The disestablishment of secularism and individualism & the rise of a new order.
|If there were two things that have particularly defined the modern societies that emerged out of the industrial revolution in the 1780s, was the rise and rise of secularism and individualism. And what will define the decline of those societies will be the re-emergence of religion and the authority of the social commons as competitors for power.
Industrial capital and its utilitarian ideology broke up the integration of the sacerdotal and the secular in favor of secular, and the collective commons in favor of individual interest, both economic and social/existential. And now it threatens to rejoin in a convulsion that is not so different from the reformationary one that originally propelled Europe on its journey into the modern age.
The expropriation of the commons in favor of private interests reached its apotheosis from the mid twentieth century on, when the driving economic interests of capital started the machinery to residualize the last great commons; the nation state, in favor of global corporatism and 'free' markets; i.e., ‘freedom’ with few or no boundaries.
However, what was much less well understood was that in tandem with that was a contemporaneous move to remove the last remnants of the social commons and the social means of reproduction in favor of marketing, PR and sales; i.e., the disruption and disempowerment of familial structures and adult authority models to convert individual citizens of adult character into vulnerably desecured, adolescentized and unstable consumer egoists, who would be hyper-responsive to any marketed fantasy aimed at them.
This was taking totalitarian governance in an apparently democratic society to whole new level of control that was all the more profoundly absolute for appearing to be benign and spontaneous, in ways that constructed resistance as wilful and reactionary obstruction of positive and necessary ‘change’. All the great traditional totalitarians tried and failed to break up family life and remove children from the authority of their parents. The most spectacular attempt was by Mao Zhedong during the Cultural Revolution in the later 1960s. He and it failed, but in the West, the revolution goes on, like a permanent infantile plague.
Socially generated socialization and mentoring across a platform of sociophilic (opposite of sociopathic) behavior and attitudes was systematically replaced by a protracted, massively propagandized, but apparently apolitical campaign of marketed solutions, offering stripped down production drivers and market responders that would produce narrowly specialized social ideal-types; contractor drones and shop troops.
After three generations the job is done, but what is now starting to confront us is just how much collateral damage this has caused, because the reality is, human beings are a great deal more sophisticated than the marketed constructs they have been slotted into. This means large tracts of human sensibility have been 'unsupported' to the extent that third and fourth generation shop troops aren't even potty trained in a lot of the basics of how to be a proper human adult.
We are now looking at a system of social reproduction that is so ungrounded, broken down and compassless, we have whole generations of over-grown adolescents who have no idea how to be parents and no parenting templates to plug into; not raising children so much as cohabiting with them in a rough and disordered equality with no parameters; i.e., no boundaries, because there aren't any, except as seen on... and brought to them by... the proud sponsors.
And if an aspiring parent wants to try and enforce some order and some bottom lines, look out, because the kiddies know their rights and will have no hesitation in enforcing them, and these days long before they reach adolescence. They no longer require the qualifications of age, maturity, moral responsibility and judicious judgement, and the disciplined training and mentoring to get them to that, before they get a sniff at their rights
Once upon a time that was the age when adults really did pile on the pressure to ensure they got through that unstable period of monstrous egoism with as little damage and poor attitude as possible; not any more. They do not have the clout, because adults are paper tigers and that happened not by accident, but by design, through the rise of indulgence based marketed socialization and systematic undermining by humanist libertarian 'wets', who ideologically disapprove of any social authority that can enforce its edicts.
Anyone not swimming inside these waters would immediately understand that they were looking at a sociopathological environmental disaster every bit as hideous as the ecopathologial one in the wider biological environment. And the two sides of the regime that is bringing this about are equally blind sided to their responsibility for this in the commons areas under their particular jurisdiction.
The libertarian descendants of the original social utilitarians who control the social administrative arm of indulgence capitalism through the education, welfare, health and much of the legal/political bureaucracies, as well as parts of the opinion forming media and arts, have been deeply complicit in the massive take down of the social commons.
They have been used to discredit and demolish any 'repressive', 'abusive', 'authoritarian' and 'disciplined' infrastructure that would get in the way of not just human rights, but indulgence consumerism, thus turning liberty into licence and human rights into consumer entitlement. They split liberties and rights from the obligations and responsibilities that underpin them, thus turning them into customer friendly freebies. By this neat device, they switched off all the empowering and individuating features of the enlightenment and handed socialisation lock stock and barrel to the masters of business administration and the marketing system they control.
And as reward for their excellent work, they have been allowed to become quasi religious Libertarchs, allowed to turn their pet projects into sacred sites, use 'churchy' empathy as a substitute for reason and brand their opponents as heretics with a beautiful array of nasty boo words to stereotype and discredit them, with lashings of moral indignation, minus the inconvenient need to justify their own position.
The 'liberal' Noam Chomskys of the world are every bit as unaware of what they and their predecessors have done over the last 50-70 years to the social commons as the wretched Sarah Palins are about anthropogenic climate change and the damage to the ecological commons.
When it comes to the sacred cows of either side, one cannot get anything except the most irrational denialism when confronted about them. The Chomskys take it personally, as if this were an ad hominum (attacking the person not their argument) ‘attack’ by 'conservative' 'right wing' 'prejudiced', judgmental', 'racist', 'authoritarian', 'bigoted' 'stereotyping'. And the Palins are the same, seeing it as an ‘attack’ by ‘left wing’ subversive underminers using scientific ‘hoax/scams’ to bring down an infallibly self correcting market system.
The reality is, they are both so equally into ideological cliches, caricature and terminological gobbledegook that over time, that is what they have become. Each infallibly sees the shortcomings in the other, is blind to their own and thus no one is able to see the really damning overall picture of just how much trouble we are all in, on all fronts, and how vulnerable we are to the whole economic social and ideological edifice spectacularly and contemporaneously crumbling as one.
The existential and the economic sides of ourselves represent the two halves of our collective social capital and wealth. If one loses most of one’s existential wealth, one is just as dead broke and ‘on the street’ as if one had lost most of one’s money. And that is is why our system is ripe for a foreign takeover from a quite unexpected and seemingly impossible quarter.
In the last 40 years, instead of rotting in the rubbish dumps of history as most people expected back in the '60s, the religious sensibility has undergone not just a renaissance, but assembled an increasingly fundamentalist militancy; Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and by far the biggest mover, Islam, have all been variously affected.
Against all this is what has happened to Islam over the same period. When I was born in late 1947, Islam had spent several centuries increasingly under western military and ideological hegemony. It was still something of an ideological sleepy hollow that had been forced to make its peace with technologically armed Christendom. There were small urban enclaves of liberally educated middle class Muslims who provisionally accepted the division of personal religion and public secularity. And in the colonial and semi colonial setting, the authorities were careful to keep Islamic Imams busy in apolitical traditional domestic governance, bolstering the power of the mosque and using its influence and legitimacy in modified Sharia courts, especially in the rural hinterlands.
The upshot of this was that Islam was substantially insulated from the corrosive turbulence that was progressively eating away at the power and influence of Christianity. And at the very moment European colonialism packed up and went home, and the Jewish fundamentalists came ‘home’ to ‘their’ spiritual homeland, the Islamic beast woke up.
Colonial regimes all recognised Islam to be potentially very dangerous. In 1898, at the battle of Omdurman, the British inflicted 25,000 fatal casualties on the Muslim army of the Mahdi, at cost of 500 British troops. The Muslim troops were prepared to take colossal casualties, and it went without saying that if they were properly armed and led, they would be a serious problem, especially in an insurgency which evens up the power of the weak against the strong.
The game totally change between 1945 and 1948, but it was local secular nationalist military dictatorships that initially got control of the post colonial infrastructure and socialist oppositions who were the supposed governments-in-waiting. The former lost legitimacy after they failed to dislodge Zionist occupation of the Muslim holy land. ‘Ungodly’ socialism was never going to make it with the devout, who remained, when they were not killing communists, seemingly quiescent, for the time being.
The US was seen to be a crusader power in league with the Jews and its social ideology and practices seemed in league with Sodom and Gomorrah, and a threat to Islamic rectitude and proper governance. And as the twentieth century waned, those perceptions deepened.
As American power declined in the 1970s, its weakness and capacity to dominate and control events slipped from its grasp, in a series of moves that more than anything demonstrated its incompetence and consolidated its increasingly defensive, reactive and ineffectual posture, as others took the initiative away from them. An imperial power knows it is in trouble when it loses control of its satraps, like Saddam Hussein forinstance.
Indonesia, while a long way from the politics of the Middle East, was a good example of the shift away from secularism. In 1948 it became an Islamically oriented secular nation state with a modern secular constitution and a communist opposition in need of massacre, which was duly performed in 1948 and 1965, mainly using Islamic agency. Under the American backed secular military dictatorship of Suharto, Islamic groups quietly and ‘apolitically’ organised themselves along increasingly strict and militant lines, although in Aceh, in Western Sumatra, Islamic militants fought a thirty year insurgency against the military to win enough autonomy to impose Sharia.
When at last Suharto was overthrown, religious zealotry suddenly appeared in force as well organised movements whose aims were to marginalize and eventually take over the secular state. The enormous demonstrations currently being organised against the Christian Chinese governor of Jakarta are an exemplar of how this is being accomplished.
In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has been a platform for Islamic takeover, spanning across from a serendipitous and perhaps rather temporary Caliphate, to dominating/pressuring/opposing what remains of secular statism. The dominant conflict will increasingly be not about religion v secular so much as sectarian Sunni v Shiite. The Arab secular middle class is decamping to Europe….because it no longer politically matters. Ironically, the Syrian despotism is one the last bastions of secular power
What we are witnessing in the Islamic world is the disestablishment of the secular estate as works-in-progress, varying in intensity depending on local circumstances. In places like Australia, the movement is quiescent because it is a small minority in a traditional western bourgeois democratic stronghold. They will toe the line until they reach a critical mass, and then increasing pressure will be applied, local liberal Muslims notwithstanding. The ill fated Australian grand mufti, Sheik Hilali, who was ill advised enough in 2007 to raise the Islamic question of female modesty had to be sent packing because the movement was in no position at all for a confrontation of any sort; even a minor one. That will change as that population increases and native conversion starts to take place, particularly as late indulgence capitalism’s social governance progressively collapses.
The liberal ideologues of this world have hardly registered any of this. They live in a secular western ideological bubble that continues to imagine it will or ought to dominate the ideological agenda and the future. The sudden collapse of their position both in the Islamic world and their own metropolitan hinterlands has been long in coming. And as in the Islamic world, the ideological rebellion in the West against the dominance of the liberal social administrators of indulgence capitalism has been boiling quietly for decades, until one day, it blew up in their faces. Trump. Voila; even as it shows to us how existentially dirt poor his constituencies have become. Financial hardship and cultural marginalization are the least of their problems, as drugs, crime and dysfunctional attitudes and behavior remorselessly destroy their social infrastructure…..and their children.
It is not a sudden decline and fall. This process will probably go on for 50-200 years. But at the end of it, there won’t be a single secular state left standing that isn’t in acute internal crisis, under siege and eyeballing eventual defeat.
The history of South and South East Asia is instructive. In 1400, the region was wholly dominated by Indo-Budhist principalities. 200 years later, they were mostly Muslim. And now, after a three hundred year sleep, they are back in business, with plenty to keep them busy and opportunities abounding.
These trends have been long in the making and likely have sufficient momentum already to make them very difficult to stop. But like anything, once the problem is recognized and moves are made to start building social and economic architecture that can compete with Islam and doesn’t ecologically destroy us all, we have extra chances and capital to bring to the great gaming table of history.
The Indians were able to slough off the Muslim Moguls and Indo-China managed to buttress itself sufficiently to keep most of them out and keep them as a manageably small community within. The Asian region is returning to where it left off when the European colonialists arrived, and Australia will be one of the testing grounds of that larger dynamic.
In the meantime, we can only admire and respect just how well Islam and Islamists have conserved themselves through the modern period and how dynamic they now are as a social agency and potential moulder of the future. And if we cannot match that and get hold of some of what they are having, they will eventually take our descendants into their fold. And that will be that, for the next millennium. Islam doesn’t do apostasy.