Crises 3
Bruce Hartford
January, 2020

As a general rule of thumb, we Americans are the most insular of all advanced industrial cultures — we're the most ignorant of other nations and the least interested in what is occurring in them. Which means that when some global crisis impacts us, we tend to react as if we alone are affected. So it is with the three interrelated world-wide crises confronting us today.

Crisis #1: Climate Emergency

We have less than a decade to prevent a planetary climate catastrophe. It's an emergency created by humans and fueled by the greed of trans-national corporations. Recycling our plastic into blue bins, putting solar panels on our roofs, and riding our bicycles to the store are not going to protect us from devastating storms, floods, and fires, lethal heat waves, rising sea levels, malnutrition, hunger, famine, and disease on an unprecedented scale.

To avert disaster we must rethink and totally revamp our energy grid, manufacturing processes, transportation network, food chain, housing supply, and waste management practices. This cannot be accomplished without curbing the avarice of the immensely-wealthy and challenging corporate political power because "Government of the CEOs, by the Lobbyists, for the Billionaires," will protect only the wealth, power, and privilege of the few while the rest of us burn, drown, sicken, and starve.

This isn't the first crisis in which such drastic measures were required. To survive and win a world war against fascism, the federal government took control over the national economy. Manufacturers were told what to make, how to make it, and who to sell it to. Consumer rationing was instituted — along with price-controls to prevent war-profiteers from gouging the public. Huge amounts of money were raised through bond sales and progressive tax increases that ensured the rich paid their fair share. Full employment was an economic necessity. Wages were allowed to more or less keep up with inflation so most working people were protected from economic pillage. The federal wage-price controls and regulations were designed to allow business to make reasonable profits but not to wield their economic power in an orgy of greed.

It wasn't easy. Wall Street shrieked "Socialism!" Consumers complained about rationing, prices, and black marketeers. And everyone grumbled about their taxes. It didn't go smoothly, but it did work. We and the world survived. We and our allies defeated fascism. Corporations, their stockholders, and most working people thrived. Though there was some rationing, the average living standards of ordinary Americans actually rose, and eventually so too did the real wages of most workers (or at least those of the one-third who were in labor unions). But those successes required a democratic government which took into account the interests of all voters, not just those of the big campaign donors. We don't have that kind of government today.

Crisis #2: Cyber Technology & Artificial Intelligence

When your water heater blows it floods your basement. When a tidal wave strikes shore it smashes entire communities. Both are floods, but one is orders of magnitude more destructive. For the past two centuries, new technologies have steadily altered economic and social systems around the globe. But compared to what we've experienced in the past, the tsunami of economic and political change that today's cyber-revolution and artificial intelligence (AI) are beginning to unleash will be unparalleled in scope, impact, and rapidity.

  • Amazon supplanting retail-sales jobs and businesses.
  • Automated agriculture eliminating armies of agricultural labor.
  • Self-driving vehicles wiping out 10% of the labor force.
  • Robotics/nano manufacturing depopulating warehouse & factory floors.
  • AI replacing professionals, middle-managers, clericals, teachers, etc.

    In extreme cases, where hosts once labored we may soon see little more than a few maintenance workers & maybe a night watchman or two.

    Simultaneously, total, around-the-clock, AI-monitored surveillance of physical location, behavior, and the content of all forms of communication (to say nothing of personal privacy and the blackmail opportunities therein) is becoming our new reality. Digital social media as the prime medium for disseminating information and misinformation is here. Governments, institutions, and corporations can now massively spread targeted lies and disinformation to individuals in specified demographics — weaponized info that is far more powerful and compelling than old-school broadcasting.

    Authoritarian states are quickly acquiring the power to disconnect individual troublemakers, dissenters & whistleblowers from the infosphere and if they've gravely offended, drain their bank accounts, close off their credit cards, and frame them with fake "evidence" — powers that Joe Stalin never dreamt of but would have greatly coveted. Inevitably, business, private security, and criminal organizations will also obtain these technology-based powers.

    Crisis #3: The Assault on Democracy

    As Americans, we tend to see Citizens United, Lord Trump, Republican Party voter-suppression and their ruthless legislative combat, as uniquely American problems. So too do we see cyber-trolling & stalking, partisan incitement of racism-misogyny-nationalism-victimization, and similar efforts to corrupt and destroy our democracy. But in truth, none of it is unique to us alone. Rather, it's our local manifestation of world-wide assaults on democracy by oligarchies, autocrats, and wannabe totalitarians. Russia, Hungary, China, Brazil, Turkey, India, Britain, North Korea, Philippines, and so many other nations, all wielding the same tried & true strategies of dividing us against each other to enlarge the wealth and power of the elite few who place themselves above the law, immune from the suffering caused by their greed.

    Trump is not stupid. Yes, he is willfully uneducated and utterly contemptuous of intellectual thought, but he is also cunning and shrewd. Why does he exalt autocrats like Putin, Orban, Xi, Bolsanaro, Erdogan, Modi, Johnson, Kim, Duterte and others? They can't all be blackmailing him, nor can they all be offering him lucrative real estate deals. He toadys up to them because they are nationalist defenders of a world-wide aristocracy of wealth and power — as is he. They and he are allies, determined to undermine democracy everywhere and establish an authoritarian world order for the benefit of themselves and their cronies.

    In the 1700s, the noble aristocracies of England and France fiercely contended with each other for European domination. But when upstart commoners stormed the Bastille in Paris, aristocrats in London immediately came to the aid of their threatened brethren — sparking 25 years of war to restore the privileges and prerogatives of the old order. So too do today's aristocrats vie with each other for wealth and power while remaining united with others of their social-strata against any challenge from below regardless of national boundaries — borders which for them in their private jets have little or no meaning because their first and only true loyalty is to their private coterie of wealth and power.

    Some observers posit that today's global assault on democracy is a conscious conspiracy by CEOs and billionaires whose think-tanks and research institutes warned them in advance of the inevitable social-upheaval which is going to result from the coming climate & technology crises. Rather than risk democratic governments responding to popular pressure with remedies that fairly tax their aristocratic wealth, impose effective environmental regulations on their businesses, and curtail corporate political power, they've jointly launched a preemptive strike against democracy itself.

    Others have a simpler explanation — the global aristocracy of wealth and power have always hated and resented any form of democracy that actually constrained their power and greed, held them accountable to the laws and customs that rule the common herd, or attempted to democratize their elite social standing. Now, the inevitable economic stresses and instabilities inherent in the climate and technology crises are creating widespread economic insecurity and deep fear about the future. Frightened and bewildered people are more vulnerable than ever before to demagogues who provide seemingly simple solutions and some despised "other" for them to blame. And new technology platforms are providing new opportunities to mobilize racism, misogyny, bigotry, nationalism, and religious-fervor behind strong-men "saviors" who can replace democratic governments with sham democracies and phony elections that entrench aristocratic power behind a facade of popular legitimacy. They've launched their massive world-wide attack on democracy now because now they can.

    These three crises are inextricably intertwined. They cannot be thought of in isolation from each other. In order to effectively respond to the climate and technology crises we have to defend and restore democracy by confronting and curbing corporate control over government. But we cannot build the people-power necessary to save democracy without addressing the economic and racial-justice issues inherent in the climate and technology crises, nor can we do so without effectively countering the disinformation platforms created by new technologies deployed for selfish ends.

    "Think Globally, Act Locally" is a fundamental truism of people-power activism. So too is the actual reality that the only effective way to locally address broad issues like climate, technology, and democracy is to organize, educate, and fight around immediate abuses and specific demands that reflect and impact the broader problems. To do that requires building a sustained, nonviolent, mass peoples movement that exists and fights between elections and exceptional moments. We've been trying to do that since the election of 2016. What have we learned?

    1. That voting is necessary, but not sufficient.

    2. That online clictivism (petitions/donations) is better than nothing, but utterly inadequate.

    3. That social-media mobilization can be useful, but only the hard tedious work of organizing and educating person-to-person, face-to-face can build and sustain the people-power political force we need.

    4. That tweets, "likes," and Facebook posts have their role, but they cannot substitute for the kind of deep thought, serious education, and sustained conversations that building organizations and movements require.

    5. That protests and demonstrations are essential, but complaints are not demands and protests that don't directly and consciously lead to building political power are ultimately ineffective.

    6. That people-power cannot be built without taking significant time from our daily lives to consistently attend meetings and do the organizational, educational and organizing work for the long haul.

    If not us, who? If not now, when?

    Copyright © Bruce Hartford


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