I already wrote, a while ago now, on the subject of singular ways of doing things and planned economies in general. First this, on the Google self-driving car project:
In the face of a wider defeat of Communism, Soviet socialism initially decided to turn in on itself. Is this now happening at the hands of Google and wider movements towards automation in the US?
I then go on to develop the idea, concluding in the following way:
This is the End of History coming back to bite us in the backside. As Communism/one-country socialism collapsed in its grandly political structures, and for a while there was little else we could do but argue the battle was dusted and done, even so it would appear that its instincts were continuing to work away at its evermore grand and commercial manifestations.
The monolithic state which hopes to re-engineer everyone in a one-best-way mindset, whilst disparaged and in the process of being dismantled by capitalist evangelicals almost everywhere, is suddenly reappearing in Google’s corporately admirable attempts: attempts where it looks to automate dangerous processes such as the freedom to kill people with cars out of the frame of everyday living.
The American Dream without the freedom to choose between life and death? Whatever next my friend?
Prior to this piece, and as linked to within the quote above, I also suggested we could see the iPhone as a perfect argument in favour of planned economies:
Yesterday, late at night (excuse the incongruences if they exist!), I suggested the following:
[...] I am a child of a technological society – and continuous improvement is the essence of my belief system. I simply cannot accept that we can refine to a millionth degree a computer, an iPhone or a piece of civil engineering – and yet find ourselves unable to improve the 19th century boom-and-bust cycle of traditional economics.
A Facebook friend responded this morning by arguing in favour of planned economies.
I then went on to argue the following:
The iPhone an argument in favour of beginning to plan our economies all over again? I think so. And as I also pointed out in my Facebook response this morning:
[...] where before perhaps our analytical tools were not up to the job, I don’t think this is going to be the case today. [...]
If we are capable of sophisticating our manufacturing processes and consumer durables to such an extent as Apple’s iPhone, we can – where there’s a political and social will, of course – do the same with our societies and economies.
Is this a case of convergent evolution? A case where the clearest example of 21st century corporate capitalism shows the way forward for a different kind of 21st century socialism?
A return to a sadly failed 20th century model of planned economies – only now, in the light of Apple’s experience, with the potential for a huge new lease of life.
Then more recently, in a series of posts which started with this one, I suggested we might create a parallel series of institutions, by most importantly recovering the positive values we might associate with the concept of “revolution”:
[...] Revolution is a dangerous and difficult word. It connotes all kinds of disruption, violence and bloodshed. From the French to the Bolsheviks to the coarsely violent recriminatory ends of the Spanish Civil War, the Balkan Conflict and even our experience with Iraq, revolution has no happy memories for history. At least, for the history they teach us.
Yet I wonder if revolution must always be like that. We could define revolution in a different way. Disruptive, yes – it would have to remain so. But not necessarily unseamless in its implementation. [...]
I go on to expand the idea thus:
Of course, any revolution of the old-style Bolshevik kind would, in a modern world, be almost certainly doomed to failure. Modern society requires complex specialisms to function, and such complex specialisms would almost certainly not happily function under the kind of coercion a traditional revolution would require. Too many tenuous threads of communication would break down under the brute force of full-throated change.
And yet, even so, I find myself coming back to 1950s Japan. Within twenty years of losing a war at the final hands of two nuclear bombs, the Japanese car industry had effected a revolution of its own. Non-violent, intellectual, process-driven and intelligent – all these things and more as per Deming’s philosophies and mindsets.
A revolution of a disruptive nature which, nevertheless, was not bloody.
And so we come to the present. Over at El País today (in Spanish here; robot English translation here), we get a fascinating report on a Bill and Melinda Gates gathering in Seattle, where the headline idea is “‘Positive disruption’ as a driver for global change”. This fits very nicely, at least from a conceptual – even if not institutional – point of view, with some of the ideas I’ve been mulling over above. Though, to be honest, I think I’m looking for even more disruption when I say, as I did in my first Revolution ’13 piece, that:
[...] We could design, from the ground upwards, a parallel set of institutions which would, like the design of a Japanese car’s dashboard unit, only ever be included in a new model when entirely ready. In so doing, and through accessible and inclusive techniques such as crowdsourcing – even where this might necessarily involve only the crowdsourced input of a hierarchy of predisposed specialists – we could avoid the biggest danger of disruptive revolution: the non-collaboration of key workers.
In such a way, key workers and process-owners who had crossed the line – and had effectively become criminals too big to jail (the money-laundering cases which have come to light in important banking communities come to mind here) – would no longer be able to hold a wider society to ransom. The gradually more expert revolution-engendering structures would one day not only reach but outdo the efficacy of their corrupted compatriots.
At which point substitution could take place.
Either way, it’s clear that social-democratic and neoliberal evolutions have really rather had their day. And to be honest, it’s the planned and statist Communism of the 20th century – though with a Deming-like participative twist – which has won the battles thus far. The only difference from the 1950s is that the secrecy, fear and closed nature of its environments now find their location in transnational corporations – sometimes, psychotically fearful of each other; at other times, in consumer-prejudicing cahoots. So it is that Orwell’s “1984” did finally come true in one important respect – that is to say, in the sense of shifting international alliances, where histories and relationships are continually written and rewritten. Where he went wrong was in conceptualising its happening between nation-states of a dictatorial cut. In truth, right now, for most people out there, what corporations do with each other has far more impact on their daily existences than what simple little and relatively powerless countries ever manage to effect.
Which, if you’ve cared to follow me to here, brings me to my final point. I would like to suggest that democracy, right now, is set up to fail. Whilst business has successfully moved on from democracy’s ideological rejection of 20th century Communism and all its tenets – examples as already mentioned range from Google’s anti-American self-driving instincts to Apple’s anti-American centrally planned economy – democracy itself is mortally hidebound by its utter inability to contemplate a retread of a Soviet-style revolution.
All this time we’ve been saying that it’s business which should be more like democracy when, in reality, what we may have had is a democracy which business has fashioned to divide, conquer and keep meek.
Set up to fail, then? Is that a fair assertion? Have now-Communist-like businesspeople – now-Communist-like at least in their tools of choice – deliberately made democratic practitioners everywhere so terrified of committing the same revolutionary and disruptive acts that out of this conceptual cul-de-sac no Western democracy anywhere will ever manage to emerge?
Maybe not. Maybe so. Maybe, on reflection, we should park the possible reasons for why we’ve arrived at this place for just a few gentle moments.
For there may be a much bigger goal on the horizon. If we can convince the businesspeople who have already embraced this revised version of 20th century Communism I describe above to contemplate facilitating a similar move in our democratic institutions and environments, perhaps the “positive disruption” that I find myself voicing and calling for – in the same curious company today as Bill and Melinda Gates – can find a broader range of adepts and enthusiasts out there, and much sooner than we think.
As well as end up helping to save from global disintegration not only our species but also the democratic instincts which have so ennobled its political practice.