Responding to the great disintegration: denial or renewal?

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born – Antonio Gramsci (1935)

As noted in my last instalment (The Big Lie of “Recovery”), the never ending disaster of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) that started in 2008 is increasingly marked by systematic deception and misinformation practised by those in power. In particular, the propaganda machine – whether in the shape of official pronouncements or those of the corporate media – has redoubled its efforts to falsify data and bamboozle the public with false hopes even as signs of intolerable distress proliferate.

But even if there is greater and more widespread awareness of the problems afflicting the world than at any time in the past, it cannot be said that there is any greater capacity or political will either to understand what lies behind them or to formulate and implement solutions to them such as to restore a degree of global order and stability. Indeed there is perhaps a greater sense of collective helplessness in the face of apparent disintegration than at any time in living memory. This failure seems all the more striking given that since 1945 the “international community” has for the first time endowed itself with institutional structures, centred on the United Nations, devoted to preventing or remedying causes of disorder and conflict.

The conspicuous impotence of the world’s leading powers (and the West in particular) to come to terms with deepening global breakdown can be illustrated by considering its response (or lack of it) to just a few of the major international catastrophes now unfolding.

Arab turmoil

Syria’s descent into barbarism since the uprising that began in 2011 may well rank as the greatest humanitarian disaster since World War II. Yet it must also be seen as just one episode of the “Arab Spring” that has brought political upheaval to several countries across the region, starting in Tunisia, over the same period. There is no example of such a general outbreak of unrest across frontiers since the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. As in the case of that epoch-making explosion, while its immediate causes have undoubtedly been economic – almost certainly intensified by the ripple effects of the GFC – there are certainly other factors involved, social and political, giving the uprisings particular characteristics in each country.

In contrast to the events of 1848, however, the authoritarian élites ruling each of these Arab countries have found themselves too weak to put down the uprisings, at least without depending on military force from outside powers. The fact that such outside powers have largely failed to come to their aid – even if so far Russian intervention in Syria has managed to keep President Assad nominally in power (at enormous human cost) and Saudi Arabia has financed a tenuous counter-revolution in Egypt – only serves to underline Western weakness and confusion, although this has not stopped some analysts, steeped in knee-jerk Cold War thinking, from suggesting the Arab Spring was the result of some form of fiendish plot concocted in Washington. The more obvious reality is that neither the US nor its European partners – still less its Israeli client – welcomed this upsetting of the Arab political order to which they had long been accustomed and which had enabled the West to maintain a rough semblance of order in the region for several decades.

Now that the situation in the Middle East threatens to descend into total chaos, as long-established frontiers dissolve in a climate of deepening lawlessness, the one thing that can be predicted with any certainty about the outcome is that suffering on a huge scale will have to be endured before anything resembling stability is restored.

The refugee explosion

The intensifying disintegration in the Middle East is to a greater or lesser extent mirrored in the whole of North Africa, where local political breakdown is compounded by the fall-out from economic and political failure across much of the continent to the South, from Somalia and Eritrea in the East to Mali and Senegal in the West. This is reflected in the ever-swelling flood of refugees and economic migrants converging on the Mediterranean, desperate to reach the promised land of Europe – just a fraction of the more than 50mn refugees and internally displaced persons recorded globally by the UN Refugee Agency in 2013 (the highest figure since World War II).

At the same time most European countries, themselves buckling under the weight of economic stagnation and deprivation stemming from the GFC, are likewise bereft either of the resources to cope with the mounting influx of migrants or any idea as to how it can be stopped, let alone reversed. The political fall-out of this apparent helplessness is being felt in the rise of more or less xenophobic parties in elections across the continent year by year, all the more so as mainstream parties seemingly prefer to try and hide their impotence behind a smokescreen of complacency and mindless mantras on the supposed benefits of “globalisation”. This tendency is starkly illustrated by the total inability of the French and British authorities to address the problem of the growing army of largely destitute refugees now besieging the port of Calais in their desperation to reach the UK, their favoured destination.

As if to underline the dire consequences of the developed world’s serial neglect of the “developing” world over many decades – and particularly since the rise of neo-liberalism from around 1980 – an additional “black swan” has now appeared in Africa in the shape of an epidemic of deadly Ebola fever. While it seems unlikely that this will turn out to be a global plague (as some parts of the media have rather hysterically suggested), it has demonstrated how vulnerable poor countries are to such threats when they lack even the most rudimentary health care systems. This should serve to remind us of the dire conditions from which impoverished migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are desperate to escape and which are the inevitable consequence of the anarchic global economic system that has been imposed on these countries in the name of “globalisation”.

The perpetual GFC

Amid such spreading symptoms of breakdown the immediate cause of it all – the now 6-year old GFC – predictably shows no sign of abating. The evident stalling of the largely imaginary “recovery” – supposedly being spearheaded by the US and UK – has been reflected in the abandonment of any pretence by their monetary authorities that interest rates are about to be raised, as signs of panic hit the stock market (virtually the only economic indicator that is showing any signs of recovery thanks to the artificial stimulus of Quantitative Easing / monetising debt). At the same time the best prospect that Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, could offer at its annual meeting in October was what she termed the “new mediocre” – in tacit recognition that the global economy is at best trapped by its immovable debt burden in permanent stagnation. Combined with self-defeating policies of austerity – which can only lead to even greater public deficits and indebtedness – this stance means that the inescapable onset of a renewed banking collapse must now be viewed as imminent, even as the global syndicate of governments and big finance resort to ever more criminal methods to manipulate markets and maintain the public perception that all is more or less normal.

The triumph of unreason?

It may seem obvious that the last thing to be expected of the global ruling élite is that they would publicly express any doubt as to the validity of the neo-liberal ideology that they have so vigorously propagated for the last three decades and which has remained dominant even as it has brought the world progressively closer to total economic and social collapse. A good example of their stubborn refusal to face reality was provided by what purported to be an analysis of the causes of the “new world disorder” by the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson on 5 September. In it Simpson focused on the recent violent events in the Middle East (Gaza and the advance of ISIS in Iraq and Syria) and in Ukraine, as well as “Islamist” insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa. Remarkably the only cause he could identify for these symptoms of disorder was “extremism”, not even mentioning the possible role of a patently unjust and dysfunctional world order – designed by and for the tiny privileged ruling élite of the industrialised West – in provoking violent resistance by the marginalised masses.

Thus the BBC’s “analysis” – which can be taken as broadly representative of the global mainstream media as a whole – carefully airbrushes from the picture all traces of such instances of Western lawlessness and malfunction as

a) illegal invasions of weak states – from Iraq to Ukraine (Crimea) – by stronger ones, without any serious attempt to respect the requirements of the United Nations Charter;
b) lethal drone / aerial bombing attacks on innocent civilians (notably in Pakistan and Yemen) by the US and by Russia in Syria, supposedly in the name of a “war on terror” whose parameters are not and cannot be defined;
c) detention and torture of alleged international terrorists – such as at Guantanamo Bay – in defiance of established international human rights norms;
d) the chronic injustice and illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, facilitated by uncritical US support for Israel;
e) rampant corporate crime – including bank fraud, rigging of financial and commodity markets, theft of state assets and money laundering (often orchestrated by state authorities themselves) where perpetrators enjoy almost total impunity;
f) continuing inability / unwillingness to address threats to the survival of the species from ongoing damage to the biosphere (including climate change);
g) the terminal global economic meltdown, which of course cannot be described as such in any section of the mainstream media.

Given his shallow and blatantly biased analysis, which manages to reduce the cause of such systemic disintegration to “extremism” – thus effectively putting the blame for the global crisis on its victims – it is hardly surprising that the only response the BBC’s World Affairs Editor can suggest is repression – even while conceding that there is no military solution.

It would perhaps be naïve to suppose that a global establishment typified by such perverse attitudes might after all be collectively capable of retreating from what has become a manifestly untenable stance. This despite a history which suggests a certain capacity on the part of the Western establishment to learn from its mistakes – notably under such 19th century leaders as Bismarck and Disraeli, who recognised the need for some form of welfare state to cope with the upheavals brought on by the first Industrial Revolution, much though it jarred with their own ideological instincts and class interest.

For the world leaders of today the task is, first and foremost, to confront the reality that the world order based on the primacy of private profit has been rendered obsolete by technological change, just as feudal aristocracy was 200 years ago – and that different, more sustainable and equitable mechanisms must henceforth be used to determine the allocation of resources and wealth. But if instead, in thrall to the corrupt and criminal syndicates that increasingly dominate our political structures, they continue to try and sustain the status quo through a combination of violent repression and unrestrained lawlessness it is hard to foresee any end to our seeming descent into a new dark age.

16 thoughts on “Responding to the great disintegration: denial or renewal?

  1. it’s all good and well to highlight the problems… but what of the answers – u say: “different, more sustainable and equitable mechanisms must henceforth be used to determine the allocation of resources and wealth” – but u don’t tell us what these new mechanisms r ???

    • This is of course a valid question, though hardly one that can be answered in the context of a single blog post – or indeed by one person in the context of a public discourse where the mainstream media remain monolithically committed to the status quo. To summarise, the alternative mechanisms may be defined in terms of what they are not: viz. growth-oriented (unsustainable, as Larry Elliott himself notes) or geared to profit maximisation of private shareholders – it is ironic that (a little known fact) Adam Smith, considered the patron saint of capitalism, was totally against the idea of joint-stock (i.e shareholder) companies, though this this did not stop this being adopted as the basis of the modern capitalist system from around 1850.

      Ideas as to what should now replace this model are many and various and are rightly influenced by consideration of the impact of changing technology as well as growing outrage at the injustice and irrationality of the status quo. Among sources of ideas (both good and bad) that are fuelling the emerging debate you might look at May I also modestly suggest my last book Beyond the Profits System (2010).

  2. Very good analysis. The primacy of private profit has indeed been rendered obsolete, but this is not obvious to those caught within the frame of established doctrines. Humans would do well to find their place within the planetary ecosystem, helping the planet to repair itself from human inflicted wounds, rather than perpetuating the belief in human exceptionalism.

  3. I’ve just discovered this blog. This article is the best analysis of world social, economic and political affairs I’ve read in a long time.

  4. I for one welcome our new One World Government masters just so long as they give me a monthly allowance. Who’s with me? But seriously folks…population increase, exponential growth and development of technology, the internet allowing 24/7 access to information. Something is going to change, or it already has. The individual has more access to more information than at any other time in history and this will continue to be true moving forward. Each day there is more information available to everyone thanks to the internet. Hearts and brains – they send out signals to each other too, making an invisible network. Basically, since the economy extends to the atomic level of each person, place, and thing, thanks to consciousness, and basically since the current concept of governments working with big banks to “fix” (double meaning) the economy has shown itself to be flawed beyond repair, we are going to need to figure this one out with some kind of global cooperative effort. We need a common enemy: aliens? Wait, I’m getting too spiritual and sci-fi. I do not know what is going to change, but the trickle-up poverty is trickling up to the global elites and they are going to start feeling threatened by their lack of control, so yeah they will probably over-react here and there until everyone realizes it’s time to figure out ways to allocate mental energies towards getting us from the current paradigm, which is not working anymore, to a new paradigm. It’s not working anymore. It is not working anymore. Was it ever working? This is going to mean giving everyone some benefits and guarantees and responsibilities. Expectations must be clear and easy to understand.

  5. We need to follow the financial advice of Jesus Christ and not charge interest ( in any form or fashion) on loans etc.
    This would sort out the Financial markets in a flash… Jokingly, maybe we could make this new “no interest law” retrospective…That would be something to see…

  6. I agree with just about everything you say, however how you can say “designed by and for the tiny privileged ruling élite of the industrialised West ” flies in the face of the evidence. The ruling elites of just about every country have gained hugely from the system that has developed (it’s not designed) and the ones to benefit most are those from countries outside the west. Look at the riches accumulated by the elites in China, India, Russia, Angola, Brazil and just about any other country you choose to name. This makes me wonder if you are just “anti western”, which in turn makes all the other points you make mute. (though I do happen to agree with you, but many others would just discount your opinion based on the feel that you are “anti western”)

    • Of course ruling elites everywhere benefit from this system. To say that it was designed by and for the dominant Western elite – who of course need to share the spoils with their agents in the rest of the world – is simply factual.

  7. I see a different world order, in which trading blocs emerge as familiar groupings of economies, which I think might have their genesis in the green/labour movements. There may also be a push from the far right who see the uniformity of nation states being eroded. Either way, it’s all about protecting ones patch isn’t it? Because so far, the internationalism of politics, economies, and business means nothing to most people, except the erosion of industry, and then benefits, through the importing of cheap manufactured goods and cheap labour.

  8. Interesting. I assume it’s all part of the plan to create a new world order though – but first they need a big war. There are several candidates, ranging from Russia to a ‘new crusades’ in the middle east.

  9. Much truth here, but I’m afraid it’s not as easy to perceive for many.

    Mass change in attitudes will probably require some catastrophes before this sinks in.

    Are there actual plans by the developed countries for any kind of World Order that would be acceptable to the masses? I suspect their World Order includes the capitalist system floating atop the workers.

    • This is what I find frightening. Lots of people are really going to have to suffer a lot more for a lot longer in order to generate the anger and desperation that will form the basis for a mass movement away from the status quo. The anger and desperation will provide the electoral opening for political opportunists and that might well be a very dangerous development. However what are the likely alternatives? The current elites seem to be completely stuck within the neo-liberal, free market and pro globalisation paradigm and totally unable to move on policywise to a better future.

  10. The quest for “private profit” are NOT to blame for our current predicament. Rather, we need to address the real root issue – which is “crony capitalism” and “captured governments”.

    • The key point is that the need to prioritise private profit – defendable in an age of capital scarcity such as existed 200 years ago – is obsolete in the present era of capital abundance. Many illustrations of why the attempt to sustain it in these circumstances is disastrous can be cited (NB Chapter 4 of my Beyond the Profits System referred to above).

  11. Some quick but difficult solutions would be to have industry pay 100% of all education and health care wherever they are. Make the cost of doing business the welfare of their employees and customers and whoever lives in the environment they do business from or in. The second side of my solution is limiting inheritance to a reasonable wealth limit of maybe 5 – 10 million in todays american standard. … All the rest must go to beyond arms length foundations for research or infrastructure for the betterment of all of society.
    No more family dynasties and pseudo or neo aristocracy allowed.

  12. Pingback: The End of Endless Growth: Part 1 -

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