The election of Donald Trump may signal a slap in the face for our neoliberal orthodoxy, but it’s certainly not a death blow. It remains to be seen how effective he will be in disrupting the stasis that has gripped western liberal democratic governance for much of the past quarter century. That it requires disruption is certainly true; reform, at least. But it remains unclear what will replace it other than a ball of resentment and anger. Just as Rick Page declared that ‘hope is not a strategy’ in 2001, the same can be said of anger. But what has that got to do with vegetarianism? Stick with me.
Ross Douthat in today’s New York Times declares our time a crisis for liberalism, the left having ‘lost its way’, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. It’s been a popular theme. In 1969, Ted Lowi declared the end of liberalism, in favour of interest group liberalism, in part a kind of elaboration on Eisenhower’s theme of the military-industrial complex. The liberalism of which we speak has long been defined in terms of economics and economic goods, how the distribution of resources and the freedom that comes with fair access to those resources, can allow mankind to flourish. Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom from 1962 defined the concept, which was ultimately routed in eighteenth century enlightenment thinking, and in particular the French Revolution. Its progression through International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the twentieth century brought at its end an essential global consensus: Liberal Democracy was it. This was the end of history.
“So aren’t computers just better at everything?” I asked.
“When a 90-year old woman is trapped in a collapsed and dangerous building, we choose to send several healthy young men in there to save her. It makes no sense. An AI wouldn’t do it. But we couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t.”
My work on the politics of automation has led me to some fascinating conversations, not least that observation on pervasive automation. It highlights a humanity that rests beyond mere calculus, markets and rationality. In the same way as a creationist invites the physicist to explain what came before the Big Bang, we all have this nagging sense that there is a whole lot more that we don’t know; about consciousness, being, and society; about what it means to be human.
The Syrian Crisis continues to dominate international news this week, as poorly executed Washington diplomacy prolongs the affair, and Assad and Putin teach them a lesson in media management. The breathtaking hypocrisy in Putin’s defense of International Law (hopefully the New York Times doesn’t syndicate to Georgia) is matched only by Obama and Kerry in their grand pronouncements on human rights violations in the Middle East. If the weariness of the double standards in International Politics was insufficient to shake one’s faith in the State system, then perhaps we might take some time to think about the sustainability of institutions whose legitimacy is being persistently assaulted from within and without.
Serge Halimi is the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, a kind of internationalised politico-philosophical publication from LeMonde featuring articles on international affairs and globalisation. He is unrepentantly left wing, and in his May column, he unloads both barrels into what he perceives as a global elitist hegemony, The Tyranny of the One Per Cent. His analysis is unusual in one respect, however. It is an attack on a system, rather than its people; it is not lamenting greed (a kind of anti-Gordon Gekko) and is not so much bitter as it is critical. Throughout the piece he constructs a compelling argument in the French Republican tradition – that eighteenth Century revolutionary philosophy that has – perhaps unintentionally – led us all to where we are today.
I’ve been reading Juergen Habermas slim volume The Crisis of the European Union: A Response, and I have to say that it is an exceptional read. Not only is it very accessible – important, if you’re trying to send a message to politicians – but it is equally concise. These are big thoughts, and grand ideas, and it is easy to get bogged down. Highly recommended to everyone reading this – if you’re interested in my blog, Habermas is a must. These are some of the notes I took on the Preface.
As mentioned in my last post, Zizek identifies four apocalyptic antagonisms that threaten the liberal democratic status-quo. They are ecology, technology, property and equality. In relation to the technological post-human dystopia, Zizek attributes a leadership role to Ray Kurzweil, a noted thinker in technology futurism. There are two kinds of post-humanism, it appears – a kind of robotic, artificial intelligence future as described in the fiction Asimov and the Terminator movies, and a bio-genetic technological Armageddon of which I’m less familiar.