How do the elites of declining empires react? One answer is demoralization. Like 26,000 annual acts of sexual harassment in the US Army leaving little time for killing; and one US soldier on active duty committing suicide every 18 hours–higher than combat deaths–the figures for veterans being one every 80 minutes. Or else, simply giving up empires–like the colonial powers did before and after the official abolition of colonialism (UN Charter Art. 73). Like Moscow outside and inside the Soviet Union, copying England with a Commonwealth of Independent States. Like the USA is partly doing, and partly not, hanging on to the last countries willing to kill for them, like Canada, Norway, Japan, Georgia. And partly not, working on imperial strongholds in Africa and the Pacific; doing the long distance killing themselves.
But what do such dubious elites do with their own peoples? Wise elites wash their hands off imperialism, declare it passé, a mistake, retool their economies for less dependence on resources and markets from and in their peripheries that now process the resources themselves for themselves and others. Economic growth dwindles; desperate jumps from real to finance economies make the situation worse. Wise elites in a declining West would cooperate among themselves, diversify their economies—primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary reproduction sectors–and not do stupid things like trying to reconquer Africa and the Middle East. But wisdom seems to have been left to the BRICS countries.
Wise governments would use the Chinese capi-communism lifting the bottom up, meeting their basic needs, making them active producers and consumers in the economy regardless of age, gender, nation. It is not good enough, as critical economists like Krugman and Stiglitz do, to argue convincingly against austerity. Alternatives please, and not just “jobs”–meaning employer-employee, meaning pure capitalism–but cooperatives and self-employment; and not just money feeding into economic growth, but necessities, meeting basic needs. They are both long on very valid criticism, and short on humane constructivism.
So, what do people do when elites are far from wise and the real economy does not meet basic needs but offers all kinds of nonsense?
First answer: they try democracy, oscillating between right and left, finding them equally short of remedies to problems far beyond their control and political instruments. Second answer: rebellion. Third answer: emigration. Fourth answer: low fertility, less children to declining, falling, sagging economies. The result is population decline; Germany recently found 1.5 million less than they expected.
The first answer, the democratic game continues as meaningless as steering the local economy in a super-centralized country. One answer is dramatic decentralization, above all economically, keeping local, national, regional and global levels but reversing the trend. How do national, regional, global economic and political elites react? They protect themselves against people. The European Commission gave 1 billion dollars to FuturICT, and even more to their Human Brain Project; the former can be used to manipulate societies, the latter to manipulate individuals–neuroscience. An article by Pablo Jensen in the CNRS-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris (Le Monde Diplomatique, April 2013). Both seem to be inspired by a basic dogma of economism, “ours is the best of all possible worlds”, the only problem being to make people understand, accept, behave accordingly and abstain from any rebellion, including alternatives. Big Data and Big Computers are indeed involved.
Democracy is based on the idea of adapting society to what people want–freely expressed, in fair elections; anti-democracy is based on adapting people to the society elites want.
Dictatorship is a mild version of that–one person’s singular will as alternative to the people’s will–overemphasized today to make people disregard the role of bankocracy-corruptocracy, bribing people to favor Big Capital and technocracy. Or disregard handing power to “experts”, trusted to hand back a society that preserves the elites.
Economics–read capitalistic with shallow critique and no alternatives–is at work doing the groundwork for post-democracy.
The US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, IARPA, finances a project with university and corporate researchers based on internet data from Latin American countries “to develop mathematical models for methods that can foresee and prevent possible rebellion”. Almost word for word like the Pentagon special operations advanced Project Camelot in 1965 “to find out how the US Army could help the armies of friendly governments against rebellion”. But where Camelot was vulgar use of social science for transborder military imperialism, FutureICT goes further, “to make and launch crisis observatories and decision tools for the corporate and political leaders”, presumably both domestically and globally.
The basic assumption is an image of individuals as social atoms steered by the economic incentives and social rankings, which economists and sociologists use; meaning a mechanistic, physicalist, determinist, individualist conception of society. Some will rise, some will stay, others will sink. For the latter, neuro-science and the brain project may offer the remedy: making them accept, even enjoy, the inevitable. Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984; amateurish relative to these people with their total contempt for humans in their cult of system steering with themselves on top. And behind Big Data is Big Brother.
Counter-position: There are no social laws; they are invented not discovered, and can be reinvented. They are scripts of social orders, and presuppose that there is no conscious effort to critique and above all to construct, organize, for alternative social orders. That spells conflict; engineering conflicts away engineers humanity away. People are the ultimate judges of alternatives in democracies, and at their best when conflicts are handled with empathy-nonviolence-creativity. Elites propose. But People dispose. Better keep it that way.
3 June 2013