By Amir NOUR for The Saker Blog
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”
A red alert in an age of fear, anger and extremes
In anticipation of its 2018 edition, the well-regarded Munich Security Conference issued a report which aimed to serve as a useful compilation for an impressive gathering of over 300 decision makers and security professionals coming from all four corners of the world.
Quoting the following message delivered by the newly elected United Nations Secretary-general António Guterres, the epigraph to the very first article of the report clearly nailed the colors to the mast: “When I took office one year ago, I appealed for 2017 to be a year for peace. Unfortunately, in fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse. On New Year’s Day 2018, I am not issuing an appeal. I am issuing an alert—a red alert for our world. Conflicts have deepened and new dangers have emerged. Global anxieties about nuclear weapons are the highest since the Cold War. Climate change is moving faster than we are. Inequalities are growing. We see horrific violations of human rights. Nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise”.
Could there be any more accurate and concise depiction of the state of the world in the early years of the twenty-first century?
Epochal developments in nearly all areas of human activity have triggered increasing concern about the sustainability of an international order conceived, shaped and erected in large measure by the United States of America, in the wake of World War II, thanks to its economic and military might. But this so-called US-led “liberal” order has been witnessing steady erosion and is today brutally called into question, to say the least. And surprisingly enough, its very foundations have been subject to incessant assaults carried out by those who have constructed it—led today by the Donald Trump administration, in response to what it views as excesses of an unbridled globalization. As John Ikenberry stated “the world’s most powerful state has begun to sabotage the order it created. A hostile revisionist power has indeed arrived on the scene, but it sits in the Oval Office, the beating heart of the Free world”.
The conjunction of such realities as illegal wars waged by self-proclaimed global policemen against weaker “disobedient” albeit sovereign states, and unparalleled economic inequality stemming from the contradictions of capitalist globalization and the behavior of unfettered corporate expansion exploiting almost every area of public and private life, has generated a growing global authoritarianism and social Darwinism.
Thus, along a similar train of thought as other leading critics of this twenty-first century-style global capitalism—like Paul Krugman and Thomas Piketty—Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz described this pervasive reality of great divide in an important book. During the past decade, he writes, “four of the central issues facing our society have been the great divide—the huge inequality that is emerging in the United States and many other advanced countries— economic mismanagement, globalization, and the role of the state and the market”. This situation is “related to the role of special interests in our politics —a politics that increasingly represents the interests of the 1 percent”.
That’s why in 2014, Oxfam submitted a landmark briefing paper calling on the world’s elite gathered in Davos to make commitments needed to counter the growing tide of inequality. The paper indicates that almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population. This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people, Oxfam warns, presents a real threat to inclusive political and economic systems, and compounds other inequalities. All the more so since left unchecked, political institutions are undermined and governments overwhelmingly serve the interests of economic elites—to the detriments of ordinary people. These prospects have since been proven right in another report from Oxfam which showed that just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world and considered “beyond grotesque” that a handful of rich men headed by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates are worth $426bn, equivalent to the wealth of 3.6 billion people.
By the same token, a report from the Institute for Policy Studies  found that the 3 wealthiest citizens in the US (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet) are richer than the poorest half of the population of this country, equivalent to 160 million people! Their combined wealth amounts to a staggering figure of $248.5 billion. Commenting on these findings, Chuck Collins, an economist and co-author of the report, said that the “billionaire class” continues to separate from the rest of the population at an accelerated pace, and that “so much money concentrated in so few hands when so many people are struggling is not only a sign of bad economic policy, it is a moral crisis”.
Pankaj Mishra aptly captured and eloquently summed up the big picture and the choreography of this danse macabre in which the world got trapped. He rightfully observed that “future historians may well see such uncoordinated mayhem as commencing the third—and the longest and the strangest—of all world wars: one that approximates, in its ubiquity, a global civil war.
But how did the world get to experience its present horrendous predicament?
From Prometheus to Homo Deus
Marshalling an impressive array of research in his 2014 book “The Progress Paradox”, Gregg Easterbrook makes the assertion that almost all aspects of Western life have vastly improved in the past century, and that the last fifty years made almost everything so much better for almost everybody that it is sheer perversity to feel bad about most anything. Very recently, he reiterated this claim, and in doing so, he denounced all those who are engaged in a “politics of competitive nostalgia” which demands return to an idealized past that can never be reached because, he says, it never existed in the first place. Instead, Easterbrook is convinced that by almost every meaningful measure, the modern world is better than it has ever been, and an even better future can be reached.
In the same vein, assessing the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, also drawing upon wide-ranging research and seventy-five graphs, points out that “life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge and happiness” are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. He draws the apparently logical conclusion that there has never been a better time to be a human being.
And yet today, most men and women feel less happy than in previous generations; a fact that prompted David Callahan to ask the big question: why do so many walk around scowling, rather than smiling at their good fortune in being born into the present generation?
So, why is this global discontent, in the face of an undeniable improvement in the general human condition?
Is it attributable, as Pinker thinks, only to the fact that this progress “which is not the result of some cosmic force, but a gift of the Enlightenment, the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing” swims against currents of human nature—tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking, which “demagogues committed to political, religious and romantic ideologies” are all too willing to exploit in a rearguard war, resulting in a “corrosive fatalism and willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy”?
Or is the current global crisis, as many others believe, because botched experiments in nation-building, democracy, industrialization, and urbanization scar much of the world, and such concepts as modernity, secularism, development, and progress are no more than long-held utopian views by the powerful few as benign ideals for the many? This opinion is shared by Pankaj Mishra who asserts that the political impasses and economic shocks of our societies, as well as the irreparably damaged environment, corroborate the bleakest views of a long list of thinkers, starting with nineteenth-century critics, who condemned modern capitalism as “a heartless machine for economic growth, or the enrichment of the few, which works against such fundamentally human aspirations as stability, community and a better future”.
Also jumps to mind here the response to a question posed to Noam Chomsky by his interviewer on whether civilization can survive the predatory capitalism most advanced economies have returned to since the late 1970s: “Really existing capitalist democracy—RECD for short (pronounced ‘wrecked’)—is radically incompatible with democracy. It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive really existing capitalism and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it”.
It is noteworthy that as far back as 1932, Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” foresaw such a looming scientific dictatorship, though it seemed as much frightening as it was a projection into the remote future. Less than thirty years later however, in a fascinating and no less scary non-fiction book, Huxley compared the modern-day world with the prophetic fantasy envisioned in his previous analysis, including threats to humanity induced by dazzling advances in the field of the science of thought control in particular. His new book was meant to be a challenge to any complacency with regard to the increasingly powerful pressures to adopt these modern tools, as well as a plea that mankind should educate itself for freedom before it was too late.
Nowadays, there’s little doubt that we are well on our way to almost everything Aldous Huxley’s book warned us against. Indeed, a recent book by Franklin Foer addressed these very daunting challenges, with particular emphasis on the dangers that the GAFA—the four technology giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon—pose to our culture and careers. He argued that in their methods of consumer observation and data gathering, and in their intention to replace human decision-making with merciless algorithms, these companies “are shredding the principles that protect individuality”. It’s even worse than that, he adds, because in their quest to dominate the markets and the world, these “fearsome four”, as Foer characterizes them, “have lulled us into a sense of pliant dependency as they influence our thinking and activities”. And since they are far more powerful than the elite “gate keeping” institutions of the past—the major television networks or the leading newspapers—they have become the new arbiters of media, economy, politics and the arts.
A similar opinion is expressed by Yuval Noah Harari, an author and historian who has managed to capture the imagination of millions of people around the world, thanks to his two global bestsellers. In Sapiens, Harari explains how humankind came to rule the planet, and in Homo Deus, he examines humanity’s future. He underlined that “The global empire being forged before our eyes is not governed by a particular state or ethnic group. Much like the Roman Empire, it is ruled by a multi-ethnic elite, and is held together by a common culture and common interests. Throughout the world, more and more entrepreneurs, engineers, experts, scholars, lawyers and managers are called to join the empire. They must ponder whether to answer the imperial call or to remain loyal to their state and their people. More and more choose the empire”.
As for his vision of the future, Harari believes that the pursuit of projects, dreams, and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life—may ultimately render most human beings superfluous. He predicts that the main products of the twenty-first-century economy will not be textiles, vehicles, and weapons but bodies, brains, and minds. Thus, “while the industrial revolution created the working class, the next big revolution will create the useless class […] Democracy and the free market will both collapse once Google and Facebook know us better than we know ourselves, and authority will shift from individual humans to networked algorithms. Humans won’t fight machines; they will merge with them”.
Equally worryingly, Harari is of the opinion that fascism and dictatorships might come back, but they will do so in a new form, a form which is much more relevant to the new technological realities of the 21st century. In ancient times, he observes, land was the most important asset in the world. Politics, therefore, was the struggle to control land. And dictatorship meant that all the land was owned by a single ruler or by a small oligarch. But in the modern age, as machines became more important than land, “politics became the struggle to control the machines. And dictatorship meant that too many of the machines became concentrated in the hands of the government or of a small elite. Now data is replacing both land and machines as the most important asset”. Harari concludes that “the greatest danger that now faces liberal democracy is that the revolution in information technology will make dictatorships more efficient than democracies”. This is the shape of the new world, he adds, and the gap between those who get on board and those left behind will be larger than the gap between industrial empires and agrarian tribes, larger even than the gap between Sapiens and Neanderthals. This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.
The global spiritual influx: requiem for Western consumerist secularism?
For the intelligent layman to fathom the whys and wherefores of today’s world reality, a cross-specialization and interdisciplinary approach based on the latest trend in the realm of social sciences—social neuroscience in particular, which posits that humans are fundamentally a social species, rather than individualists—is crucially needed.
In this regard, Malek Bennabi can be thought of as a pioneer, well ahead of his Western peers. The essence of his most original ideas is expressed in his book on the question of ideas in the Muslim world. Taking stock of the universe and man’s place in it, Bennabi provided a comprehensive analysis through a breathtaking historical, theological, philosophical and sociological perspective. He made the fundamental observation that faced with his own loneliness, man feels overwhelmed by a sense of cosmic void. It is his way of filling this void that determines the type of his culture and civilization, that’s to say all the internal and external features of his historical vocation. The Algerian thinker believes that there are essentially two different ways of doing it: either looking at one’s feet down to the earth below, or lifting up one’s eyes to heaven. The former attempts to overcome his solitude with material things, with his overbearing gaze wanting to possess, while the latter would have recourse to ideas to achieve his goal, with his questioning gaze searching for truth. And thus arise two kinds of culture: a culture of empire with technical roots, and a culture of civilization with ethical and metaphysical roots.
Bennabi then explains that for each of these two types of civilizations, the point of failure comes to the excess of its core, that is: overindulgence of mysticism for the latter, and overindulgence of materialism for the former. Thus, for instance, over the course of their respective historical trajectories, the Islamic civilization has been taken away from its initial balance, only to be inexorably thrown into the hands of the theologians and mystics. Similarly, Western civilization’s embrace of intemperate materialism, both capitalist and communist, has led to a systematic destruction of the moral fabric of its societies, hence progressively dragging the world it eventually dominated into a situation where objects are increasingly overwhelming humanity.
As if pondering and agreeing with Bennabi’s deep reflection, Indian author J.C. Kapur contends that consumerism is making the soul of its addicts empty, permitting all kinds of transgressions with low culture instruments, hence further invigorating unicentralism and limiting humans merely to the status of consumers of material objects. He believes that in the quest for new directions “our salvation will lie in the recognition of the fact that the images of materialism that are being projected are leading towards a moral, ethical and spiritual vacuum that would bar all processes of human development and evolution”. Even more worrying is for him the fact that with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the ensuing marketization of its successor state’s economy, the global market economies have now arrived at the stage of an “Armament Protected Consumerism” leading towards an ecologically, socially, emotionally and psychically unsustainable paradigm. And so, any attempts to structure a new “Imperial Civilization” on the parameters of a global information society can only be short-lived. He, accordingly, poses the big question as to what focal point should be given to human activity: will it be around material gain or the unending search for the true nature of man in harmony with the cosmic laws?
In effect, for more than two centuries, a diehard tradition of thought, from early “positivists” like Auguste Comte and Friedrich Nietzsche, to modern outspoken “atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Bennett and Sam Harris, has assumed that modernization would render all religions obsolete, and fantasized about a free, democratic, secular, and materially superior world where reason and science would guide humanity towards a bright and happy future. A case in point here is what French politician Jean Jaurès said in a speech in 1903: “If the very idea of God took a palpable form, if God himself stood visible on the multitudes, the first duty of man would be to refuse obedience and treat Him as the equal with whom we discuss, and not the master that one submits to”.
And so, proponents of this “new religion” have regularly pronounced faith to be dead. Some of them went as far as to assume the “death of God”, while others did not hesitate to write about nothing less than “God’s funeral”!
Up to the sixties of the 20th century, the trend to total secularization in the “Western” world seemed irreversible. And so was admittedly the case in the overwhelming majority of the newly decolonized countries of the third world. Their “Westernized” ruling classes did all they could to persuade their fellow citizens that the superiority of the “advanced” countries lays in the Western ideas and institutions and hoped to access modernity by simply and blindly adopting both; the most extreme example in this respect being Atatürk’s (the father of the Turks) Republic of Turkey.
Today, it’s become all too obvious that the demise of religion and this sense of wonderful expectation about the intrinsic virtues of technological progress have all but gone missing. And it is no longer possible, as Pankaj Mishra pointed out to deny or obscure the great chasm “between an elite that seizes modernity’s choicest fruits while disdaining older truths and uprooted masses, who, on finding themselves cheated of the same fruits, recoil into cultural supremacism, populism and rancorous brutality”. 
Now that the contradictions and high costs of this minority’s progress have become visible on a global scale, there’s an urgent need for a truly life-saving transformative thinking along the lines J.C. Kapur referred to, or even some of the compelling insights developed by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow in their 2011 book.
It’s worth recalling in this regard that back in December 1975, in an interview given to Le Point magazine, the famed French novelist and Minister André Malraux denied having ever said that “the 21st century will be religious (spiritual) or won’t be”; a quote too often credited to him, to this day. He surely did say however that “I do not exclude the possibility of a spiritual event on a planetary scale”. On this, he was indeed prophetic, since only four years after this interview, the Iranian Islamic revolution broke out, ushering in an exceptional revival of faith, particularly in the Muslim world, even though religion there has never ceased to hold sway. To be sure, this revolution was the most striking and violent “local” manifestation of the rejection of the “global spiritual emptiness” that had until then characterized the “post-modern” world, forcefully promoted by the Enlightenment movement, but equally fiercely castigated during the “May 1968” wave of tectonic social and political changes that swept the European continent, starting in France precisely.
It seems clear for everybody to see that the “sacred” character of the thoroughly secularized state born after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 is now crumbling. And like all other political forms, the nation-state experienced a rise and a climax, and is presently in decline. For a lot of people, consequently, religions—far from declining as expected or hoped for—constitute the most solid landmark to fill the void and face today’s world disorder and uncertainty. In the words of the bestselling author and influential scholar of religion Rodney Stark, the world is more religious than ever before. He reached that conclusion after surveying more than a million people in 163 countries to paint the full picture that both mainstream scholars and popular commentators have missed.  Assuredly, “God is Back”—if, at all, He has ever gone away—and he who wants to correctly understand the politics of the 21st century cannot afford to ignore Him, whether he believes in Him or not.
So much so that an increasing number of social scientists have deemed it necessary to attempt to comprehend religious behavior rather than to discredit it as irrational, anachronistic, and an obstacle to progress. This is precisely what Rodney Stark and Roger Finke did in their book, which they concluded by saying “it seems time to carry the secularization doctrine to the graveyard of failed theories, and there to whisper requiescat in pace”.
Rise, decline and revival: the case for a “universal civilization”
Long before those two Californian scholars pronounced their requiem, British historian Arnold Toynbee had written a study in which he highlighted the important historical fact that civilizations die from suicide, not by murder. He explained that civilizations start to decay when they lose their moral fiber and their cultural elite turns parasitic, exploiting the masses and creating an internal and external proletariat. Toynbee propounds that having become reactionary, this once “mystically-inspired creative minority” ends up being an “elite dominant minority” unable to respond creatively to existential challenges.
In the case of the Western civilization, Toynbee found that religion was its Achilles’ heel, and warned that its scaffolding is built on technology, whereas “man cannot live by technology alone”. He further observed that “the Western civilization that has run like a wildfire round the world has not been the whole of the seamless web; it has been a flare of cotton waste: a technological selvage with a religious center piece torn out”. And with an amazing foresight, he made the prediction that “in the fullness of time, when the ecumenical house of many mansions stands firmly on its own foundations and the temporary Western technological scaffolding falls away—as I have no doubt that it will—I believe it will become manifest that the foundations are firm at last because they have been carried down to the bedrock of religion…for religion, after all, is the serious business of the human race”.
In the following paragraphs, we’ll attempt to explain why and how the 500-year long global dominance of the “Western civilization” is coming to an end—a fate first and most significantly epitomized and signaled by the West’s self-immolation during the bloodbath of the two World wars it ignited in a span of only 30 years. We shall do so by surveying the writings of seven authors who have had a profound influence on Western Man’s thinking, and seven other authors who have predicted and warned against an impending twilight of this Western predominance. Indeed, what we take to be the ethical, social, economic, and ideological bedrock of Western thought has, far and away, been laid down in seven landmark references put forward since the beginning of the European Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment.
Thus, in his 1513 book “The Prince”, Italian Nicolo Machiavelli described methods—including through deliberate deceit, hypocrisy and perjury—that an aspiring prince can use to acquire the throne, or an existing prince can resort to in order to maintain his reign. English Pastor Thomas Robert Malthus claimed in his 1798 “Essay on the Principle of Population” that population tends to grow faster than the food supply. He also posited that the planet would be unable to support more than one billion inhabitants, and advocated therefore for a limitation on the number of poor people as a better controlling device. English Charles Darwin’s 1859 seminal book “The Origins of Species” promoted a theory of evolution by natural selection through the notion of “survival of the fittest”, thus and so profoundly challenging Victorian-era ideas about the role of humans in the universe. English philosopher/sociologist Herbert Spencer’s 1864 “Principles of Biology” transferred Darwin’s theory from the realm of nature to society. He believed that the strongest or fittest would and should dominate the poor and the weak who should ultimately disappear. This meant that certain races (in particular European Protestants), individuals and nations were entitled to dominate others because of their “superiority” in the natural order. German Karl Marx’s 1867 “Capital” is the foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy, economics and politics. Belief in some of its teachings led to communism and caused millions of deaths in the hope (or utopia) of bringing about an egalitarian society. In his most celebrated book “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (1883-1885) German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche elaborates on ideas like eternal recurrence of the same, death of God, and the prophecy of the “Übermensch” (Overman), that is, the ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values. Finally, Austrian Sigmund Freud’s theories, although subject to a lot of criticism, were enormously influential. His best known 1930 book “Civilization and Its Discontents”, analyzes what he sees as the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. The primary friction, he asserts, stems from the fact that the immutable individual’s quest for instinctive freedom (notably, desires for sex) are at odds with what is best for society (civilization) as a whole, which is why laws are created to prohibit killing, rape, and adultery, and implement severe punishments if they are broken. The result is an ongoing feeling of discontent among the citizens of that civilization.
Beyond shadow of a doubt, Western Man’s mindset, worldview and behavior have been considerably influenced by the presuppositions of the “seven deadly sins’ embodied in this literature. This led to such calamities for the world as materialism, individualism, scientism, unbridled pursuit of profit, nationalism, racial supremacy, excessive will to power, wars, colonization, imperialism, and eventually to civilizational decadence and decline. As a result of this irreversible process, more particularly following the moral wreckage and colossal human and material cost of the Great War, prominent thinkers and philosophers started to voice their concern about the coming demise of the West. Chiefly among those are seven authors whose books argue that while it is true that the West is in decline, there’s still time to mitigate it or even to reverse it and preserve it for posterity. Those books are: Oswald Spangler’s “The Decline of the West” (1926); Arnold Toynbee’s “Civilization on Trial” (1958); Eric Voegelin’s “Order and History” (1956-1987); Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man” (1992); Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1998); Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest” (2012); and Michel Onfray’s “Décadence: Vie et mort du judéo-christianisme” (2017).
Another stated or implied common feature of these books is the belief that the “Western Christian civilization” has to be defended anew not both from internal decay and threats arising externally, mainly Islam or, even worse, an alliance of “Islamic” and “Sinic (Chinese)” civilizations. This fear of Islam is by no means new; it’s deep-rooted in the Western psyche. Today, however, it is being exacerbated to such an unprecedented—and sometimes absurd—extent that the debate on the resurgence of Islam has become, more often than not, inextricably intertwined with the talk about the decline of the Western civilization.
Back in 1948, English theist Arnold Toynbee observed that the Western civilization has produced an economic and political plenum and, in the same breath, a social and spiritual void. He also said that in the foreground of the future, Islam may exert valuable influences upon the “cosmopolitan proletariat of western society that has cast its net round the world and embraced the whole of mankind”. As for the more distant future, he speculated on “the possible contribution of Islam to some new manifestation of religion”, warned that “if the present situation of mankind were to precipitate a ‘race war’, Islam Might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen”, and advised that “Westerners, who are mentally still-slumbering, have now to realize that our neighbors’ past is going to become a vital part of our Western future”.
Seventy years later, in his abovementioned controversial book, French atheist philosopher Michel Onfray echoed Toynbee’s predictions. He pointed out that History testified that there was no civilization built on atheism and materialism “which both are signs or even symptoms of the decomposition of a civilization” and that “we don’t bind men together without the help of the sacred”. He pronounced the death of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which will soon be overthrown by Islam, a religion “endowed with a planetary army made up of countless believers willing to die for their religion, God and His Prophet”.
For our part, we will deliberately refrain from indulging in any rhetoric of hatred and mutual misunderstanding embodied in such deadly and confrontational slogans as “Clash of Civilizations”. A much better alternative route would be to seek common denominators among all peoples and cultures converging towards the objective of building lasting peace and security and shared prosperity in today’s globalized albeit disoriented world.
In a forthcoming analysis, we’ll attempt to explain the reasons why, and the only conditions and circumstances under which Islam will indeed be able to answer to the appeal to play its “historic role once again”. It can only do so as a driving force within a “global alliance of the willing” aiming to build a truly “universal civilization”. Bonum omen.
- Algerian researcher in international relations, author of the book L’Orient et l’Occident à l’heure d’un nouveau Sykes-Picot (The Orient and the Occident at a time of a new Sykes-Picot), Editions Alem El Afkar, Algiers, 2014: downloadable free of charge, by clicking on the following links:http://algerienetwork.com/blog/lorient-et-loccident-a-lheure-dun-nouveau-sykes-picot-par-amir-nour/ (French) http://algerienetwork.com/blog/العالم-العربي-على-موعد-مع-سايكس-بيكو-ج/ (Arabic) ↑
- Albert Einstein, in an interview with Alfred Werner, Liberal Judaism 16 (April-May 1949), Einstein Archive 30-1104, as sourced in The New Quotable Einstein by Alice Calaprice (2005), p. 173 ↑
- Read and watch: https://news.un.org/en/story/2017/12/640812-un-chief-issues-red-alert-urges-world-come-together-2018-tackle-pressing ↑
- G. John Ikenberry, The Plot Against American Foreign Policy: Can the Liberal Order Survive?, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2017. ↑
- Commenting on Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Paul Krugman said “He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth […] We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we’re nothing like.”
- Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzQYA9Qjsi0 ↑
- Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, 2015. ↑
- Oxfam, Working for the Few: Political Capture and Inequality, Briefing Paper 178, January 20, 2014. ↑
- Read the report titled An Economy For the 99%. ↑
- Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie, Billionaire Bonanza 2017: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us. ↑
- Pankaj Mishra, Age of Anger: A History of the Present, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. ↑
- Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, 2004 ↑
- Gregg Easterbrook, It’s Better than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear, PublicAffairs, 2018. ↑
- Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Viking, 2018. ↑
- David Callahan, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, 2004. ↑
- Pankaj Mishra, Age of Anger, op. cit. ↑
- Noam Chomsky, Optimism over Despair: On capitalism, Empire and Social Change, Penguin Books, 2017. ↑
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, Harper & Row Publishers, 1958.↑
- Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, Penguin Press, 2017. ↑
- Jon Gertner, Are tech giants robbing us of our decision-making and our individuality?, The Washington Post, October 6, 2017. ↑
- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harvill Secker, 2014 and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harper, 2017.↑
- Read J.T. Cacioppo and J. Decety, Social Neuroscience: Challenges and Opportunities in the Study of Complex Behavior, in Annals of the New York academy of Sciences, Vol. 1224, 2011. ↑
- Malek Bennabi (1905-1973) is best known for having coined the concept of “colonizability” (the inner aptitude to be colonized) and the notion of “mondialisme” (Globalism). ↑
- Malek Bennabi, Le problème des idées dans le Monde musulman, 1970.↑
- J.C. Kapur, Our Future: Consumerism or Humanism, Kapur Surya Foundation, New Delhi, 2005. ↑
- Andrew Norman Wilson, God’s Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization, W.W. Norton, 1999. ↑
- In Age of Anger, op. cit. ↑
- Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow, War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality, 2011. ↑
- Manlio Graziano, Holy Wars and Holy Alliance: The Return of Religion to the Global Political Stage, Columbia University Press, 2017. ↑
- Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious than Ever, ISI Books, 2015. ↑
- For more on that subject, read: D. Hamer, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes, 2004; J. Micklethwait and A. Wooldridge, God is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World, 2009; M. Duffy Toft, D. Philpott and T. Samuel Shah, God’s Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics, 2011; ↑
- Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion, 2000.↑
- Arnold Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, Oxford University Press, New York, 1948. ↑
- Emanuel L. Paparella Is Western Civilization Doomed? A review Essay, Modern Diplomacy, Oct. 20, 2015. ↑
- (Decadence: The Life and Death of the Judeo-Christian Tradition), Flammarion, 2017. ↑
- Read Mike Adam’s Darwinian analysis titled The Coming Collapse of Western Civilization: The Shocking Reason Why Liberal Americans Are Weak, But Islamic Soldiers Are Strong, September 30, 2016. ↑
- Arnold Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, op. cit. ↑
The world is indeed at a crossroad. The rules of inter-nation relationships set by the US and the Washington consensus are no longer useful since the Chinese have shown that they can play by the US rules and still come out on top. Trump is busy trying to rewrite the rules in such a way that the rules apply to all except the US. He will not succeed.
What concepts will take the lead to rewrite inter-nation relationships, modes of production and consumption, economic, social and political organisation?
I do not see either Islam or (Orthodox) Christianity as fulfilling this role successfully on a global scale. They both have their roots in ancient Pharoeanic concepts and are unlikely to offer a way out of the current situation. They are variations of the same theme.
Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, Rumi … In this world, there are visions far truer than anything “the modern civilized person” is capable of believing in. Quite likely the truth of these visions will be more valued around the world in the coming decades.
Super interesting and widely documented essay by a incredibly well-readed author. Thank you for all the numeorus references on books and quotes. Only notice that amongst the overwhelming cited literature, there is absolutely no woman author, neither as promoter of decaying materialism, nor as of the religious utopian new world order….A detail to consider, in my view….
But, from my view of a plain citizen, not so well readed, and who has known both, a life under a dictatorship which was firmly supported by religion, and, in contraposition, a life under European wellfare state as a by-product of first, the victory of the USSR in WWII and the widely spread socialist ideas amongst broad majority of the European proletariat ( and even I would say the world´s one ) who found itself, after the war, not only heavily armed and trained in warfare, but also conscious of and willing to achieve a more equal and free future, after such a price paid, and second, of the May 68 revolution who came to reinforce those aspirations against the always present reaction of the European oligarchies, who so reluctantly had conceded social rights to the masses in the fear that the triumphant communist ideas, as an example of a better future for the working masses, could had spread througout Europe…. and the world…..as it was the prospect….throughout Africa, Latin America and even, the so Islamic, Middle East and Arabic world.
In this respect, I fail to see in what the author bases on to discard as a whole the communist system, seeming to not see any idea, policy or measure worth being rescued, when the working class never achieved more literacy, health, security stability and general wellbeing and opportunities to develop as a human being than under that system in the whole known human history.
Also, and as a woman, I fail to see, in a more religious future, what that bright will be for the feminine part of the human race, other than coming back to be under arbitrary men´s command, rule and judgement, with our, not so long ago, conquested freedoms which, once more time, will be erased and we re-converted under to be the new üntermensch deprived from everything, from sovereignity, passing by dignity, to literacy, in your envisioned so brilliant religious future world…..
For what it seems, and has been shown so far, the human race is unable to live and develop if not by oppresing a part of their fellow human beings, thus, I am not so optimistic on this changing anytime by turning to a less materialistc and instead more religious civilization, only the object of oppression will do. And this is precisely what hides behind the new currents promoting a more religious order. For what history has taught us, no religous rule has guaranteed peace and progress to the whole of humanity anytime.
I think I should have added to my comment that, contrary to what the author seems to imply, and most of the cited authors by him seem to convey, the future will not be religious, “it will be socialist or will not be”. That is what the majority of polls are saying and always said, not only in former socialist countries like Russia, but also around the world, where, the majority of people belongs ot no other than the working class.
Religion should, once and for all, be relegated to the intimate sphere of the peoples, and mantain itslef ( due the variety of creeds, sometimes with views partially or completely opposed, and their degrees on beliefs, biased interpretations and practices, so easily prone to fanaticism ) independent from politics, or at least abstain of playing a main role in government.
That is not to say that religious minorities ( or majorities ) should not be represented at government level, the most in case they are, or feel, oppresed or in disadvantadge with respect of the rest of their nationals, but I very doubt that in a “real” socialist society, the demans of these minorities/majorities could differ at all from those of the rest of their equals at economic level. As a sample, the vindications of the Houthis, and why they are fighting a war for their very existence…..
You have a good point. About religion being relegated to the intimate sphere… in the western society we’ve almost substituted religion (of course not the worst of it) with the free market. Our economy based on eternal growth has all trait of a religion, it’s not based on logic and facts, the economists are our priests, S&P- Moody’s – Fitch Group our prophets. Sound funny but it’s really scary because our economy who drives politics has no moral boundary like any other religion in the world. If religion is the opium of the people liberalism is pure heroine. I fully understand your struggle as a woman, sadly you cannot wipe out in one brush 10000+ years of patriarchy. We’re a long way till a matriarchal society based on communitarianism like the one described by Lao Tze will rise again. Still I believe in it. Cause you are mothers and grandmothers and if you had the power you had never allow your man’s and child die in any war.
Your comments are interesting. Perhaps we should take a look at Russia, where we have a Christian revival. Russia lived under communism. Those times were not forgotten, and by this I mean the idea of social equality. Yes, even under communism you did not have 100 % social equality, but then again the State did look after it’s people, giving the Soviet Union one of the best education systems in the world, which was free and open to all. Communism is gone, and the Russian Orthodox Church is making a come back. Can the idea of religion and social equality coexist in Russia ? Apparently it can if you look at Putin’s relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and his pledge to remove poverty in Russia. It would appear the Russian people want both. The West tried to introduce feminism in Russia. The vast bulk of Russian girls rejected it, wanting to get married and having children. They even created organizations for the promotion of the family and it’s values.
As for the rest of the world, I am not an optimist, as proven by history. The world is a collection of ethnic groups, religions and various cultures and traditions. If you look at what is happening in Syria, you will see something that we had in the Middle Ages, where people who are part of ISIS cannot forget the the negative aspects of the past. These negative aspects are brought into Europe by migrants and “refugees”. Not very inspiring.
If you look at Syria you see a country that has been divided into multiple groups each wanting to claim the rule and each group supported materially (weapons) and logistically (intel) so all US and friends have to do is watch them fuck up the country. That was the case until Russia joined. Please use your brains as this can happen anywhere in the world not just Syria, in history it has happened countless times.
Also if you’re talking about the middle ages then the best example of what is happening now is Medieval Europe. Each country or group killing the other ‘heretics’ as they don’t align with the ‘right’ version of Christianity. That remained for hundreds of years until they thought we can conquer the world if we work together and divide the rest of the world. And that’s what they did with their bloody colonization.
Another example is how Spain divided the tribes of the Canary Islands by promising some tribes the fertile grounds of the others. Eventually Spain killed all males and took their females and now their descendants inhabit the island.
It’s a historic battle between good and bad, although now things have become mixed and not as simple as it seems. As for ‘negative aspects’ being brought into Europe, if the European leadership were competent and had backbones they would’ve denied helping the USA destabilize the middle east. They don’t seem to mind tho, the only thing they can do now is deny migrant ships who flee war. Nothing more, because they’re sitting in their own mess and the result of helping a criminal.
In Syria, whose President is Assad, you had Muslims, Christians and Jews, which the Western media rarely mentions. They tolerated each other, because Assad insisted for it be so. He knew what would happen to the image of Syria had something else happened.
The US, Saudi Arabia and Israel created and financed ISIS, who butchered Christian and Muslim alike. The only divisions you have now are among Muslims. Such divisions can be seen in Sweden and France, where you have no-go areas and Sharia law. Some people have entered the 21st century, while others cannot forget the Middle Ages. Not a good sign for Europe.
I agree completely. The desire to repress religion was one great fault of Bolshevism, but, on the other hand, the religious elite, the priests, must not be allowed to interfere in the workings of the state. In the West they have invariably worked for the elites, whose socially repressive actions created a great body of believers who hope for a paradise post-mortem in large part because life in this world is so bloody miserable. Personal Christian belief, and this is true also of Islam, Buddhism, and other creeds (if not of Judaism and caste-based Hinduism)is unarguably egalitarian, co-operative, opposed to unjust accumulations of wealth and undeserved poverty and inequality, and protective and nurturing of Life on Earth.In fact the teachings of Jesus are incontrovertibly opposed to capitalism, although contemporary religious bigots, particularly of the American fundamentalist type, have invented lunatic ‘theologies’ like ‘prosperity doctrine’ that puts the money-lenders etc, not out on their backsides, but in charge and self-venerating.
Very interesting article with a lot of references. I will not debate any little point I partially don’t share (like the millions of deaths caused by communism. True, but how many 3th World states rised up to the colonialist masters inspired by those ideals searching for social justice, how many lives saved?…). History is written in blood and the western-centered World is morally death and totally crumbling. The neologism with the Roman empire are astonishing (Caligola elected his Horse in the senate, our politic is full of donkeys..). One fundamental part of the equation is still missing: it’s the first time in History we’ve damaged our Planet to a point of no-return. The colored revolutions where of course piloted but the lack of resources (overexploited lands, desertification, lack of water,…) played a big role in it, you don’t go protesting on the streets with a full stomach. Islam it’s in my humble opinion living his middle age, my fear is that the arabic World will dry up long before the possible awakening. I fear more the ecological catastrophe than ww III, only if the whole humanity implements a centralized plan for the restoration of natural resources, teaching of regenerative agroforestry and stop the exploitation we will survive as a species. But I’m still skeptical: the only thing all the humanity really shares is ignorance. It’s only my ignorant opinion.
The planet is dying because of the Privatization and profiteering. The West and, I gather, the other parts of the world have become wasteful simply because it’s “cheaper to throw away than repair”.
Bringing up the simple things, I will ask: When was the last time any one of you went to shoe maker to have their shoes fixed. I remember doing it in my teenage years. The shoes were made of natural leather and they were repairable. It was than, though, that man made parts were being introduced. No shoe today is repairable, simply because of what author calls “Progress”. Is this really a progress? Some 100 years ago, everything was made of natural sources and hence was easily fixed or recyclable without severely polluting the environment. Yes, newer products are easier to make, but also fewer people are employed because of that. So, to play devil’s advocate, I’ll say, the rich class gets richer daily while the poor people have to pay the government to pay out the welfare cheques (checks if you like it this way).
Me! I love my 20 years sandals. Paid 400euros, 20 years old, made of leather on my feet, used and mistreated all year round in any weather condition and still worth any repair. You still get good handmade things. But nobody wants to pay for it.
You paid 400 euros 20 years ago? Where?
I got them from sandalenwerkstatt.
Please could we get these comments back on topic – if you wish to discuss footwear please take to MFC. Mod
One takes ones sandal’s shoes and boots to the cobbler, not ‘the shoe maker’.
So, the craft of mending shoes is practiced by the “cobbler”, cockney slang from London.
The work of craftsmen of yesteryear made good people and kept the world a saner place. They helped keep the balance between the head and life on earth.
It’s true that the distribution of wealth as it stands now is terribly unfair. Even though people are materially better off than they were before the industrial revolution, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone”, and the feeling of alienation and helplessness we feel from an increasingly Godless and divided society ruled by oligarchs and authoritarians is the natural result of our discontent.
The international elites have used their wealth to divide and conquer the peoples over whom they rule, regardless of the country, no less so in the USA than anywhere else. The tools that they use are total media, educational, political, and institutional control to promote wars of choice, multiculturalism, unbridled capitalism, women’s rights, atheism, racial inequality, unlimited immigration, Zionism, and pornography, among many others, to destroy families, churches, schools, and entire nations and communities by fostering an attitude of “us vs. them”, by making it impossible not to “choose a team”. Thus, they are only to happy when riots break out in the streets, or wars are started on the far side of the globe, precisely because such disruptions are profitable and they keep the focus of the masses on distractions rather than the “man behind the curtain”.
The purpose is to increase the power of the few over the many, because while we are kept busy fighting each other, they are consolidating power. To the degree that their ambitions are thwarted, the media/NGO reaction is hysterical and oftentimes violent (via proxies)…thus accusations of xenophobia, racism, nationalism, and sexism are widely used and abused by the elites to crush opposition to their goal of world domination. The elites that rule us correctly view the family, church, community ties, local businesses, immigration control, nationalism, independent thinking, and a love of their own soil and people as a threat to their power, and they’ll do anything to destroy it.
This explains their visceral reaction against Trump and their demonization of his platform and the people who elected him. HRC was their candidate of choice, and when she didn’t win, they worked first to destroy Trump (a process still underway), but also to turn him, because (as they always do) they had placed some of their advanced bets on the Dark Horse candidate, and those bets appear to have born some fruit, based on the vast differences between Trump’s campaign stumping and his actual policies. But it’s clear he didn’t go far enough to suit his Masters, and occasionally he strays far enough off of the elitist plantation to piss them off. Therefore, the elites will never trust him, and they are working towards a more compliant replacement as we speak.
It also explains their hatred of the resurgence of Russia, which is seen as nationalistic and religious in nature, and thus works against the divide/conquer mindset of the globalists. They seek a unified world government, free from the confining morality of Christendom, open to mass consumerism, and exploitation of wage arbitrage in which they are in charge and in effect, in which they replace family, religion, and community with their own governance.
Mission (nearly) accomplished, from what I can see.
Inequality, .01% controlling 99% of the wealth of the globe, requires an end to the ideology that unearned riches are property exclusive of responsibility.
An IPO makes a 25 year old a billionaire, but his efforts in the real world are worth perhaps 100 million. Why should he gain 900 million because of finance and market gyros? Thus, that bonus wealth should be recirculated, not owned.
If some whiz comes up with a cure for cancer, then a billion in wealth would be appropriate.
Until then, limits have to be constructed and enforced. Unearned income, windfalls based on Wall Street games have to redirect that wealth into and through the economy.
I don’t have a grudge against capitalism or entrepreneurs or success from hard work, luck, inventions and innovations. But the enormity of unearned wealth consolidating in few hands has crippled the natural development of nations, regions and whole continents. It’s a cancer destroying humanity and civility.
With a very, very rare exception, any wealth above 10 million, is guaranteed to be gained by dishonest means. Tesla died hungry, robed and impoverished. Those who stole his inventions became unimaginably wealthy. This is how it works in all other areas. I’d say, anyone whose wealth is hovering around 1 billion should be tried for the crimes against humanity. Preferably burnt publicly to dissuade others from trying the same actions.
I agree. All great wealth starts with an act of theft.
As Balzac said, ‘Behind every fortune lies a crime’.
I am kinda disappointed that Steven Pinker is cited here at all.
He is a lightweight when, thinking himself and expert in all things, he ventures off his cognitive science reservation to expound on fields in which he is a tyro. This makes me wonder how useful his cognitive science work is. While highly praised by the usual suspects such as the NYT, his Panglossian work was pretty much taken apart by more serious reviewers.
His book on editing/wiring was a similarly childish exercise in self-aggrandizement.
There are so many more serious commentators out there than Pinker.
Both Easterbrook and Pinker could well have been relegated to footnotes.
They are both “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds” apologists for the dreadful system that has led the world to the dreadful straits in which we find ourselves.
He raised my eyebrows when he cited the NYT’s Krugman as a critic of globalization.
I’ll admit that I stopped reading either Krugman or the NYT over 20 years ago. But back then, when I was marching in the streets with the critics of globalization, Krugman was regarded as a cheerleader for globalization. He sure as heck wasn’t marching with us, and instead he was a usual target for the scholars who were with us and holding panel discussions and seminars at the big protest events. No snippet of his writing nor anything produced by the NYT that I’ve seen since makes me want to change my opinion of them, nor waste my time and brain power reading their fishwrapper and birdcage liner.
Pinker, in my opinion, is a veritable genius in comparison to Harari, who I heard on the radio the other night. I would say that the worldview he outlined is basically quite misanthropic and contemptuous of those he clearly sees as surplus to requirements in the near future. I would also posit that his ‘Homo Deus’ is plainly, in his eyes, himself and those lucky, and superior, creatures like him.
Easterbrock and Pinker say the ‘western world’ or ‘prosperity’ have all vastly improved.
But for whom? Certainly not for everyone.
But it has always paid well to be a shill for corporate interests and the rich, so I suspct for them the world looks rosy.
I suspect they are not working multiple jobs, and working 60 hours a week at them, just to make ends meet.
I suspect they are not in the large class of American workers who’ve seen their real, inflation adjusted income, fall since the 1970’s. And that’s probably even using the artificially low inflation numbers as the US govt has increasingly cheated on reporting since Reagan. Its in their interest to do so after cost-of-living adjustments to programs like social security became law. Thus, they cheat on the inflation numbers, pay workers who worked hard all of their lives less money, and have more money to spend on weapons and war and to give away to their other rich friends …. who then pay authors to do studies that state how rosy and wonderful this world is, if the people who are working 70 hours a week would only stop complaining and sing that fascist’ Disney’s tune about whistling while they work and work and work and work and work in a world where a 40 hour work week and weekends off have become a fading memory of the times when real liberals actually had power to put such things into place.
Inequality in money and possessions is the root and flowers of human oppression. The basis for a fair, loving, and sustainable culture on Earth is universal equality in the basics of life, no one having substantially more than anyone else.
The obstacle to developing such a culture is ages of false culture and conditioning contrary to this healthy arrangement for sharing our life together. How to get people to let go of their false ideas about this, and open to a new way of life is our problem. The current notions of the right to inequality are leading inexorably to our extinction. The time is short to come up with the right way to live with each other in love. Find it and implement it with the help of others, or we will all perish from this insane orgy of selfishness. It makes not the slightest difference if you label such a better society “spiritual” or not.
And BTW – This matter does not need to be as complicated as the author makes it. The root problem is very simple – it’s people’s reluctance to see it clearly, and simply act on it that makes it appear very complex. Don’t get lost in all these intellectual and historical bypaths, they are part of the problem not the solution.
So, the only way to contrtol the ‘masses’ and keep them ‘happy’ is to give them religion? That seems to be the point of this essay, to implore that now religion is the lesser of evils over secularism. I contend that all social power structures have, or will be, exploited by man. The problem is that the sociopaths are more motivated to dominate and exploit than the rest, so they do. The challenge is to reject either extreme, the false dilemma, and find another way forward.
Mahatma Gandhi was asked in interview what he thought about Western Civilisation. He paused, and said, “I think it would be a good idea.”
Civilisation is a function of energy. Exosomatic energy enables us (Homo Saps) to dig the resources out of the ground and manufacture the “stuff” (including the vast majority of food) we use/need each day. Fossil fuels are about 86% of all primary energy supply and about 96% of transportation energy. The period of time (abt 13000 yrs) since we began the practice of agriculture has seen exponential growth in human numbers (tubocharged since fossil fuels) which is the disease that causes the symptoms :
-sixth great extinction
Any consideration of civilisation MUST include the basics, it matters not what you wish to believe, without the basics (food/shelter/others) we all fail….those who imagine they can survive alone do not understand the shape of the world.
And this of course leads us to the current shambles that is the human experiment. Understand that our forebears (hunter gatherers) did an absolutely fine job of survival because they watched very very carefully the physical reality of the world around them plus they cooperated….today we all perceive the planet upon which we live thru the lens of money, every single decision we make as individuals/nations/species is based on money and today money is not connected to the world in which we live in any way except human belief plus the neoliberal economic system in which live makes competition inherent. Not good.
Apart from the disconnect the other really nasty aspects of the current monetary system are:
– interest = exponential growth, how this works out on a finite planet is obvious, everything dies.
– the power to control the money(printers/rules anyone?) = power to control everything, once again this will not end well. And yes, there are evil humans, understand evolution and there must be.
I do not look forward to the future, the consequence of overshoot is always the same.
Indeed, function of Delta E
see also full long list of Jevons related stuff I posted.
“Nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise”. This has to be understood in context. No one sane would want to live in a globalised, homogeneous corporate gulag driven by sociopathic corporate thugs and their neoliberal economic idiocy. Nor do people want their community invaded by people that no wish to assimilate.
As a matter of fact, Mahatma Gandhi -who knew better than most what the English colonialists did not only to the autochtones in India and South Africa, but also to the “White” but no less colonialsts Boers in the latter country- was even of the opinion that “Western Civilization” was a contadiction in terms.
An interesting essay. Though the author attaches insufficient importance to the role of Governments in the power struggle to control humanity. The Treaty of Verona is but one milestone that shines light upon the duality of power.
I believe the “turning away from God” that we are witnessing is the fault of the consolidation of oppressive power used against humanity by the leaders of the Faith and Governments as shown in the words of the Treaty of Verona (especially Pt3).
Is the Muslim world different? I don’t know, honestly; however Human nature being what it is I would suggest Imams vary at least as much as do Christian priests and prelates.
In these times the hearts of men will be forced off of the fence I believe: Forced by the undiluted evil we are witness to every day. Then, men of good heart will, regardless of differences in teachings and culture, find their courage.
Does it worth to be saved ? I don’t think so. Humans need to kill one another to the end. They need to go the way of the dinosaurs.
I am sorry to say that the author, who may indeed be correct within his compass, misses an essential feature of modern civilization. It is, alas, not a civilization, it’s a one-shot event… And politics is only a secondary input. Religions also make little difference. We are in fact much like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, detached from Time, and delusional, because this is our nature.
In a word it is “Jevons” – that’s the rub…
read these (or look at them anyway)
There’s more of course, but this too is probably of interest…poor ol’ Ted’s Thesis
(yes he’s nuts, murder is always bad, but who ain’t nuts? And Events have shown that the Ted was in logos a sharp cat)
Jevon’s Paradox, raised to a ‘Law’ by the Right, is easily overturned, if the will is there. It is not inescapable, like entropy. One simply calculates what level of energy use is the limit that humanity can maintain and at the same time preserve a habitable planet, and plan to not exceed that point. That will require an economic system NOT based on neoplastic perpetual growth, so the current Free Market capitalist system, dominated by the rentier blood-suckers of finance, will have to go. Population will need to be humanely reduced, over decades, to one or two billion, but that can be achieved by emancipating and educating women (even theocratic Iran has seen average family size fall from six children to two, in a couple of generations) and ending global poverty by redistributing the wealth looted by the parasitic elites over centuries, and consumption, particularly excess and luxury consumption, must be reduced markedly. And scientific and technological progress must aim to achieve greater efficiency in energy use, from renewable sources, like the inexhaustible (for billions of years) Sun.
Whiter the Rich?
Like Jake said at the Palace Hotel Ballroom, there;s you, me us and Them…
Speaking of “Them”:
“…they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape…”
“… The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time….”
Speaks for itself… at: https://medium.com/s/futurehuman/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1
I’m certain, irrelevant, that they are also planning for a global pandemic to reduce the ranks of the ‘useless eaters’ that they despise and fear, and for whom they have no further use. The Pentagon spends tens of billions a year on research in bio-warfare. in an archipelago of research centres worldwide, where they practise the new recombinant DNA techniques, and from where they are collecting DNA, blood and tissue (including neoplasms)samples from as many human populations as they can manage.
Since it was first published by The Saker Blog on July 07, 2018 (https://thesaker.is/fighting-for-survival-whither-modern-civilization/) and subsequently re-posted by several other important websites and social networks, my modest contribution to the huge topic of the vocation of our Modern Civilization has generated a great deal of interest and an increasing number of comments, both in favor and against the key underlying assumptions to my thesis statement. The debate is far from over, and, obviously, no answers to most of the questions raised in that contribution are likely to be given, to the full satisfaction of the protagonists of this crucial debate.
Far be it from me any pretension whatsoever to having been exhaustive, let alone to holding the truth and knowing the way ahead, this much is certain however: If we do not start, soon, a collective effort to build answers and help develop a wise guiding philosophy with regard to the human condition in our fast-changing world, before long we shall discover that we started too late. This is precisely the fundamental conclusion reached by Henry A. Kissinger in the following thoughtful article in The Atlantic titled “How the Enlightenment Ends” I happily came across, after I had submitted my own contribution:
Amir Nour (author of the article)
Where, O where is the energy equation is this essay? The world has what it has because of the discovery of oil. Saudi Arabia as a prime example would be still riding camels and living in tents if it wasn’t for oil. Our economies are ruled by the law of physics period and this and this alone will determine where we are headed and by the looks of things we are headed for collapse.
Gail Tverberg has written excellent pieces about this at her blog http://www.ourfinitewolrd.com ie:
 Part of the world’s energy problem is a distribution problem; the world becomes divided into haves and have-nots in many ways. It is this distribution problem that tends to push the world economy toward collapse.
There are many parts to this distribution problem. One is the distribution of goods and services (created using energy) by country. Over time, this tends to change, especially as commodity prices change. Oil exporters are favored when oil prices are high; oil importers are favored when oil prices are low. The relative values of currencies can change quickly, as commodity prices change.
Another part of this distribution problem is growing wage and wealth disparity, as more technology is added. If there is too much wage disparity, low-paid workers often cannot afford adequate food, homes, and transportation for their families. Their lack of demand for goods made with energy products (because of their low wages) tends to work through the system as low commodity prices. This happens because (a) there are so many of these workers and (b) these workers tend to purchase a disproportionate share of goods and services that are highly energy-dependent.
 The world economy becomes very fragile as energy limits approach.
Energy limits seem to be affordable energy limits. Oil prices need to be high enough for exporting countries to obtain adequate tax revenue. In addition, oil producers need prices that are high enough so that they can make the necessary reinvestment, as fields deplete. At the same time, energy prices need to be low enough for consumers to afford goods and services made with energy products.
Much of developed world’s infrastructure was built when oil prices were less than $20 per barrel, in inflation-adjusted terms. A rising price of oil will lead to a higher cost of replacing roads and pipelines. If these were built using $20 per barrel oil, even a current price of $40 per barrel would represent a significant cost increase. The world has experienced high oil prices for sufficiently long that we have collectively forgotten how low oil prices were between 1900 and 1970.
Most people know that the earth holds a huge quantity of energy resources. The problem is extracting these resources in a way that is both affordable to consumers and sufficiently high-priced for producers. Falling long-term interest rates between 1981 and 2002 allowed the world economy to tolerate somewhat higher oil and other energy prices than it otherwise could because these falling interest rates permitted ever-lower monthly payments for a given loan amount. For example, if interest rates on a $300,000 mortgage would fall from 5% to 4% on a 25-year mortgage, monthly payments would decrease from $1,753 to $1,584. The lower interest rates would allow more people to buy homes of with a given size of mortgage. Indirectly, the lower mortgage rates would permit additional new homes to be built and would allow more inflation in home prices. These benefits would at least partially offset the adverse impact of high energy prices.
 The adverse economic outcome we should be concerned about is collapse, as encountered by prior civilizations when their economies hit limits.
The stories in the press have been so focused on oil “running out” and finding alternatives to oil that few have stopped to ask whether this is really the correct story. Instead of creating a new story, it might have been better to look more closely at history. Based on the historical record, collapse seems to have be associated with situations where populations have outgrown their resource bases. In other words, collapse can be considered an energy consumption per capita problem. The oil problem (and other fuel problem) we are facing today can be viewed as an energy consumption per capita problem, as well.
We know from research that has been done by Peter Turchin, Joseph Tainter, and others how collapse has played out in the past. The situation is different this time, however, because the world economy is very interconnected. Oil consumption depends on electricity consumption, and vice versa. Our financial system is also extraordinarily important. For these reasons, a collapse may occur more quickly than in the past.
Differences Between My View and the Standard View
One of the big differences between the way I see the economy and the standard view of the economy is the answer to the question of “Who is in charge?” The standard view is that politicians and economists are in charge. They have all of the answers. The dire collapse outcomes that afflicted early civilizations could not possibly affect us. We are too smart. We know how to adjust interest rates correctly. We can even make QE available to lower long-term interest rates. We can also add more technology and other complexity than has ever been added in the past.
The answer I see to the question, “Who is in charge?” is, “The laws of physics are in charge.” Politicians play a fairly minor role in directing the fate of economies. If there is not enough energy available of the type needed (inexpensive and matching the current infrastructure), the economy may very well collapse. It is nature and the laws of physics that call most of the shots.
As for religion it goes without saying that one of the most overlooked or ignored rather event in the New Testament is this:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
the key here is of one mind and one heart.
Wow, if that wouldn’t be the ultimate solution but I fear this may very well happen but not as a result of ones own free will but rather as a political solution coming through a decree by a very dangerous man called aptly the antichrist. Prophectically speaking this false savior will pull off the ultimate robin hood moment and will gather to himself the worlds poor and will demand the affection of the masses and will want to be declared god accordingly. The bible refers to this as the Abomination of Desolation.