Categories
Power Dynamics

Extinguishing Open Debate and Personal Freedom

In the age of narcissism, mass-consumerism and hyper-dependence

All of a sudden, the streets of major European cities are full of impressionable virtue-signallers demanding immediate action against our modern way of life to save the planet from the spectre of man-made climate change. I instinctively sympathise with rebels, even if I don't always share either their analysis or priorities, but are these latter-day hippies really rebelling against the system or are they simply being used to soften public opposition to unpopular policies that could empower global corporations to limit the personal freedom of all but the privileged few? Moreover, why has the British media remained almost silent about ongoing yellow vests protests in France as it champions climate activists and their celebrity spokespeople?

If we are to begin to tackle the very real environmental and human challenges of the new millennium to help us regain our sense of purpose in life and restore our symbiotic relationship with the rest of our wider community and mother nature, we must be prepared not just to sacrifice some of the ephemeral luxuries of our era, but also to critically examine the long-term human implications of the technological solutions we put in place.

There we go, I said it. There's much more to life than abstract money and economic growth, but does that mean we should suddenly stop all wasteful activities that contribute to our carbon footprint like driving cars, taking cheap flights to foreign beach resorts, buying ready-packaged convenience foods, filling our wardrobes with more garments and shoes than we really need, having one or more power showers a day, ironing our clothes, overheating or air-conditioning our homes and offices? There's no getting away from it, but our modern way of life thrives on consumption and public image. In practice we have little choice if we want to succeed in mainstream society. If you want to build a life around a successful career and attract the right calibre of partner, you'll need means to turn up to work on time in a fresh and presentable condition and be culturally attuned which usually means partaking in some form of inevitably commercialised recreation. Almost everything easily accessible to most urbanites these days is commoditised, including access to the great outdoors off the beaten track. There may still be plenty of seemingly untouched wildernesses, but they're usually pretty inhospitable environments without the right equipment. Whether you like or not, any sudden change to our way of life would lead not just to massive disruption and economic stagnation, but to much avoidable loss of human life. For a start millions of people with physical handicaps or ageing bodies rely on energy-intensive assistive technology to undertake some of the most basic tasks of everyday life. Our eco-warriors may fleetingly imagine a bright future of fit office workers cycling to work with their reusable coffee mugs, before they consider everyone else who need other means of transport to do the shopping or visit friends and family, or heaven forbid, do a practical job that requires a motor vehicle and/or other high-consumption tools.

The real environmental challenges

The aggregate human impact on our planet's ecosystem has risen exponentially since the advent of the industrial revolution, especially since modern medicine and the green revolution, boost farming yields as much as seven-fold, spread across the developing world in the 1960s. We have escaped the much-feared Malthusian trap largely because of an unprecedented rate of technological innovation. Despite dire predictions of mass famines by the year 2000 in Paul Ehrlich's infamous 1969 book, the Population Bomb, the proportion of malnourished children has fallen dramatically as the global people count approaches 8 billion. Somehow despite growing numbers of mouths to feed, desertification of vast tracts of previously arable land and late rain seasons, infant mortality has continued to decline in Africa, India and South America. More strikingly the biggest development over the last 20 years has been the rapid urbanisation of Africa, meaning most of the continent's teeming masses are within easy reach of food distribution chains. If you like statistics, here's another. As recently as 2015 only 42% of Indians had access to a toilet in their home. When I first visited India in 1982, most people outside the major cities had to cope without access to the mains water supply. Today the figure is 82%. Yet each water closet requires extensive infrastructure such as sewage treatment plants. Now you might naively imagine that Sub-Saharan Africans and Indians are so glad to benefit from modern plumbing and electricity that they'd be happy to settle for an eco-friendly urban existence riding bicycles to work and wearing only second-hand clothes. Alas while many may not have much choice, those that can have already embraced mass consumerism. The real problem is not the prospect of 10 billion human beings, but the environmental challenge of accommodating the 3 to 5 billion vehicles our future global citizens will inevitably want to drive by mid century. Even if we can persuade more people to use public transport, walk or cycle where feasible, we will still need to deliver raw materials and manufactured goods thousands of miles to meet growing demand.

Yet in the face of all hard evidence, many principled environmentalists insist the main problem is a mere by-product of our modern lifestyle, CO2 emissions leading to catastrophic climate change. I'm not going to fall into the trap of disputing the hard science linking CO2 emissions from industrial activity to climatic instability. However, we should at least have the intellectual honesty to analyse similar claims made over the last 30 years. Some ice-sheets are expanding and some are retreating. Average global temperatures have barely changed. Some deserts have grown while some arid regions have been reclaimed as arable land. Irrigation, fertilisers and greenhouses can easily offset any shortfalls due to regional events such as late rain seasons or soil erosion. The real problem is whereas only 30 years ago most Africans and Indians were subsistence farmers, they are now trapped in the same techno-industrial complex as Western Europeans or North Americans with consequences for personal freedom that many observers have failed to foresee.

The Technocratic Trap

Hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers are in intimate contact with mother nature. Their livelihoods depend on a mix of hard work and their interactions with their immediate ecosystem. In just two generations more than half the world's population has escaped the limited prospects of traditional low-tech lifestyles, only to fall into a new trap of hyper-dependence on global distribution chains, banking cartels and tech giants. Had they remained in their traditional settlements without access to electricity, telecommunications or modern medicine, much higher infant mortality would have contained population growth, but leave isolated rural dwellers in blissful ignorance of the wonders of television, smartphones, refrigerators and microwave ovens. Yet governments, big business and NGOs saw it as their mission to reach out to every stranded community on the planet to ensure they participated fully in modern education and preventive healthcare. Some remote regions bypassed the transitionary era of community television halls and public phone booths to embrace the marvels of smartphones putting locals in immediate touch with a consumer world they had only heard about before from occasional visitors and returning relatives. Unsurprisingly millions abandoned their ancestral homelands to seek fortune in big cities often coming into contact for the first time in their lives with extremes of opulence and helplessness. In today's bustling metropolises the main cause of worklessness is neither a lack of resources nor a lack of investment in education. It's an economic system that commoditises human beings as mere economic actors and has become so efficient at satisfying insatiable consumer demand that it has few practical jobs for the world's new urbanites other than as temporary sales reps or van drivers. Early capitalism relied on masses of workers to produce either essential goods or satisfy the consumer habits of the upper middle classes. Today large car manufacturers only need to a few thousand production workers to meet the automotive needs of whole nations. With the next wave of smart automation, a few hundred highly skilled robotics engineers will be able oversee the production of millions of vehicles. While the service sector will continue to grow, we will all become dependent on tangible wealth generated by a technocratic superclass.

Politically Correct Narratives

The world's managerial classes face two key dilemmas. First how can they manage the expectations of billions of new consumers. Second how can they prevent the underclasses from demanding more than their fair share of the goods that our techno-industrial complex can sustainably produce without triggering unmanageable populist backlash from the middle classes of wealthier countries as they stand to lose most from any levelling of per capita consumption? The answer is to come up with a humanitarian narrative that appeals to the wishful thinking middle classes, but does not offend the billions of new consumers in the developing world. The climate change narrative is neither the gospel nor a complete hoax as some naysayers may claim. It's simply a camouflage for much bigger environmental and social challenges that it would be, to put it mildly, politically incorrect to discuss openly. What are the managerial classes going to do with all the superfluous consumers if and when their economic model no longer needs us? Whether our planet can sustain 4, 8, 16 or 32 billion human beings may be a reasonable subject of scientific inquiry, but technocrats will only respect the masses if they do not challenge their hegemony. They cannot just tell useless eaters in developing countries to stop breeding. In today's climate of political correctness, that would be outright racism. But they can incentivise mass migration from poorer regions to trigger internecine conflict between newcomers and the native working classes. This creates a perfect storm where the perceived threats of far-right xenophobia among the native peoples and religious fundamentalism among many migrant communities serve to limit free speech and open debate. Climate change thus becomes a catch-all explanation for all disruptive changes to our way of life. Why do working class Europeans have to welcome millions of newcomers from disparate cultures into their neighbourhoods? Climate change. How do we explain the rise of Islamic fundamentalism? Climate change. Why are millions leaving their homelands? Climate change. How do we explain London's knife crime epidemic or riots in once orderly Swedish cities? You guessed it, climate change as locals cannot cope with heatwaves. If climate change is supposed to be such a big emergency in North Africa and Middle East, why have the urban middle classes there embraced automotive culture with a passion that would make Jeremy Clarkson look like an eco-warrior. Most large conurbations in countries as diverse as Nigeria, China, Turkey and Malaysia are practically gridlocked with a mix of private cars, minibuses and lorries.

Intellectual Honesty

In an ideal world we could all maximise our happiness and prosperity and minimise human suffering. We could literally have our cake and eat it, enjoying the wonders of modern technology and pristine nature, meeting all natural human desires, such as our instincts to go forth and multiply and to compete with each other, while ensuring everyone's emotional and material needs are fully satisfied. One of the biggest achievements of the liberal enlightenment was the recognition of other people's free will, namely the right of all human beings to act as autonomous living and breathing agents endeavouring to fulfil their personal ambitions. This means giving people equal opportunities to prove their worth and affording enough space for everyone to find their niche. Alas we are not all equally blessed either with extraordinary physiques or with exceptional talent.

This means each virtuous ideal conflicts with other ideals. For instance, the desire for scientific excellence and technological innovation may come at the expense of equality if we are to motivate the most talented engineers, physicians and inventors. Like or not, capitalism proved much more successful at driving innovation than command economies like the USSR or Maoist China. Yet even the Soviet Union had to reward its scientists and engineers handsomely to play catch-up with the West. Likewise, our natural desire to spread our genes and raise families may ultimately conflict with our wish for a clean and hospitable environment, especially if we want our large families to enjoy all modern conveniences. And last but not least, technofixes may indeed boost our carrying capacity and at least temporarily overcome the contradictions of rapid techno-social change, but usually come at the expense of personal independence, meaning any perceived liberties we may enjoy rely on infrastructure and technology controlled by remote organisations entrusted with the power of life or death over us.

Simply stating that these conflicts exist does not mean wishing for the worst outcome, but being smart enough to foresee other adverse effects and avert catastrophes. We should always consider drastic solutions with the utmost caution. Overpopulation is not, as many would prefer to believe, a myth, but a likely scenario if we fail to adapt fast enough to a new environmental reality beyond our control. The point is who's in charge of our destiny? In a socially engineered world at the mercy of a handful of tech giants who oversee every aspect of our lives, it's easy to imagine that unscrupulous bureaucrats may hatch plans to limit natural procreation to maintain an optimum population level and to prevent certain categories of people from challenging their grip on power.

However, our wishful-thinking extinction rebels present an apocalyptic vision of our near future lest we adopt drastic measure on a global scale that will not only restrict our personal freedoms, but also drive into the clutches of the very technocrats they claim to oppose. Few will retreat to self-sufficient farms in remote wilderness, but many more will be confined to micro-apartments in large conurbations under continuous surveillance.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

The Brexit Delusion and the End of Neoliberalism

I've long been critical of superstates and any extreme concentration of power, but only really from around 2014 did anti-EU feeling in the UK gain enough momentum to call into question Britain's integration with the European project and to force a referendum, which the establishment hoped would endorse the status quo's trajectory of ever-closer union. The real underlying cause of widespread public distrust in remote political elites remains the rapid pace of corporate globalisation with its extreme labour mobility, job insecurity, transient communities and fast cultural change. The biggest issue of all is the perceived disenfranchisement of the traditional working classes. I say perceived because some may argue that democratic accountability has always been an illusion, but at least until the late 1970s, British workers had a sense that some politicians in power actually cared about their plight and would negotiate with big business to secure better working conditions, higher pay and above all job security with subsidised training and apprenticeship schemes.

If you think the prospect of Brexit is bad, then you may wonder whom to blame for this calamity. The Guardian's favourite culprits are Tory aristocrats, Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and naturally the ominous Russian connection. Carole Cadwalladr of the Guardian has taken Putin-themed conspiracy theories to the next level, even claiming Russian involvement in the recent drone incident at Gatwick Airport. Yet they fail to identify the real cause of people's distrust in remote elites, lying politicians, and most notably the former New Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who not only evangelised European integration and opened up the UK Labour market to agency workers from poorer Eastern European countries, but fully supported military interventionism in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Iraq. New Labour had 13 years to help train British youngsters to meet the technological challenges of the new millennium, yet succeeded mainly in producing more project managers and recruitment consultants to organise ready-trained human resources, while more and more British youngsters failed to gain any practical work experience except in dispiriting part-time promotional gigs.

However, the whole Brexit Saga does reveal divisions within the ruling elites, which reflect shifting global alliances as the relative strength of the USA wanes and European governments embrace a more interventionist form of corporatism with the transfer of power away from national governments to supranational organisations. While big business may once have backed continued US Hegemony by supporting resources wars in the Middle East, they now openly despise President Donald Trump's advocacy of America First. When Macron and Trump spoke at the centennial commemoration of the Armistice ending the First World War, news outlets favourable to more global governance (BBC, CNN, the Guardian, New York Times, France 24, ZDF, Le Monde etc.) supported Macron's denunciation of nationalism and his redefinition of patriotism to the mean the exact opposite, while they ridiculed Trump's defence of nationhood. The USA may have a gigantic military industrial complex, but its endless escapades do little to defend US citizens back home, but rather serve mainly to project the power of a global network of banks and corporations on the whole world. Until recently North Americans have been more willing to support their nation's military endeavours than their European counterparts. As the wider American public begin to realise that their country's huge military outlay does not help them and may promote the kind of corporate globalism that will strip them of any economic advantages they may once have had, we can expect peacekeeping activities to be managed more at a supranational level with missions outsourced not only to multinational armed forces but to mercenary outfits posing as NGOs not associated with a specific country. Just consider the example James Le Mesurier's outfit, Academi (formerly known as Blackwater). Judging from their website and many promotional videos available online, you'd seriously think their main mission were to provide humanitarian relief to conflict zones, rather than arm and train insurgents and rescue workers specialised in the art of atrocity simulation. Such organisations are happy to work for the highest bidder, especially with the implicit support of global corporations. As rapid cultural and ethno-demographic transformation destabilises many urban areas, we can expect to see heavily armed transnational security forces deployed in Western Europe in the same way as NATO peacekeeping intervened in the former Yugoslavia.

The Free Market Myth

Western Europe and North America converged in the post-war period on a mixed economy compromise where local small businesses could thrive alongside larger corporations while the government intervened to provide essential services and infrastructure as well as regulate markets in the best interests of social cohesion and general prosperity. Until the 1990s Europe remained a very heterogenous continent. Global brands and culture may well have permeated home-grown traditions, but if you scratched beneath the surface of ubiquitous Anglo-American movies and pop music, young Europeans could still identify with their cultural roots, which they interpreted mainly along regional and national lines. Moreover, each country chose to manage its economy, social welfare and security in different ways. Italy and Greece would offer very limited benefits for the workshy and single parents, as they just assumed extended families should take care of relatives who had fallen on bad times or made unwise lifestyle choices, but offered comparatively generous pensions and early retirement for many categories of workers and state employees. The bedrock of Southern European economies remained family-run businesses, which naturally favoured local or culturally attuned workers. The last twenty years of rapid demographic change has seen hundreds of thousands of longstanding small businesses close as young adults seek better temporary career opportunities in remote cities, often abroad, in the emerging gig economy, dominated by transient design, development and marketing companies whose fortunes are intimately tied to a handful of tech giants, global corps and NGOs. Rather than help their family business adapt to modern technology or a changing clientele, many of the smartest young Europeans are creating marketing media for consumer lifestyle options or awareness-raising initiatives at a design agenc in London, Frankfurt, Paris or Barcelona, while struggling to pay sky-high rents for modest mini-apartments and only being a few pay cheques away from bankruptcy, eviction and a future of welfare dependence and emotional insecurity. Today's knowledge workers are paid not just for their expertise, but for their positive attitude to recent social changes and their compliance with the evolving progressive orthodoxy. Money talks. If you can get €300 a day as a graphic designer in one of Europe's major cities for an advertising agency producing a transgender awareness campaign, why would you refuse? Yet this is precisely what happens. There's a lot more money in transformative social engineering than in good wholesome conservative values. Big business does not want young women to marry and start families in their home region staying at home to give their children the best chance in life. It wants them working for advertising agencies in remote metropolises paying sky-high rents and partaking in commercialised hedonism while the state brings up their offspring in a foreign land instilling postmodern cultural uniformity in their young minds.

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

Our lives are increasingly run by a tangled web of tech companies and parastatal[2] agencies, over whom we have no meaningful control except by asking our governments to negotiate with our technocratic overlords, who in practice do not so much compete as agree to divvy up different market segments. Neoliberalism assumes vibrant competition both between companies and among workers. Yet modern technology requires massive investment only available to the biggest players and most workers compete for crumbs as their monotonous occupations give way to smart automation. This explains the shift in terminology from personnel and staff (the usual terms until sometime in the 1980s) to human resources, emphasising the need to employ real flesh and blood human beings rather than assign a task to machines. While people may compete socially and usually respond positively to financial rewards or other privileges, machines have highly predictable physical needs and do not compete with each other unless programmed to do so. Neoliberalism works when market forces and technological innovation demand healthy competition. It doesn't work when new scientific advances require both substantial investment only available to transnational organisations and multidisciplinary cooperation, while most consumers rely more on welfare than paid employment. This is already the case in the UK where the median annual salary is still just £29,000, which entitles most employees to working family tax credits meaning its often makes little practical difference if you work full, part-time or just claim incapacity benefits. The furore about the UK government's controversial roll-out of universal credit with thousands of severely disabled people deemed to fit to work masks the objective reality an increasingly dynamic labour market marginalises a growing section of the population unable to compete. The privatisation frenzy of the 1980s and 90s simply let large corporations wrest control of key public services from local governmental bodies. Private healthcare and education only empower the wealthy, giving them more specialised medical treatment and greater choice over how their children are educated. I've discussed in earlier blog posts how corporations behave more like states, with massive bureaucracies, legal teams and security services, than agile businesses focused on commercial success. A business may respond to customer demand, while a corporation seeks not just to manipulate customer demand, but to regulate customers. If someone provides you a service almost free of charge, chances are that you are their product. If you use Google's ubiquitous services, the search giant probably knows more about you than your spouse or close friends. In theory the main search providers track your search history to suggest products and services that meet your very personal and idiosyncratic needs. If you enquire about the causes of sciatica, you may well see ads for recliner chairs pop up on your screen on favourite news site, but smart recommendation engines can analyse the demographics of users who seek information about sciatica and guess you may be approaching retirement or be open to considering life insurance. And it gets more sinister if you investigate any contentious issues that challenge vested interests.

The problem is not Europe, but its Rulers

The great European ideal, as many of us understood it in the more upbeat 1990s, stood in contrast to the North American melting pot or the autocratic Soviet model with its extensive ethnic cleansing. If Europe means anything, other than being the Western section of the Eurasian landmass stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic, it is defined by a rich mosaic of interweaving cultures that have evolved gradually over many centuries rather than a new nation of recent settlers who have embraced a shared identity. Europe is simply not European without its constituent nations, and most important of all, cultural continuity linking us with past generations. When communities have deep regional roots, state planners struggle to mould new universalist identities. Britain and France took centuries to suppress regionalism, while Germany and Italy only formed unified states in the mid 19th century. Historically attempts to accelerate the gradual process of cultural convergence have involved some degree of coercion. That was naturally before the emergence of sophisticated modern advertising, global youth culture, radio, television and more recently the Internet. While the European Union may once have championed the continent's distinctive national traditions to placate popular opinion and appear more inclusive, its socio-economic policies have promoted mass migration, both within the bloc itself and more recently from further afield, undermining regional identity and social cohesion. While the towns and villages of poorer outlying regions have been deprived of their best and brightest young adults, the continent's main conurbations have been transformed by transient migrant communities often outnumbering the autochthonous inhabitants. While previous waves of migrants to Europe's richer cities usually assimilated with the dominant local culture (if we exclude ethnic cleansing in the wake of wars of conquest), today's migrants only find localised variants of global consumer culture with which to integrate. What does it mean to be French, German, Dutch, Italian or Polish anyway? Is it just about watching the same American movies, listening to the same pop music, buying variants of the same consumer products, adopting dialects of the same lingua franca or redefining human relationships and family structures at the same rate? Some may dream of a new pan-European community of hipster professionals joining forces to create a more egalitarian and socially just version of the United States of America. Alas the latter dream is eclipsing too as the once affluent middle classes struggle to make ends meet.

The French yellow vest protests took European observers by surprise. Just 18 months after Emanuel had defeated the leader of the country's main nationalist party, Marine Le Pen, in the presidential election, reaffirming France's commitment to European project, its squeezed provincial working classes have revolted taking to streets in their gilets jaunes. While their ruling elites extol the virtues of more globalism and accuse their indigenous peoples of xenophobia, the working classes expect their governments to protect their livelihoods and let their families thrive in their home regions. The emerging conflict is not between rival national identities, who are quite happy to coexist peacefully, but between the arrogant elites eager to socially engineer a more compliant populace and the demos, who just want to get on with their lives.

[1] Mac OS X is based on BSD Unix and thus behaves under the hood more like Linux, which provides some advantages for developers like me who target Linux servers, but may need desktop applications that have not been ported to desktop Linux. The alternative is often running Linux as virtual machine on Windows.

[2] Run directly by government or indirectly with corporate funding. Parastatal organisations may thus include local councils, service companies like Capita or Serco, charities, lobbies and research institutes.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Going with the flow against the Old World Order

Baby Trump Balloon

The affluent professional classes, along with their army of assorted victim groups and infantile self-righteous student types, have set it upon themselves to amplify the mainstream media's disapproval of leading proponents of the old world order of nation states, two-parent families and cohesive communities with shared values. Three weeks ago we saw a large demonstration against the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum with a sea of blue twelve-star flags. Our trendy elitists wanted to vent their anger at those who tricked the English and Welsh working classes into rejecting their beloved European superstate. This week they gathered to oppose a caricature of the US President.

Don't get me wrong, there are many good reasons for protesting the excesses of US imperialism with its endless series of destabilising proxy wars. However, I cannot remember any large demos specifically against the presence of former US presidents with the possible exception of small impromptu protests against George W. Bush. Before Donald J Trump entered the White House global media giants in North America and Europe supported the purported leader of the free world. Now they welcome colourful processions of virtue-signallers opposed not so much to US-led wars, but to the spectre of outmoded nationalism, which rather perversely US foreign policy has done much suppress over the last 70 years. Just over 2 years ago President Obama urged us to support the EU, while his administration armed and funded Islamic fundamentalists in Syria to break up one of the oldest countries in the Middle East.

Alas our motley crew of professional whingers expressed their disapproval of the President's alleged phobias against people of other races, creeds, sexual orientations, gender identities and disability statuses. Most notably they took a stand against his support for strong borders. Yet when Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, visited 10 Downing Street as an official guest of Her Majesty's government, we saw only muted protests. His regime not only jails homosexuals and stones adulterous women, it has singularly failed to accommodate nearby Syrian refugees while bombing North Yemen. By contrast Trump presides over one of the most ethnically diverse and tolerant nations on earth, which, unlike Britain, can truly claim to have been built on successive waves of immigration, but has traditionally expected its new citizens to embrace their new American cultural identity. However, we now live in an age of hypermobility, instant communication and, by any fair historic standards, generous welfare provision. The United States, despite its vast expanses, has a limited capacity for absorbing the tens of millions of immigrants who would love to live the American dream. 350 million US residents still consume more than Africa, India and China combined. The open-borders brigade effectively urge millions of opportunists to bypass legal migration routes, open mainly to talented professionals, and demand access to the US labour market and public services just as big business is investing heavily in smart automation. How are we supposed to tackle climate change and our overreliance on imported goods, if we welcome the mass movement of human beings from regions with relatively low per-capita consumption to countries where most of life's necessities are shipped from hundreds or thousand of miles away to warehouses and supermarkets?

Far from bringing about a more egalitarian and harmonious world, mass migration tends to exacerbate existing social divides creating more competition and rivalry among the underclasses. More important as Robert D. Putnam has amply documented after extensive fieldwork, culture clashes brought about by rapid demographic changes weaken social trust largely to the detriment of the weakest in society.

“Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down'. Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration.†E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture.

The most successful examples of peaceful and prosperous social democracies are all compact nation states with low levels of migration and a high degree of ethnic conformity (i.e. newcomers have to adapt to their new homeland and not vice versa). Bernie Sanders loves to cite Scandinavia as a model. Of course he meant Sweden, Denmark and Norway in 1970s, 80s and 90s long before mass migration transformed neighbourhoods and led to the creation of parallel communities that barely interact, necessitating an expansion of social surveillance and restrictions on the personal freedoms that Scandinavians cherish. The professional classes have hardly noticed because they have benefited most from recent economic trends. All over Europe the remnants of the traditional working classes are abandoning the social democratic parties that presided over the post-WW2 social stability pact. In Italy the heirs to the old Communist Party rebranded as the Democratic Party who once attracted over 35% of the vote have fallen below 20% in recent polls. The same trend has occurred in Germany where Martin Schulz's SPD has sunk below the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and in Sweden the Swedish Democrats, which the mainstream media smears as the anti-migration far-right, are now ahead of the Social Democrats in the polls with the affluent professional classes often opting for the Greens instead. The latter group promise a clean and tolerant world devoid of ethnic conflict or extreme inequality. Their only recipe is to tax the very multinationals they claim to oppose rendering us all slaves to the likes of Amazon and Bayer-Monsanto.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Capitalism is Dead, long live global corporatism

Why some greedy bankers may want Corbyn to win

I had wanted to expand on my Brave New World thesis in relation to mounting calls from the trendy left and business leaders for a universal basic income. We now see an alliance stretching from social justice warriors, environmentalists and no-borders activists to corporate CEOs all advocating what is in practice a global welfare state. Since Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, joined SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to support UBI (universal basic income), it's become clear to me that tech multinationals are planning for a future where most of their customers will not be workers, who earn money by providing services that big business needs, but citizens whose main responsibility in life will be social conformity and deference to the techno-elite. Just as we thought capitalism had won the great idealogical battle of the 20th century, it has now outlived its purpose as the primary engine of social and technological innovation. Capitalists rely not only on the exploitation of workers, but also on profits from the sales of their goods or services. As workers demand higher pay, shorter working hours and better working conditions, capitalists naturally resort to outsourcing and greater automation. The artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will redefine the relationship between businesses and customers. Previously the market worked by selling goods to workers who in turn earned a living through their productive endeavours. Now big business has dispensed with the need to have so many semi-skilled workers and as AI progresses, so will the minimum IQ required for remunerative work. Most of us could end up either being carers, reliant of state handouts, or being labelled subnormal and thus also dependent on welfare largesse. In the not too distant future the main responsibility of governments may be to redistribute wealth created by tech giants and to supervise their local population to prevent social breakdown. If most people depend on corporate welfare, albeit rebranded as universal basic income, it doesn't really matter where they live. That's why so much of the debate on mass migration misses the point. Naturally if the citizens of a given country wanted greater autonomy, they would need a sustainable population and cohesive community with shared values. In a traditional economy immigration can boost demand and fill skills gaps, but can also lead to unbalanced labour markets and social upheaval. By contrast in a world reliant on corporate welfare only a small minority of working age adults can fill a dwindling number of remunerative high skill jobs. Even most tasks performed by carers can be automated. Human carers can only outperform robots in advanced emotional intelligence and authenticity, both of which require cultural compatibility. If you just need some help dressing and bathing, you may well prefer a smart robot to an underpaid migrant carer with a poor command of your language. If tech multinationals are willing to bankroll universal basic income in Europe or North America, why should they not extend the same privileges to the rest of the world? If your sole role in life is to act as a good global citizen looking after your family and neighbours, then surely you could fulfil that role anywhere, but that would also subordinate all governments to the same worldwide technocratic elite. Nonetheless, my thesis remains incomplete as we see rifts in our ruling elites, some still favouring the illusion of laissez-faire capitalism.

Could Corbyn really win ?

However, events in the UK have kind of overtaken me. Just a couple of weeks ago most political pundits believed a sizeable Tory majority in the coming UK general election was a foregone conclusion. May's local council election results would seem to back this up. Labour did fairly well in trendy cosmopolitan urban areas, while amazingly the Tories gained support among traditional working class voters with LibDems doing best in affluent leafy suburbs. Even in Scotland, which often bucks the English and Welsh trend, we saw the Conservatives pick up votes in some unexpected places as the main opposition to the dominant SNP (Scottish National Party). Then the mainstream broadcasters and social media campaigners began to present Labour's policies in a much more positive light. Corbyn's Labour now promises to renationalise the railways (something New Labour failed to do) and scrap tuition fees while naturally boosting social welfare in many other areas, all presumably funded by raising corporation tax and income tax for the top 5% who earn more than £100,000 a year. Labour has pledged to respect the outcome of EU referendum and prioritise training of British-born youngsters to address perceived skills shortages. More important, Labour has been much more active on the ground than the Tories. While Corbyn may not have the confidence of bellicose Blairite MPs, his leadership has energised an army of young activists, who true to their convictions have attempted to reach out to the working classes, whose confidence Labour have lost.

Islamic Terror rocks the Election Campaign

Last week's bomb attack at Manchester's Ariana Grande concert shocked the nation. What kind of ideology could justify deliberately detonating a nail bomb in a crowded music venue killing 22 innocent revellers including many young girls? Even the IRA tended to target politicians, soldiers and adult protestants. This attack targeted carefree youngsters having a good time. Many have commented on the mainstream media's reluctance to blame radical Islam head on. Britain's growing Muslim community has many difficulties integrating with the country's settled non-Muslim population with radically different cultural attitudes on sexuality, marriage, women's rights, alcohol and gambling. More disturbingly the establishment media has suppressed the scale of mainly Muslim grooming gangs. Yet most people are smart enough not to blame a whole religion for the actions of a tiny minority of its adherents. Islamic terrorism seemed confined to a handful of trouble spots in the Middle East and Central Asia, until our enlightened liberal elite decided to intervene there to overthrow local regimes responsible for abuses of human rights. Rather than stabilise the region, Western intervention has unleashed a hornets nest of Islamic extremism that has spread its tentacles far and wide among the growing Muslim diasporas in the West. So rather than blame their Muslim neighbours, many voters have laid the blame for the murder of 22 innocent youngsters with the government and it doesn't take a genius to work out that on foreign policy and arms sales Theresa May is much closer to Tony Blair than Jeremy Corbyn. Saudi Arabia has long been one of the major funders of Mosques, Islamic schools and madrasas in the West and the cradle of Wahhabism, the most virulent strain of Islam fundamentalism. Yet British governments have been happy to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, which currently spends more on military hardware than Russia, despite the former having a much smaller territory and fewer citizens to defend. Of course, one could also blame rapid mass migration and ethnic cleansing of some inner city districts, but that's not something we can change overnight without triggering even worse social unrest. So when Jeremy Corbyn attributed part of the blame to UK involvement in recent conflicts in Libya and Syria, he had a point. Indeed Mark Curtis, author of Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam, has detailed the Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, and his father were members of a Libyan dissident group, covertly supported by the UK to assassinate Qadafi in 1996 . Of course that does not fully explain why similar attacks have occurred in Sweden, Germany and most notoriously in France, except Islamic terrorists do not really distinguish Western countries they way we do. Theresa May's response was to deploy army reserves onto the streets to supplement armed police, only revealing her earlier cutbacks in policing as home secretary.

The long and short of this whole sorry saga, is that in just two weeks the Tory lead over Labour has shrunk from 15% or higher (some polls showing staggering leads of 46% to the Tories with Labour on just 25%) to as low as 3% (The YouGov poll released on 01/06/2017 for the Times had topline figures of Con 42% and Lab 39). Corbyn's Labour is now polling higher than the party did under Ed Miliband or Gordon Brown. Indeed even Tony Blair, despite enjoying the support the Murdoch press, only gained 35.2% of the popular vote in 2005 and just 43.2% in alleged 1997 landslide. Although I'm no seasoned psephologist, I suspect a marked movement away from the Liberal Democrats and Greens to Labour and only a much smaller trickle away from the Conservatives and UKIP to Labour. Most intriguingly, Labour seem to be doing best among affluent cosmopolitan professional classes, the youth vote (18–24 years) and of course among its special interest groups, the rainbow coalition of ethnic minorities, Muslims, gays, transsexuals and welfare dependents).

As discussed earlier, this heterogenous demographic is only set to grow in coming decades. Corbyn's politics may seem like an anachronistic throwback to the 1970s, but his naive inclusive universalism may serve other long-term agendas brilliantly. The latte-sipping Guardian reading classes now loathe USA's climate change denying President and Vladimir Putin much more the Europe's authoritarian politicians or a Labour leader in bed with a bunch of unreconstructed Marxists. Only ten years ago the bien-pensant metropolitan elite still supported Blair's third way. Now they are throwing their electoral weight behind a more radical strand of globalism.

Derailing Brexit

Only a year ago, the outcome of Britain's EU referendum signalled public discontent with enforced rapid globalisation. Ever since the Conservative Government have attempted to use this somewhat unexpected result to drive their own vision of a more globally connected Britain, while placating public concerns about unbalanced mass migration. Brexit, like most neologisms, means all things to all people. As said I have nothing against a community of European nations cooperating on many strategic environmental and economic issues. Indeed I'd prefer a European Community that stood up for the rights and rich cultural heritage of Europeans as a counterbalance to the growing power of China and India and as a bastion of liberal values threatened by authoritarian tendencies within Islam.

Amazingly Theresa May, who wanted to remain in the EU, has capitalised on public distrust of the European superstate, while advocating policies that seem perfectly aligned with those of Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron. How could she possibly renege on her commitment to take Britain out of the EU with a slender Tory majority reliant on the support of fervent Brexiters such as David Davis, a curious politician with refreshingly honest views on personal freedom and military adventurism (he opposed many recent military interventions and many laws restricting personal privacy). However, with substantial majority, as Peter Hitchens suggested in his Mail On Sunday blog, PM May could safely ignore her nostalgic Little England colleagues and push through a compromise that would in practice differ little from our current arrangement, leaving large corporations as the main mediators between British and EU interests. But that scenario may not happen. Many reluctant Tory supporters (i.e. patriotic working class voters who used to vote Labour) could well stay at home, making the unthinkable, a hung parliament, a real possibility, except unlike in 2010 the LibDems may only muster a handful of MPs.

We may speculate on the growing role of social media. Both Twitter, which I use, and Facebook, which I don't, have become intensely monitored outlets for virtue-signalling social justice campaigns, usually of the kind that the Corbynite Momentum group would wholeheartedly support. While I realise these days we only need a small group of graphic designers, video editors and Web developers to produce a polished media campaign, I sense the omnipresent hand of international big business behind the myriad campaign groups and NGOs that endlessly promote these awareness-raising spectacles. How else can migrant rights groups afford plush offices in expensive cities ? I really started to question the authenticity of today's corporate left when Greenpeace (an organisation I used to support) supported the White Helmets, which as Vanessa Beeley has amply documented are little more than war propagandists bought and paid for by the US and UK governments.

They are clearly working in cahoots with a tangled web of trendy tech entrepreneurs, globalist bankers such as George Soros whose through his Open Society Foundation, countless NGOs bankrolled by big business and a motley crew of old school Marxists who have long dreamed of a borderless utopia.

I still predict Theresa May will win her snap election albeit with a smaller majority than initially hoped, largely because most older voters would rather side with the devil they know than risk an unpredictable Labour-led coalition, who could hasten the rate of cultural change.

Categories
Power Dynamics

What Kind of Freedom Do You Want ?

Free woman

We all yearn for freedom. Instinctively nobody wants to submit to the will of others whom we cannot trust to act in our best interests. However, in today's complex high-tech society we've become so interdependent that we relinquish our personal freedoms and submit to higher authorities in all our daily interactions with the rest of humanity and man-made infrastructure. Failure to conform to societal norms can often result in isolation and impaired emotional wellbeing. So freedom is a very relative concept and can only be truly understood in the context of other desirable goals we may have in our lives and in wider society such as good health, safe neighbourhoods, social cohesion, prosperity or democracy. We often confuse freedom with rights or entitlements. Access to clean water is strictly speaking not a freedom in and of itself. It's a human necessity that keeps us alive and kicking. We may thus have a right to potable water and breathable air, but their availability depends on our ability to exploit nature either by choosing hospitable habitats or by taming erratic natural forces to meet our needs. Primitive human beings did not expect clean potable water to flow freely from taps. Our ancestors had to learn where to find sources of vital elements. We may have been free to move to inhospitable regions, but would have had to pay the ultimate price for our adventurism if we failed to gather life's necessities. Naturally, we cannot enjoy any other freedoms until we have attained the means of survival. Absolute freedom would let us do whatever we want, whether or not it's good for us or harms others. Both biology and culture determine what we want. Our more basic instincts are not just to survive, but to procreate, which in the case of human beings means partaking in a complex game to enhance our social status and mate with the most desirable partner. Absolute tyranny would grant us no freedom of action, speech or thought at all. We might exist, but higher authorities would monitor and control every aspect of our lives, purportedly for our own good. As a social animal, we have seldom enjoyed absolute freedom, and neither have we yet succumbed to absolute tyranny, although some societies have come fairly close. A lone hunter-gatherer in a fertile wilderness may temporarily enjoy absolute personal freedom for no other human being could tell him what to do. Visions of primordial freedom have long featured in our literature, often portrayed as the aftermath of a misadventure as in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. The need to survive would constrain all his actions. He would not enjoy the freedom to lie in bed or play video games all day. Indeed they'd be no modern infrastructure at all. The only man-made artefacts would be the creations of our intrepid extreme survivalist. If one day our hero were to meet and fall in love with a woman, his personal freedom would end for cohabitation inevitably constrains your actions. Even the most primitive societies had the concept of social responsibility and rules which governed the behaviour of its members. If you broke these rules and lacked the authority of a lawmaker, you may well be banished and risk becoming yet another biogenetic dead-end. Most of us can thus only conceive of freedom once we have met all our other vital needs and satisfy a set of innate emotional and biological urges that evolved to ensure the procreation of the fittest. More important as a social animal whose young need extended nurturing all our freedoms are subordinate to community needs.

Communities may allow some activities, such as sexual liaison, only in private or in segregated settings to avoid unwanted resentment and disgust. One person's freedom ends where someone else's fundamental human rights begin. As soon as our actions affect other people, we are no longer free to do as we please and have to modify our behaviour to suit our social environment. In a complex society privilege thus means greater exclusivity via private ownership or temporary hire of private spaces, where one can exert greater personal freedoms without constant social surveillance. Naturally in your private space you could do good or bad things. You may partake in leisure pursuits of which many do not approve or at least do not wish to witness. Often we probably just want to work or relax without fearing social opprobrium. As soon as we leave our private space and enter a social space shared with the wider community, we adapt our behaviour and outward appearance. The range of permissible behaviours depends very much on the social milieu and level of trust. In private we may also discuss personal or business matters that may give us an unfair advantage over others. However, in rare cases where things go nastily wrong, some of us might commit heinous crimes that are obviously easier to conceal in more secluded surroundings. If you happen to own, and have exclusive usage of, a castle in a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands, you might be able to get away with murder much more easily than a typical resident of a high rise flat surrounded by neighbours and CCTV cameras. Many of us like to express our freedom through greater contact with nature, inevitably making us more vulnerable to natural predators and other humans who may take advantage of our nonchalance. Yet we can only confidently exercise such freedoms when we feel safe among others we trust.

One of the most fundamental principles of law is the presumption of innocence, i.e. the assumption that one does not seek privacy in order to commit heinous acts and most people have essentially good intentions unless proven otherwise. The principle of innocent until proven guilty may well have been the bedrock of both Roman and many modern legal systems in what we once considered the enlightened liberal world, but it relies on a strong foundation of shared moral and cultural values and high degree of mutual trust among members of our wider society. Once this reciprocal trust breaks down in an interdependent world, the authorities have to resort to growing levels of surveillance and subtle inculcation to maintain social order.

Complex versus Primitive Societies

Anthropologists often contrast complex with primitive societies. In essence the greater the size, specialisation and interdependency of a society, the more complex it is. More complex societies tend to produce more advanced technology that both expand and restrict personal freedoms. More primitive societies may afford its members greater theoretical freedom of action, but are inevitably constrained by rudimentary technology.

Technocratic Paradox

Undoubtedly most of us in modern European and North American cities enjoy easy access to better technology than our ancestors or the hapless denizens of cultural backwaters still clinging to outmoded ways of life. Our forebears had to survive without the benefits of modern telecommunications and comparatively inexpensive travel. Our day-to-day lives would be a never-ending tale of hard work and thankfulness for our anecdotal daily bread. Freedom never meant entitlement to a life of workless leisure and endless self-obsessed exploration. It meant first and foremost familial independence, i.e. the right of each viable family to manage affairs in their best interests and raise the next generation as they see fit. Under feudalism such freedoms were always constrained by land rights and punitive fees. Early capitalism transformed the nature of exploitation, so workers gained the freedom to compete with each other for breadcrumbs. Only later as technology improved could better educated and more specialised workers demand higher wages and better working conditions that also granted them greater individual freedom. Yet we tend to conceptualise our freedom of action only in relation to the dominant cultural paradigm of our era. Car owners may appreciate greater freedom to drive where they want, but such freedoms ultimately rely on massive infrastructure, advanced technology and regulations that prevent accidents and ease traffic flows. One may well enjoy the illusion of free movement on a desolate highway surrounded by wide open spaces, but when stuck in a traffic jam on a multilane motorway with no easy escape route, one may wish for alternatives. Indeed in many congested metropolises the mega-rich bypass overcrowded trains and gridlocked roads by helicopter. Hyper-consumerism has morphed into an arms race, where the same machines that once seemed to liberate us trap us into a high-tech rat race. Before the era of mass motoring urban children would happily play in the streets. Now their parents dare not let their offspring out not only for well-founded fears of road traffic accidents, but also because of a breakdown in communitarian trust and media reports of rampant child abusers and grooming gangs. Young children may be free to hop in their parents' car to the nearest shopping mall, sports centre or school, but are often no longer free to explore their neighbourhoods unsupervised. My point here is a higher material living standard does not necessarily beget more freedom. Better and more accessible technology may enable us to do things that our forebears could only dream of, but also impose other constraints. We may have the freedom to fly to Tenerife on holiday, but once there our actions are constrained by the thousands of other tourists who have taken advantage of cheap air travel and the facilities needed to support their lifestyle. To gain greater personal freedom you either have to venture off the beaten track and forgo many of the luxuries we now take for granted or buy access to exclusive resorts. Today's mega rich may profit from an increasingly globally integrated economy, but use their immense financial wealth to escape the excesses of mass consumerism and ubiquitous surveillance. We have thus commoditised freedom. If you like the commercialised hubbub of shopping and leisure centres with their incessant promotion of ephemeral products and synthetic experiences, then you have probably relinquished any true sense of self. Had I never visited a shopping mall, I may find the experience of temporary interest. Likewise I don't regret visiting the Great Mosque of Al Quayrawan (Kairouan) in the interests of anthropology, but I would not convert to Islam or agree with many of its practices. All activities organised by higher authorities restrict our freedom of thought, expression and action.

Free Will

In theory at least we are all mere carbon life-forms. Human emotions and culture would be inconceivable without our evolved intelligence that helps us learn new skills and concepts. To an animal behaviourist, a herd of cattle act in highly predictable ways responding largely biological impulses and environmental variables that may affect the availability of edible grass and potable water. They can easily explain aberrant behaviour in terms of disease or bad ecology. Most zoologists do not expect one cow to seclude itself in the corner of a field to write a philosophical treatise, compose a symphony or invent a new kind of manger. Neither do they expect groups of cows to gather to discuss how to free themselves from their human overlords. Yet our bovine cousins still have independent brains and some limited sense of self, albeit as part of a larger collective. We know this because most animals, except under extreme stress, act in the best interests of self-preservation. Without a sense of self, life and breeding serve little purpose other than to propagate one's species to the detriment of other life forms. Here we note two competing procreative strategies, known to ecologists as r/K selection theory. Lower animals with less evolved brains tend to maximise their procreative potential through r-selection and are limited only by their habitat's natural restraints. Such animals tend to rely more on collective intelligence than individual insights. Higher or more intelligent animals tend more towards K-selection with much higher investment in raising their young and much more selective mating strategies. However, a given species may adapt its procreation strategy to match environmental or cultural changes. Although human beings tend to more to K-selection, when compared to more prolific species, our rapid cultural and technological evolution has changed our procreation strategies and consequently the relative importance of individuals versus the collective. Our modern high-tech society would not be possible without hyper-specialisation and the creativity of a relatively small number of pioneering scientists, engineers, mathematicians, philosophers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Without a highly evolved sense of self our ancestors could never have innovated or challenged the old status quo. Critical thinking means understanding that the real world has many inconvenient dilemmas and paradoxes, e.g. should I satisfy my temporary desires by eating more ice cream or keep to a strict diet to maintain a healthy body shape and avoid unpleasant illnesses? Such a choice is an act of free will, a battle between biological instincts that evolved in Palaeolithic times and rational evidence-based behaviour. Prehistoric hunter-gatherers may well have feasted on nuts and berries to give themselves a much-needed sugar and fibre boost while stocks lasted. We evolved to crave things that were good for us or our longer-terms survival in most circumstances. But as we modified our environment through the invention of tools, farming and machines and we colonised habitats to which naked humans would be ill-suited, our instincts gave way to reason and culture, ways of life that evolved through trial and error. Ultimately everything we do or say can be reduced to biological instincts, but describing as human beings as mere carbon life-forms makes about as much sense as defining books as wood pulp products. Paper is a mere medium for advanced concepts expressed in complex human language. Free will is thus the intersection between physical reality and our intelligence. It is the act of conscious thinking when we consider conflicting options. We can exercise our free will to help ourselves, our loved ones or wider society. We are also free to make mistakes or follow the wrong advice. Without free will, independence is a mere figment of our imagination.

Identity Politics and Personal Freedom

A free person does not need a label to define or justify his or her behaviour. As long as our behaviour does not unduly limit someone else's freedom, without their express consent, then our predilections are a matter for us alone or other people with whom we choose to share such experiences. We have devised two dominant ways to deal with the complexity of an increasingly interconnected and transient society. The free market, in theory, allows competing cultural paradigms to coexist and find their own niche in a rapidly evolving world. By contrast a socialist utopia would replace competing cultures with a universal super-culture that would seek to eradicate practical inequalities between individuals. Equality and diversity may sound virtuous, but in practice cannot coexist, unless we redefine diversity in terms of ethnic background, gender identity, sexual orientation or non-conformist personality traits. Indeed we would never have progressed beyond the Stone Age if we had all conformed to societal norms. Some of us needed to think out of the box to devise new ways of overcoming natural constraints, while others had to nurture our prehistoric inventors. Natural diversity, especially of the intellectual and vocational kinds, spearheaded human development. Sadly such natural differences are also grotesquely unfair. A maladapted person without an opportunity to flourish is an evolutionary dead-end. Hence we descend mainly from the survivors of past civilisations with high infant mortality rates. Anyone with extremely dysfunctional behaviour would either not have survived to adulthood or would have been shunned by the wider community. As a result only more advanced, mainly post-agrarian, societies could afford a degree of specialisation that would take full advantage of the rare intellectual skills that saw the development of writing, mathematics and applied sciences, without which our modern world would be unthinkable. We have seen neither the triumph of Smithsonian laissez-faire economics nor a transition to a command economy with full public ownership. Instead we have the growing dominance of large transnational corporations closely tied to global banking cartels who work symbiotically with millions of smaller service providers and suppliers. These conglomerates not only bankroll the world's most influential media outlets, they fund myriad third sector organisations to lobby governments and promote the kind of lifestyles that suit their long-term business interests best. Many of today's leading businesses invest more in marketing, advertising, lobbying and law than they do in research and development. Any large hierarchical organisation, however classified, is much more concerned with bending the will of its subjects, whether citizens or consumers, than empowering others. That's much easier task if you can split your subjects into a plethora of interdependent identity groups. Your freedom to consume has to be balanced by other freedoms, such as financial independence or privacy.

Traditional ethnic, religious, professional and biological identities have recently given way to new identities based on lifestyle choices, personality profiles, erotic preferences or ancestral traits such as skin colour. It may matter little whether you are Portuguese or Polish, but it seems to matter more whether you chose to stay in your home region or migrate to a wealthier country, identify as an avid gamer, suffer from OCD, are allergic to nuts or enjoy erotic exchanges with members of the same sex. An almost endless array of circumstantial and behavioural traits can divide people into thousands of subcategories that justify special treatment and new regulations that affect the rights and freedoms of others. Corporate globalisation is commodifying thousands of years of gradual cultural evolution into a set of marketable flavours and identities that mainly serve to subjugate us to their domination. In this bizarre brave new world we are no longer free to criticise a religion that considers homosexuality evil or to challenge the fashionable view that sexual orientation is an immutable inherited trait. We are no longer free to challenge the theory that human activity has caused climate change or to challenge the logic of mass migration. Now I don't dispute that mass consumption has environmental consequences or sustainable migration can be of mutual benefit. I just want the freedom to investigate and discuss the evidence for these propositions.

Freedom to Breathe Fresh Air

I value the freedom to walk in the countryside undisturbed by vehicular traffic, noisy machinery or rowdy behaviour. Yet such freedoms can only be guaranteed by limiting the freedoms of others. You may believe the freedom to cross national boundaries untrammelled trumps all other freedoms such as the freedom to walk your dog in the park without getting mugged or raped. In a complex and unequal world we cannot grant everyone universal freedoms that do not inevitably counteract each other.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Patronising Social Conformists

How the new left merely cheerleads the new globalist establishment

As millions heed the call of the establishment media and celebrity charlatans to protest the inauguration of a new conservative American president, we must ask why the same media outlets barely reported massive grassroots opposition to recent military interventions in the Middle East. These stage-managed anti-Trump protests bare more semblence to similar choreographed uprisings in Ukraine, Venezuela and Egypt, also broadcast live on CNN. Behind the left-branded protests against populism lies the spectre of George Soros' web of fake activist organisations.

Once upon a time left-of-centre social reformers and trade union activists had a bit of a reputation as rebels standing up against the old reactionary establishment intent on preventing social progress to preserve their privileges. If you were a coal miner on 78 shillings a week in 1926 or a toilet cleaner earning little more than pin money, you'd listen to Labour politicians and trade union leaders who promised to redress the balance of power away from capitalists and aristocrats to ordinary workers. The experience of the 1914–18 Great War also taught a generation of young radicals not to support their ruling class's imperialist games and extend their solidarity to workers abroad.

Today the new emerging global superclass of corporate executives, transnational bureaucrats and NGO consultants speak the language of the left. They preach internationalism, environmental protection, equality, diversity, women rights, gay rights, migrant rights and above all social progress. Indeed a potpourri of causes that would not look out of place on the stands of 1980s Students Union conferences. The only difference is the former rebels now occupy boardrooms and enjoy the support of mainstream media outlets such as MTV, CNN, the BBC, Facebook, Buzzfeed and more. Yet the world remains a very unequal place. Real power is demonstrably concentrated in fewer and fewer hands while national elections are often meaningless as elected governments have little choice but to kowtow to the demands of big business and supranational organisations. The old left agenda, in its many flavours, has been repackaged as a model for global social engineering. Meanwhile the traditional working class have lost their strategic role as the engine of industrial creativity. Their jobs have been largely outsourced and/or automated. In their place has come a range of insecure service sector jobs, increasingly divorced from any tangible goods and services we really need. More and more professionals have morphed into service providers, who work for larger organisations as contractors, but whose contracts may be terminated at the drop of a hat. If a fictitious National Union of Graphic Designers ever went on strike, businesses would just outsource these tasks to graphic designers abroad, import more malleable migrant labour or develop artificial intelligence capable of replicating artistic creativity. Only workers with secure jobs and protected employee rights can dream of taking industrial action and such jobs are these days few and far between. In theory teachers and nurses, at the forefront of postmodern social engineering, could withdraw their labour, but would meet massive public opposition. As a result we've created a new underclass who have failed to transition from the old manufacturing economy to the new information and service economy and instead have to compete at the bottom end of the wage scale with growing competition from migrant workers. All too often the underclasses are trapped in a cycle of temporary low-paid non-jobs, such as shelf-stackers or CCTV supervisors, and welfare dependency. Economic insecurity in a consumer society inevitably leads to emotional insecurity. Yet this most vulnerable group feels betrayed both by the corporate left, once represented by Tony Blair, and by the infantile left represented by Labour's new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his coterie of trendy virtue signalling celebrities and Guardian journalists. Today's self-styled leftists have abandoned their local working classes, whom they accuse of xenophobia and ignorance, and embraced a smorgasbord of victim groups, many belonging to newfangled categories we barely recognised just 50 years ago. The infantile left bang on about helping migrants, mental health patients, transgender teenagers, single mothers and/or welfare claimants, all categories who owe their conceptualisation to recent rapid socio-cultural changes. It now seems rather odd that many who may theoretically fit one of these categories fail to identify with the new left, who keep failing to distinguish the symptoms of a dysfunctional society (such as emotional stress often described as mental illnesses and expressing itself in myriad forms such as eating disorders or drug abuse or mass migration caused by volatile economic development) from their causes or potential solutions, such as a sustainable economy with full employment that values its participants. Survey after survey have shown that what people really want are secure jobs and stable communities. Amazingly the working classes, or those who still retain some pride in their social and cultural heritage, do not want to depend on state handouts or redefine their personal challenges in terms of mental health, gender dysphoria, sexuality or minority ethnic status. The infantile left keep offering to address symptoms, such as the Middle East quagmire, often in a futile or even counterproductive way, creating new conflicts between rival victim groups, whom they once championed. When Muslim migrants groom teenagers, rape young Western women or beat gay couples, the regressive left censors the reality that many Islamic fundamentalists have a radically different approach to women's or gay rights. Whereas once we may have had the semblance of a rainbow coalition of disadvantaged groups that would unite in their struggle against a common enemy, purportedly capitalism, now we have parallel communities who share only their perceived victimhood and subservience to advocacy groups. The old left may have advocated workers' power. Now the lifestyle left merely advocates submission to a brave new world. While Jeremy Corbyn's small entourage may still claim to defend workers' rights and cherish their movement's ties to the great workers' struggles of the industrial age, the most regressive strand of the new Left are now commonly known as social justice warriors (SJWs). Their stronghold is not the factory floor or trade union branches, but college campuses and their modus operandi is not industrial action but endless awareness raising, protests against traditional beliefs and calls for censorship, safe zones and protection against alleged haters. Unlike student activists in the 1960s who would oppose unjust wars, exploitation and state oppression, social justice warriors work in unison with well-funded NGOs such as George Soros' Open Society Foundation or alongside state institutions. While the government may still pay lip service to liberal concepts such as free speech and open debate largely to keep alive the illusion of democracy, social justice warriors spend much of their time attempting to shut down any debate about their radical redefinition of human reality. Rather than going against the grain, the infantile left act as foot soldiers for elite social engineers, whose main goal is to deny us of any personal or social independence.

Often it can be hard to tell apart a genuine grassroots campaign against real injustice, such as against welfare cuts, from a clever identity awareness raising campaign, e.g. raising awareness of an ill-defined personality disorder few had heard of until recently. They both use similar language and adopt similar techniques to appeal to our compassion. Having been through some relatively hard times myself I can at least empathise with those who campaign against government welfare cuts or want to raise awareness about the very real personal challenges many have in our increasingly atomised society. Some of us have little choice but to beg from the state, but once you begin to depend on remote organisations you have practically relinquished your independence. Our brave new world has consumers and client groups managed by a superclass of technocrats, social engineers and banking cartels.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Is Another Europe Possible?

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The Democratic Delusion

Only a few days ago opinion polls showed a lead for the Leave side in the upcoming referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union. A growing cross-section of public opinion has been swung on key arguments on sovereignty and democracy so that the elected British parliament can regain control. From the outset the Remain side has had an inbuilt advantage as supporters of the status quo. They have practically the whole global establishment on their side. Everyone from the Christine Lagarde at the IMF to President Obama as well as the most prominent economic research institutes supports the UK's continued membership of the EU. The leaderships of all the main parties represented in the British Parliament have also thrown their weight behind the Remain campaign. Even Labour's new leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of EU expansionism and disciple of Tony Benn, came out in favour of the EU alongside the Greens, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Scottish Nationalists. In the last general election only one major party, UKIP, stood clearly against EU membership. They may have gained 3.9 million votes, but only won one parliamentary seat. The referendum, it seemed, was a battle between the Tory Right, UKIP and a motley crew of mavericks from other parties versus everyone else, a clearcut fight between our interconnected global future and our insular past or between cosmopolitan universalism and reactionary nationalism. Yet to the astonishment of orthodox opinion leaders ordinary people no longer trust establishment experts or really care about nebulous concepts like economic growth (which just means a bigger GDP). People actually care about their country and social cohesion. Globalisation has largely benefited big corporations and the upwardly mobile professional classes to the detriment of the traditional native working classes.

The StrongerIn campaign has always emphasised Europe, something people associate with good cuisine, wine, beer, sunny holidays, fine art, literature, scientific excellence and a wonderful diversity of traditional cultural identities. How can we leave our European friends? Amazingly millions of ordinary working class voters are fully aware of the distinction between Europe and a superstate imposed on 28 of its countries. To confuse Europe with the EU is like mistaking Russia for the Soviet Union (although if you want to be pedantic at least the USSR comprised the whole of Russia, while the EU excludes European Russia).

Away from university campuses, corporate boardrooms and trendy international development agencies, most people still identify with their community, their home town, their region and their country much more than with hazy concepts such as Europe, increasingly indistinguishable from a broader universalism inspired by the American dream.

Real issue is not Europe at all, but unbalanced migratory flows

While the Remain crowd may have persuasive arguments on economics, the advantages of a common market and cooperation on environmental and security issues, they have always had one weakness in the eyes of many ordinary voters in England, Scotland and Wales, unbalanced migratory flows. To put things into perspective, in the 1970s approximately 100,000 moved to Britain every year, while a similar number left. Indeed in some years more left and entered. Net migration picked up in the 1980s, subsided slightly before growing gradually in the1990s along with global trends for greater labour mobility especially towards more prosperous countries. However, since 1998 net migration climbed steadily and has fluctuated between 200,000 and 330,000 since. The raw figures for 2015 show 630,000 moved to the UK for long term residence (counted as more than 12 months) and 297,000 went thr other way. That's a phenomenal rate of demographic change if it continues over the next 15 years. See A summary history of immigration to Britain and Net Migration Statistics.

These crude statistics do not reflect the socio-cultural reality people experience in their everyday lives. If the quality of life keeps improving and communities retain some degree of continuity, immigration can, for want of a better word, enrich society. However, the sustainability of high levels of net migration over a long period of time depends not only on the quantity of newcomers, but also on their quality in terms of age, skills an cultural compatibility as well naturally as the host country's carrying capacity. Thus a large country like Australia can assimilate a greater number of immigrants every year than smaller and more densely populated European or Asian countries. What people perceive is how their community evolves, most important will their children have good opportunities to prosper or will they have to leave their community or fall into a trap of welfare dependence and/or job insecurity? Where you stand on Britain's great immigration debate is likely to depend on your sense of social and economic security as well as your regional identity. This explains why the greatest opposition to mass migration tends to come from outlying suburban areas of indigenous white working classes, although it is not uncommon among second or third generation descendants of Caribbean immigrants who have had to compete with newcomers from Eastern Europe at the lower end of labour market.

The biggest tragedy is a political class increasingly out of touch with ordinary people and only concerned with special interest groups who serve other agendas. If you inhabit a metropolitan elite bubble, you may believe corporate globalisation (a hackneyed term, but what else should we call it?) has benefited everyone except perhaps a few losers who keep moaning about immigrants taking their jobs. The truth is usually much more complex, mainly because of rapid technological change and ensuing job insecurity. The millions of manufacturing jobs that provided a livelihood for the working classes before the 1970s will not return. They have already been outsourced and/or automated. If young workers cannot adapt to the demands of a forever more dynamic service sector or a rapidly metamorphosing tech sector, they are likely to be condemned to a life of unrewarding temporary jobs and long periods of unemployment falling victim to all the scourges of modern society, such as depression, social anxiety and drug addiction. Youth unemployment in the UK is masked by the growth in further education, zero-hour contracts and part-time jobs. In Southern Europe youth unemployment now stands well above 40%. Many countries experience a kind of piggyback migration with waves of migrants from North Africa and Middle East arriving just as locals move to Northern Europe or, if they're lucky, Australia or Canada. The demographic and migratory trends that have seen dramatic changes in the ethnic composition of many urban districts have reverberations across Europe. We see people move literally in all directions. British entrepreneurs and pensioners may move to Spanish, Portuguese or Bulgarian tourist resorts, while millions of Eastern and Southern Europeans have escaped high unemployment to compete in the Northern Europe's booming service sector, but now find themselves displaced by new migratory waves from further afield. Likewise the indigenous middle classes have tended to move away from cities to suburban retreats and this occurs as much in Sweden or Belgium as it does in England and parts of Scotland.

The real irony in this whole Brexit debate is that other Europeans want to thwart the Brussels behemoth just as much as we do. Everywhere grassroots movements from Beppe Grillo's Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement) in Italy, Podemos in Spain, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) in Germany and most notoriously Marie Le Pen's Front National want to wrest power from a centralising superstate. While millions of Eastern Europeans took advantage of job opportunities in wealthier European countries, they have not been so keen to accept their share of recent non-European migrants and refugees. Most Europeans would be happy with a looser community of nation states with separate currencies, protected labour markets, but largely tariff-free trade. We need to cooperate on common environmental and security concerns, scientific research, cultural and educational exchanges. We just do not need an all-powerful superstate that suppresses traditional national and regional identities and exacerbates economic divides between rich and poorer regions by imposing one-size fits all monetary policies on everyone. Europeans are not North Americans. We value our national identities and let's unite to build a different kind of European Community with a fraction of the budget of the former EU. We do not want to see the return of yesteryear's national rivalries or national despotisms, but a mosaic of peaceloving independent countries each doing things in slightly different ways. Brexit is probably the quickest way to achieve this as it would prompt renegotiations and embolden EU-sceptic organisations across Europe to challenge Brussels' hegemony. However, even a narrow Remain win would send a clear signal people want the levers of power to be much closer to home. Sadly in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox MP, I doubt the leave side can win, except by the narrowest margins. A more probably outcome will be 55% for Remain on a lower turnout as many reluctant Brexiters will be burdened by guilt for the crazy actions of one mentally deranged loner.

However, even with a comfortable victory for the Remain side, the fundamental weaknesses of the EU project will not go away. The Euro is unlikely to survive the bankruptcy of the Italian state or ten more years of mass migrations from North Africa and Middle East. The question is whether we could build a pan-European movement to dismantle the EU project peacefully and democratically or if it's too late and we let Europe descend into civil war between rival native and migrant communities when the next global banking crisis comes?

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Fair Trade Not Free Trade

Fair trade

Free trade has now become an untouchable sacred cow, which alongside economic growth and free movement of labour forms a sort of mercantile holy trinity. Without free trade, we are told, we would have a smaller variety of more expensive products and, worst of all, economic stagnation. However, all this assumes an idealised world of free markets and a level playing field in terms of environmental regulations, workers' rights, welfare provision and taxation. Such a world of laissez-faire entreprise is pure fantasy as the technologies on which our hypercomplex societies rely require a degree of organisation and material resources only available to the largest corporate players. While small players may often innovate, they need a little help from venture capitalists to win the financial resources required to take their ideas to the next level. If our government doesn't regulate our way of life, other organisations fill the void and regulate human behaviour to suit their quest for greater power. Capitalism, if left unregulated, ultimately destroys itself through its natural tendency to let more successful companies dominate the market, either as oligopoly as in the case of cars and many electronic goods, or as a quasi-monopoly, and as may appear in the case in the productivity software industry. No elected government decided that Adobe Photoshop â„¢ should be the standard image editing application or that Microsoft Wordâ„¢ should be the only word processor acceptable in business, education and government administration. Two large software companies first established a market lead in their respective fields and then through an army of sales agents and lobbyists locked key organisations into their ecosystem, largely by enforcing cryptic file formats that other applications had to deconstruct. They can thus charge government and small businesses whatever they can get away with because key decision makers are unaware of alternatives. It's often hard to work out if one is dealing with public or private organisation and they both behave in similar ways. The prison service has clients rather than inmates and the NHS has customers rather than patients. Both outsource many of their activities to private service companies like Serco, Capgemini, G4S, Virgin Health etc.

The British Isles produces around half of its food and imports most manufactured good and strategic raw materials. We're no longer self-sufficient in oil or gas and even import coal as it works out cheaper than exploiting our last remaining deep-vein coal pits. To add insult to injury we import thousands of tonnes of Chinese steel while letting the British steel industry, once a pioneering world leader, shed most of its workforce. However, for some spurious reason in the current debate on EU membership, both sides seem to agree on one thing: Free trade is good or is it? On the one hand the Remain crowd keep reminding us how 3 million jobs depend on trade with the EU, while the Leave side have just produced Brexit the Movie which advocates an even more globally integrated future than possible within Fortress Europe, a myth that spread in the late 1990s just before the WTO negotiations had completed under the New Labour-appointed EU Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson. I'm not alone in having viewed the European Union as the lesser of two evils back in the heady 1990s. It seemed for a while that it could protect workers' rights and environmental standards while nurturing a competitive internal market. Southern Europeans, especially entrepreneurial Northern Italians, prospered as their small and versatile businesses adapted to meet demand for niche products in Northern Europe. However, their competitive advantage would not last long as the EU expanded eastwards and forced governments to remove protectionist tariffs and subsidies. Combined with greater automation and the fast pace of technological change and obsolescence, globalisation led to the failure of thousands of small businesses and rapid rise in youth unemployment and that was before the 2008 credit crunch and Euro crisis.

Economic students learn the old mantra that protectionism always fails. One need not look to extreme examples such as Cuba during its special period in the early 1990s or the former Soviet Bloc, most advanced mixed economies, including the United States, had tightly controlled national or supranational markets until the mid 1990s. Governments understood the advantages of competition, but also the need to retain a skills base in strategic industries and more important maintain full employment and social stability. If the local economy depends on hundreds of small textile businesses, it's no good telling voters they have to adapt to new market conditions with dirt cheap imports from the Far East.

Tariffs are effectively a tax on low pay, poor working conditions and minimal environmental standards. If a competitor from another jurisdiction can undercut local producers because they pay their workers peanuts, dump waste in the sea rather than invest in an expensive effluent treatment plant or pay hardly any taxes in their home country, this is unfair competition. You may get cheaper consumer products in the short term, but unless the workers laid off in your high-wage country can retrain or upskill to fill new vacancies in the service sector, you'll end up paying more in welfare handouts. Thus over the last 20 years of unshackled global trade, the welfare bill has skyrocketed in much of the advanced Western world. While some former manufacturing workers have transitioned to the service sectors, tens of millions have been left behind. Not everyone is cut out for sales, marketing, research, graphic design or informatics. Some can find new niches as personal trainers or dog walkers. Others try their luck with online retail businesses, while others tap into the insatiable demand for instant gratification via sexual services or narcotics. As a result fewer and fewer of us have a direct stake in the real economy responsible for putting food on our tables or a roof over our heads. We simply trade favours and compete for a bigger slice of corporate profits, while in other parts of the world resources are depleted, workers are exploited in slave-labour conditions and natural habitats are destroyed in the name of economic growth.

We could only have free and fair trade if we had a level playing field, i.e. a global minimum wage, global corporation tax, global environmental regulations and workers' rights. Why should Malaysians make kettles for the British market? Why should Indians process English council forms? The two main reasons are for temporary economic expediency and to prevent workers from holding their employers to ransom. Today few groups of organised workers can trump the power of global corporations to move their operations from one part of the world to another or in the longer term to invest in greater automation.

Infantile globalist leftwingers dream of a world with Norwegian workers' rights and welfare provision, Tanzanian consumption levels and cutting edge green technology that will enable everyone to enjoy an Australian lifestyle. I recently exchanged tweets with one deluded leftist who believes in free energy, i.e. a conspiracy by oil companies to deny us free and clean water-powered vehicles. With current levels of youth unemployment and ecological destruction, believers in a such utopian vision live in cloud cuckoo land. Each viable community needs to find its own way to reach the ideal equilibrium of technological progress, environmental protection and social justice. More important everyone needs to feel that are stakeholders in the social and economic life of their country, which requires a strong sense of social cohesion, trust and shared values. Free markets empower unaccountable corporations, while fair trade lets each community decide what is in the best interests of its workers.

What is Fair Trade?

Like many other good things Fair Trade has been hijacked by big business as a sort of ethical kitemark (stamp of approval) to mean some external agency has vouched for minimum workers' rights, earnings and environmental standards. We are supposed to place our blind trust in international bodies supported by big business to monitor their compliance with various well-intentioned regulations. This inevitably empowers larger businesses with sophisticated marketing and PR operations who can afford the additional overheads to the detriment of unscrupulous small businesses. Next-generation automation technology will soon displace banana pickers or coffee plantation workers anyway.

What Fair Trade should mean is trading only when it makes good long-term social and environmental sense. It may be temporarily cheaper to import to apples and tomatoes from Spain, Chile or South Africa, but these fruits grow in the British Isles too and people used to adapt to seasonal fruits and vegetables. As people have grown accustomed to a plentiful supply of seemingly fresh fruit shipped from halfway around the world, we waste much more, offsetting improvements in agricultural yields and preventing the development of feasible alternatives such as the greater use of greenhouses. That doesn't mean we should not import at all, but should aim to be as self-sufficient in staple foods and essential goods as reasonably possible. Certainly it makes little sense to outsource manufacturing of goods mainly consumed here. If kettle production can be fully automated, why should that take place in China rather than in the UK? More important, by insourcing more manufacturing we become more aware of the true environmental consequences of our shopping habits. Why should we keep throwing away cheap imported products just because it's more cost-effective than replacing inexpensive spare parts that are mysteriously unavailable locally? Many recent technological advances such as 3D-printing could actually enable greater localisation. Rather than ship goods thousands of miles, we could simply send a design to a local 3D-printer to produce a customised component. To sum up free trade focuses on short-term corporate profits and their need to maximise retail sales and minimise labour costs without having to invest in new technology or training. Fair trade focuses on identifying products and services that regions can exchange to their mutual long-term benefit without displacing workers overnight or creating unsustainable social and environmental imbalances.

Categories
All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Infantile Leftwing Globalism

Save the bees! Save the Trees! Save the refugess!

You might naively imagine the main focus of the Green Party is to promote environmental sustainability, while the Labour Party seeks to defend the rights of ordinary working people in their country. Yet increasingly both serve the interests of global corporations, just as much as their nominally centre-right counterparts in misnamed conservative, liberal or separatist parties.

Today no mainstream political force, and that includes the Greens, can implement the wishes of their activists. They may make a few eloquent speeches on subjects that can inspire strategic audiences and give us a semblance of democratic debate, but the only campaigns that ever succeed are those that win the backing of key corporate players via their myriad NGOs and lobby groups. The conservatives pretended to champion family values and curb unsustainable net migration. In reality they were unable to stem migratory flows, while failing to help stay-at-home mums (yes incredibly many intelligent women choose to take time off work to look after their children). Likewise New Labour had 13 years to tackle falling standards in state schools and a burgeoning housing crisis.

Radical environmentalism seeks to build an alternative model of development focused on a long-term sustainability rather than short-term profits or whimsical consumer desires. Likewise the Labour Movement was founded to empower workers, favouring long-term social wellbeing over short-term commercial gains. I sympathise with both green and red politics. I certainly do not want either a grotesquely unequal society or an environmental collapse.

Yet if history can teach us anything it is to be very careful what you wish for. As the green movement gained momentum in the 1980s, eco-sceptics claimed ecologists wanted a return to a pre-industrial era of horse-drawn carts, peat fires and peasants toiling 12 hours a day just to grow enough to feed their community. Some would argue that the Greens have never opposed technology, only bad technology. The trouble is without evil polluting technologies such as coal-fired steam engines or monstrous chemical processing plants our modern world could never have evolved. The industrial revolution initially saw a huge rise in infant mortality as young boys were sent down coal mines. It later produced the material wealth needed to invest in more efficient and human-friendly technology. By the mid 19th century child labour and slavery had become anachronisms in the eyes of capitalists, superseded by technological developments that capitalist competition had spawned. Capitalism was both a financial oppressor and a technological liberator, that the later Soviet Union could only mimic by enforcing an authoritarian form of state capitalism. Herein lies the first glaring dilemma for self-proclaimed anti-capitalists.

Back in the real world capitalism has long given way to corporatism, a marriage of major enterprises and state institutions. Left to its own devices laissez-faire capitalism would have died in the early 20th century. Indeed it would never have expanded as fast as it did without the help of state-funded armies, navies and airforces. Free trade, as we know it, has largely been won by gunboat diplomacy and later as its tentacles spread far and wide by financial coercion.

The greatest advances in workers' rights occurred in the first half of the 20th century, admittedly interrupted by world wars and national dictatorships. Capitalists had little choice because they needed highly skilled workers both to design, operate and manage their machinery and to buy their goods. In many ways the outcome of the second world war made the western world safe for a new era of mass consumerism. As mean living standards and productivity rose governments could offer more generous welfare and provide an illusion of democracy as conservative and social democratic managerial teams vied to win the favour of a docile public.

Endless Growth

However, corporate capitalism relies on continuous economic growth. The physical possibility of infinite growth on a finite planet depends on our definition of growth. It may simply mean greater circulation of capital, as happens during periods of high inflation, but most of us understand it to mean higher material living standards and thus higher aggregate consumption. We are currently on a trajectory to have a peak population of ten billion human beings. The problem is they will likely expect a Western European standard of living meaning the number of motor vehicles is set to grow from 1 to 5 billion over the next 50 years. They may well be electric cars, but they will still require billions of tons of steel, aluminium, potassium and plastics to manufacture as well as thousands of square of miles of asphalt and an exponential rise in energy demands. While many talk of a transition to public transport, walking and bicycling in urban areas, for the time being at least alternatives to cars only appeal in congested cities. When left to market forces, people will choose convenience and prestige over environmental friendliness or fitness. Our obsession with appearance and body image means many prefer to drive several miles to a gym than make a fool of themselves cycling or jogging along busy roads earning the ire of impatient motorists. Many wishful thinking Western eco-activist's are rather surprised when new immigrants to their country choose to drive short distances when they could easily walk, cycle or catch a bus. That's because they did not move to a richer country to promote environmental sustainability, but rather to enjoy a higher material living standard, or as we once said, live the American dream. Herein lies the second great dilemma of today's bien-pensant green left. Mass migration is driven, indeed actively encouraged, primarily by the same corporate system that ecologists claim to oppose or do they?

Impotence

In the UK Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish National Party and Natalie Bennett's Green Party are powerless to challenge the hegemony of the multinational corporations that shape every aspect of our professional and consumer lives, for they all agree to transfer any scrutiny of our true masters to a supranational entity, the European Union. The SNP may well run the Scottish Parliament, but dare not limit the power of the corporations that run Scotland's consumer economy. In 2016 the likes of Tesco, Walmart, SkyTV, Raytheon, BP, Shell or GSK hold greater sway over public policy than the Westminster talking shop. Indeed the SNP are so keen on ensuring that big business pay their taxes that they promised lower corporation tax to boost inward investment. As a nominally autonomous country within the European Union, they would be powerless to pursue independent economic policies. They could merely liaise as a minor player with the European Union, itself beholden to the other organisations such as WTO, IMF and the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. How could any party that enjoys the editorial support of Murdoch-owned newspaper, the Scottish Sun, be anti-establishment anyway. The SNP only oppose the old guard of British aristocracy.

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party seems to have greater anti-establishment credentials. Indeed the corporate media has been quick to denounce Labour's new leadership as dangerous extremists, naive pacifists or apologists for terrorists and Nazi-sympathising Israel bashers. The whole polemic about Ken Livingstone's Hitler comments is a case in point. You'd seriously think he had denied the Nazi holocaust or advocated the annihilation of Israel. In actual fact he had merely alluded to the 1933 Haavara Agreement between Zionists and the newly elected National Socialist regime, which incidentally still had important commercial ties the United State and Britain. We had the spectre of a Labour MP patronisingly shouting “Have you read Mein Kampf†at a former colleague.. This manufactured controversy over alleged antisemitism had two effects: to discredit the main opposition party and to restrict intellectual freedom. The other details were lost on a general public accustomed to a simplified Hollywoodesque portrayal of recent European history.

In 1981 before Argentinian General Gualtieri intervened to boost Margaret Thatcher's popularity, a much more radical Labour Party under Michael Foot won 41% of the vote in local elections compared to just 38% for the ruling Tories. In similar elections Jeremy Corbyn's party could barely muster 31% within England. Short of a miracle, Labour are extremely unlikely to win the next general election. If they oust Corbyn, then many Labour members would leave probably to join the Greens. With Corbyn, they can only hope to appeal to the core Labour vote in areas of high welfare dependency and/or Muslim populations as well as trendy professional elites. The party has lost much of its traditional working class vote. First in power it did little to protect British workers against unfair global competition and encouraged the migration of a new generation of immigrants from Eastern Europe to fill short-term vacancies in the country's volatile, but booming, labour market dominated by agency staff. Left-leaning opinion leaders and even government ministers would dismiss low-skill British workers as lazy and unmotivated, while failing abysmally to reform the welfare system to make work pay. Indeed Gordon Brown's flagship working family tax credits merely subsidised the kind of low-paid jobs to which new immigrants were attracted. Of course, nothing has changed under David Cameron's tenure either. Net migration has continued to hover around the 300,000 a year mark and more and more young people are employed under zero-hour contracts. While inflation-adjusted spending on the NHS has actually risen, a growing population is clearly putting it under enormous strain. Yet Labour and Conservative spokespeople always like to remind the descendants of the great British working class that we could not run the NHS without immigrants, a sly way of telling native Brits that they either too stupid or too well paid.

Ironically many in the Labour movement would agree with my critique of trendy champagne socialists, infantile eco-warriors and no-borders activists, the kind of people who think can they simultaneously cut industrial pollution, fight climate change, save endangered species, protect natural woodland and greenbelt, build more houses and allow million more economic migrants to enjoy a 1980s British standard of living. Many middle-of-the-road Labour activists from the 1970s and 80s just wanted Britain to be a peace-loving country that protected the interests of its own people without expropriating the resources of other countries or interfering in their affairs, except to deal with environmental catastrophes or to avert genocide. A humble country that would lead only by example. However, our economy has become so unbalanced and dependent on imports of goods and export of services as to make any government captive to the diktat of major multinationals.

In purely ecological terms the UK is a global parasite. It extracts much more from the rest of the world than it gives back. It has effectively become a large shopping mall complete with airports, a motorway network, millions of offices and matchbox houses. If you are worried about the destruction of the Amazonian rain forest, endangered species in Borneo, peace in the Middle East or carbon emissions globally, then buying imported goods at Tesco or taking a cheap Ryanair flight to sunny Spain will not help. Indeed our consumer habits outsource environmental destruction to the rest of the world.

Hands Tied

If Corbyn and Bennett really wanted to overthrow capitalism, they would not call for more economic growth or advocate corporate welfarism. They would oppose unaccountable and wasteful corporations and transfer their business operations to cooperatives respondent to the needs of local communities rather than short-term profits or longer-term commercial expansion. We would bring our consumption in line with our essential needs (e.g. we could eat a lot less and still live healthier lives), rather than short-term consumer fetishes. Most important a genuine workers' party would ensure all families have a stake in our real economy, i.e. at least one member who contributes through meaningful and rewarding work. If we outsource manual labour or let next generation automation displace workers in all but the most intellectually demanding roles altogether, we will have a nation of expendable consumer slaves.

The Greens may well oppose fracking and building on greenbelt, yet their leadership fully support the causes of fracking and habitat destruction. Capitalists do not lobby governments to allow hydraulic fracturing because they want to contaminate drinking water or destroy our countryside, but because they believe for the time being fracking is the most cost-effective way to produce the extra energy we need to power our growing economy and satisfy the consumer demands of the country's growing population.

Many Greens I've debated with live in a parallel universe, in which highly skilled and ecologically aware immigrants help us address an acute labour shortage and compensate for a shrinking and ageing population. This may be true in a few remote Devon villages, but the UK's population has grown from 58 million in 1997 to well over 65 million now. While youngsters born and bred in the UK struggle to find permanent jobs, agencies import ready-trained nurses and careworkers to look after the disabled and elderly.

What's Wrong With Old People?

If there is one demographic group the infantile left loathes more than any other it's the native British elderly, the kind of people who distrust the European Union, disapprove of gay marriage and may, heaven forbid, not be too happy about the displacement of indigenous communities with transient communities of international commuters. Yet an ageing population is hardly sign of failure, but a cause for celebration and an immense opportunity for a younger generation unable to compete with robots, but perfectly able to care for their elderly relatives and neighbours rather than twiddle their thumbs in marketing agencies or sell spurious legal services. If the UK had had zero-net migration since 1997, i.e. a sustainable balance of immigration and emigration, our population would only have declined only slightly today and we'd have smaller class sizes, much less congestion and a much smaller housing crisis. Indeed the fertility rate has risen from a low of 1.6 in the mid 1980s to 2.0 today (partly due to higher birth rates among some recent immigrants). By contrast countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany and Poland have fertility rates between 1.3 to 1.5. Singaporean women have on average just 1 child. People in these countries have merely adapted to the reality that our survival does not depend on having an excess of children. Raising a child to become a successful adult with good career prospects now requires massive investment in time and money. That why millions of European and Japanese couples simply opt out of parenthood.

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will soon displace most most manual and many clerical jobs. Banks are busy closing branches, driverless vehicles are already a reality and manufacturing workers will be replaced by a handful of programmers and technicians. However, the elderly and disabled will still prefer human care-workers ideally with a similar cultural background. Would it really matter if over several generations the population halved through entirely peaceful and non-coercive means? Not at all, it would merely bring our numbers back to the population we had in the 1960s and it would certainly make it much easier to address the challenges of rising material expectations, resource depletion on a finite planet and the inevitability of greater automation. A true environmentalist would aspire to attain an equilibrium with a steady state economy and stable population, but we are not going to run out people any time soon.

Useful Idiots

If the Greens and Left Labour pose such a great threat to global corporations, why do they get so much airtime on TV and so great prominence in social media. People are not being arrested for expressing opposition to austerity cuts or staging refugees welcome demos, but rather for expressing socially conservative opinions critical of globalisation. This is because our real masters are not the old national aristocracies, but global corporations who positively loathe nation states. Both the European and North American elites are planing a new borderless playground for a new technocratic upper class. The main wheelers and dealers are not populist politicians eager to placate the concerns of a conservative electorate, but large banks, transnational enterprises and increasingly NGOs and charities. While the infantile left may rant and rave about our wonderful NHS and the evils of TTIP, trendy business consultancies are busy new ways to expand the market reach of their corporate healthcare clients and rebrand TTIP to placate European politicians. When professional services networks such as Price Waterhouse and Cooper, Ernst and Young, Deloitte or KPMG talk of global governance or localisation, what they really mean is the transfer of decision-making away from national institutions to large corporations. Increasingly national parliaments debate merely how and when to phase in policies decided elsewhere. Cultural convergence is seen as a historical inevitability that merely has to be managed. In this context the mass migration of people from the Middle East and North Africa may lead to a temporary culture clash. but the long term aim to displace all autochthonous cultures with a global superculture. Civil unrest, decreased social solidarity and the spectre of terrorism all provide excellent pretexts for more surveillance and greater centralisation of powers in supranational bodies. Not surprisingly, the Eurocrats always respond to economic, environmental and human crises with calls for more Europe, by which they mean greater powers for unaccountable institutions intent to undermining the will of ordinary Europeans.

Yet across the European continent the growing divide is no longer between the lifestyle left and the economic right, but between those of us who care about the identity and thus sustainability of our cultural heritage and those who wish to supplant all traditional cultures with a brave new world order, to which all but the enlightened elite have to conform. They are quite happy to use green activists and even trade unionists to push through policies that will both destroy our environment and undermine workers' rights. The real xenophobes are not those who defend their own cultural traditions, but those who cheerlead ethnic cleansing on an unprecedented scale.

The imbecile left will never thwart global corporatism, but will merely claim credit for policies emanating from corporate think tanks such as global taxation of corporations or their new favourite, the basic income, which will inevitably be a form a global social welfare subsidised by global corporations to the workless underclasses in exchange for their acquiescence.

It often helps to observe critically what is really happening rather than formulate a convenient worldview based on personal prejudices, peer pressure or official reports. Some will tell you the green lobby is harming ordinary working class motorists through their obsession with global warming and carbon emissions. Back in the real world green politicians support policies that increase carbon emissions by actively supporting the migration of people from poorer to richer countries and recycling propaganda about how a larger population boosts our wonderful retail economy. We thus witness a manufactured debate between small businesses, often keen on easier road transport and lower taxes, and globalist greens, usually keen on tigher regulation of private transport. Larger companies always find it easier to comply with new environmental regulations introduced to please green lobbies. All the while massive out-of-town superstores with huge carparks are sprouting up everywhere. They may have a few token cycle racks and sell fair-trade bananas, bu their bottom line depends on more eager consumers buying their imported merchandise. In power and in opposition, the greens have been disaster for our environment.

Categories
Power Dynamics

On admitting you’re wrong

Intellectual Dishonesty and Cognitive Dissonance

Is it better to be wrong for the right reasons or coincidentally right for the wrong reasons? For sake of argument, let us imagine a school teacher asks you to write an essay on the origin of the human species and let us also assume the teacher has a strong bias in favour of scientific orthodoxy on this subject. Most students promptly recycle variants of the current conventional wisdom that we evolved from hominid apes through a process of natural selection. However, one student writes a long detailed critique of Darwinism and advocates intelligent design instead citing numerous published sources and much original research. Who deserves most credit for critical analysis? Those who simply summarise textbooks and online encyclopaedias or the lone guy who goes to great lengths to explain why his teacher might be wrong? Now I happen to think creationism is just speculative mumbo jumbo akin to geocentrism (the belief that the earth is centre of the universe) and has been amply discredited by hundreds of years of scientific research. I do not intend to debate evolutionary theories here, but rather the thought processes that may lead us to one conclusion or another. While our hypothetical creationist student may be wrong, I would give him higher marks than another student who simply summarised conventional thinking. The real question is how these students would apply their analytical skills to another issue where powerful forces seek to suppress inconvenient evidence. It's always easier just to go with the flow. On issue after issue, conformists will just attempt to win favour not just with peers but with opinion leaders and power brokers.

In the past I've made a number of analytical misjudgments. I guess some would say this goes with the territory if you're a critical thinker like me prone to speak your mind on contentious issues. However, my biggest mistake was to attempt to rationalise inconsistencies in my analysis when clear evidence contradicted my thesis. I did so with the best of intentions and mainly because I wanted to retain a romantic fairy-tale view of human nature. We may call this phenomenon intellectual dishonesty, where one subconsciously seeks alternative evidence to explain apparent paradoxes of which one is nonetheless aware. When a belief becomes an act of faith with deep emotional undertones, some opinion leaders can build a minor literary career by attempting to refute all countervailing evidence, thereby reassuring their loyal followers and appeasing any stakeholders who may have vested interests in maintaining the validity of a given thesis. For instance I once believed men and women only differed anatomically and my daily experiences of differing intellectual and emotional profiles were entirely due to cultural pressures. I attempted to refute the evidence I witnessed firsthand as my children were growing up, but try as I might my daughter showed little interest in building complex Lego models and wanted a family of dolls instead. Sure, social forces exert enormous pressure on young minds, but they do not explain everything. Consider the thesis that McDonalds meals are bad for your health. The public relations and corporate communications industries have made a small fortune by producing evidence to the contrary. Typically they will address perceived myths and shift the blame for rising obesity and diabetes levels to other culprits, such as sedentary lifestyles, microwave dinners or rival fast food joints.

Experience should teach us not just the limits of human knowledge, but the clear distinction between primary and secondary sources of knowledge. If you witness a murder, you may not fully understand its background or motives, but at least you can corroborate a fact, a primary source. Anything else you learn about the preceding events that you did not personally witness would be secondary sources of evidence. I cannot be 100% certain that Tripoli is a dangerous city for I have never been there. Before I could verify this thesis in person, that Tripoli has a high violent crime rate, I would have to rely on reports from other trusted sources. I once failed to heed warnings in what seemed a quiet leafy suburb of Johannesburg and was mugged at knife point, so I probably wouldn't take any chances in Tripoli without an armed escort. However, would I trust my government or mainstream news agencies to report accurately on the destabilisation of Libya? If we believed them in 2011, Libya should now be peace-loving democracy.

The intellectual dishonesty of mere observers or casual polemicists need not concern us at all. People are entitled to their views, however illogical. But I'd rather have a friendly and conscientious creationist as a neighbour than a selfish and deceitful Darwinian fundamentalist. However, we should worry when politicians and opinion leaders deliberately deceive the public by suppressing facts and demonising dissent,

Cognitive Dissonance

Some people are blissfully unaware of their intellectual dishonesty and apply very different criteria to different issues without the slightest concern that competing demands may conflict. A simple example may be a new age hippie who refuses to eat genetically modified food, but seems happy to buy and consume adulterated MDMA, GHB, ketamine and methamphetamine at regular raves. Whatever the dangers of GM food may be, street drugs are not only much more likely to harm your health, but are also sold by greedy captalists reliant on captive consumers.

Now let us consider an animal rights campaigner who also thinks mass migration to wealthy countries is a wonderful idea. You know the kind of people who keep reminding us how we can just build more houses and how more people will also boost the economy. One of my twitter followers keeps posting delightful images of innocent animals subjected to human cruelty interpersed with tweets urging us to accommodate more refugees. These are both highly emotive issues. Wouldn't it be nice if polar bears, wild cats, seals, dolphins, tuna fish and North African refugees could all live happily ever after in peace and harmony. Last year UK residents ate approximately one billion animals and a growing population has a growing appetite for imported food. Human activity, especially in crowded affluent regions, tends to restrict the natural habitat of other animals. Sure we can set aside some land as wildlife parks or nature reserves, but by and large more roads, houses, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, office blocks, factories, warehouses and farmland reduces the land available to the rest of the natural world. Dolphins don't meet early deaths because Nigerians are not granted UK residency, but because our oceans are polluted by human over-activity. North Africans do not seek to migrate to Northern Europe to save wildlife, but gain a higher material standard of living, which will inevitably lead to greater environmental destruction. It would be really nice to save all wildlife and allow the whole population of India and Africa to enjoy the North American way of life. However, in the real world we have to set priorities and realise our darling mother nature relies on delicate balances. Polar bears may look cute standing on floating ice fragments, but they are cunning predators and top of the food chain in their natural habitat. If we handed all land exploited by humans back to other species, we might soon witness the end of civilisation as we know it. Conversely, if all 7.5 billion human beings alive today consumed as much as your typical Australian, we could face a similar fate either through unspeakable environmental catastrophes or rapid resource depletion. We cannot return European cities back to nature without impacting the lives of millions of ordinary people any more than we can let urban sprawl destroy limited arable land requiring us to import more food and raw materials at great environmental expense from the rest of the world. By failing to acknowledge that the interests of economic migrants may differ from those of wild animals, some wishful thinking leftists engage in a wilful act of cognitive dissonance. Of course, some might tell you capitalism is at fault and indeed it is responsible for much of frenetic growth in human activity over the last 250 years. But why are so many North Africans moving to richer countries to follow wealth generated by evil corporations rather than staying at home and setting up eco-friendly organic farms?