A Reverie for the Future

This article is available in audio format as the first episode of our new podcast 56 Degrees North.

You can listen on Anchor or Spotify.

I used to write a lot about nostalgia. You probably preferred the earlier stuff. But now, as we look across at the unspooling shambles in Sharm el-Sheikh, our sense of disorientation, our inability to be either ‘in the moment’, cognisant of the past, or able to discern the outline of a liveable future is becoming a problem. As the Russian psychologist Anna Stetsenko wrote: “It is impossible to imagine a future unless we have located ourselves in the present and its history; however, the reverse is also true in that we cannot locate ourselves in the present and its history unless we imagine the future and commit to creating it.”

I don’t think it was always like this. Are you old enough to remember looking forward to the year 2000? I remember the Millenium Bug fever and the slightly manic excitement of a new century. I’m not sure the 21st century lived up to expectations but this feeling of looking forwards, to a significant moment, or to a future turning point seems noticeable by its absence. If the comic book 2000AD looked forwards to a future that was mostly dystopian it at least offered a futurism, with vast cities in the sky and spaceships launching into the high-stacked megalopolis. Mega City One was an idea conjured by Patrick Geddes then scribed by Grant Morrison, and this idea of cities of the future held a totemic status for most of the 20th century. 

This futurism, a by-product of modernism has been replaced by an endless looking backwards. Anthony Barnett has pointed out that the most important words in the slogans “Take Back Control” and “Make America Great Again” are the words ‘Back’ and ‘Again’. Anglo-America is obsessed with the past – whether it’s the Trumpian pre-Roe v Wade, pre-sexual equality, pre-civil-rights era – or Brexit Britain’s yearning for an imagined past of Global Greatness with pink bits on the map.

Both America and England have the rare privilege of never having been invaded, which makes Suella Braverman’s language all the more disgusting. The well-worn idea that the 1950s American UFO phenomenon was a metaphor and a projection for the fear of communism, can be seen manifesting itself in a different way in post-Brexit Britain.

Unchained Britain is in a state of manufactured fear and heightened paranoia. What England yearns for is a war. It’s why it imagines an ‘invasion’ on its south coast and why it churns out messages and references to the Blitz and why it refers to the war in Ukraine as if it was a participant. Lots of countries venerate an imagined past, but Brexit England is full of a hysterical self-pity and focused on an era of war-triumph. In doing so it conjures (endlessly) Churchill and Thatcher and this is why it revels in an orgy of memorial and why the Poppy Police are out on patrol this weekend.

The problem with imagined past (s) is they conjure notions of purity. Like the (mis) remembering of childhood summer days the memory is highly selective. This is mostly harmless, but as Fintan O’Toole points out:

“Nostalgia is the sweetest of emotions. It is a gentle reverie, a daydream of an imagined past. But when it is injected into politics, it can turn sour and even curdle into toxicity. Much of the reactionary mood across the world over the past decade floats on this acrid stream. From Brexit in England to Trumpism in the United States, from the right-wing nationalisms of Poland and Hungary to the Hindu supremacist ideology that has become dominant in India, supposed strongmen promise to revive a past that never was and to protect a pure identity that never really existed.”

In England’s reverie that imagined past erases people of colour from our history, even our very recent history, to alienate and other them, and does this with the people of Eastern Europe, who we not only fought for and defended in very recent history, but who fought alongside us in huge numbers. The past is always pure, and to look into such an uncertain future it’s understandable that we should get caught-up with waves of nostalgia. But that wave is now in danger of drowning us. It’s drowning our ability for humanity and solidarity, it’s drowning our ability to show compassion and it’s drowning our ability to face the future with any real sense of humility or urgency.

Instead, ‘we’ are awash with a Sado-Populism that shows no sign of receding. The failure for Trump’s republicans to thrive in the midterms has been seized on as a victory, but it’s an empty one and the rise and rise of America’s demented far-right is ongoing.

As we stagger out of the pandemic experience towards some new version of social reality with new norms coined by various stages of denial and disinformation, a new political topography is emerging. Like an unfamiliar landscape exposed by long-drought this place has new features: old borders exposed and deleted; social class inequality radically amplified; identities claimed and denounced and fought over. It’s a land pockmarked by paranoia and denial.

This idea of ‘invasion’ by an imagined enemy (in this case often children) is a recurring theme in this strange new world. There’s an irony here about the nature of conspiracism. This phenomenon exists in a world where there are real enemies, real threats and real malign forces operating in secret. It’s darkly ironic as the rage descends on the Just Stop Oil protestors that the thing people are most angry about is folk trying to defend a credible future.

The right and the far-right which has cultivated the new conspiracism in the petri-dish of post-truthism, Brexit-mania and the Sado-Populism of English exceptionalism want to know nothing about the reality of actual oppressive new powers when they can indulge in the fantasy of imagined ones. The talkshows and phone-ins and the anti-protest protests remain delirious with anger about the wokerati and any interruption of their daily routine. They would be incandescent I’m sure in the unlikely event that anybody at Sharm el-Sheikh actually did anything.

Infantilism and Climate Denial

If Brexit and the new Conspiracism are like conjoined twins, the tissue in between them is False Victim Status and the amniotic fluid they were reared in is surely selfishness; narcissism; hyper-individualism; the collapse of any idea of “society” (carefully and deliberately dismantled since 1979); as well as a (well-justified) hatred of the ‘political elite’. This infantilism has a long-tail. The rise of the “narcissist self” was identified by Christopher Lasch back in the 1970s.

That dislocation from any understanding of the past, and confusion about notions of “progress” (Yuri Gagarin has been replaced by Elon Musk) feeds this phenomena. As Lasch notes: “…modern society “has no future” and therefore gives no thought to anything beyond its immediate needs”. So we are faced with intractable and unprecedented problems like climate breakdown and pandemic and our response is either self-sedation or self-improvement.

This new topography also has new plots and characters.

Phantoms from a dead democracy haunt us. Like Hancock’s Half Hour in the jungle and Alister Jack, heading for ennoblement, characters rejected by the electorate (or ejected from the state) re-appear in our timelines like eidolon. Sack them and they pop up on your telly, outvote them and they pop up in Ermine boasting about meritocracy.

The new plots often prevent us finding solidarity. The system inoculates itself against real change absorbing and manufacturing dissidence and protest and channeling it back to us as indentitarianism which becomes a sort of relentless pseudo activity.

Crossing Borders

“Britain” has new Ley lines and borders. It’s ‘sunlit uplands’ look like empty shelves, ‘Global Britain’ is one re-upping its nuclear arsenal and sending the navy in to arrest desperate people trying to cross the English Channel. The supermarket shelves are not empty, as someone explained: “Those shelves are not empty. They’re just so full of sovereignty there was no room for food.” 

In this strange new land borders between Europe and Britain have been erected while borders within Britain have been denied. Scotland exists but only as a place where the idea of ‘no future’ has been taken to extremes. In a place in which its difficult to imagine a future never mind the future “now is not the time” takes a darker tone to it. It’s a feature and an anomaly of modern Britain that it is both obsessed by sovereignty (for the imagined ‘British’) and yet relishes suppressing sovereignty for other parts of These Islands.

So much irony. I mean, isn’t it odd that the two geniuses of our time – the recently venerated Vladimir Putin – once held up as a strategic mastermind – and Elon Musk – the Space Capitalist and global entrepreneur – are failing in real time? Their reputations are collapsing publicly before our very eyes. If Musk’s career is like something from the pages of 2000AD, his pollution and sabotage of Twitter looks like a tale from classical antiquity.

What are we learning from any of this? What we’ll have to unlearn is our dependency on technology and particularly a technology that we have no control of.

As Arundhati Roy tells us reflecting on the Pegasus tech: ” … we are headed towards being governed by states that know everything there is to know about people, and about which people know less and less. That asymmetry can only lead in one direction. Malignancy. And the end of democracy.”

“We will have to migrate back to a world in which we are not controlled and dominated by our intimate enemy – our mobile phones. We have to try to rebuild our lives, struggles and social movements outside the asphyxiating realm of digital surveillance. We must dislodge the regimes that are deploying it against us. We must do everything we can to prise open their grip on the levers of power, everything we can to mend all that they have broken, and take back all they have stolen.”

The fact that that sounds like a really impossible task, makes it all the more important, doesn’t it? Roy’s point, that we are all migrants now, in one way or another is a good one.

We appear dislocated, suffering from institutional memory loss and unable to face the future. Maybe, just maybe, Musk’s colossal failure is a light in the darkness. Maybe the myth-shattering of the omnipotent billionaire is a godsend. Maybe the collapse of a social media platform is something to celebrate? Maybe it’s time to “imagine the future and commit to creating it”.



Comments (42)

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  1. Alistair Kewish says:

    Did I miss something where invasions were mentioned? So you are now telling me the Danes, the Romans , the Saxons band the Normans never invaded England? That it was all a myth? Oh dear, time to rewrite our history books then?

    1. 221113 says:

      The colonisation of what became ‘England’ wasn’t always effected by invasion. For example, there’s no archeological evidence for an ‘invasion’ by the Germanic tribes that colonised much of southern Britain during the early ‘middle age’ between antiquity and modernity; it seems that this colonisation was effected by a piecemeal migration and settlement similar to that of the Scots in their colonisation of northern Britain in the same period. The Norman colonisation of both England and Scotland in the 11th and 12th centuries is, of course, another matter.

    2. Allan Armstrong says:

      The point that Mike is trying to make would certainly be clearer if he replaced “America” and “England”, by post 1815 USA and post-1801 UK. The only exceptions to this are the German occupation the Channel Islands (1940-5) and the Japanese occupation of the Aleut islands (1942-3), short-lived events, and marginal to the mainland parts of the UK and USA; and Pancho Villa’s very brief raid on Columbus, New Mexico in 1916.

      1. Neither country has experienced meaningful invasion in modern times.

  2. squigglypen says:

    How about we quit yapping..extricate ourselves from the cloying, grabbing, nervous little nation to the south of us. Their empire is done..now they’re afraid of everything. Everybody hates them. ( with good reason)
    I’ve spoken to folk about independence and am amazed at the change in people… how determined they are to achieve it this time….raging at how we were fooled…..
    I for one don’t mind selling water..energy..etc to that poor wee country south of us…Cheerio Sassenachs…..have a nice day.
    For Scotland!
    PS Interesting article ..lotsa big words!

    1. Torry Joe says:

      Well said Squiggly. Needs to be said over and over. Cheers.

  3. Chris Ballance says:

    The right has always looked backwards, to “victorian values” – as it represents the present power establishment it cannot thole moving forward. And to a mythical pre-Suez empire. The left (when it is being sensible) unites to oppose dickensian conditions and looks forward to better, more egalitarian times. Nothing new here.

  4. Derek says:

    The Normans invaded England (as did the Saxons and the Vikings), and the British, Germans, Dutch and all sorts invaded what became the USA.

    (sings) “…Even old New York was once New Amsterdam…”

    1. Sure. I should have added ‘in modern times’.

      1. AShall says:

        Scotland has not been invaded in “modern times” either.

        Braverman’s language was disgusting, and she was attacked for it by many in England. It is also worth pointing out that England has a level of immigration and ethnic and cultural diversity that is unseen in most of Scotland.

    2. Derek Thomson says:

      Why they changed it I can’t say

      1. 221014 says:

        New Amsterdam was renamed ‘New York’, after the Duke of York (later King James II), to whom his brother, Charles II, granted the lands in June 1665, following their capture from the Dutch and subsequent transfer from Dutch to English jurisdiction.

        1. Derek Thomson says:

          People just liked it better that way.

          1. 221116 says:

            So good they named it twice.

  5. 221113 says:

    ‘“It is impossible to imagine a future unless we have located ourselves in the present and its history; however, the reverse is also true in that we cannot locate ourselves in the present and its history unless we imagine the future and commit to creating it.”’

    That’s the importance of narratives. The 21st century was always going to be about our growing incredulity towards grand or global narratives, which are deconstructing into apocalyptica before out very eyes, and a shift in faith to petit local narratives.

    The futures most people nowadays commit to creating from the facticity of their present pertain to local rather than global issues; they’re less about changing the world than about improving their own local conditions in their own local workplaces and neighbourhoods. We’re talking pragmatism rather than idealism.

    Some folk do retain a nostalgia for the idealism of the 20th century, with their evocation of 1960s-style radicalism and even more distant ‘Red Clydeside’ proletarianism and ‘world revolution’. But the days of such mass movements are long gone; our social hopes now largely revolve around having better local services and more disposable income. Small is beautiful.

    And acting locally, on issues whose outcomes we can practically affect, rather than globally, in redundant spectacles like the ones most recently staged at Sharm el-Sheikh and on the M25 around London, might actually prove to be our salvation. For many environmental activists, the locus of effectiveness is not the world stage but the grassroots of our local planning departments, schools, churches, and businesses.

    The town planner and social activist, Patrick Geddes, prefigures this locus-shift in his untimely advocacy of ‘active sympathy with the essential and characteristic life of the place concerned’ rather than a merely principled, virtue-signalling sympathy with abstract totality of ‘nature’, the heuristic of which latter produces only a problem that overwhelms us with its enormity rather than series of manageable problems that we can effectively address.

  6. Torry Joe says:

    Very thought provoking article Mike. A real perspective of the present situation (and it’s getting g worse, daily). As implied it can only end in disaster. Sickening to the k that those responsible can be so blind. Thanks.

  7. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I appreciate that in covering such a huge topic you have to be selective.

    Other commenters have indicated things which might have been included had you had space.

    I should like to add my own: Sir Walter Scott. Much of the myth of Scotland derived from his fiction and was very influential not just with such as Queen Victoria, but also with a wide readership in Europe and beyond. The ‘Highlands’/Lowlands dichotomy is more his invention than it is geography’s and geology’s. For a couple of centuries this myth of Scotland was not only the perception of others but was to a fair extent our own perception of ourselves, as hundreds of things like the ‘White Heather Club’ portrayed.

    However, particularly over the past 50 years much of this has been debunked by developments in Scottish history, including Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade. And, it has also been superseded by developments in Scottish literature, music, drama and an evolving conception within many of us of what being Scottish entails.

    We have faced our past and, probably, have still more to face – ‘warts and all’. And an evolving sense of Scotland in a different context is growing.

    I think this self-examination has been largely absent amongst the population of Britain-England. How many people there have a sense of what ‘England’ – the only part of the UK which does not have a government – actually connotes?

    Shakespeare did a fair bit of creation of English history. How often do we hear John of Gaunt’s ‘this sceptr’d isle’ quoted as fact? Scott created a myth of a Saxon England, in novels like Ivanhoe. And, since the Jacobite Risings, the radical risings and the Napoleonic Wars we have had a continually created fantasy (it does not deserve the tern ‘myth’) of ‘Britain’ or ‘Britain-England’, with new traditions being invented at regular intervals, as we saw when Elizabeth Windsor died.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Alasdair Macdonald, I think Shakespeare’s ‘history’ plays were mining historiographies and other sources, not writing history (it was a hostile environment for history-writers), for critical, political, topical, commercial, patronage-related and dramatic purposes. I highly recommend the fascinating and well-written Janet Clare’s Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority: Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship.

      Sar Sgeoil: Macbeth draws on a new Gaelic production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play which offers historical backgrounds and interpretations of authorial intent (13 days left on BBC iPlayer).
      However, if I was staging a production of Macbeth, I would make the witches part of an anti-monarchical popular insurgency waging a cunning psychological warfare campaign to make the ruling elite kill each other off.

      In my view, Shakespeare undermines the official-royal providential preference for historiography in the plays, as any good dramatist would be inclined to (after all, human agency and tragic failings have ever been the stuff of drama); just as Shakespeare undermines warrior culture and the supposed virtue of kings and queens in Macbeth.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        My point, which I ought to have made more explicit, is the misuse of Shakespeare as a source of eminently quotable quotes taken out of context to provide respectability to malign ideas. Often propagandists juxtapose malign things with, say, eco activists, human rights advocates, supporters of independence to imply ‘guilt by association’. Quoting Shakespeare implies’decency by association’.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Alasdair Macdonald, one might also suppose that by quoting Shakespeare, someone promoting pro-Scottish Independence views makes it more difficult for opponents to accuse them of being anti-English… Of course, as a massive critic of royalty and English imperialism and xenophobia, perhaps Shakespeare has been on some people’s anti-English hit list for a very long time. Just thinking about that establishment-critical John O’Gaunt speech, how is it possible to reconcile having a sea as a moat, yet claim territories beyond that for England? Sure, obviously dramatic context is essential otherwise you are just quoting characters, whose views generally clash with others’ in plays, and often contradict themselves, not to mention being unrelated to belief or accuracy.

          Historian Keith Lowe devotes considerable space to myths and legends in The Fear and the Freedom, in the context of facing the end of the world, and possibly the beginning of a new one; myths populated by heroes, monsters and martyrs. The author writes in the Epilogue (p428):
          “A free person is a person burdened with responsibility and uncomfortable truths.”

          1. 221117 says:

            I had problems with Keith Lowes’ book.

            It’s one of those ‘sweeping’ histories that almost inevitably fall foul of sweeping generalisation. Each of its chapters begins with the story of an individual who was profoundly affected by the events of the war. But, instead of taking such stories as points of departure for the excavation of our collective life-experiences, Lowe uses them as springboards to abstract generalisations about why our cities look the way they do today, why our societies have become so diverse, and why our technologies have developed in the way they have. This is grand-narrativising on an epic scale, a very old-fashioned kind of (dare I say it?) ‘commercial’ history-writing.

            One of the consequences of his writing his history in this sweeping ‘grand narrative’ genre is a diffusion that weakens his central argument that our current moral thinking around issues such as human rights, economic reform, world peace, identity, and civil conflict has been shaped in its construction by the Second World War. Lowe divides that construction into tropes, to each which he dedicates a chapter of the book: the generation of our moral roles as heroes, martyrs, and/or victims; our post-apocalyptic striving for a rational, enlightened and peaceful utopian future; our efforts towards transnational world government; the emergence of absolute, ‘us-and-them’, ‘good-and-evil’, polarising moral dichotomies like the U.S./Soviet Union; the dreams of self-determination that have given rise to the fragmentation and atomisation of identity politics in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

            It also makes his arguments susceptible to unresolved/uncompleted contradictions. For example, the book’s claim that the war united almost everyone in a general understanding of what is right and what is wrong is contradicted by its revelation of pervasive struggles between rival moral camps, as is its claim that the war produced in us a universal urge to draw together as one by its simultaneous claim that it produced in us an equally universal urge to fragment into different and ever smaller sovereign groups. The books flaw is that it cannot hold these two narratives together, but neither does it even try to go beyond them to some sort of resolution.

    2. Niemand says:

      ‘I think this self-examination has been largely absent amongst the population of Britain-England. How many people there have a sense of what ‘England’ – the only part of the UK which does not have a government – actually connotes?’

      None of this true. It is not absent at all and people have been questioning and debating it loads and for decades.

  8. Allan Armstrong says:

    An excellent article but I don’t follow the following sentence:-

    “new land borders between Europe and Britain have been removed” What is meant here by “new land borders”? These seem to me a geographical impossibility. But Brexit has brought about a deepening of the English Channel moat, at a great cost to migrants, but also with very negative consequences for the rest if us living in these islands.

    1. Hi Allan – a mistake on my part. I’ve updated it. The point I was trying to make was about the fact that Brexit both creates borders and denies them. Scotland – again and again (in pandemic) is erased, both by the power grab and by the denial that any border exists at all.

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        Until the Stone of Destiny was repatriated of course, then they suddenly realised that there was, and closed it.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    ‘Why Are We the Good Guys?’ is the question asked by the Medialens team in their 2010 book:
    I guess there is some primitive ancestor-worship going on on both sides of the Atlantic. But for some ‘Greatness’ appears to have no positive correlation with ‘Good’, and some modern entertainment openly sells the plantation (colonial ruler/oppressor) lifestyle.

    Science fiction writers have not stopped imagining the near future, but their visions have apparently become less welcome on British screens (they might have to show an Independent Scotland and the End of Empire, for example, or a Drowned World, or one where a fearful population mass-slaughters household pets as they did around London in WW2). There was a recent Australian drama depicting climate-related social breakdown (The Commons, on STV), the adaptation of William Gibson’s The Peripheral is streaming on Amazon Prime. There has long been official UK resistance to programmes showing the realistic effects of nuclear war.

    Queen Victoria’s Small Wars didn’t end with her death (inexplicably the Assassins declined to Assassinate her in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate). The forces of Empire must always be kept bloodied and brutalised as conditioning to confront domestic uprisings. As armed forces take over from striking public service workers, the public will be able to look their potential future executioners in the eye, at least, although I guess the Special Forces won’t be wiping anyone’s bottoms (except in one of their initiation ceremonies, one supposes).

  10. John Wood says:

    I agree with so much here that it feels churlish to point out that “Both America and England have the rare privilege of never having been invaded,” is nonsense. Try telling that to the Native Americans! Or for that matter to those who proudly trace their ancestry back to “William the Conqueror” or to those who fought the Dutch-led coup d’état in 1688 .

    I think it is very important not to get caught by the idea that the only possible future is a dystopian ‘new normal’ forced on us all by international oligarchs. We are told that the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ (aka 4th Reich) is inevitable, and cautioned to surrender in the face of the shock and awe tactics of the 1%. It is not sustainable. In fact it can only deliver misery and death – even ultimately to those who believe they can save themselves by technology. Why? Simply because the planet is a living ecosystem, which only evolved humans very recently. And it is simply hubris to pretend that it can be possessed and controlled by a few augmented ‘trans-humans’, (the new ‘super race’) or exploited to destruction and abandoned by them when they take off to ‘start again’ on Mars. It ain’t going to happen.

    I can imagine a very good future, if we change our perception. The planet is not some sort of computer that can be ‘reset’
    or reprogrammed. Biology ultimately created and rules technology, not the other way round. And the planetary ecosystem ultimately ‘belongs’ only to itself. Humans are just one, very recent species within Earth’s ecosystem – not separate from it. The technology we seem to have become so addicted to is actually the product of a very limited, mechanistic understanding of the universe based on 19th c science. Biology with its power to regenerate, evolve, and change will be the ultimate survivor. ‘Power over’ is neither possible nor desirable. Instead of trying to save the planet, we should be asking the planet to save us. That means listening to and observing what is happening to our life support system, and working with nature for the benefit of the whole system – ‘power with’. The planet didn’t evolve us in order to commit suicide. The myth of Adam and Eve has them as gardeners. Maybe that is what we evolved to do. There’s nothing very revolutionary about the simple idea of mutual aid, caring and sharing, and refusing to be ruled by fear. Anyway, that’s surely a better future to imagine than the nightmare that the collapsing ideology of endless struggle and greed by individuals in a ‘pointless’ universe has brought us to.

    What is the real price and real value of everything? Let’s stop externalising costs, and take responsibility. What sort of a future do we really want? Those who are still possessed by the idea of possession, and controlled by the idea of control are terrified of losing both and will do anything to try to persuade us to keep the old system going; but in truth they are already losing our hearts and minds. No amount of ‘behavioural psychology’, propaganda, censorship, forced destitution, manufactured scarcity, hatred and hostility, can now save them.

    So a better future is not only possible, it is actually inevitable, at least for those who survive the storm that’s breaking. Surely our job is now to try to make sure as many as possible do survive so look after yourself – and other people, animals, plants, minerals: we all need each other. There are no real enemies except ideological ones.

    And incidentally I have recently cancelled my mobile phone account, and feel much happier without it.

    1. 221014 says:

      The fourth Industrial Revolution is [as] inevitable [as the preceding three] and current. We’re at present living in a developing environment in which disruptive technologies are changing the way we live and work, in exactly the same way that previous revolutions did. The first Industrial Revolution involved the industrialisation of society that was driven by technological developments like the steam engine. The second was driven by the development of electricity and led to the development of societies based on the mass production and conspicuous consumption of manufactured goods and services. The third was driven by the development of digital technologies, which reset society around an information economy rather than a manufacturing economy. And the ongoing fourth revolution is based on the development of technologies that are driving a globally explosive and disruptive acceleration of the social change occasioned by the previous digital one. According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the the speed, scope, pervasiveness, and impact of these current technological developments are as tremendous as those of the first revolution that birthed capitalism from the agrarianism that had shaped human society prior to modernity.

      History has its own internal logic – an inevitability driven by our own inventiveness and technological development as a species – that we can’t escape.

      1. John Wood says:

        Well, I am very well aware of Dr Schwab’s ideas, which you seem to quote more or less verbatim.
        I disagree very strongly with him.
        The industrial revolutions were driven by a drive to possess and control other people and ‘nature’ by means of technology – and so is this one.

        Schwab was born and grew up in Nazi Germany, subjected as a child to intense propaganda. I think that has influenced his thinking, maybe without him being aware of it. He set up and still co-ordinates the World Economic Forum to ‘make the world a better place’ for its exclusive, super-rich members – people who would possess and control the entire planet, you and me included. The ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ is about controlling and exploiting biology, including our biology. We are seen as mere ‘human resources’. But technology does not have to serve such ends. The purposes it serves are actually for us to decide.

        The current techno-fascism that seeks to colonise our very bodies and minds fails to take account of modern science. ‘Biology’ is not something that can be possessed and controlled like a computer – or even a steam engine. My point is that it is / we are alive, people and planet are very much more than mere ‘resources’ to be exploited and discarded like concentration camp victims. Schwab is just cautioning us to surrender, to give up all hope, and hand all power to him and his friends. But it is not going to happen. The whole concept of an ‘Industrial Revolution’ is out of date.
        There’s far more to life in its many forms than are dreamt of in Schwab’s philosophy

        1. 221114 says:

          Well, I disagree strongly with your volitional interpretation of history; so there! History isn’t driven transcendently by any human purpose (e.g. to possess and control other people), any more than we used to think it was driven by some divine purpose; i.e. it’s not driven by design. Rather, it’s driven immanently by the efficient causes of its own structural dynamics; that’s the modern ‘scientific’ explanation. We like to think we’re masters of our own fate, but we’re not. Our fate is determined by the impersonal forces of technological change and the relations of production into which the operation of our technologies oblige us to enter. Just as the steam engine produced modernity capitalism, so too will technologies artificial intelligence, gene editing, and robotics profoundly change our immediate life-experience and the worlds we create from that life-experience.

          Current technological development is driving an explosive and disruptive social change of such speed, scope, pervasiveness, and impact that is at least just as profound as the social and cultural changes that previous technological revolutions effected, and the idea that we can control this historical process is a transcendental pretence. This process isn’t the evil conspiracy of the World Economic Forum and its members; its the natural outcome of impersonal historical forces.

          Klaus Schwab is Swiss. His father was the director of a Swiss factory based in Germany during the Third Reich, but repatriated to Zürich after he and his wife came under the monitor of the Gestapo for refusing to surrender their Swiss accents. Klaus received his entire education in Zürich, graduating as a mechanical engineer from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1961. His alleged Nazi upbringing and consequent is nothing but a slander.

          That said, I’m not a big fan of the World Economic Forum myself. It does seek to control and regulate the historical process in the interests of the participants in its communities, who self-select from the world’s political, scientific, and cultural elites, which is more than a wee bit too exclusive and interventionist for my liking. But I also think its ambition to control and regulate history is futile and yet another example of the modernist transcendental pretence. The sheer explosiveness and disruptiveness of the fourth industrial revolution qua revolution ensures that its outcomes are as impredictable and unmanageable as those of any of its predecessors.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist, so why are you frequently yapping about the ‘general will’ and ‘will to power’ if you don’t believe in the ‘volitional interpretation of history’? What is the point of politics if we are all swept along on a tide whose course we cannot change? Why not just give up on politics altogether?

          2. John Wood says:

            Well, of course I may be mistaken about Schwab’s origins, but I do think the WEF’s purpose is totalitarian, and needs to be resisted. His announcement of the Great Reset and its elements (no discussion or consultation, note), horrifies me.
            You and I will just have to agree to differ on our interpretation of history, and life in general. Marxism to me is just another outdated 19th c philosophy.

          3. 221015 says:

            The point of politics is to justly regulate the exercise of power in our public decision-making. According to the theory I’m currently test-driving, a just regulation is one that as far as possible ensures that the decisions we collectively make are expressions not of what any minority or majority in a society wants (a minority/majority will) but, rather, of what the generality of that society wants (the general will). This general will emerges from the sort of decision-maklng discourse or deliberation that takes place in some ideal speech situation, such as those postulated by Rawls in his egalitarian liberalism or Habermas in his egalitarian socialism.

            The historiography that reads history as being driven accidentally and causally by technological development, rather than deliberately and teleologically by human volition, doesn’t preclude the need for public decision-making or for social justice in that decision-making.

          4. 221015 says:

            The WEF does have an outsized influence on government policies around the world, John.

            The far-right has been issuing conspiracy theories about the WEF and its pushing of a far-left radical programme, centred around the ‘great reset’, for some time now. So has the far-left; though its conspiracy theorists focus less on the substance of its programme and more on the optic of a bunch of rich, powerful and glamorous people and wannabe plutocrats who gather high up in the Swiss Alps and other exotic locations to hash out ideas with prime ministers and presidents, celebrities, bankers, academics, and others who have disproportionate power in shaping and guiding public policy.

            I do think we need to focus not so much on the content of the WEF’s conclusions and more on how the super-elites, who sit at the top of the economic, political and social pyramid, seek to turn the rules of the game in their favour by shaping government policy globally.

            The WEF doesn’t use mind-altering hypnosis to get world leaders to do what it wants, any more than the gutter press brainwashes the electorate to vote for its preferred candidates in elections. Rather, it hosts a forum for exchanging ideas in congenial environments, ideas that can be tested when its participants return to the economic and social laboratories of their own home countries.

            When people spend a lot of time together in an environment where work and socialising intermingle, whether in a university, at Davos, or at other venues where powerful people routinely come together, a shared mindset develops of what needs to be done, whether to manage disruptive technological change, ameliorate climate change, or handle pandemics. That shared mindset is then brought back home to inform domestic government policy. In this way, wannabe plutocrats don’t have to try to use their money to buy public office, but instead can cultivate a shared mindset among leaders that will redirect or ‘reset’ the ruling hegemony of a nation, a region, or even the world.

            There’s long been a revolving door between the top echelons of government, the private and public sectors, and academia. The WEF facilitates this by creating a forum for the world’s business, knowledge, and political elites to mix and mingle and evolve a shared mindset.

            Critics of the theory that wealthy individuals would want to implant the WEF’s left-wing ideology might assume that the wealthy, by definition, will always push for free markets and minimal government intervention. This is an error, based on an obsolete reading of contemporary political landscapes that still carves it up in terms of past 20th century communities of knowledge. The relationship between plutocrats and the state can’t be reduced to businesses batting for smaller government. Often, a big, intrusive state capitalist regime, like those of China and Russia, and those of nationalised industries like the arts, defence, education, and health, which depend on taxation and lobby for protectionist legislation and higher spending, is the plutocrats’ best friend.

            To resist plutocracy, we need more robust democratic controls on the ability of the elites who gather at WEF events to exercise unequal power in our public decision-making. The greater dispersal of power throughout society by instituting more decentred decision-making processes might be the best defence.

          5. John Wood says:

            Thanks, I disagree with most of this but fortunately do agree with your conclusion.
            The Great Reset is not a conspiracy theory, it is conspiracy fact, announced by (then ‘prince’ ) Charles and Dr Schwab in 2020 but clearly in preparation for years before. The WEF is an an exclusive club of the super-rich with the stated aim to ‘make the world a better place’. And when you look at the components of the Great Reset announced by Dr Schwab, it is clear that the WEF needs to come clean and add to its slogan, ‘for ourselves, of course’. It is all about exerting complete possession and control over everything and everyone, because these are people who see the world only in terms of ‘resources’ to be exploited – including ‘human resources’.
            Their methods are also no secret, consisting of biological, technological and psychological warfare against people and planet. The UK government’s so-called Nudge Unit could be straight out of Orwell. So as they announce the ‘New Normal’, they also tell us it’s a ‘conspiracy theory’ to be dismissed.

            Now, the new fascism basically amounts to the end of all freedom, human rights, in fact ‘you’ll own nothing’ and be reduced to abject debt slavery, as already seen in the 3rd World. It cannot be described in terms of ‘ right or left wing’ as commonly understood. They play both sides to confuse and frighten people. And as Orwell predicted, all democratic and regulatory institutions, at all levels, are hollow lies. The form may survive but the reality is that they aim to have absolute power. As Schwab says, governments are expected to ‘Co-operate’ with the agenda. This is done through corruption and threats, and so-called trade deals that put their private profit before any other consideration through ISDS and similar mechanisms and overrule any policy or legislation they don’t like. They own the media and academics and professionals dance to their tune or lose their jobs.
            Of course, the problem is really the ideology that puts absolute power, control, and possession as the goal of life. It’s not confined to this particular organisation – it underpins modern economic theory – but the WEF is a great exponent of it. And since at least the 18th century (Bernard Mandeville) the ends always justify any means. There is no place for ethics except as empty ‘virtue signalling’.
            There really isn’t much difference between the so-called Communism of China and the so-called capitalism in the west. Putin described Russia as a ‘managed democracy’, where whoever you vote for the oligarchs stay in charge. That is exactly what we have now in the UK and US.
            Anyway, I agree that the only future has to be the opposite of world dictatorship by the super-rich, however you describe it. As Schumacher said, Small is Beautiful.

          6. 221117 says:

            The ‘Great Reset’ initiative is certainly not a conspiracy; it’s a recovery plan that the WEF drew up in response to the social and economic disruption of the pandemic, after the model of how it proposed to mitigate the explosive and disruptive economic and social change that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is driving with the speed, scope, pervasiveness, and impact of its technological development. I’ve already suggested that the WEF’s project to control this historical process through creating conditions for a ‘stakeholder economy’ that operates in a more ‘resilient, equitable, and sustainable’ way, utilising environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics and ‘harnessing the technological innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to do so, is the last stand of the European Enlightenment’s ‘transcendental pretence’, the idea that we’re the master of our own destiny. All this is in plain sight; no secret is made of it.

            Stakeholder capitalism is an organisation of our productive forces (land, labour, and capital) whereby production is oriented to serve the interests of all its stakeholders and not just its capital investors. Among the key stakeholders are customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, and the communities and environment in which that production takes place. Under this mode of production, the end is the creation of long-term value rather than maximise short-term profits for shareholders at the expense of other stakeholder groups.

            Supporters of stakeholder capitalism believe they can have their cake and eat it. Not only is it ‘ethical’; it’s also essential to the long-term optimum success of any business. The elites who want to save both capitalism and the planet through their Great Reset initiative believe that resetting capitalism in this way is a win-win strategy.

            And, yes, I imagine that the revolutionary technological developments that have rapidly ensued from the application of recent breakthroughs in behavioural science that proposes adaptive designs of decision-making environments (what nudge theorists call ‘choice architecture’) as ways to influence the behaviour and decision-making of groups and individuals that are more efficient than other, more traditional ways of achieving compliance, such as education or coercion, will be one of the the technological innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that the elites of the WEF will seek to harness in creating a greener, fairer world out of the disruption and decay of the old.

            There’s no pretence, no corruption or threats, no conspiracy; just a forum in which the world’s elites can cultivate a shared mindset in accordance with which they can redirect or ‘reset’ the ruling hegemony of their respective nations, regions, and thereby the world.

            But, as I say, they’re on a hiding to nothing. Revolutions like the one we’re living through can’t be tamed; the technological development that’s driving it is evolving too fast and impredictably.

      2. Graeme Purves says:

        Oh dear. Yet more verbose fatalism.

        1. 221015 says:

          Less a case of fatalism and more a case of necessitas per accidens (‘accidental necessity’). But you won’t understand this either.

  11. florian albert says:

    ‘Unchained Britain is in a state of manufactured fear and heightened paranoia.’

    I see no evidence of Britain being in a state of fear or paranoia. There is certainly concern that so many people are crossing the Channel and arriving in the UK illegally. Opinion polls suggest that most people want this to stop.
    One, insufficiently commented on, fact here is that there are tens of thousands of people who are so keen to get out of France – part of the EU – that they will spend large sums of money and risk their life in small boats to get to England.

    ‘What England yearns for is a war.’

    Go on, Mike admit it. Nobody in England yearns for a war. What England wants is to win the World Cup; almost as much as we in Scotland yearn for their defeat; preferably by a small country, as happened when they lost to Iceland a few years back.

    1. 221114 says:

      Yep, I must admit that, in my wanderings on both sides of the border, I don’t detect any of the paranoia of which spokespeople of both the ‘left’ and ‘right’ speak through much of their media. Maybe all their talk of ‘paranoia’ is just a tad hysterical.

      1. Niemand says:

        I cannot work out whether those who make such claims about England and ‘Britain’ actually believe them or simply want them to be true. The English press is no different really – talking as if the country is on the verge of total implosion / chaos through some kind of mass hysteria / unrest / societal collapse / mass invasion of undesirables. It is total garbage.

        The problem is journalists mainly read each other, look at politicians and political debate and the shouty on social media, all as an accurate and thorough bellwether of the wider country. It isn’t and is not only blinkered and narrow, it seriously misrepresents what somewhere is actually like. As journalism it is dishonest and quite lazy – read some stuff from / about the usual suspects online (goodies and baddies) and hey presto, another article is done. If you actually talked to ordinary people with an open mind instead it would be blindingly obvious virtually no-one ‘yearns for a war’ any more than they do in Scotland, nor are they any more paranoid. I am sorry to say such claims verge on xenophobia.

        1. 221116 says:

          Such mediations are true in the pragmatic sense for those who spin them inasmuch as they serve to ‘other’ those whom they identify as ‘English’, which is the effect those mediators are aiming for. It’s about creating dichotomies that can then be exploited for political ends. Elsewhere, similar mediations are spun about ‘Jews’, ‘Blacks’, ‘immigrants’, ‘Poofs’, ‘Paips’, ‘Muslims’, ‘Tories’, ‘Toffs’, ‘Yoonies’, etc., and all such othering mediations can be considered true by those find them effective in helping them make sense of/construct the world in a way that’s useful to them.

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