Categories
Power Dynamics

Race, ethnicity and religion

100 metres final 2012

Few subjects trigger stronger feelings than race, ethnicity and religion. While related, these three anthropological concepts have distinct meanings and are not as readily interchangeable as many ideologues may prefer. Broadly speaking race refers to our genetic inheritance, ethnicity to our cultural background and religion to our belief system. While we cannot change our genetic inheritance or choose our upbringing and the community of our early years, we may, at least in liberal secular societies, adapt to new cultural influences and choose our faith later in life. Put another way, while race is a matter of nature alone and religion is wholly nurture, ethnicity is at the crossroads between society and biology.

People tend to mate with other members of the same ethnic group who share the same core cultural traits and moral codes. At least this was the norm before the current era of easy long distance transport and international commuting. As a result in-group racial diversity wanes over successive generations. While racial differences are a product of gradual genetic adaptations over extended periods of separate evolution, ethnic allegiances are much more fluid. Historically outlier tribes have regularly merged with more successful communities to form new larger national groups. However, full integration is often hampered by divergent racial profiles within different social classes of a large ethnic group. In the age of colonisation, many new nations were formed this way. Although Brazil and the United States of America have distinctive national cultures, social classes still reflect the racially segregated reality of the slave trade. Both countries are products of relatively recent European settlement of what we once called the New World and supplanted well-established indigenous nations.

In Europe and much of Asia, modern culturally homogeneous nation states evolved from smaller organisational units such as fiefdoms, principalities or city states. Over time larger nations helped accelerate the process of ethnic integration, usually favouring the culture of the more influential urban professional classes. Regional differences remained strong in much of Europe until the advent of compulsory schooling that spread literacy in the standard national language. Nonetheless the concepts of nationhood and ethnicity are usually closely related. The former has to be more inclusive of variant and minority identities, but neither necessarily matches current geopolitical boundaries, e.g. the Hungarian nation may be either the citizens of the geopolitical entity of Hungary with internationally agreed borders, whether or not they consider themselves Hungarian, or the aggregation of settled Hungarian-speaking communities spread over a wider area in parts of neighbouring Slovakia, Ukraine, Vojvoidina and Transylvania. To confuse matters further, we may refer to larger groupings of people with shared racial and cultural characteristics as ethnoracial groups, where broad ethnic categories correlate strongly with genetics, but often to the exclusion of minorities within cultural communities that do not share these traits. The last UK census asked broad-brush questions about racial and ethnic identity with categories such as white British (in England and Wales), Scottish (in Scotland only), Afro-Caribbean, Black African, Indian, Pakistani and East Asian. These categories, reflecting migratory and settlement patterns in Britain since the 1950s, are of questionable value to anthropologists. Historians seldom hesitate to distinguish native Australians from subsequent settlers who arrived from Europe, and later from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. A native Australian is someone who can trace their ancestors to the land Down Under before European colonisation displaced them from the continent's most fertile regions. Yet terms like native British have all of a sudden become problematic as it excludes everyone who descends from more recent migratory waves and more poignantly implies a significant break from the recent past.

One of the greatest ironies of recent history is that the same forces of first mercantile imperialism and later global corporatism that led to the almost complete ethnic cleansing of Australia in 18th and 19th centuries are now having similar effects in many towns and cities across Western Europe, as the autochthonous peoples become an ethnic minority in what they once believed was their country. In both cases we see a sudden break in cultural continuity that disproportionally impacts people with the least economic means.

The world's leading religions have long transcended both racial and national boundaries, although religion is often a key ethnic identifier, e.g. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or Croats and Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. Christianity spread from the Middle East among largely Semitic peoples to Europe and West Asia and as far as India Sri Lanka long before the expansion of European empires. Likewise Islam expanded to Indonesia in the east, to Morocco in the west, to Zanzibar in the south and Bosnia to the north long before the current era of mass migration. While some religions may be more common among some ethnoracial groups, e.g. Hinduism has spread mainly in the Indian subcontinent, they are belief systems that govern morality and socialisation.

Some would prefer to deny race exists at all, thus confusing ethnicity, relying on strong cultural bonds which anyone could adopt with enough willpower, with genetic traits beyond our control. While traditional groupings like Sub-Saharan African, Caucasian or East Asian oversimplify our genetic ancestry to fit broad criteria such as geography and complexion, no serious anthropologist can deny biological differences within the human species on ideological grounds. Science has to distance itself from politics. Sometimes small adaptations that evolved gradually over thousands of years of natural selection in distinctive habitats can lead to big differences to performance in competitive pursuits and occupations. It's not a coincidence that the world's fastest sprinters are overwhelmingly of Caribbean African descent. White Europeans and North Americans only faired better in the first half of the 20th century because they had access to better training facilities, but with an even playing field small evolutionary adaptations within subsets of the same species matter. The fastest white European is Christophe Lemaitre, who only broke the 10 second barrier for the 100 metres dash in 2010, compared to Usain Bolt's 9.58 seconds. That difference may seem small, but would leave the Frenchman around 4 metres behind the world record breaker. This begs the question whether genetic differences could impact intellectual performance. However, to muddy the waters analytical intelligence may vary greatly within members of the same ethno-racial group. A complex society needs both conscientious workers able to follow instructions in a socially cohesive way and more creative innovators with strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but often lacking in empathy. Nonetheless it is not beyond the realms of scientific probability that if tens of thousands of years of separate evolution can lead to differences in physical pursuits such as running or swimming, adaptation to new hostile environments, requiring the development of new technologies, could lead to neurological differences among subsets of the human population. Is it a mere coincidence that East Asians are overrepresented among hardcore software developers? These are big and controversial questions that only objective and dispassionate science can answer.

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Power Dynamics

Extinguishing Open Debate and Personal Freedom

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

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

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

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

The real environmental challenges

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

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

The Technocratic Trap

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

Politically Correct Narratives

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

Intellectual Honesty

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

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

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

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

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All in the Mind Power Dynamics

Do the elites want to eliminate us?

Or do they just want to control us by getting us hooked on their technology?

As we progress into the 21st century, most of us find it harder and harder to understand the pervasive technologies that underpin our daily lives. This emerging reality can lead us to radically divergent conclusions. While many of us may fear a techno-apocalypse as we fail to tame the sophisticated systems that support our high-consumption lifestyle, others believe a tiny cabal plans to reduce the world's population by forcing most of us into big cities and depriving us of the means of self-reliance. Richie Allen, whose online radio show often discusses controversial subjects ignored by the mainstream media, recently interviewed Deborah Tavares of Stop The Crime . She honestly believes in a plot to kill off around 70% of humanity through carcinogenic radio waves (5G), vaccines, toxic additives in processed foods or the spread of manmade viruses and that this could happen as early as 2025. Proponents of the Agenda 2030 depopulation theory also contend that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax to justify the deindustrialisation of modern societies and force us out of our cars and spacious suburban houses into compact apartments serviced by automated public transit systems.

If we believed some ardent techno-pessimists like Paul Ehrlich or Richard Heinberg, by 2018 we should have suffered a massive worldwide famine as we would have failed to feed a record number of human beings or would have endured a total collapse of our industrial civilisation in the wake of Peak OIl. Alas not only are the scourges of infant mortality and malnutrition still in decline, but car ownership continues to rise steeply across much of the developing world. If our secretive overlords wanted to kill us, why would they let us survive and endlessly promote a wasteful consumer lifestyle? The technophobic doomsayers may have been proven wrong, at least for the time being, but what of the disciples of David Icke and Jeff Rense, who view all recent cultural trends as part of a plot to deny us access to safe technologies, boundless zero-point energy and almost unlimited resources? Their narrative appeals to a North American redneck mindset that favours personal freedom over state interference, gun ownership over police surveillance and affordable automobiles over public transportation. Ironically it also appeals to many leftwingers who view capitalism as the main cause of poverty rather than a system that has enabled more people than ever to live longer lives with greater material wealth. If there are limits to growth on a finite planet, then we have to contend with the ethical consequences of limiting human numbers. More external intervention can both boost our population by reducing infant mortality and limit family sizes by encouraging women to pursue careers rather than devote their lives to motherhood alone.

A common theme is the theory that mass vaccination programmes, e.g. as promoted by the infamous Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation, are part of a deliberate depopulation agenda. Whatever adverse effects some vaccines may have, especially if they are for diseases that our immune system will usually defeat, more children than ever survive into adulthood. In most developing countries, a growing population tends to hasten the process of urbanisation and people's dependence on imported resources.

Hyperdependence

All of a sudden, disruptions in broadband or mobile networks can render us helpless because in just 20 years we have transitioned from a world largely off the grid to a hyperconnected world, where social media validates your existence. Now imagine how many young millennials would cope with a prolonged power outage. Not only would washing machines, refrigerators and lights stop working, but within hours most domestic water supplies would run out too as they rely on electric pumps. Large cities would soon experience a public sanitation crisis as uncooled imported fresh food rots and residents fight over limited reserves of clean water. In short without drastic emergency measures, such as the immediate deployment of backup generators to keep essential services alive and the possible evacuation of many residents where these services cannot be restored, the death rate would skyrocket. Yet many urbanites ask not what practical help they could offer, but rather whom they should blame for such a catastrophic failure. Did the power supply fail because of lack of investment in infrastructure or because some technocrats wanted to kill off the population or did just fail because even with the best planning something always goes awry sooner or later?

We saw this dilemma at play in the aftermath of last year's gruesome Grenfell Tower fire. Many jumped on the bandwagon to assume the authorities were somehow complicit in the tragedy that killed 70 to 80 residents of an overcrowded high-rise block. If this were the case, then they could kill far more among the conurbation's nine million residents by simply cutting off the water supply. Now some may argue that the local council did not prioritise these mainly low-income residents and predominantly recent immigrants. However, they had just spent £8.7 million to refurbish the building or £72,500 per flat as well as subsidising the rent of most tenants as few could afford the going rate of over £2,000 a month. That money would go a lot further in provincial Britain. If anything the Grenfell tragedy should warn against the wisdom of mass migration without adequate infrastructure and environmental resources, but instead many have exploited the calamity to blame the rich for not spending enough to accommodate more newcomers in one of the most expensive and densely populated boroughs of Inner London. This is the politics of vengeance. The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea is home to many of London's 80 billionaires including Indian-born Lakshmi Mittal at 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens, just a stone's throw from Grenfell Tower. Few ordinary English men and women on modest wages could afford to live there.

Could more people empower the power-hungry?

Let us just imagine two scenarios: one utopian and another dystopian. In one society everyone belongs to the affluent professional classes with a large private villa, plenty of nearby parks and countryside, one car per adult, a short working week and open participation in the democratic process with full access to the information, analyses and alternative perspectives we might need to reach informed decisions on public policies. Such a society would combine the best of public services and personal freedom. While we've yet to attain such societal perfection, we can see glimpses of it in the wealthy suburbs of European and North American cities, except we seldom need travel far to witness the rough edges and incongruences of our current system, e.g. the need for extensive transport infrastructure, industry, invasive policing and our continued reliance on low-paid workers in other neighbourhoods or countries. In other words the affluent professional classes inhabit a mere simulation of an ideal world, in which we all enjoy not just equal rights, but are equally involved the micromanagement of our complex society, equally intelligent and equally privileged. In such a society nobody would be a mere cleaner, nurse or machinist. We'd all have well-remunerated roles as health and safety supervisors, patient care coordinators or industrial automation engineers, managing specialised robots and unmanned production plants.

However, this idyllic future vision has three main pitfalls. First it relies on a high-consumption lifestyle with massive waste, essentially extending the North American dream to the whole world. To accommodate the projected peak of ten to eleven billion world citizens, we'd need substantial technological innovation with much higher efficiency. The trouble with technology is that it does not always work as desired. While some scientists have calculated that we could accommodate as many as 32 billion human beings with existing proven technology, this is only in theory assuming minimal waste. It's like claiming that a small lift measuring just 4 square metres (or 2x2m) could accommodate as many as 32 people (assuming an area of 25x50cm for each person). It all depends on how large these people are and what degree of personal freedom they're willing to relinquish for the duration of their short elevator journey. Yet our current way of life is constantly interrupted by seemingly trivial, easily avoidable but unpredictable mishaps, e.g. a traffic accident on a major motorway can lead to significant delays not just for commuters, but for food supplies and emergency services or a burst mains water pipe could deny thousands of residents of safe drinking water and spread life-threatening contaminants.

Second it fails to account for human nature, which is naturally socially competitive. While we may theoretically all thrive in different spheres, e.g. one neighbour could be an award-winning playwright, another a renowned architect and another a molecular biologist, most of us have rather mediocre skillsets. We may have relative strengths and weaknesses, but very few of us are genuinely top of our game. Yet without the fierce competition that motivates the most talented among us to excel, we could easily regress to a comfortably numb existence of subservience to a master race of technocrats.

However, there is a third downside to our hipster utopia. While our privileged denizens may lack motivation to hone their technical skills, they will have plenty of time to engage in political activism and challenge the ideological hegemony of the managerial classes. We would have an endless battle between the technocrats who know what's best for masses and the empowered lay-people keen to challenge their monopoly on wisdom. If nuclear power proves to be the only practical means of generating enough energy for such a perfect world, what would happen if voters decided to ban it and rely on wind turbines and solar panels instead? Would the demos be responsible for the increased death rate as vital services stop working?

Our ruling elites do not want us all to become hipsters, because this category of trendy affluent professionals are exceedingly hard to manage and constantly challenge the authority of anyone who tells them how to lead their lives. The managerial classes may tolerate this subset of humanity in segregated Bohemian neighbourhoods or as a minority caste of creatives and intellectuals, whose disruptive influence they can easily contain by subverting any movements that may challenge their grip on power. However, they'd much prefer a dumbed-down populace with minimal intellectual or economic independence, totally hooked on commercialised simulacra that technocrats can both control and monitor. It's much easier to manage online gamers ensconced in their bedrooms and engrossed in a captivating alternate reality, but oblivious to the machinations of the real ruling classes, than it is to tame intellectual rebels who want to free themselves from pervasive surveillance and mass consumerism.

The high-tech alternative to our hipster utopia of cycleways, vegetable patches, wind turbines, art galleries and pristine swimming lakes is a global network of megacities accommodating a large population of consumer drones rewarded not for their intellectual talent, but for their compliance with our brave new world of shiny happy people, unable to conceive of independent life. While our recent ancestors believed in a high degree self-reliance with most people working hard to provide for themselves and their family, we're drifting towards a new reality where either big business or state institutions, whose roles are rapidly merging anyway, are solely responsible for our well-being. In the not too distant past we would attribute our misfortunes either to spiritual forces beyond our control or to personal responsibility. While in the past we may have striven to overcome injustices suffered by large groups of people (e.g. the campaign against slavery), we now obsess with perceived disadvantages and inconveniences that various categories of people may subjectively experience, as if we all had an inalienable right to be whoever or whatever we want to be. Rather than accepting our natural limitations and trying to do our best to succeed in life, we now expect society to compensate for our weaknesses and facilitate our ephemeral ambitions. Our achievements thus become not the fruits of tireless endeavour, but rewards for compliant behaviour.

It's hardly a coincidence that the most universalist cults, from Islam to Catholicism and from big business to big government, encourage their followers to go forth and multiply. In the past devotees may have adhered to strict commandments, limiting their personal freedom, while today's rulers much prefer a new breed of self-pitying victim groups whose dysfunctional lifestyle choices will keep them at the mercy of welfare handouts. American-Indian political commentator and author, Dinesh D'Souza, correctly observed the transformation of the American Democratic Party from a champion of slave owners to a bastion of state interference. The same ruling elites who once kept their subordinates as slaves in plantations, now champion welfare-dependency and identity politics as a new kind of plantation of loyal subjects. Whereas once slaves had to work, now they only have to consume as subjects of endless screening. If big business is happy to bankroll the state to subsidise your consumer products, just be aware you are the product.

So the depopulation theorists are wrong, global megalomaniacs do not want to kill most of us so they can have the whole planet to themselves, they want us locked into an interconnected system that they control and without which we would die. It may be an unsettling thought, but a freer world may well be one with greater room for autonomous communities and individual creativity, supporting a smaller, but more self-reliant population than the tens of billions that genetic engineering, nuclear fusion and nanorobotics could theoretically support. The question is no longer whether we can feed ten billion or more human beings, but whether our descendants will have any control over their destiny. One billion is a very big number for a large mammal. For most of human history our numbers remained below 750 million before the advent of the industrial revolution and hovered between 200 and 450 million from early Roman times to the Rennaissance and the European discovery of the Americas. Today just 3% of land mammals by weight live in the wild. Should our destiny resemble domestic sheep, captive tigers on display in zoos and wildlife parks, guinea pigs under 24/7 surveillance or the last wild animals who have adapted to habitats unfit for human explotation?

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

We cannot stop wars unless we tackle their causes

Police keeping

How greed, distrust, decadence and unsustainability engender conflicts

Most of us agree wars are best avoided, but we have long debated whether and when they can ever be justified. In theory at least, we can assert the right of all communities to self-defence against incursions and conquest, but in practice life is seldom that simple, as outside forces may easily manipulate disaffected insurgents with well-founded grievances for their own ends. Today most nation states seldom fight wars for territorial gain in the way European and Asian powers regularly did until the mid 20th century. In an increasingly interdependent world national governments play second fiddle to corporate lobbies, supranational bodies and borderless banks. As migratory flows have grown rapidly in an age of job insecurity and international commuting, regional identity has waned especially in our more cosmopolitan cities. Why spend billions of pounds to defend the right to self-determination of around 2000 Anglophile Falkland Islanders, when the ethnic composition of towns and cities across the British Isles and the rest of Western Europe is changing at a rate not seen since the mass people movements of the Second World War? Why invade a country if you can just move there, buy up properties and take over entire neighbourhoods? While global superculture with its familiar brands and transient communities often imposes itself on a backdrop of distinctive historical landmarks and geographic surroundings, we may ask if the blurring of national borders will end military conflicts, set in motion a new era of intensified internecine conflicts policed by transnational militias or trigger heightened superpower rivalry? After two decades of decline following the fall of the Soviet Union, military budgets in the world"™s main jurisdictions show a marked upward trend. However, the world"™s most active military powers do not seem very concerned with the defence of their own people, but rather with global peace-keeping and counter-insurgency operations.

The progressive narrative holds that enlightened superpowers may intervene to restore peaceful coexistence and protect human rights in more backward regions. Recent boundary changes in the Balkans occurred only after the Yugoslav federation went bankrupt and the wealthier republics of Slovenia and Croatia seceded. Most fighting took place in the contested regions of Slavonia, with a large Serb minority, Bosnia-Hercegovina and most notoriously in Kosovo. While the civil war rekindled old wounds dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire and the shifting alliances of Croat, Serbian and Bosnian militias during the First and Second World Wars, its main victim was national sovereignty as NATO assumed a peacekeeping role in the Bosnia and Kosovo while Slovenia and Croatia integrated with the European Union widening the economic gap with their southern neighbours. Other border disputes since the collapse of the former Soviet Union relate more to superpower rivalry than to aspirations of national aggrandisement, e.g. the Russian annexation of Crimea merely reflected the will of most Crimeans, who had only been part of Ukraine since 1954 and only divorced from Russia since Ukraine gained independence in 1992. With over 17 million square kilometres of land, the Russian federation hardly needed more living space and the region"™s key port of Sevastopol was only of limited strategic value to counter a massive US military presence in the Black Sea region. The backdrop to this dispute was the westward expansion of the EU and NATO through an association agreement with the Ukraine, a borderland whose eastern half had been part of the Russian Empire since the 17th century and before that was split between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossacks (Zaporozhian Sich) and Crimean Khanate under Ottoman rule. Ironically today ordinary people value nationhood more in Eastern Europe and Russia than in Western Europe, where it has fallen out of favour among the chattering classes, except when secessionist movements as in Scotland or Catalonia can help undermine larger nation states whose integrity stands in the way of global convergence.

Social Stability and Peace

Idealists may well oppose all wars, no matter how evil the enemy may be, while simultaneously expressing their love of all peoples and all cultures, no matter how oppressive or depraved they may be. However, our desires for greater prosperity, social justice and tranquility have often motivated us to support the military endeavours of our ruling classes or to unite behind freedom fighters. Like it or not, today"™s world would look very different without the legacy of Western imperialism, the industrial revolution and the liberal enlightenment. While the industrial revolution led to the growth of entrepreneurial capitalism and the abolition of slavery, it is also helped create the sophisticated infrastructure that have enabled such widespread prosperity.

To most of us peace does not just mean an absence of state-sponsored military conflicts, but freedom from the scourges of state repression and violent crime. We can think of peace as a state of social harmony where we resolve disputes without resorting to acts of coercion against individual liberty. We can only approach this ideal when we moderate our desires to goals we can attain without depriving others of their livelihood or personal space. Violence may ensue when we perceive that another group of people have denied us of our material and spiritual wellbeing and we have no other means to better ourselves through education and hard work.

Without innovation, we would still be fighting over finite resources with a much lower human carrying capacity. In some ways we still fight over access to life"™s necessities. For millions in the world"™s most densely populated arid regions of the Middle East, North Africa, Australia and the Southwestern United States, potable water has become a scarce resource, often only available as a packaged product. With widespread unemployment and limited welfare provision, price rises of staple foods and fuel can trigger social unrest that fanatical insurgents can easily exploit for their own ends or to empower rival superpowers. In previous ages if a region"™s population grew beyond a level that the local environment could reasonably sustain with contemporary technology, most people would simply die through malnutrition, disease or warfare. Today"™s youngsters have two other options. They can either emigrate to wealthier regions or demand more foreign aid or corporate taxes to subsidise technofixes, shifting social problems to the opulent countries most economic migrants choose and transferring responsibility for their environmental adversity away from local leaders and personal responsibility (i.e. only having as many children as you can feed unaided) to external powers, whose influence we could best describe as neocolonial. If you can only feed, house and clothe your people with the aid of large multinationals, foreign banks and NGOs, you are not independent at all. China is now by far the largest investor in African infrastructure projects. While local leaders gain their share of the proceeds, they train pitifully few local technicians preferring to rely on their own engineers.

A low-level civil war has been raging in the mainly Muslim regions of Northern Nigeria against infidels (non-Muslims) since around 2011. It only reached the Western public"™s attention when Boko Haram abducted 276 school girls in the town of Chibok, Borno State. While many observers have focused on the spread of Islamic extremism, another factor is the country"™s high fertility rate alongside widespread unemployment and a mass exodus of the fittest young adults to the country"™s sprawling conurbations and abroad. Many philanthropists hoped that better education and sustainable local business development could guide Nigeria towards the kind of social democracy that emerged in Western Europe in the latter half of the 20th century. Alas desires for larger families and consumer products, especially cars, have thus far trumped the impetus for greater engineering excellence and more sustainable technological solutions, i.e. more solar panels, greater use of bicycles, better public transport and smaller families. This begs two questions: Who is responsible for solving Nigeria"™s developmental woes or how can we both meet the people"™s expectations for a more prosperous future and ensure social stability? It all depends what we mean by we? Do we mean external powers such as UN agencies, charities, tech giants and foreign governments seeking to gain influence over Africa? Or do we mean the Nigerian people taking responsibility for their own future and living with the consequences of their decisions? Some would still blame the legacy of colonialism and the dominance of foreign multinationals in the country"™s lucrative petroleum sector. Yet one startling and easily verifiable fact stands out. At Independence in 1960, the country had just 40 million inhabitants. Yet despite the Biafran civil wars of the late 60s and occasional famines in the arid north, the population has grown to around 200 million not because women are having more babies but because more babies are surviving into adulthood and beyond.

Instability breeds conflict

While I still believe greed, envy and vindictiveness are the ultimate drivers of violence, in complex societies unsustainable development leads to greater coercion, whether in the form of state repression, heightened surveillance, militarism, violent crime or gang fights. When society can no longer foster prosperity and social stability through responsible management of a shared environment and high levels of communal trust, it will inevitably resort to more overt means of social control. When advanced people management techniques fail, social unrest ensues and the administrative classes have little choice but to suppress the personal liberties of the great unwashed masses. These days only the affluent professional classes can afford to buy more private space.

However, high tech societies with largely unarmed and welfare-dependent citizens need not resort to the kind of overbearing brute force that the great dictatorships of the 20th century had to deploy against insurrections long before most young adults were immersed in social media and online entertainment. The biggest threats to today"™s ruling classes are not drug addicts, low-life gangsters or even remorseless terrorists, whose actions conveniently serve to justify more intrusive surveillance, but the politically aware skilled working classes, whose expertise our rulers still need, but whose conservative beliefs may stand in the way of the kind of progress that our elites envisage. What the managerial classes fear most are not troublesome malcontents, but intelligent, conscientious and independently minded workers with families and strong roots in their local community. That may explain partly why many employers prefer a smaller number of well-remunerated technicians working over 40 hours a week, than investing in training more specialised staff so they can spread the burden. They want to limit the number of well-connected mission-critical operators who could challenge their hegemony. As we rely more and more on smart automation and lucrative jobs require forever higher levels of analytical intelligence, expect the captive disempowered welfare classes to grow. This transition to a subsidised consumer economy, where people are paid for their acquiescence rather than any real work, will affect military strategy too. A hyper-dependent populace, engrossed by social media and online entertainment, is much easer to control through non-violent means, e.g. psychotropic drugs, operant conditioning and financial incentives.

The future of warfare depends on the success of the global convergence project, which would eventually lead to the disappearance of practical cultural and economic diversity, with lifestyle homogenisation in locales as diverse as Beijing, Istanbul, Lagos, Berlin or New York City. In such a scenario, the workless classes would have little to fight over except access to the bounties of tech giants. Cities may still have different climates and landscapes, but each would have similar mixes of submissive consumer classes, social supervisors and technically literate professionals.

Sadly I don"™t share the optimism of many leading proponents of a borderless utopia with universal basic income for all. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the relative economic decline of the United States, the inability of Western military alliances to tame the Middle East, the failure of the European multicultural experiment with parallel communities and Africa"™s delayed demographic transition could all destabilise a fragile peace in the prosperous world. While Western elites focus on the perceived Russian threat, they are playing with fire in the Muslim world.

If you want social tranquility in a relatively free and fair society as much as I do, then you should not just campaign against military adventurism, but identify the causes of future conflicts. Bad environmental management and unsustainable rates of cultural and demographic change pose by far the greatest threats to world peace.

Categories
Power Dynamics

The Net Contribution Myth

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Inconvenient fact: Total Public spending is £23 thousand per worker

This is quick one, but the subject keeps coming up in discussions about working parents, welfare dependency and mass migration. Yes, I know any mention of the last subject will put off many readers and ring alarm bells about potentially xenophobic rants, but the claim made repeatedly by various self-defined progressive opinion leaders is that young mothers and new immigrants contribute more in tax than they consume in services. Now we could have many other arguments about motherhood and sustainable migration that address the human aspects of these issues, such as children's need for a strong bond with their biological parents, a mother's desire to enjoy her children's early years or the social and environmental effects of rapid migratory flows. Nobody doubts these are not simple black and white issues, though many would pretend they are so they can shut down rational debate. Here I will focus more on the economic aspects.

First economic growth does not necessarily improve our quality of life once we have met our basic needs and staved off the scourges of malnutrition and extreme hardship. To live long, happy, rewarding and meaningful lives we do not always need more money or more high-status consumer goods, but better social integration, greater personal independence and above all a sense of purpose in life. Just because the economy is growing does not mean people are happier or feel more fulfilled. It just implies a growing money supply, often brought about by monetising services that people used to offer for free to loved ones. Consider motherhood. Until relatively recently, in most two parent families the mother would stay at home to bring up her children. Somehow the family would make ends meet with the father's salary alone at least until the kids started school. Often married women would work part-time, especially in the caring professions. Longer life spans, lower infant mortality, smaller family sizes and domestic appliances have opened up more opportunities for mothers. By the 1960s and 70s women were no longer confined to monotonous housework and child rearing duties, but we still accepted the biological reality that only women can bear children and are thus best suited to the important task of shaping the next generation. This doesn't mean fathers cannot play an important role too or that in some situations the father, rather the mother, cannot stay at home to look after his children or take it in turns with his wife. The good news is with the advent of smart automation and shorter working weeks, both mothers and fathers could have much more time on their hands to dedicate either to vocational creativity or their cherished offspring, all without redefining human nature. So if a modern mother wants to write a novel or design clothes on her computer, with modern technology she can literally have the best of both worlds. However, if she opts to work over 40 hours a week in a physically or intellectually demanding high-stress job such as a nuclear physicist, bioscientist or software engineer, then she'll need someone else to take care of her children. As these professions attract high salaries, it may make economic sense for women in such situations to choose their careers over their children. Some lucky professionals may have loving partners or available relatives who can provide their offspring with all the care and attention young children crave with a little mummy time at the weekends or in the evenings. However, in the real world most jobs are pretty uninspiring and only attract modest pay packets. Would you give up your spiritually rewarding role as a loving mother of young children to work in a call centre or the marketing department of a major brand on little more than the average wage which is still around £28,000? If families had to foot the bill for all additional childcare and transportation services required to let mothers of young children go to work full-time, it may not be worth it at all. Do you really want your babies and toddlers to end up in a crowded creche or nursery eight hours a day without any personalised attention from someone who really has their best interests at heart? Can you afford a dedicated childminder and house cleaner on your modest salary? The fact is without state subsidies you cannot. Half-decent childcare services can easily set you back £400 - £1000 a month. Once you factor in the additional costs of transport and all the stress involved, it simply isn't worth it. If we monetised motherhood in crude economic terms, considering the benefits of dedicated early parenting for a child's future, as proven by countless sociological studies, this life-changing role should merit a top salary. If you want your child to succeed in life and compete in a labour market requiring higher and higher minimum levels of analytical intelligence, rearranging your career ambitions for a few years to act as a full-time parent will help much more than short-term concerns about your income.

Now let us consider the economics of mass migration to a small country with a large settled population and a high rate of youth under-employement. While the UK has much lower youth unemployment than most Southern European countries, millions of young adults have unrewarding part-time temporary jobs with limited career prospects. Today most under 30 year-olds have yet to embark on a career that can guarantee their livelihood till their reach the age of retirement. The government has shrewdly concealed the true scale of youth worklessness by promoting expensive university education and through the proliferation of zero-hours contracts and part-time jobs. If you've graduated in business management or media studies, you probably don't want to work in adult day care or food processing. As a result ever since the then Labour government allowed people from the EU's new member states to seek work with full in-work welfare benefits in the UK, many of the entry-level jobs that English, Scottish and Welsh youngsters used to do are now dominated by transient migrant labour. We hear regularly how the NHS would grind to a halt without unrestricted levels of migrant workers from the rest of Europe. Yet the UK population is not ageing as fast as in most Southern European countries. Many recall Tony Blair's slogan of education, education, education, yet only 6 years later mass migration lobbyists bemoaned the poor writing and number-crunching skills of the products of the British education system. If you listen to some Guardian reading professionals grumbling about ignorant white trash, you'd seriously think they believed the native underclasses are somehow genetically inferior, incapable of emptying bed pans, cleaning toilets, picking fruit or serving coffee. Naturally left-leaning Guardian readers always find a way of blaming the Tories, without admitting that the scourges of welfare dependency, single parenthood and Mickey Mouse degrees with little practical application have condemned millions of working class Britons to a life of welfare dependency. Yet the Guardian seems to think the solution is yet more welfare, more mental health screening and more abstract education. The last thing they want is for young people to set up their own small businesses offering all the services the chattering classes take for granted. Whatever happened to sixteen year old school leavers learning practical trades like plumbers, car mechanics or electricians on the job possibly attending college part-time before setting up their own businesses in their early twenties? Instead they learn at school that they should always call an approved professional from a reliable company with appropriate insurance and compliant with a zillion health and safety regulations, whenever they encounter a technical fault.

How much do we cost the government?

For all the hype about austerity we hear from the left-branded establishment media, by which I mean Channel 4, the BBC and Guardian, UK government spending stood in 2016-17 at a whopping £780 billion. Considering a total population of 66 million and a working population of 33 million, that's just under £12,000 per person or around £23,600 per worker. Of course, income tax and its close companion, national insurance, only account for around half of government revenue (30% income tax and nearly 20% national insurance). Moreover, the top 25% of earners pay around 75% of all income tax and the top 1% alone account for over 25% of income tax revenue. The remainder comprises mainly various sales duties, council tax and corporation tax, paid by the UK's growing army of contract workers as well as by small and medium businesses, but tenaciously avoided by big enterprises. However, if your total gross income is £28 thousand, you cannot possibly pay your share of £23 thousand even if you squander your meagre earnings on booze and perfume. To break even you'd need to earn way more than £40 grand a year. Over the last decade we've seen a hollowing out of the middle income group. In most of the Southeast of England, a salary of just £40 thousand is very unattractive if you aspire to buy a house. At this income level you literally have the worst of the both worlds. You earn too much to be entitled to working family tax credits, housing benefits etc. and too little to get a mortgage on a modest 3 bedroom house. You will end up spending over £1000 a month on rent alone plus exorbitant commuting expenses. Worse still you could be homeless within a few months if you lose your temporary job. For some time now the economy has simply not added up, with most adults in a perpetual cycle of debt and borrowing subsidised by state handouts.

How can these very logical figures diverge so radically from the oft-quoted statistics showing that immigrants are net contributors to the exchequer? The answer is simple: by only taking into account some services and assuming much higher spending for vulnerable citizens such as the elderly, disabled and long-term unemployed from disadvantaged backgrounds. Such statistics do not take into account additional spending for policing, social services, transport infrastructure, waste management, town-planning, defence, administration etc. all of which increase in line with the population both in terms of size and complexity. By far the biggest cost for most UK residents is housing, especially if you live near property hotspots such as London, Bristol or Edinburgh. This is conveniently excluded from the Retail Price Index that the government uses to calculate inflation and is, as such, a fiction. If house building fails to keep up with rising demand, property prices will inevitably rise over and above their natural level determined by other market forces. Before 2004, most EU migrants contributed more on average than home-bred UK citizens of the same age group. It's easy to understand why. As West European countries all have comparable salary levels (though still lower in Southern Europe) and welfare provision, working abroad appealed mainly to the well-motivated and better educated looking to enhance their career prospects, improve their English or experience a different country. Some married British nationals or just felt disenchanted with their home region, but by and large migration within the EU remained relatively balanced, although many more British pensioners retired to Spain than vice versa and many more Italians and Spaniards worked as waiters in London than Brits in Spain or Italy. Then recruiting agencies decided to hire directly from Eastern Europe bringing in over a million malleable workers willing to endure short-term hardships to boost their earning potential.

Successive UK governments had abandoned the descendants of their native working classes who once powered the industrial engine that enabled Great Britain conquer over a fifth of the planet's landmass and rule the waves. If youngsters could not adapt to the new precarious service-oriented economy of banking, insurance, marketing and media, they often found the practical manual jobs of their fathers' era had been outsourced, automated or assigned to temporary agency workers. Meanwhile family breakdowns and the rise in single-parent households saw a dramatic decline in self-reliance and a poor work ethic. Employers would often complain that they had tried to hire local youngsters to work in their meat-packing factory or electronic gadget warehouse, but they turned up late and were ill-disciplined. This common perception is only half true, but the point is; whom should we blame? Are native Britons genetically inferior to their Eastern European cousins? If this were the case, why has the laziness bug spread to the descendants of 1950s and 60s immigrants ? By failing to address the long-term problems of under-employment and lack of ambition among many young Britons, the government has allowed a growing proportion of the population to depend on welfare handouts and get sucked into the growing mental health system.

Surely a government's job is to manage the economy and regulate big business in such a way as to let its people stand on their own two feet and fulfil their ambitions without unduly restricting their personal freedom or allowing unjustifiably unethical and/or exploitative practices. This dream can only work a high-skill economy where employers values workers for their creative and intellectual talent rather than as numbers on a spreadsheet.

Categories
Power Dynamics

Unmasking the True Enemies of the Liberal Enlightenment

Have you had to much think?

The liberal enlightenment rests on three core tenets:

  • Social cohesion enabling peaceful coexistence of all communities and relative equality of opportunity.
  • Participatory democracy to resolve common disputes that arise in any complex society reliant on advanced technology
  • Intellectual freedom to facilitate the free exchange of ideas letting ordinary people speak truth to power

I could also add a fine balance between personal freedom and collective responsibility. Indeed free speech itself needs legal protection to ensure rational debate and prevent a descent into authoritarianism. Just consider the recent debate at Kings College London between objectivist Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute and Youtube commentator Carl Benjamin, better known online as Sargon of Akkad. In a liberal democracy one may agree, disagree and even vehemently disagree with their expressed opinions. One may also discount their analysis as uninformed or even potentially dangerous, if we acted on their conclusions. That is the purpose of rational debate within a democratic system that respects the will of an informed and politically aware electorate. So a bunch of upper middle class students associated with Antifa (which in the UK is usually known as Hope not Hate or is that Hate not Hope?) decided not to engage in rational debate, but to disrupt the discussion and moronically chant empty anti-fascist slogans. The irony is that neither speaker advocated an extreme concentration power in the state, the curtailment of basic civil liberties or discrimination along ethnic or racial lines. However, even if they did, I'd rather defeat their ideas in a peaceful debate than censor their views altogether. Intellectual freedom does not include the right to silence others or to resort to insensitive and gratuitous insults.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/f5C1cPKmiPc

Banning Social Conservatives

This set the stage for two seemingly unrelated sets of events over the last week. First three social conservatives critical of Islam and uncontrolled mass migration were banned from entering the United Kingdom under schedule 7 of the 2000 Antiterrorism Act. The pretext is that their views may trigger acts of violence against Muslims, such as last year's Finsbury Mosque attack by a lone van driver with a history of drug addiction and mental illness. Canadian journalist Lauren Southern and American author Brittany Pettibone are best known as Youtube polemicists. Ms Pettibone's boyfriend, Martin Sellner, is a leading light in the Austrian Identitarian movement, which campaigns for the preservation of European culture. None have advocated violence or even the deportation of law-abiding immigrants in their own own countries. But whether one agrees with their views is neither here nor there, at stake is whether such views may be openly debated and, if not, which other political perspectives may soon be off-limits. They did not seek to settle in the UK, claim benefits, seek employment or break any normal laws, but their musings did fall foul of the Orwellian concept of hate speech. The London Metropolitan Police has helpfully clarified what this ill-defined offence means to them:

A hate crime is when someone commits a crime against you because of your disability, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other perceived difference. It doesn't always include physical violence. Someone using offensive language towards you or harassing you because of who you are, or who they think you are, is also a crime. The same goes for someone posting abusive or offensive messages about you online. If it happens to you, you might be tempted to shrug it off.

In other words, they punish perceived intention rather than actual acts. Thus my musings on the mental health agenda could be deemed hate crimes as may offend psychiatric patients. If we interpret the above definition literally, we cannot voice any opinions about the physical or intellectual capabilities of other human beings for fear of hurting someone's feelings. May I suggest that some people are morbidly obese in part because of lifestyle choices and not only because of genetic susceptibility. When will we start arresting people for claiming that obesity may be a preventable condition? Clearly rational debate is not possible if we resort to gratuitous offence, but there must be a platform for debates on all ideas, however absurd or hateful they may seem. If my neighbour were morbidly obese, I would avoid directly attributing to her any direct blame for her condition, whose causes might be a complex interplay between environmental stressors, social alienation, peer pressure and biology. However, it would be irrational not to objectively investigate the causes of a medical condition that not only shortens lifespans, but also limits personal independence.

Russophobia

Just as news broke about the full extent of the Telford grooming gang scandal and the way criminal investigations were hampered by political correctness and corruption, the BBC turned its attention to the poisoning of former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, with the notorious nerve agent, Novichok originally developed by the USSR in the 1970s. The government were quick to blame Vladimir Putin's Russian administration directly for this attack. Yes the same government that is happy not just to sell arms to the world's third or fourth largest military spender, Saudi Arabia, but also rolls out the red carpet to its leaders, is more concerned about alleged human rights abuses in Russia while clamping down on free speech in the UK. Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in a murderous bombing campaign in Northern Yemen and has facilitated the arming and funding of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The Saudi regime is not just responsible for the poisoning a few rogue agents around the world, but has directly aided and abetted unspeakable crimes against humanity and funded virulent strands of Islamic fundamentalism. It truly defies belief that British Foreign Secretary should voice concerns about gay rights in Russia, where homosexuality is legal between consenting adults, while selling arms to a regime that jails people for engaging in homosexual acts.

What we may best call the globalist British mafia, deeply entrenched in the intelligence services, state media, the civil service and naturally in government, unleashed a propaganda offensive, effectively accusing anyone who disputed their version of events of, wait for it, conspiracy theorism. If Sergei Skripal posed such a danger to Vladimir Putin, why would they wait until just before the Russian presidential elections and World Cup to score a massive own goal ? Why would they use a nerve agent like Novichok clearly associated with the former USSR that can kill indiscriminately. Why could they not resort to more conventional means such as setting a honey trap for their former spy and getting his mistress to poison his food? If Putin is in any way responsible for this dastardly act, we can only conclude that he may not be so cunning after all. Besides in the era of instant online communication, Russia can much more effectively extend its influence via Russia Today than by crude attempts to kill long-forgotten exiled traitors. Why would they carry out an act that would empower the UK and other Western governments to censor the Russian antidote to BBC and CNN disinformation? We might entertain the possibility that rogue elements within the Russian state or mercenaries acting on behalf of Russian oligarchs with a grudge against Putin carried out the attack, but it occurred just ten miles from UK's premier chemical weapons research facility in Porton Down. The mainstream media has stressed how the Novichok nerve agent could only have come from Russia, but fail to mention that one of the leading Soviet-era chemical weapons factories was in Uzbekistan, to which US and UK military personnel have gained access since the breakup of the USSR.

There are many good reasons to question the judgment of Jeremy Corbyn, but as leader of the opposition he was almost alone in expressing doubts about the UK establishment's drive to blame the Russia state, in order to impose tougher sanctions and deploy limited military resources to combat a perceived threat from a vast and sparsely populated landmass with extensive natural resources and little motivation to invade the British Isles. Mr Corbyn didn't even challenge the official narrative, he just asked for conclusive proof before we risk escalating hostilities with Russia and potentially triggering World War Three. Naturally most MPs recycled mainstream Western propaganda about the Syrian civil war levelling the blame at Assad and Putin, rather than at the head chopping militias who the US, UK and Saudi Arabia armed and funded. Not surprisingly the most vehement warmongering came from the usual suspects. Most notably, the author of the infamous 2003 Iraq Dossier, Alastair Campbell, used his column of the New European to advocate an alliance with the rest of the EU against Russia. Interestingly the New European, distributed free in some areas, appeals mainly to the kind of left-leaning young adults who protested againt Alastair Campbell's wars in early 2000s.

Connecting the Dots

How can we connect student campaigns against free speech, silencing Zionist advocates of laissez-faire capitalism, the banning of vocal social conservatives deemed far right from the UK and now the silencing or vilification of anyone who doubts the official narrative about the Salisbury nerve agent incident? It's obvious they are all attacks on intellectual freedom.

How can the UK state fail to protect vulnerable adolescent girls (some as young as 11) from culturally divergent grooming gangs, allow continued unbalanced migration, arm and fund Islamic fundamentalist militias in the Middle East and with a straight face claim it wishes to defend British citizens ? True patriots do not uncritically support their ruling elites, we stand up for the best interests of our families, neighbours, communities and wider society. If our ruling elites consistently pursue policies that threaten the freedom, safety, and security of our communities, we must stand up to tyranny.

Once again, we see an odd alliance of allegedly rightwing social conservatives and avowedly leftwing veteran antiwar campaigners question the official narrative on unfolding events. We need not read the Guardian to learn that the use of nerve agents is a barbaric contravention of human rights or that internecine conflict in Syria is an unspeakable human tragedy. But we must judge news outlets by their recent track record on apportioning blame for these events on the official enemies of our ruling cabal. If we analyse BBC coverage of events in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and most recently Syria through a critical lens, we discover numerous claims made over the years which turned out to be either grotesque exaggerations (e.g. allegations that Serb Security Forces were responsible for the death of 100,000 Kosovar Albanians in 1999) to outright lies and staged events such as the notorious 2013 documentary Saving Syria's Children.

I believe the real Jeremy Corbyn is a latter-day idealist, whose passionate defence of radical democratic socialism ironically serves the interests of dark actors with close ties to the world's leading banking cartels and corporations. These power-hungry elites are quite happy for naive students to silence perceived enemies of social justice, for governments to pursue foreign policies that endanger their own people and to oversee unprecedented rates of destabilising demographic and cultural change and for international bodies to introduce Chinese-style media censorship to combat the spectre of unofficial fake news.

We live in dangerous times. Sooner or later as centre of political power continues to move away from North America and Western Europe to East Asia allied with resource-rich Russia, the BBC's disinformation will become public knowledge and its reputation will lie in tatters. The decline of Britain as world power began long before it joined the EU, but with a buffoonish Foreign Secretary and a mumbling Prime Minister, the UK has become a laughing stock. Sadly given events elsewhere in Europe, it is not alone.

Categories
Power Dynamics

On the Value of Human Life

Idyllic human nature

Two subjects are bound to enrage puritans, especially those with devout religious beliefs of one persuasion or another: abortion and birth control. Don't get me wrong, I favour vigorous debate on both issues and totally respect the rationale behind an absolute repudiation of the murder of innocent human life. Nothing is more human than a wish to go forth and multiply, but we need to be fully of aware of the likely consequences. Many will argue that once we justify the elimination of sentient beings because of their perceived weakness or superfluousness, we have crossed a moral line that may lead to industrial scale slaughter. Yet we only apply this logic to our own species whose numbers would not have risen so fast since the onset of the industrial revolution without swift technological progress and our enhanced ability to exploit the earth's natural resources. The same technology that can sustain a growing population and save the lives of those who would otherwise have died can also destroy our environment and kill unwanted people. In the early 21st century we do not lack human beings, but arguably we may have lost sight of what it means to be a living, breathing and above all free-thinking human being.

Before the advent of modern medicine and improved sanitation, only the fittest survived. To put things in perspective, the human population grew very gradually from the spread of agrarianism over ten thousand years ago to the European colonisation of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries. At the height of the Roman Empire the world's population did not exceed 300 million (usual estimates are around 250 million). When Christopher Columbus discovered the Antilles, there were still fewer than 500 million people worldwide. It took the colonisation of the Americas and the early industrial revolution to bring the global people count to one billion around 1830. As the industrial revolution spread to North America, the rest of Europe and Japan, our numbers grew to around 2 billion in 1930 and 3 billion circa 1960. There are now over 7.5 billion people and, contrary to the dire predictions of ecologists such as Paul Ehrlich (author of the Population Bomb), fewer people are malnourished today than 40 years ago. In 1798 Thomas Malthus presented an Essay on the Principle of Population that made perfect sense when applied to pre-industrial human civilisations and other animals. However, he failed to foresee an exponential rise in industrial efficiency. So despite famines in the colonies of European powers, in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, by and large most economists believe Malthus got it wrong, but few could have foreseen the next 150 years of rapid technological progress. Some ecologists still argue that eventually we will hit our limits to material growth as the law of diminishing returns kicks in. When Richard Heinberg wrote The Party's Over in 2003, we still assumed future economic progress would be inextricably tied to the mass consumption of manufactured products rather than the provision of virtual services. We should have hit Peak Oil in 2008 when we saw crude oil reach its historic high of $150 a barrel. Despite the 2008 financial meltdown, per capita consumption has continued to grow in much of the developing world.

Most people in Europe, North America, East Asia and Australasia have already adapted to our new reality of low infantile mortality and high educational needs by having fewer children. Even the Indian fertility rate has fallen to an average of 2.3 children per woman. The birth rate remains high only in the Middle East, most of Africa, parts of Latin America and Muslim Central Asia (Pakistan and Afghanistan). While this may seem good news for those of us who care about environmental sustainability and may have once feared food and water shortages in the event of either technological meltdown or severe limits to growth, one cannot fail to notice that human life is valued much more in countries with lower birth rates. Just consider the case of Japan, with an infant mortality rate less than half that of the US and a murder rate of just 0.3 per 100,000 people compared with 34 in South Africa, 5 in the USA or 0.98 in the UK. It stands to reason that greater economic and environmental strains will lower our tolerance of weaker citizens.

A few weeks ago Islamic fundamentalists killed 305 worshippers at a Mosque in the Egyptian town of Al Arish. Unlike some other attacks against the country's dwindling Christian minority, this was an inter-Muslim affair. The Western media seldom mentions the ongoing civil war in Northern Nigeria and turned a blind eye to the 15 years of internecine bloodshed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While our media decried the killing fields of the 1994 Rwandan bloodbath, few highlighted the rapid rise in the country's population coinciding with a rapid fall in the price of its main export, coffee. When the system breaks down and fails to feed, clothe and house the populace, we can soon downgrade the worthiness of human life.

While technology may have, at least temporarily, saved us from the Malthusian trap, it has come at the price of personal independence. In our interconnected high-tech world we buy greater personal freedom by gaming the system. Like all games there are winners and losers, but the prize is greater control over your life.

As we progress to ever greater levels of sophistication and interconnectedness, we become more aware of our relative emotional and intellectual weaknesses. Many prefer to ignore the paradox that affluent societies tend to obsess more with psychological challenges. Throughout much of human history, and still today in much of the world, people were just glad to be alive and enjoy a simple meal with other members of their community. Anything else was a bonus. Today people obsess with their body image, diet, personal accessories, personality profile and ascribe any mood swings to medical issues that require some form of treatment. Whereas until recently we would explain our trials and tribulations to society, upbringing or immutable biological facts, today we view our psychological challenges in neurological terms. Feelings that we once viewed as normal reactions to our psychosocial milieu are now considered signs of a mental pathology, partly because we have so much leisure time in which to obsess about our social status, body image and perceived lack of success. Psychiatry treats the human condition as a potential pathology, something that needs to be fixed by modifying someone's personality in the same way as one would fix a malfunctioning car or computer. By equating mental health with physical health we devalue the human experience to little more than a set of illusions. Your state of mind, sense of self, thoughts, feelings or reasoned opinions may thus be pathological too. Yet personal freedom means exercising control over of your life by letting your thoughts and feelings shape the world around you, i.e. without someone else telling you what to think or how to manage your life. If the purpose of life is to hand down one's legacy to future generations, how can we fulfil our dreams if every aspect of our lives is proactively monitored and responsibility for personal wellbeing is transferred from families and individuals to social institutions that treat us as overgrown children? Indeed why have children at all, if the state tells you how to bring your offspring up?

Coercive social engineering inevitably restricts our personal independence and reduces our sense of self worth. Psychologists love to talk about the importance of self-esteem, as if it were a mere hormonal reaction to neurological systems and not the result of real life experiences and complex social interactions. Here we should contrast pleasure with happiness. The former may respond to biochemical stimulation or cheap thrills, while the latter is the result of life's achievements that require mental, emotional and physical effort. By suppressing our natural instincts or failing to channel our inborn urges in a socially advantageous way, we devalue what it means to be human. If we just wanted a perfectly harmonious community of diverse individuals devoid of jealousy or any form of interpersonal conflicts, we could biologically engineer a bunch of selfless asexual drones, whose happiness depended on only the collective good. In small communities the well-being of our team-mates or comrades may motivate us if we all share the same ethos with a high degree of mutual trust. However, both creativity and conscientiousness rely on healthy social competition and a desire for self-betterment. In larger more complex societies the abstract needs of millions of other citizens are unlikely to motivate us as much as personal advantage. We're unlikely to sacrifice body and soul for amorphous corporations with Byzantine hierarchies, but often do so for our kith and kin, but as traditional family bonds weaken, we regress into a lifelong puerile state of submission to our supervisors.

Biological Paradoxes

Humanity would not exist today without millions of years of natural evolution. None of the social or technological innovations of the last 250 years could have happened were it not a cruel process of natural selection in which only the fittest or best-adapted survived. Until recently merciless natural forces would end the short lives of those incapable of self-reliance. Many tribes would sacrifice the weak for the greater good as the late Marcel Mauss and Henri Hubert chronicled in Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function , originally published in French in 1898 as Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice. Societies as diverse as the Carthaginians, Etruscans, Aztecs, Canaanites and Celts engaged in ritual sacrifice,. In Aztec culture the victims were led to believe their sacrifice to the Gods would sustain the Universe.

Until recent times one earned respect through survival, the ultimate test of worthiness. The monotheistic Abrahamic religions that evolved alongside the more advanced agrarian societies of the Middle East enforced a new moral order that condemned child sacrifices and upheld the sanctity of innocent human life. The old Testament explicitly repudiated such practices, e.g in Leviticus 20:2–5 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death.†Nonetheless until the advent of modern medicine many weaker children would succumb to disease and painful early deaths. Today's technology can keep all but the unluckiest of newborns alive. Infant mortality in Japan is just 2 per 1000 live births compared with a staggering 112 in Afghanistan. Historical rates would have been over 200 in most of the world. To provide some perspective in 1950 most European countries had infant mortality rates over 30 per 1000 live births.

On the one hand we have enhanced the value of life by enabling more people to survive into adulthood, but on the other hand we have devalued the unique sense of achievement that each adult survivor has. In countries with advanced universal healthcare systems, we have ceased to be strugglers and have delegated all responsibility for our livelihood to technocrats over whom we have only symbolic control. Extreme interdependence undermines our sense of self unless we retain some sense of personal achievement gained through work. Alas the ongoing artificial intelligence and robotics revolution will deny this opportunity to all but the most talented individuals. Everyone else will be expendable. Should our high-tech infrastructure fail to sustain the 10 billion human inhabitants of our planet mid century, it will be relatively easy to phase out the excess population. In 2016 over 6000 Dutch citizens chose euthanasia to end their lives, sometimes for psychological reasons. As a sign of things to come, I learned of the new 3D-printed suicide machine, the so-called Sarco capsule, that lets users end their life at the click of a mouse button.

An absolute moral stance on the sanctity of all potential human could empower megalomaniac technocrats unless we can afford everyone meaningful and rewarding lives. It's intellectually dishonest to dismiss any concerns either over demographic overshoot or over the coercisive means of control required to manage a large population of dependents.

To be human means more than just being alive, feeling biochemically induced pleasure or belonging to a monitored social group, it means above all retaining intellectual self-determination interacting with other autonomous human thinkers whom we respect and trust.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/HFCQl8ot_NU

Our obsession with mental health and lack of respect for natural selection could lead millions to voluntarily escape a seemingly pointless existence.

Categories
Power Dynamics

End of an Era

That's all Folks!

The Eclipse of American Power

Just 15 years ago in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the alternative antiwar media was abuzz with talk of the Project for a New American Century, championed by the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as they pushed for more proactive military interventions to spread the USA's vision of neoliberalism. We can split the opponents of this strategy into two camps: those who oppose neoliberalism and/or militarism on principle and those who believed whatever its merits the policy was ultimately doomed to backfire. Today most of the globalist media who lent their moral support to successive US-led wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans under the pretext of humanitarian intervention, are now openly critical of the US and UK governments and much more supportive of the European Union, which despite the outcome of the UK's 2016 referendum is forging ahead with plans to set up its own unified defence forces and federalise its structures into a United States of Europe. Just 15 years ago the Anglo-American media lampooned the cowardly French and German governments for failing to support the 2003 US-led ousting of Saddam Hussein, now they mock Donald Trump for colluding with Putin and failing to accommodate enough refugees from countries the US military has destabilised, while hailing Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron as inspirational leaders of the progressive world.

What we are witnessing may be the steady demise of the United States as the main world power. By 2025 China's economy is set to outstrip the USA's. While US-based tech giants will continue to play a leading role in the development of artificial intelligence, the scientific centre of gravity has moved from California to Russia, China and India. You just have to look at the number of graduates in STEM subjects and the origins of the people shaping our cybernetic future. It appears our European neighbours have caught the British disease of focusing on marketing and people management rather than hard sciences. Slowly but surely Chinese and Japanese multinationals are buying their way into Europe, Australasia and North America. The next century will be a lot more Asian than many anticipated. While Anglo-American customs and language may linger on in global culture for some time to come, just as Greek and Latin outlived their respective empires, our future cultural development will be shaped largely by Asians with contributions from Africans and Latin Americans. With over half the world's current population, Asia is home to great civilisational diversity. Yet, thanks to the industriousness of its peoples and relative social stability, the East Asian model will prevail, while the Islamic world's strategy of conquest through high birth rates will only succeed in destabilising other countries, not in gaining control of the commanding heights of the techno-industrial complex.

However, the demise of the American dream is also due to the generally unanticipated failure of neoliberalism to adapt to a world of smart automation that in just 20 years could not only render most jobs obsolete, but subjugate most workless citizens to the dictatorship of a few global corporations. Neoliberalism promised a future of enterprise, competition and personal responsibility with governments intervening only to ensure equality of opportunity and some form of social safety net. In reality we have seen a transfer of power away from small businesses and local institutions to multinational businesses and global organisations. Today's small businesses are often just contract workers, whose income depends entirely on their subservience to the global mafia, e.g. in the Web development industry many of the most lucrative contracts are with advertising agencies or, would you believe it, with charities. There is not very much money to be made advocating localism or any viable alternative to global governance.

Imperialism versus Localism

The national imperialisms of the 19th century have now morphed into unabashed global imperialism, after an interlude of North American dominance. Many observers may wonder how a longstanding opponent of British imperialism, such as myself, could advocate greater national sovereignty for the United Kingdom. If you're anti-British, would you not simply wish to see the dissolution of the UK into smaller regions integrated into a larger superstate? The main flaw in this logic is that the interests of ordinary citizens have seldom coincided with those of their ruling classes. Mercantilism was the primary driver of English and later British imperialism in the 17th and 18th centuries. British may refer either to an imperial state that evolved from the 1707 union of English and Scottish crowns or it may mean the peoples who have long inhabited the British Isles through successive ruling dynasties. I opposed British imperialism, not its peoples. The East India Company helped expand British colonial influence in the subcontinent with a little help from the Royal Navy. Christian missionaries and English language teachers may have followed, but the main purpose of imperialism has always been to expand markets and subjugate peoples by peaceful means if possible and by military means if all else fails. English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh peasants and factory workers did not suddenly decide to colonise the Americas, Africa, India or Australasia. Most did not even leave their homelands or only migrated to another part of the British Isles. Some took advantage of new opportunities in their masters' new colonies, but many died in the process. One may argue that much of Britain's wealth in the 19th and early 20th century came from its colonies, but it was very unevenly distributed. Before the growth of an educated and skilled working class in the late 19th century, most inhabitants of these windswept isles endured poverty every bit as bad or even worse than typical living conditions in 19th century India if we look at comparative infant mortality rates which only began to decline with the advent of modern plumbing.

Today our business leaders only cling to commercial and cultural links with the British Commonwealth through self-interest and tradition. In 2017 India exercises more influence over tiny Britain than vice versa through its large and successful ex-pat community and its dominance in the business services market. Just as China overtakes the US in economic output, India's total GDP is poised to pull ahead of the UK's. Yet big business does not seem to mind one iota. Not only do they have a larger market of new consumers, they can tap talent from a larger pool of university graduates. Subsidising the workless underclasses will be a problem for governments and global charities.

We would like to think that our governments endeavour to give us the best headstart in life through better education and high tech skills training. In the near future a country's wealth may depend more on the percentage of its citizens able to undertake intellectually demanding jobs in scientific research and innovation than by its prestige or the strength of its banking sector. If your youngsters can only aspire to medium skill clerical and manual jobs, their livelihoods will be swept aside by artificial intelligence and global competition. Yet our politicians seem more concerned with promoting gender theory among gullible primary school children than giving them the firm foundations in mathematics, reading and writing they will need to stand a chance in tomorrow's high IQ labour market.

Nationalism has earned itself a bad name by association with 19th century imperialism and 20th century fascism. Yet positive nationalism is just a way of managing in-group preferences and shared cultural values within a confined geographic area to ensure governing institutions can be held to account. Countries can choose different paths and learn from their neighbours' mistakes. If the whole world has to converge on the same social and economic policies, we will thrive or wither together. I'm happy for Moroccans to choose to prioritise Islamic studies in their schools. Its up to them. I'm not so happy for Scottish schools to adopt the same policies or for other countries to unduly influence local democracy here. Localism means devolving power to the smallest viable unit, which may be a farm, a village, a town, a county, a region or small country, a large country or community of countries, but at each stage power has to spread from the bottom up giving each community greater responsibility over its destiny and ultimately greater personal freedom. This stands in contrast to universalism which assumes billions of human beings can magically converge on new cultural norms without coercion. I choose bottom-up democracy and not top-down manufacturing of consent.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Establishment Stitch-Up amid Shifting Alliances

Did you naively think the whole EU membership debate had something to do with Europe and its smörgåsbord of cultures, cuisines and intellectual enlightenment? No doubt some of those who voted to leave the EU reminisced simpler times and older ways where at least we had a sense of social cohesion based on shared values, but most simply wanted to regain control over the country's administration so it works in the interests of its current citizens rather than serve as a social engineering playground.

Nostalgia is not unique to Britain, but it is easy to understand why those who endured the repressive dictatorships of the mid 20th century may be keener on belonging to a community of peaceful free-trading European nations. For many the expansion of the European Economic Community and its later transformation into the European Union coincided with a period of unprecedented economic and technological growth. Yet these apparent advances have failed to improve the perceived quality of life of most Western Europeans. The relative socio-economic security of the 1950s, 60s and 70s has given way to a new era of permanent volatility in our jobs, family structures, local communities, housing and dependence on external organisations.

So come April 2019 the UK will no longer be half in the EU, it will be half out of it. Some imagined the UK could regain its national sovereignty, stabilise migratory flows to more sustainable levels, forge new more advantageous trade deals and give our young people a chance to learn new skills through greater labour market protection. Alas all that is happening is the UK will technically be able to open its markets even more to the rest of the world. I suspect the end game will be like being an associate member of the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN with special deals with India and Australia. None of these trade deals are likely to restore power to our Parliament. Quite the opposite, such trade deals will merely transfer yet more power to unaccountable multinationals, headquartered not only in places like Chicago or Frankfurt, but in locales as exotic as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Shanghai or Seoul.

If you still harbour illusions in the European Dream, Martin Schulz, former President of the European Parliament and current leader of the German SPD (social democrats), let the cat out of the proverbial bag by openly advocating a United States of Europe and urging countries that do not share this vision to leave. What's also clear is that the international elite no longer follow the lead of the United States administration. The USA's share of the global economy has been steadily declining for over 50 years. China's economy is set to overtake the USA's by 2025, while many leading trading countries are moving away from the US Dollar. Worse still US-led intervention in the Middle East has lost the all-important battle of hearts and minds as its collusion with Saudi Arabia and Israel becomes all too clear. The Syrian Civil War, fuelled by foreign mercenaries, marked a watershed as Russia, rather than the USA, helped defeat ISIS and enable millions of displaced Syrians to return to their homes. Both the BBC and CNN have lost enormous credibility as the facts on the ground fail to match the fairytale accounts of evil Assad-led forces targeting heroic freedom fighters.

While most Europeans want both peace and stability through international cooperation on environmental and security matters, few outside the metropolitan elites and idealistic students, want a United States of Europe with open-door mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East. Yet this is precisely what Europe's politcial elites offer. Only coercive means, usually threats of economic meltdown, can persuade national electorates to support tighter integration. Oddly the strongest resistance to European Federalisation comes not from France, Italy, Spain or Portugal, whose economies have struggled to adapt to the Euro, but from Eastern Europe, whose people do not want to accommodate rapid change in the ethnic composition of their countries. Eastern Europe has seen its fair share of ethnic cleansing over the last century and the spectre of Islamic hordes at the gates of Budapest and Vienna loom large in the collective psyche.

However, Europe faces another little-mentioned crisis. The continent's primary strengths have long been its educational excellence and strong skills base. Yet most technological innovation now comes from the United States and East Asia. Hundreds of millions of Indians, Iranians, Chinese, South Americans and Russians can now compete with Europe's younger generation. As standards continue to rise in much of East Asia, they're falling in much of Europe as schools have to accommodate children from new migrant communities, who seldom speak the local language at home. At the same time many traditional low and medium-skill jobs are undergoing smart automation leading to the growth of workless underclasses and the proliferation of part-time non-jobs such as charity awareness raisers. With millions of Eastern Europe's best and brightest now in the UK, Germany or Scandinavia, local youngsters are less motivated to pursue many high-stress professions such as nurses or plumbers. More striking is the dramatic fall in the scientific excellence of major Western European countries, of which only France remains in the top ten countries with the most engineering graduates. And guess which major country has the highest number of engineering graduates relative to its population? Not Germany, France, Italy or the UK, but Russia. In computing we see similar trends, Russia, Ukraine and the Far East produce proportionally more talented programmers, especially in the more demanding domains of machine learning and artificial intelligence, than North America and Western Europe. Whereas once the top developers would be attracted by higher salaries in California, in our interconnected world more and more startup companies run their operations east of the old Iron Curtain. JetBrains, the company behind Android's new Kotlin programming language (named after island near St Petersburg) comes to mind. Not only does Google rely on many engineers trained in East Asia and Russia, but both Russia and China have their own home-bred alternatives, Yandex and Baidu.

So what was really going through the minds of our politicians as they negotiated the UK's new relationship with the EU? I suspect their two main concerns were how to continue the process of globalisation on all fronts while the UK nominally leaves the EU and second how to placate public opinion back home and keep alive the illusion of democracy safe in the knowledge that the only likely alternative government, a Corbynite Labour administration who may well end up in coalition with the more business-friendly Liberal Democrats, will seek an even deeper relationship with the European Union and do nothing at all to address the issues that concerned voters most, unbalanced mass migration and job security. In just two years since Jeremy Corbyn's surprise election and Momentum's takeover of the party, Labour have fully embraced a future of extreme interdependence. If you dream of a borderless utopia with universal basic income guaranteed by taxing global corporations, the EU may well seem a side issue or a mere means to an end. As things stand, I can only think the future of our country's younger generation may be slightly better if we emulated the high-skill economies Japan, South Korea and Russia than follow Sweden and Germany's recent conversion to welfare consumerism (a common argument among Swedish politicians is that while many of their low-skill immigrants do not work at least they contribute to the economy through their consumption).

The sad truth is we're a small archipelago that imports around half of its food and is a net importer of most manufactured goods and raw materials. A larger population will only increase our dependence on imports. Our geography and historical ties push towards two dwindling blocs, either with Donald Trump's USA or with the EU. Both are discredited on the world stage. The EU tries to cast aside the imperial legacies of its constituent nations, while collaborating with the USA in the destabilisation of the Middle East and its attempted economic colonisation of the Balkans and Ukraine. The world is changing before our eyes. The whole Brexit debate may be swept aside as smart automation and the growing power of East Asian multinationals consign both the EU and US to the status of regional bureaucracies overseeing divided communities that could easily descend into civil war.

Categories
Computing Power Dynamics

Is Capitalism Morphing Into Communism?

Capitalist Communism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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