As the Covid disrupts the internationalist dream of a smoothly calibrated worldwide mechanism of personal, legal, and economic control, strange sepulchral voices can be heard issuing from the depths of the managerial and technocratic classes. For one example (from the Right), we may turn to today’s Spectator:
“The capacity for communication offered by 5G is stunning. It is much better to think of 5G as a network built for machines, since most of the network traffic will eventually be machine to machine. This will allow for massive data production, which will feed machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, which in turn will continue improving the technology in a giant information feed-back loop.”
(He then goes on to imply that the 5G should not only be built, but it should be a state monopoly–one horror on top of another.)
What is most singular here is that this author thinks the above scenario is mostly wonderful and at any rate “inevitable” (and the pandemic, for him, makes it only more so, more perfectly logical and necessary). Though this writer clearly styles himself something of a maverick and visionary, he is for that a stunningly blind one, for the only actual problem he sees with such a Skynet-like system–in which millions of objects per square mile are minutely controlled and catalogued at all times by machines and their most privileged handlers & architects–is literally just that China might take over too much of it. That the amount of information involved will completely outstrip any conceivable direct human need does not even register to him. That the self-improving “feedback loop” he envisions will likely birth increasingly uncontrollable monstrosities does not matter to him.
It is very much as if such persons are driven–possessed, really–by an insane, completely unreflective urge to accelerate the world towards complete surveillance and AI takeover as rapidly as possible. And this urge, it bears mentioning, almost exactly parallels the urge that may have driven biological scientists, in the pursuit of no less “inevitable” gain-of-function and vaccine research, to create the Covid. They are, I daresay, the same urge. I therefore fear that the conjuring of a monster virus is but the first of many baleful Faustian conjurings to come: the conjuring of an AI totalitarianism, for example, is not all that far away, especially with such “visionaries” at the helm.
These monopolist-statist-corporatist voices, fascinatingly, span the political spectrum (such as it is). Here is another Voice from the Abyss–speaking, of all places, at the leftist, sometime-anticorporate opinion site Counterpunch–on the “need” for massive nationalized industries and surveillance:
“…scale of companies will not be regarded as a political problem if they can both deliver for consumers and show the capacity of following political direction for what the public’s needs are”
The title of this section is, astoundingly, “Big Business is Good Business”, a bald non-sequitur if ever there was one. In short, behemoth corporations are no problem as long as they obey the State’s direction and mollify “consumers”.
“…We still need a more robust form of regulation for these corporate behemoths, but via a system of regulation that is “function-centric,” rather than size-centric”
Again, massive corporate consolidation in itself is suddenly no longer a concern at all, as long as the corporation does what the State needs of it!
“…Privacy advocates are already expressing concerns about a growing and overweening medical surveillance state. These surveillance concerns lack historical context […] serious health problems were met by hardline government policies […] there was an understanding that personal concessions had to be made to manage a huge population and an advanced society; the Constitution was not a suicide pact. […] In light of coronavirus, cost savings of incorporating biodata into immigration and customs are a no-brainer for governments, and are certain to cause friction with individuals who may not want to give blood or saliva to get a visa or work permit […] But the scales have tipped in the other direction.”
So: of course we will have to be scanned and probed and invasively catalogued by the Government from now on! Both Left and Right now agree: it’s simply not realistic (and a little quaint) to expect anything other than a population of technologically-micromanaged pawns in the grip of massive nationalized industries going forward, because coronavirus. This is all simply the price of living in an “advanced” society (though with the disintegration of the idea of Progress, what “advanced” really means grows more and more confused with every day, as I have discussed elsewhere).
To sum up: Voltaire’s Bastards have already pivoted in response to the coronavirus. The Answers have already been decided upon, and they are remarkably similar to the old Answers. As we speak, the carcass of the old “globalized” world is being carved up, and different pieces promised, dedicated, traded, repackaged, to moderately differing formations that are composed, however, mostly of the same actors as before.
The gist of it is that we are simply to go from creepily centralized and invasive internationalist technocrat management, to creepily centralized and invasive nationalist technocrat management. In reality, not one shred of the Bastards’ thinking has actually changed, and (surprise) they have already nominated themselves to lead this exciting new project. Not one expert, no matter how formerly committed to the international project and no matter how egregiously in error while pursuing that project, need be replaced!
One can sum up these shifts with a paraphrase of Orwell: We are at war with Internationalism. We have always been at war with Internationalism.
This, of course, was to be expected. As energy descent and the collapse of civilizational structures proceeds–greatly catalyzed but not ultimately caused by the Covid–a retrenchment of mass control to smaller and smaller scales can be expected, along with an increasingly desperate tightening of such control. The international monster may be slain, but the statist monster still has mileage left. And so the Architects are instinctively trying to re-center the situation in terms of what they know by restarting mid-20th century national managerialism in a mid-21st century world. That this will be only a temporary, compensatory stage no doubt is lost entirely on them: they have already blinked away any other possibility.
The US has for a while been much closer to a Chinese-style corporatist surveillance state than most would like to admit. But if these kinds of techno-autocratic voices get their way, we will get there in a matter of months. My only lingering question is, how did it come about that an outlet like Counterpunch now serves as a platform to proposals that are essentially contiguous with fascism?