Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Xenophobic Curse: how the Right keeps getting it Wrong

A core characteristic of the Right is its preoccupation with securing and expanding the power and privileges of those who want to see themselves towering over others in a vastly unequal socio-economic hierarchy. To secure this objective, its proponents will exploit any opportunity that can raise their status at the expense of others.

For example, they can be found among those who will by any means amass more wealth for themselves even as they impoverish workers, deceive consumers, and damage the environment for others. They lead campaigns to celebrate ‘traditions’ that have discriminated against groups such as women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, followers of non-‘standard’ religions, and any other category of stigmatised people. They project themselves as ‘strong’ by backing the use of excessive force whether it is against targeted groups at home or designated enemies abroad.

Of course, the different tactics for advancing Right-leaning objectives could end up clashing with each other. Fuelling prejudices could get in the way of making money. Individuals who develop a dubious reputation for their callous deployment of force in law-enforcement or the military could be from one or another of the traditionally marginalised groups. Prioritising profits could mean that peaceful relations are favoured over endless sable-rattling.

Over and over again, strategists on the Right have convinced themselves that they could fuse the different tactical elements together. What they count on is that a good dose of xenophobia will help to distract enough people from callous business practices that are depriving them of jobs, decent pay, and revenue to support vital public services. As large numbers are misdirected towards venting their frustration at foreign workers, foreign benefit claimants, foreign terrorists, and foreign institutions, exploitative corporate leaders can keep enriching themselves while everyone else is ripped off.

But xenophobia is like a highly radioactive substance left in a paper bag. The Right think they can weaponise it to protect their own position, yet they have no idea how to contain its toxic effects. In the 1930s, the rich business leaders in Germany thought they would benefit from galvanising the Right by embracing Nazi racist ideology. It was not long before Germany itself was devastated. From the 1980s on, the New Right in the UK and the US have sought to make xenophobia a key ingredient of their overall plan to widen the gap between the superrich elite and the insecure masses.

In the 2010s, radical xenophobic activists were emboldened by the growing enthusiasm of many established Conservatives and Republicans in raising their profile in anti-progressive campaigns. The result was the coming of Brexit, Trump, and the reckless corrosion of economic stability. Shut out workers from abroad who are actually needed, destroy market arrangements that facilitate the flow of goods and services, throw away tariff-free systems and launch trade wars to bring about higher prices and shortage in supply. Economic stagnation then leads to business closures and further job losses.

A tiny minority of people will gain financially from this. Those who devise investment funds that thrive on causing and exploiting chaos in the financial markets; those whose media companies’ ratings and circulations depend on feeding xenophobic prejudices; and those who profit from selling sub-standard and unsafe goods and services – they will be delighted with what is happening around us.

But for the vast majority, including most business people, the consequences are nothing short of disastrous. And with karmic inevitability, the Right has once again poured so much fuel on the xenophobic fire they lit, many of them will also end up being badly burnt.

It is often claimed that xenophobia will always be a problem if immigration is not curtailed. This ignores the evidence that xenophobia is lowest in areas with the highest immigrant population, where people become familiar with each other. It is highest in areas with the lowest number of migrants, because fear of the unknown is most easily stirred where its object is rarely seen. The real problem is the threat to people’s livelihood, with jobs and pay constantly at risk as a result of plutocratic exploitation.

As the Right implodes, we should focus on promoting effective means for sustainable livelihood. See ‘The Livelihood Challenge: 10 actions to consider

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Neo-Humans & Sub-Humans

Throughout history, every time technological advancement has enabled a minority to gain substantial advantages over others not in a position to utilise the latest technology, the power gap between the few and the many has greatly widened.

Control over metallic weaponry and large-scale construction techniques meant that ancient rulers could command vast numbers of people to endure hard labour to erect pyramids and structures such as the Great Wall of China. The Industrial Revolution led to unprecedented levels of mass production and transportation, and business leaders could place countless workers like cogs in a machine to deliver wealth that will accrue predominantly to themselves.

The latest IT-driven transformation is also opening new ways to differentiate the have-tech and have-not. On one side of the divide, there are intelligent machines that can carry out many tasks at higher speed and with greater reliability than humans; communication devices that facilitate instant and complex interactions with those devices over vast distance; and bionic enhancement that can give enhanced durability and capability to the human frame. Put these together at the disposal of the small minority who can afford them all, we have neo-humans who can order tasks to be implemented all over the world at the blink of a networked eye.

On the other side of the divide are the people left behind, displaced by machines that do the work they previously did, unable to acquire the latest generation of multi-functional devices, and lacking the many features that give neo-humans incomparably healthier, stronger, and longer lives. In the not too distant future, these will be deemed ‘sub-humans’.

Is this inevitable? Ancient rulers of large empires once considered themselves representatives of gods, or even fully divine. But political movements emerged to confront them and succeeded in securing a wider dispersal of power. Emperors and kings who did as they pleased gave way to constitutional monarchs and elected governments that must concede to democratic constraints. Business magnates too were eventually caught up by political challenges. Ownership of shipping, railway, factories, shops might have given them hegemony over the people for almost a century, but the rise of social democracy resulted in the power and resources of many countries being shared out more equitably and effectively among all its citizens.

Unfortunately, if laissez faire were allowed to prevail, those with inherited wealth and a strong corporate powerbase would accelerate their ascendancy as neo-humans. They would take control of more natural resources (air, energy, water, land) and technological aids that would render other people wholly dispensable. Pushed to the margins with virtually no power to obtain food, shelter, or any basic ingredients of life, the majority of the world would be relegated to the status of sub-humans – neglected, despised, and left to die.

The only way out is for renewed political resistance to challenge this insidious growth of power inequalities, set up collective arrangements to ensure that life-enhancing technology is made available for the wellbeing of all, and halt any form of neo-human development feeding into the takeover of land and resources for a few to the exclusion of everyone else. It is no exaggeration to state that our future depends on it.

For a depiction of a dystopian world divided between neo-humans and sub-humans, check out the novel, The Hunting of the Gods: