It is a dry autumn here at the farm and the air is full of smoke from controlled burns of the forests around us. From about 1830, Sea captains regularly reported thick smoke as they tried to close the Victorian coast in autumn. The Australian aborigines actively managed their tribal lands with fire – burning off the undergrowth to stimulate spring grasses that attract kangaroos and make it easier to hunt. The whole region was burnt out in a patchwork about every five years. These were “cool bushfires” because the fuel load on the ground was never allowed to accumulate too much. The Aboriginals sometimes even apologized to explorers for the state of the underbrush in unburned country, the way your neighbor today apologises for his unkempt lawn.
However, by the 1960’s we knew better. Green environmental activists backed by their academic supporters declared the Australian forests were “sensitive”, “pristine” "Threatened" and “fragile”. Burning was of course immediately stopped. Four wheel drives and horse touring banned, camping restricted and, cattle grazing of the high plains prohibited. The bush was to be a shrine to nature, ministered to by bushwalker acolytes whose tiny footprints left no marks. The great unwashed, campers, drivers, loggers, etc. were to be kept at a respectful distance.
One Hundred and Seventy Three people died in the bushfires that raged around Melbourne on 7th February 2009 as a direct result of the “no burn” policy of this “pristine” wilderness.. When blame was sheeted home to a lack of regular burning and a new policy announced, the greens announced that they would support it – provided the burning strategy was ‘sensitive” and “nuanced”. I almost threw up when I heard him. One Hundred and Seventy Three lives.
Today I hear about an alleged chemical attack in Syria. More smoke. No doubt President Trump is going to be pressured to apply a sensitive and nuanced no fly zone over Idlib province – for the children of course. The same type of useful idiots who corrupted our forest management policy are at work here – believers in the essential goodness of everyone, the same way they believed that nature is a weak virgin instead of a tough old bitch. They refuse to believe that human beings are not perfectible and that goes double for the jihadi inhabitants of Idlib. How many lives will be lost if the Russians, Syrians and Iranians refuse to accept our benevolent strictures?
Of course I am being charitable when I say “useful idiots”. Having worked in Academia, I know there is no cause that won’t be taken up, no point of view so extreme that an academic or two cannot be found to give it a gloss of scholarly imprimatur if sufficient money is offered. And that goes double again for think tanks. The net result of the last Thirty years of useful idiots work was summarized beautifully when Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history” after the fall of the soviet union – meaning that market driven liberal democracy was the final highest state of humanity and we had just achieved it.
What has happened since should have had a salutary effect on the useful idiots beliefs; the abject failure of “responsibility to protect” wars, the fallout from globalization in terms of unemployment as evidenced by Brexit and the election of president Trump, the scandals over tax evasion by multinational corporations not to mention the mess that is illegal immigration in Europe and America, should have given the useful idiots pause for thought. Maybe not everyone wants to be an American. Maybe globalization has a downside and maybe, just maybe, humans are not perfectible? I am driven to compare the situation of todays useful idiots with their compatriots in Oxford and Cambridge around 1860. Up to then religious belief was taken as a given. It was an organizing principle behind philosophy economics and public policy. Academia was very happy with this situation. If you wanted to know what you ought to do, look no further than the bible for principles. Then Darwin published “On The Origin Of Species” and what followed was the removal of religion as an organizing principle and total collapse of established philosophical positions, culminating in the great war.
So where does that leave us today? The globalists / R2Pers are in disbelief at the election of President Trump, Brexit and perhaps the election in France of Marine le Pen. They are pushing back, generating lots of smoke, but will fail. It has become obvious that globalization has losers as well as winners and the losers can still perhaps vote against their destruction. The philosophical basis of globalization does not sufficiently allow for rampant corporate tax evasion nor the destabilizing effects it has had on national sovereignty to the point where the Westphalian principles are under attack. So much for “progress”.
Then of course there are the upcoming shocks to ordinary workers of Artificial Intelligence, robotics and other new technologies. I have just witnessed some of this first hand, the poor bastards who came to install my satellite internet service had to document and photograph every step of the process on their iPad – leading of course to a set of performance metrics. The latest from Sweden of all places is the injection of employees with RFID chips. Given the greed and short term focus of Wall Street and the aforesaid developing tools for micromanagement of staff, it is not too hard to speculate what life as an employee of a corporation is going to be like in say Five years time. We simply do not have the philosophical tools to construct a rational and humane set of philosophies and policies to manage this. The doctrine of “progress” has failed us. Clearly, at least to me, a major philosophical rethink of our existence is required. Even Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan has recently said “something is wrong”. To be clear, if there is not a rethink of the directions we are heading then Orwells prediction - a boot grinding the face of humanity, forever, will come true.
The doctrine of progress – the history of humanity as a journey to liberal democracy, as espoused by Fukuyama and even Hillary Clinton, is fatally flawed. The old world is dead, the new one is powerless to be born. We need a new debate over philosophical directions. Religion has failed us. The doctrine of “progress” leads to a dead end. Nationalism is a dangerous concept. We need to rethink ourselves before we are overtaken by events. I await the first academics and university to realise what has happened and start reappraising the situation, I think they will be richly rewarded