Democracies are, by design, competitive and thus often messy….. As voters become increasingly frustrated with a lack of results, they will look to ‘more effective’ strongman models of the type embodied by Russia and China. …At the end of the day, people may be willing to forgo some of their freedoms in exchange for governments they view as capable of delivering results.Washington Post op-ed
The views above illustrate the second wing of what lurks beneath the surface of the Western world’s increasingly fragmented culture. The first wing, climate change, will only exacerbate the frustration of people who thought they had life figured out and now realize that ideology can’t save them from the harshness of the real world, where each tiny fuckup comes packaged with its own singular butterfly effect.
As the ramifications of global warming become blatantly irreversible, not to mention dangerous, so-called strongman models of governing may be viewed as benign solutions to implacable problems. At least to those who seek benign solutions, sane or otherwise. Societal freedoms, once jealously guarded, could soon morph into quaint reminders of how democracy can, and often does, turn rogue. Per example, consider the current occupants of the White House.
But fools like Donald Trump are mere symptoms of a much deeper pathology infecting the Land of the Free. And while the president may resemble a bumbling clown gracing the cover of Mad Magazine, his Russian and Chinese analogs do not.
Most of my friends (what’s left of them) seem clueless when I mention China’s über-ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Billed as the most expansive infrastructure project since the Big Bang, the initiative’s design is nothing short of a grandiose matrix of global investments, transportation hubs, international markets, cultural exchange, technological innovation, and top-down autocratic control.
In short, the Chinese politburo envisions a juggernaut of commerce unrivaled in human history. A juggernaut that will unalterably reshape the world in ways as yet unimagined. And while I’ve not been allowed access to the labyrinthine doings of Xi Jinping’s mind, suffice it to say that nothing about this project has anything to do with social justice or ecological sustainability. Or, as my Chinese friends might say: Wu!
There has been hardly a peep from America’s neo-greens re: China’s massive global infrastructure project; a project that portends to radically change the game of business, commerce, industry, and social life from sea to shining sea. While legions of kids call for compostable drinking straws, the Belt and Road Initiative portends to reshape who controls the world’s remaining “resources,” as well as how those materials (and energy) are transported to and from the Middle Kingdom. If history is any barometer of the future, and it is, we should expect repeated body blows to the environment as we sell out one species after another in search of ever-increasing growth, progress and so-called “information.” To put it in more concrete terms: your iPhone has become a miniature Weapon of Mass Extinction. Data does not grow on trees.
Meanwhile, China is also building out what they refer to as the Digital Silk Road, which incorporates submarine fiber cables, a fleet of satellites, and 5G wireless amongst a growing network of “partners.” If you enjoy talking to your toaster, you’re going to love 5-G. The so-called Internet of Things might sound like something you’d see in Blade Runner X, but 5-G technology is as yet untested re: its effects upon human health. Not to worry, Big Brother has your back!
The clamor for a Green New Deal, as well-intentioned as it is, appears clueless where China’s digital aims are concerned. Aims that include facial recognition, an updated GPS tracking system, social credit scoring, the instantaneous collection and processing of virtually all data, and the potential to determine who wins and loses in the real Game of Thrones. To date, the Belt and Road Initiative is set to touch over 60% of the world’s population and estimated to cost a whopping $26 trillion. Where’s the Money Wrench Gang when you need them?
Every facet of human society, not to mention nature, will feel the effects of what’s speeding down the pike like a run-away bobsled. There will be winners and losers. Then there’s the rest of us.
“Perhaps in the 21st century, populist revolts will be staged not against an economic elite that exploits people but against an economic elite that does not need them anymore. This may well be a losing battle. It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.”(Yuval Noah Harari, The Atlantic)
Belt and Road, 5-G, artificial intelligence, personal digital assistants, Google cars, facial recognition, social credit scores, the Internet of Things, colonizing Mars….. just a few of the things coming soon to a neighborhood near you, each with the capability to upend your life in ways as yet unimagined.
But let’s not forget the real 800 pound gorilla in the room – climate change.
We must face up to an inescapable reality: the challenges of sustainability simply overwhelm the adequacy of our responses. With some honorable exceptions, our responses are too few, too little, and too late.Kofi A. Annan
At this point, it’s hard to see which is more nefarious: the effects of climate change on each and every living thing, or the unbridled onslaught of technological wizardry; a wizardry not that dissimilar to Dr. Frankenstein’s infamous machinations. Not that we have to choose; the choice will be made for us, with or without our intractable belief in free will.
However history decides to play the cards, sooner or later our grand experiment in American democracy is liable to collapse under its own weight. Fear and confusion have dramatic effects on the human organism. And as the American Dream turns on itself, testing our society’s threshold for despair as climate chaos begins intruding into our daily lives, the logical next move will be towards salvation, regardless of its form or tactical apparatus.
These rhetorical geniuses are the drummers of fate. They begin their work alone in dark and dismal historical epochs and suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves in the spotlight of new developments. They are the speakers who make history.Joseph Goebbels. “Der Führer als Redner,” Adolf Hitler. Bilder aus dem Leben des Führers (Hamburg: Cigaretten/Bilderdienst Hamburg/Bahrenfeld, 1936
If it seems preposterous that Americans would willingly relinquish their frivolous use of freedom in return for autocratic security and faster download speeds, it might help to remember that open and free societies have been a rarity during our long slog out of the Ice Age. Examples of hegemonic control are ubiquitous and exist in a multitude of guises, sometimes right under our noses.
As climate curve balls begin to threaten America’s economic fabric, eroding the backbone of consumerism, slaughtering sacred cows as they graze the pastures of Wall Street, it is not illogical to assume that a slow burning panic will begin infecting our neurology in ways all too predictable. And when angels fear to tread even the most well-worn paths, some species of autocracy can’t be far behind.
The existential question now staring down the American Dream is one of conscience. What exactly is the good life and do we have what it takes to live it? Why do we cling to a nonsensical dream, premised on unsustainable growth for the sake of growth, when the inevitable outcome is global suffering, to the point of mass and ubiquitous extinctions?
The answer is complicated, but clearly illustrates how easily we are manipulated by ideologies that either produce healthy results or some unwanted evil twin. Anybody with a modem knows by now that we’re collectively dismantling ecosystems on a daily basis as we pursue bottomless growth, fueled by quarterly earnings, dividend checks, credit card debt, mindless consumption, and whatever else is lurking down the fracking hole. Yet we march on, as if tomorrow is simply another perk provided by the good folks behind Door Number Three.
It all keeps pointing in one glaring direction: human consciousness run amok.
The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world.(Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction)
Back to the good life. How about a basic working definition to play with? Perhaps something along the lines of a life lived with integrity, one that works in harmony with natural systems, based around community, cooperation, optimum human health, and personal responsibility. Always asking if our actions are likely to lead towards healthy outcomes for ourselves and the world around us, or the opposite. Calling into question the whole sham surrounding our standard of living and its addiction to endless growth. Entropy does not tolerate foolishness.
Climate change is simply the price tag for the mess we’ve made of the planet and ourselves. Are we willing to pay that price? Time will tell. And soon.
As I see it, our own nation is not free from the danger of dictatorship. And I refer to internal as well as external threats to our liberties.Edward Abbey
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