What is going on?
Llaszlo Kiss•November 29, 2019
We all feel things are not going well, there are those who struggle, and then some who have less difficulties, but there are ever fewer people who can sit back and lead a peaceful, decent life. More and more losers, hopelessness, inertia, and more and more people feel they are losing control over their lives. Insecurity, anxiety, and fear make us isolated, vulnerable, unstable, and anger seeks channels to emanate. And it comes handy for those in power who are ready with those channels, ready to tell us who to blame, who has to be hated, who to fear.
Thus, come the bad and worse answers to justified emotions - not only do they not lead to a solution, but the spiral of hate eventually can lead us to war.
Therefore, it is very important that we work to understand what is happening. To understand that in today's situation power-driven divisions, hatred is the biggest obstacle to finding a solution together.
Where do we stand?
Two quintessential trends seem to define the era in which we live. One is climate change and the other is the process leading from political-economic crises through the emaciation of democracy to fascism and war.
We are living the end game of capitalism, which, by the logic of the system, leads to fascism. Monopolized big capital is seeking ever-broader, and ultimately total control over social decisions, labor, and consumption in order to minimize investment risks and maximize profits. And because efficiency is its' evolutionary and intrinsic feature, it is not picky when it comes to methods.
Orwell himself allegedly warned in an interview on his death bed that the dreaded dystopia he described in 1984 could become a very realistic scenario - if we let it come through.
(Technology for example, is a double-edged weapon, it can be liberating, but it can also be used for total repression. By making communications virtually global, free and real-time, we have given up control over our personal information - our privacy. All of our communications, internet activity, financial transactions, health records, and even travels are stored, and we have no idea where or who can access it. While we think we have nothing to hide, we have become completely vulnerable - data can be changed without our knowledge (fingerprints will not remain on bits), we have no control over them, one may at any time insert some suspicious terrorist messages, child pornography, or drug deal into the data of someone they find uncomfortable. Anyone who wants can find out more about us, simply and quickly, than our closest friend, family member, or even ourselves. In the '16 US presidential election and in the first Brexit memorandum, we saw how effectively it can be used - against us. We have only one chance to regain control: a system, a legislation that truly represents our, the wider society's' interests.)
One of the fundamental internal contradictions of capitalism is that wages (as one of the most important cost factors) are increasingly being cut for maximum profit. This has been achieved so far either by increasing working hours, or by employing women (and children) or, most recently, by outsourcing production to developing countries. Or - and in the next decade we will see this happening more and more - through robotization, automation. In each case less and less wages are paid, which in turn leads to a reduction in purchasing power and shrinking market. The unemployed will spend only on the necessities, the homeless will spend even less. Sales are falling, there is no point investing, no new business is being launched, existing ones are being rationalized, this will result in even lower employment and wages, less purchasing power and a crisis. (In fact, we have long reached the stage where payments do not cover the required consumption, and the temporary solution to this is credit. But this loan is only for consumption, not for investment. And then, when those loans go down en masse, it's up to governments to pull the banks out of the shit - out of taxpayers' money.) Logically, there are going to be more and more crises, until no one is able to rebuild the system, lose the credibility of leadership, and create a vacuum of power. On the other side, the mass base of fascism is created: the middle class is thinning, and the declasse mass that is losing its livelihood is an ideal subject for demagogic, hateful politics.
(The idea of the universal basic income, which even ultra-conservative economists in advanced economies have considered, is very eloquent. The system pays you only to be able to consume. This shows that in a fair distribution system, a fraction of today's workers would be able to sustain society, that employment is artificially high, much of the work done is simply meaningless drudge and has nothing to do with creative work. Although universal basic income would be only symptomatic treatment, even partial liberation from wage slavery and existential insecurity can be a catalyst for change that is inevitable anyway.)
The other internal contradiction is the characteristic phenomenon that capitalism cannot exist without growth. Cancer, or the Ponzi scheme, is a good analogy. Without growth, the whole system will collapse. (Some people think that capitalism can exist without growth, but in practice we see growth as an indicator of the success of every economy. And even when less than 3% growth of the GDP, they are talking about a crisis.) However, living on a planet where there is no way out yet, sooner rather than later growth will reach its limits. The limit, in this case, is the ability of the planet to sustain human conditions. The planet has been here for a few billion years, and it will be here for a few billion years, but the (equilibrium) state in which homo sapiens can exist is extremely delicate. The Earth is not going to sweat a few degrees Celsius more and species extinct by catastrophes will be replaced in few hundred thousand years - humanity will only destroy its own living conditions. We see this happening at an accelerating pace.
That's why more and more people come to the conclusion that green capitalism, friendly capitalism, sustainable capitalism does not exist. The essential property of a system like cancer's, is growth, even at the cost of the destruction of the host. Simply, if it doesn't grow, then it's not cancer. And not capitalism.
(Climate change caused by human activity is now a fact. We can call it fact if 98% of experts agree with it. And how telling is that some of the so-called climate deniers are over-exposed by the system-controlled media. One of them has even become President of the United States, which tells us everything about the system. By the way, the debate whether it is happening or not, is like when the parties are arguing between the rails about whether or not a train is coming. )
Is there better alternative to capitalism?
Capitalism is not good or bad. There was time when it was progressive, but today it has reached a stage where it is not only an obstacle of progress but also a threat to the future of humanity, both ecologically and socially. Climate disaster and fascism, what seems to follow. However, it is not for me to know better, but for all of us together. Not one person will pull the world out of shit, but a social system that is geared towards positive selection, which uses the wisdom of the masses and supports the individual's creativity at the same time. And the creation of, and thoughtful dialogue about this new system is indeed our most important task. There is no ready-made answer to seek for (the new form of society will not be invented, it will evolve organically), rather, for a direction and modus operandi which guarantees, or at least favors, the widest possible social representation, cooperation, justice, harnessing the benefits of technology to the benefit of all (including, of course, the environment). We need to build an environment where good seeds can grow and bad ones die.
I believe that only some kind of democracy can motivate society and its members in a positive direction, where the individual is ready to take responsibility for his or her own and the general social decisions, because he or she has a genuine involvement in them. I think that there will be some kind of granular democracy, where people, rather than delegating representatives to some central decision-making body which take central decisions on local issues, will tend to take local decisions locally, being involved personally and directly. After all, locally, everyone around knows what the right decision is, or everyone might personally know the one to delegate their right to make local decisions and can immediately replace them if they prove to be untrustworthy. Such local organizations can then organically form into a general system, which may or may not need some sort of central controlling authority. Let's call it emergent democracy. (An emergent property is a property which a collection or complex system has, but which the individual members do not have. Like in an anthill or bee hive, where the "sum" of simple partial decisions gives rise to a highly organized, higher order of social functioning.) This way, a highly organized society can develop as a result of the aggregation of its' individuals' conscious and responsible decisions.
In history, major social changes have always been driven by the rise of new technologies. Technology that in our days is evolving at an unprecedented rate will be the base of a new society, a new economy, where the productive power is no longer work but information. In production, new collaborative forms will evolve based on open source, sharing, crowd sourcing. Sales and distribution are transformed into peer to peer. And the biggest change is that the information can not be priced, it has no monetary value. (One can make any number of identical copies of a file.) If the economy is based on free information, there is no exchange value, no market, but abundance, sharing, and cooperation. The (near) future freedom fight will be for the freedom of information, so battlefields are likely to be the systems protecting databases and networks.
What does the future look like today?
Both utopia and dystopia are in the deck (that's why we can't sit with our arms folded).
The evolution of networks, the Internet, the inverse and exponential decline / increase in the price and performance of processors / data storage, and the free, global and real-time availability of information is behind the revolution. Communication is already essentially free and unlimited in time and space.
There will be a paradigm shift in education, allowing access to almost any kind of information for free, taking courses, renowned universities sharing curricula, and thousands of self-taught communities are on offer online.
In medicine, advanced diagnostic tools and procedures are becoming less expensive and massively available on a daily basis. And with the data you get here, you could search huge online databases or share experiences and seek advice in self-help groups around the world. Time is near for online healing using artificial intelligence, which, with an incredible amount of information, is likely to deliver better results, faster, and more cheaply than an overworked general practitioner. And again, you can turn to the growing communities of self help, where you can share your experiences and advice with people who are struggling with similar problems.
In transport, intelligent vehicles and roads will soon make a difference. Self-driving vehicles already produce incomparably better accident statistics than any human driver. Artificial intelligence, capable of handling huge and real-time databases, will help organize traffic more intelligently, saving a lot of time and, more importantly, energy.
Who knows how close the technology is to providing unlimited, clean and free energy. Renewables are now cheaper than fossils and will be more efficient day by day. Nuclear fusion, superconducting at room temperature, can become a reality at any moment.
In the world, bitcoin, the electronic currency has gained a significant crowd of followers. Though it is not really used everyday, it has given the world the blockchain technology, which, if /when its remaining shortcomings will be overcome, will fundamentally change the current form of the Internet and networks: huge central servers will be replaced by the network itself, traffic will be decentralized and centrally uncontrolled.
But the future may turn dark. The same technology can be applied to the total, real-time and constant control, manipulation and total repression of the individual.
Where the exercise of power is transparent and open, and the individual's life is private, it is democracy. When an individual's life is transparent and power is secretive, it is tyranny.
What's our job, what can we do?
Which of the above two we want to leave behind for the future generations is obviously not a question. The situation in which we live is given, we must exist in it and make the best of it. We are not lacking goodwill, what's missing is cooperation. The dominant powers' methodology is built on dividing, channeling existing social tensions, and turning different groups against each other. This must be countered at all times - including in the personal sphere. But even the most progressive need to understand that channeling anger toward the rich 1 percent, or some obscure, indeterminate conceptual elite, is not a solution. Indeed. Of course, there is the elites that benefit from the system and as such, of course, is only interested in maintaining the status quo at all costs, but just replacing the elite is not the solution. The tycoons, the politicians, the leaders, the bankers are just cogs in the machine, which are getting replaced immediately if they do not function properly.
Just as we all are part of the system. We are also capitalists: when our savings are bearing interest, or our stocks are yielding, or our pension fund is managed by investors - for every penny we earn without work, someone else works. Just like us when we are employees, and we work to make someone else's profit for our wages. Of course, the vast majority of us have a thankless role - in this system, there are thousands of losers per winner. But if we recognize our role, which in this system is work and consumption, then we know what we can do. The system does not work without consumers. The market has power. We all exercise power over our day-to-day decisions about our own resources. In everyday life: we can consume consciously. Let's just spend on what we really need, trying to get ourselves free from the influence of marketing / advertising. That is not as easy as one would think , that it is not by chance that the cost of marketing a product often exceeds the cost of producing it. In any case, we should throw out our TV as soon as possible. What we buy should be quality, real, lasting value, destructing the throw away culture. We should avoid large-scale products, support local small businesses, small farmers, even if they are more expensive. By the way, small products tend to be more expensive than large-scale mass-produced items because they do not exploit anyone on an industrial scale, be it humans, animals or nature. New initiatives that produce regarding the environment, redeem harmful products, and have only a chance of survival against the big industry if they are backed up by conscious support, must be sought and supported. These processes can become self-sustaining the moment they reach the critical mass, just like stock market demand pushes prices up.
We should keep our savings, our pensions, in a bank that doesn't invest in fossil energy. Let's use an energy provider that actively leverages renewable sources and, again, does not invest in oil, coal, gas. Voting with our wallet, big capital really is paying attention to it.
Generally speaking, we have to positively discriminate, as progressive small businesses generally have no money to market, to rival big industry for our attention. So it is up to us, individually, to make all our decisions consciously to help to reach the critical mass. (What might have happened anyway if such movements and society itself were not fragmented, divided, isolated.)
Activism is about being active. To think, to learn, to research, to argue, to be open, to find solutions. Building communities, participate, contribute. It also makes sense to demonstrate - not as if a demonstration could change anything of the essence, it is more about creating a community, raise awareness about that we are not alone with what we think. Therefore is it worth demonstrating.
We need to learn languages so that we are not exposed to the local mainstream media, and in order to connect with those around the world who think alike or, to argue with those who think differently. Lots of smart people, creativity and knowledge, all can be found outside the mainstream media - on the net. It is important to understand the essence of new technologies, to think and to contribute to whatever we can, to adopt and use what has already been invented. Learn to write code, use open source software, use encryption. It was never more true than it is today that knowledge is power, and it has never been so easily accessible. Changes are inevitable and may be just around the corner, but in order for them to be a positive change, we need to anticipate them, with knowledge, concept, theoretical infrastructure. We need to develop a culture in which the germs of the new system can fall on rich soil.
And since Thomas Mann, culture has been about being cultivated, not about being talked about.Humble thoughts of a non-expert)