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

Culture-Map_WVS5

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.

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On Survivalism

govolontourism.com

govolontourism.com

By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

During this century, there will be three major challenges that will undoubtly mean that whatever happens, we will live in a different civilization in a hundred years. These challenges can be summed up as ecology, society and technology, and each of them will serve to shift but also tear our species into differing directions – as well as forcing each and everyone of us to adapt to transformative circumstances.

If you are content with the current society and with its shape, that is bad news. Everything you have prepared for the future of yourself and maybe your family is put into jeopardy, and there is no way to know where we will be in ten years.

On the other hand, if you want to challenge yourself and improve on your skills, it does not need to be bad news, and may in fact be the catalyst that makes you take control over your right to choose your own destiny.

This post will try to connect what many people are finding hard to grasp, namely that what we cause in terms of degradation eventually will have not only indirect but direct and immediate effects on their ability to uphold their daily lives. It will describe what most political scientists today would see as an impossibility in well-developed western societies, but which I argue not only is possible, but also likely – namely a significant loss of complexity.

Or in other words, a social collapse.

The majority of the western world consists of an urban population used to having food, electricity, clean water, warmth and social institutions at least accessible, and for most people provided for what they expect to be their life. Sure, people are expected to commit their work in order to afford a livelihood, but most people are living within safety nets, where the main worries are either how they should maintain their income or if they can manage to become promoted to higher incomes. Yet, people are fundamentally dependent in a western society, on energy, global food transport networks, flowing water and functioning authorities.

If a social collapse occurs, the state will not be able to provide for infrastructure or guarantee safety of transport, and that would leave it to communities to manage themselves and their own affairs. This could create a significant and particular vulnerability in western societies, since westerners generally are not accustomed to be self-sufficient.

Therefore, it is of pivotal importance, especially if the amount of stressors multiply during the course of this century, that subsequent generations of westerners learn how to grow food, produce electricity, build and repair machines and also how to defend themselves.

Even if society does not suffer a loss of complexity, such knowledge and experiences can serve to increase self-confidence and skills which may be utilized both to improve personal well-being as well as preparing the soil towards the transition to resilient and sustainable communities.

Vulnerability

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

You are all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

Good. What I will argue is that this hierarchy can also be applied onto human societies. Most human societies during history have been constructed as pyramids, where the majority of people were born to give up their surplus in order for security, and in order for elites to experience the three uppermost levels of the pyramid. The rest of the population were left on the bottom two or three levels.

The same can be applied for human beings today, and worse. In most of the world, the state is a corrupt and distant entity which exist to protect the well-being of small elites, while most people are scraping on the barrels from the bottom of society. You all know of the favelas of Brazil, the slums of Monrovia, the destitution on the Indian countryside and the carnage of Syria. For most human beings on Earth, life is brutal.

Western societies during the 20th century reaped the fruits sown by 19th century industrialism and imperialism, and came to invent ways for the state to redistribute wealth from production and economic growth into general safety nets for all citizens, while the economic activities enriched a large middle class. While you who read this blog know that we have built our prosperity on unsustainable foundations and on a socio-economoc system which will destroy itself and the current biosphere, that is not the focus of this post.

Thing is, if security and physiological needs are taken as given, human beings will not learn how to survive, or how to cope when stressors multiply on those fronts. The risk emerges for anarchy to take hold, especially in an increasingly disparate, diverse and unequal context.

During the agricultural era, it was usual that agricultural societies experienced sustained periods of growth, followed by kpw0-i-6f49periods of decline and loss of complexity. Some civilizations, such as the Rapanui and the Mayans, never really recovered from their decline phases, while others – for example on the Eurasian landmass – experienced multiple growth and decline phases. Usually on this blog, we are searching for ecological factors on how to explain decline.

Ibn Khaldun (a North African scholar and political scientist who lived during the 14th century), searched for sociological explanations behind the rise and decline of kingdoms. Since climate measurements and statistics (apart from censuses) were largely unknown, Khaldun looked at the quality of the ruling families of the feudal and despotic monarchies of the Islamic world, and he discovered a pattern.

Usually [according to Khaldun], dynasties emerged from the harsh desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa and conquered civilized cities, setting up their patriarch as Sultan. As the generations pass by, the barbarian rulers are slowly integrated into the “decadence” of the cities, and become soft, until they are overthrown by another barbarian army/tribal confederation from the deserts.

The lesson from this is that exposure to hardships can ultimately make people superior at survival and adaption, while luxuries and opulence can turn people ill-equipped to deal with challenges. Even if people are alert and skilled, civilized urban life can reduce the ambitions of the individual and of the family into adaption in relations to the expectations of the dominant culture – which in our contemporary case eschews manual labour and views it as inferior to being an office clerk, an architect or a designer (conversely, I remember when I was a young lad and we had relatives who were diplomats visiting us – the diplomat in question could not figure how to equip or start a water hose).

Given that, political scientists – much alike economists – generally assume that advanced industrial or post-industrial societies cannot possibly collapse. They can get worse in terms of their economic performance, or their political liberties. But the thought of the Kingdom of Sweden (for example) turning into a dictatorship, or outright collapsing of the state institutions, is unthinkable. Only swivel-eyed extremists would assume that would be a possibility. The idea seems to be that if our society has reached a particular stage of development, it would most likely continue to improve, democratically and economically, because it has improved since the 1940’s, and if it is suffering a loss of complexity, that loss would be limited.

Of course, there are also political reasons why for example political scientists cannot make a statement indicating that our society can collapse – because that would empower those extremists who seek to overthrow the established order and replace it with their own ideology, and because it will lower the confidence of people in the system. Every system throughout history has been reliant on the myth of its own stability and the notion of an impossibility that it could collapse. It should however be noted that there are different and more sober – or maybe somewhat more paranoid – accessments within the security establishment and amongst military analysts.

Given that, the desire to have largely dependent and docile citizens who live in urban centres to maximise economic activities in the post-industrial service economy can contribute to making us more vulnerable, as well as our reliance on the Ricardian drive to increase the efficiency and growth rate of the economy by replacing local and diversified production with increased large-scale specialisation and dependency on imports. This would for example mean that if trade is disturbed in Europe, many smaller countries would not be able to feed themselves.

Therefore, wise survivalism may serve to increase the resilience and therefore the stability of society, and make people more adjusted and prepared for a transition towards a sustainable society.

The wrong way

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Mostly in the South of the United States, there is a large, predominantly white a semi-rural subculture of “preppers” and survivalists, either alone or organised in militias. This subculture is largely conservative and some off-shoots are even far right or outright national socialist in their outlook. The culture is characterised by:

1) A high degree of individualism; bunkers, escape tunnels and weapon stashes hidden under suburban and rural villas.

2) An emphasis on weapons, with a preference for terrain vehicles and semi-automatic rifles.

3) An emphasis on masculinity and target practice at conventions.

It is needless to say that this kind of culture views other groups with hostile suspicion at best, and as outright malicious at worst. This particular culture is also hostile to the government, to the United Nations and is very much existing in an information reality where environmentalism – even in its least radical form – is really a socialist ploy in order to expand government control.

Even if it wasn’t for it, an emphasis on weapons and martialism will attract the kind of followers that not only are willing to use weapons, but are hoping to use them, as well as increasing the likelihood for conflict. Thus, this form of Militarist Survivalism which is existing in the US is not something which should be held up as a good example or replicated. In fact, it will probably mostly serve to make collapse conditions worse in the long run.

The right way

theurbanfarmer.ca

theurbanfarmer.ca

There cannot be said to exist one right way to organise local communities for resilience, but there exist ways in which to improve situations. Local conditions can vary very much between different places, so different approaches must be taken by local groups in order to increase resilience.

Firstly, the community needs to communicate within itself and with its neighbours, and aim to establish friendly relationships, or if not possible, respectful and equal relationships with its neighbours. It must communicate with local political and bureaucratic authorities and try to establish as much common ground as possible with them. One important emphasis is conflict management and how to reduce the risk that conflicts between social and ethnic groups emerge. I believe that the EOS can play a significant role in such processes locally.

Thus, survivalism is not primarily a matter for the individual, but a matter for the individual within the context of a community. People must learn how to produce their own food and energy, and must form sharing networks and common information pools.

There needs to be an emphasis on knowledge and on what risks and opportunities can emerge when conditions are rapidly changing in the surrounding society, for example if trade is breaking down due to wars or ecological disasters. Routines can then be established and become the basis of exercises that intend to prepare the local community for disturbances.

As much as possible, survival should also be about inclusion, not exclusion. There must be broad values, a focus on solutions, and a high degree of transparency and trust. This also includes an immunity to exaggerations and rumours and a willingness and ability to try to verify information before decisions have been made. There must also be an emphasis on combatting grand conspiracy thinking, but not through control or stigmatisation of opinion. Rather, we must equip both the current and future generations with the means to identify and call out bad generalisations and flawed chains of argumentation.

Summary

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We in the developed world are now standing before a storm, and we are eating ice-cream. The EOS has a deep paedagogic challenge before itself, and we must not only improve our social media presence, but also emphasise how individual human beings and families can be affected by the stress factors caused by the collapse of our socio-economic system and of our environment. However, we must always be sober and eschew alarmism and defaitism – instead providing the people with the tools and with the confidence for them to be able to take control over their situation and establish local and regional resilience and sustainability.

Positive Survivalism is a powerful tool in this regard, but we must at the same time be cautious so we do not preach negative survivalism or contribute to the emergence of groups spreading ripples of destructive memes or messages. We must look to convey ourselves in a manner that can unify communities, individuals and organisations in trust towards the achievement of common goals.

This ability would be essential during the years ahead, when the common trust and strength of our societies can become strained beyond their limits by sudden calamities. The EOS must sow the seeds of cooperation and hospitality and act as a bridge between disparate groups, to unify them in the struggle to save human civilization.

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

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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.

What is social entropy?

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By Enrique Lescure

What is it?

I’ve been asked multiple times today what social entropy is. I admit that I have coined the term, and now I will try to briefly explain what I mean with it.

Entropy is traditionally defined as a term designating that physical systems tend to fall back into their constituent parts as time passes on.

Societies, much like eco-systems or individual organisms, are consisting of interacting networks of individuals, clans, regions, interests, institutions and norms. These tend to form cultures which create in society an overall sense of predictability. This predictability is supported – in complex societies – by force and by laws, dictating what people may not do and what consequences they will experience if they breach these rules. Often, these rules are directly or indirectly for the gain of a ruling elite.

Social entropy however, is a centripetal force that strives to dissolve the “higher” or “medium” institutions of any society, reducing it to its component forms. Being left unchecked, this destructive force will cause lawlessness, riots, and unpredictability. Our societies are dependent on that people are following the norms in terms of getting up, getting to work, paying for goods at the local cornershop (even if they most likely could get away with theft), not stealing or vandalising property nor hurting other people.

I would argue that most societies are characterised by social entropy. It is not like it is a force that only appears when the law ceases to work. Rather, it is humans violating the social norms of predictability in terms of how society functions and affecting in some way the economic predictability of society (causing damage which costs resources and time to repair).

Even such a predictable and well-arranged society as the Swedish welfare state is continuously experiencing social entropy, in the forms of crime, vandalised bus stops and graffiti on unwanted walls. I would not herein state whether or not social entropy is desirable. Some societies are genuinely repressive, some are benevolent (though fundamentally unsustainable) and some are genuinely repressive, but their removal has led into worse states, either of repression or of social entropy.

Where social entropy is allowed to roam free, the society is experiencing a loss of complexity (which usually is termed civilizational collapse and the end of the world by those experiencing it). Examples range from the Roman Empire to the Easter Island, from Medieval Iceland to modern-day Somalia, and from Detroit to Syria.

Revolutionaries usually secretly or openly desire such a calamity, believing it will usher in (their imagined) paradise.

However, experiences show that it takes long time for old civilizations to rebound, and even longer time for newer civilizations to emerge. Experiences also show that revolutions are uncontrollable and unmanageable events that are causing tremendous suffering for the participants.

The Earth Organisation for Sustainability is certainly advocating social change, but that not because we desire chaos, but that we seek to prevent that the inherent unsustainability of the current system would usher in the greatest loss of complexity in human history, to not speak of the greatest loss of ecological diversity since the Dinosaur apocalypse.

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What will 2015 bring forth?

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By Enrique Lescure

2014 in hindsight, what now?

2014 was a year dominated by social entropy.

The Syrian civil war spread into Iraq, making the Islamic State a new unrecognised government in the heart of the Middle East, spreading atrocities from Aleppo in the west to Baghdad in the east, and contributing even more to the tragedy that the destruction of Syria represents.

In eastern Ukraine, a similar type of conflict has emerged, this time with indirect and direct involvement from both the West and the Russian Federation. This war is centered around nationalism and competing geo-political interests, and those suffering the most are the civilians.

In Africa, the Central African Republic and South Sudan were both fraught with sudden outbursts of civil wars, in the case of the former temporarily turning the CAR into a failed state, leading to ethnic clashes between groups professing to Islam and Christianity. Boko Haram, the despicable terror group of northern Nigeria, have intensified their campaign against the Nigerian state.

The year was however – also – characterised by a continued green revolution in energy generation, a continued automatisation process and a growth in 3D printing, the nano-revolution and engineering pursuits, which can prove interesting in shaping the outlook of the world until the 2020’s and beyond.

So what interesting things can happen in 2015?

The Greek Elections; or “the collapse of the European Union intensifies”

grexit_477701130Greece is holding their elections on Sunday the 25th of January 2015, ahead of schedule, caused by the failure of the Greek parliament to elect a (ceremonial) president.

Meanwhile, Switzerland has disconnected it’s currency from the Euro.

Are those two events connected?

Yes, there is a very serious reason why Switzerland has moved towards a floating Franc. In 2010, following the world financial crisis, Greece was forced to borrow money to pay debt to the banks to which they owed money, de-facto entering a state bankcruptcy.

State bankcruptcies are nothing new for Greece. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, Greece has suffered debt defaults five times. This would have been the sixth. The reason why I write would is that the Greeks have not been allowed to default on their debt, because that would damage the credibility of the entire Eurozone, and result in a chain reaction where speculators would move against the Euro.

In 2010, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel de-facto became the EU president, as she moved towards sanitizing the debts of the southern European states (amongst which Greece was the worst), in return for massive austerity packages from these countries, which unsurprisingly led to increasing unemployment and dissatisfaction. In the last Greek election, in 2012, the left-leaning party SYRIZA (an amalgamation of many parties to the left of the Greek social democratic party PASOK) became the second largest party of the Greek Parliament.

This time, on the 25th, SYRIZA can very well win the elections and form a government. The party has threatened that if Greece is not allowed to move away from the austerity package and have the debt renegotiated, they will move away from the Eurozone.

How would cash-strapped Greece leaving the Eurozone and declaring default hurt Europe?

Firstly, those affected will be the banks that Greece owes money to, and the governments will probably make up for their losses by even more austerity, since banks are considered “too big to fail”. This will most likely add fuel to the sentiments that the established parties and governments in Europe are more identifying themselves with financial institutions and the wealthy elite, than with ordinary middle and working class people – which could create more room for dissatisfaction, dissent and even violent reaction…

Secondly, the Eurozone is not primarily an economic project, but a part of a political process. The European Union is formed according to a functionalist principle, where the founding fathers of Europe realised that there was little popular support amongst the masses for European federalism.

David Mitrany

David Mitrany

Functionalism as a model, envisioned and described by amongst other people the Romanian-born social scientist David Mitrany, establishes that European integration should take the easiest possible route, much like how water is moving around rocks to flow down to the sea.

The European Union began as the Coal & Steel Community of 1946 – 1957, upgraded itself to the European Economic Community of 1957 – 1993, and became the European Union by the Maastricht Treaty of 1993. Each of these changes brought a deeper economic integration. The European Monetary Union is a complement to the European Union, which is aiming at harmonising monetary policies. The next logical step would be integrated financial and taxation policies, but this has failed to materialise, mostly because the political capital of the European Union was exhausted after the introduction of the EURO and the expansion from 15 to 27 member states in 2004-2007.

The European electorate was not that keen on the increased political influence of the European Union, illustrated by the failed referendums in France, the Netherlands and Eire during the 00’s. When the crisis of 2008 hit, there was no identification with the European Union amongst the masses, and when the economy failed, the European leaders quickly moved to access the interests of their own economies. So the European integration project is rapidly losing momentum, and will continue to stay weak so long a new stable equilibrium is not reached.

It is very possible that Tsipras (SYRIZA’s leader) is going to be far more moderate than the worst doomsday sayers predict, but his electorate wants results, and if the current malaise trods on in Greece, people will become increasingly radicalised and maybe either move to the far left or to the far right Golden Dawn.

Alexis TSIPRAS

In the case of “the worst scenario”, a Greek expulsion/resignation from the Eurozone, Greece’s economy will probably default, leading to an intensification of the crisis. However, such a deep dip will probably on the medium term be good for the Greek economy, as it will rationalise and prices will lower to the level that the tourism industry starts to generate growth for the overall economy.

Maybe the Greeks would prefer a very painful fall and impact to rock bottom before decades of stagnation.

For the Eurozone, it will mean a definite break from the idea that the Euro as a currency regime is stable, and can lead to a new crisis. Therefore, I expect Merkel to actually try to listen to Mr Tsipras’ demands and try to reach some kind of compromise with a SYRIZA-led government. The question is what the German and Greek peoples would think of such a renegotiation?

Given that, the Tory-led government in the United Kingdom has woved to hold a referendum on continued membership in the EU if they are not reaching a deal regarding free mobility with the European Union. The reasons for this referendum are domestic and populist, and it is not unlikely – if the situation permits – that Cameron would draw back the referendum a few years before it (if he wins the elections in May). However, it signals that the consercatives are now trying to gain (back) the support of the plurality (perhaps majority) of Britons that see the European Union as a problem

The Russian Crisis, the Donbass War and Saudi Arabia

While there are still open hostilities in the East of Ukraine, the Russian actions since the autumn indicates that Russia isnovorussia_map_by_grdgryphonranger-d7ks806 aiming for a d’etente with the West, with a situation where Russia has “lost” the Ukraine as a Pro-Russian state, but the West won’t see Ukraine as a member of the EU or NATO. Meanwhile, the West has sought to punish Russia for their violations of the international order by the means of sanctions. Many European leaders, including the French president and German industrial leaders, are increasingly skeptical to the sanctions as they serve to hurt European growth forecasts as well, while the Americans are more hardline.

The Russian economy on the other hand is quickly draining its capital reserves and is seeing cuts in the civilian sector. The reason behind this is not only tied to the western sanctions, but also to the Saudi oil production figures. Saudi Arabia is involved in an own proxy war versus Iran and Russia inside Syria, and given the current volatile situation, they are ready to use their oil weapon to lowering the price of oil and thereby hurting Russia and Iran (and also the growing shale oil industry in the United States).

It will take eighteen months to deplete the Russian currency reserves, and by then Russia will be reliant on debt, with an 20141018_gdc875awful credit rating at their disposal. This can lead to political destabilisation inside of Russia and create the foundations for regime change there. However, the regime change may not be the desired from the western perspective. If Putin for example would withdraw from Crimea and Donbass and leave the separatists to their fate, he could very well face an uprising from the nationalist right.

More likely, I expect that Russia and Iran could see this as a hostile action by Saudi Arabia, and could use whatever tools they have within their disposal (short of outright military actions) to try to hurt Saudi Arabia in return.

The fall of the Islamic State?

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It won’t end the crisis in Iraq and Syria, but it will mark the introduction of a number of regional powers into the fray. It is likely that Turkey, Iran and perhaps even Saudi Arabia and Jordan can to some degree intervene militarily with ground forces into the theatre. Such an intervention will quickly overwhelm the IS and push them back into armed insurrection and guerilla and terrorist activities, much like how the Vietnamese pushed the Khmer Rogue back into the jungles.

The intervention of Turkey or another major Sunni power would almost certainly force an Iranian counterreaction, perhaps in the form of more regular Iranian troops and revolutionary guards being sent into Syria (and perhaps Iraq). In the worst case scenario, this could mean a regular war between Iran and one or two Sunni Powers, but more likely new armed groups will emerge under the wings of Turkish, Iranian and Saudi base territories and engage in continued fighting in the region. Nevertheless, Syria and large parts of Iraq will continue to turn into failed states for 2015, with an immeasureable humanitarian cost.

Social Entropy

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The truth in evolution is that the more complex an organism is, the more vulnerable it becomes to disturbances in the eco-systems it is dependent on. The human civilization today, with its largely integrated world economy, is an increasingly complex web of structures, arrangements, institutions and interlinked human communities. What is happening in the Middle East and in Europe are not only the results of long-term social and socio-economic trends, but also parts of the very same trends.

These parts of the world are experiencing socio-economic and social realignments which has been working for a long time, and exploded in the Debt Crisis of 2010 and the 2011 Arab Spring. During 2015, there is a high risk that the escalation of these trends will continue on and drive through the realignment. Since many key players are trying to use this alignment to come up on top, they will serve to intensify the crises in matters that they believe could benefit them.

At least in the Middle East, we are seeing a massive loss of social complexity, throughout a large part of the Fertile Crescent, and it is possible that Syria can turn into a new Somalia, situated into the heartlands of the Middle East. This will ultimately work against Saudi Arabia, which now also faces the prospects of a collapsing Yemen on its southern border.

Ultimately, this realignment is part of a wider realignment, where the issue is whether the Unipolar “New World Order” (the American-led world) can come to terms with the BRICS about how power should be distributed internationally, and whether or not the BRICS can survive the oil crisis and China’s dampening growth forecasts.

Enrique