly fed up with the BBC's lack of objectivity, its narrow focus on a small set of perceived threats, its elevation of minor news stories to push an ideological agenda and its dismissal of much more important events as mere side effects of progress. In short, the BBC does not, as it claims, dispassionately report on a changing national and global reality with a wide range of divergent perspectives. It selects which news stories best serve its preferred narrative, often turning reality on its head by choosing exceptions rather than rules, and counteracts what it paradoxically calls fake news from the alternative media.

Yet the BBC does not just piss off opponents of UK involvement in endless wars in the Middle East, critics of unbalanced mass migration, social conservatives not totally on board with the LGBTQ++ agenda or dissident scientists concerned with the adverse effects of mass medication. It has now alienated hundreds of thousands of leftwing activists in Jeremy Corbyn's enlarged Labour Party, who take a strong stand against the Israeli government's repression of Palestinians and its role in destabilising other countries, not least the well-documented close collaboration between Israel and Saudi Arabia in a fateful triangle with the Pentagon.

The BBC's flagship current affairs documentary programme, Panorama, has a long track record of carefully timed hit pieces to smear opponents of British foreign policy, defame dissidents or destroy the reputation of organisations who in some way challenge corporate interests. In 2013 on the eve of a crucial parliamentary vote to authorise RAF airstrikes over Syria, the BBC aired Saving Syria's Children, in which crisis actors reacted to a staged chemical attack, purportedly launched by Assad's air force against innocent civilians. Robert Stuart has spent the last six years compiling evidence to conclusively prove the whole event was faked before the term #fakenews gained currency in everyday speech. The BBC's John Sweeney is a propaganda veteran of the British government's campaign to win support for Tony Blair's ill-fated invasion of Iraq when he championed the cause of Iraqi Kurds. Later the same journalist targeted the Scientology church, bankrolled apparently by a few wealthy Hollywood celebrities like John Travolta and Tom Cruise. Neither of these controversies are open and shut cases. The Kurdish people, spread over parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, have long wanted an independent homeland, but their cause has also long been exploited rival regional powers in their quest to destabilise their enemies. While the British government has historically turned a blind eye to the repression of Kurds in Turkey, US, UK and, dare I say, Israeli secret services have given logistical support to Kurds in Iran, Iraq and Syria. To put it another way, it's in the geopolitical interests of the main corporations behind the US and UK Deep States to destabilise all regional powers who undermine their hegemony and to seek alliances with any disgruntled factions. However, the military-industrial complex today encompasses the growing biotech and mind control sectors. While an independent Syria may be a thorn in the side of US and Israeli plans to prevent China and Russia from gaining greater influence in the Middle East, the Church of Scientology is an arch opponent of psychiatry and psychoactive medication and thus a threat to the biotech industry's grip on the collective psyche. I would add that Ron Hubbard's cult is an easy target that has merely co-opted a radical 1960s critique of psychiatry so they can present their behaviour modification system, known as Dianetics, as the only solution to our emotional challenges. I'm naturally sceptical of any well-funded cult-like organisation, but I suspect the BBC's main target here was not the Church of Scientology at all, but critics of psychiatry and their relentless drive to reframe all personal challenges as mental health issues.

An objective account of the Syrian civil war would look not only at the government's human rights record, which in the Middle East is unlikely to be very clean, but also at the funding and ideology of the various rival militias who controlled vast swathes of Syrian territory between 2011 and 2018. Before 2011 almost uniquely in the Middle East the Syrian government has managed to prevent its disparate ethnic and religious communities from killing each other and to avert the menace of Islamic fundamentalism. To do so, it sometimes had to resort to repressive means, such as torture, and incursions against insurgents, most notoriously President Hafez al-Assad's 1982 crushing of Muslim Brotherhood rebels in Hama. Sadly all regimes in the Middle East have to deploy coercive means to subdue internecine warfare among rival factions.

Panorama commissioned John Sweeny to do another hit piece against a rabid Zionist, someone who had himself photographed standing on an Israeli tank proudly waving the Star of David flag. Stephen Yaxley Lennon, mainly known by his stage name of Tommy Robinson, has made a career out of his campaign against the spread of radical Islam and some of the worst practices of the burgeoning Muslim communities in many towns and cities across the UK such as their failure to integrate with wider British society, their perceived takeover of entire neighbourhoods with vigilantes enforcing aspects of Sharia law, their apparent visceral hatred of British armed forces and, most notoriously, their grooming gangs targeting vulnerable non-Muslim teenage girls. For the sake of clarity, I can sympathise with any community that opposes the British role in the projection of US military adventurism. On the 2003 march against the Iraq war I marched for a while alongside one of the biggest contingents, the Luton branch of British Muslim Council. While I don't blame individual soldiers for joining the army, I do not think they helped defend anyone back home. Indeed British military adventurism has only made the UK and British ex-pats prime targets for terrorists. Tommy Robinson's home town of Luton now has a Muslim majority in its school-age population. Non-Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds tend to send their children to suburban schools with a lower Muslim intake, while thousands of former Lutonians have simply upped sticks and moved to outlying market towns and villages, a phenomenon once known as white flight, but it's by no means exclusively whites who are metaphorically running for the hills.

The radical left has struggled to come to terms with divided communities, preferring instead to paint a blissfully naive picture of a united working class battling a few isolated racists spewing their hatred. The main flaw in this argument is that internecine hatred comes both from some radical Muslims and the wilder elements of the former English Defence League who have now regrouped as the Football Lads Alliance. Contrary to the BBC's simplified narrative, the battle lines do not divide whites from blacks, but Muslims from anti-Muslims.

Much of the avowedly antiracist left rejoiced as the Old Bailey set a legal precedent by jailing Stephen Yaxley Lennon for the subjective crime of contempt of court, when all he did was announce the list of men convicted of gang rape of minors, which was already in the public domain, as they returned to court for sentencing. Compare and contrast reporting restrictions enforced on these sex abuse trials involving 1000s of innocent girls, with the media's lynching of disgraced entertainers like Rolf Harris and Cliff Richard. The BBC even hired a helicopter to take aerial footage of a police raid on Sir Cliff's property at enormous public expense. From a legal standpoint it's irrelevant whether Mr Yaxley Lennon had himself been found guilty of physical assault on more than one occasion, the law should be applied equally to all. More worryingly, no jury was present at the trial.

Some will argue correctly that Tommy Robinson merely jumped on a bandwagon and did nothing to expose the scale of rape gangs targeting non-Muslim girls. Indeed the whole Tommy Robinson phenomenon would not exist without a captive base of disaffected working class youths and a little financial help from pro-Israeli pressure groups, most notably Australian-based Avi Yemini and the Canadian social conservative group, Rebel Media. The latter channel has admittedly countered some mainstream media bias on topics as diverse as sex education and mass migration, but is unashamedly pro-Israel and critical of all major Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which it defines as terrorists. We now have a distinctive political current that loathes Islam, loves Israel and champions national sovereignty and aspects of social conservativism with high profile advocates as varied as Katie Hopkins and Ezra Levant, to which we could add Gerard Batten's faction of UKIP and Anne Marie Waters' For Britain movement. This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with American politics where the Christian right has long been closely allied with the Netanyahu wing of the pro-Israeli lobby.

This must seem odd to some observers, as traditionally American Jews have been at the forefront of campaigns to relax immigration controls and promote alternatives to traditional families. Many on the radical right have blamed Hollywood, with its disproportionate Jewish influence, for subverting traditional Christian values.

Is the dispute really about anti-Zionism?

The so-called International definition of antisemitism is now so broad as to equate any criticism of the Israeli State or undue influence exerted by financiers and media executives, some of who may be Jewish, with the kind of pathological hatred of Jews that led to the Nazi Holocaust. Is it antisemitic to state correctly around 22% of all Nobel Laureates are Jewish, that the USA awarded Israel a $38 billion military aid package in 2016 or that 5 of the 7 Chairs of Federal Reserve since 1970 have been Jewish? I guess it all depends what conclusions one reaches from such easily verifiable facts.

Despite its close ties with successive US administrations, Israel is only one piece of a much larger jigsaw. To put the Palestinian conflict into context, more Muslims have been ruthlessly murdered by the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran and by Islamic fundamentalist militias than by Israel. The ongoing bombardment of Yemen is putting at risk the lives of as many as 20 million Yemenis, while the British RAF trains Royal Saudi Airforce pilots.

Many true Zionists accuse the BBC itself of antisemitism in its appeasement of the Islamic lobby in the UK. Few English, Scottish and Welsh people harbour ill feelings towards Jews, have very strong opinions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or are obsessed with undue Jewish influence in finance or media. Most strong views, one way or the other, inevitably come either from radical political activists or more commonly from those with family ties to the Middle East. So which community in early 21st century Britain would be most likely to distrust Jews, blame Israel for many of the world's ills and cast doubt on the orthodox version of the Nazi Holocaust? Let me give you a clue. They are not old age pensioners who still remember the Second World War or virtue-signalling refugee rights campaigners, but neither are they ordinary working class Christians or trade unionists. Even outspoken critics of Israeli government policy like George Galloway have taken a very firm stance against both Holocaust denial and against the likes of Tommy Robinson. So let's scratch our heads and think which group of disaffected people with strong religious views might blame Jews not only for the Middle East quagmire, but for Western cultural decadence and its addiction to debt? What kind of staunch labour voters would view world history since the 1917 Balfour declaration through the prism of an almighty conspiracy by Zionists to control the globe? It may sadden some, but there is only one logical answer to the above question. It also helps us explain how Labour could miraculously hold on to the marginal seat of Peterborough in a by-election with nearly ten thousand postal votes or around 30% of all ballot papers cast. While the Palestinian conflict may be just one of many causes that many leftwing activists like to champion when they're not fretting about food banks, disability benefit cuts, global warming, veganism or LBGTQ++ rights, in the minds of many radical Muslims it justifies their jihad against Jewish power. The problem is most Labour activists either turn a blind eye to rampant Judaeophobia among some of their radical Muslim comrades or they are blissfully unaware of it.

Besides, the Israeli issue has long divided the Jewish community itself. Some of Israel's most outspoken critics such as Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Gilad Atzmon are themselves Jews. One hundred prominent Jews signed a letter to Guardian defending Chris Williamson, suspended for claiming Labour was too apologetic about antisemitism. More perversely, the only associate of Jeremy Corbyn who has ever called into question the scale of the Nazi holocaust is another Islington resident coincidentally of Jewish heritage himself, Paul Eisen, who even more intriguingly is also a close friend saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon. A few Labour activists, such as the MP for Derby, Chris Williamson or Edinburgh trade unionist Pete Gregson, may obsess with the Palestinian issue and the pro-Israeli lobby, but they have both vehemently denied hating Jews as lifelong opponents of any form of xenophobia. Indeed both could be described as xenophiles generally welcoming high levels of immigration.

Freedom of Inquiry

A common error of analysis is to assign collective responsibility to an entire category of humanity for crimes committed by a tiny subset of such groups and then to censor debate about key issues that affect us all through guilt by association with a few bad apples. Censorship of ideas creates an atmosphere in which people are scared to ask important questions and challenge orthodoxy. The spectres of Islamophobia and antisemitism do not serve to protect either Jewish or Muslim interests, but to silence dissent. If you care about Muslim lives, why not protest against UK logistical support for the ongoing bombing of North Yemen? If you care about antisemitic hate crimes, then you might like to have word with a few radical Islamists who learn Judaeophobic diatribes in their mosques. If you care about historical truth and our future as a free-thinking species, you may want to join me in taking a firm stance against the steady erosion of intellectual freedom.

Categories
Power Dynamics War Crimes

The trouble with Zionism and Islamism

Demo against perceived Islamophobia

I wish we could wish away any historical or geopolitical controversies related to Jews or Muslims and all live together in peace and harmony. As it happens, for many years Jews, Christians and Muslims managed somehow to reconcile their differences in countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq where today Islamic fundamentalism threatens religious minorities.

As I write the world is undergoing technological and cultural change at such a rapid rate that makes it hard to foresee the future trajectory of human civilisation over the next couple of generations. Yet just as artificial intelligence colludes with nano-robotics to supplant human workers and biotechnology conspires to render motherhood obsolete, many remain obsessed with time-honoured theological disputes over allegiance to religious cults. Let us be in no doubt to discuss either Islamism or Zionism is to invite ridicule.

How can we interpret our modern world through the ideological lenses of Islamism and Zionism? This narrow obsession with the Jewish and Islamic questions can lead to some odd alliances that transcend the traditional left versus right split with severe implications for intellectual freedom.

One may rationally analyse the power of international cabals over traditional societies. If we look at the most influential movers and shakers in media, banking, literature, science, politics and academia, it's hard to deny that some ethnic groups are much more prevalent than others. For instance of 892 Nobel prizes awarded as of 2017, 201 or 22.5% went to Jews, despite being only around 0.2% of the world's population. Likewise Sikhs exert disproportionate influence on Indian business and administration.

We may also objectively study the causes of the current conflict between the Zionist State and Palestinian peoples and attempt to sift through a sea of claims and counter-claims about heavy-handed Israeli suppression and Islamic terrorism. I've listened to both sides of the debate. I shared a flat with three Palestinians in Italy and my former Jewish landlady in North London kept complaining to the BBC and the Independent whenever they highlighted Israeli war crimes. I know the arguments off by heart. The Palestinian version is that the Zionists stole their land and created an apartheid state in all but name, using American and European (mainly German) money to build new Jewish settlements in territories assigned to the Palestinians in 1948. The pro-Israeli version is that Palestinian Arabs are Jordanians who can easily move to any of the surrounding Arab countries, while Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations who want to drive Jews into the sea. However, this tittle tattle ignores two other indisputable facts. First Israel is about the same size as Wales and even if we add the Palestinian territories its total land area is still just 28,000 km2. Second the population of this combined area has grown from just shy of 2 million in 1948 (with 800,000 in Israel proper) to 13 million today, that's 7.7 million in Israel proper and 4.9 million in the Palestinian territories. Yet much of the land is semi-arid or desert. It's only through the miracles of modern irrigation and trade that Israel not only feeds its people, but is now a net food exporter. Life is much tougher for most in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but in part due to overcrowding and larger families. The fledgling Jewish state was built on two historical injustices, the expulsion of around 700,000 Palestinians from its newly assigned territories and, of course, the Nazi-era genocide of European Jews. By no stretch of imagination does the latter justify the former, however hard some revisionist historians try to blame Palestinian collaborators, such as the former Mufti of Jerusalem Al-Husseini, for the Nazi Holocaust, as one could just as easily highlight the 1933 Haavara agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the new National Socialist regime. The classic mistake many part-time historians make is to blame ordinary people for the machinations of their ruling classes or for atrocities in far-flung lands over which they have no control. Some Arab Palestinians may well have sympathised with the Axis powers for the same reason that some Irishmen did, on the misguided grounds that my enemy's enemy must be my friend. Nonetheless the current demographic reality of the former British mandate precludes an easy solution that can please all parties concerned and guarantee lasting harmony. Unless all parties concerned are prepared to compromise, I do not foresee an easy solution that does not inconvenience a large section of Israeli / Palestinian inhabitants.

Why should Western bystanders care about the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories or the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism any more than many other prickly disputes around the world? How did this small plot of land become an ideological battleground between rival factions of anti-Zionists and fanatical friends of Israel. It's a cause cèlébre that somehow manages to unite anti-imperialist leftwingers and Muslims against Israel-firsters, who now include not just influential American Neocons, but many social conservatives. Much of the new right across North America and Europe is avowedly pro-Israel. Geert Wilders, Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson have all expressed their unconditional support for the Jewish State and have condemned Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organisations. Benjamin Netanhayu was not only the first head of state to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the US presidential electoral college, but has fostered close relations with prominent social conservative politicians in Eastern Europe such as Viktor Orban.

The Holy Land conflict acts as a proxy among shifting alliances. Few are really interested in the plight of Palestinians or the protection and self-determination of religious Jews in a hostile world. Of greater interest to me has always been the influence of leading Zionists on international politics and their role in fomenting endless internecine wars in the Middle East and further afield. Of note is substantial collusion between Saudi Arabia and the Israeli government, both staunch allies of the United States. If Israeli leaders really wanted to secure a prosperous Jewish homeland living in peace with its neighbours, why would they arm and train the most fanatical Islamic fundamentalists? Just as US-led military adventurism does not serve the interests of ordinary working class Americans, covert Israeli support for Islamic militias in Syria actively imperils Orthodox Jews in Israel with nowhere else to go, while affluent global Zionists with dual nationality can easily relocate. How odd it must seem that the latter group are now befriending proponents of the growing nationalist counterculture. Back in the day many on the real far right, by which I mean those who openly sympathise with the fascist or national socialist dictatorships of the mid twentieth century, would oppose Zionism, sometimes seeking common cause with Islamists. Indeed a propensity towards Shoah revisionism often served as a litmus test for far-right thinking as country after country banned denial of Hitler's death camps. More important than the tragic historical episode itself, which sadly we cannot undo, is the exploitation of its memory to justify modern wars or stifle rational debate on key scientific and historical issues. Today's Judaeophobic right has shrunk to a hardcore of Third Reich nostalgics mainly found in a few areas of Eastern Europe such as Lithuania and Western Ukraine where the memory of Stalinist betrayal and ethnic cleansing lingers on. The Soviet Union invaded the Baltic Republics as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Fast forward 70 years the German intelligentsia not only champions a federal European Union with the eventual dissolution of traditional nation states, but has welcomed a massive influx of Muslim newcomers with very different views on morality and twentieth century history.

Why people choose to believe one version of history

In a perfect world we would critically analyse all historical and current events in a cool, calm and collected way. Yet we tend to decide many key controversies on emotions rather than with any regard to facts on the ground, which are often complex or open to multiple interpretations. How many people died the US kill during the Vietnam war or indeed how many did it murder during its occupation of Iraq? It all depends how we count and attribute deaths.

How political factions squabble over the Semitic Question

  • The old far right, sympathising with twentieth century fascist regimes, often sided with Muslims as the enemy of their enemy and attempted to downplay the industrial scale of Nazi crimes.
  • The new populist right usually sides with Israel against Islamic expansionism as they want to defend the concept of compact nation states built on ethnic identity and shared cultural norms.
  • The old left defended the rights of all oppressed peoples to self-determination and often sympathised with the Zionist cause, viewing Israel as a bastion of social democracy.
  • Since the 1967 six day war the radical left has usually opposed the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and its role in supporting or driving US foreign policy. Noam Chomsky's The Fateful Triangle sets forth an exhaustive critique of Israeli foreign and domestic policy, but still advocates a two-state solution with a Jewish homeland as envisaged in the 1947 partition of Israel and Palestine/
  • The far left have openly sided with radical Muslims in their principled opposition to the very existence of Israel as a Jewish ethno-state. This takes two forms. One championed by some anti-Zionist Jews, such as Gilad Atzmon, foresee a united secular Palestine/Israel where Jews, Muslims, Christians and Atheists live together happily in peace. Others just want a complete Islamic takeover of the Levant. Some on the fringes of far left have internalised a radical critique of Jewish power and, like many Islamists, call into question the orthodox narrative of the Shoah.
  • Most Muslims denounce Israeli suppression of Palestinian self-determination, yet seem much less concerned about the plight of other Muslims living under repressive Islamic regimes. Divisions within the Muslim diaspora seldom adhere to the traditional Western left / right paradigm. The views of many radical Muslims may vehemently oppose US and Israel imperialism, while espousing a regressive ideology antithetical to the values of the liberal enlightenment.
  • Most Jews support Israel and often its wider neoconservative foreign policy agenda, i.e. instinctively distrusting Israel's enemies and ignoring its frenemies such as Saudi Arabia. However, many Jews do not, most notably Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein in the US or the late Gerald Kaufman in the UK. By contrast ultra-Zionist attitudes are prevalent among much of the new populist right in North America and Europe. You're much more likely to see blue and white Star of David flags at rightwing rallies these days than swastikas.

If you don't have close ties to the region, you may well project your own insecurities and prejudices onto the dispute in the same way as many Scottish nationalists may wish for any team but England to win in the World Cup. Yet one big question remains unanswered in the age of global convergence. Why do some influential Jewish billionaires, such as George Soros, support open borders with so much zeal, while Israel continues to enforce strict immigration controls? Here many make a fundamental error of analysis, conflating the interests of powerful international elites with those of plebeians with strong ethno-religious affiliation. Today we witness a battle between the unrooted professional classes or anywheres, who can easily move as long as they find accommodation within a secluded neighbourhood and stay in touch with other like-minded professionals, and the rooted somewheres, who often find their neighbourhoods and wider social support networks utterly transformed by rapid waves of mass migration, a thesis that David Goodhard has popularised in his recent book A Road to Somewhere.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Is Capitalism Morphing Into Communism?

Capitalist Communism

Under communism you buy everything from a single state outlet, whereas under fully mature capitalism you buy everything from Amazon. Karl Sharro

I once dreamed of a socialist utopia devoid of hate, fear, anxiety, poverty and interpersonal rivalry with common ownership of the means of production. This fantasy comes in two main flavours, idealistic anarcho-communism based on small cooperatives with no central states or organised means of coercion in a tangled maze of hippie communes converging miraculously on a carefree lifestyle of fluid relationships. The other kind of socialism assumes a strong state responsible for regulating every aspect of our communal lives and overseeing our private behaviour, lest we act in an unduly selfish or hateful manner. While anarcho-communism takes a fundamentally Rousseauian view of human nature, assuming that without the oversight of higher authorities, we will revert to our natural state of peace-loving and inherently altruistic creatures, state socialism relies on a complex web of organisations to enforce social conformity and solidarity. Marx foresaw that a workers' state would gradually transform human nature over several generations until the institutions of surveillance and coercion could eventually disappear.

It is easy to dismiss the great socialist experiments of the 20th century in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea and Cuba either as deformed workers' states or state-capitalist. The latest catastrophe is Venezuela that failed to diversify its economy to free itself from the grip of multinationals. These regimes relied on technology developed in advanced capitalist economies and could not deliver their people with the kind of living standards millions of ordinary working class people enjoyed in Western Europe and North America, because state coercion and engineered solidarity failed to motivate creativity and innovation. However, now capitalism is failing too. It cannot survive without subsidised mass consumerism and debt-driven economic growth. Until recently advanced mixed economies relied on the salaries of skilled workers to keep the consumer economy afloat. Now most manufacturing jobs have been either outsourced to low wage regions and/or undergone substantial automation, workers can only aspire to service sector careers that either require a high level of analytical intelligence or exceptional people skills. As the artificial intelligence and robotics revolution progresses, businesses will need to hire fewer and fewer ordinary people with mediocre skillsets. Today large corporations need consumers more than workers. As AI and robots displace monotonous manual and clerical jobs, big business will rely on governments to subsidise their customers. Arguably this has been going on for years in the UK. Most jobs are now involved in people management, social surveillance, retail, entertainment, education, infrastructure inspection or banking.

If big business needed creative, resourceful and independent-minded workers, you can bet they would lobby government to improve academic standards in schools and invest billions in STEM. Alas big business only needs the best and brightest. They may complain that they can't hire enough seasoned programmers or bioscientists and have to import specialists from abroad, but they know only a small minority of graduates have a high enough IQ to be worthwhile employing and rewarding with handsome salaries. Many have criticised modern schooling for focussing too much on socialisation and attitudes than on the practical skills young adults might need in the workplace. Customer relations has suddenly become more important than fixing someone's car or washing machine. While a good mechanic may lose business by insulting his customers, an incompetent mechanic may be blessed with a wonderful sense of humour, but cannot compensate for shoddy workmanship through soft skills, at least not for long. If smart robots supplant human beings in practical jobs like mechanics, plumbers, drivers, bricklayers and farm labourers, people within the median IQ range can only aspire to tasks that require a degree of human authenticity, mainly in the persuasion and care sectors. Persuasion encompasses a very wide range of modern professions, anything from marketing to social work, teaching and charities. I've long argued that schools should refocus on practical skills, but I've not been a lone voice. Every consultation about secondary education in the UK yields similar results. Small businesses and parents alike want smaller class sizes and greater emphasis on vocational skills. There is virtually no grassroots movement calling for more lessons on gender theory or more mental health screening. Such calls inevitably come from well-funded lobbies and spurious charities that pop up from nowhere and suddenly have articulate spokespersons on TV shouting down traditional naysayers.

The left has correctly in my view accused both New Labour from 1997 to 2010 and then three Tory-led governments ever since of colluding with big business. Yet if big business is in the driving seat, why would they support an education system that has clearly failed to train a new generation of conscientious workers able to accomplish all the practical jobs we have traditionally needed? Is it because the government is totally incompetent or driven by ideological concerns at odds with the needs of big business? I'm sorry to admit, but we really have to consider another more disturbing explanation: Large corporations do not need workers. They need consumers.

Outsourcing and smart automation have boosted productivity to such an extent that a few hundred highly skilled technicians can manage a manufacturing facility capable of supplying sophisticated products to tens of millions of consumers. Most of the auxiliary jobs around manufacturing such as shipping, quality assurance and accounting can also be automated too. Much of the marketing and sales operation has already moved online, requiring human input only for client-facing roles, but if you've interacted with automated help lines or online sales chat bots, you can see how artificial intelligence is set to transform our lives. Not only do we now have more car sales representatives than automotive production line operatives, we probably have more high street charity awareness raisers than solar panel and wind turbine technicians. More people are employed to persuade others to adapt their lifestyles and embrace new ways in our dynamic interdependent society than to provide the goods and services we really need.

Whether your electricity supply works or you can afford transportation to your places of work, study or socialisation are no longer viewed as mainly technical challenges, but have become human rights issues. However, capitalism can no longer guarantee the minimum living standard to which we have become accustomed without significant state intervention. The political debate has moved on from how to generate wealth to how to persuade big business to share more of its wealth with the advanced welfare states of affluent countries. However, the state will only subsidise your lifestyle if you play by its rules and big business will only be prepared to bankroll the public sector if it grants them special privileges. Let us just consider your typical provincial town in early 21st century UK. The biggest employers are the local council, the National Health Service , the large supermarket chains and increasingly the distribution warehouses of major online retailers, which in practice means mainly Amazon. Other big employers include charities, banks and insurance brokers, whose role is either to manage your indebtedness or raise awareness for various social transformation initiatives. Hard work, as we traditionally understood the concept, seldom reaps substantial rewards. Instead we rely more and more on social networking and delegation of responsibilities to other human or technical resources.

This is perhaps the biggest paradox of the early 21st century. Just as capitalism seems invincible, its most powerful exponents seek to phase it out and replace it with a command economy, managed by global corporations with the illusion of brand choice for the masses and healthy competition only for the professional elites. The ensuing socio-economic model may resemble an amalgamation of Swedish welfarism and Chinese authoritarianism much more than late 20th century North America. The captains of high tech industry have finally realised they do not need many workers, only compliant consumers.

Categories
All in the Mind

Manufacturing Identities

Dysphoria everywhere

Humanity has always had a wide range of cultures, vocations and two biologically defined sexes. For most of our history we identified with our family, our tribe, our gender and our vocation. We had no choice over family and gender, seldom switched tribes and had a limited window of opportunity to find a vocation within the cultural paradigm of our era. To the above list we may naturally add status, something we traditionally acquired from a mix of our family's social standing and any natural talents we can exploit in a socially advantageous or entrepreneurial manner. One assumed, rightly or wrongly, that your family bore the primary responsibility for your success either by endowing you with a better-adapted brain and body or by instilling in you their acquired customs, knowledge and wisdom.

Long before biologists discovered DNA and sociologists undertook detailed studies on the influences of culture, class, ethnicity and gender on intellectual and professional performance, we knew both nature and nurture affect outcomes. In the real world nature and nurture do not so much compete with each other to affect our personality, intelligence or economic success, as they interact in a continuous feedback loop, e.g. culture and behavioural patterns play key roles in determining who gets to mate with whom.

However, these days not only are our three core identities (gender, vocation and ethnicity) considered infinitely variable, but our behaviour, personality, desires and learning patterns also form key components of our personhood subject to endless categorisation and psychoanalysis. So nowadays people do not just identify as a woman, man, girl or boy, as an Irishman or a Thai or as a mother, a father, a farmer, a nurse or a blacksmith. All of a sudden, within just a few decades, we have come to identify with our erotic proclivities, our favourite pastimes, our brand loyalty, our personality profile, our medical conditions, our fatness, our relative handicaps and increasingly by our assigned mental health label. Someone may well identify as a mathematically challenged, obese, bipolar, gay and diabetic Xbox gamer. Rather than pinpoint and try to overcome someone's relative weaknesses, we celebrate a diversity of equally valid traits. The afore-mentioned identifiers are naturally a mixed bag. Mood disorders interact with narcotics, diet and medication. For instance, an emotionally insecure person with an imperfect body unable to find their ideal partner might succumb to recreational drugs, which in turn trigger sudden mood swings with psychotic episodes, which lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and the prescription of antipsychotics, which cause weight gain through binge eating, leading to a type-II diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle of online gaming. Without a strong focus on work or family as breadwinners or housewives, people can easily descend into a puerile state of monitored play and endless victimhood.

Traditional personal identities make practical sense. Your anatomical sex identifies your potential role in procreation and raising the next generation. Your vocation identifies your primary purpose in life. Your ethno-religious identity determines the essential ethical rules and customs by which you abide. Yet today we're blurring the boundaries of all three core identities. Rather than emphasise different aspects of our main occupation, we assume many different roles and identities at home, with our friends, with our neighbours, with our colleagues and as consumers. Someone may identify as a Manchester United fan, as an iPhone aficionado, as a diabetic, as a vegetarian, as a hiphop fan, as a disco dancer, as bisexual, as gender-fluid, as a keen online gamer or as a sufferer of mild obsessive compulsive disorder. All but the first of these identities would have bewildered past generations. The question is to what extent do these modish labels determine who you really are and to what extent are they malleable? Supporting a sports team is usually a way to bond with other members of your wider community and express your tribal loyalty in a controlled environment. Your choice of team would reflect your background. If you grew up in Merseyside you may support either Everton or Liverpool. Today spectator sports are run as sleek commercial operations whose only connection to their home city is their stadium's geographic location.

As the consumer age took hold in the 1950s, social marketers realised that if peer pressure can influence the sports clubs people support, then media promotion can affect our association with emerging musical genres and cultural scenes. By the early 1960s we had street fights between Mods and Rockers, identifying with rival commercialised countercultures. By the late 60s we had more middle class hippies experimenting in drugs and challenging traditional views on sexuality. In the 70s youthful rebellion found an outlet through the medium of Punk Rock, Reggae and Ska music. In the 1980s youth culture moved more to the narcotised Techno and House music scenes. Pop culture had come not just to dominate our lives way into our 30s and beyond, but to normalise a set of irrational behaviours in a regulated social context.

In the affluent West these new cultural identities mingled with the ethnic identities of new migrant communities. This set the stage for a new era of identity politics based on diverse characteristics, only some of which were inherited and thus immutable under normal circumstances. All of a sudden activists would equate prejudice against lifestyle choices and behavioural traits with racial or sexual discrimination. We don't choose our parents or, until recently, our biological sex. We do not really choose our personality either. It just evolves gradually through symbiosis of our neurological hardware and environmental software. Not everyone will be equally gregarious or equally conscientious, but social stimuli can certainly guide us towards more successful outcomes.

Most societies reward functional behaviour and penalise dysfunctional behaviour. They merely differ in their interpretation of which behaviours may be acceptable in which circumstances. Madness is simply unmanageable misbehaviour that is seen to pose a threat to social stability and may lead to heightened conflicts and cultural decadence. However, in the early 21st century the game has changed. As only a small minority of workers are responsible for providing essential goods, infrastructure and services, the powers that be are more interested in micro-managing people's moods and behaviours as subservient guinea pigs of a giant social experiment than promoting traditional values of diligence and self-reliance. Indeed many now view extreme interdependence as a virtue. The trouble with interdependence is some players contribute much more than others, thus empowering technocrats and bureaucrats at the expense of the underclasses unable to exert any real control over their techno-social ecosystem. In the emerging world of consumer slaves who depend either on insecure temporary jobs or welfare handouts, an interlocking diversity of identities is now seen a virtue that justifies more invasive surveillance and social intervention over an atomised populace.

Transgenderism serves mainly to blur traditional boundaries between well-defined types of people and create new subjective and infinitely variable categories. It conspires to normalise non-traditional families and to disassociate in the public mind the biological link between procreation and motherhood. Lastly, it may also helps redefine many complex psychological problems in terms of non-binary gender identities. Many youngsters may not identify as either males or females because they fail to meet the exacting standards of stereotypical alpha masculinity or femininity. However, divergent gender assignments may be only one of myriad alternative identities that may explain someone's inability to fulfil their personal ambitions.

Welcome to the World of Neurodiversity

Traditionally we viewed any kind of mental disability as unfortunate and reserved psychiatric diagnoses for extreme cases of dysfunctional behaviour. Today, we champion neurological diversity with celebrity endorsements of new-fangled mental health labels. Any human emotional or intellectual challenge can now be reassessed as a medical condition that requires some form of treatment and supervision. Any psychological traits that stray from an arbitrary range of normality now warrant attention, creating an almost infinite variety of problematic personality types in an age of self-obsession. The much trumpeted claim that one in four adults suffer from a mental illness at some stage in their life has served to normalise the concept in the public mind.

While nonconformist behavioural patterns and thought processes have now been pathologised, the NHS has ceased to classify gender dysphoria as a mental illness. So let us get this straight, if a young woman falls into a despondent state following a series of personal setbacks, spending more time alone in bed and failing to socialise with friends, an NHS psychologist may assess her as clinically depressed and thus suffering from a mental illness. If, however, the same woman believes her relative lack of femininity means she should assume the identity of a man and be allowed to take life-changing hormones or undergo genital mutilation, public funds should assist her in pursuing her delusion that her anatomically female body is at odds with her self-perception as a man rather than help her come to terms with her biological reality and deal with the real psychological causes of her identity crisis. We are literally normalising insanity, while redefining perfectly normal thought processes as somehow insane. However, identity crises do not only concern gender. A German woman, now calling herself Martha Big, has invested tens of thousands of Euros in cosmetic surgery and tanning injections to transform her complexion and facial features to resemble a black African lady. While Ms Big's appearance may fool some, Rachel Dolezal from Philadelphia has only undergone a modest transformation, but nonetheless identifies as African American. Of course, many will remember Michael Jackson's expensive skin whitening treatment to give him more Caucasian features. More disturbingly, a growing number of able-bodied people now identify as disabled, a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. In 1997 Scottish Surgeon Robert Smith amputated the perfectly healthy lower left leg of an Essex man, which naturally impeded his mobility and personal independence for the sole purpose of emotional relief. The patient reported feeling complete and at ease with himself after the procedure. More commonly this disorder causes people to have a distorted self-image as too fat, too thin or with exaggerated imperfections and may lead people to undertake dysfunctional cosmetic surgery. How does body dysmorphic disorder differ from gender dysphoria? There are naturally rare cases of hermaphroditism or ambiguous genitalia, in which case any psychological problems reflect a biological reality that may require corrective surgery. Likewise many people have defective or diseased body parts, which may often affect their body image.

What's wrong with a society where more and more people cannot come to terms with their natural selves and wish to assume identities that are either at odds with their biological reality or upbringing? Rather than create more cohesive and tolerant communities of people with a diverse range of practical experiences and skillsets, current trends have produced an atomised collection of victim groups at the mercy of external agencies. Unlike traditional categories, identities based on behaviour or self-perception require some sort of social or medical intervention to ensure a person's viability, something only possible complex collectivist societies. To some these assertions may seem oxymoronic. How can we be both atomised and reliant on collective organisation? A troubled young man suffering from social anxiety unable to hold down a well-paid job may well be both isolated from his wider community and yet concomitantly dependent on remote organisations for his livelihood. More and more individuals in our increasingly interdependent world fail to get along with their neighbours, extended families or colleagues. Rather than find a practical niche within a small close-knit community, many now prefer the safety of virtual communities in which many dysfunctional lifestyle choices become the norm.

In our emerging brave new world of constant transmogrification of human identity, I suspect the boundaries between sexual orientation, transgenderism, transableism, neurodiversity and eventually transhumanism will blur until only a upper caste of intellectually superior technocrats and social engineers retain true freedom of action.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Infantilising Political Theatrics

Cry baby

Whatever you may think of the most influential British politicians of the last century, whether prime ministers such as Clement Attlee or Winston Churchill or dissenting intellectuals such as Tony Benn or Enoch Powell, few can doubt their depth of historical and philosophical knowledge and acumen. Naturally historians can identify many past politicians whose main focus lay in pursuing their career or representing the vested interests of commercial or aristocratic lobbies. However, today's mainstream politicians seem by comparison complete and utter amateurs, less aware of power dynamics than millions of ordinary citizens. One can probably envisage Theresa May as a parish councillor or Jeremy Corbyn as secretary of the local branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, but do these politicians really know more about economics, ecology, military power, social welfare, healthcare, subversion or terrorism than we do? At best our politicians are actors at the mercy of an army of advisors and civil servants playing to a crowd of wishful thinking followers who believe their anointed representatives will stand up for their electors.

We keep hearing from the establishment media that voters back populist platforms because they lack education or distrust experts. Yet experts advised us on the invasion of Iraq, on joining the Euro, on deregulating gambling and on large comprehensive schools. Luckily our political leaders ignored the experts who wanted the UK to sign up to the Euro project. Unfortunately, they heeded their advice on the other issues. The same upper middle class professionals who complain about poorly educated native Britons unable to fill high-skill vacancies also tend to support comprehensive education and then wonder why our schools fail to produce conscientious plumbers, mechanics and nurses.

The Blair era exposed the sheer vacuity of our parliamentary leaders. Only in opposition or from the back benches could the more intellectual MPs challenge the corporate elite, and usually only in guarded language or in ad hominem attacks. As soon as dissident politicians challenge mainstream propaganda or expose hidden agendas, our leading newspapers and TV channels will slander them as extremists or mavericks. What inside knowledge did Tony Blair have on Kosovo, Iraq, Northern Ireland or economics that humble citizens did not? I think it's plainly apparent to all diligent analysts that he had no special expertise on these matters and merely acquiesced to pressure from the powers that be, while trying his level best to deny that external forces influenced his government's policies.

It saddens me to note that 2016's great plebeian rebellion against corporate globalism will once again be betrayed. British voters did not reject the European Union because they loathed Europe, but because they disapproved of the kind of borderless no man's land that is rapidly transforming the social fabric of our towns and cities. Whether the United Kingdom actually leaves the EU or not may not actually matter, as Ms May and her team of overgrown teenagers will only entangle the country in another set of international treaties and free trade agreements which bind governmental decision-making to the diktat of the same transnational bodies. Some of us felt leaving the EU might enable us to build an alternative to corporate hegemony in the same way as abandoning a major supermarket chain like Tesco might enable you to embrace local farmers or independent shops. Instead our puerile leaders offer us an alternative between Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda. The United Kingdom, Ms May assures us, is leaving Tesco and will instead shop at Sainsbury's, Asda or, money permitting, Waitrose. It's like it's leaving a mobile phone contract with Vodafone and opting for Everything Everywhere instead. I don't regret voting to leave the EU, but the UK's economy depends so much on international trade and imported goods that true national sovereignty will remain elusive. To be truly independent, we'd need either a much smaller population or a much larger island to regain relative self-sufficiency in food and energy. Our only other strategy would be to emulate Japan, also a densely populated archipelago, as an export-oriented high-tech power house, but successive governments have failed to motivate enough youngsters to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I'm not sure how long the EU can last in its current guise as Eastern European countries reject mass migration and Southern Europe struggles with debt and mass youth unemployment. I suspect that the EU's strategic importance will wane as the balance of power shifts away from North America and Europe to China, India and Russia.

As editor of the Spectator, Boris Johnson occasionally expressed his penchant for snide remarks and critical thinking, going so far as criticise Tony Blair over his handling of the Iraq war. Within hours of attaining his first Cabinet post as foreign secretary, he fell into line with the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment hailing the White Helmets as nonpartisan rescue workers and amplifying anti-Russian propaganda. Meanwhile the Chancellor of Exchequor, Philip Hammond, exhibits the same degree of economic prudence as Gordon Brown, racking up the nation's debt in the name of growth. The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, appears powerless to tackle a breakdown in social cohesion caused by fragmented communities, but is only to keen to empower the police and social services to spy on the citizenry.

Things look little better on the opposition benches. The SNP, Labour modernisers and the sole Green MP are eager to back the Europan Commission against the interests of the UK at every juncture, while urging the government to boost spending on welfare and relax immigration controls. Seriously, some MPs seem much more concerned about the rights of EU citizens who have moved to the UK over the last 20 years than of their unemployed constituents born in the country. Parliamentary debates have descended to virtue-signalling about our hardworking neighbours from other European countries and the lack of mental health services for our neighbours born in the UK. Has anyone wondered why we can no longer persuade our youngsters to train as nurses or drive buses in London ?

Don't Believe in Conspiracies!

To keep alive the illusion of democracy, our politicians have to pretend they are merely negotiating with other global actors on our behalf. If we can't quite get our way, it's because we had to make a compromise with our international partners, who promptly tell their people the same fable. It's the same everywhere. Most ordinary people are smart enough to realise they cannot aspire to higher living standards without playing an active part in wealth creation. Translated into English this means most people still want to be able to earn a decent living and may reasonably expect their government to facilitate rather than hinder their endeavours. As long as Western governments could deliver prosperity and relative social cohesion, we had the illusion of choice between rival political factions. However, as real power migrates to unaccountable global organisations, governments can at best mitigate the side effects of policies decided in remote boardrooms and think tanks.

While Ms May's administration pretends to respect the outcome of last year's referendum, it's busy empowering the same large multinationals who wanted the UK to remain in the EU. While many voters supported the misnamed Conservative Party to defend family values and restrain the power of big government, Ms May's team has expanded surveillance of private citizens and succumbed to pressure to redefine gender identity. Just as many Americans are beginning to doubt their new President wields any effective control over lawmakers, I suspect Ms May is hostage to her corporate handlers, eager to manufacture phoney political crises over the terms of the country's withdrawal from the EU to seize more control over a weakened UK. As events in Iberia show us, Europe is far from united and currently facing one of the fastest demographic transitions since the Moorish conquest of Spain. The inescapable truth is that more interdependent we are, the less democratic control we have over our governments. The universalist left would have us believe that institutions such as the European Union could better reflect the will of the people, but which people? Those who want less centralisation and more personal freedom or those who want to milk the system?

Categories
Power Dynamics

Destabilising Europe

Guardia Civil clash with voters

What's going on in Catalonia?

I seldom comment on unfolding events before I can establish some basic facts and investigate all the forces at play. I woke up this morning to a twitter stream showing violent clashes between the Spanish Guardia Civil and unarmed Catalan citizens attempting to vote in the region's independence referendum. I think Mariano Rajoy's central government have not only seriously misjudged the public mood in Catalonia, but their heavy-handed and morally indefensible actions will backfire massively. Recent polls suggested only 40% supported full independence, but now that percentage must be much higher. Despite a recent influx of newcomers from the Middle East and North Africa, Spaniards from other regions form by far the largest minority and many Catalans are descendants of earlier waves of migration from Spain's poorer regions. While the Catalan language was suppressed under Franco, since the late 1980s it's been the main language of instruction in state schools. Indeed parents have to explicitly request Castillian Spanish medium instruction. Yet Spanish is still the most widely spoken home language (According to Wikipedia 47.5% speak Spanish as their main tongue versus 44.3% for Catalan). Catalonia is undoubtedly Spain's richest region with its highest per capita income. As a result it subsidises poorer regions such as Andalucia and Extremadura and some estimate to the tune of €16 billion a year.

Back in the mid 1990s I witnessed the rise of the Northern League (Lega Nord) in Italy. Their leader, Umberto Bossi, ranted and railed against Southern Italians. For a few years it seemed the North, known as Padania, may very well have severed ties with Italy's boot. I lived in provincial Veneto where most residents still spoke the local dialect, Veneto, which many considered a language in its own right. Veneto has as much claim to independence from Italy as Catalonia does from Spain. The Venetian Republic lasted until 1796 before being split into two regions under Austrian rule. Italy did not unite until 1871. By contrast Catalonia has been in a union with Castille since Ferdinand II of Aragon married Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1469. However, the governments and legal system did not merge until the aftermath of the War of Succession in 1714, just 7 years after Scotland joined the United Kingdom. The Kingdom of Aragon covered a much larger territory comprising modern communities of Valencia, Aragon and the Balearic Islands as well as Sardinia, Sicily, Naples and briefly Athens. All fascinating stuff, but why would the Catalans want to secede from Spain now if most real economic power lies with multinationals and the EU?

Some may prefer to jump on bandwagons and support the side that appears to have popular momentum behind it. If you supported the rebels in Kosovo, Libya or Syria, you may be surprised to learn US and UK agencies and proxies armed and funded them all. Our media told us pretty much who the good and bad guys were. The problem here is that no country, region or ethnic group today lives in a bubble, except for a few isolated tribes. Self-determination may be a fine ideal in theory, but in practice smaller countries without substantial natural resources have to bow to the diktat of large corporations and superstates. The only apparent exceptions are city states with highly educated citizens like Singapore that serve as financial hubs.

In 2014 I had mixed feelings towards Scottish Independence. In an ideal world I'd have a loose federation of countries and regions within the British Isles. The UK has three main downsides. Most of its population lives in England, its economic activity is concentrated in the South East and it has a thorny imperial legacy. To me Scottish independence would have made sense in the 1970s if the country could have invested its oil wealth in a new high tech economy, while supporting its traditional farming and fishing communities. Alas today's SNP proposes independence within the EU, which essentially means transferring decision-making powers from London to Brussels. Worse still, Scotland exports more than 4 times more to the rest of the UK than it does to the EU27 (the EU post-Brexit). For me the strongest argument in favour of Scottish Independence was the SNP's opposition to Trident nuclear missiles and some aspects of US-led military adventurism. Honestly, with falling proceeds from North Oil the Scottish economy is a basket case, heavily reliant on subsidies from central government and on trade with England.

Catalonia, by contrast, can just as easily trade with France and other European countries as it can with the rest of Iberia. A rump Spain would lose more than a separate Catalonia. However, there's more to life than short-term economic expediency and other problems are looming on the horizon for Catalans. In a world of independent nation states, it would be fairly easy solve the Catalan question. Catalonia could become an independent country for most matters just like Portugal, but join an Iberian Federation to cooperate on strategic infrastructure, environemntal and security issues. Sadly we live in an asymetric world dominated by supranational entities. Only 6 weeks ago, Islamic terrorists killed 13 civilians and injured 130 in Barcelona's renowned La Rambla district. Catalonia has the third highest concentration of Muslims in Western Europe, an estimated 6% of the population and growing through immigration and higher fertility rate. The vast majority are first or second generation immigrants. Paradoxically Catalonia was only briefly part of al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to Iberia under Muslim rule.

While many Catalans are not happy about subsidising their brothers and sisters in Southern Spain, their politicians are fully signed up to the EU project and favour large-scale migration from North Africa and elsewhere. The current President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, heads the Catalan European Democratic Party, which belongs to the same ultra-federalist ALDE group as EU evangelist Guy Verhofstadt. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group wants to see a pan-European army, a unified fiscal regime and continent-wide harmonisation of most other domains of governance such as welfare, healthcare and even education. In an era of open borders, Catalan independence would be a pyrrhic victory. No sooner would they gain greater fiscal autonomy from the rest of Iberia, than they would end up subsidising the rest of Europe while accommodating larger transient communities of North Africans and Middle Easterners. They may well have to speak less Spanish, but more Arabic and Pidgin English. An independent Catalonia within a volatile European Union would not be more Catalan, only less Spanish.

However, the attitude of other European leaders may seem rather puzzling. Yesterday, Emanuel Macron urged Catalonians to support Spanish Unity, a rather odd position for a Frenchman committed to a federal Europe and mass migration. The BBC initiallly presented both sides of the debate. This rather reminds me of the beginning of the Yugoslav civil wars in the early 1990s when the BBC World Service would air many voices in favour of Yugoslav unity. Let's not forget in both world wars, many Slovenians, Croats, Bosnians and Kosovars had sided with the occupying Axis powers against the Allies. Yet by the mid 1990s the main US, UK and other Western European media outlets had overwhelming anti-Serb bias. Today, the Spanish government is portrayed as neo-Fancoist and certainly the antics of its Guardia Civil have done little to dispel that reputation. The real question has to be why the Spanish government thinks it can get away with such violent intimidation in an era of live video streaming ? They have either mishandled the situation in acts of extreme incompetence or they have been led to believe they have the full weight of the international community behind them as remarks from the UK's Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, might suggest.

Technically the Catalan referendum contravenes the 1978 Spanish constitution that does not allow any region to secede without the explcit consent of all Spaniards. It would be like having a UK-wide referendum on Scottish independence. More intriguingly, recent opinion polls have shown support for Catalan independence is only around 40%. If Spain had simply allowed a Catalonia-only independence referendum, with a free and fair debate on both sides, it could well have won as so many Catalonians have relatives in other parts of Iberia. As it is their actions may yield the very outcome that will damage ordinary Spaniards most, separation, the empowerment of the EU and demise of viable nation states.

Categories
All in the Mind Computing Power Dynamics

The Brave New World Test

Fertility Clinc

Human history has had plenty of upheavals, but I believe we have never experienced such a rapid rate of technological and cultural change with worldwide reach. In 1931 Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World not so much as a reliable prognosis of human development over the coming six centuries (as the story is set in the year 2540 AD), but as a warning of how our socially progressive trajectory could lead us to a dystopia of complete submission to a technocratic elite. Huxley failed to foresee the likely implications of artificial intelligence and nano-robotics. He had mistakenly assumed the underclasses, represented by deltas and epsilons, would have a role to play in the production process. Yet as I write Chinese industries are busy automating their manufacturing facilities despite the widespread availability of cheap labour. In Huxley's day geneticists had yet to discover DNA or understand the mechanics of bio-engineering and cloning, yet he had in my view correctly identified a direction of travel, that would only be temporarily set back by the rise of national autocracies, another world war and an uneasy transition from Western colonialism to national independence in the developing world. Indeed one may argue that some rivals to Western neo-liberalism as it emerged in Western Europe and North America such as fascism, Naziism or Soviet-style socialism were mere failed experiments, whose people management techniques could serve a future ruling class once we had the technology to placate the masses through endless entertainment and effective mind control without relying on their brainpower to keep the economy going. This has always been our rulers' main dilemma: How can they prevent the masses from shaping the future of our society and gaining greater personal independence?

We can set six simple tests to track our progress towards this Huxleyan dystopia:

1) Pervasive Surveillance

We can still retreat to our private spaces and shield ourselves from electronic surveillance by logging off or taking basic precautions to protect our privacy. However, slowly but surely as cybernetics invade our domestic life and natural language processing evolves, more and more of our informal communication is monitored. People have already been arrested, fined and jailed for politically incorrect comments on social media. Facebook now analyses messages via NLP to filter posts and add links to fact-checking sites to correct suppositions that threaten certain vested interests. Meanwhile governments are keen to prevent citizens from using any indecipherable form of encryption. For the time being it appears the technically savvy can easily outwit any restrictions imposed by technically illiterate politicians, but the tech giants are already colluding with big government to police cyberspace. Just imagine how such techniques could evolve once we routinely have bio-chip implants capable of monitoring our thoughts.

2) Mind Control Through Entertainment and Stupefaction

The leisure and entertainment sectors have grown in leaps and bounds over the last six decades. Once upon a time commoners would make do with rudimentary means to amuse each other at communal festivities. Today entertainment is a multibillion dollar industry that pervades every aspect of our lives, whether recreational, educational or professional. However, we still have a wealth of choice and may filter out forms of commercialised distraction that do not suit our tastes or high standards. In many modern settings we have to little choice but to consume genres of music and cinematography that clearly have psychological impacts. Some of us have been desensitised to such audiovisual ferocity that we hardly notice it. We could treat stupefaction as a separate facet, but it is just another means of mind control and people management. Human beings have long experimented with psychotropic substances to regulate mood and foster harmony and connectedness. We could argue that caffeine, cannabis, opiates and khat have long helped make our lives bearable in different ways. However, such crude substances have undesirable side effects that may harm one's physical or mental health, trigger social unrest and weaken our current rulers' grip on power. Psychoactive substances are thus regulated, i.e. suppressed where their adverse effects may unduly harm public health or social stability and encouraged where their mood-altering properties can suppress undesirable moods or behaviours. While smoking rates have declined swiftly in much of the West over the last 3 decades, the prescription of antidepressants, stimulants and antipsychotics has grown as more and more people are diagnosed with a growing array of conditions that psychiatrists believe require such treatment. Psychopharmacologists recognise that people not only react to drugs in different ways, but psychoactive medications inevitably interact with food, drink and numerous artificial additives as well as naturally with recreational drugs. We do not yet have a universal Soma-style drug that can reliably pacify citizens by suppressing negative thoughts and erasing unpleasant memories, but we're getting very close. Arguably other means of pacification are more effective, such as action-packed movies, fast-beat music and online gaming that entertain our senses and distract our minds from real world events. Recent moves to legalise, commercialise and regulate marijuana in a number of countries, states and provinces may harbinger a near future where most people are no longer required to undertake any intellectually or physically demanding tasks, but merely stay happy, inspire their friends and relatives and act as consumer guinea pigs.

3) Artificial Reproduction and Managed Life Termination

While the first two criteria are common to other dystopian visions, artificial reproduction defines the Brave New World scenario. Despite our evolved intelligence, natural procreation remains the primary driver of human behaviour and organisation. However, it relies on clearly defined biological genders and competition for the most desirable partners. So far we have only made tentative baby steps towards state-controlled procreation. IVF normalised the concept of using fertility clinics to produce your offspring. Originally billed as a way to help heterosexual couples who failed to conceive naturally, the technique is now available for single parents and gay couples. As the proportion of children born to single parents grows, the authorities have phased out heteronormative terms such as mother and father and even replaced the term parent with caregiver. Meanwhile, social workers play a greater role in monitoring vulnerable parents and may take children away from problematic parents and assign them to new substitute carers. We already have the technology to bypass natural mothers and fathers altogether. In 2015 the British government authorised three parent babies produced by inserting one's mother's artificially fertilised egg nucleus in a donor oocyte (egg shell), a technique known as Mitochondrial replacement therapy. Moreover, artificial wombs are no longer science fiction. Some Swedish women have already borne babies in transplanted wombs, a technology which could also help men and male-to-female transgender people experience pregnancy. The next logical step is to enable embryos to grow in artificial wombs. It would only be a matter of time before extracorporeal gestation became the norm for healthy women too as a means to avoid all potential medical complications for baby and progenitors alike. The first successful human cloning may soon reach the public domain, but merely copying imperfect human blueprints will not satisfy our elite's lust to enhance their intellectual superiority. The real breakthrough to look out for will be the perfection of gene-editing in embryos, paving the way for designer babies, who combined with machine-augmented intelligence may form a kind of super-race.

Phasing out Senility

Senility presents a massive people management challenge as modern medicine has extended our live expectancy. The elderly with mild to medium forms of dementia are not only staid in their ways, but can impair the effectiveness of socialisation techniques aimed at the younger generation. Currently euthanasia has only been legalised tentatively in a few jurisdictions, but in the Netherlands some people with severe mental illnesses have been allowed to opt to terminate their lives. More disturbing is the rapid shift in public policy and attitudes over the last 15 years. The Netherlands has seen a rise of state-sanctioned mercy killings from 1815 in 2003, 3136 in 2010 and to 6091 last year (2016), which is around 1 in 30 of all deaths. Lawmakers are now considering euthanasia for healthy people over the age of 75 through legislation ominously known in English as the Completed Life Bill.

4) Sex for recreational purposes only

In human beings sex has always played a role in intimate bonding, often as a reward for loyalty to one's partner and conscientious behaviour within a relationship. It's also the ultimate expression of positive discrimination either for high-status partners or superlative physiques. All societies have sexual taboos, for while eroticism may reap many rewards, it can also cause psychological and physical harm as well as yield unwanted babies. However, once all procreation is achieved through artificial means, i.e. without either copulation or gestation, mutually pleasurable stimulation of the erogenous zones can take on a different role. In just 50 years attitudes to non-heteronormative expressions of sexuality have shifted dramatically in much of the world. Yet our private actions are increasingly subject to scrutiny in a deluge of confusing and conflicting mixed messages as surveillance encroaches on our private lives. In keeping with the contemporary mood Huxley foresaw recreational sex as lighthearted consequence-free fun between men and women and failed to speculate on the normalisation of acts that most traditional societies have deemed either perverse or only permissible in special circumstances. Of course, we could not only use genetic engineering to let us enjoy carefree sex, but also to suppress potentially harmful or unhealthy sexual urges or unleash our erotic desires on life-like sex dolls as envisaged in the 2015 movie Ex Machina. In George Orwell's 1984 the all-powerful state frowned upon sexual liaisons between lovers as such acts may form lasting personal bonds that weaken the Party's grip on power. Orwell, I suspect, remained a techno-pessimist as he contemplated the aftermath of a barbaric world war and the spectre of a nuclear Armageddon. Our attitudes to sexuality are likely to adapt rapidly to technological and cultural changes. However, our ruling classes will seek to exploit our natural desires both to pacify us and as another pretext to spy on us.

5) Division of humanity into bio-social castes with differing neurological profiles

Eugenics remained a common theme within the Western intelligentsia before the second world war. Anthropologists did not shy from ascribing different intelligence profiles to different subgroups of humanity. Among the keenest advocates of eugenics, i.e. state intervention to discourage the intellectually impaired from breeding, was the former Fabian society president and renowned novelist George Bernard Shaw. The Fabian society has long been at the heart of orthodox British progressivism, believing that the state exists to guide both the economy and the people to a better more prosperous tomorrow through benevolent social engineering. The main distinction between Fabian gradualists and revolutionary Bolsheviks was that the former believed they could bring about a more egalitarian society by subverting the current system, while the latter believed we need first to overthrow capitalism before a vanguard party could guide the workers to new communist utopia. Fabians recognised that only free enterprise could create the kind of sophisticated technology they will need to transition to a form of collectivism that satisfies all our existential and emotional needs .

The defeat of National Socialism with its concept of Aryan racial superiority and the emergence of Anglo-American social liberalism thwarted the plans of eugenicists. To counter the appeal of Soviet-style socialism, the dynamic mixed economies of the West had to champion equality of opportunities for all. By the 1960s mainstream academia and social policy makers had consigned racial eugenics to the dustbin of imperial history as the last vestige of white European supremacy. It is admittedly hard to win public support in a nominally democratic system if you deem a large portion of your electorate intellectually inferior.

Yet elitism, or the belief that intellectually superior upper class should guide social progress, has never really gone away and neither have our enlightened rulers abandoned eugenics altogether. Instead they peddle the mantra of equality and diversity, emphasising how people may be both equal, but have different neurological profiles that presumably have genetic roots. In our everyday lives we meet people who use their intelligence in radically different ways. Simon Baron Cohen, head of developmental psychopathology of the University of Cambridge, popularised a spectrum from extreme systematisers to extreme empathisers in his best-selling book, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain. One may interpret his theory as confirming sexual dimorphism applies to neurology as well as to anatomy, but also redefining autism no longer as a rare developmental disorder but as spectrum that stretches into mainstream humanity in the form of Asperger's Syndrome or high functioning autism. The theory appears to imply there is some sort of trade-off between cold-blooded systematic analysis and the kind of advanced soft people skills that have become so important in our networked society. However, others disagree. We may use the same intellectual skills to negotiate personal interactions as we apply to scientific analysis. Human relationships are subject to many unwritten rules and often require contextual adaptations as we try to guess another person's intentions and feelings. Psychologists often refer to traits such as agreeableness or conscientiousness alongside openness to experience, extraversion and neuroticism. The growing focus on mental health with the psychiatrisation of every conceivable personality flaw such as depression, anxiety, shyness, hyperactivity or compulsivity have led researchers and medical professionals to explore the distribution of these traits ad infinitum. Market researchers and policy makers take a special interest in neurological diversity. They are no longer content to segment markets only by age group, gender, ethnic background or educational attainment. They want to build complex character profiles to ascertain your susceptibility to different marketing approaches, e.g. are you a conformist who merely follows fashion or do you try to swim against the tide and seek counter-cultures ? More ominously techniques pioneered for market research can help identify groups of people with problematic mindsets who may hold opinions at odds with our ruler's social engineering strategy.

The missing piece in this human jigsaw puzzle is of course IQ. While being more or less gregarious or more or less conformist does not necessarily make you more or less valid as a human being, a biologically determined and thus immutable IQ is the one factor that can justify privilege and greater power. In the US SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) serve as approximate IQ tests. In the UK standardised national literacy and numeracy tests serve more to measure a pupil's receptivity to teaching methods than their culturally neutral analytical intelligence. However, mental health screening, which may soon become mandatory, reintroduces true IQ tests through the backdoor. Rest assured similar initiatives are afoot in other countries too, all under the pretext of helping vulnerable young people overcome mental health issues. Meanwhile we've seen a marked rise in the proportion of youngsters with severe learning disabilities, i.e. boys and girls who are not merely a bit weird, geekish or boisterous but who have not mastered some of the most basic life skills and will in all likelihood require constant assistance as adults. Learning disabilities now cover a very wide range of perceived intellectual impairments. In some cases it may be hard to ascertain if they are caused by psychosocial rather than mainly biological factors. Since the 1990s special needs education has mushroomed. In England and Wales alone there were 471,000 assistants by 2014 employed to help pupils with special learning challenges. While teaching aides may sometimes just help pupils whose home language is not English get up to speed in the default language of instruction (around 1/4 of English school pupils have foreign parents), extra language help would usually only be a temporary requirement especially as young children tend to absorb the dominant language from peers, television and online media. In some mainstream schools special needs pupils may only be a small percentage, but in others, especially in deprived areas, this proportion can rise significantly once we include pupils with ADHD who are routinely medicated with the stimulant methylphenidate, commonly known as Ritalin. In some primary schools as many as 1 in 4 pupils are on such psychoactive drugs. Dyslexia is another phenomenon, often ascribed to whole-word teaching of English spelling, that may fall under the broad umbrella of learning disabilities.

Educationalists prefer to explain our growing awareness of learning disabilities in terms of a more inclusive and caring society that wants to help people who in previous generations would have fallen by the wayside, ended up austere institutions or suffered early deaths through neglect. As a result health visitors and paediatricians are much more likely to refer children for diagnosis. However, other factors may have contributed to this rise, most notably the much higher survival rate of premature babies, greater use of IVF for conception, higher preponderance of multiple births (in the US this has risen from 1 in 53 in 1980 to 1 in 33 in 2014 ) and medical advances that enable severely disabled children to survive into adulthood. Whether you like it or not, in traditional societies before the advent of modern medicine any child with a severe neurological handicap unable to undertake basic life tasks would have been left to die. While many view our greater generosity towards weaker members of our community as a sign of social progress, it does bring with it a dilemma. We now have to acknowledge that some people may have a significantly lower intellectual capacity and thus be less able to fully participate in the organisation of a complex society. When the neurologically handicapped made up less than 1% of people, we could easily accommodate them as a vulnerable category exempt from the normal responsibilities of life. It seemed common sense, at least based on our traditional emphasis on greater self-reliance, that we should prevent such people from procreating as they would be unable to look after their offspring. However, now both consensual sexual activity and parenthood are viewed as rights rather than privileges or responsibilities. Few have pondered the implications of allowing the proliferation of intellectually impaired underclasses. Indeed even to mention the subject invites instant derision as a latter-day eugenicist. Yet the normalisation of dysfunctional personality profiles and dysgenics through the higher survival rate of the neurologically impaired may well lead to the emergence of submissive human subcategories akin to Aldous Huxley's epsilons and deltas. In a near future where smart robotics has relieved most of humanity of the need to work, happiness, social integration and compliance (extreme agreeableness in psychology) may be more highly valued than analytical intelligence.

6) Suppression of Free Will and Independent Thought, except as personal preferences and behaviours subject to psychoanalysis

Many high profile intellectuals believe free will is a mere illusion. However, our whole conception of individual liberty, self-determination, human rights and common law is founded on the premise that we all have independent minds capable of critical thinking. Psychiatry reduces human ideation and emotions to biochemical reactions or a complex combination of biological and environmental stimuli. By this logic homicide is not so much a crime as a behavioural malfunction that leads to an unfortunate death. I guess that's how we would explain the erratic behaviour of a robot that destroyed another robot.

Free will lies at the heart of what it means to be human, but we usually only ascribe full responsibility to adults of sound mind, i.e. only a mature mind has gained enough experience to make independent decisions. In most legal systems parents or other responsible adults are held accountable for the actions of minors and are thus entrusted with their discipline. However, the current trend to explain aberrant behaviours in psychiatric terms effectively infantilises the whole of humanity, except an elusive cabal of experts and higher authorities.

Psychoanalysts can even explain beliefs and political opinions as predictable reactions to environmental conditioning and neurological profiles that affect the way we process information. It is certainly easy to see how social conditioning can affect our opinions but some of us can and do think out of the box and challenge orthodox thinking. By dismissing unwelcome viewpoints as reactionary, populist or childish, the intellectual elite imply that we may not participate in the decision-making process unless we accept their presumed expertise. Thus in a referendum on a contentious issue such as nuclear power we decide which set of experts to believe. Yet the elite still needs to give us the illusion of democratic accountability just we like to take ownership of our ideas, which are seldom original and inevitably rely on prior art. In a dictatorship the appointed government and business classes exercise power on behalf of the people, who have to be conditioned to accept their authority. By contrast in a nominal democracy, the ruling classes manufacture consent for a range of acceptable policy options. Nonetheless we have witnessed rapid cultural change despite the conservative instincts of Western electorates. Most of the baby steps we have taken so far towards the Brave New World scenario have not been openly discussed until they are presented as ineluctable aspects of modern life. The point is while earlier technological advances have certainly transformed our societies, the next stages in the ongoing bio-engineering and artificial intelligence revolutions may transform what it means to be human.

Categories
All in the Mind Computing Power Dynamics

Our Workless Future

Artificial intelligence

Could the universal basic income usher in an age of hyper-dependence, hyper-surveillance and a growing divide between technocratic elites and mainstream humanity?

Two of the most influential business leaders in the tech industry have thrown their weight behind the hitherto fanciful universal basic income, a cause until recently championed only by idealistic greens not known for their economic competence. Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and SpaceX CEO and robotics evangelist Elon Musk both openly support the concept. These are of course among the same tech billionaires that our more traditional leftwing politicians would love to tax to fund their welfare and public spending initiatives.

To many basic income sounds too much like universal welfare for all and we really have to ask who would foot the bill? So let's do some back-of-the-envelope calculations, shall we? Last year the UK government spent a whopping £780 billion. That works out at around £11,500 per person or £23,000 per worker, only 9% of whom are employed in manufacturing or agriculture. At current prices, it's hard to live on less than £1000 a month once we include rent or mortgage repayments. A realistic basic income would thus be around £1000 per month for adults and probably £500 per month for children under 16. That's a phenomenal sum of around £710 billion, virtually our entire public expenditure. Admittedly we'd save around £200 billion on welfare, pensions and in-work benefits, which are quite considerable for low-paid workers (essentially anyone earning less than £24,000 per annum). Now, you may argue that we could adapt to a greener lower consumption model and make do with much lower basic incomes. But that doesn't change the fundamental maths. If in the near future we let most working age adults rely on basic income, then to maintain social harmony we'd need to guarantee the kind of living standards to which we are accustomed. In all likelihood the authorities will redefine basic income dependents no longer as unemployed but as work-free citizens, lifelong students or carers who contribute to society not through paid employment but simply as responsible members of the community helping to raise the next generation or somehow involved in voluntary community projects or awareness raising campaigns.

Of course, the early basic income enthusiasts would have you believe that universal welfare would unleash a new era of creativity, enabling us all to pursue our personal artistic, literary or inventive passions. We could take time off not only to raise our children, but also to learn new skills, explore the world or participate in new intellectual endeavours. If we were all highly motivated academics, gifted artists or talented sportspeople or entertainers, I think it could all work out very well. The whole world would become a giant university campus. We may choose to work for a few years as a brain surgeon, psychiatrist, artificial intelligence programmer, robotics engineer, architect or social policy researcher, earning good money, and then take an extended sabbatical to investigate the meaning of life.

The trouble is most of us are not highly motivated academics and unless our livelihood depends on work, involving physical and/or mental effort, we are very likely to succumb to carefree leisure. Numerous studies have shown quite conclusively that unconditional welfare provision traps all but the best-motivated and most conscientious people in a decadent lifestyle of easy options and self-indulgence. It's so easy to retreat into a lifestyle of virtual gaming, online video watching, junk food bingeing and stupefaction. Long-term welfare recipients are statistically much more likely to suffer from emotional distress (usually defined as mental illnesses), eating disorders and dysfunctional relationships. Worse still, these psychosocial maladies tend to get worse with each generation.

Welfare dependency controversy

Dr Adam Perkins, lecturer in the neurobiology of personality at King's College London, rattled the politically correct neoliberal consensus in his book, The Welfare Trait, which showed rather conclusively how welfare dependence not only engenders helplessness, it affects our personality, which helps explain the rise of identity politics and growing emphasis on mental health as an issue we must address. Perkins cites voluminous evidence to support his contention that habitual welfare claimants tend to be less conscientious and agreeable than those of us who have to work for a living. Far from building a more egalitarian society with greater solidarity, worklessness fosters a narcissistic culture of entitlement, treating a growing section of the adult population as children in need of constant supervision by the minority who work. Not surprisingly, mainstream academia and social justice warriors have taken offence and gone to great lengths to challenge Dr Perkins' hypothesis, claiming for example that his conclusions could lend support to eugenics. However, if you have actually read the book or listened carefully to couple of good presentations Dr Perkins has given on the subject, you'll find his thesis emphasises psychosocial rather than genetic causes of personality traits. If laziness were largely an inherited trait, we would have to explain how it could have evolved before the expansion of the modern welfare state. In traditional societies lazy people would fail to procreate unless they inherited substantial wealth (even if the idle could mate, they would be unable to fend for their offspring). So laziness as a genetic trait could have only spread among the aristocratic classes. Most people alive today are descendants of hard workers. Our forebears had little choice.

Stigma

However, some may argue that welfare stigmatises its dependents, while everyone, including those who choose to work for extra financial rewards, would be entitled to basic income removing any stigma. We would simply treat our basic income as a universal right, just like water or air, that modern 21st century technology can guarantee everyone. Bear in mind that the coming AI revolution will not only displace manual workers and machine operators, it will also automate most clerical jobs too. Machine learning is already smart enough to perform most tasks currently assigned to accountants, legal secretaries and marketing researchers. Any jobs with predictable results and a finite set of potential variables are ripe for computerisation. Indeed North American lawyers are already losing substantial business to online search engines. Why would you pay someone £100 an hour just to discover a legal loophole that you could have found through a few simple search queries and reading a few forum posts, just to sort chaff the from the wheat? Online legal advice, sometimes with modest fees, is already a reality. The harsh truth is soon there will be few high-paying jobs for even the most industrious adults within the low to medium IQ range and as time goes by so too will be minimum IQ threshold for lucrative professional roles. That doesn't mean there will be no jobs for ordinary people in the medium IQ range, but such jobs will be non-essential and more concerned with persuasion and social control than providing any mission-critical services. Now you may think some service sector roles such as care workers, nurses, bar staff, hairdressers and prostitutes are ill-suited to robotisation as we still need an authentic human touch. The transition may be more gradual for these roles as AI software developers refine human behaviour emulators, but already Japanese sex workers are worried about competition from life-like sex robots.

We should have seen it coming?

Governments in much of the Western world have tried to persuade us their educational and social welfare policies serve to redress the imbalance between rich and poor and to give everyone irrespective of their wealth or social background equal opportunities to thrive. Unfortunately their policies have succeeded mainly in engendering greater dependency on social intervention rather than empowering ordinary workers to assume greater responsibility for the functioning of our complex society. In decades to come I suspect we will look back at the neoliberal hiatus between approximately 1980 and 2020 as the last attempt to make laissez-faire free-market economics work by incentivising people to take control of their lives. We can no longer build our economy on the flawed assumption that workers can earn enough not just to buy the goods that big business sells, but to fund all the services and infrastructure we need. Economic growth in the UK now tends to mean higher retail sales and more property speculation. One seriously wonders how the business model of thrift stores works. These abound in rundown towns across the UK as Pound Stretcher, Poundland etc.. selling cheap end-of-life merchandise to a local community reliant on welfare and public sector jobs.

Behind the scenes the authorities have long been preparing for a future where few of us need to undertake either intellectually challenging or physically demanding work, i.e. the kind of jobs we really need as distinct from non-jobs whose main purpose is occupational therapy. Our schools seem increasingly more interested in familiarising youngsters with new technology and instilling a new progressive set of social values rather than focussing on hard skills that we might need if we wanted to gain some degree of self-reliance. Mainstream schooling strives to produce socially normalised young consumers who worship both big brands and transnational institutions. Anyone who strays from this norm is likely to be labelled with one personality disorder or another. Students who show some degree of analytical intelligence are primed for low level managerial roles, who inevitably join a mushrooming bureaucracy of ideologically driven experts and researchers. Meanwhile the health and safety culture that has infiltrated so many aspects of our lives serves to transfer responsibility from families and independent adults to myriad agencies. It hardly takes a huge leap of imagination to foresee that in the near future these agencies will be supplemented by artificial intelligence. However, this begs the question whether remote advisors have our best interests at heart. Your close relatives and best friends may well give you honest advice that helps you attain your primary goals in life. On the other hand social engineers are not so much interested in you as an autonomous human being but in the smooth functioning of a much larger and more complex society.

Collectivism for the Masses and Individualism for the Elites

Human creativity is both a prerequisite for technological and cultural progress and a hindrance to social harmony, as it relies on competition among individuals and tends to empower critical thinkers to the detriment of social conformists. As we begin to harness the power of artificial intelligence and versatile robots more and more, the managerial classes will want to restrict the independence of creative types and channel their talent to serve the interests of technocratic corporate elites. One phenomenon that has largely escaped the attention of social analysts is the huge growth in the recruitment industry. In many niche professions there are now more recruiters than talented specialists. A nominally free-market economy has created a reality where the development of a software application requires one real programmer, two user interface builders, two designers, three usability testers, one project manager, a business analyst, an information systems manager, three marketing executives and potentially two or three recruiters. In this endeavour only the programmer is mission-critical. Interface building and design could be mainly automated as can usability testing until the final user acceptance testing stage. Recruiters serve not just to identify people with highly specialised skill-sets, but to ensure that such individuals never take full ownership of their creations, but only gain experience as well-paid loyal team workers who know their place. The more circumscribed our professional focus is the less we see of the bigger picture. All too often we dismiss evidence we experience in our every lives as mere flukes and side effects of social progress rather than integral parts of a new hierarchical technotopia.

Letting the genie out of the IQ bottle

As artificial intelligence evolves to undertake more low-level managerial and analytical roles, large businesses will only employ talented individuals with high IQs, rare artistic flairs or charismatic personalities. Freelancers will find it harder to compete in the world without machine-augmented intelligence . Yet since the end of World War Two, mainstream social scientists have preferred to suppress the significance of differential IQ scores among different sections of humanity. While it may be politically incorrect to classify a large subsection of humans as intellectually inferior, tech giants only hire the best. They often have little trust in mainstream education and are fully aware that many universities reward conformity and comprehension rather than analytical thinking. As a contract Web application developer I've often had to take tests, but most tested analytical skills and problem solving more than specific knowledge of a given programming language or framework. If I want to learn the syntactical differences between Kotlin and Swift (just to mention 2 up-and-coming languages that have much in common), I can always search it online or just let my IDE (integrated development environment) do it for me. If you know one, you can easily learn the other, but if you have let to learn the difference between a mutable and an immutable object, you're of little use to most employers.

Most people alive today, at least in countries with a modern education system, have internalised the notion that the Earth orbits the Sun. Many could recite a cursory explanation for this supposition, but only a few could arrive at such a conclusion from astronomical observations alone and even fewer would be prepared to risk social exclusion if they had to challenge orthodoxy to assert their hypothesis as Galileo Galilei famously had to do before his imprisonment and house arrest in 1633. Any intellectual task that has been successfully accomplished and meticulously explained over and over again through human input can ultimately be assigned to smart applications able to deal with complex logical processing.

Late neoliberalism (as I believe this era may be called later in the century) still rewards hard work and creativity and allows the most successful to enhance their physique and intellectual performance through cosmetic surgery, private medicine, private education, food supplements and exclusive neighbourhoods. The rich have always been the first to benefit from new technologies. When bio-engineering merges with nano-robitics and artificial intelligence, the affluent classes will effectively buy an evolutionary advantage over the rest of humanity by adopting machine-augmented intelligence. Future alpha and beta humans could gain instant insights into complex problems that previously would have required extensive experience and lengthy analysis. One section of humanity would be able to detect deception instantly and psychoanalyse unaided humans, while the workless classes would be mere guinea pigs in the elite's social engineering experiments. The real danger is that the masses could be lulled into a false sense of security and just like many peasants in feudal times worshipped religions governed by an ecclesiastical hierarchy, the consumer classes of the future will worship the evangelisers and opinion leaders of our technotopia.

Who's really in control ?

So let's cut to the chase. The real flaw in the basic income concept is not that greedy capitalists want to force us to work for a living (which would only be to maximise profits), but that it would disempower most of the population. As mere welfare claimants we would have no bargaining power at all. Any freedoms we may retain would be at the discretion of the elite who still have meaningful jobs. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality could easily give the wider public the illusion of democratic control. As dependants it would no longer matter if we suffer from learning disabilities or mental health challenges, which are increasingly treated not so much as psychosocial problems or neurological deficits, but as divergent categories of people whose special needs must be accommodated. Currently an intellectual disability usually only applies to people with an IQ below 70. The US army refuses to hire people with an IQ below 85. Most semi-skilled jobs require an IQ range of 90 - 105. Most high-skill professions (doctors, engineers, scientific researchers etc.) require an IQ over 115. Beyond an IQ of 120 (approx. in the 90th percentile) fewer and fewer people can compete on natural analytical intelligence alone. By the time reliable and effective machine-augmented intelligence devices become available to wealthy buyers, this subgroup of humanity could acquire genius status, setting it apart from mainstream humanity who by comparison would then have significant learning handicaps.

Is there a viable alternative that could protect us against technocrats ?

When the computer revolution first entered public consciousness in the late 1970s, many foresaw a 20 hour working week and early retirement. Quite the opposite has happened. Young professionals are now working longer hours to further their career and pay off debts while the age of retirement is rising progressively to 70 in the UK. While we should certainly welcome our longer life expectancy, we're clearly not sharing our collective workload very fairly. However, when left to market forces alone, employers prefer to hire fewer reliable highly skilled professionals working longer hours than to spread the workload and invest in training apprentices who have not yet acquired the same expertise. It may be more expedient for future employers only to hire workers with an IQ over 120 while bankrolling consumer welfare and sophisticated social engineering programmes, but is it fairer? Should mainstream humanity, i.e. people within normal IQ range, not contribute to the organisation of their society by being intimately involved in the development of the technology that makes their lives possible? I know 1 experienced programmer, with the right productivity tools, can outperform a large team of novice programmers. Indeed I'd go further. Most novice programmers write naive routines that if deployed in a production environment could be very hard to maintain, but if you don't start with simple scripts you will never progress to more advanced concepts. By the same logic we could argue that learning arithmetic at school is redundant because calculators can do it faster. This is true, but if you rely solely on calculators, how do you know if their output is correct? What matters is not simply performing a cerebral task, but actually understanding what's going on. Let's take that a step further. If we rely on search engines and fact-checkers to find out the truth about our government and business leaders, how can we verify the objectivity and completeness of the selective information they provide ? How do we know which facts they have suppressed ? Indeed some may wonder what the purpose of life is if we are denied the chance to exercise our free will and critically explore the real world around us. If we are kept in a state of artificial contentment, then nobody will be motivated to change the system, which may well malfunction for reasons beyond the comprehension of most commoners. The more people that are involved in the research and development process, the harder it will be for a superclass of humans to pull the wool over our eyes. If you care about personal freedom and democracy, it may make more sense to share a complex R&D project among 20 people with an average IQ than to let one genius have a monopoly over true understanding.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Your services are no longer required

Universal Basic Income for all (Terms and conditions apply)

On behalf of trendsetting businesses around the world, we'd like to thank all semi-skilled workers for your tireless devotion to the complex industrial system on which we all depend. We are truly grateful to all our past and present colleagues and business partners including production line operatives, meat packers, welders, textile workers, millers, steelworkers, coal miners, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, builders, carpenters, farm labourers, fruit pickers, truckers, bus drivers, cleaners, shop assistants, cooks, waiters, typists, accountants and the thousands of other specialised roles that have served us well over the last 250 years.

Over the decades we have endeavoured to improve working conditions, raise salaries and address emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and interpersonal relations that may arise in the modern workplace. However, we have always had to strike a fine balance between the wellbeing of our staff and our commercial viability.

To this end, our team of robotics engineers and artificial intelligence programmers have now successfully developed a range of smart automatons who will relieve you of your daily drudgery and let you spend more time with your friends and family, unleashing a new world of playful creativity and exploration. As a sign of our lasting appreciation we have lobbied your governments to provide a global basic income, which you may spend online or at any of our authorised retail outlets or leisure centres. In keeping with our commitment to universal human rights and inter-community tolerance, we will extend our universal basic income to all world citizens, irrespective of gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religious affiliation, ethnic origin or mental health challenges, provided you agree to our terms and conditions* and cooperate fully with our friendly social harmony supervisors.

  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook source
  • Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX source
  • Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
  • Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet Inc
  • George Soros, primary supporter of the Open Society Foundation

The above announcement is of course fictitious, but based on current social trends. A populace fully controlled by a technocratic elite and totally subservient to an army of humanoid robots, social workers and psychiatric nurses is no longer science fiction, it's an emerging reality. The main questions relate to its implications for personal freedom and our sense of purpose in life as well as the likelihood of societal breakdown if things do not work out as planned.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Realignment in the age of Elitism

Machiavelli

I expect no prizes for forecasting the Conservative Party will win Theresa May's Snap General Election on 8th June. That's because none of the opposition parties offer viable alternatives that can convince ordinary pragmatic voters uninterested in foreign policy and who do not have an ideological commitment to socialism, environmentalism or universalism. If, like me, you loathe all power-hungry elites, this election will disappoint you, but is likely to mark the end of an era for the old political theatrics of Workers vs Bosses. In this election many traditional Labour voters, after perhaps toying with UKIP in 2015 will switch to the once-hated Tories, while many affluent professionals and trendy bosses will vote strategically for more openly globalist parties. They can do this safely because they know Left Labour and the Greens do not stand a chance in hell of winning a parliamentary majority. The BBC has gone to great lengths to publicise Gina Miller's anti-Brexit tactical voting campaign. Billionaire Richard Branson, who owns private Caribbean island and has his company headquarters in non-EU Switzerland, has publicly expressed his support for Ms Miller's high-profile campaign. Former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has urged voters to back the LibDems and pro-EU Tories against Left Labour candidates. If the Liberal Democrats manage to win 50 or more seats, expect a wholesale defection of Blairite Labour MPs to Tim Farron's grouping with Corbyn's Labour reduced to a rump of fifty-odd Labour loyalists and social idealists more akin to Germany's Die Linke (the Left Party) than her majesty's respected opposition. We could even see a few defections from the ranks of Theresa May's Conservatives to the new Neoliberal Elitist Party, which by the next election in 2022 may be a serious contender for government. The likes of Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke sing from the same hymn sheet as Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

Meanwhile the Tory's gaffe-prone Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, recycles blatant disinformation about Syria to lend his full support to President Trump's Damascene conversion to Neoconservative military adventurism and destabilisation. We will soon be back to the good old Whigs and Tories, one representing the more worldly business classes and other the more patriotic landed gentry. Of course in those days only the privileged few could vote. Now only the correctly socialised professional classes can be trusted to participate in political debate. Ever since the EU Referendum, the neoliberal media has kept reminding us how Remain voters tended to be better educated and younger than their leave-voting compatriots. The Guardian ever so subtly pushes the narrative that rightwing populism appeals mainly to Sun and Daily Mail reading thickos. George Monbiot, who once admirably exposed the corruption of big business in his 2001 book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, now acts as a cheerleader and enforcer of the new left-branded corporate censorship of all views that challenge orthodoxy. His latest campaign targets those of us who refuse to believe the Syrian Government deliberately deployed chemical weapons in the recent attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhun. Who benefits from the destabilisation of the Middle East and more fake news to justify more military intervention? None other than the same global corporations, Mr Monbiot once condemned.

Who will oppose our Machievellian Bosses?

The real question is who will oppose the devious machinations of our ruling elites and who will stand up for the workers who do not want to end up as welfare dependents? Left Labour have lost all credibility. They champion oversized comprehensive schools that fail bright working class kids, more social workers, non-traditional family units, high levels of immigration, more mental health monitoring and only lend lip-service to nurturing a new generation of software developers, engineers and doctors, all professions dominated by graduates of private schools. That's because the elites behind Corbyn's Left Labour really do not trust plebs at all. They think we're little more than low-IQ simpletons, a lumpenproletariat who fail to realise the benefits of the new socialised utopia they plan to build with a little help from their corporate buddies in the tech industry. So when Labour promise to build a million new homes (to cope with a growing population) or boost spending on our NHS, we're supposed to believe them.

Things look only slightly different on the French side of the English Channel because the conservative vote is divided between the cautious middle classes who do not want to rock the boat and the angry working classes and petite bourgeoisie. Nonetheless the electorate looks set to endorse a globalist warmongering banker because practically the whole mainstream media has tarnished the rival candidate, Marine Le Pen, with her party's past association with historically disgraced Vichy Regime and her protectionist economic policies. I expect mass abstentions in the second round, but Macron will offer his compatriots only half-hearted promises to protect their interests as his cronies open up France to global corporations. Some 47% of French voters opted for candidates openly opposed to corporate globalisation (Marine Le Pen, Jean Luc Melenchon, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and François Asselineau). Around 20% supported the Conservative Republican candidate who promised to assert France's autonomy within the EU. Only 24% supported the likely winner of the second round. Whatever Theresa May's public posturing on the EU and immigration may be, the British and American elites are banking on a resounding Macron victory. They cannot allow any alternatives to the hegemony of transnational corporations unless it can be carefully managed. In Britain the elites panicked last year because they realised the working classes had rebelled against their plan to phase out viable nation states. However, the EU itself was only one way to achieve their long-term goal. Tory grandees thus agreed to resurrect the concept of British exceptionalism and negotiate a new Mid Atlantic settlement, where Britain is effectively no longer half in the EU, but midway between the EU and a future trading association with the US. Besides Britain had served its role as the EU's strongest advocate of global free trade and thus helped weaken the continent's once proud nation states. The British Foreign Policy elite have long sought to drive their vision of globalisation by destabilising or neutering their main rivals. With Germany firmly under the control of openly globalist politcians (both main contenders for this year's general election, Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz, want even tighter European integration with open borders and both supported the now defunct TTIP agreement too), the EU no longer needs the UK to steer it in a neoliberal direction. Moreover, the US and UK will benefit most as German politcians attempt to impose fiscal rectitude on Southern and Eastern Europe.

If your sole concern were the ecological impact of hydraulic fracturing, you might just vote Green or Left Labour. If your main concern were ridding the UK of expensive nuclear warheads that will fail to protect us against any real world threats Greens and SNP may be options. However, these are not the primary concerns of ordinary working people, who actually want their government to defend their country and to ensure the lights stay on. As bad as fracking may be, power cuts caused by unreliable wind and solar power can kill many more.

At the end of the day people want secure employment, a purpose in life, a sense of belonging, safe neighbourhoods and functioning but unobstrusive services. People do not necessarily want more social workers and more mental health nurses, required mainly because successive governments have subsidised dysfunctional lifestyle choices. Labour and SNP essentially promise higher spending on welfare and public services without explaining how they will raise the additional revenue. If Labour can persuade big business to pay more tax, then so surely can the Tories. Even scrapping Trident would not fund the kind of bleeding hearts altruism that Momentum (Left Labour) and Green activists demand. Their virtue-signalling on hunger in the UK or child refugees denied entry to this country is naive beyond belief. As uninformed as many working class voters may be about the machinations of our ruling elites in the Middle East, most have a reasonably good hunch that more interventionism and more mass migration (a consequence of the former) will only make matters worse. Moreover, the same multibillionaires whom Labour claim they want to tax are also those most in favour of open borders and free trade. Take for example the classic betes noires of Starbucks and Amazon. Not only do they legally dodge billions in taxes, often as advised by high-profile audit firms such as Deloitte or Price Waterhouse Coopers, they also rely on a malleable and hyper-mobile labour force. Meanwhile Amazon is busy developing technology to replace most of their workforce with smart robots. A government could in theory just raise sales taxes on large retailers like Starbucks or Amazon, who would then pass the cost onto consumers to retain their profit margin or find other ways to reduce costs such as outsourcing labour or more automation. Indeed as labour becomes more expendable and the economy depends more and more on complex technological synergy that only large organisations can provide, the only way to raise living standards in your country is to invest in high-tech skills. The trouble is the professional classes closer to levers of power and more likely to be involved in the hiring process have long written off large chunks of their native working classes. We see this trend not just in Britain, but across Europe. While more resourceful youngsters can always migrate to regions with higher salaries and employment levels, the autochthonous or settled underclasses tend to stay put. When will the elites finally admit they don't care about their local underclasses, except as guinea pigs in a Huxleyan social engineering experiment that values compliance more than creativity or independence of mind? The outcome of June's general election will only temporarily restore faith in the British establishment united around a one-nation Conservative Party. Waiting in the wings are the true radicals, the hyper-Blairites, regrouping around the Liberal Democrats, while Left Labour and the Greens serve mainly as vanguard forces for socio-cultural change. Vote strategically to ensure we have a viable opposition, especially adversaries that seek to expose elitist schemes. There are still a few maverick or rather free-thinking MPs left willing to challenge elite agendas, but who have to toe the party line on other issues of the day.