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As someone who has stuck his neck out for the imminent reality of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in both his real and online life, it would be fitting for me to comment on the Climatic Research Unit e-mail hacking incident (and as per usual, what was originally meant as a “comment” has blossomed into a long post). Anyhow, at least to me, the Climategate sage illustrates three things.

  1. Part of the “hockey stick” hypothesis – that pre-20th century global temperatures were essentially horizontal – is seriously challenged, perhaps sunk. However, contrary to denier rhetoric, the emails do not discredit AGW theory itself, nor do they lessen the magnitude of our current predicament, nor do they contain any hint of an overarching global conspiracy to enslave us under a green socialist NWO.
  2. Some academics form mafia-like cliques to promote themselves. Having many relatives and acquaintances who work in academia and have, at times, suffered from these cliques, these “revelations” are nothing new to me. Science stopped being purely about science ever since it evolved beyond the preserve of moneyed men with time to kill.
  3. It sheds far less light on the theory of AGW per se, than on some unsavory researchers and the AGW deniers (or “climate skeptics”) themselves. In particular, the ferocity with which the latter have latched on to the stolen emails as “proof” that AGW is a giant scam only testifies to their own paranoid desperation, but one that is disturbingly successful at swaying the public opinion. To the casual observer, this is further evidence for the intractability of our Limits to Growth dilemma; even “social capital”, i.e. the public’s tolerance for necessary but painful decisions, is growing short.

Why AGW is Real

Read my Top 10 AGW Denial Myths again. How often was the hockey stick graph mentioned? Just once – and furthermore, as half an answer. Based on this rough, but nonetheless fairly typical, example of pro-AGW arguments, the work of Mann at al was thus only responsible for, at best, 2.5% of the entire theory (remember that the late 20th-century temperature spike is still undisputed, it’s their suppression of the Medieval Warm Period that is discredited). There’s more on the matter from Real Climate here and here which gives a needed wider perspective, or see George Monbiot’s The Knights Carbonic for an easier and funnier read.

Contrary to the AGW denier position, amongst the “AGW consensus” that they love to deride, no-one is disputing that natural variability, usually accruing from fluctuations in solar irradiation, can account for spikes and troughs in the global climate well before the age of mass industrialism. That does not mean that humanity’s huge buildup of atmospheric CO2 is inconsequential; both theory and the current physical evidence indicate that the extra CO2, left to business-as-usual, will force the global climatic system into a hotter, more dynamic state (portents are already seen in the melting Arctic and crumbling infrastructure of the High North). As I wrote on another blog:

There are many models from respected scientific establishments indicating that a doubling of CO2 levels will lead to 5-6C global temperature rise (which as I understand it, are essentially based on solving a massive grid of heat equations in 3D – i.e., just physics, albeit with a large degree of uncertainty when applied to RL because we don’t know the coefficients with a high enough degree of precision). However, paleoclimate evidence concurs with the higher end predictions (5-6C) – our current atmospheric CO2 level of 384+ppm was last observed during the Pliocene 3mn years ago, when global temperatures soared by 3C. Since solar radiation was not substantially different from today then, this means that the kinds of projections made in the higher-end IPCC forecasts (or Arrhenius, for that matter) are likely valid.

Secondly, you point out that there may be powerful negative feedbacks and moderating factors, which are left out of the models due to their complexity. Yes, no-one disputes that. But the same holds for the opposite, e.g. a melting Arctic will reduce ice albedo and accelerate warming in the High North, which will in turn release more methane from the defrosting permafrost. Why do you think the negative feedbacks will be stronger than the positive ones? And what about the problem of global dimming which suggests that the real magnitude of global warming has been underestimated in the past decades because of the artificial cooling effect of increased aerosol emissions like soot and SO2 particulates?

Academia is a Mafia

Like in any bureaucracy where people compete for higher status and salary, there will form cliques dedicated to furthering the causes of their members. As bitter and vindictive scientific disputes throughout history prove, academia is far from the idyllic ivory tower paradise of popular imagination. I agree that the conduct of the researchers in question here is quite reprehensible, and sullies the reputation of the entire climate science community in the public eye. To show I’m honest, here’s a link to a skeptic (yes, a real skeptic, not a denier) sent me by a reader – Climategate and Scientific Conduct.

That said, academia remains a vital pillar of industrial civilization. It is a major driver of technological growth (which is at the root of almost all the secular increase in global carrying capacity) – and the institution which, because of its relative independence compared to most think-tanks, government agencies, or corporations, can provide the most effective “scanning” for possible solutions to our overshooting of the Earth’s carrying capacity.

However, nothing truly radical can be expected of academics, because they are part of the capitalist-industrialist System, its high priests, and cannot be expected to seriously challenge any of its core tenets. Quoting from this site’s introduction to my forthcoming book:

The latter category, encompassing private think tanks and academia, have a greater degree of freedom in asking questions. However, it is ultimately the state that pays academics their salaries. Biting the hand that feeds is always dangerous, especially if their fangs contain the poison of the forbidden question. Anathema unto them. Therefore, academia’s answers also tend to conform to the reigning paradigm – or even reinforce it further with elaborate universal theories such as Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” eschatology, which alleges that Western liberal democracy is the final phase of mankind’s ideological evolution.

Academia are an essentially conservative body. The IPCC relies on consensus and generally excludes the most controversial and “pessimistic” research from its reports, of which there are more and more of, mostly focusing on the positive feedback loops that could “tip” the world over into a runaway global warming of 5C+, a degree of warming (no pun intended) that will make widening swathes of the Earth simply physically uninhabitable and will almost certainly spell the end for industrial civilization.

The Real Problem

Since geoengineering is unlikely to work, what is needed now is truly drastic action, sustainable retreat instead of business-as-usual development, something like a transition to green socialism:

  • World unity – to prevent the climate and resource wars which will otherwise become inevitable, and to prevent nations from free-riding on others’ sacrifices.
  • Social leveling – forcefully stymieing growth under capitalism amounts to an extremely regressive tax, which the people won’t stand for – at least in liberal democracies*.
  • Bigger state – to promote anti-industrial values in favor of older, communal values; to enforce social leveling / economic coercion; and to co-opt or destroy alternate sources of political power (be they multi-national corporations, terrorists, religious leaders, etc) that could challenge the worldwide green agenda.

And yes, I realize that this all sounds pretty creepy and Orwellian. This is one respect in which the deniers really do have a point, so if they suspect that the “elites” have this objective in mind, no wonder they are so fervent in opposing AGW theory with such a blatant disregard for logic and facts. But what the deniers haven’t noticed that no-one in government or even mainstream journalism is calling for the above measures, which I by now believe are the only way to possibly avert catastrophe a few decades down the road. Some policy-makers may well be aware of humanity’s predicament, but are simply too imprisoned by public opinion to ever dare voice it out aloud.

* Pursuing carbon emissions reduction mechanisms under the capitalist-industrial System, as currently proposed, is not going to work at any level. In particular, the idea of doing carbon rationing by introducing a virtual parallel currency inter-changeable with real money is unrealizable – it is extremely regressive, and unlikely to pass in democracies (and if does will breed social instability – if you make the cost of carbon high enough to have any substantial impact). Furthermore, nation-states are not going to risk implementing such drastic measures within their borders unless most other states are doing it – otherwise, it would be too hard to convince their electorates that the effort, which is in the end futile (due to non-compliance and free-riding), is worth it. Note that cooperation in a multi-player game like this is exceedingly hard, and no state will want to be the first to take the plunge. These psychological factors spell doom for any attempt at national cap-and-trade or international contraction-and-convergence.

Climategate: The Death of Social Capital

Perhaps at a subconscious level people really do realize our predicament, and after all, denial is the first phase of recovery (though in all fairness, some have moved on to bargaining – “geoengineering, markets, technology, aliens!”, while others have even advanced onto the depressive state – “it’s so bad it’s too late to do anything anyway”). But mostly, it’s still anger and denial. Around 59% of Britons, to be precise, to whom populist blowhards like James Delingpole cater to (together with the stunningly ignorant and Russophobic Tim Collard; I think Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is the Telegraph‘s only good columnist).

Speaking of Russia, Russia Today has latched onto this story, seeing a good market for those Anglo-Saxons frustrated with their “globalist”, “NWOish” media (in some ways, a funny fit, though on second thought quite logical). Furthermore, it’s also well known that Russia is one of the few countries, along with Canada, to benefit from global warming, as I pointed out in Towards a New Russian Century? So perhaps the Kremlin has given signals to its media to downplay AGW? To be honest, I doubt it – frankly, I doubt the Russian government’s strategic vision is that good. But it’s food for thought.

Below is an interview with a frothing Alex Jones.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdTYxis6UZ0&w=425&h=344]

And another one featuring a debate between Aleksey Kokorin (pro-AGW), the WWF’s Climate Program Coordination in Russia, and Piers Corbyn (anti-AGW), a maverick British weather forecaster. Watch it, it gets quite heated in the end. ;)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anHuOAXIl0M&w=425&h=344]

[Kokorin is incorrect that there was no malaria in Russia prior to the period of accelerated global warming - it was a major scourge, during summer when even Siberia became very warm due to its continental landmass, prior to eradication efforts in the 1930's. However, both the scope and duration of the region of malarial danger has increased substantially since the 1990's in Russia, and almost all GW forecasts project an increase in malarial infestation. Unfortunately, Kokorin has a very poor interview technique and spends most of his time appealing to authority, which just happens to be under question after Climategate. Corbyn comes across as a loon. But I suspect more people will believe him regardless.]

Anyhow, why am I showcasing this denier propaganda? To illustrate how individuals acting for their own individual, corporate, or national gain, are free to pander to the fears and sensibilities of electorates to forestall the necessary changes and to tar those pushing for them, even just by association (as pointed out, the damage to the public’s perception of the pro-AGW will be far out of proportion to the actual damage on its internal consistency / validity, which is pretty minimal). This is not an indictment of democracy, except perhaps by implication; just an observation.

5. Climategate: A Turning Point in the Malthusian Loop?

Furthermore, this illustrates another facet of our Limits to Growth predicament. At least in their modeling, the authors stuck to quantitative aspects such as the resource base, the production base, the agricultural base, pollution, services, etc. One of the major things they neglect, however, is the socio-political side of things – the “social capital” that sustains political legitimacy, especially important for liberal democracies that only have limited coercive tools at their disposal.

Real living standards have grown slowly, for some income groups even stagnated, since the 1970′s. Some attribute this to the pernicious influence of neoliberalism; I see it as one of the earliest expressions of approaching limits, of which the 2008 economic crisis is part and parcel (global energy production stopped growing exponentially from the 1970′s). At this point of the “Malthusian Loop” (see my article The Belief Matrix), the hoi polloi are becoming disillusioned, even restless.

Before the industrial era, all societies were subject to Malthusian dynamics in which population growth saturated the carrying capacity of the land and leveled off at an unstable plateau. The period of high growth was typically regarded as a Golden Age of bucolic virtue (e.g. republican Rome), which I’ve labeled The Rise of Empire. Because of limits to growth, this could not last. Subsistence stress resulted in the growth of cities and large standing armies to soak up the landless poor, and literate bureaucrats to manage the new problems. Paradoxically, even as problems loomed on the horizons many aspects of culture like literacy, inventiveness, etc, flourished. This is because society encouraged its thinkers to “scan” for solutions to these problems. [Society moves towards down on the Belief Matrix, towards "Rationalism" / "The Idea of the West"].

However, these same cities and intelligentsia fuel feelings of resentment on the part of peasants on account of a) their perceived decadence and lasciviousness and b) the fact that said degenerates are supported by their taxes. To accommodate the rising reaction and diminishing surpluses, politicians and kings are forced to go back to the future. Way back. [There is a reaction against "Rationalism", and society moves up along the Belief Matrix towards "Mysticism"]. Quoting from my notes on Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies:

At this point, decomposition rapidly becomes inevitable as “scanning” ceases, for the system no longer has the surpluses to do it. In most cases rigid behavioral controls are imposed, innovation and positive change is stymied and corruption, authoritarianism and feudalism begin to dominate … for society is enslaved to its own myths of superiority and delusions of grandeur.

… Censuses and historical detail thin, as literacy and science declined during this period to be replaced by an “increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation”, as well as by “increased propaganda about patriotism, ancient Roman values, and superiority over the barbarians”.

Yet this is only a stopgap measure, for by now eventual demise is inevitable:

Increasingly radical attempts to save the system, even cardinally change it, cannot permanently reserve the trend towards further complexity and disequilibrium; eventually, everyone loses faith in the system and there is a severe collapse. …

… According to RM Adams, “By the fifth century, men were ready to abandon civilization itself in order to escape the fearful load of taxes”. In 476, after being denied payment or settlement in Italy, the Roman barbarian army mutinied, sacked Rome and deposed Romulus Augustus, the last Western Emperor.

In other words, society begins by rejecting the “Idea of the West” (in Roman times, proxied by “rule of law” and Greek scientific-rationalism), and the state intensifies efforts to both legitimize itself and coerce people into believing in it. But nonetheless, a breaking point is eventually reached and society loses faith in the state (hitherto, tradition), culminating in the collapse of civilization, a prolonged period of anarchy and reversion to older forms of social existence focused on family, clan and community (denoted as The Collapse of Civilization).

Mark Lynas bewails the war on science in Leaked emails mark dangerous shift in climate denial strategy.

And the strategy is simple. Given that scientists are one of society’s most trusted groups (unlike journalists or politicians), the climate denial movement has begun a battle to undermine public trust in climate scientists themselves. No more will the legions of anonymous researchers who collect and interpret data from meteorological stations, satellites and ice cores be considered above the fray – they now run the risk of personal attacks, exposure of their private lives and vilification.

It is important to understand the significance of this. Scientists are not politicians. They are not used to communicating publicly. They trust in their objectivity, the objectivity of their peers, and the rigour of only citing work published in learned journals. They will have private views, but are very used to keeping these out of their work – indeed the entire scientific method is based on conducting research which can be replicated by peers in order to check its accuracy and objectivity.

Like the 9/11 conspiracy theories before it, the global warming conspiracy is palpably absurd. The idea that scientists have teamed up with governments and the United Nations to foist some kind of social control project on an unwary public is laughable – it would need conspiratorial activities involving thousands of people, for a start..

None of this would matter if the public weren’t fooled. But they are. Polls show climate “scepticism” is rising, perhaps even to a majority position, on both sides of the Atlantic. Presumably public trust in climate change scientists is falling commensurately. This will in turn undermine consensus in mitigating climate change – which is of course the very intention of the deniers in the first place.

I expect an intensification of the war on science in the decades ahead. Climategate proves just how shallow “social capital” really is. Is there an economic crisis? Too bad, let’s stimulate the economy with even more debt-driven spending and forget those pesky greens (too bad we’ll see more and more peak oil-driven economic crises in the future, the next one probably in 2011-12). Is there at least one group of ethically-challenged climate researchers? Too bad, let’s dismiss all of them. With attitudes like this, it is impossible to surmount our Limits to Growth predicament.

The strongmen who will replace internationalist liberal democracy before the final demise of industrial civilization will have little interest in people even asking the wrong questions, let alone venturing the correct answers. Those that don’t toe the party line, be they high priests or peasant grunts, will be strung up, the old order purged and overthrown. “Scanning” will end. The show may be fun to watch, though increasingly dangerous.

What is to be Done?

Lynas ends his piece with this limp-wristed plea:

We have to start accentuating the positive, rather than constantly invoking apocalypse. Getting off fossil fuels is a necessity, but that does not mean that people’s lives must be made harder or more austere. Forget all the “war economy” analogies, locally grown jam and appeals to save old clothes. Our message needs to be a forward-looking one of hope, prosperity and technological progress.

Unfortunately, I am almost 100% certain this will not work. The AGW movement thrives on (justified) alarmism. Forsaking this, especially at this late stage of the game, will only serve to relegate the issues to the backburner (until it burns us all). If it hadn’t been for their depictions of fiery Hell, the high priests of any civilization wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective at preventing sin, or legitimizing the state that made both sins and high priests possible. (In a collapsed anarchy, there is neither).

Revolutions aren’t made by sissies, not when the people themselves are against the revolutionaries anyway. We must press on and attack, undermine the capitalist-industrial System in every way possible. (Necessary disclaimer: legally, of course). The time for waiting, for pointless Earth Days and meaningless street solicitations for Greenpeace, or for green Gramscian subversion to show results, is past. The hour is late. Green socialism must be pursued with Bolshevik fervor.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Now we’ve all known for some time that Britain is degenerating into a neoliberal version of East Germany, with its endemic surveillance and database wet dreams, and few things really surprise me any more, but every so often it manages to plumb an even deeper level of insanity. This time the thieving crooks and totalitarian freaks who run Britain want to install CCTV cameras in people’s homes:

THOUSANDS of the worst families in England are to be put in “sin bins” in a bid to change their bad behaviour, [AK: the aptly named] Ed Balls announced yesterday.

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes. They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals. Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

What with all the unprecedented budget deficits, money printing and soaring debt, I’m sure spending more money spying on the population is an excellent idea. I’m not even being sarcastic here. As the government steps up its repressive and unpopular policies, resulting in ever more disillusionment and resentment, this actually constitutes an essential investment in state security. The accompanying expansion of the overgrown nanny state is aimed at making children of the population, incapable of resisting the state’s spreading, suffocating tentacles.

Around 2,000 families have gone through these Family Intervention Projects so far. But ministers want to target 20,000 more in the next two years, with each costing between £5,000 and £20,000 – a potential total bill of £400million. Ministers hope the move will reduce the number of youngsters who get drawn into crime because of their chaotic family lives, as portrayed in Channel 4 comedy drama Shameless.

Sin bin projects operate in half of council areas already but Mr Balls wants every local authority to fund them. He said: “This is pretty tough and non-negotiable support for families to get to the root of the problem. There should be Family Intervention Projects in every local authority area because every area has families that need support.”

But Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: “This is all much too little, much too late. [AK: what a freak] “This Government has been in power for more than a decade during which time anti-social behaviour, family breakdown and problems like alcohol abuse and truancy have just got worse and worse.”

Or how about you prune welfare, make at least a half-assed attempt at escaping the coming debt / hyper-inflationary spiral (take your pick) and actually encourage these chavs to work for their living.

Mr Balls also said responsible parents who make sure their children behave in school will get new rights to complain about those who allow their children to disrupt lessons. Pupils and their families will have to sign behaviour contracts known as Home School Agreements before the start of every year, which will set out parents’ duties to ensure children behave and do their homework.

The updated Youth Crime Action Plan also called for a crackdown on violent girl gangs as well as drug and alcohol abuse among young women. But a decision to give ministers new powers to intervene with failing local authority Youth Offending Teams was criticised by council leaders.

1. Its old industrial cities in the north, west and Scotland, once home to great shipbuilding, coal and car industries, have been transformed into urban wastelands by the dogmas of the neoliberal consensus. Ironically, far from leading to greater personal responsibility and enterprise, Britain instead experienced social breakdown, deindustrialization and paradoxically, a metastasized state with universal surveillance and databases, political spin, a burgeoning bureaucracy and ever expanding welfare rolls to support the demoralized victims of market fundamentalism. Consider ‘Soviet’ Britain swells amid the recession:

PARTS of the United Kingdom have become so heavily dependent on government spending that the private sector is generating less than a third of the regional economy, a new analysis has found. The study of “Soviet Britain” has found the government’s share of output and expenditure has now surged to more than 60% in some areas of England and over 70% elsewhere. …

Across the whole of the UK, 49% of the economy will consist of state spending, while in Wales, the figure will be 71.6% – up from 59% in 2004-5. Nowhere in mainland Britain, however, comes close to Northern Ireland, where the state is responsible for 77.6% of spending, despite the supposed resurgence of the economy after the end of the Troubles. Even in southern England, the government’s share of spending is growing relentlessly. In the southeast, it has gone up from 33% to 36% of the economy in four years.

The state now looms far larger in many parts of Britain than it did in former Soviet satellite states such as Hungary and Slovakia as they emerged from communism in the 1990s, when state spending accounted for about 60% of their economies. … One of the biggest public sector employers in the northeast is the Department of Work and Pensions, which employs 13,400 there, hundreds of them in jobcentres [AK: the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy, etc].

Furthermore, southern England’s apparent dynamism came from the real estate bubble and “innovative” development of new financial instruments. We all know how that turned out… Then the article mentions a Liberal Democrat pinko blathering that “the state’s grip on the regions was likely to soften the impact of recession there”. Well, yes. As long as the state holds. But considering that even in comparison with the US, a) Britain is more deindustrialized, b) its imbalances with respect to the rest of the world are far larger as a percentage of GDP, c) it’s more burdened by government and consumer indebtedness, and d) it has far gloomier energy futures (to be explored in more detail below), the specter of state collapse will haunt the British isles over the next decade. Considering that Britons are older and rely on the state for their livelihoods to a much greater extent than Americans, the disintegration of the center will produce a far great social shock in Britain than in the US.

2. Out of all the big European states, Britain probably faces the darkest dark ages – quite literally. France will get by comfortably on nuclear power for a few more decades. Germany has one of the most advanced renewable energy sectors, a breathing coal industry and good relations with Russia, or more to the point Gazprom. So does Italy. Meanwhile, the UK is mothballing its power production capacities and its natural gas production is going into irreversible decline. It is indeed telling that the Economist is now condemning past British governments for relying on the vagaries of open energy markets!

North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds [AK: looks like the Economist is at last beginning to believe that energy resources are finite after all, contrary to its earlier claims]. By 2015 four of Britain’s ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power [AK: and they have a low EROEI]. There will be a shortfall—perhaps of as much as 20GW—which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin’s deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia [AK: the Economist is again behind the curve; give a few more years, and they'll be sucking up to Russia for its gas].

Many of Britain’s neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers’ club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

In terms of energy policy, this is almost criminal—as bad as any other planning failure in New Labour’s 12-year reign (though the opposition Tories are hardly brimming with ideas). British politicians, after all, have had 30 years to prepare for the day when the hydrocarbons beneath the North Sea run out; it is hardly a national secret that the country’s nuclear plants are old and its coal-power stations filthy. Recession has only delayed the looming energy crunch… [read the lengthier article The looming electricity crunch: Dark days ahead for more detail].

Nuclear plants are being decommissioned and coal usage is being reduced, not only for environmental reasons, but also because coal seams are steadily becoming poorer in energy content. Plans to build 33GW of off-shore wind generating capacity are hot air. This would require the building of 5,000 wind turbines over 11 years, which is unrealistic in the present economic conditions, and this is discounting their extremely poor EROEI and weather fluctuations which cause 25GW of wind power on paper to be worth only 5GW in practice. By the mid-2010′s, Britain will be facing a big energy shortfall and will experience intermittent blackouts and brownouts. Its already heavy reliance on gas, which currently generates 46% of the electricity supply, will only increase.

Unfortunately, UK natural gas production peaked in 2000 and has since declined at a rate of 8-10% per year, so it is expected to import 80% of its consumption by 2020. (This will necessitate the expansion of LNG terminals, which is a very capital-intensive and time-consuming enterprise). Were it not for the recession and a warm winter, it is likely that the UK would have run out of gas in storage before the end of winter in 2009; as it is, we can expect this to happen once the stimulus-fueled recovery kicks in. So no wonder we are all socialists now, even the Economist:

All this leaves Britain in a hole. The lights are dimming, but green targets are an argument against new coal plants, security-of-supply concerns make gas dicey, lack of time rules out nuclear, and worries about practicality dog renewables.

The situation is so bad that many former fans are openly questioning Britain’s hands-off approach to energy, which it has spent the past decade trying to export, particularly to Europe. Lord Browne, a well-regarded former boss of BP who now heads the Royal Academy of Engineering, wants to see state-owned banks forced to invest in renewables and has spoken warmly of the dirigiste policies of Tony Benn, the hard-left minister who ran Britain’s energy department in the 1970s. Malcolm Wicks, who has twice been energy minister, warned Gordon Brown on August 5th that the reliance on “companies, competition and liberalisation” should be reassessed, and counselled state intervention to boost nuclear power.

All this assumes, of course, that the state will continue to function like business-as-usual. That is unlikely. As pointed out above, Britain is caught between the Scylla of hyper-inflationary fire and the Charybdis of a debt trap freeze. Its government may simply lose the fiscal capability to rebuild the energy infrastructure or buy natural gas from anyone.

3. Along with mounting economic difficulties, corruption and authoritarianism, the British state is likely to experience separatist tensions. The Scottish population is ambiguous about independence, but the rush to autonomy will accelerate as it becomes clear the ship of state is capsizing. Though the North Sea oil fields are in decline, they are still very valuable and substantial, especially when spread out over 6mn instead of 60mn people.

Benighted, state-dependent Northern Ireland will increasingly look to its dynamic southern neighbor. Though the Irish Republic is currently floundering and making deep cuts to its welfare state, in the longer run I believe Ireland has good prospects. Its healthy demography precludes the pension time bombs facing developed Europe and Japan, and as a newly-developed nation, the Irish possess a deeper level of communal tradition and ties with the land than is the case in most of Western Europe. This will mitigate the humanitarian impacts of a shriveling welfare state, and the rest will be washed away with Guinness. Its abundant land per capita makes a repeat of its 19th century Malthusian crisis unlikely, though if civilization really does collapse in a few decades it will be reconquered by the English.

Speaking of whom, in the here and now, even the English increasingly want out, because of the perception that Scots dominate the British nation. The Scots get many benefits that the English don’t, like lower university tuition fees and cheaper prescription drugs, despite paying the same taxes. If it hadn’t been for the Scots, then Labour wouldn’t have been in power for the last decade. Flying the British flag and toasting the Queen is considered quaint, as loyalties slowly shift from Britannia back to Albion.

It would not be surprising if within a decade we will see the following developments: an independent or very autonomous Scotland; a Northern Ireland reabsorbed into the Republic of Eire; and an independent England & Wales. Everyone benefits. England stop transferring resources to its poorer peripheries; Scotland gets lots of oil and a chance to wean itself off the state; and the Irish isles are again united. The numerous military facilities in Scotland will presumably be leased to England and there will be peaceful squabbles over the proprietorship of British assets abroad.

4. In tandem with its slide into societal and economic oblivion, Britain is becoming an essentially Orwellian society. Local councils use spy planes to identify persons guilty of energy wastage. The government prosecutes poets and bans political commentators. Teenagers can be served ASBOs, which can include imprisonment and other punishments, based on anonymous tip-offs. One news story I remember from when I lived there glorified a man who ratted out on his son for possessing a gun, who got 5 years in jail for his patriotic act. According to an intriguing admission from the Economist, “no policeman has ever been convicted of murder or manslaughter for a death following police contact, though there have been more than 400 such deaths in the past ten years alone”. Parliament has become a nest of corruption. 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras blanket Britain’s public spaces and there are all kinds of freakish schemes to expand one-way surveillance over the entirety of society:

Want to be an investigative journalist of the future? You’ll need a pen and paper, pay-as-you-go phone, and a motorbike. We’ll explain the motorbike later. But you may be an endangered species. New regulations that came into force last week – requiring telephone and internet companies to keep logs of what numbers are called, and which websites and email services and internet telephony contacts are made – have left some wondering if investigative journalism, with its need to protect sources (and its sources’ need, often, for protection), has been dealt a killer blow. …

“I would say that investigative reporting is desperately threatened by what this government is doing. I’ve been thinking a long time about how to stay one step ahead of the game,” says the Brighton-based investigative journalist Duncan Campbell (not the reporter of the same name on this paper). “The good news is that the surveillance methods that would close down what we do are still one step away. This isn’t the one that does the real harm.”

That will come, Campbell thinks, when the police put all sorts of information – vehicle licence plates’ movements, emails, phone callsinto a real-time system that anyone can access. But that’s not to say the new regulations will not have an impact.

Investigative journalists, and anyone with minimal concern for their privacy in general, will have to go “off the grid”, an increasingly difficult undertaking because of the state’s growing suspicions, authoritarianism and power. And abuse of the system won’t be limited to zealous anti-terrorism officers and tax officials. Even now, corruption is visibly growing at the highest levels: as soon as there is an economic collapse, it will spill over into the rest of society and become a societal norm like in Third World nations. Know the right people and reach an understanding with them, and you’ll get the unrestricted use of all these extensive government databases for yourself (even today the government’s data security is woefully bad). By “you” I don’t mean the ordinary man or woman, of course, but politically connected bigwigs, corporations and mafiosi. Facing no resistance from an apathetic population pining for the nanny state to protect them from terrorists, yobs, and responsibility in general, the British state is stealthily assembling an impressive apparatus for monitoring, controlling and exploiting the population.

Yet ultimately, as a wise guy once said, every country has the government it deserves. Britain is no exception. Respect for education is far lower than in Europe or the US (yes, the US, the usual British snickering to the contrary). University courses are shorter (3 years for a Bachelors, another 2 for a phD) than in Europe or the US, and are almost exclusively aimed at developing narrow and over-specialized, but marketable, skills. The development of a conscientious citizenry with a broader understanding of global issues is given short shrift, all the better for the elites. Creationism is making a comeback in the schools, most prominently in the “city academies” so prominently lauded by Blair and his goons. A recent poll showed half of Brits had cardinal disagreements with Darwin, and most disturbingly there were more evolution-deniers amongst youth than amongst the middle-aged. And such examples of cultural, social and economic decline can be continued ad infinitum.

I don’t seek to condemn, but merely to point out what I see as a panoply of unpleasant truths about Britain, truths which its media would rather spin away rather than tie together (tellingly, the media spin industry is one area where Britain really is unrivaled in its professionalism and sophistication – a pity the talent there is not doing something a bit more useful). Ultimately, Britain’s cultural decay is a symptom, not a cause, of underlying economic, energetic and civilizational stresses which I termed the Malthusian Loop in my article The Belief Matrix. The days of British rationalism and greatness are long gone; “Malthusian” problems have been in evidence since the 1970′s, not yet in terms of population stress but surely in the economy. Now we are heading into a world where “scanning” for solutions is going to be repressed, step by step, and where rulers impose rigid behavioral controls and promote self-aggrandizing propaganda. And this is common to the West and even the entire world. Britain’s dubious distinction is that it is one of the most advanced nations in this prelude to civilizational collapse.

To conclude, Britain faces a series of interlocking crises worse than in practically any other developed nation: a) unsustainable bubble economy & imbalances, b) an emerging energy predicament, c) separatist undercurrents, d) a metastasizing, opaque state, e) cultural decline and creeping spread of corruption. The stresses are growing and one day they will spill into the open, almost certainly within the next decade. You might want to skip island beforehand.

‘Soviet’ Britain swells amid the recession

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Consequent to my post Categorizing the Russia Debate and the lively debate it spawned, it occurred to me that much of Russia’s tortured and intriguing history could be rationalized as a self-reinforcing loop within a belief matrix. This can even be extended further to many other societies – I will also have similar posts up for a) Germany’s “Reich cycles”, b) America’s “liberty cycles” and c) the continuous “radical redefining of terms” that characterized Soviet history from 1914 to 1953. Here I will focus on outlining my theoretical framework (the concept of a belief matrix); then I will post about how it can be applied to different societies.

My assumption is that societies can be defined along two axes – their degree of ease with themselves, and with the West. By the latter, I mean specifically the Idea of the West: acceptance of the scientific method; rule of law; economic rationalism; and liberalism. An important semantic point is that these should not be conflated with “Western countries” (the US, the UK, France, etc); though they have, by most measures, internalized the Idea of the West to a far greater extent than most other cultures, they cannot ever reach unity with it because they are, at root, organic, human societies, whereas the Idea of the West is an absolute.

The other axis denotes how content a civilization is with its traditions. The default steady state is acceptive; though occasionally challenged by dissidents who reject tradition, society is characterized by a state of sobornost – a deep sense of spiritual harmony amongst classes, regions, races and sexes. Or as my definition of Russophilia goes, they understand, accept, forgive and unconditionally love their community / nation. This can break down when a culture is faced with unexpected challenges, such as Malthusian crises in the pre-industrial era or contact with the West (or rather its manifestations in British gunships and American multinational companies) in the modern era. In the latter case, society typically enthusiastically embraces the trappings of the West and rejects its own traditions, after viewing them from the Western frame of reference. This causes severe internal dislocations, leading to disillusionment and culminating in a vehement rejection of Western values, to an extent impossible in its absense. One can view Bolshevism, Nazism, fascism and radical Islamism as extreme forms of this rejection (and by rejection, implicit acceptance), relying as they do on Western technics in their attempts to recreate an imagined past.

The “Western countries” are unique in that somehow or other they have succeeded in substantially imprinting the Idea of the West onto their own traditions. This is much harder than it sounds. The scientific method is alien and unfamiliar to the peasant mind filled with images of rain gods and trickster demons. The rule of law cannot sit well in human societies traditionally reliant on communal coercion, “big man” influence and sacrificial scapegoating. Economic rationalism is anathema to subsistence societies, characterized as they are by reciprocal, socially-determined networks of gifts. Market forces, by destroying this communal spirit, would tear these societies apart, hence the universal disdain for merchants, usury, etc, typical of all rural pre-industrial societies (e.g. see Aristotle discovers the economy, Karl Polanyi). And liberalism (rights for all, including minorities) frequently stands in opposition to democracy (the generally anti-market, conformist will of the people).

It is probably no surprise that capitalism and liberalism historically developed most vigorously in the United States, with its abundant high-quality land and scarce labor yielding massive per capita surpluses. The Idea of the West first appeared in the “West” because of the region’s inheritance of Latin (law) and Germanic (customs) traditions, favorable geographic factors (long coastlines, good rivers and fertile, varied climes) and comparatively successful control of population pressures (through fertility suppression – West Europeans married later and had fewer children than most other civilizations, and later outmigration to their colonies). That said, it should be emphasized that even here relations between the West and tradition were uneasy and factitious; as I emphasize again, the Idea of the West is an ideal which humans can only aspire to, but never reach unity with.

Having laid out the basic concepts, it is now time to look at two general cases of human socio-spiritual dynamics: Malthusian (what happens to belief systems when a traditional society exceeds the carrying capacity of the land and begins to fall apart?) and Western (what happens to traditional societies when they come into contact with the West?). Both begin at the same place.

State of Stasis

At first, society is in a state of stasis, of sobornost. As in all traditional societies the individual submits to the communal will and the sovereign will (the Lord, the Emperor, Allah, etc)… and is all the happier for it. From Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Hard to comprehend for an individualistic Westerner, perhaps. But this is the way most people lived throughout the eons of human existence. Stadtluft macht frei?? Perhaps Arbeit macht frei isn’t so far off the mark.

(Here I would rush to add the caveat that this only applies to communal work where everyone partakes and lacks knowledge of and is too unimaginative to imagine any “better” alternative, such as aristocratic indolence or financial speculation. This is patently not the case in industrial societies and explains the failure of totalitarian attempts to go back to the future).

The Malthusian Loop

Before the industrial era, all societies were subject to Malthusian dynamics in which population growth saturated the carrying capacity of the land and leveled off at an unstable plateau. The period of high growth was typically regarded as a Golden Age of bucolic virtue (e.g. republican Rome), which I’ve labeled The Rise of Empire. Because of limits to growth, this could not last. Subsistence stress resulted in the growth of cities and large standing armies to soak up the landless poor, and literate bureaucrats to manage the new problems. Paradoxically, even as problems loomed on the horizons many aspects of culture like literacy, inventiveness, etc, flourished. This is because society encouraged its thinkers to “scan” for solutions to these problems.

However, these same cities and intelligentsia fuel feelings of resentment on the part of peasants on account of a) their perceived decadence and lasciviousness and b) the fact that said degenerates are supported by their taxes. To accommodate the rising reaction and diminishing surpluses, politicians and kings are forced to go back to the future. Way back. Quoting from my notes on Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies:

At this point, decomposition rapidly becomes inevitable as “scanning” ceases, for the system no longer has the surpluses to do it. In most cases rigid behavioral controls are imposed, innovation and positive change is stymied and corruption, authoritarianism and feudalism begin to dominate … for society is enslaved to its own myths of superiority and delusions of grandeur.

… Censuses and historical detail thin, as literacy and science declined during this period to be replaced by an “increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation”, as well as by “increased propaganda about patriotism, ancient Roman values, and superiority over the barbarians”.

Yet this is only a stopgap measure, for by now eventual demise is inevitable:

Increasingly radical attempts to save the system, even cardinally change it, cannot permanently reserve the trend towards further complexity and disequilibrium; eventually, everyone loses faith in the system and there is a severe collapse. …

… According to RM Adams, “By the fifth century, men were ready to abandon civilization itself in order to escape the fearful load of taxes”. In 476, after being denied payment or settlement in Italy, the Roman barbarian army mutinied, sacked Rome and deposed Romulus Augustus, the last Western Emperor.

In other words, society begins by rejecting the Idea of the West (in those times, “rule of law” and Greek scientific-rationalism), and the state intensifies efforts to both legitimize itself and coerce people into believing in it. But nonetheless, a breaking point is eventually reached and society loses faith in the state (hitherto, tradition), culminating in the collapse of civilization, a prolonged period of anarchy and reversion to older forms of social existence focused on family, clan and community (denoted as The Collapse of Civilization).

During the anarchic period, there is a “radical redefinition of terms” as patriotism (faith in country) goes from being an accepted tradition, to a rejected tradition: for once the Sun dawns over the new Dark Ages, the peasant commune; the manor; self-sufficiency, etc – these are now the new pillars of traditions. Any surviving agents of the state (soldiers turned brigands, renegade tax collectors, the urban intelligentsia, etc) are its enemies.

After a few dark centuries, roving bandits seize permanent control of settlements, and become stationary bandits with an interest in development and permanent extraction instead of pillage. Localism, mysticism, anti-statism, etc, once again become heresies. The specter of the state rises anew, rewinding the loop to Year Zero.

The Sisyphean Loop

When a traditional society comes into contact with the West, there occurs a great deal of turbulence, much like in a society in the throes of Malthusian crisis. This loop is reproduced below:

As attested to by numerous chronicles, first contact with Westerners by less advanced civilizations results in fascination and a determination to catch up, especially to acquire its military-industrial technologies to prevent Western predation. The two cleanest examples of defensive modernizations are seen in Japan during the Tokugawa and Meiji eras, and repeatedly in Russian history (Muscovy under Ivan the Terrible, the Russian Empire under Peter the Great and Alexander II, Stalin, Putin?).

Local traditions are seen as incompatible with modernization and are rejected by the ruling elites, often stirring social unrest as the internal balance of power is disturbed. There occurs a growing gap between the Westernizing elites and the more traditional mass of society. The former come to be seen as foreign leeches on indigenous soil, decadent and degenerate; using the rhetoric of Westernization to feed themselves (e.g. see the French-speaking Tsarist aristocracy). This in turn discredits further Westernization, especially once the easiest (and ostensibly most useful) task of military modernization is completed. The people and the elites lose faith in the West: the former because they associate it with degeneracy and corruption (e.g. the Russian workers and peasants most aware of it: because of the development of railway systems, even a peasant from a rural backwater could now comprehend the parasitic decadence of the Court), the latter because of the shallow nationalism consequent from reinvigorated military, economic and cultural strength accruing from limited modernization. There is a gradual movement now back towards tradition (e.g. Slavophilia, the intelligentsia’s idolization of peasant life, etc).

But now one of two things happens. A part of the elite realizes that their decadence is politically dangerous (a large gap between the masses and the elites presages revolution), and tries to move back towards indigenous traditions – back to the people, so to speak. This is opposed by another part of the elite that has gotten used to its perks and privileges, despite the spiritual anomie in which they are stuck because of this. The ruling elites become disunited and weak; the masses are increasingly disillusioned with the whole system; new ideologues appear, preaching about total rejection of the West (e.g. the Bolsheviks) and a return to an imagined past of purity and virtue, i.e. to tradition (e.g. the radical Islamists who overthrew the Iranian Shah).

There appears a crisis, further straining divisions in the government and polarizing society in general (e.g. World War One). Eventually the government is forced to reform, but alas and alack, as per de Tocqueville the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to try to get better. By reversing course and showing weakness, it delegitimizes itself in the face of crisis; furthermore, it frequently becomes more democratic just when the people are becoming more hardline, and extremists (Bolsheviks, Islamists, etc) are waiting in the wings. The extremists moderate their positions to win over the people and consolidate their control; after that they unleash terror, taking the country into the far-top fringes of uncompromising rejection of the West. This is the dark region where totalitarianisms rise and democides are unleashed.

On the other hand, if the elite remains united; if the crisis is not very severe; if the people retain a firm belief in the Idea of the West and are unswayed by the extremists, then a more moderate outcome can be expected – a reversion back to the past, the state of stasis, yet having assimilated some elements of the Idea of the West during its loop so now “better” and perhaps “fairer” than before (at least by the standards of more Westernized states). They remain in this comatose state until another shock (e.g. defeat in war by a more Westernized nation, or recognition of weakness) forced them to act, restarting the loop.

Why do I call this a Sisyphean loop? Because while it lasts this basically explains a tortured nation’s attempts to catch up with “the West” (roll the rock to the top of the mountain), but never managing it (the rock keeps going back downhill). This is very pronounced in Russia – it’s entire history since gunpowder Muscovy has been one of quixotic attempts to catch up to and surpass the West, yet which all too often ended in catastrophes wrought of messianic delusions, and prolonged periods of stagnation, decline and frustration. I will explore its dynamics more closely in an upcoming post, focusing on a) the continuous “radical redefining of terms” that characterized Soviet history from 1914 to 1953, b) the belief dynamics of the post-1988 transition and c) its prospects for the future: sovereign democratization (the “Putin Plan” – democratization / Westernization on its own terms / while retaining belief in tradition), return to authoritarian stasis (Russia’s “natural state”, in both meanings of the term), totalitarianism or liberalization?

Yet this is not specific to Russia, it’s just that the overall dynamic is most visible there. Even nominally “Western nations” like the US – that archetype of the West – is imprisoned within the Sisyphean loop. It’s just that through the accumulated circular momentum of liberal tradition, the structure of its political system that moderates sharp swings towards extremism in the population and of the media which muffles extremist voices, and most importantly its reconciliation of liberalism with popular democracy, its “liberty loops” manage to remain anchored firmly within the bottom-right quadrant, well away from the instability brought on by the disillusionment / rejection of tradition of the left, and the totalitarianism of the top. But what makes the US a spiritually much more satisfied nation is that the very organic nature of the integration of its sobornost and Westernism makes Americans unaware that they life in the Belief Matrix, just like everyone else.

Laws of the Matrix

Why do I call it a matrix? a) because it is a matrix / grid, and b) in honor of the films, of course – whereas people believe they have free will, in reality all choices are predetermined and our only task is to try to understand and accept why we made those choices (in itself a Sisyphean-like endeavor – so yes, don’t bother pointing it out, I know I’m in the Matrix too).

Law of Skewed Perspectives – ideologically skewed people have warped perspectives on other people, interpreting moderates as biased; and those slightly biased, as irrevocably so. If political leaders are sufficiently out of sync, then the people are radicalized in the other direction.

Law of Quantum Truth – any individual finds it hard to judge the position of another, including herself; this is best done by a large number of individual, informed observations which tend to build a probability map around the likely position. Malevolent ideological opponents would represent the extreme edges of that probability map as that individual’s true position, whereas in fact it is not (or at least very rarely so).

Law of Circularity – at its extremes, ideologies converge (or flip). For instance, shout very loudly that you are a zealot for progress, justice, freedom, etc, even as your actions forsake those ideals. Examples: Bolsheviks, neocons, liberasts.

Law of Extremism – they tend to flip if they do, but they need to be in separate enclaves to build up into really extremist movements. Violent revolutions tend to happen during agrarian-industrial transitions because you have lots of self-contained classes thinking similarly and very opposed to each other (e.g. urban proletariat, the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy, etc); these differences tend to become less extreme in the later stages of industrialism when there is greater social mobility.

Radical Redefinition of Terms – how traditions are defined, and hence whom the community accepts and whom it rejects. A good illustration is the Russian Revolution: Bolsheviks came from being viewed as traitorous outcasts in 1914, to heroic defenders of the Motherland by 1918 against the foreign-backed Whites – who had themselves become heretics. During the 1930′s, the Party turned on itself and consigned many Old Bolshevik stalwarts into oblivion. Severe shocks can lead to a RRoT from below, while totalitarian regimes can perform RRoT’s from above.

Law of Chaos – big, sudden changes lead to instability, chaos, unpredictability, e.g. after radical redefinition of terms.

Law of Distance and Antipathy – the more distant you are from a certain viewpoint, the more you hate them. Hence the reason moderates are moderates, and extremists are not.

Law of Social Development – agrarian (collective belief → stability, rigidity, conservatism, but catastrophic breakdown if system fails); industrial (less collective, more skeptical, but still similar); post-industrial (atomized, enclave concentrations, very skeptical).

Law of Heresy – the totalitarian mind, in its rejection of the West and fervent rediscovery of traditional belief, views all deviations from orthodoxy as heresy (see Law of Skewed Perspectives, which applies to ideologues).

As commentators Scowspi and Kolya in the Categorizing the Russia Debate discussion noted, true artists are by definition dissidents (at least in the opinion of other dissident artists ;) ), hence they find life tough in totalitarian societies and may themselves become extreme in their dissidence.

The concept of heresy is alien only to someone who completely internalizes the Idea of the West (this is of course impossible in practice).

Consequences for the Future

We live in a very, very interesting time. I’m sure the next few decades will be far more fun than even the first half of the twentieth century in Europe, though whether this is a good thing is an entirely different question.

1) The Sisyphean Loop will remain as strong as ever as societies try to reconcile their traditions with the West and to internalize the paradox that is liberal democracy. Whereas there have been some major discontinuities this century, the dominant trend is that the power of liberal democracy is taking sway throughout the entire world – if not in reality, at least as an ideal. Practically all nations, except a few in the tortured Dar al-Islam (where Islamism constitutes a major alternative, albeit discredited by rational people), accept liberal democracy as the optimal form of government, much as Fukuyama observed in his “end of history” thesis”.

2) But… there remain lingering attractions for the dark splendor of totalitarian ideologies, which are supported by the eternally valid justifications of moral relativism and post-modernism. All that’s needed is the force to implement it, which is rather lacking as of now…

3) Perhaps not for long though. The Malthusian belief cycle is reasserting itself in the shadows of industrial civilization – the polluted, drying rivers; the depleting oil fields; the melting permafrost releasing Siberian methane into the atmosphere; failed states and spreading chaos; the democratization of the means of making terror from the state to the individual.

4) Right now, I would say the world as a whole turned a corner with the 2008 Crisis (a much less noticed, but in reality more significant thing about that date is that it was most likely the year of peak oil production). “Scanning” was much in progress during the 1970′s-2000′s (clean energy, “sustainable development”, etc), when energy and ecological problems first made themselves felt. I think the 2010′s will see a heightened period of chaos, governments everywhere will become more authoritarian and new colonial empires will emerge. “Scanning” will within one to two decades be suppressed and confined within certain parameters as governments begin to chronically fear instability and collapse, fear that nothing they can do will save their societies from collapse. (They are already preparing: note the proliferation of CCTV cameras, databases, militarized security forces, etc). Quite possibly questioning the health and desirability of industrial civilization will come to be classed as subversive, perhaps under the rubric of the war against terror.

5) Then there’s the Internet and connectivity. Though often touted as democratizing and enlightening, this is not always the case: totalitarianism becomes more total than anything dreamt up by the despots of yore in the age of ubiquitous mass surveillance, and extremism is honed, not blunted (see enclave extremism). Like all previous technologies, the Internet cannot be anything more than a reflection of the society that exploits it. And our societies do not appear to have bright futures ahead of them…

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.