If, a decade ago, someone had described the present state of world power, politics and economics, I would have concluded that the picture painted was one of a dystopian fantasy.
For example, I am a passionate pro-European, believing that the stability and prosperity of Europe was hard-won by those who came through World War II, and vowed that the mistakes of the post World War I era would never be made again. They were people who saw that European countries, whilst speaking different languages, had far more in common than that which divided them.
The mistakes after WWI were seen, mainly, to be economic. Germany was humiliated and economically punished, leading to massive poverty for a nation of people, who, on an individual level, had little to do with the triggering of the war or its consequences.
After WW2, the Marshall Plan, driven by the USA, was designed to allow an economic rebuilding of Europe, based, not on punishment, but on reconstruction. Britain was bankrupt, having stood alone against the Nazi machine for too long before America joined the war, and would never again be able to afford its former ’empire’. America acted as ‘banker’ and financed the reconstruction – gaining wealth for its companies in the process. From a British perspective, an age was ending, and yet it did so within a relatively positive and ‘friendly’ arena. Russia had been an essential ally and the war would not have been won without its participation.
It was therefore a period of great change: one in which destruction preceded a cycle of prosperity – for the West, at least.
Today, we seem to be entering a much more frightening era; one in which there is no single vision to counter the negative forces of racism, radical religion and neo-fascism. Fascism may be a dated word but is still used, accurately, by those who have lived through parts or all of such a cycle. The elements of a ‘fascist’ cycle are always the same:
- A period of economic poverty or austerity is entered. This may last a decade or longer.
- The general ‘world-view’ is held in place by an educated elite, who control the political system, resulting in very little real change taking place, and the growth of the middle and upper classes, who are usually better educated and able to command higher pay. The upper levels of this society are prosperous and do not wish to see changes that would upset their share of the wealth.
- The resulting sense of resentment and ‘they’re not listening to me‘ is seized on by (usually) charismatic individuals – sometimes, just one person, as, for example, in the case of Mussoulini, in Italy.
- The populist leader(s) upset the political system and always take the country to the political right, attacking the media, and the middle class intellectual ‘elite’, generally ‘cleaning the place up’ while they accumulate power and destroy accountability.
- If they can get away with it, the mechanisms of state, including the law, are all made subservient to them.
- The banner of the ‘Authoritarian’, with its fine uniforms or suits, is seen to be the way forward, allowing the poorly educated and dispossessed to rally behind something they think they understand and which, as proof of its success, displays its ‘executed’ victims from the former elite layer. History later sees these as simply rivals for power among the elites.
Are we in such a cycle today, and, if so, what are the differences to the previous patterns?
The rich are getting richer. But the wealth of the super-rich is growing at a much faster rate than any other group – further removing the idea of merit from the mechanics of income.
There is much more subtlety in the present collapse of the social and political consensus of the old allied powers – those that arose, on both side of the Atlantic, after WWII. In Europe, we have the enormous damage caused by the narrow victory of Britain’s Brexit campaign (52:48 in percentage terms), and a country that feels like it’s in a state of (social) civil war. The division across the socio-economic boundaries showed that education played a great part in which side of the vote was chosen, with the working-class areas in the North and Midlands rallying around populist figures and newspapers who reduce complex economic situations to easy slogans – all these have been debunked, subsequently.
In the USA, I am told, the feeling of a ‘divided nation’ is very much the same. The right-wing ‘Tea Party’ politics, which used neo-fascist methods to reduce complex problems to hate targets have resulted in the empowerment of a small and very rich group supported by the political right. The President seems to have an agenda based upon the destruction of his predecessor’s achievements. The Christian right is in the ascendancy, and, using its published political blueprints, is intent on reducing the entitlements of the LGBT minorities, who are seen as having infected the society.
Fundamentalism exists in many forms…
The most worrying thing about these situations is the collapse of truth as a mechanism for comparison, evaluation and the all-important shaming. Truth has become a commodity which can be manipulated via the new voter-manipulation technologies, such as those developed by Cambridge Analytica using Facebook user data to get millions of custom messages to the general public, each one subtly targeted to appeal to a set of pre-conceived ideas – and prejudices – in the mind of the beholder.
All of this produces a very difference kind of bankruptcy; but one whose effects are far more insidious. If we really believe that all truths are there to be manipulated; that there is really no such thing as the ‘good’, then we have surely lost the bedrock of our societies – and their resulting weakness will rightly render them vulnerable to more vigorous – and brutal – civilisations.
Perhaps the most worrying thing of all is the general sense of detachment – as though what is going on is some kind of computer game… In that, we may have the heart of the problem: that we (and therefore our children) have simply become separated from what is actually happening to us. I suspect that, in truly cataclysmic upheavals, this has always been a central element that proceded destruction. None of us will want this, I am sure, and yet the weeds that will break through the foundations of our hard-won societies are all around us…
Or, perhaps, as the Hindu pantheon teaches, destruction is as vital to life as construction, and it is simply a matter of perspective, as the great wheel goes around… Certainly, the strong will survive. But, perhaps for the first time, we have a chance to mature the strength of truth back to the fighting force it once was.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.
You’ll find friends, poetry, mystical thought, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.