Friday, June 24, 2016

Deep Breaths. The World Didn't End - Not Yet.

If there was ever a time to revive the iconic 1939 poster it might be now. Then, Britain faced Hitler, the Nazi horde and six sometimes terrifying years of world war. Now, Britain faces Brexit. That should lend a bit of perspective.

The simple fact is that today and for a while to come you'll find a lot more headless chickens running around than chicken heads. The unexpected always triggers panic and hyperbole among those taken by surprise.

As a general rule, the more vested one is in the status quo, the more traumatic the event. Those with least to lose can be less fearful, even welcoming of change. Societies rent by brutal austerity and soaring inequality can become societies primed for change sometimes bordering on upheaval. Out with the old, in with the new. Screw me? No, Screw You!!

Sure it's a spin of the wheel. Sure it's scary. The more cosseted the more fearful and angry. One Liberal pundit declared the Brexit vote a victory for the "economically illiterate, racists, nativists, anti-traders, separatists and isolationists" before proceeding to declare the sky fallen and British virginity deflowered. Oh well. I guess he missed the "Keep Calm" part.

Will the British vote herald the end of the European Union experiment? Possibly but not of itself, not entirely. The EU, as it is currently constituted, is rife with problems that present the precursor(s) of instability. It's like a sporting league that took on too many new franchises. It lost the old "natural" fit of the pre-expansion union. The centre weakened and populist movements, rightwing and left, rose across the union in poor states and strong.

Academics will have years of work ahead analyzing the vote, the fallout and the causes and blunders. All we have today is the usual "oh, crap" moment. This is the moment tradition cedes to Team Vanquished to moan and wail and spread recriminations and fear mongering and, true to form, that's exactly what they've done. It's so predictable.

Look, British army sappers are not deployed in the Chunnel setting demolition charges. I'm almost positive that the trains and the ferries and freighters that ply the cold waters above them are still carrying people and goods between the UK and Europe. Planes continue to fly.

Sure this is an upheaval event of some sort, duration and impact unknown and, for now, unknowable. It's great stuff for those into casting bones and reading entrails. The thing to remember is that Brexit is just part of an increasingly dysfunctional world that is entering upheaval or on the cusp.

Our old and once comfortable modes of organization - political, social, economic, even environmental, the lot - have been in decline for years and are reaching marginal utility.

Over a decade ago, John Ralston Saul quite convincingly proclaimed the collapse of globalism. He wrote that the neoliberal experiment had failed miserably yet we would remain in its hold until our leaders came to their senses and introduced the next great thing. In recent months even the very temple of neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, admitted its failure. There are some who argue, plausibly, that the Brexit vote was an angry response to neoliberalism, one that may soon spread.

Is upheaval inevitable? Sure it is. I was reminded of this yesterday when I received the annual "heads up" email from the highly respected, scientific NGO, Global Footprint Network announcing Earth Overshoot Day 2016 will fall on August 8th. That means that humanity's voracious appetite for renewable resources is outpacing the Earth's capacity to replace them faster each year. From August 8 we will be in a state of Overshoot, meaning we will be consuming our planet's dwindling reserves of renewables - air, water, biomass. When I first learned of GFN six or seven years ago, Overshoot Day fell in mid to late October. Now it's the beginning of August. See where it's heading, how fast it's progressing? This is real Thelma and Louise stuff.

The 80s are over and they're not coming back. We're into a new era that will open with discontent, destabilization and upheaval - that we will ride out in some form if we're very lucky. This new reality isn't just a matter of politics and economics. It's also a function of physics, biology, botany, and climatology. Of course it's going to be different. How could it be remotely the same?

P.S. I'm taking a break for a while to do a couple of online courses and catch up on a mountain of overdue reading. I may stop by, from time to time, but it will be infrequent at best. Have a good summer.


Owen Gray said...

Enjoy your break, Mound.

Toby said...

Now that the precedent has been set Canada can opt out of NAFTA and all those nasty little deals Steven Harper made, including those that allow corporations to duck taxes. Yes, we need international agreements that improve standards for such as labour, health, the environment, human rights, etc. The deals should always allow for local governments to protect the people and places they represent.

Dana said...

Have a nice summer. It looks like it'll start tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Anyong the blog. Have a great time and be careful on the motorcycle. Cheers

chris said...

Have a great summer. You'll be missed.

Unknown said...

Enjoy your summer Mound. Catching up on your reading and taking new courses should give you alot of interesting and important issues to blog about in the fall.I look forward to your return.

Anonymous said...

The UK chose to leave the EU mainly because of those old farts who don't like brown people or those than have been bombed out of house and home looking for a better life.
Yes the European experiment is a failure ; just as NAFTA is.
Neoliberalism is a failure but few will admit it.
As an ex pat I am disgusted by most of my old 'mates' that racial intolerance would effect their vote particularly when they crave cheap sunny vacations to Muslim countries that set aside enclaves for them to drink British beer and eat fish and chips.
Thankfully they ( and I am of their age and background) have little time left and the world will soon be better off without the hangers on
of British Colonialism.

May the sun set!!

( a disgusted) Trailblazer

Anonymous said...

P.S. I'm taking a break for a while to do a couple of online courses and catch up on a mountain of overdue reading. I may stop by, from time to time, but it will be infrequent at best. Have a good summer.

Suggest Saul's Voltaire's Bastards, an interesting read.


The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the kind thoughts, everyone. They are appreciated.

@ Trailblazer. What I put up in this post is a heavily edited remnant of a far more involved and wide-ranging piece I originally wrote but thought too provocative. Sure there was a racist contingent to the Leave vote and a companion, anti-immigration element. These movements, as was shown so vividly in the Arab Spring uprisings, can be and usually are multi-dimensional.

As Crane Brinton chronicles in his timeless book, Anatomy of Revolution, it's this alliance of forces, united in disaffection against a common target, that leads to ongoing upheaval in the aftermath of most successful revolutions. One faction can seize the opportunity in the following chaos to suppress the others in a secondary uprising that can turn far more bloody than the initial event. Think of "the terror" in Paris or the Bolsheviks rising up against the Mensheviks. This is why wise power yields to reform and compromise rather than remaining intransigent in the face of discontent, forcing revolt as the only way forward. I'm not sure our modern political power structure, in which so much sovereignty has been stupidly surrendered to corporatism now bordering on peer level authority,retains the flexibility to implement the sort of reform and restructuring necessary to forestall the intense disaffection and frustration that primes revolt.

What a mess.

Anonymous said...

This mini-revolt (2%, eh) against establishment was sparked by hordes of non-white economic migrants pouring into Europe. Thank you, Merkel...

Happy Summer everyone!

Steve said...

enjoy summer its going to be endless sooon

Gyor said...

I'd also had technology to the major forces of change, I think in the next ten years there will be a series technologies that will change everything, maybe even trigger the beginning of the transhumanist sigularity.