Human utility

prekariat.org

prekariat.org

By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

There can be said to be two internal structural crises regarding the transformation of the labour market brought by new technologies and the rationalization of the market structure itself. These two crises can be said to be ideological/existential and social. Of these two crises, I will devote this entry to the first, and often overlooked version.

The transformation of labour has meant not only a different environment, but that people – most often from the younger generation – have been forced by the external circumstances to readjust their behaviour, while many of the expectations regarding rights, social obligations, the personal future and the social role of the individual remain the same – which creates a foundation for increased mental fragility and a heightened risk for psycho-social problems.

This problem is mostly prevalent in the developed nations in Europe, North America, Oceania and East Asia, though similar trends can be seen amongst the middle class in the Arab World and the less developed nations of East Asia.

TL;DR summary

  • During the latter half of the 20th century, most western states developed social welfare models that gave broader protection to the people.
  • This was coupled by a period of sustained growth until the 1970’s when the majority of the population attained higher living standards, guaranteed employment and expanded social safety nets.
  • This created room for individualization and for the expansion of lifestyles and subcultures. In a very literal sense, people became liberated from the constraints of survival values.
  • Three generations have grown up under these conditions, and been acclimatised to them.
  • This presents a challenge now when the system is rupturing, and expectations both amongst the political leaders and the various groups of society is not aligned with this rupture.
  • This increases the volatility of the system.
  • It is unlikely a new stable equilibrium within the current socio-economic system can be established, due to exponential and ecological factors.
  • This volatility brings risks but also opportunities.

The age of the Middle Class

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After the Second World War, something happened – which we have come to take for granted now in the western world, but which was unfathomable to the generations who had gone through the two world wars and the Great Depression, namely a period of sustained growth from the late 1940’s until the oil recession of 1973.

This sustained growth happened basically every western country, and transformed the structural composition of the population. Production of consumer goods exploded, farming industrialization led to a sweeping wave of urbanization and sub-urbanization. From economies were only every tenth person had a car, we moved towards economies were one in two adult individuals possessed one.1950s-300x210

Soon, basically everyone owned a car, refrigerator, TV, radio, lawn-mower, stereos, and could afford vacation trips to other parts of the country and even abroad. Of course, in many countries – like for example in large parts of southern Europe and in the United States – there were large swathes of poverty, and stagnating communities as well. For the majority however, things looked increasingly brighter.

And jobs were readily available to anyone willing to have one. Though it was not easy to study at university everywhere, there was no necessity of it, since regular jobs paid enough to sustain a household and generally allow money for other expenditures. Thus, due to the abundance, the culture in western countries was slowly transformed – away from the values of traditional societies.

The new lifestyle market emerged due to and with part-conscious support from the marketing industry, and soon fashion in terms of musical preferences, clothing, brands, experiences and even diets came to be readily applied by the industry, transforming both the economy and the behavioural patterns of the people in the process. While this process can be seen as both emergenet and intentional (to some degree), it is not the focus of our post. The focus rather lies on the fact that three generations of westerners have been individualized.

Individualization

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As you can see on this map, the countries seen as building up the core of the western world are all in the upper right corner, and while some (like Ireland and the United States) are more traditional in terms of their values, they too value self-expression above survival. Cultural essentialists love to claim that these values to some extent always have separated the West from other civilizations (not entirely true, they generally sport the origin of western exceptionalism to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution or the Enlightenment).

However, several distinct transformations happened relatively recent, during the middle to late part of last century.

  • The choice of a romantic partner is moved to a later part in life, and parents and relatives do not any longer generally expect to have a say in the matter. Property and income is less pronounced in the choosing of a partner, though it still indirectly plays a role.
  • Sex is now a recreationary habit, while it before primarily was seen as a way to form a family. Children are no longer seen as an economic investment, but primarily as a way to cement a bonding between two adult individuals (children are also largely seen as an economic burden).
  • The social role of the individual in society is primarily defined by the individual theirself, and that is seen as the legitimate manner in which people define their roles in society.
  • Youths are acclimatised into this thinking through education, where a large part is played (unintentionally perhaps) by the social mores and fashions, and the pecking order organically established on the schoolyard.

I would argue that most of these transformations have been positive, and have served as a liberating force for the individual, who by theirself can make life-decisions that were previously either decided directly or at least largely affected by the expectations of the community. It is however quite easy to see how the struggle for survival creates the foundation for collectivistic values and social mores, while the lack of a need to struggle for survival creates the opportunity for the individual to blossom.

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There are however expectations which individuals in western societies generally are expected to achieve, and are expecting themselves to achieve. In a pre-industrial agrarian society, you are successful if you manage to hold on to what your forebears managed to build. In an early industrial society, you are successful if you manage to build savings to let your children have a better life. In today’s society, however, young people have been accustomed to, are expected to and are expecting themselves to:

  • Earn more than their parents did and receive better-paying jobs.
  • Make good for themselves by having a job and contributing to the economy.
  • Experiencing life and travelling at an early age.
  • Expressing their individuality and attain a sense of “uniqueness”.

These are all laudable life objectives, but the problem is that they are increasingly untenable for young people to achieve, especially in a situation where class differences are becoming more marked, the middle class is stagnating, low-skill jobs are less available due to automatization and the increasing competition of the developing world, high-skill jobs are not increasing in the numbers needed to absorb the increased number of youths with hundreds of thousands in student debt and degrees that lend them jobs on McDonalds.

Not surprisingly, this will cause protracted anger, especially as the system is crumbling more and more under its own self-contradictions.

The existential crisis of the Western Civilization

jeslacasse.com

jeslacasse.com

The social contracts of modern western societies generally entail that people have a right to housing, to food, to water, to electricity (apart from the rights from being exposed to conditions imposed by other humans which are less than desirable). However, these rights have de-facto not needed to be guarded that much since the truth has been that the vast majority of the people in western industrialized societies have been able to guarantee them for themselves due to employment – and those not able to gain access to these life-necessities have most often been caught up by social safety nets that have provided them with what is considered the minimum that an individual could expect from society.

I am not denying the fact that there are those who are destitute and truly homeless, but these are still – luckily – a comparably small group.

In general, the social welfare systems have been dependent on – no matter what country we are talking about – a full employment state, where the revenues are collected through income taxes, and a part of those revenues are redistributed to the part of the adult population that is unable to find work, either permanently or through structural or temporary unemployment. When revenues are not increasing in the same amount as expenditures, then the government must either raise taxes or shrink its obligations. Raising taxes generally reduces the availability for consumption. The prevailing orthodoxy since the 1970’s has generally been tax reductions, since these are presupposed to stimulate the economy by increasing consumption, thereby increasing the amount of readily available jobs.

viewsoftheworld.net

viewsoftheworld.net

Since the population pyramid in most western societies is skewed to the middle, with the largest population share being the bulk of middle-aged citizens and a flattening peak of old people, it is difficult for youths to affect the division of resources with this dwindling resource base, since it is likely that older and more well-connected population segments can negotiate to keep a larger share of the pie, while inexperienced youths find themselves with less and elss opportunities for jobs, housing and education as time passes on.

This has also largely happened, starting already during the 1980’s, and resuming during the 2010’s. Youths are gradually, but at an accelerating pace, thrown into a world that is more ruthless and predatory than that of their parents – of whom many have little understanding or patience for the sense of uncertainty today, instead meaning that youths have become soft like jelly and less prone to work hard and shut up – not realising that it is difficult to even gain a job interview when jobs are scarce and every job has several hundred applicants.

What is problematic is not that youths cannot fulfil their own ambitions, or the ambitions of their parents. It is doubtful if it can be said to be a human right to be successful within the paradigms of consumeristic individualism, and even if it was a right, it is evidently very much on a lower priority than the things that billions of people in the developing world are going through. What is problematic however is when people are living in lives of uncertainty and never know how the next month is going to look like. if they would have to move to another side of the country or if they are getting as many work hours as the previous month.

This is however problematic on a deeper level. If society cannot guarantee housing, income, safety and electricity to all its members, things which are pre-assumed by human rights definitions and national laws, it is putting the democratic concepts of the inclusionary nation-state in conflict with the values of capitalism.

In short, are human beings having an inherent value because of their humanity, or is their worth determined by their economic performance (and them being allowed to performed economically) inside society? Is it human rights that determine human value, or is it human utility, or some combination thereof – and how can we adjust internally in regards to this self-contradiction?

Short-term solutions

basicincome2013.eu

basicincome2013.eu

There are several ways to adjust to this crisis, and at least be able to prolong the social fabric of our societies some more decades than otherwise possible.

  • The shifting of the tax burden to other productive factors, such as capital, land, technology, or to consumption and production, which would mean that the expenses won’t increase (through social welfare) the same way when unemployment rises and revenues are decreasing.
  • The transformation of the social safety net into a simpler model that means that all human beings get money for necessities, without as many control systems to check if they are eligible.

Culturally, there must be changes as well. The awareness that we live in a different society than 1970 has not dawned upon decision-makers in politics, industry and media, especially as the majority of them have not experienced this transformation and what it entails for new-comers on the labour market.

Youths must also adjust their expectations and try to develop their survival skills and understanding of the current system. That does not entail acceptance, and youths must be better to understand the system in order to be able to properly channel their anxiety into the anger necessary to form a movement with political demands. These demands must however not be attached to just changes in how the redistribution patterns are working, but into systemic changes related to the establishment of the post-industrial service economy in the Western world.

However, while the biosphere is slowly collapsed by the joined efforts of humanity, technological development is

A protester carries a petrol bomb during a protest at the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011. Protesting high school students hurled rocks and bottles during a rally to mark the third anniversary of the fatal police shooting of a teenager in central Athens. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

accelerating, leading to less and less labour hours needed to sustain the same production, meaning that new jobs are not created in the same pace as old jobs are vanishing. Those economies worst affected are those that entered the “High Industrial Age” (1946 – 1973) phase later than the early adopters.

One example is being Greece, which today is in a state of perpetual crisis, that only will deepen as the adherence to the flawed Euro currency system is basically leading to the country relenting what independence it has left in economic matters, and accepting probably this century’s largest redistribution of wealth from the people into the hands of financial capital. This also shows that the current political establishment and the current political paradigm is directed towards protecting the interests of the system before the interests of the people.

Summary

In the western world, technology – which was a liberating force during the previous eras of the Industrial Age – has turned into a factor that greatly upsets the social order and is forcing a change of the expectations that we have been accustomed to have. This does not mean that technological development should be stopped, in fact, technological development must necessarily be consciously utilised in the process of creating an integrated civilization that can monitor the environmental factors of the Earth and allow us to reduce our impact in as intelligent a manner as possible.

However, technology is a destructive force in regards to how it affects both the ways in which social safety nets operate and how the labour market is shrinking of available hours, leading to more competition horizontally and more strained relations both vertically and between generations.

The first thing that youths must realise is this relationship between technological development and the difficulty to land one-self a full-time employment today. Internalization of emotions of guilt, worthlessness and a sense of being meaningless is leading to the collapse of the self and is a certain path to becoming depressed and losing all the will to struggle. However, that it isn’t your guilt does not mean that you do not need to adapt to changed circumstances.

Finally, the Earth Organisation of Sustainability must talk about these issues and try to establish why our alternative is plausible and why it is essential to struggle, not only for the future of individuals, or or humanity, but of the future of our very planet.

A 48 hours recipe for suicide

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Recently, I had the opportunity to read this article published on the Qetema website. I found it both interesting and unnerving, as it clearly defines one of the persisting problems with “the RBE spectrum”. I struggled with myself regarding whether or not I should reply to the article in question – but have decided positively so after voicing my concerns with the young people I have talked with inside the Qetema group. They asked me to write this article, and since I’ve already criticised the notion that Greece could become “the world’s first RBE nation”, I thought it would be fair to provide a more elaborate and formal criticism of the idea.

The Short notes (TL;DR)

On Resource Based Economics

~ We do not know whether a RBE would work or not.

~ Many RBE followers seem to believe that their proposed system is a sort of console cheat mode for economics.

~ RBE;ism ultimately bears an uncanny resemblance to pre-marxian forms of communism.

On Greece

~ For many reasons, Greece is ill-suited to become a Resource Based Economy.

~ For many reasons, turning a country into a RBE in 48 hours is insane.

~ Examples of autarkies

On Resource Based Economics

the-planet-is-sick-but-we-have-the-cure-a-resource-based-economy

The Earth Organisation for Sustainability does not and have never identified itself as an organisation promoting what Jacque Fresco coined as a “Resource Based Economy” (RBE). What our goal is, is to investigate the opportunities for how to establish sustainable management of the Earth’s resources, and we are curious on the long-term prospects for the application of a transition to post-monetary socio-economic systems. You can read about our research and transitioning proposals here.

The main difference between us and the majority of the organisations promoting what they call “RBE”, is that we remain very skeptical of any claims and want everything to be measured, verified, applied, tested and criticised. Many of the organisations promoting the RBE concept are however claiming that the world can be switched to a RBE almost instantaneously and with little to none negative effects.

Also, a RBE would not only solve all sustainability problems and social problems, but would prevent most accidents from happen, eliminate most diseases, make most people happy and create an abundance for everyone, so high that resources almost wouldn’t have to be measured.

Much of this heralds from Mr. Fresco himself, who generally promotes his concept through focusing on the many claimed positive effects of a post-transition society. It should be noted that Fresco – before he promoted the Resource Based Economy concept – pioneered a concept called Sociocyberneering, and there he used more technical and narrow terms (which I personally find more agreeable since it makes it easier to understand what his organisation wanted to achieve, but which I understand do not serve to attract as many followers).

What then is a RBE?

If you ask a dozen or so RBE followers, you will know less of what a RBE is than before you asked. You will probably hear

The Venus Project

The Venus Project

about it being “the right thing since the Earth belongs to everyone, not a select few”, and be presented Gimp-rendered image files with quotes by old Native American chieftains. You will hear about Tesla and free energy from vacuum. You may hear of spirituality and Yoga. You may hear of living in communes and veganism, and of banking conspiracies. You may even hear that Jesus did not exist and that RBE is a return to the faith in the pagan mother goddess. You may hear of the flower of life, of promoting arts and poetry and culture.

However, one thing which soon comes clear when it comes to RBE followers (who mostly are young people with idealistically glowing eyes), is that they truly view the RBE concept as a manifestation of everything that is good, righteous and expresses their identity. RBE can be three different things to three different indivduals, but needless to say it will solve all the problems of the Earth, all injustices and do away with them within a few months (Jacque Fresco said something akin to a decade in his Stockholm lecture).

So the main issue is, what does Jacque Fresco claim that a RBE is?

The answer can be shortly summarised as: A computer-administered planned economy.

The system would work in a manner that there is a global computerised system that monitors the total amount of resources on Earth. From that, Fresco assumes that there would be more than enough resources for everyone to live like a millionaire today (surveys by organisations such as the Club of Rome, the Footprint Network and other environmental organisations beg to differ), and that all that is lacking is sufficient planning. The Venus Project has to my knowledge never conducted a planetary survey, which makes me curious on how they have established that the level of resources is sufficient to establish a RBE.

Needless to say, the EOS agrees with TVP that a global planetary survey of resources is necessary, but we believe the way in which TVP messages their concept has created several unintended problems. By focusing on attractive 1950’s style retrofuturism and on inventions rather than the surveys and the physical information, TVP has ensured that they will not for the foreseeable future be accepted in academia. On the other hand, they (and TZM, which in many ways are making themselves even more problematic) gain followers within the precariat – young people from developed nations or from middle class background who have a trouble entering the more and more perilous and uncertain environment of the labour market. The RBE concept provides escapism and a vision of an alternative world.

In many ways, the RBE movement cluster is a cybernetic-age equivalent of the Utopian Socialist movement of the first half of the 19th century. The similarities are too many for it to be a co-incidence, and can be listed below here:

* An emphasis on the vision of a society where all problems are solved.

* A belief in philosopher kings (Tesla posthumously, a cult of personality around leading RBE figures).

* A mixture between pseudo-scientism (a fetischisation of science) and beliefs in alternative science (while Fresco has never claimed to support free energy, PJ Merola of The Zeitgeist Movement has purged high-ranking TZM members who’ve contested alternative cancer treatments).

* A willingness to move away from established society and form communes.

* An unwillingness to organise stable movements or commit full-heartedly to the projects, inside emphasising liquid organisation and positive emotions.

* A belief in that RBE:ism is a recipe to create a society where all ills are immediately cured, and that we under a RBE could both live in an earthly paradise but also provide everyone with basically everything they want.

With this, I am not saying that RBE:ism as a concept is doomed, but that these six features inside the RBE movement are the main things that hampers it and virtually ensures that it continues to see much noise but little actual activity. An emphasis on positive emotions, arrogance and the deification of individuals serves to limit the scope of followers and make them ineffectual.

Greece

grexit-comic

If you have read the article published on Qetema detailing Greece, they claim that Greece has a third choice apart from the knife and the gun seen in the picture above, and that is to switch towards a post-monetary system immediately, claiming that any adverse effects will be smaller than the false choice exemplified. This would mean that Greece totally would forego money and instead move towards a RBE where all resources are administered directly and managed in a rational scientific manner. The author of said article claims that this would create a better life for the Greek people and also showcase exactly how well a RBE would work.

I would counter these claims by pointing out the main problems here below, starting with a historical argument, moving towards a structural one and finishing with providing examples of economies with roughly the same level of natural resources as modern-day Greece, which either by ideological reasons or by economic reality have undergone a transition towards an autarchic, self-sustainable management of their resources.

Greek History for the last 3000 years

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The earliest civilizations emerged around the Eastern Mediterranean. During the Bronze Age, Crete was a centre of trade and commerce in the Mediterranean, providing a hub where resources could be traded. In many ways, civilizations such as Crete, Egypt and the Sumerian states where resource-based economies, in that food and raw material management was centrally planned by theocratic governments. However, due to human overexploitation of fragile East Mediterranean eco-systems and probably natural disasters as well, a collapse occurred during the end of the Bronze Age, leading to depopulation and a massive loss of complexity.

The Greeks did eventually recover enough to create the civilization of Classical Greece. This recovery did not occur because that Greece as a region recovered economically. It was largely deforested, with eroding soils and unable to feed its own population (which for obvious reasons was smaller than today’s Greek population). Thence, from the 8th century BCE and onward to Alexander the Great, the Greeks colonised the shores of the Mediterranean sea, competing with the Phoenician trade networks and acted as middlemen between the various cultures populating the coastlines. If the Greeks had been land-bound and utilised their own resources, their population would have shrunk, and we would today not have known of Athenian philosophy and culture.

During the 15th century, Greece was overrun by the Ottoman Empire, and was ruthlessly exploited. The Greek cities turned into villages, the peninsula was plagued both by tax collectors and highwaymen (who were considered, and often were to an extent, Greek patriots fighting for the liberty of the Greek farmers, reduced to serfs under Turkish rule).

When Greece emerged as an independent nation in 1830, it found itself with a very poor economy and little in terms of infrastructure. The country almost immediately went bankcrupt, and has suffered several more defaults during the relatively short history since the Battle of Navarino guaranteed Greek independence. Left on its own and without any externa support, modern-day Greece would have resembled neighbouring Albania in wealth. What guaranteed that Greece would develop into the 40th largest or so economy of the world was largely the interests first of Great Britain and France, which saw the geostrategically important position of Greece visavi Turkey and Russia, and then of the United States, which largely subsidised Greece during the Cold War.

While Greece undoubtly has resources, it does not have enough resources to supply its current population within its borders. The article claims that the oceans, in this case the Aegean, contains “abundant resources”. The truth is that the eco-systems of the sea are on their way to collapse faster than the eco-systems on land, and most of them are in a state of terminal decay. Now the article writers can claim that Greece can supply itself in terms of aquaponics, kelp farms and solar energy, but to create such facilities require technology and knowledge which would make Greece dependent upon trade, and thus exporting the food they have to obtain technology. Otherwise, they would have to produce the technology internally, but that would reduce their ability to produce food which is needed to sustain the population (I advise the RBE:rs to play the excellent text-based game Stalin’s Dilemma).

RBE if applied on a national level.

If a RBE would be applied on a national level, it would mean that all food production, industrial production and infrastructure would have to be centrally managed, at least during the transitional time. Since Greece lacks the computational power to move towards a cybernated system, that would mean that the current Greek bureaucracy (and the Greek political leaders) will be tasked with managing the economy and making decisions on guesstimates. This would create bottlenecks of inefficiency and also mean that a lot of people will lose the control and/or ownership of resources – leading either to emigration or to political resistance.

Also, Greece is very much a service-based economy (tourism), which is not accounted for (or as much needed) in a RBE. Therefore, a large part of the Greek economy will cease to exist.

Current examples.

cuba cultural tours

There are currently several economies of the world which to a lesser or larger degree are managing their national economies according to principles where they measure resources and needs, and where the state rather than taxing off the population are making their revenue by exporting resources.

The two best examples of the current day world are North Korea and Cuba. I will focus on Cuba, since North Korea is largely directed towards using their resources to feed a bloated conventional military force, thus neglecting food production (in a country already ill-suited to produce food) and thus causing repeated famines.

It could be said that Cuba, on the other hand, is not aiming to embargo itself, but have partially been victimised by a recently lifted embargo by the United States. On the other hand, many aspects of the Cuban economy are not functioning overtly well, and the country lacks access to spare parts and modern technology. On the other hand, however, Cuba is today self-sustaining when it comes to food production, though ordinary Cubans do not experience an abundance of food.

If a Greek transition towards an autarchic economy with focus on self-sustaining food production is established, and we say that it is “successful” in regards with providing people with food, housing, power, medicine and other necessities, it would most likely resemble Cuba – which has a living standard that is considerably lower than modern Greece (even post-crisis), but on the other hand offers people more social security (on a considerably lower level).

Summary

The problem with RBE:ism

The problem with RBE:ism

It is theoretically possible to create a cybernated society managing its own resources within a limited geograhic territory on the planet. However, claiming that a “RBE” can violate the laws of physics and be applied with the same results in Greece as in the United States is populism at best and delusions at worst. Countries are of different size, have different environmental and geographic characteristics. It can be claimed that the larger a country is, the more educated its population is, and the smaller it is, the more resources would be available for every citizen.

That of course ignores the fundamental truth that we – as humans – cannot separate our countries from the planet. We are all into this together, and we all must transition together.

However, the EOS strongly discourages any at all attempt to convert a state into a cybernated economy tomorrow.

Firstly, we have not tested cybernated economics on any grand scale yet, or be able to attest to the positive and adverse effects of the implementation.

Secondly, we believe that the best road towards transition is an organic one, characterised by the emergence of holonic networks that share their successes and failures according to Open Source-principles and with a broad variety of different methodologies that allow us to access why experiments succeed and fail.

The RBE:ists currently are generally delving into a state where they choose to ignore relevant studies regarding history, the world’s resource base and problems encountered in transitions and with human reactions, instead preferring to draw a blank slate over all our experiences and listen to the encouraging words of gurus and visionaries.

It is my conviction as one of the founders of EOS and the organisation’s current director that our road must be one where the burden of proof lies on our shoulders that our transition models work, that we must meticulously test our alternatives on local settings and with computer simulations, that we must seek and find compromises and that the best road forward is one that is inclusive but also transparent and firmly rooted in empirical science.

Currently, RBE:ism is sorely lacking in all these regards, and that is but one of the reasons why we do not call ourselves a RBE:ist movement.

The implications of Brexit

panoramic_cityscapes4

By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

From the global perspective, this British election was of profound geo-strategic importance. For many years, a lot of Britons have not felt that membership in the European Union is a part of their cultural identity, and fears of federalism has created a Euroskeptic movement which is larger than in most other large European countries. While this euroskeptic opinion has grown, the United Kingdom has played an important role within the European Union, especially in terms of limiting the federal outreach.

This was especially clear during Blair’s administration, when the United Kingdom could be said to be one of the poles of European cooperation, and the “leader” of both the Northern and Central European member states of the European Union. During the leadership of the Brown and especially Cameron cabinets, the United Kingdom has moved more towards domestic issues, while the Franco-German federalist leadership has been subsumed by a growing German hegemony over the continent.

This shift, caused by the Financial Crisis of 2008, could determine the outcome of the first half of the 21st century, in terms of geopolitics, economics and actually a wide range of other issues, including environmental ones. To return to the subject at hand, Britain is voting on whether or not it should remain a member state of the European Union.

The subject of this article is not so much on the British election as on the effects of a potential no to continued membership in the European community, how it would affect the Trans-atlantic link and the future for treaties like the TTIP, the sovereignty and security of European nations and the future of European federalism, and I will also explore the negative and positive implications of this, and whether what is weighing over.

The Early History of the European Community

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Already during the early 17th century, some scholars proposed the idea of a European Union (as an alternative to the Catholic-dominated and perpetually declining Holy Roman Empire). First in the early 20th century a stable intellectual and meta-political movement formed for the eventual unification of Europe. This “Pan-Europa Movement” was composed of members of the European elites, both conservatives and liberals, nobility and intellectuals, who were concerned both with the current horrors of the First World War, the rise of Soviet Communism and the vision of world peace and a unified Europe. There were also connections to the Esperanto movement and to cultural and literary personalities throughout the European continent.

After the First World War, three things stood clear. While European Imperialism was still secure in Africa, the Middle East and the regions around the Indian Ocean, a big hole had been shot into European identity, which had been connected with the idea of progress. The slaughter of the trenches had demoralized European culture and created a void where many movements competed – sometimes violently – to fill that void.

Pan-Europa did never as a movement penetrate into the working classes of Europe, probably due to being a movement which attracted mainly eccentric nobles, conservative anti-communists, representatives of the liberal intelligentsia (there was an overlap between Pan-Europa and the Esperanto movement for example). I will also briefly note that there was an overlap too many movements which were more or less… odd in their approach, for example Sörgel’s Atlantropa project.

While the Pan-Europa movement certainly did exist, it did not have any lasting impact on any large European political party. And soon, the seeds sown by the First World War erupted in the Second, and Europe thoroughly destroyed itself as a civilization.

In the ruins of the war, the seeds of the Pan-Europa ideas found nourishing soil, as it stood clear that if Europe instead of consisting of mutually antagonistic nation-states, had been organised in a federal super-structure, the Second World War could have been averted. Also, Western Europe had – as a cultural sphere – been reduced to its smallest size since the 9th century, when Charlemagne had ruled.

In 1949-1951, the first steps towards European integration were taken with a very pragmatic approach, the formation of a common steel-and-coal community between six European countries, comprising the approximate extent of Charlemagne’s Empire. In May 1957, the European Economic Community was initiated, between France, West Germany, Italy and the Three Low Countries.

Power struggle: Gaullism vs Euro-atlanticism

Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle

In 1958, France was deeply embroiled in the Algerian Liberation War, and the French Fourth Republic was on the verge of a political collapse. During that crisis, the constitutionally legitime leaders of the country called on de Gaulle to take power and end the war in Algeria. De Gaulle did more than that. He ended the weak Fourth Republic and instituted a Fifth Republic, with stronger presidential powers. He could not turn back the winds of change however, and by 1961, most of the French Colonial Empire had been lost.

To compensate for this loss of direct influence in Africa (it should be noted that France still keeps significant influence in most West African countries), France turned towards Europe in order to strengthen this influence. In this regard, de Gaulle strived to strengthen the EEC, not primarily as an economic but as a political entity, imagining it as a bloc with the potential to challenge both the United States and the Soviet Union. A key part of this continentalist approach was to keep the United Kingdom outside of the EEC, since de Gaulle suspected that the UK would try to reduce the political clout of the EEC and prevent France from dominating the cooperation or to further European integration towards greater federalism. Also, he feared more American influence on the EEC.

De Gaulle’s vision was a Europe “from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals”, including the Russians but excluding both the Americans and the British. This ran totally counter to the American strategy for a future Europe that could be both complacent and stable, namely “keep the British in, the Germans down and the Russians out”. De Gaulle’s federalism did however end where French nationalism began, and he could not accept the idea of a common European army as a counter-weight to NATO, fearful of losing (control of) the French armed forces the French nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (which itself had a sagging economy, while being a western country during the greatest growth period in human history) repeatedly sought membership in the EEC, but was repeatedly blocked by de Gaulle. To counter this, and also to create a more liberal form of free trade arrangement, Britain joined up with the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland to form the European Free Trade Arrangement, a structure which never became too influential and which eventually was dissolved in the 1990’s, when half of the EFTA members had joined the EEC.

Britain itself joined the EEC in 1971, after de Gaulle’s death. What blocked French dominance in the EEC of 1971-1993 was not so much American influence through Britain as American influence through West Germany, which was becoming the largest economy of Western Europe. Despite that the Germans accepted to play a subservient role to the French within Europe, they could not rely on France for their strategic defence against the Soviet Union (one cornerstone of French nuclear strategy in the event of a Global Thermonuclear War/Soviet invasion of Western Europe was to nuke the Russians in West Germany as they passed through it). Also, French presidents following De Gaulle were less consistent and in many ways had a weaker position domestically, and could therefore not increase their level of dominance within the EEC or the WEU (an “alternative military alliance to NATO”).

The Third Gulf War and effects on European Federalism

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Institutionally, the 90’s and 00’s strengthened the newly born European Union in a significant manner, from the Maastricht Treaty to the implementation of the common currency to the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. However, politically the Union was immensely damaged by the failure of the common foreign policy during the initiation of the Third Gulf War in 2003, also known as the Iraq War.

During the late 1990’s, there were many strong visionaries in the three major European powers at the time, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Chirac (the then French President) desired European federalism and French elites saw the idea of moving towards a “United States of Europe” as inevitable. Schröeder, the German Chancellor, wanted to establish closer economic ties with the Russian Federation (which at that point still was very weak), while the British Prime Minister Blair desired a “Europe a’la Carte”, where European states themselves could decide on what arrangements they wanted to opt-in or opt-out from.

Chirac’s motivations were political (European federalism to create a Non-American western superpower), Schröeder’s were financial (benefit the German economy by having better trade relations with Moscow, and also probably due to his own personal growing interests in Russia), while Blair’s interests were based partially on protecting his position (Euroskepticism was greater in Britain than on the continent), and maybe also on preventing the foundation of a European Federation or any other arrangement which included the Russians but excluded the Americans. Britain’s interests in this case co-incided with the interests of many smaller North and Central European nation-states, which did not desire French or German hegemony on the European continent.

It is possible that had there been no war, or had Britain not joined the war, there would be (for better or worse) a different EU today. But Britain joined the war against Saddam’s Iraq, together with countries like Poland, Romania, Italy and Denmark, I.E countries which were peripheral in the European Union or which desired less federalism, contra countries like France, Belgium and Germany, which for different reasons saw increased amounts of Federalism as a solution for what they identified as their geopolitical and economic challenges.

The intensity of the propagation for or against the Third Gulf War led to such outrages as the French stating that Poland and the Baltic States “had missed a good opportunity to shut up”, and the US Congress officially renamed French Fries into “Freedom Fries”.

What we tend to forget is that even if the Third Gulf War today is seen as a folly which the US and “the Coalition of the Willing” chose to engage in, by 2007 Schröeder and Chirac were both gone and replaced by more Pro-US-leaning administration. For all what it was worth “New Europe” had triumphed over “Old Europe”, geopolitically-wise, and the result of the Third Gulf War for Euro-American relations was that it was shown that France and Germany had weaker capacity to draw support for their foreign policy within the European Union than the United States. For all what it was worth, Europe had truly become a Europe á la carte, and Blair’s policy had (perhaps through unintentional means) largely become successful.

British Euroskepticism

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Euroskepticism has been growing at a steady rate in the United Kingdom since the EEC “imposed” the Metric system on the country. Nowadays, those who desire to leave the European Union are leading with 15-20% above those who want to stay.

Blair’s successors, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, have been unwilling or unable to focus as much on the issue of the European Union as their predecessor, and British influence is low (despite the conflict in Ukraine, where Poland, Romania and the Baltic States can rely more on Britain than for example Germany, because Britain has consistently been more skeptical to the resurgence of Russia than continental powers).

Also, the events of the early 00’s are forgotten today, at least in Europe, due to the events of 2008-2010. The Eurozone Debt Crisis left the United Kingdom untouched, due to the UK not being a part of the common currency. The role the UK could or wanted to assume in this crisis was already from the start limited, and having their own economical problems to think of, the United Kingdom became insular and unable to assert the situation in Europe.

The Debt Crisis saw Germany rise up as the main creditor of bankcrupt European states. While this has neither been popular amongst the Greeks or the southern Europeans, it has cemented a financial power-base and thrown more power into the hands of the German chancellor any-time since 1942. I would reject on the strongest the Stratfor notion that the European Union is dead. Rather, the crisis has signified that continental Europe is dependent on Germany, but also that Germany is dependent on the economy of Europe as a whole. This necessitates German management.

The public opinion of the United Kingdom is not noticing the full extent of what is happening, namely that the Eurozone today is forming into what it was designed to prevent, namely German hegemony on the European Continent. The British opinion is too hammered by domestic conflicts today, and it remains a risk that Scotland can leave the United Kingdom.

If the British opinion even exists on the Eurozone debt crisis, it mostly galvanizes around viewing Greece, Italy and Spain as countries with historically irresponsible governments, and the Germans as doing what they could to save the day (most likely, people are also grateful they are not a part of the Eurozone).

Within a few years (if Britain manages to move itself together), there will be political voices that would object on the strongest towards the emergent German hegemony on Europe. Nevertheless, no matter what German, American or British decision-makers want, the German hegemony is an economic reality, and could eventually serve as the basis for a Federal Europe arranged after German geostrategic interests (which ultimately was what Germany intended to achieve in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945).

If Britain remains inside the European Union, they can serve as a counter-weight and stall this development, but if the British public are voting yes to a “Brexit”, they will have rejected all ability to influence the continued process. This does however not move in line with American or British interests, since the American interest has been to prevent or stall the rise of rising powers, while the British interests since the reign of Elizabeth I has been to prevent any single European power from emerging on the continent.

Therefore, unlike what some people are proposing, Britain has an immense role for geo-strategy in the near future.

Positive or negative

archdaily.com

archdaily.com

Only three powers have the potential to dominate the European continent today and achieve hegemony. Those are The United States, Russia and Germany. Out of these three, Germany has the best geographical position in terms of potential economic and political influence (though the worst militarily). A Europe that is in peace and with a low risk for war, will naturally tend to favour a power located where Germany rests.

Right now, the economic crisis of 2008-2010 has shifted Europe a step closer to German hegemony, at the expense of smaller states and Non-Eurozone members. If the United Kingdom chooses to leave the European Union, it would be very difficult for any constellation of powers to prevent a German hegemony. Therefore (my estimation is) David Cameron and Angela Merkel would do their outmost to prevent the Brexit.

Firstly, the United Kingdom would – outside of the EU – naturally gravitate towards the Anglo-American and Anglo-Oceanian powers, and would have a position on par with Canada and Australia visavi the United States.  It would also be isolated from the European continent, and unable to stop the rise of an eventual European Federation under German financial and political control.

Germany, on the other hand – at least under the Merkel chancellorship (and probably within the entire German political establishment) does not want to dominate Europe, and would want to anchor their power in the consent of at least major economies like France and the United Kingdom. A Brexit would move Europe closer to a state which they for political and emotional reasons are finding abhorring.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, how would a European Federation under German suzerainty look like and constitute itself?

It is impossible to say. Today’s Germany is not Hitler’s Third Reich, but a democratic federal republic with broad autonomy for the länder (states). One thing which could be said apart from that which is positive, is that Germany (while sadly still being dependent on coal) has a positive track record on energy, and there is a large environmental movement in the country.

Another positive thing with a more multipolar world is that different types of models can be tested through the imposition of differing values on large-societies. A European Federation, free from the more Smithian and Lockean heritage of Anglo-American political values, could value other factors above the free market and above the interests of mega-corporations (which are the top beneficiaries of today’s form of globalisation). One such factor is the environment.

As you know, EOS believes that de-centralization is an essential thing for the establishment of a sustainable civilization. But perfect worlds do not exist, and we must work with models that are realistic should they be imposed on us, and try to find the positive things in the development that we can work through. Therefore, the risk for a Brexit does also signal a trend where Europa and the United States are diverging from one another, which isn’t necessarily an inherently negative thing – at least not from an environmental perspective.

How the European project could save itself

The current Nobel Peace Prize award in Oslo is an attempt to verify the European Union as a “peace project”, comparable with Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Bono. This decision has been met with criticism both due to the fact that the EU has not always contributed positively to global peace, and as an obvious attempt to try to redefine the EU brand from being associated with a limping economy, an Euro on the verge of collapse, austerity, national governments that are radar-controlled from the ECB in Frankfurt, political ineptitude, xenophobia and the rise of poverty and far right groups.

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The enlightened, managerial establishment of Europe (of which the Norwegian Nobel Committee is a part) is using this prize as a form of therapy bear, and hopes that it would make those “unwashed rabble” who are threatened by unemployment, homelessness, a plummeting quality of life and perpetual debt to forget about their plight and come miming together to Beethoven’s Ninth. Not gonna happen. The prize does not elevate its possessor, but the possessor can elevate or denigrate the prize. Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama are inspiring human beings who have paid for their convictions by tremendous personal sacrifices. They also are likeable people who are charismatic and photogenic.

For the echo chamber, for the liberal media (of which many newspapers became either irritated at the EU peace prize reward, or stayed indifferent to the whole debacle) and for those who are invested in the EU, they thought it would increase the status of the Union. Instead, it sunk the value of the prize – again, and comes of as a desperate, Soviet-esque attempt to award oneself medals. To a very great extent, the EU has been the darling project for the managerial-bureaucratic classes in the European countries, no matter if these countries are a part of the EU or not. Norway is not a member of the EU, and only 18% of the Norwegians want to join the EU.

It remains a mystery what concrete, tangible things the European Union has done for peace. KFOR? SFOR? Peace-keeping missions? On that ground, the peace prize could have been awarded to every country or organisation that holds peace-keeping troops in other countries. What we should discuss is not so much peace-keeping as peace-building. And what we should discuss in this post is whether the EU brand forever is soiled.

I don’t think its necessarily that way.

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But “building a Pan-European identity” is so quaint today. It was perhaps progressive back in the 1930’s, when most of the world consisted of European colonies. It is true that there are a lot of youths who attach their identity to  something larger than their nation – but these youths are not very fond of the European Union and they don’t want to be Europeans. They want to be Earthlings. Earth inhabitants. Tellusians.

Terrans.

They travel to Ghana to help with ecological farming projects, are travelling to the Arctic to canoe with Polar Bears, are going down to Palestine, to Sudan, to Chiapas, to Ecuador, to Uganda and to Nepal. They certainly don’t identify themselves with Barroso, Van Rompuy or Ashton. They don’t want to build a “glorious United States of Europe”, because that dream of the interwar era has since long been superceded by a vision of a planet which knows no borders, of a sustainable planet, of a planet where humanity is unified, in the pursuit of life, of human dignity and of ecological sustainability. They are struggling for fair trade, women’s rights and indigenous rights.

If the European Union should ever become a successful project, it must engage itself whole-heartedly in the process for global justice, human well-being and sustainability, instead of being a conduit for corporate and bureaucratic interests. Otherwise, it will continue to suffer from shrinking approval rates, until the only logical conclusion is reached.

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The European Union will never succeed if it cannot evoke love and passion. And passion can only be evoked by passion.

In the 21st century, it should be passion for the Earth.