The Future Means Misery and Struggle

This’ll cheer you up.

There is no sign that 2017 will be much different from 2016.

Under Israeli occupation for decades, Gaza will still be the biggest open prison on Earth.

In the United States, the killing of black people at the hands of the police will proceed unabated and hundreds of thousands more will join those already housed in the prison-industrial complex that came on the heels of plantation slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Europe will continue its slow descent into liberal authoritarianism or what cultural theorist Stuart Hall called authoritarian populism. Despite complex agreements reached at international forums, the ecological destruction of the Earth will continue and the war on terror will increasingly morph into a war of extermination between various forms of nihilism.

Inequalities will keep growing worldwide. But far from fuelling a renewed cycle of class struggles, social conflicts will increasingly take the form of racism, ultra nationalism, sexism, ethnic and religious rivalries, xenophobia, homophobia and other deadly passions.

The denigration of virtues such as care, compassion and kindness will go hand in hand with the belief, especially among the poor, that winning is all that matters and who wins — by whatever means necessary — is ultimately right.

(Methinks that, based on recent comments, longtime reader wellandnobucket has likely met a kindred spirit in South African columnist Achille Mbembe.)

But I think Mbembe is right — the future that lies in front of us is bleak and brutal, largely because finance capital now rules the world and it doesn’t how to do that gently or well. Finance also doesn’t know how to reflect on its own power, its own limits, and its own cruelties.

And the political trends of deliberate nihilism (reflected in the election of Donald J. Trump), which have emerged because elites across the world have failed spectacularly to govern or lead or even understand who they are anymore, will only accelerate this brutal immiseration, the desperate insecurity felt by so many, which will in turn bring about more desire for safety and security, which the nihilists will campaign on even more ferociously.

The spiral downward will be ugly. Unpleasant. Inhuman.

I was thinking on the short drive home from work the other day about so many of Trump’s cabinet picks, and about a piece I recently read in The London Review of Book about the demise of municipal government in the United Kingdom (particularly England). The author of the piece talked about how central outsourcing and privatization have become to the provision of government services.

Local government will soon be brought into line with its national counterpart: both limited in their essential functions, outsourcing the greater part of their responsibilities to the private sector. Private companies are now partly or fully responsible for the parole service, schools, roads, prisons, GP surgeries and walk-in centres, hospital services, the Royal Mail, tax credits, care homes, welfare assessments, refugee and detention centres, deportations, the provision of court interpreters, government pay rolls, broadband roll-out, IT programmes and government security. Most of these outsourced services are handled by four firms: Atos, Serco, Capita and G4S, who between them receive around £4 billion a year from taxpayers.

Once upon a time, firms aimed to market products broadly to a mass customer base of those earning wages (that would be expected to rise). But wages haven’t risen demonstrably in decades for most people. In the 1990s, “wealth” was created in the housing and asset markets, where it appears inflation was channeled, but people with stagnant wages cannot borrow forever, not even on increasingly equity, and eventually banks got themselves sideways with their cleverness.

In this environment, it makes sense that capital — I speak here in Marxists terms of the abstraction that is business — would seek captive clients, given that wages have not kept pace for most people. So, why not contract with governments to “provide services”?

As the piece notes, however, this has come at a price — citizen is now a meaningless term. These firms are not accountable because their customers aren’t the people they serve, they are the handful of bureaucrats and elected officials who sign the contracts. And they remain pleased with the provision.

Gone is any sense of solidarity — communal, social, national. And the trend to further privatize will only keep this going. It will continue as long as governments can rig markets at the top and can purchase enough security for those in charge.

This isn’t feudalism — with ownership comes some sense of obligation, and everyone remains nominally free, and on their own, here. Those who manage this society have long lost that sense of obligation to fellow citizens — that’s why we’re thigh-deep in this muddy pool of nihilism right now. At some point, we may get there, after millions have suffered and many have died, when the survival of many will demand some kind of slavery with a set of brutal but somewhat mutual obligations.

But the relatively kind, social democratic world of the mid-20th century, one which saw ordinary human beings (at least in the West) acquire wealth and stability such people had never been able to acquire in history, is gone.

We will probably never see anything like it again.

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