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Saturday, 19 February 2011

The future is Unwritten...

As we may have noticed, there is revolution on the air - Egypt, Bahrain,Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Iran - have all had some element of demonstration in the last couple of weeks. Some permanent change will result in some places. In other places, there will be violent suppression, followed by clamp-downs and imprisonment. As some of you may know, I disagree pretty strongly with deterministic analysis of history or social phenomena. In other words, I dont believe there is an inevitability about human behaviour. Capitalism, for example, is no more our current economic system through a process of naturalistic societal 'evolution' than the pre-eminence of the Catholic Church is an accident. So called representative democracies are not the evolved pinnacle of organisational structure for cultures that the West often pretends, they are carefully designed social machines, based on blueprints and concretely designed to issue a specific product.

But my dismissal of determinism does not meant that there are not patterns in history. There are patterns, not determined by some overarching force, but simply because in a given situation, the number of choices we have are limited. So just as in Europe, mass literacy was emerging, and forms of mass production able to feed this mass literacy was emerging, feudalism had outlived its usefulness to anyone - rulers or ruled. There was massive wealth inequality and a large number of ex-rural peasants who had become the new urban poor. Revolution spread across Europe.

This pretty much describes the situation in many of the Middle Eastern countries. Where it is dangerous to draw parallels further is to claim that the outcome is either predictable, or will follow the Western model. I saw CNN the other night trying to represent events in Egypt as the 'birth of democracy'. While I have no doubt that the CIA (and just about every other agency employed by the freedom loving West to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other countries) is getting its hands very dirty trying to influence events, I think it is a massive mistake to think of current Middle East politics as having direct analogies with Western History. In other words, the view that these revolutions are somehow steps on a societal evolutionary ladder that ends up with Western-style democracy is wrong. All that can confidently said about the Middle East is that it is in a state of significant transistion. How do I know this??

I know this because every attempt humans have made to predict the future, especially the future shape of society, has ended in failure. Whether its religiously derived ideas, Marxist predictions on the cyclic nature of capitalism, capitalist visions of a labour free future, Singularity obsessives - attempts to capture in one grand narrative, a set of generalised principles that drive human society have utterly failed, apart from establishing the over-riding principle that you cant predict human behaviour. The future is, as one famously put it, unwritten.