The Emerging Age of Absolutisms
What do corporate globalism, Islamic fundamentalism, communist idealism and neo-fascist romanticism all have in common besides being abstract isms? If you look at their attitudes to the key ethical questions of our age, their notional position on the left-right spectrum or their virtuosity in the public mind, they may appear at variance or even diametric opposites. Communists may wish to abolish private property, while neoliberal corporates may want to stick a price tag on everything from childcare, healthcare, hygiene, clean water to fresh air and open spaces. Communists and neoliberals may welcome gay rights and non-traditional families, while fascists and Islamists may enforce heteronormativity by severely punishing digression from an official view of sexual morality. What unites these ideologies is not their exact interpretation of human morality, justice and freedom, but their advocacy of a universal belief system, the notion that we are collectively progressing on a way road to a better tomorrow. They represent variants of collectivism, defined as allegiance to large companies (corporatism), to a monotheistic religious cult (Islamism), to an egalitarian ideal that does away with private property and competition (communism), or to the resurrection of a historically successful civilisation associated with a specific national community (fascist romanticism). Each of these absolutisms expects its denizens to adapt their behaviour to the needs of economic growth or social development, rather than to serve the best interests of their family or close-knit ethnic community, which have historically been our primary motivators. Put another way, these belief systems beseech us to worship different gods, be it big business, Allah, the vanguard party or one’s mighty fatherland.
Blasts from the Past
Some academics have predicted that given current demographic and cultural trends within the Muslim diaspora, much of Western Europe and parts of North America may become part of a global Caliphate. Like communism and neoliberalism, Islam has universal ambitions. However, it relies on technology developed mainly in the non-Muslim world to feed, clothe and accessorise its growing army of followers. Should our current society collapse due to cultural decadence and a growing concentration of power in a technocratic elite, Islam may be poised to fill the void, but I doubt our current ruling classes would be very happy about handing over power to a technically illiterate theocracy. whose inability to deliver the goods, i.e. manage an economy that can satisfy their people’s needs and desires, would lead to a never-ending cycle of civil wars just as we see in much of the Islamic world today. However, the spectre of Islam may serve other purpuses that suit the interests of our leading multinationals, who now need compliant consumers and malleable participants in social engineering experiment more than dependable workers. The growth of culturally incompatible parallel communities empowers the state to monitor every aspect of our lives lest we transgress.
The demographic transition of the West from mainly white European Christian countries to multiethnic, multiracial and multifaith societies has already begun to trigger a backlash from nostalgic nationalist or conservative opposition groups, aiming at least to slow the rate of cultural change. This can lead to strange alliances between those more concerned about the decline of family values among the native populace, mainly Christians, and those who fear the influx of migrants with divergent cultural backgrounds may reverse the liberal gains of recent decades on women’s and gay rights. To explain the cognitive dissonance of the progressive alliance that embraces both Muslim immigration and trangenderism, critically thinking conservatives have coined the term regressive left, i.e. wishful thinkers who turn a blind eye to widespread sexual abuse within the growing Muslim communities while dismissing working class natives as low-information voters at best and knuckle-dragging racists at worst. Unlike Europe, the USA has maintained two important intellectual traditions, the libertarian right and small-government conservatism. Both groups are often critical of US foreign policy and crony capitalism. Libertarians may oppose welfarism, but support individual liberty and alternative lifestyles, e.g. favouring the legalisation of narcotics. Their attitude may overlap with some conceptions of anarchism. American Conservatives want to redress the balance of power away from central governments and large corporations to families, community organisations such as churches and small businesses. While conservatives support their country’s right to self-defence as good patriots, they oppose military adventurism abroad unless they can be persuaded a foreign country poses an immediate threat to national security. However, both of these groups are now often labelled as alt-right or even far right for their politically incorrect views on welfare, immigration or sexuality. Growing sections of American working class now identify more with conservatives than with cosmopolitan liberals. We see a similar pattern across Europe too. The real divide is no longer left vs right, but conservatism vs radicalism. The multifarious strands of the traditionalist opposition disagree about which aspects of our cultural heritage we should conserve. A tiny minority of Americans and Europeans sympathise not with inclusive and philanthropic liberal traditions, but with negative nationalism and/or white supremacy, i.e. the notion that some ethnic or racial identities are not only superior to others, but have a right to subjugate and suppress other ethnic or racial groups they consider inferior. Some may sympathise with defunct dictatorships, downplay or deny their crimes or wish to resurrect racial segregation, all requiring state intervention and restrictions on individual liberty at odds with either social conservatism or libertarian capitalism, which have many African Americans such as Thomas Sowell or Ben Carson in their ranks. However, today’s power brokers have long abandoned European ethnocentrism or Anglo-Saxon cultural hegemony in favour of a multicoloured universalism.
I suspect our social planners and business leaders view anachronistic white nationalists in the same way as they view regressive Islamists, i.e. a bunch of useful idiots whose feelings can be easily manipulated and whose spectre serves to justify more censorship, surveillance and social conditioning. The Trump phenomenon pandered to a mix of social conservatism and American exceptionalism. The perceived threat of gun-toting hillibies and latter-day apartheid supporters serves to justify more surveillance and counterbalance the threat of radical Islam. I can’t help but notice how YouTube now interjects short videos against both Islamic extremism and Far-right extremism before videos critical of globalisation and/or Islam. Are the authorities worried I may join ISIS or a tiny Neo-Nazi sect of Hitler admirers or do they want to suggest that any alternatives to their narrative means siding with unpalatable genocidal extremists?
Capitalism morphing into Corporate Communism
For many decades we’ve largely bought the myth that the system we have is a mix of liberal democracy and free market capitalism because whatever its flaws it has afforded us not only the fastest rate of technological innovation ever experienced, but the illusion of greater personal freedom, which is something we all yearn for alongside good health, security and social bonding. Today freedom is often mistaken for indulgence in commercialised activities, but such synthetic escapism is only made possible by technology we cannot fully control. A long-haul air passenger is at the mercy of sophisticated jet propulsion engines and aircraft guidance systems. A motorist relies not only advanced automotive technology, but on an extensive road and fuel delivery network as well as on coordinated traffic management. You may loathe big oil or oppose nuclear power, but how are we going to generate all the energy we need to facilitate our modern high consumption lifestyle? Moreover, demand is rising as millions of people in what we used to call the Third World now want to emulate the materialistic lifestyle they see via a multitude of media, observe in the wealthier suburbs of their cities and hear about from friends and relatives who have moved to Europe or North America. Just as billions seek to live the American dream, millions of low and medium-skill occupations are being automated. No sooner have hundreds of thousands of new immigrants gained temporary employment Uber cab drivers undercutting traditional taxi drivers in cities as diverse as London, New York or Paris as Uber itself, once a great proponent of relaxed migration controls, announces plans to phase in driverless cars. It’s only a matter of time before many other mundane jobs that involve a degree of mental and physical dexterity beyond the capabilities of first generation domestic robots give way to smart automata. As time goes by, I forecast only three categories of remunerative jobs will remain outside low-tech backwaters:
- Research and development
- Social monitoring
- Persuasion (consultancy, change management, awareness raising, marketing, entertainment)
All three overlapping sectors of human enterprise will require either an exceptionally high IQ or outstanding talents. This effectively means within the next generation (usually around 25 to 30 years) only a small minority will pursue competitive careers to boost their status and/or income. Underemployment is the one problem that laissez-faire capitalism cannot address. Unless capitalism, albeit with large conglomerates and substantial state intervention, can motivate most of its economic participants, it will implode as the workless masses fail to respond to its incentives.
Now, more and more big business leaders are coming out in favour of universal basic income, which could transform most adults from active participants in a competitive economy to passive consumers and guinea pigs in a giant social engineering experiment. In reality most citizens of Western countries struggle to compete in the labour market and the hundreds of millions of third worlders aspiring to the American way of life may never get a chance to earn a living. Currently in the UK you have to earn more than 35K a year on average to contribute more in taxes than you consume in services. The maths is not that hard. Public spending stands at a whopping 780 billion for the year 2016/17, that’s 23 thousand per worker in direct and indirect tax. Yet the average wage is still around 28K. That means most workers are already subsidised and rewarded more for compliance or good behaviour than actual work that really contributes to society. The range of jobs available at the lower end of the salary scales becomes more absurd by the day. Rather than serve customers at checkout tills, shop assistants now monitor automated checkouts. Soon rather than stacking shelves, supermarket workers will monitor shelf-stacking robots. More and more work not only in customer relations, but in the mushrooming awareness raising business. That’s right, people get paid for promoting a concept or a lifestyle option rather than a tangible good or service. Expect this number to grow as the boundary between voluntary political activism and subsidised lifestyle evangelism blurs. Who could seriously believe that the likes of Oxfam, Save the Children or Medicins sans Frontiers are funded mostly by voluntary donations from cash-strapped private citizens? Who decided to use their finite resources to hire ships to facilitate mass migration from Northern Africa to Europe, often against the wishes of local authorities on the ground. Well-funded NGOs have been caught colluding with people traffickers within Libya’s coastal waters, effectively acting as a ferry service under the pretext of saving lives. To understand the scale of the problem before us, just consider the population of Nigeria alone is rising by 4 to 5 million a year and is projected to hit 300 million by 2036, almost entirely due to a high fertility rate that has not fallen in line with a massive decline in infant mortality and an equally impressive rise in mean life expectancy. Worse still Nigeria is now a net importer of food and domestic demand for energy is growing faster than the proceeds of its substantial but finite oil reserves. It may soon be unable to sustain its increasingly urbanised citizens. Could we not better empower Africans by promoting sustainable development through lower fertility rates? There are two ways to attain these ends. One is through more military interventionism, e.g. meddling in the many civil wars erupting in countries under significant environmental stress or forcing local governments to implement the LGBTQ+ agenda. The other approach is simply to leave these people alone and let them find their own route towards a more sustainable future, but without us relying on their natural resources. Unfortunately, isolationism and protectionism have earned a bad name. Simple leaving the Middle East and West Africa to rot in their own environmental nightmare will not prevent civil wars and human misery, but it may stop such mayhem spreading to the more stable societies of Western Europe and North America, thus preserving the liberal traditions we hold dear and setting an example for others to follow. Besides coercion is not necessary to transition from high to low birth rates. Most European countries now have fertility rates below replacement level as the relative cost of raising a child rises. As we adapt to a future where only highly educated professionals can earn a living through their own endeavours, why would we have more children than we can reasonably nurture? If we rely on the State to bring up our children and inculcate in them new cultural values at odds with our instincts, why should we bother having children at all?
Communism for the Masses and Liberalism for the Elite
If you ever aspired to democratic socialism, the last 40 years have been very disappointing, as mainstream social democratic parties have embraced big business and the USSR collapsed. Nothing ever seems to change unless banking cartels and tech giants want it. Have they concluded that the masses can no longer compete in the free market?
It saddens me to admit it, but I once hoped capitalism would give way to anarcho-communism, a patchwork of egalitarian communes in a utopian world devoid of armies and extreme concentrations of wealth. In my naive adolescent mindset the Soviet Union, the People Republic of China, Cuba and North Korea were at best deformed workers’ states and at worst despotisms antithetical to the kind of laid-back sharing society I envisaged. Ironically the only viable examples of communalism have always sprung from close-knit and culturally homogenous communities, i.e. people who share an elaborate set of ethical rules and customs. Once such societies grow beyond a basic level of complexity and have to accommodate a wider range of cultural backgrounds and social attitudes, they inevitably have to adopt more coercive means to maintain social stability. Yet if such societies fail to grow out of their rudimentary forms, they will inevitably fail to develop the technological means to improve people’s quality of life and to correct the cruel injustices of mother nature. Ever since the industrial revolution, no system has succeeded in raising people’s material living standards more than capitalism. Even China abandoned its Maoist command economy to embrace state-managed capitalism. Today, the State accounts for a larger share of the economy in most of Western Europe than it does in China. Yet as corporate cartels behave more like governments via their NGOs and transnational organisations, we may soon see a merger between the Chinese and European models with democracy reduced to little more than choreographed consultation exercises. Competition will work on two levels. The professional elite of technical whizz-kids, scientists, social planners, media executives and entertainers will continue to compete and lead parallel lives in a liberal bubble with exclusive access to secluded resorts and gated neighbourhoods. Meanwhile the masses reliant on UBI (universal basic income) will be rewarded for their compliant behaviour. Some may attain relative privileges by acting as model citizens, while others will be relegated to a closely supervised life in an urban jungle of interconnected megacities. Those who fail to comply, especially those whose dissident ideas attract a following, may be treated as sufferers of mental disorders. The hate speech laws now being enforced in countries as diverse as Canada, Turkey, Germany and China, could effectively disable you as a citizen in our basic income panacea. Just imagine the option of either repenting one’s conservative views on the sexual dimorphism of human beings or having one’s bank account deactivated and access to social housing and employment denied. This dystopian future is no longer just a fanciful science fiction, but a reality the Pentagon is preparing for.