The following article is the Introduction to a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race.
All chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a table of contents and a preface on why I started writing it.
The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power…. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt 1
Talk of revolution is very much out of vogue. Instead, we look back on the late sixties, when its prospect was the brightest in living memory, with nostalgia and wistful detachment. Certainly it is true that we pay homage to the civil rights movement and tribute to its lasting achievements, but little else remains – that sexual liberation happened to coincide with the invention of the pill was surely no coincidence!
Tragically, what started up as glorious peaceful sedition: an anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-capitalist upwelling that had genuinely threatened the existing order; finished up largely as a carnival – ultimately the dark carnival of Altamont 2 and the depravity of the Manson Family murders 3 – and with this, the path to social justice was promptly cordoned off. The revellers mostly went home, cut their hair, removed the flowers and beads to keep as mementos, and then looked ahead to another fad. All of which is unsurprising. After all, why jeopardise the comforts and security won during the heated post-war struggles in the slim hope of a resoundingly radical victory?
If history teaches anything – other than its central thread that empires rise and fall – is it not that the toppling of entrenched political regimes or even of diabolical tyrannies, whether by violent means or more peaceable ones, ends too often with the emergence of new regimes as tyrannical and entrenched as the ones they replaced? True or false (and how to decide anyway?) what matters is that the modern tendency is to believe this is the case: thus contrary to Marx’s bold forecast, the age of revolutionary upheaval appears over, or – in the West at least – perpetually stalled with political quietism established as the norm – don’t worry, I shall go on shortly to contradict myself!
Indeed, our acquired taste for conservatism has usefully served the interests of the ruling establishment throughout my adult life, a period lasting three decades in which time its creed became ever more rapacious. ‘Conservatism’ has in fact been transformed well beyond any easy recognition. Adapted in the eighties, it came to serve the demands of a rising corporatist class which, like various species of shark, is itself compelled to move restlessly forward or perish. As the Red Queen tells Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” 4
To these ends traditional conservatism, which tries to engender forms of social stagnation, has been entirely superseded by neo-liberalism; today’s predominant, in fact unrivalled, politico-economic ideology with its overarching quasi-conservative doctrine of minimal ‘state interference’. In practice this involves a combination of wholesale privatisation with swingeing cuts to public services and welfare. Inculcated by economics departments throughout the land, it has been implanted as a monoculture within our institutions of government, as within the plethora of foundation-funded think tanks and policy forums from whence it originally sprang (most notably The Adam Smith Institute and the Aspen Institute).
All distinguished economists, senior politicians, civil servants and mainstream journalists (the latter three more than likely indoctrinated through courses on Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE) at Oxford – with stress here very much placed on the ‘E’ of neo-liberal economics 5) are attuned to the belief that, in the words of its great trailblazer, Margaret Thatcher, “there is no alternative”. And luminaries of the new economics turn to historical precedents to buttress their pervasive doctrine; every kind of planned redistribution of wealth and resources (i.e., any conceivable alternative to their own ‘free market’ absolutism), irrespective of competency or goodwill, they say, has been doomed to failure.
The communist experiments of the Soviet Union and Mao’s China – examples they single out (continuing to do so long after the fall of both regimes) – did indeed result in catastrophes both at the level of production and due to lack of supply of goods. And if, indeed, the only foreseeable alternatives to neoliberalism were thoughtless reruns of a Soviet model or Maoism, this line of criticism could hardly be gainsaid; in reality, however, the vast majority of the world already subsists, living in dire poverty and likewise deprived of basic resources, although not under socialism, but in strict adherence to ‘free market’ directives extolled by the self-same experts. China, on the other hand, which remains autocratic and to a great extent a centrally planned economy, is evidently booming – but that’s for a different debate (suffice to say here, I certainly do not propose we follow their example).
In reality, neo-liberalism is an exceedingly cruel doctrine, and its staunchest proponents have often been candid about administering what they openly describe as their economic ‘shock therapy’ – although this label is generally attached when the treatment is meted out to the poorest nations. To soften its blow in other instances, a parallel ideology has arisen. The principle of so-called meritocracy provides the velvet glove when this same iron fist of laissez-faire fundamentalism is applied throughout western democracies. You get just as much as you deserve and this is best ensured by market mechanisms.
But finally, the socio-economic pendulum has moved in extremis. Today, even in the comfortable West, income and wealth inequality have grown to unprecedented levels. Our societies appear to be in the process of rupturing just as they did less than a century ago on the eve of the most destructive war in history. Meanwhile, the ‘progressives’, who long ago ditched the dog-eared pamphlets of revolutionaries, remain captivated by the spell of the more glossy portfolios of the meritocracists.
Having inveigled both political wings – becoming the new left and new right – they now hope to persuade us that ‘centrism’, founded on strict meritocratic principles, remains the single viable – since least ‘extreme’ – vision for democracy. Mostly stuck on the lower social rungs, however, we, the people are clearly restless. For the moment we moan and groan impatiently, but that moment is set to pass. Calls for fundamental social change are gaining strength and I dare to predict that we are on the brink – for better or for worse – of an altogether seismic shift.
Jordan Peterson is famously critical of ‘ideology’. He has a particular distain for Marxism, Stalinism, Nazism, Postmodernism, Feminism, in fact, any ism. Instead, he argues, that the individual is sovereign, ideology should be renounced, and that, quote, “If we each live properly, we will collectively flourish.” So what is ideology? And what leads Jordan Peterson (and others) to believe he is somehow above it all?
So how do we break free of the spells that bind us – the increasingly entangled entrapments of technology, money and work? There are really only two approaches we can take. Either we turn inwards, as an increasing number are doing, to try to rediscover who we are through methods of deep introspection. Or, confronting external reality head-on, we engage in collective acts of defiance, since our true strength lies in numbers.
There are good arguments for both approaches. The boundary between the subjective and objective is infinitely thin and I address this more fully in the chapters ahead. To repeat an old rallying slogan: the personal is the political! This cannot be said often enough.
My greatest concern is that we should not remain passive. Clear and unshakeable demands are urgent, since power concedes nothing without. But again, introspection is invaluable in this regard – for how can we better understand what we truly want without solidly comprehending who we really are? Any hope of shaping a better future nevertheless lies in collective hands and depends upon acts of solidarity.
The alternative is grim. Besides the prospect of new kinds of techno-tyranny, failure or refusal to react decisively will exacerbate the troubles that already plague us; ones forecast by Erich Fromm in the conclusion to his book The Sane Society:
In the 19th century inhumanity meant cruelty; in the 20th century it means schizoid self-alienation. The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots. True enough, robots do not rebel. But given man’s nature, robots cannot live and remain sane, they become “Golems”; they will destroy their world and themselves because they cannot stand any longer the boredom of a meaningless life. 6
Fromm’s vision is the best outcome, not the worst. For it wrongly presumes, as many still do, that the ruling class has no agenda of its own. In fairness, he lived in a different age: a time before the significant rise of today’s postmodern, globalist (supranationalist as opposed to internationalist), corporatocratic, neo-feudal, technetronic, technocratic age – I have chosen each of these words with care, since each reveals a different facet of the grand design. Hold the thought, because I’ll come back to it.
In Europe, America and much of the rest of the Western world, the entire political system is captured by variants of what would traditionally be labelled ‘right-wing’ or even ‘extreme right’. However, this is not the old-style extremism of Hitler or Mussolini, which was built upon the foundations of bombastic nationalism, but a new brand that cleverly disguises itself as non-ideological, tolerant or even moderate – I heard political commentator Tariq Ali once refer to it as the ‘extreme centre’. This is actually the best description we have.
This new extremism chooses new methods to promote and protect its crony insiders. It says sorry but we (meaning ‘you’) just have no choice – there is no alternative! – and these other chaps are more valuable, and simply “too big to fail”, before confirming, more or less as an aside, that democracy wasn’t working in any case. Meanwhile, it also finds new justifications for engaging in aggressive foreign wars that we are told have no relationship to the old wars of conquest and exploitation. War today becomes nothing more than a matter of preemption, or if that fails to impress the grumbling populous, a means of humanitarianism. However, the new extremism finds old and very well-tested excuses when it comes to clampdowns on our individual freedoms at home, with the main one being, ironically enough, to protect us from ‘extremists’.
Were the ruling class more candid about their truer intent (and the broader agenda is gradually emerging as an open secret) then we would have heard plenty by now about the coming dawn of what ought to be straightforwardly called fascism (Trump was not an aberration, but a symptom), except that aspiring tyrants, for self-evident reasons, cannot be expected to speak too loudly about their grandest ambitions. Even so, the quickening steps on our road to serfdom are becoming harder to deny.
Some years ago I had been thinking up names for an envisaged progressive political movement, when, after realising that all of the traditional labels ‘people’s’, ‘popular’, ‘democratic’, ‘freedom’, ‘revolutionary’, etc were already irreparably sullied, it occurred to me that in our mimetic age something snappier might be more suitable. Something along the lines of ‘system reset’, although without the Maoist overtones! Briefly that led me to consider the familiar 3-fingered salute on every computer keyboard, Ctrl-Alt-Del: a consideration that altogether stopped me in my tracks.
In fact, picking apart the elements, Ctrl-Alt-Del already represents the three-pronged assault we are increasingly subjected to: the plutocrats using these precise three strategies to oppress and dominate. First through Ctrl by means of propaganda and censorship, with the steady encroachment of mass surveillance in all areas of our lives (the panopticon), and arguably too with the mental health crisis and widespread prescription of ‘chemical cosh’ opiates and more Soma-like SSRI antidepressants.
In a recent study by scientists at University of Chicago, it was found that rats given anti-anxiety medications were less inclined to free a companion in distress, presumably because they didn’t have the same ability to feel empathy:
Next is Alt (i.e., alteration) with rollout of GMO in agriculture and transhumanism which opens the door to many developments including the advent of designer babies by means of gene editing and the literal rewiring of human consciousness. Finally there is Del (delete) by virtue of ‘population control’ which is a shorthand euphemism for the desire to dramatically reduce human numbers.
Nick Bostrom is a philosopher with deep scientific and technical training 7, who aside from being Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University is also co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association (renamed Humanity+, Inc.) as well as an acknowledged inspiration for Elon Musk and Bill Gates. 8
Bostrom clearly stands at the forefront of methods of Ctrl and Alt being a leading proponent of total surveillance and for transhumanism, which is basically eugenics 2.0 enhanced by virtue of refined genetic manipulation and accentuated through interfacing with machines. As Bostrom’s Humanity+ announces its own intentions:
What does it mean to be human in a technologically enhanced world? Humanity+ is a 501(c)3 international nonprofit membership organization that advocates the ethical use of technology, such as artificial intelligence, to expand human capacities. In other words, we want people to be better than well. This is the goal of transhumanism.
‘Better than well’ is putting it extremely mildly. If you read past the opening statements then you quickly appreciate that the final goal is nothing short of total mastery of biology in order to achieve absolute control of human life and everything in the biosphere. Advocates of such godlike dominion over Nature should perhaps attend to the writings of Mary Shelley and Johann von Goethe. For Bostrom with his outspoken desire to install mass surveillance to save the world, I also recommend a healthy dose of Orwell.
It is almost tempting to think that the choice of Ctrl-Alt-Del was meant to be a piece of subliminal predictive programming, except that the man credited with its origins is an IBM engineer called David Bradley, who says it was not intended for use by ordinary end users but helpful for software designers. Curiously, however, as Bradley also says (see interview embedded below): “I may have invented control-alt-delete, but Bill Gates made it really famous.” 9
This section above was previously posted on October 14th 2020 as part of an extended article entitled the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #7 global system reset.
Civilisation stands on the brink. A radical transformation is coming; that is inescapable. The old patterns can no longer sustain us either materially or spiritually, and this seldom confessed truth is perfectly well understood by the ruling class who have already constructed the road ahead to an envisioned future and presented us with roadmaps.
Eager to keep as much control over everything as possible – call it ‘full spectrum dominance’ as the military arm of their military-industrial-financial complex does – they have long-since spread their tentacles into every conceivable area of politics and society more generally. This has been achieved primarily through the agency of huge foundations which indirectly support a network of think tanks, policy forums, NGOs and so forth: a stealth takeover, spreading into every nook and cranny of public life. By cloaking their real intentions under the guise of internationalism (or “globalisation”, or “global governance”) and environmentalism (or “sustainability”) since the 1970s and long before, the mainstream left is today as sold out to the same ruling powers and, in consequence, has become as unimaginative and non-progressive, as the right.
And the ruling class is the master of illusion that has slowly perfected its talent for deception and manipulation. Unlike the Wizard of Oz, who has a certain homespun wisdom, it has nothing real to offer in exchange for our deepening servitude. But the racket persists because the majority of us have become so intellectually impoverished we somehow cannot imagine any better alternative.
But finally, the system is crumbling apart altogether. One way or another, and very soon, it will have to be replaced. The ruling class, interested first and foremost in maintaining and increasing their power and privilege, already understand and acknowledge this, seeing that they must resort to some form of neo-feudalism, or creeping fascism, if you prefer (more below), which in any case they also see as “the natural order”.
For now, we find ourselves in the midst of desperate fight to preserve our remaining wealth and freedoms. The onslaught facing those of us in the West already seems a relentless one. As we enter the most important period of world history since the Second World War, this immediate fight is political, and involves us in the perennial Marxist dispute one over control and allocation of material resources. By contrast, the longer-term battle assaults our humanity at the most fundamental levels since it threatens to hold autonomy over our minds and bodies; policing our thoughts and finally altering our biology down to the molecular level. This last step of transhumanism seeks the literal melding of humans to artificial technology. Bizarre, certainly, like the worst science fiction dystopia, yet this is what the billionaires are seriously into, and what they are beginning to discuss publicly at gatherings like the World Economic Forum.
The infrastructure for this coming era of tyranny has been installed, or already close to completion: a mass surveillance panopticon; the arming and privatisation of the police (in America this militarisation being more starkly evident); the emergence of secret courts and draconian legislation (America’s NDAA 2012 arguably the most egregious example so far). In short, we see the emergence of a revised judicial framework that prosecutes whistleblowers for treason and charges dissenters as terrorists.
It is also a shift that coincides with our “age of austerity”, which is again gamed to ruin the already destitute, while simultaneously it undermines the middle class. An economic coup de grâce following four decades of more gradual decline: incomes continue to be reduced in real terms thanks to stagnant wages and zero interest on savings, neither of which can keep up with the demands of rising costs of living. But all stages of this ongoing decline – a more or less controlled collapse – are facilitated by the most sophisticated systems of mass propaganda ever devised. The internet is owned by the same billionaires, as is the bulk of the corporate media. Free speech was snuffed out years ago.
Incidentally, for those who feel that ‘fascism’ is too strong a word, or too vague, and too freely bandied around by the doom-mongers who proffer nothing but “a council of despair”, there is another post (which is essentially the book’s final extra chapter) where I try to explain at greater length why we need to keep using the word, no matter how badly misappropriated and damaged it has become over time.
A brief aside: the vitally important lesson to be learned from the rise of the Nazis (as well as the other fascist governments of the twentieth century) is not that monsters are sometimes capable of holding an otherwise educated if unwitting public in their thrall, but that fascism is most vigorous when it feeds on the pain and fear of a desperately struggling population. It is when economies are ruined that fascism almost spontaneously arises, just as flies rush to a rotting corpse. As for the monsters, it may be that many of them do not appear much like monsters at all. As Hannah Arendt, who is best known for coining the phrase “the banality of evil”, wrote after she saw Adolf Eichmann testify at his trial in 1961:
The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied — as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels — that this new type of criminal, who is in actual fact hostis generis humani [“enemy of mankind”], commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong. 10
Today, Hitler strikes us as an absolutely ridiculous and grotesque figure. He is the epitome of evil; the devil incarnate. His chubby pal Mussolini appears no less ranting and raving mad. The very fact I have included any reference to them in my argument already weakens it: the first person to mention Hitler being the loser in all our debates today.
Indeed, when it comes to any appraisal of Hitler and Mussolini, an extraordinarily difficult task presents itself in simply disentangling the caricatures from the men themselves. So unfortunately, we are unable to see these demagogues through the eyes of their contemporaries. We ought to be periodically reminded therefore – pinching ourselves if necessary – how throughout Europe and America both men were not only presented as respectable, but feted as great statesmen. Hitler was lauded by Time magazine and the Daily Mail; he was good friends with Henry Ford and King Edward VIII; financially supported by Prescott Bush, father of George H. W., and by the then-Governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman. Prior to – and also during the war – fascism met with great favour amongst the highest echelons of the ruling class: aristocrats and plutocrats falling in love with fascism, because fascism is inherently plutocratic and aristocratic. 11
But fascism is not just the dirty secret of a staggeringly recent past, all mention of it as a political force now seems anachronistic. Few outside the thuggish gangs of neo-Nazis and white supremacists will openly call themselves fascist today. But tragically, fascism as a mainstream political force did not expire with the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini; it changed its name and its modus operandi, but little else.
So while any mention of fascism as a major political force seems anachronistic, and no-one outside the thuggish gangs of neo-Nazis and white supremacists openly calls themselves fascist today, it remains the dirty mainstream secret of an astonishingly recent past. Tragically, its mainstream political force did not expire, however, with the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini; it changed its name and its modus operandi, but little else.
The steady rise of this postmodern, globalist, corporatocratic, neo-feudal, technetronic, technocracy is, as I say, an open secret. Saying you don’t like my characterisation is a bit like saying you don’t like the colour of the sky! Indeed, half of these identifiers are ones coined, or at least preferred, by the world shapers themselves – the globalist plutocrats who so love technocracy. Certainly, you may raise a challenge that we are now beyond postmodernism, the irony of which ought to raise a little smile if not a full-blown chuckle, whilst it may also be admitted that ‘corporatocracy’ and ‘neo-feudal’ are pejorative terms. What is harder to ignore is the stench of decay under our peasant noses, although dutifully the pliant hoards will often hold their noses with considerable gratitude.
The majority has always behaved this way, although history was reshaped regardless and in spite of such widespread propensity for Stockholm syndrome. As Goethe wrote: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” 12
Addendum: A republic of the new malarkey
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias. 13
— Oscar Wilde
“What is the meaning of life?” is an unintentionally hilarious question. So abstruse and rarified that it awkwardly bumps into the authentic experience of being alive before meandering off with eyes barely lifted from its own navel. It is just too damned philosophic! And yet there is a related though ineffable question that does respectfully and more intelligently seek an answer, and so at a primordial and existential level a kind of paradox confronts us daily. This paradox is indeed a source of much merriment.
But then, this question, which is hardly raised in polite company, finds a more permissible everyday enquiry: “what is the purpose of life?” A question, I think, we all ask ourselves from time to time, and one that takes its lead from the Socratic challenge: the search for self-improvement through self-examination. More confrontationally, you may have faced interrogation along the lines of: “so what are you doing with your life?” The implication here, of course, is that something purposeful needs to be done in life, whereas just drifting along without a clear purpose or goal is completely unacceptable.
In the modern world this belief is common sense. By contrast, pre-modern humans mostly live from day-to-day – as we all did until comparatively recent times – but still we forget how ‘purpose’ is not an ordinary and natural consideration, and not one that those in primitive societies would actually understand, but a later invention. Civilisation gave birth to ‘purpose’ in the abstract, and then once we had acquired aspirations of ‘purpose’, ‘meaning’ arose as a more diffuse back-projection.
And formerly, religion was the wellspring we drew upon to make determinations about our ultimate significance and so answers to questions of ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ were entirely contingent upon ordained beliefs about the divine and of morality. Today, with no gods to bother us, we might suppose the invitation simply to eat, drink and be merry would be sufficient enough, and yet few appear fully satisfied in following this straightforward directive; a nagging doubt persists that we may still be here for some higher purpose – or failing that that we can reinvent one anyway. Put differently, we have a tremendous longing for ‘worth’.
Unfortunately in our valiant attempt to save the world from the most egregious of religious doctrines, the cure becomes rather too clinical. In practical terms utilitarianism has stolen religion’s mantle and this numbs us in a peculiar way. With notions of ‘purpose’ and ‘worth’ necessarily adapted to fit the new paradigm, and with no better yardstick these have become equated, almost unavoidably, with notions of being socially useful in one way or another. Finally, morality, which is inherently unquantifiable, might be conveniently cut away too leaving usefulness above all else apprehended as good, virtuous and valuable. This is where utilitarianism logically leads and it is how modern society trains us to feel. What is your contribution? This is really the measure of man today.
Of course, tracing the lineage, we see utilitarianism is actually the bastard child of science – a quasi-Newtonian calculus misapplied to happiness such that all human relations can be narrowly reduced to a cost-benefit analysis. We have adopted this approach primarily because of its origins: science works! But science in turn depends upon reductionism. It maps reality, and as with every other map, does this by craftily omitting all of the detail of the actual territory; this refined attention to very specific elements is what makes all maps and scientific models useful. Utilitarianism reduces everything to usefulness.
Moreover, by successfully measuring all of creation, including each particle of our own nature, in the strict but narrow terms of what is scientifically quantifiable, we have accidentally impaired ourselves in another way. Through the high-magnification lens of science, we have learned to see trees, flowers, birds and all other creatures as cellular machines programmed and operating purely to survive and reproduce. This is a partial truth, of course, for no matter how high our magnification, science sees the world through its glass darkly, and at another level we remain keenly aware that the universe is not a wholly dead and lifeless automaton that endlessly recycles itself through ingestion and procreation. That there is more ‘meaning’ to life.
Back in the real world, the trees, the birds, the sky and the stars above that enthralled us as children, are no less wondrous if as adults we remain incurious to reflect upon their immanent mysteriousness. Indeed, not only life, but sheer existence is absolutely extraordinary and beyond all words. This we know at one level – call it ‘the unconscious’ for lack of a better term – with unflinching certainty. Importantly, and aside from death, it is the only substantial thing we can ever know for sure. The poets keep vigil to this spectacularly simple truth and are endlessly enraptured by it.
Thus the gauche and frankly silly question “what is the meaning of life?” has actually never gone away, but now hides out of bemused embarrassment in the more or less unconscious form of “what is my social function in life?” Life may be just as meaningless as it is mechanical, the acceptable view goes, but we can surely agree on the seriousness of this meaninglessness and on importance of making a worthwhile contribution. Robots in particular just need to get with the program!
When philosopher and spiritual teacher Alan Watts advises that “The meaning of life is just to be alive”, what does he mean precisely? Iain McGilchrist, who first studied literature before retraining in biology and becoming a expert is brain lateralisation, tackles this question and also considers more broadly how our pursuit of meaningful goals is related to happiness and a fulfilled life:
McGilchrist is also concerned by how meaning has been crushed through the ultra-capitalism of the West with its destructive obsession about the efficient use of ‘human resources’ and by the commensurate micro-management of the modern workplace:
A few years ago a friend said that, like him, I too was fed up with the old malarkey. What you want, he proposed, is “a republic of the new malarkey”! Well, since life always involves a certain amount of malarkey, then maybe this is the best we can finally hope to achieve. But then, continuing the theme, I wondered, why not aim instead for “a republic of the least malarkey”? After all, ask most people (myself included) if the world might be improved and they will generally say yes, but then ask how, and answers typically become trite and (for want of a better word) utopian. ‘Make poverty history’ is a perfect example. Remember that one? Some of us once marched under banners demanding that we ‘make poverty history’ – yes, but how? ‘Give peace a chance’, we might add – but again, getting no closer to ending the daily carnage of the forever wars.
Ask most people (again myself included) to explain the nitty-gritty of how we might make our societies better and we probably feel dumbstruck by the complexity and overwhelmed by the confusion of potential outcomes. We simply don’t quite know precisely what we want, or, better put, how to bring about the necessary changes – or at least never precisely enough to outline effective measures. Our problem, in one sense, is that positive action becomes difficult. After all, the world is a deeply and inherently puzzling place and so figuring the best course can be an inordinately difficult task.
But then ask an alternative question and you immediately receive better answers. Ask, for instance, what our society least needs and many people can instantly pull up a fairly detailed list of complaints. Pointing out stupidities, asinine rules, debilitating conventions, especially wherever our personal development is stunted or our lives are hamstrung; this comes perfectly naturally. Finding faults is just so much easier than offering details for improvements or formulating solutions. “It is very easy to criticise”, people often say, which is itself a criticism! But why? Why the eagerness to dismiss this one faculty common to all? Wouldn’t it be better to exploit it?
Which brings me to establishment of “a republic of the least malarkey”: a society constructed with the very deliberate intention of avoiding too many negatives: negatives being that much easier to put your finger on, and, crucially, to agree about. So why not make this our ambition? To set forth boldly to junk all nonsensical burdens and impositions because, aside their counterproductivity, any such transparently pointless impediments are generally as tedious as they are odious. Time is too precious to be needlessly wasted on nonsense.
A corresponding political movement would aim at an intelligent and humane transformation, turning away from the current drive for structuring societies on the proclaimed basis of the optimisation of efficiency and productiveness, with rigidly imposed structures that inevitably hamper the human imagination whilst infringing our most basic right: the inalienable right to be free-thinking human beings. Surely this is the most fundamental of all rights. So what of our other inalienable right, so far as practicable without infringing the freedoms and rights of others, which is to be freely-acting creatures?
All of this is a kind of ‘liberalism’, although of a very rough, unpolished form. Together with the Golden Rule, ‘liberalism’ of some kind is vital presuming we wish to live in a freer, saner and more tolerant society. Indeed, if we ever seriously decide to construct a better world for ourselves then freedom for the individual must remain the paramount concern, but so too is ensuring a nurturing and protecting society. I feel obliged therefore to add a few important caveats. As the poet and English civil war polemicist John Milton wrote:
For indeed none can love freedom heartily, but good men: the rest love not freedom, but license: which never hath more scope, or more indulgence than under tyrants. 14
The great danger of liberalism, as Milton says, is that inadvertently or otherwise, licence may be granted to tyrants, and then one man’s ‘freedom’ offers legitimacy, since it is reliant upon, another’s debasement and servitude. Sadly, this has been the primary mode of liberalism as it has existed until now, and in spite of the warnings of more thoughtful liberals who, from the outset, asserted loudly that unfettered individual liberty is entirely at odds with freedom that serves any common interest.
Elizabeth Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at University of Michigan, is the author of “Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It)” about the tyranny of the corporate workplace from non-disclosure agreements to punitive, restrictive work conditions and censorship. Here she discusses with journalist Chris Hedges how the libertarian model is cruel and why liberalism has historically defended the rights of capital above the rights of the individual:
Today’s self-proclaimed (neo-)liberal thinkers are misguided in another crucial and related way. Their emphasis on freedom of the market has dispelled one system of serfdom only to replace it with another that, although superficially different, is comparably repressive: the exaltation of the market to the rank of our new lord and master brings tyranny of more cleverly concealed designs.
What the liberal too often and rather too conveniently overlooks is that money, besides being an inherently utilitarian artifact, is a thoroughly and indivisibly social instrument too. That money is not some product of private contracts since these do not supply and protect its value, but that since society creates it to lubricate its means for production and distribution of goods and services, then society maintains, in principle at least, complete autonomy over it. Taxation, therefore, isn’t reducible to theft of private property since money isn’t strictly speaking either private or property.
Nor should money or the profit-making engines called corporations be put on a pedestal: money has no rights at all, only sentient beings can have rights, and likewise, having money ought to accord no special rights or privileges other than in enabling the procurement of stuff. This is what it does and nothing else. Money has been our terrible master, but now we must transform it into a useful servant, striving to break its links to power in every way this can be achieved.
In fact, the decline of money is already happening, and this is rather crucial to understand. Once industrial production becomes fully automated, and services follow, money will lose its primary function, which is as a token of exchange for labour. Without labour there will be no need to reward it. In order to ensure a smooth and humane transition to this future post-wage society (and the robots are coming sooner than we think), we need an honest reflection of our values: values entirely without any pound or dollar sign attached. If we are serious about our collective futures, this fundamental reevaluation of life has to happen without delay and in earnest, long before we are completely freed from treadmill of work itself.
James Suzman, author of “Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time”, here discusses how work as we know it is really a modern concept that didn’t exist until recently:
But then, final and complete individual freedom (as we often claim to desire) is only attainable once the reins that harnessed us to work have begun to slacken. Meanwhile, unbridling ourselves of the work ethic, as unavoidable as it is, is no straightforward matter, since it requires the tackling opponents on all sides. Both left and right, for contrary reasons, are mindful to keep the workers hard at it.
Indeed, all that ultimately stands between us and this gateway to an unprecedented age of freedom and abundance are two abiding obstructions. The first of these: further advances and refinements to our technology, are certain to arise whatever we decide to do; whereas, the second, that invisible but super-sticky glue which binds money to political power, can never be fully dissolved unless we act very decisively to see that it is.
This second obstacle is virtually immoveable, and yet we must finally meet it with our truly irresistible force, if only because tremendous concentrations of wealth and power are overbearingly anti-democratic. In fact they reinforce themselves entirely to the exclusion of the dispossessed, and as the tie between money and power continually tightens, so the world is made captive to a tiny privileged coterie in what are already de facto plutocracies where the lives of workers increasingly resemble those of more visibly bonded slaves – held captive by chains of debts rather than steel. So long as the economic system is not reformed, we will head unswerving to a time when the current labour resource is made totally redundant. If no action is taken, this future prospect leaves us infinitely worse off again.
Moreover, the obstacles we face are interconnected, since for so long as a few moneyed interests hold such an iron grip on political power (as is currently the case), all technological development must remain primarily directed to serve and maintain these special interests. Rather glaringly, government money is today ceaselessly pumped into the giant hands of the military-industrial complex.
Suppose instead that this enormous expenditure on the weapons industry, and thus into weapons research, was redirected to transform methods of energy production and transportation systems. Imagine then how more wonderful our lives would be had this wasteful investment in destruction already been funneled into peacetime projects. And here I mean real investment in the fullest, truest sense of time and human ingenuity, rather than simply investment of money – which is only ever a tool remember.
Full and final severance of financial and political power is extremely hard to achieve, of course, but there is a great deal that could be done to remedy the present crisis. However, to begin to move in the right direction we are compelled first to organise. This is as urgent as it is imperative. Seizing power from the one-percent must become the primary goal for all who sincerely wish to usher in a better age.
Here is Comedian Lee Camp considering the same issue in one of his “Moments of Clarity”:
If we require a more ideologically framed foundation then I also half-jokingly make the following proposal: our new approach can be futilitarianism. 15 That is, a full one-eighty degree U-turn against utilitarianism and its consequentialist basis in which ends alone purportedly justify means. Let us instead turn this inculcated foolishness entirely on its head such that, and aside from properly disconnecting moral value from mere usefulness, we remind ourselves, as Gandhi correctly asserted, that ‘means’ are also ‘ends in the making’. Thus we grant that, conversely, ‘means’ really can and do justify themselves, intrinsically, without regard to whatever the ‘ends’ may to turn out to be. 16
In other words, emphasis should be correctly placed on a person’s sincere endeavour “to do the right thing”, since this is inherently virtuous. In all ethical matters, reciprocity then becomes the touchstone again: that maxim of the Golden Rule, which holds that each should treat the other as one wishes to be treated in return. For the most ancient of all ethical rules remains the wisest and most parsimonious; and it is always better not to fix things that were never broken. 17
Futilitarianism involves an item-by-item elimination of each of our extant but inessential sociopolitical complications: an unravelling of the knots that hogtie us little by little. Beginning from the top, to first free up our financial systems, although not by so-called ‘deregulation’, since deregulation is precisely how those systems became so corrupted; but by dispelling all that is so toxic, craftily convoluted, nonsensical and plain criminal (the last ought to go without saying but evidently doesn’t!). Whilst from the bottom, the goal is to bring an end to the commercialisation of our lives on which our debt-riven (because debt-driven) economies depend: to unwind our ever-more rampant and empty consumerist culture.
In the futilitarian future, security – that most misappropriated of words – would ensure that everyone (not just the super rich) is fully protected against all conceivable forms of harm that can feasibly be eradicated, or – if eradication is not completely realisable – then greatly diminished and/or ameliorated. It will mean the individual is protected from persecution by all agents including the state itself, and will guarantee both the freedom and privacy which permit us to think and act as individuals.
From the outset, therefore, a social framework must ensure basic freedoms by acknowledging and guaranteeing not only civil liberties, but economic rights too. A living income for all and one that is eventually independent of earned salary. Such unconditional basic incomes are now under consideration, but I advocate a steady move in this direction through instituting a range of measures including extended holidays, reductions in working hours, and the lowering of the pension age. All of this should be achieved on a voluntary basis, since nobody ought to be compelled to remain idle any more than we must be compelled to work. In pursuing this goal it is also vital to maintain equivalence or preferably to increase levels of income.
Ensuring essential economic rights requires universal provision of the highest quality healthcare and optimum social entitlement. Homes and food for all. Clothing and warmth for all. Unpolluted air and clear water for all. In fact, such universal access to every necessity and much else besides is already inscribed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under Article 25, which reads:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. 18
The overarching aim is to reconstruct every society (beginning with our own) to eliminate the ills of poverty because there is ample energy, food, and even non-essential but desirable material goods for everyone alive in the world today and much more again.
Emphatically, this does NOT require any form of imposed population controls, since prosperity automatically correlates with population stability (as proved by the steadily declining populations in the Western world), and so we should resolutely reject the scaremongering about imminent global scarcity of food or other vital resources. In fact contrary to all the neo-Malthusian prophesies of doom, just as the population of the world is peaking 19 we still have a great plenty of food to go around (lacking only the political and economic will to distribute it fairly) 20, with official UN estimates indicating that we shall continue to have such abundance both for the immediate future and far beyond. 21
Likewise, problems associated with energy production and hazards like pollution need to be tackled as a priority. To such ends, the brightest minds should be organised to find daring solutions to our energy needs – a new Manhattan Project, but this time to save lives. For technology justly configured is the essential key to humanity’s continuing betterment.
In short, the futilitarian cry is “Basta!” Enough is enough! Enough of poverty, and of curable sickness. Enough of excessive hard labour. An end to so much insanity.
The long-term vision might see an international community no longer perpetually at war, nor hypnotised and zombified by the infinitely-receding baubles of our faux-free markets nor the limiting and phoney promise of “freedom of choice”. Likewise, it marks a sharp retreat from our red in tooth and claw ‘meritocracies’, offering genuine hope (that most shamelessly abused of all words!) to millions in our own societies, who devoid of respect and finding little evidence of compassion, exist in abject desperation having long since turned their backs both on politics and society. Numbing their hardships with recourse to narcotics (criminalised by virtue of that other war against the dispossessed) or, more permissibly, since corporately profitable, they fill the emptiness with lifelong dependence upon doses of fully legally sanctioned opiates.
Besides the regular bread and circuses of TV, Hollywood and wall-to-wall professional sport, the rush of high-speed editing and ceaseless agitation offered through CGI, we also have nonstop access to more and more digital pacifiers thanks to iphones, Candy Crush, and TikTok. Driven to worship the tawdry, there was never a more distracted and narcissistic age than ours. It is self-evident however that we are hooked on painkillers because we are so deeply racked with pain. No amount of such distractions can ever satisfy us: the emptiness persists.
Lastly, and should we find a requirement for some pithy and memorable slogan, I propose recycling this one: “people before profits”. Generously acted upon, the rest follows automatically. Or, if such a slogan smacks too much of pleading, then let’s be more emphatic saying, “Power to the people!” Hackneyed, yes, but risible – why risible? “Power to the people” speaks to the heart and soul of what it should literally mean to live in any democracy. Our greatest tragedy is that the people have long since forgotten their birthright.
As playwright Harold Pinter said in the final words of his magnificent Nobel Lecture speech delivered in late 2005 when he was already dying from cancer:
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.
If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.
Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.
1 A warning to Congress that the growth of private power could lead to fascism, delivered by Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 29, 1938.
2 The Altamont Free Concert was held in northern California in December 1969. The security had been given over to a chapter of Hells Angels. It is mostly remembered for violence and a number of deaths, including the murder of Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr.
3 The Tate–LaBianca murders were a series of murders perpetrated by members of the Manson Family during August 8–10, 1969, in Los Angeles, California, under the direction of Tex Watson and Charles Manson.
4 Quote from Chapter 2 entitled “The Garden of Live Flowers” of Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll.
5 Wikipedia devotes an entire entry to “List of University of Oxford people with PPE degrees which begins:
Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University has traditionally been a degree read by those seeking a career in politics, public life (including senior positions in Her Majesty’s Civil Service) and journalism. This list does not include those notable figures, such as U.S. President Bill Clinton, who studied PPE at the university but did not complete their degrees.
6 From The Sane Society, Ch. 9: Summary — Conclusion, written by Erich Fromm, published in 1955.
7 He was awarded a PhD in philosophy, but perhaps a more fitting title is ‘futurist’.
Bostrom, a 43-year-old Swedish-born philosopher, has lately acquired something of the status of prophet of doom among those currently doing most to shape our civilisation: the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley. His reputation rests primarily on his book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which was a surprise New York Times bestseller last year and now arrives in paperback, trailing must-read recommendations from Bill Gates and Tesla’s Elon Musk. (In the best kind of literary review, Musk also gave Bostrom’s institute £1m to continue to pursue its inquiries.)
From an article entitled “Artificial intelligence: ‘We’re like children playing with a bomb’” written by Tim Adams, published in the Guardian on June 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/12/nick-bostrom-artificial-intelligence-machine
9 From an article entitled “Ctrl-Alt-Del inventor makes final reboot: David Bradley, we salute you” written by Andrew Orlowski, published in The Register on January 29, 2004. https://www.theregister.com/2004/01/29/ctrlaltdel_inventor_makes_final_reboot/
10 From the Epilogue of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil written by Hannah Arendt, published in 1963.
11 The word ‘fascism’ is beginning to be usefully reclaimed. Reattached with careful deliberation and appropriateness to the situation we find unfolding today. For instance, veteran journalist and political analyst John Pilger writes:
Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.
The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.
In Britain, the distractions of the fakery of image and identity politics have not quite succeeded. A stirring has begun, though people of conscience should hurry. The judges at Nuremberg were succinct: “Individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity.” The ordinary people of Syria, and countless others, and our own self-respect, deserve nothing less now.
From “The silent military coup that took over Washington” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington
12 In the original German: “Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein.”
From Book II, Ch. 5 of Die Wahlverwandtschaften (‘Elective Affinities’ or ‘Kindred by Choice’) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in 1809.
13 From The Soul of Man under socialism, an essay by Oscar Wilde published in 1891.
14 From Tenure of Kings and Magistrates written by John Milton, published in 1649.
15 I recently discovered that there is already a name for the kind of social philosophy I have tried to outline here. Apparently it’s called “metanoia” and that fine with me… a rose by any other name. In any case, the term futilitarianism was originally coined as a joke by a friend. Suggested as a useful working title to encapsulate the views of our mutual friend, James, the economist, who gets a mention earlier in the book. It was a great joke – one of those jokes that causes you to laugh first and then to think more deeply afterwards. I have kept the word in mind every since simply because it fit so comfortably with my own developing thoughts about life, the universe and everything – thoughts fleshed out and committed to the pages of this book. Of course, neologisms are useful only when they happen to plug a gap, and futilitarianism serves that function. Once I had the word I wanted to know what it might mean. The joke became a matter for playful contemplation, and that contemplation became what I hope is a playful book – playful but serious – as the best jokes always are.
16 After writing this I came across a quote attributed to Aldous Huxley (from source unknown) as follows: “But the nature of the universe is such that the ends never justify the means. On the contrary, the means always determine the end.”
17 There are many formulations of the Golden Rule. A multitude of philosophical attempts to refine and more strictly formalise the basic tenet to the point of logical perfection. Kant’s concept of the “categorical imperative” is one such reformulation. But these reformulations create more confusion than they solve. There simply is no absolutely perfect way to state the Golden Rule and recast it into a solid law. The Golden Rule better understood and applied as a universal guideline. Acting in accordance with the spirit of the rule is what matters.
18 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948. It consists of 30 articles which have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions and laws. Eleanor Roosevelt, first chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that drafted the Declaration, stated that it “may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”
These notes are taken from the wikipedia entry on UDHR. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UN_Declaration_of_Universal_Human_Rights
19 We have now reached what is called “peak child”, which means that although the overall population of the world will continue to grow for a few moire decades, the number of children in the world has already stopped rising. The global population is set to reach at 10 billion people, due to the “Great Fill-Up”. World-famous statistician Professor Hans Rosling explains this using building blocks to illustrate the point [from 10 mins in]:
After 30 years of rapid growth in agricultural production, the world can produce enough food to provide every person with more than 2 700 Calories per day level which is normally sufficient to ensure that all have access to adequate food, provided distribution is not too unequal
From report of World Food Summit of FAO (Rome 13-17 November 1996), entitled “Food for All”. http://www.fao.org/3/x0262e/x0262e05.htm#e
“[However,] the slowdown [of worldwide agricultural production] has occurred not because of shortages of land or water but rather because demand for agricultural products has also slowed. This is mainly because world population growth rates have been declining since the late 1960s, and fairly high levels of food consumption per person are now being reached in many countries, beyond which further rises will be limited.” – “This study suggests that world agricultural production can grow in line with demand, provided that the necessary national and international policies to promote agriculture are put in place. Global shortages are unlikely, but serious problems already exist at national and local levels and may worsen unless focused efforts are made.” – “Agricultural production could probably meet expected demand over the period to 2030 even without major advances in modern biotechnology.”
Extracts from the Executive Summary of the FAO summary report “World agriculture: towards 2015/2030”, published in 2002. http://www.fao.org/3/y3557e/y3557e.pdf