The Future of the West

What does the future hold? We can deduce and we can imagine.

In the last few blogs, we examined social realities in our political life. Using the spiral of political maturation we named them and classified them and identified that the West is embarking on a transition--from Plutocratic Pluralism to Conventionalism.

What exactly the next stage of the West’s development will look like is largely speculative, but there are some modern societies from which we can draw inferences and many characteristics that we can safely assume will mark a conventionalist society.

In the end-stages of Plutocratic Pluralism, the people have grown weary of their government’s lack of concern for their well-being; they won’t stand for the widespread corruption and self-serving public policies that ultimately bankrupt their countries. The people finally realize that democracy is a buzzword with no real meaning in their society and that politicians and the elite, in their lust for money and power, have ushered in a cataclysmic, systemic crash.

The crash, hopefully, reveals government for what it really is--an entity of the people, a projection of, created by and for the people, with no power and no money and no legitimacy without the consent of the people. This realization comes with it both hope and despair. With it, people realize that there is no one to blame for their social ills but themselves, as they knew the nature of their government all along and only stood up for change after everything had fallen apart. Still, a new society and a new future await, the nature of which has the potential to force policies for overall good.

To use a Hegelian model, if Plutocratic Pluralism is the thesis, Conventionalism is the anti-thesis. Where decisions were made in a top-down fashion, the lack of trust in politicians, the prevalence of accessible communication technology, and a new outlook towards democracy could result in the opposite--a bottom-up decision process.

Rather than policy coming from the halls of power in capital cities, they will come from living rooms and café patios as psycho-social reality becomes one where widespread political participation is an accepted and reinforced social convention.

We can see examples of modern societies where this is, on a small scale, already the case. In Switzerland, referendums may be held for even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant decisions. Recently, the Swiss people just voted to expel foreign criminals from their country. However, in most Western democracies, despite paying lip-service to democratic ideals, the political elite prefer for most decisions to be made centrally and without consulting the citizenry.

This is, of course and, as the article points out, extremely frustrating to the political elite in surrounding European countries who are affected by Swiss popular decisions and probably cry out to their Swiss counterparts, “You know, you can just tell them what to do!” There is evidence of this in the fact that when referendums are held in EU countries that do not amount to the benefit of the political elite, they are held again until, after much rhetoric and mass media-supported propaganda, the desired result is achieved.

Iceland is attempting to become a Conventionalist society. After complete economic collapse in 2008, Iceland was under pressure to take the route traveled later by some fellow European countries (Ireland, Greece) and privatize their banking industry, take massive IMF bailouts, impose crippling austerity measures, and essentially put their people on the hook for enormous debts accrued by financial and political elites. Icelanders wouldn’t have it, though, and nearly the entire country took to the streets until officials had no choice but to reject outside pressures and now, a new Icelandic constitution is being written online by the people themselves. It is possible, and even likely, that Iceland will ultimately cave to these outside pressures, but we can at least observe a twinkle in the distance of the West’s move towards Conventionalism.

Participation will be key in a Conventionalist society. Determining the course of a nation is a tireless endeavor and politics is messy and incredibly inefficient. People may find themselves exhausted by the constant, relentless decisions that confront them. The urge to return allowing others to make decisions will likely be strong, risking a return to the existence of political elite who, by nature, will serve themselves before they serve the greater society.

Other problems arise in Conventionalism beyond democratic exhaustion: we may see a tyranny of the masses when referendums after referendum are decided by the majority, minority groups become consistently marginalized.

This serves to illustrate that no system is perfect. The spiral and societies are in constant motion, ever-evolving and building on the lessons of previous generations. We are an endlessly fascinating, inherently flawed yet intrinsically beautiful species whose history and future are equally exciting.

A Transition

At the end of our last blog, we talked about the Western democracies being on the cusp of a transition from a society of plutocratic pluralism to conventionalism.

Let’s examine a bit more what that transition will look like, what to expect, and why it is needed.

In truth, it’s already begun. One of the tell-tale signs is the public’s general distrust and dissatisfaction with their political system. This has already been going on for quite some time. Some argue that in the United States, this began with the Vietnam War and President Nixon’s infamous Watergate scandal. However, it is becoming markedly more concentrated. The general public in the Western democracies tends to view their government as the antagonist in a socio-political drama, keeping secrets and acting in contrast to the will of the people and in its own self-interest. This is not paranoia, it’s true.

Much of Europe, for example, has been racked with sustained protests, particularly in Greece, Britain, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. The Greek and British protests have been especially violent. They protest what they see as a government that is misrepresenting what it can offer to the people.

The public was told that they would receive a wide array of benefits from health care to retirement or even cash and food if required. However, policies mandated by international institutions and globally-centralized banking organizations have resulted in
sweeping austerity measures. People can’t afford to address their health concerns, their homes are taken from them, and they go hungry--and all of this in the “developed world.”
It is no wonder people are protesting or even revolting. (Refer to the previous blog, “What it is That People Want” for a discussion of the public’s mistake in these matters. Don’t fall into the trap of pointing fingers.)

Governments and similar institutions, much like living organisms, are instilled with a strong survival imperative. If they feel threatened, they will fight back. An economic calamity and the subsequent popular uprising (and we’re talking millions of people taking to the streets) will only result in more and more desperate attempts by government officials to retain power. On one hand, they will pass sweeping legislation in hopes of appeasing the people, probably overcompensating. An example might be where there was little regulation over financial institutions; these institutions would quickly become over-regulated to the point of paralysis. On the other hand, they will take desperate measures to control the population. This is already happening, of course. Examples in the U.S. include the Patriot Act and now, legislation has been passed that will give the U.S. military carte blanche to detain citizens indefinitely without access to due process if they are considered “terrorists.” Unsurprisingly, the definition of what is and what is not a terrorist is quite vague. American totalitarianism is not a metaphor.

It will go far beyond this though. A short list of likely actions: increasing invasion of privacy, identity control, restriction on movement, censorship, limitation of the press, a banning of public demonstration, the creation of special police forces with ever-increasing power leading eventually to martial law, hyperinflation, forceful prevention of access to banks, and much more. This becomes even scarier when one realizes the range and scope of information technology.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the public will also fight against a collapse of their government despite the fact that it is clearly not working and their governments are antagonizing them outright. (For more, refer again to the previous blog, “What it is that people want”) The reason for this is that all endeavors exist within the current psycho-social reality. Everyone’s hard work (or lack of hard work) is based on the existence and functioning of their socio-political system. If it collapses, then what? Essentially, everybody wants a piece of the pie and how do we get it if there is no pie? Beyond that, people fear change, they fear the unknown. A transition is both of these things. By this point, however, the events unfolding are beyond anyone’s control.

The only thing that will effectively give the public and the politicians the incentive to realize the need for real change is an epic socio-political-economic disaster. This is indeed a frightening prospect for all but is absolutely a necessity--and it will surely be a dark period in human history. However, when the people working in the (then-failed) government’s enforcement agencies realize that they too have been hoodwinked, when they realize that they are in the same boat as the people that they find themselves at odds with and the smoke clears, Western democracies will find themselves in Stage 5: Conventionalism…….

Social Stages: An Introduction

We live in interesting times, for sure. No dull moments here.

The average person generally sees themselves as little more than an observer of the larger political, economic, and social events unfolding around them. They hope for the best, of course, as these events will no doubt affect every individual in some way or another. But so many of us, regardless of our philosophical leanings, probably accept a certain amount of determinism when it comes to macroeconomics, macro-politics, and the larger society of which we are a part of and think very little about our place in ever-evolving social stages.

The purpose of this blog, and the next two, are to show that this is not at all the case. We, as a body of people, very much have control over the course of our own political and social development.

A THEE inquiry into the overall advancement of political developments has uncovered certain social stages. These stages effectively describe the ongoing relationship between people and their governments.

It all begins with pluralism, the first socio-political structure in which a certain, relatively small group of people find themselves in control of a society’s resources--wealth, land, divine rights, etc. Plural refers to the fact that many groups vie for power and wealth in society. For some, the struggle is successful--be it the monarchy or the military or the church. These elites consider themselves separate and greater than the “unwashed masses.”

This first stage of pluralism, or privileged pluralism as it is identified in THEE, can be found in many societies today such as Egypt’s military government, but to offer a few well-known historical examples, there is feudal Europe, the priesthood-theocracy of ancient Egypt, and communist Russia. Unless you found yourself among the elite in any of these societies, it would not likely be a pleasant time in which to live out one’s life.

In all political endeavor--which is essentially the drive and action to gain access to a society’s wealth and power--there is exploitation. In privileged pluralism, the elite classes are generally the least productive. They see themselves as the administrators of a society’s wealth where non-elites are the actual producers, be they farmers or artisans or laborers or merchants, and this administrative position entitles them to the bulk of the wealth.

For those vocal protestors who see through the inherent unfairness of the system, there is always an infrastructure ready to quash their voice (police, paramilitary forces, military, etc.). History is rife with examples of this. Google “Tiananmen Square Tank Man” for a particularly disturbing example of this. The elites justify their actions with the need to keep social order and/or their self-proclaimed right to power.

To further maintain their place in power, the elites control information. An historical example would be the Council of Nicaea in the 2nd century in which Catholic officials decided what would go in and what would stay out of the Bible.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Check out this recent example of what I'm talking about--or the fact that if you fly to Beijing and Google “Tiananmen Square Tank Man,” nothing comes up. If you think that the later of the two examples doesn’t happen in Western democracies, fly to Switzerland and Google “Abu Ghraib,” note the number of search results, then compare that to the same number of Google search results in the United States. It’s shocking and the implications are quite disturbing.

Obviously, we don’t live in communist Russia or feudal Europe but many of us live under Chinese party rule, or in Middle Eastern regimes. Western society has advanced through the series of political and social stages. Science, the Enlightenment, and many hard-won battles for human and civil rights, among other things, have brought us out of this primitive pluralism and seen humanity produce some of her most beautiful and admirable institutions and accomplishments to date. We will not go backwards.

However, the spiral circles back around to a new form of pluralism. The only significant differences are that the elite, responding to a population more demanding of their hard-fought rights, have devised more sophisticated, deceptive, and arguably dangerous methods for maintaining power. Western society currently finds itself deeply entrenched in this new form of pluralism. Rather than the elite being composed of feudal lords, a dominant military, secret police or religious authorities, they are now politicians, financiers, regulators, CEO’s, bureaucrats and the like.

The current unsustainable nature of our economic system and the subsequent popular reactions to it are throwing back the curtain and exposing the everyday citizen to the existence of a truly powerful elite and their exploitation of the world’s citizens and resources. We find ourselves in the midst of a transition, with all of the classic markings--the public’s widespread distrust and disenfranchisement, desperate political and economic reactions, money buying power and power buying money, and an impending, inevitable systemic crash.

Tune in next week for what’s coming.

What Do People Want?

What do people want?

As a group, they are not such a demanding lot. They want a sense of security, a distance from the fear that something or someone isn’t going to come along and hurt them or take what’s theirs. They want food and water and shelter and to feel productive. They want to feel that they have a say in what goes on in their and their loved one’s lives. Beyond that, they want to have fun, to hang out with friends, read a book, or enjoy a coffee at their favorite café.

What do people want? Well, if people are largely allowed to go about their business, they will tolerate any number of atrocities from oppressive governments to war to the perpetration of horrific human rights violations--as long as they are directed elsewhere.

Regarding what it is that people want, the teeming masses of the western world were told that their governments would provide these things for them. They would be equipped with a national security infrastructure, an economy that provided for their need to be productive and the means with which to feed, house, and clothe themselves and their families.

These democratic governments did provide these things for many generations, but as this unsustainable system has begun to collapse around us, governments no longer have the means to provide these things.

And where did they get the means to do so in the first place? The people. Governments, by themselves, do not have any money. They have no power. They have only promises and the mechanisms with which to collect and acquire money and power. Their new-found inability to provide their people with their small list of expectations using the people’s own resources is a result of gross misuse of those resources and a political system that has finally succumbed to the consequences of corruption.

As governmental, economic, and social institutions begin to fail, the people who have been administered by these institutions begin to feel that their small list of expectations is not being met. They worry that they will wake up one day and the bold moves of financiers in faraway cities will have devalued their money to the point of worthlessness. They will lose their jobs--no more sense of productivity and no more means to provide what is necessary to survive. They will lose their homes--no more shelter. They will struggle against an entrenched political system that, in truth, does not concern itself with the will of the people, dissolving any sense that they have a say in their own reality.

They will take to the streets, demanding what was promised to them. Governments, fearing that their grip on power may be compromised, will respond violently. But as things get worse, there is nothing that can be done to “handle” millions in the streets.

What’s next? Well, it’s up to the people. It will require a new way of thinking. Rather than demanding what they want from their government which, honestly, is nothing more than a projection of the people anyway, people will have to begin looking inwards and coming to some tough realizations.

First, we knew that our governments have been lying to us--and we let them. We knew that our elected officials were corrupt--and we allowed it. We knew that our political system was circling the drain, that the world was changing and we were not appropriately responding to it. We knew that our economic structures built fortunes for a few on the backs of the many. We knew we were being distracted, deflected, taken for fools. We watched this entire catastrophe unfold before our eyes, we listened as our elders pointed to times in history when similar, if not identical, events took place. And as we went about our business, ever struggling, we thought: “Someone else will handle it, it’s not our fault.” But it is.

We have manufactured every brick for every economic, social, and political structure that has been built around us. We allowed these things to come about and we encouraged their growth every step of the way, either consciously or as a result of inaction. Everything that is, we created.

This understanding must pave the way for a new world. We can no longer consider our position as “us” and “them.” Everything is “us”--our government, our economy, our interaction with others, everything.

We can wake up from this dream and build a new world if we are willing. We can create something that takes into account personal responsibility, accountability, and self-awareness, something that is reactive and flexible to our ever-changing, ever-evolving world.

It is no longer viable to consider the role of nation-states as separate from the rest of the world--as capitalism in competition with communism, as Christianity in competition with Islam, as the West in competition with the East. What’s good for one must be considered what’s good for all--and not in terms of some ideology like socialism or libertarianism or capitalism. These ideologies are espoused, but never fully adhered to and perverted so that their benefits are rarely--if ever--realized.

There will always be struggle and strife, pain and death, loss and sorrow. Governments will always be tempted to take for granted their citizen-derived powers. There will always be greed and heartlessness. But if people begin to take responsibility for themselves, their communities, their governments, and their world, there will always be a light to shine on their efforts.