1. Sawatdi bpi mai kap!
I’m late this year, but I’ll start the year again with that Thai new year’s greeting which means means:
- May you find compassion, loving kindness and equanimity along your paths over the next year!
2. The adults are back in charge
Last year I said most people felt well rid of 2021, and hope for better in 2022. Unfortunately hope is hard to find. Greta Thunberg and David Spratt have both said that hope has to be earned. Overall I think we come up short, but politically it is good to have the adults back in charge.
In that first post last year I wrote of the putrid politics offered by Scott Morrison gang of goons, of Robodebt and Lucy Hamilton’s diagnosis of Australia’s slide into ‘competitive authoritarianism’, ending with:
- Australia’s future hangs in the balance: the struggles facing us over climate crisis directions in particular endanger our ability to vote out a government determined to crush transparency and protest. It is by recognising the concept of “competitive authoritarianism” that we can truly see the breadth of the risk we face and the urgency of addressing the threat.
It was not until just before Christmas that I saw Juice Media’sHonest Government Ad | 2022 Election (Season 2 finale).
It’s actually both accurate and comprehensive.
3. A new age is emerging
Immanuel Wallerstein, when he was still with us, took the view that capitalism as a world system was morphing, but the new structure was not yet clear. He was definite that ‘progress’ was not inevitable, the new may be worse than the old.
Gillian Tett, just fresh back from Davos World Economic Forum, dining in the Hotel Schatzalp, a former sanatorium that figured in Thomas Mann’s great novel Magic Mountain where he “explored the sources of the destructiveness displayed by much of civilised humanity” and speculated about questions related of life, health, illness, sexuality, and mortality in bourgeois society in a way that was “erudite, subtle, ambitious, but, most of all, ambiguous”.
In short once again the ground is shifting beneath the human project, but no-one quite knows what’s emerging.
At Davos Sven Smit of McKinsey Global Institute said:
- “We are on the cusp of a new era. But we don’t really know what that is, or even what it should be called.”
He sees three distinct eras after 1945. First, was:
- the so-called Postwar Boom that occurred from 1945 to 1971, a time of technological progress, rapid growth and relative geopolitical stability. This was coupled with a fairly paternalistic corporate culture and heavy levels of state intervention.
Second, from 1971 to 1989 was the Era of Contention, including:
- “an energy crisis, a negative supply shock, the return of inflation, a new monetary era, rising multipolar geopolitical assertion, resource competition, and slowing productivity in the West”.
Then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 ushered in the Era of Markets – a time when deregulation, capitalism and globalisation were championed around the world. Most business and political leaders today consider this state of affairs the norm.
To the global elites the trifecta of globalisation, free-market capitalism and democracy were self-evidently good things destined to keep spreading around the world.
Since the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2008, however, there has been a series of “rolling shocks”. Some think the disturbances are temporary and ephemeral, some think structural and fundamental.
McKinsey think that era ended about 2019, but can’t figure out what is next. States will intervene more under pressures created by climate calamities, pestilence and war. The relationship between business and society is shifting.
4. Social media has changed everything
One of the elephants in the room apparently missed by our masters at Davos may demand a new word – “enshittification”. It’s about social media and the exploitative, monopolistic information platforms built by monsters like Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google. I came upon it in Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow in a piece Pluralistic: Tiktok’s enshittification (21 Jan 2023). It’s a long piece which describes how these money-making monsters have sucked us in with the purpose of making huge amounts of money for poor service:
- This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they’re locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they’re locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.
Doctorow was inspired by Catherynne M. Valente’s pre-Christmas offering Stop Talking to Each Other and Start Buying Things: Three Decades of Survival in the Desert of Social Media at Welcome to Garbageland.
Valente’s piece is darker, as it sees these monsters changing the human condition, that is, us and how we relate to each other. Her anger appears to be part of a tsunami of anger in so-called advanced economies.
I’m wondering what Gillian Tett, “a British author and journalist at the Financial Times, where she is chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US”, who saw the GFC coming, who got out of academic anthropology because it was committing “intellectual suicide” and who has just written “a really brilliant book” Anthro-Vision, a New Way to See in Life and Business, would think of those pieces.
5. Australia Day
Today being Australia Day I can’t ignore it, although for most of my life I pretty well have. If memory serves, when I was young the holiday was taken on the last Monday of January, to make a long weekend before the year started in earnest. The practice may have been different depending on which state you lived in.
I think governments in general should prevent the majority causing grief and hurt to the minority, so the 26th must go.
The first order of business in making this change is embed a First Nations Voice in the constitution. This is necessary for what sociologists have called recognition, meaning here a full respect for the humanity of those who had been here for 60,000 years. Certainly Australia was not empty of humanity, as claimed in ‘terra nullius’. I grew up in the shadow of the Hornet Bank massacre of 1857 where in the following 30 years a concerted effort was made to clean out and eliminate the local tribe as vermin.
In my imperfect understanding, First Nations people saw themselves not so much owning the land as being of the land, embedded in it, with a special responsibility of stewardship for country. We have lacked the understanding that prior to 1788 Australia was a managed landscape through means such as fire and totem relationships. Now because of climate change and the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch we need to attain a new balance with nature very similar to that achieved by the First Nations people over all those millennia.
The Uluru process gives those of us who came later an opportunity to become part of this deep flow of history.
Then we could perhaps have a new national day of celebration on the last Monday of January before we get back to the mainstream flow of our lives for the year. When the 26th falls on the Monday we would move the day of celebration to the last Friday, out of respect.