Freedom perished in Rome. What about freedom in the United States?

Rome, the greatest ancient world power, owed its rise to a frugal, self-sacrificing peasantry that sent its sons into military service – except the eldest one, who remained on the farm. Indeed, at the beginning of its surprising ascendency, Rome could boast of a great abundance of children – the demographic sine-qua-non for its expansion. But the imperial successes, especially the victory over Carthage, which opened up northern Africa to the Romans as an almost limitless granary, undermined the strength of the Italic peasantry. The imported grain was so cheap that it was soon no longer able to hold its own against this competition. In contrast, the two hundred or so superrich Roman families owed their staggering wealth precisely to the fact that they had outsourced the supply base at the expense of their compatriots. At the same time, they had built a military-industrial complex to permanently fortify their rule not only in the conquered territories but also against the increasingly disenfranchised masses, whom they had  deprived of their economic subsistence. The outward sign of this historic betrayal by the ruling elite became manifest in a most conspicuous way. “Proles” – the most cherished wealth of peasants and the nation, who had provided the demographic basis for Rome’s rise to a world power had degenerated into despossessed “proles” – in other words, into superfluous human material.

In the face of such a painful social division

Rome had to suffer much more than just a popular a movement like Occupy Wallstreet. A civil war pitted the elite against the disenfranchised masses. The problem was the immense concentration of wealth and power in a few hands together with the powerlessness and impoverishment of the broad population. During the civil wars ravaging Rome before the final abdication of the Republic, wealth was temporarily suppressed in an extremely drastic manner. In the course of so-called “proscriptions” not only the material wealth was confiscated, but the heads of its owners were cut off as well. However, even this drastic action was not able to save the Republic from capitalist economics and the destruction of civil liberties. In hindsight the reasons seems evident: The outsourcing of production and the slave economy were objectively cheaper, and the military-industrial complex proved to be the most effective means of holding the giant empire together.

We know how the Civil War ended,

it led from the Republic to the Roman Empire. The masses helped a dictatorship to power, which acquired divine attributes in order to be able to destroy civil liberties in the name of God. But a price had to be paid for their loss, and for the further duration of the capitalist system. It consisted in an (almost) unconditional basic income and tittytainment for the masses carried out at state expense. Citizens  had no longer a say in public matters, but they were now fed by the state and bloodily entertained and intimidated in the infamous Roman way. In the second century, this arrangement worked so well that Edward Gibbon could even call this period one of the happier times in human history. It was, however, a happiness that proved fragile from the very start. In their relentless pursuit of individual wealth and personal power, the elite first abandoned solidarity with their countrymen, then most remaining values and morals. In particular, the mores of the highest greatest families appeared so scandalous that religious communities such as those of the Christians saw in them the prime cause of all corruption. This departure from all previously held values affected procreation. Especially in the richest families, the absence of children became the rule, as inheritance seemed better secured in the hands of slaves, to be replaced at any moment, than in the hands of one’s own, usually rather rebellious offspring. But that was by no means all. When values get sacrificed to mammon, even truth loses its value. Towards the end of the Republic, fake news emerged – a great statesman and thinker like Cicero, who still stubbornly defended truth, was murdered by the henchmen of Antonius.

The parallel with the events in the United States of America

seems evident. Since the present-day electorate can only decide between candidates sponsored by capital for the extraordinarily costly election campaigns, it is in fact the one-percent money and power elite that operates the preliminary choice of presidential candidates. In this way, democracy, has largely turned into a facade even in the United States. I use the word “largely” on purpose, because democracy has, of course, always been a rather fluid concept. Apart from very small communities or religious sects, it has never been realized in a pure form anywhere on out globe, but this should not prevent us from recognizing great differences between the states that call themselves “democratic. There is no doubt that today’s United States of America still allow its citizens a far greater say in public matters and much more freedom of expression than either the People’s Republic of China or Putin`s Russia.

Nevertheless, I see the present-day U.S.

as having reached a point that is oppressively analogous to Rome’s departure from the Republic. Donald Trump has made as little secret of his contempt for democracy and for truth as he has of his admiration for dictators of the kind of Kim Jong Un or for autocrats like Vladimir Putin. This unfortunate president certainly had the will to stage a coup d’état – he merely lacked the intellectual means and the stamina to do so. If after inciting his followers to break the law, he had brought the necessary organizational talent and perseverance into play (which he lacked both), January 6 could have well turned out a success for him. Anyway, once forty percent of a nation’s population no longer believes in the prevailing system, then its collapse is possible at any time.

For we should have no illusions:

The masses of the United States are revolting against current conditions for the same reason as the masses of Rome at the end of the Republic. Their labor and livelihood was outsourced because it can be produced more cheaply abroad – in this way more and more Americans saw their living standard reduced to Third World level. For the prosperity of their own population – that is their education, health and jobs – the “elite” of the one top one percent is no longer willing to undergo any sacrifices nor do they make any investments in the rotting infrastructure. The rich no longer invest money in their own country when they can get higher returns in China. The American elite betrays its own country just as did its Roman counterpart 2000 years ago. It is the glaring contrast between public poverty and concentrated private wealth that destabilizes modern America and brought Donald Trump to power (notwithstanding the fact that he himself figures as an embodiment of that evil).

Would it be theoretically conceivable that Joe Biden

or his subsequent successors turn the tide by taking decisive action against rising social inequality and mass discontent? The prescriptions for doing so abound on the left as well as on the right and, of course, in academia. The fact that a man like Trump was able to become president at all is, after all, primarily due to the rising discontent of the masses. Both camps even agree on some of the measures that should be taken. First of all, outsourced production (to China and other countries) would have to be brought back home; second, the rich would have to invest in the U.S. instead of China; third, the many wars the U.S. is waging abroad would have to be ended and money-guzzling military bases reduced. Not only Donald Trump voiced this intention, but that is what Bernie Sanders wants and all those who would prefer to lock the country up to the outside world and put an end to America’s costly global involvement. No wonder the impoverished masses and the stumbling middle class were perfectly happy with Trump’s slogan “America First.” Those who see their previous standard of living dwindling look for a savior, regardless of whether or not he achieves that goal democratically.

We know that in ancient Rome

none of these projects was realized, although the alternatives were as clear to the intellectuals of that time as they are to their successors today. The empire eventually perished from irreconcilable social antagonisms. Demographically bled dry, it was overrun and conquered in the fifth century by the child-rich hordes of the so-called barbarians.

Can a similar development be expected for the United States,

when their world empire begins to dissolve? This is a question that preoccupies the world. I think, however, that no example, not even the Roman one, can force the answer on us. History rhymes, but it need not repeat itself.

On the other hand, the course of history does not depend solely on the good intentions of the people shaping it. There are external conditions that restrict the human freedom of action. It is these barriers that make it highly likely that Joe Biden will not really stop the dismantling of American democracy. Even if a Bernie Sanders came to power, I don’t think he would be capable of doing so.

These external limits to good intentions

are due to the existence of competing nations – especially their military presence – combined with an accelerating depletion of those raw materials that no state can do without if it wants to guarantee its population the accustomed material standard of living. The development of modern technology in the military as well as in the civilian sphere cannot do without raw materials from other regions of the world – that is true even for Vladimir Putin’s giant empire, which is so richly blessed with raw materials. Competition for the exploitation of the remaining resources therefore enjoys the same high priority among the superpowers as it does among all economically emerging nations. The race for dwindling raw materials is decided by economic means (those paying more will get more) and by military power – often by both ways at the same time. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the struggle for resources has become increasingly intense, as entire continents (Africa and large parts of Asia), which previously enjoyed a largely self-sufficient, albeit poor, lifestyle, now demand for themselves the same civilizational prosperity as the states of the West. In this global race, isolation is no longer an option, since it is only possible at the price of freezing one’s own development while being technologically overtaken. This is precisely why the U.S. is so much afraid of China.

But if seclusion is out of the question for the U.S.,

and if, furthermore, the military-industrial complex is indispensable to maintain its status as superpower; if, moreover, large-scale capitalist enterprises continue to prove as economically efficient as they were in ancient Rome, and the technical devices of daily use can be produced much more cheaply in other regions (such as China), so that a large-scale revival of the U.S.’s own industries is out of the question, then the likelihood is that the United States will follow Rome in sacrificing more and more freedom and democracy to economic efficiency. The material prerequisites and ideological justifications for this procedure are already in place. Instead of providing the masses now rendered superfluous within the economy with work and self-esteem, they will be satisfied – as they were two thousand years ago – with a (more or less) unconditional basic survival income and a hefty dose of tittytainment. Autocrats of the kind of Donald Trump will then establish a kind of modern emperorship, as it already exists under Xi Jinping in China and under Putin in Russia.

So, TINA remains our last word –

there is no alternative? Yes and no. As long as the world is consumed in the race for riches and power, where the great powers impose the laws of action on each other and on the rest of the world, things cannot be expected to change. A farewell to capitalism, the prevention of climate change and a better society are out of the question, because anyone trying to realize these goals will pay for his courage with dependence and, finally with vassalage or even destruction. Europe only needs to look back into its long history of colonization. None of the many militarily inferior states could hope that its Christian foes would reward them for having presenting their left cheek after being beaten on the right. They were simply subdued and exploited. Therefore, the race itself must end before we can hope for a better world.

Meritocracy – should Technology rule?

In 1958, a young British author achieved overnight fame with his satirical writing “The Rise of the Meritocracy”. He had correctly identified a trend of the times. Basically, this trend was not particularly new; it had begun in the 18th century, when using their knowledge and skills commoners conquered more and more of those prestigious places that had until then fallen to the nobility due to the privileges of birth. But after 1945, at the end of the fratricidal Thirty Years’ War, the world lay in ruins and knowledge and skill were in particularly high demand. Overnight, as it were, outstanding talent was able to achieve the greatest impact and wealth – most visibly in the United States, where world-dominating companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, etc. were launched by individual pioneers and quickly attained the status of global corporations. Elon Musk, a technical all-round genius who has been just as imaginative and successful in the field of communications technology as he has been in car manufacturing, the space industry and brain research, became a symbol of such superior personal ability. People like him are universally admired, because no one can deny that they owe their fame, rank and wealth primarily to their own above-average skills.

Why did Michael Young write his book “The Rise of the Meritocracy”

as a satire rather than a paean to the most capable men of his time? Will anyone seriously take offense at the fact that the privileges of birth have finally been replaced by individual ability?

Perhaps they will, the argument referring to justice being indeed much more complex. For, are we not, after all, again dealing with a privilege of birth when a Mozart, Beethoven or Bach is born with extraordinary talent for music or an Elon Musk with a special talent for technology? Admittedly, this privilege was not bestowed upon them by society, as is the case with princely or royal titles. In this case, it is nature itself that is responsible – depending on one’s inclination, one may imagine nature to be represented by evolution or God.

Is it acceptable from a point of justice – we may well ask ourselves – that people are born with different talents? Even those who do not want to ask this question are still confronted with the problem whether to give society the right to grant additional awards and rewards to those who are already at an advantage over their fellow human beings due to innate talent? Society thereby only exacerbates existing natural differences.

Obviously, such questions are difficult to answer,

especially since social differences additionally contribute to offering natural talents very different development opportunities. As Pisa studies have shown, even in Germany children from the middle class have a much better chance of finding well-paid jobs than those from lower social strata. The financial situation of ones parents – once again the fortuitous result of birth – thus plays a decisive role in the prospects and happiness of a person’s life. Michael Young had his reasons for being skeptical about the rise of the most capable.

In a departure from Young, I would, however, like to examine meritocracy

from a different perspective. I assume that an overwhelming majority of contemporaries think it is perfectly good and right that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk have global influence and power because they made a name for themselves through spectacular inventions. In contrast, they have for about three centuries fundamentally rejected being ruled by princes, barons, rajahs, sultans, kings and dictators whose only merit is their descent from high-born parents. If we take this acceptance of meritocracy for granted, we are, nevertheless, left with an extremely interesting and, as we shall see, very troubling question: what will be the future social order emerging on such a basis?

A look at the billions all over the world,

who devote a substantial share of their life time to the cell phones in their hands, makes it easier to get to grips with our problem. Ninety-nine percent know how to use the device. Less than one percent know why and how it works, and an infinitesimally small fraction of the latter would be able to redevelop the device if it suddenly disappeared due to some catastrophe.

This contrast between an overwhelming majority of ignorant users and a vanishing minority of experts deepens with each passing day – and it does so in an inescapable way, because technological progress means nothing else but growing complexity – knowledge and skill being increasingly and infinitely widened and deepened. The consequences for society will be radical and can easily be foreseen.

In the future, a decreasing number of people

will still be capable of understanding complex technologies. This is unavoidable as the demands on the technical intelligence of researchers and engineers are increasing as knowledge deepens. It is true that subjects are becoming more and more divided, but each subject is getting a broader base and at the same time the knowledge pyramid is reaching higher. This process of increasing complexity of knowledge is in the nature of things and therefore inevitable. Accordingly, the demands on human intelligence become higher and higher, while the Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence within the population is a constant, changing at most slightly in the course of centuries.

The inevitable consequence is worldwide headhunting,

where those countries are at an advantage that either have the greatest potential of a well-trained population (e.g. Japan, South Korea, China) or the greatest financial means to lure talent from all over the world with high salaries (e.g. USA and other Western countries). At the present day, there is a general competition for the funds of investors and for the technologically trained intelligentsia all over the world. The pool of talent that can be drawn from is now expanding to include all of Asia and soon Africa as well.

But globalization only temporarily alleviates the pressure to tap ever greater intelligence potential. The Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence and the demands due to rising technological complexity contradict each other. And this will have a consequence that will change the structure of future society in a profound way. What we already observe at present will deepen dramatically in the future: the gap between a majority that passively enjoys the fruits of technological complexity on the one hand, and on the other, technical geniuses like Elon Musk and his ilk, who invent, plan and understand what they are dealing with. Headhunting for above-average intelligence will inevitably be accompanied by growing inequality of social recognition and reward.

The loss of a common language

The masters and geniuses of technology and science have less and less in common with their fellow human beings. An astrophysicist, a neurological expert or a drosophila researcher each live in their own bubbles of highly specialized knowledge. The astrophysicist can really communicate only with other astrophysicists, be it in China or in the USA, it is merely the coincidence of birth that still connects him with his compatriots. The natural sciences have created a type of human being for whom national and cultural affiliation plays no more than a subordinate role, because the laws of nature, to whose knowledge he devotes his life, exist independently of national and cultural borders.

This is tantamount to a loss of meaning

The modern natural sciences that emerged in the 17th century created, for the first time in history, a social class that is allowed to act in a socially meaningless way. Until then, this freedom had nowhere existed in any human society. Among hunter-gatherers, the meaning of daily actions was as directly prescribed to the few members of the horde as is the role of each animal in a pack of lions while they are hunting. In later agrarian societies after the Neolithic Revolution, the actions of each social class were visibly related to the good of the whole. The farmer had to feed everyone, the nobility had to provide defense, the clergy had to explain the world, and the artisans were responsible for keeping the material framework of society in repair.

Today there are countless professions,

whose designation alone is exotic so that their purpose has to be circumstantially explained to the average citizen in order for him to grasp their meaning, e.g. drosophila researcher, ocularist, industrial climber, to name but a few from a steadily growing plethora of examples. But the most exotic professions come about as a result of the broader and broader research foci within the natural sciences. Only in the case of medical research, is their meaning immediately comprehensible to the layman. A doctor may be a specialist in researching a particular drug for the cure of an equally particular organ of the human body, but the meaning of what he does remains evident: he cures people.

On the other hand, the meaning of our knowledge

about the structure of atoms or galaxies is not obvious at all. Until recently, mankind knew nothing about black holes, red giants, protons and electrons, and yet it has existed on this planet for more than a million years. Whether we can count on a further period of this length, indeed, whether we can count on even the next hundred years, is by no means settled. The reason for this uncertainty lies exactly in the fact that we have abandoned the question of meaning. For quite some time meaning did not seem to matter at all, because the industrial revolution and ist main agent, technological meritocracy, produced an unbelievable upswing in living conditions and for many people they still do so today. That is why the research that made this process possible in the first place was generally credited as being “good” and highly “meaningful”.

The industrial revolution, recently also called Anthropocene,

has undoubtedly brought about the most profound of all upheavals in human history. As recently as the last century, a question about its meaning seemed simply superfluous. A growing number of people worldwide gained access to greater material well-being. In the states of the West, this goal was realized to such a high degree in the second half of the twentieth century that some could afford the luxury of rejecting the goal itself as “materialistic” and asking for higher goals. But wherever people still live in terrible poverty, that is, in large parts of Asia, in Africa or South America there is no room for such doubts. There, people follow the example of China. First, they want to achieve the Western standard of living, and later they may afford themselves the luxury of striving for something higher – for the time being, the striving for material prosperity exhausts the range of meaning.

But what, if meaning turns into nonsense?

The Industrial Revolution has made the Anthropocene possible, in other words, the unrestricted domination of the planet by human beings. The exploitation of all available resources, especially fossil energy, has so increased the food supply that Homo sapiens has increased its numbers more than sevenfold in a mere blink of history. The consequences are mega-metropolises that turn entire landscapes into deserts of concrete, with more and more space beyond those cities needed for the production of food so that it too must be used as a kind of agrarian desert where other species are reduced to a minimum. The best-known example is the Amazon rainforests transformed into fields for growing soy. However, the same process started much earlier in a prosperous country like Germany. Here, natural forests have predominantly given way to spruce plantations, where trees are planted in military order lined up like tin soldiers.

Obviously, acquiring wealth becomes meaningless when a manifold increase in population thwarts the increase in global per capita wealth and when, at the same time, the resources needed for local wealth increase are largely consumed by the generation currently living, so that future generations will have to be content with a devastated and exhausted globe.

Unfortunately, a word like “devastated” is anything but an exaggeration. We are poisoning the air with the climate poison CO2, we are poisoning the oceans with plastic and thousands of other industrial products, we are reducing the yield and usable area of the soil with garbage and the addition of artificial nutrients that destroy the humus. Recently, we are even littering the ionosphere as ubiquitous space debris becomes a threat to future space travel.

Technical knowledge and research are not “value-neutral”,

as often claimed, they are forces which, on the contrary, exert a direct influence on our values. It is our immensely increased knowledge, it is technological meritocracy that, in the past three hundred years, have transformed the world so comprehensively that the question of meaning has become the most urgent of all.

Meaning not only threatens to turn into nonsense but into madness,

once our knowledge not only deepens the social divide between technical laymen and experts, but its misuse finally becomes a threat to all mankind. Regardless of whether a researcher develops a drug that helps millions to survive, or whether he explores the physical prerequisites for a new, even more efficient bomb, or the chemical basis for an even more effective nerve poison – in all cases he is sure to win the Nobel Prize if his research represents a breakthrough in his respective field. Knowing nature and its laws better and better has generally been judged and appreciated as meaningful for three centuries, although it is precisely this knowledge that enables mankind to extinguish itself for the first time.

The question of meaning was put aside,

as if knowledge and research were always and essentially good, even if they equip us with more and more effective instruments of self-destruction.  Man has, so to speak, divided himself into two halves: to the knowing and researching spirit he ascribes innocence, the acting man alone is supposed to bear responsibility. Thus, it comes that all larger states employ thousands of researchers with the production of weapons of mass destruction, the researchers themselves, however, decline all responsibility. What others do with their knowledge is none of their business.

Not everyone thought that way. In a few cases, it is a great researcher himself who sees through the fatal irresponsibility. 

Albert Einstein contributed substantially to the development of the final bomb. At the end of his life, however, he wondered about the meaning of what he had been doing. He saw no other way out to cope with the new threat than putting a definite end to the global race for greater economic and military power. But this would require the final step toward a united world. Only a world government would have the possibility to really prevent this race towards the abyss. It may be added that only such a world-uniting power would be able to put a stop to the progressive desolation and destruction of the planet.

Any not well-disposed reader is likely to protest

at this point at the latest. Why, Mr. Jenner, do you end a not entirely uninteresting essay with such unrealistic proposals? Your readers have to fight against Corona and unemployment, the economy as a whole against decline and enormous debts, but you talk about the necessity of a world government, which is of no interest to any of us if only because nobody has the possibility to bring it about by his own actions!

That’s right! All I can say is that this is precisely the tragedy and danger of our current situation. A meritocracy of the technologically most powerful has been wreaking havoc on nature for three hundred years – and with increasing speed and efficiency. It works on behalf of superpowers whose end-time weapons it increases in scale and lethal perfection with every passing year. Actually, it should be obvious to everyone that the dangers involved are infinitely greater than Corona, unemployment and swelling debt. Nevertheless, the abyss towards which we are heading by the destruction of nature and the perfection of end-time weapons hardly seems to be of general interest – as if it were no more than the invention of malicious imagination. Should we really leave our fate to a meritocracy that to this day does not ask itself the question about the meaning, nonsense and madness of its actions?

Corona – but what about the role of humanness and China?

From the outset, two positions stood in sharp opposition to each other. Up to the present day, many physicians and epidemologists maintain, that in historical comparison Covid-19 is a harmless event – in other terms the measures taken against it must be considered excessive. This opinion is supported by the fact that, from a statistical point of view, only older people beyond their sixties show a significantly increased mortality, while the vast majority of younger people do not even notice the infection. The thesis is further confirmed by comparison with the Spanish flu of 1918 and even more so  the outbreaks of plague epidemics, which regularly afflicted the world until a century ago and caused mass casualties among entire populations.

Cynics may add to this comparison

the observation that, on statistical average, the increased mortality of the elderly probably does not reduce their lives by more than five years at the most (in individual cases the range of variation may, of course, vary from zero to twenty years).*1* Do we not constantly hear lamentations in all developed countries to the effect that the young generation is hardly able to bear the burden of pensions for a steadily aging population? From this point of view, a corona-related reduction of life expectancy by about half a decade would certainly represent a noticeable gain for the national economy, all the more so as about ninety percent of health care costs are eaten up during the final years of human life.

Cynical considerations of this kind may be suspected in those circles which protest loudly and often violently against the restrictions which, because of Corona, limit personal freedom, the accustomed way of life and economic activities. But up to now they are definitely confined to a minority.

All the more astonishing is the worldwide consensus

in the fight against corona. While the response to the epidemic varied during the first wave in the early 2020s – with Sweden, the Netherlands and Great Britain initially doing nothing about it -, at the present time there seems to exist no state that ignores the disease. Instead they all take more or less harsh measures including a far-reaching freeze of economic activity. In this respect, authoritarian-ruled states such as Russia and China behave just like the liberal states of the West (the only exception being the United States).

This global unity of attitude and behavior is an amazing, an almost unbelievable fact. If it is true that the effects of the disease on mortality are comparatively harmless, since – statistically speaking – they hardly affect the young, working part of the population, how come that all states worldwide are fighting such a minor calamity with utmost determination? Why do they risk the most serious damage to their economies comparable only to the onslaught produced by the Great Depression almost a hundred years ago? Obviously, the fight against the epidemic has turned into a fight against the economy. Unemployment has skyrocketed everywhere, livelihoods are being wiped out, and entire industries such as air traffic have been swept away. Besides, more and more countries are running up astronomical debts, thus placing an even greater burden on the younger generation. In short, the cure for Covid-19 appears to be at least as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than the disease itself.

The answer to this paradox

is not obvious at first glance, because a mere balancing between the disease and the consequences of the medicine used against it does not lead us any further. Indeed, it is not theory that enlightens us about this enigma, but facts – facts globally perceived as unbearable.

China has felt the hideous effects of several epidemics in previous years, while the rest of the world has seen on television screens what happened during the first wave in Lombardy, especially in Bergamo, and subsequently in Spain. It sounds harmless only in theory that old people live on average about five years less. In practice, this amounted to as many elderly people dying within a single month as would otherwise have died spread over the entire five years they would – on average – have lived without the epidemic that suddenly shortened their lives. In other words, mass deaths occur within a very short period of time with hospitals unable to cope with them. And in this context, there is also something to be said about those who put all the blame on an underdeveloped health care system. No country is so wealthy that it can afford a healthcare system that permanently provides all those extremely expensive intensive care beds needed only in emergencies that occur once or twice in a century.

The sight of horror produced by mass dying

awakened people and states. No government (with the exception of that of Donald Trump) wants to appear to the world public so barbaric as to let its elderly people die in the streets in front of overcrowded hospitals. Our age of omnipresent media has its serious weaknesses, but in this case it has also shown an unexpected strength. We witnessed a new humanness reaching from China to Russia and Europe. A common aversion to human suffering led states to accept serious damage to their economy just to avoid being pilloried in front of global public opinion. In this sense, the visitation by Corona has shown us, despite all the damage it has otherwise wrought and continues to bring upon us, a better world that gives cause for hope.

But there is no reason to exaggerate this point

The most incompetent (and dangerous) president the United States ever had to cope with could think of nothing better than to look for a culprit, which, of course, he spotted in China. But science has long since proven that Covid-19 already existed in Italy, Spain, and likewise in the United States towards the end of 2019. It is true that the first mass outbreak of the epidemy occurred in China, where initially it was deliberately covered up. But no sooner had the Chinese state recognized the real danger than it combated the invisible enemy with utmost efforts and efficiency within a very short time. From then on, the Chinese government succeeded in keeping no less than a fifth of mankind – a population of 1.4 billion – practically free of corona. At present and on a daily basis, there are seldom more than about twenty cases registered in the whole country, most of them imported from outside. The Chinese can live a normal life, the economy is booming and growing. Compared to the rest of the world and its futile efforts to cope with the crisis, this is nothing less than a miracle.

Are we allowed to say something good about China,

when its population is monitored by the state and entire minorities such as the Uyghurs disappear into concentration camps? Or put in a more general way, is it permissible to speak in positive terms about people, states or events when these must be judged as bad in many other respects?

In my opinion, there is only one correct answer to this question, namely an emphatic “yes.” Democracy only functions if one praises one’s political opponent for doing the right thing just as much as one rebukes him for everything one considers wrong. Nothing is more destructive than a division into friend and foe, where some are considered the incarnation of good while others are thought to inhabit the realm of evil. Just like a functioning democracy, the world community as a whole will only live in peaceful coexistence after we abandon painting the world in black-and-white.

When comparing how authoritarian China and freedom-loving US behave towards corona, it seems evident that in the first case we must speak of a miracle of scientifically targeted measures. China has suffered a minimum number of deaths, and even those only during the first three months of the epidemic. In contrast, the American approach under Donald Trump – if one can speak of any approach at all – is tantamount to total failure. Meanwhile, the U.S. has suffered more deaths due to Corona than during World War II (about 300,000).

The situation is even more paradoxical. The United States can still boast of being home to some of the world’s best scientists especially in the field of epidemiology; in this respect they are certainly superior to China. Yet China has followed their advice exactly, while Trump and his partisan politicians were not able or even willing to do so. On the contrary, the US administration was concerned with muzzling the scientists.

Command or freedom?

At this point, it should, of course, be noted that for many, the Chinese miracle is not a miracle at all. This explains why, in the West, neither politicians nor published opinion regard China as an astonishing example – let alone one they recommend for imitation. It rather seems to be a foregone conclusion how to depreciate China’s success and embellish our own failure. There, we are dealing with a centrally controlled command structure, whereas in Western countries, we are restrained by the demands of freedom. That is why we should not be surprised that Western countries, with their constitutionally guaranteed respect for the rights of their citizens, can and will never impose such drastic measures. This statement usually ends all discussion on China.

I consider this argumentation not only misleading but wrong, although it is beyond doubt that people in the West enjoy far greater freedom and far more rights than in China. But this statement though correct disregards a point of great importance. Every state, including the states of the West, sacrifices the liberties of its citizens when the welfare of all is at stake. For this is precisely the task of any goverment: to enforce the interests of all against special interests and, if necessary, to protect against them if they harm the common good.  When a new transport link like motor- or railway is to be established or mineral resources are found in private property, the state naturally claims a superior right to limit or even completely suspend the subordinate rights of individual citizens in view of the common good. It proceeds in a similar way when evacuating thousands of citizens – by force if necessary -, if somewhere a bomb left over from the last war must be defused. For the common good, governments also prevent us from putting private currencies into circulation or to enact special laws on parts of the national territory. In the case of an enemy attack with electronic, chemical, bacterial or other weapons, all states suspend most civil liberties anyway. And it is not only the government which encroaches on personal freedom, the same is even done by private corporations without any regard for the general welfare when they sacrifice for their own interests and against the will of concerned citizens untouched landscapes, intact biotopes etc.

In other words, the state – any state – sacrifices special interests and individual liberties not only when common welfare is at stake, but often enough it condones such encroachment even when powerful special interests enforce it against the general interest.

Along with wars, epidemics are among the most serious threats to general welfare. For this reason, they justify far-reaching encroachments on the civil liberties of citizens – provided that they are limited in time and that the resulting benefit far outweighs the temporary harm.

Corona provides a classic example of the benefits

of consistent rule enforcement, as demonstrated by China with resounding success. This success was by no means the result of arbitrary action, but of strict adherence to scientific findings. Science leaves no doubt about the effectiveness of decisive action with regard to pandemics. After completely isolating for three weeks all inhabitants of a pandemic stricken area (e.g., a large city like Wuhan with several million people), the disease will be averted for good. The symptomless infected will no longer be contagious, the symptomatic ones will have been delivered to normal or field hospitals under surveillance, and less than one percent of the infected will have died. If isolation did not succeed one hundred percent, then constant testing will assure that each new case will be tracked for all its contacts – a method made much easier by the fact that people are only allowed to move freely if their cell phone has an app that accurately records their movements and encounters during that time.

This is the scientifically sanctioned way adopted by China. For almost three months, the country froze the life of an entire city (launching huge provisional sickbay at the same time). During this time, it imposed great restrictions on its people, but what would have been the alternative? Given its population of almost one and a half billion, it would otherwise have suffered at least three times as many casualties as the United States States and would be involved in a permanent fight against Corona – as the rest of the world is to this day. Of course, the imposed surveillance by a cell phone app is a massive invasion of citizens’ privacy, but would anybody seriously argue that such a temporary interference constitutes a greater violation of human rights than the deaths of 300,000 citizens dying in agony in the United States alone?

Why did the West prove so shamefully inept

in its fight against Corona? Is the reason to be found in the love of freedom of Western citizens, who are so attached to it that they do not brook the slightest restriction? That is what propaganda wants us to believe, but I am afraid that this is nothing more than a rather hypocritical self-deception. As I just tried to show, even in Western democracies liberties are abrogated in many different ways – sometimes inevitably, if that is done for the common good, but often arbitrarily, e.g. for powerful special interests.

No, the real reason for the failure of Western states is unfortunately quite different: the fear of governments of their citizens. In theory, a democratically elected leadership could impose the same drastic measures as China for a limited period of time if this can be justified as necessary for the common good. But it does not dare to do so because its fear of an opposition vehemently protesting against them. And this fear is normally stronger than sound reason, which would lead it to follow the advice of scientific experts. On many issues, especially when it comes to social justice and shaping the future, science can tell us little because values play a decisive role. But in disease control science can provide rules whose effectiveness is beyond doubt. Anybody can see the proof in the great example of China and the glaring failure of the West.

*1* The figure of an average of five years of reduced life expectancy is a mere estimate. Based on the available data, the actual value could be calculated precisely. However, since a difference of two or three years is irrelevant for the argument, I have refrained from doing so.

Yes, we can – No, we must! Build a better, sustainable World

When contemporaries talk about the dark years of Nazi rule, they want to make us believe, consciously or not, that they themselves would have been immune to the poison of inhuman propaganda. The fact is, however, that about 99 percent of Germans did not openly resist the regime, and a large part of them were eager to clap their hands at the big parades. Only a few took refuge in a kind of internal emigration offering invisible and silent resistance. Those, who today pretend to know precisely how they would have acted in those somber times, can muster hardly even one percent probability that they would have actually put their own lives at risk through open resistance.

When people have the bad luck

to live in a dictatorship which nips in the bud any open resistance, they have no choice but to close their mouths if they do not want to expose themselves and their relatives to immediate danger. Only uncritical later born ones imagine that they would have been the exceptions, that is the few opponents or even resistance fighters. They behave like people believing in former lives. When asked what they figure out to have represented in earlier times, they invariably assume the roles of the greats: Napoleons, Caesars, or Alexander, although the probability that they were merely part of the overwhelming majority of poor servants, slaves, or peasants is immensely greater.

Meanwhile, few people doubt

that we humans are social beings, who find it infinitely painful not to belong to some group of like-minded fellows. In the long run, we cannot stand to being looked down upon by others or being cut off as outsiders. It is not only external pressure that causes us to adapt to others, but the same pressure also comes from within each of us. Without a common language and common convictions, that is, some common identity, people find it hard to live. This is precisely why it is such a terrible misfortune when a criminal regime abuses this basic need for common language, convictions and identity for its own purposes.

To avoid being seen as eccentrics by their peers, many then adopt opinions and actions they would previously have vigorously rejected. The hatred that Hitler stirred up against the Jews had appeared offensive to many people, so they looked all the more for reasons to justify their silence. Did Germany not regain much prestige abroad? And had the regime not succeeded in ending the terrible unemployment within the country in a very short time? Very few understood that in order to pay off the resulting debts, the regime expropriated the Jews then robbed in merciless wars all of Europe.

Even regimes that, in comparison to Hitler’s thousand-year Reich

cause infinitely less suffering and harm, can count on our social needs as long as they are able to produce some undeniable achievements. Vladimir Putin successfully ended the chaos of the 1990s (partly promoted by the West); he has given his country’s economy a remarkable boost despite Western sanctions, and with a surprisingly effective armament has turned Russia into a superpower again – a power that has nothing to fear from anyone but terrifies the rest of the world with its latest nine-times supersonic nuclear missiles that no existing ballistic defense is able to intercept. For these achievements Russians are very grateful and willing to accept the crimes of their leadership: the occupation of Crimea in violation of international law and the unbroken chain of murders and assassinations of resistant opposition members.

It is no different with China

Anyone who believes that the one-party system there is built on shaky foundations is completely mistaken about this rapidly rising country. In reality, American democracy is currently much more at risk of imminent collapse than the regime in Beijing. While a civil war and final transition of the greatest Western democracy to an authoritarian system under presidents like Donald Trump now seems entirely possible, China is showing the world a model of stability. The Muslim minorities in Xin Jiang and the people of Tibet are ruthlessly oppressed, but this is accepted by the majority, because the government can justly claim that no other regime ever brought material prosperity in so short a time to a people bitterly poor still half a century ago. It now seems likely that the billion-strong nation will reach 75 percent of the American gross national product as early as next year.

Everything in China is new, monumental and nowhere else do people believe so unconditionally in the blessings of science. In the fight against Covid-19, the country strictly followed the recommendations of its expert epidemiologists and achieved a resounding success, while Western countries, above all the USA, are completely incapable of decisive action due to rampant internal dissent. Nothing is new in the US, far from it: the infrastructure is crumbling and is threatened by decay, much like in Third World countries. Only American science still remains a leader in many fields, but it must increasingly assert itself against a superiority of medieval creationists and fake news propagandists. Meanwhile, China’s government rides on a wave of success, it is silencing the opposition with an argument that is hard to contradict. We will make you rich and admired all over the world – what more do you want? What has the American one percent plutocracy to offer? It has made itself rich above all others while a majority got relatively poorer. No wonder, then, that democracy is losing more and more credibility in its oldest homeland.

Dictatorships remain in power for so long,

as a majority believes their promises. The later born ones should therefore be honest and not contradict probability. 99 percent will always shrink back from any statement or action that a resolute regime punishes with labor camps or death: they prefer to cooperate and will rather behave as opportunists. We may count those among the chosen few who at least do not take part in the general adulation and keep an inner distance – in dictatorships this is the only kind of resistance that does not endanger their lives.

Accordingly, there are situations in which people are almost powerless

This is an important lesson, because today you cannot talk about any topic without being confronted with an immediate objection: “But what can we do?” During most epochs of human history, 95% of all human beings could do little or nothing, if one understands by that the change of a given political and social order. At best, they could – even under the Nazis – preserve their inner freedom. During the thirteen years of the Third Reich, was there the slightest possibility for individuals to create another better world? Certainly not! There was only the possibility to keep a consciousness of decency and truth in one’s head and to preserve this ideal for future times.

What does this look into the past have to do with our present situation?

At first glance very little, but at second glance very much. Nobody has to fear for his life, even if he represents the most adventurous or even downright insane views, as for example the proselytes of the QAnon movement. In Western countries this freedom even extends to the president of a world power, who may openly disregard and discredit elementary truths of science. Not only ludicrous opinions, but obvious fakes have conquered the public life in the United States and elsewhere and are not only tolerated by disoriented masses but frenetically applauded when emanating from the very apex of political power.

This is the first thing in common with a dark past

In Germany we involuntarily think of the jeering crowds that cheered Goebbels or Hitler. But as a matter of fact, we gave a farewell to the freedom of thought just a decade ago. A striking break in Germany’s intellectual history was the way the country’s intelligentsia dealt with Thilo Sarrazin. Even those who did not agree with the opinions of the former social democratic senator, should have said with Voltaire that he not only had the right to express them, but that his fears should be taken seriously.

But there was no willingness to do so. It was considered unforgivable that he questioned the self-image of his compatriots, according to which they had thoroughly “overcome” their past and could not only boast of the greatest tolerance toward strangers, but even lived in the greatest harmony with them. Sarrazin denied this and insisted that cultural differences acquired in youth can be so persistent as to become a serious, insurmountable obstacle to a mutual beneficial coexistence. Self-righteous German intellectuals did not want to hear such admonitions. From the outset, a real intellectual confrontation with Sarrazin’s theses was therefore out of the question. What was to be heard instead was a goat’s song of indignation all over Germany and Austria, where the self-declared defenders of political correctness demonstrated their abysmal contempt for a man, who merely repeated what serious scientists had long before him said and proved with relevant numbers in lots of unheeded scientific articles. Sarrazin’s only scientifically untenable fault had been that at one point he confused culture with biology attributing a special gene to the Jews.

Only German Chancellor Merkel made a valid objection

The book was “not helpful,” she said. That’s right. In the scarcest conceivable formula, she touched upon the extremely difficult problem of uncomfortable, sometimes really destructive truth. As already mentioned, in his book “Deutschland schafft sich ab! (Germany abolishes itself) Sarrazin had only presented insights that were not at all controversial in professional circles. But it cannot be denied that his insights were in no way helpful if Germans wanted to successfully integrate strangers and win their confidence.

Does this constitute a valid argument to suppress all unhelpful truths? Certainly not. The great damage was not caused by the book but by the furious outcry of its enemies. Had it not been for the witch hunt that followed its publication, the book “Germany abolishes itself” would hardly have caused greater damage, but it would have saved the government from recklessly accepting more foreigners into the country than the population is ready to welcome with active help instead of being overpowered by distrust and finally xenophobia. I guess that the sober civil servant Sarrazin, so totally averse to fanaticism, never wanted to achieve more.

The nationwide outrage of the self-righteous,

which at that time included above all people who did not necessarily shine with more knowledge and argumentative intelligence, but who insisted all the more on their moral superiority, marks the beginning of an intellectual regression in Germany called “political correctness” elsewhere. The rapid progress of this new pressure for conformity is now everywhere to be seen. Especially in American politics under President Trump, who elevated lying and the whitewashing of problems to the rank of a working principle.

But we are hardly in a better position in view of those imminent challenges that currently worry us far more than immigration. As far as the latter is concerned, we did perhaps really manage – at least for the time being – to turn foreigners into good and equal citizens who enrich our societies. Provided, of course, that in the coming years there will not be millions of new asylum seekers who bring the specter of xenophobia back to life. But now there are other problems or rather crises that threaten us a lot more. “Yes, we can” has a much less convincing ring, though it is certainly true that “we must” overcome them.

Here, of course, I am thinking first and foremost of the great environmental and climate crisis,

which will remain with us even when there will be no more talk of Corona. But what does actually happen? In a grotesque way, discussions are dominated by taboos and bans on speaking and thinking. The freedom to openly speak ones mind is being deliberately destroyed by the outraged, the wishful thinkers, the populists, the hypocrites and the reptile conjurors of political correctness.

Bertrand Russell, at his time a globally respected mouthpiece of a left-wing world conscience, was still allowed to say what is anathema today, namely that humanity is destroying itself through uninhibited reproduction and that nature will take revenge if mankind were to prove unable to oppose this development with the means of intelligence, namely targeted family planning. In this case, nature, so Russell, would just mobilize its usual apocalyptic horsemen, namely wars, epidemics, etc. Nobody today is allowed to utter such an elementary truth. Such freedom has been destroyed, not least by a well-known Austrian writer who populistically distorted Russell’s warning by conjuring up the horror image of “superfluous human beings” – as if family planning meant that we wanted to eliminate our fellows.

Arnold Toynbee, one of the most renowned historians of modernity, could still maintain that the fossil-industrial revolution invented in Great Britain would probably be no more than an interlude in history, because in the future humanity must once again reduce its consumption of resources to an ecologically acceptable minimum while putting a definite end to the poisoning of nature produced by the remains of consumption.

But the most clear-sighted thinker, whose entire life’s work was to warn of and to avert the ecological catastrophe, is undoubtedly Herman Daly, who may therefore rightfully be considered the “pope” of ecological enlightenment. Daly never shied away from speaking the truth without any compromise. For example, he explained that none of the usual measures, such as taxes, help against the squandering of resources, but only definite upper limits on their consumption. But these could only be adhered to if states decoupled their economies from each other so that each of them was responsible for consumption and the poisons it produced. Daly also clearly recognized that Karl Marx’s definition of exploitation was too narrow. Exploitation also occurs when the wealthy classes encourage the proliferation of the poorer ones in order to secure a constant supply of cheap labor (it is no coincidence that the poor in ancient Rome were already called proletarians, that is child-makers). As a scientist of his time, he was still allowed to state such and similar unsavory truths. Today the hypocrites, trivializers, and beautifiers shiver with indignation when confronted with such insights.

But the resistance always gets really fierce when cherished illusions are frontally attacked. Under the prevailing political conditions, a green revolution is simply impossible. We are just as powerless as people were under the National Socialist regime. Admittedly, we can take all kinds of positive actions on a small scale – under National Socialism Germans were able to do so as well. Within their own families they could do a lot to ensure private peace. But it was, of course, an illusion to believe that in this way the crimes of the regime could be prevented.

With regard to the climate crisis, we find ourselves in exactly the same situation. We can certainly vote for the Greens, give up air travel, some may change the car for a bicycle and even deny themselves the pleasure of meat, but this will not avert the climate catastrophe. The reason is to be found in the dynamics of power.

The power spiral

The leading giants USA, Russia and China, but also some smaller states like India, Pakistan, Iran or North Korea, are so focused on each other that they constantly scan the strength of their rivals, i.e. their level of armament and economic power, in order either to catch up with them or at least not to lag behind them. It is completely unthinkable that any one of these states should voluntarily leave the arena of this race, unless a world power grants it protection or an economic collapse drags it down. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, but hardly ten years had passed when the new Russia re-entered the arena of the global arms race. True, Europe remained aloof as if it could change righteousness for armament. But it could do so only because until Obama it trusted that the US would never allow it to come under Russian rule.

The spiral of military and economic power makes it impossible for anyone to reduce the consumption of resources if that puts him at a disadvantage vis-a-vis his rivals. The American military alone, with its aircraft carriers and jets, is one of the main consumers of fossil fuels – not to mention all other resources. This should deliver us from the illusion that a serious reduction in the consumption of resources is possible as long as the global spiral of power continues to turn.

In the future – and under present political conditions -, it will only turn faster, since emerging giants like China are not at all willing to comply with the American demand to join the US and Russia on questions of disarmament. Not only does China first want to become as rich as the West, it also wants to become equally powerful by equipping its military with a nuclear arsenal at least as large as that of Russia and the US. The same rush for military strength is apparent in India and may in generally be observed in all states as soon as they get economically strong. Under these circumstances, a reduction in resource consumption and environmental poisoning is simply out of the question. Only Corona has brought about an involuntary break, but not in China, the country that causes the greatest environmental pollution.

For thirteen years, it would have been an illusion

if the Germans had believed that they could change the political or social situation in their country. They were de facto condemned to powerlessness. With the exception of Corona, our lives are infinitely easier today, but none of us can change the great environmental crisis now threatening the entire world. Again, it is a regime, this time the power spiral of global actors, that prevents effective resistance. Of course, a single state like Austria or even the whole of Europe could drop out of the race and ban all processes that demonstrably pollute nature. But the consequence would be that such an individual state or Europe as a whole would reduce its own competitiveness to such an extent that its exports collapse because its rivals displace its goods on the world market. That would be a solo run paid for with weakness. But weak states are – as we, the former colonial powers, do, of course, know very well – easy victims of the strong.

Is all that remains mere powerlessness and a sure the way

into catastrophe? No. Just as many Germans, after the thirteen dark years of their history, retained within themselves the image of another better world and translated this image – however imperfectly – into post-war reality, so the global community, which is more interwoven today than ever before, will have to take the final step towards global unity in order to become once again master of its destiny. Only after this terrible race, this final struggle of humanity against itself, is brought to an end, will men come to grips with the existential crisis of fossil-industrial civilization.

We know exactly what to do in order to make this happen. My book “Yes, we can – No, we must! Build a better, sustainable World!” says as little really new about measures we have to take as do most of the books written after Herman Daly’s fundamental work. But one thing it does illuminate in a completely new way and in all its facets: The book shows in detail why we – i.e. every state on earth, no matter how green it pretends to be – are completely incapable of putting this program into practice under the prevailing political conditions.

Nobody likes to hear this bitter truth,

because, even when we are powerless, we like to placate our conscience with comforting illusions. But it is precisely this self-deception which makes us run blindly towards disaster. “Yes, we can – No, we must! Build a better, sustainable World!” is an illusion-free call for honesty and a sharpened conscience. That one of the most honest and illusion resistant of all warners, Herman Daly, gave it his special praise is certainly a recommendation: “Dear Dr Gero Jenner, Thanks for sending me your cogently reasoned, well informed, and clearly written book. I hope it is widely read. Best wishes, Herman Daly” (July 14, 2020). 

This may be an additional reason to overcome taboos, mental prohibitions and political correctness, for that is what the book is all about.

Are we still in control of our Brave New Artificial World? (Decomplexation I)

All countries that have the means to do so regard the digitization of information and its transmission as one of the most important technical tasks. In this way, growing volumes of data can be utilized in ever shorter time intervals. Nuclear power plants, ballistic missiles, drones, driverless cars, and surgical procedures can be controlled remotely. State surveillance of entire populations is just as possible as influencing the voting behavior of perfectly screened citizens.

It has, of course, been a trivial truth for thousands of years that knives can be used to cut open pumpkins or murder people. It should therefore not come as a surprise that Google may help us to gain an insight into thousands of facts on the one hand, while at the same time it subjects us to constant observation. SoIn other words, I do not want to criticize digitization for the mere fact that like all other technological breakthroughs, it may be used and misused at the same time. Instead, I would like to focus on a completely different aspect – one hardly ever taken into account: the increasing complexity of the new artificial world we have ourselves created.

Such complexity means first of all

that an overwhelming majority of contemporaries no longer understand the things they routinely use every day. While a car still belongs to the analog world, so that most of us can explain how and why it moves at all, more than ninety-nine out of a hundred people have no idea what happens in everyday gadgets like a cell phone. At first glance, this fact need not cause concern. Our body and brain provide us with the most amazing services every day, but even the greatest luminaries of medicine and neurology have only just unraveled some of the processes that take place within them at any given moment.

In other words, the natural world has always been a mystery to man, but this lack of understanding has not prevented even Stone Age people from subjecting it to their needs. Indeed, the complexity of the natural world stretching from atoms to cosmic galaxies never affected human survival. But what about the artificial world of computers, robots, nuclear-powered intercontinental rockets and the like, which we created ourselves? Is their growing complexity just as insignificant with regard to the individual and social existence of humans? Apparently not. The artificial world confronts us with existential problems that never existed in the past.

Here we come across a first Basic Law

The number of those who, due to their mental abilities and training, are able to develop, maintain and monitor the hardware and software of this artificial world is decreasing to the same extent as the latter’s complexity is increasing.

This is an inevitable consequence resulting from the fact that the Gaussian normal distribution of technical intelligence does not depend on our needs but is a constant (in every population there are only so and so many percent of people whose technical IQ exceeds a certain value). From the outset, therefore, only a fraction of the population can be considered as pioneers and waiting personnel for this need. Even if this potential is up to now far from being exhausted in countries with large populations such as India or China, the first Basic Law nevertheless indicates that it is bound to be constantly reduced in the future because increasing complexity will steeply raise the demands on technical intelligence. Not only today’s 99 percent of people will no longer understand the cell phones of the n-th generation, but the remaining one percent will also melt down to a residual value.

Complexity will be increased in two ways

In the analog age, no special technical skills were required to run a private institute like for instance a bank. This situation has changed fundamentally today. Every financial institution in our time must expect to become inoperative from one moment to the next unless highly paid specialists set up, maintain and update the programs that electronically manage and control the flow of money around the clock. Since national boundaries have long been crossed, international networking is further increasing complexity.

And this is only part of the story. Specialists – on the one hand brilliant amateurs, on the other hand equally highly paid experts from competing countries – do their utmost to gain unauthorized access to their systems. These ongoing attacks are another driving force behind the spiral of complexity in existing systems. Not only banks are affected by this compulsion, but also all manufacturing companies, which are becoming larger and larger for this very reason, because otherwise they would not be able to afford the required number of such specialists.

This results in a second Basic Law

The compulsion for size also results from the costs of increasing complexity. The consequences for society are already beginning to emerge. They are anything but harmless. I can still remember the fun I had as a child using the square beer coasters on the table of a pub to build a tower that could grow up to five stories high, but usually collapsed after the third. What will our future look like when the artificial world around us grows more complex with each passing year? The danger of a system collapse increases with every floor we add to the tower. To prevent this from happening, the demands on maintenance and monitoring must be increased at least to the same extent.

At this point a third Basic Law comes into effect

namely, the compulsion to massively expand technical education, especially in computer science, so that the potential of technical intelligence available in a given population is exploited to the greatest extent possible. From elementary school (perhaps even kindergarten) to universities, technical education will take up an ever greater share of the curriculum, pushing the traditional subjects, first and foremost, of course, the humanities, more and more into the background – a process that we are already witnessing all over the world. However, this tendency, forced by the growing complexity of systems, is in strange contrast to the intentions to which it owes its origins. We once believed that technology would simplify life, relieve people of the tiresome everyday material worries in order to free their minds for higher purposes.

These expectations came true in many respects. For a mother in Vienna, it is undoubtedly a tremendous relief to be able to call her son in New York at any time or transfer money electronically. At least in its initial phase, technical progress was really what it was meant to be: a breathtaking advance into a fantastic world previously imagined only by storytellers.

In the meantime, this fairytale time lies behind us. Not only revolutions, but complexity too devours its children. We know, for example, that fast breeders may significantly stretch the uranium reserves. That is the reason why China, in particular, is sticking with this technology. Other countries such as Germany have turned away from it because the extraordinarily high complexity of such plants extremely increases the risk of wholesale nuclear contamination.

Fourth Basic Law

Extreme risks lead to just as extreme measures of control and thus further the more or less apparent transition to the surveillance state – a trend to be noticed not only in China. Even among sociologists, it is common practice to interpret such surveillance by the state primarily in political terms, as if it were based primarily on evil intentions and lust for power. Undoubtedly, this is often enough the case, but an increasingly large part of central supervision is due to modern technology, that is to the growing complexity of our modern artificial world. As the consequences of sabotage become more and more devastating and costly, states strive to prevent them from happening in the first place by means of complete surveillance, which of course increasingly restricts human freedom. The fourth Basic Law says:

Not only sabotage but technical progress as such is to blame

For example, just consider the quantum computer, a product of outstanding technical intelligence. The moment it will be marketable, so that every private individual can buy it, it will be just as elementary a threat to society as the many nuclear arsenals that meanwhile even small countries can afford to develop and own. From one day to the next, banks will lose their protection against hackers because the new technology will be able to crack all existing codes in a matter of seconds. All money is then on the plate for all the world to take away, so to speak.

In the end, technicians will, of course, develop counter-strategies. As of now, the largest banks are already looking for these in the field of quantum encryption. But the necessary consequence will be a further increase in complexity and much higher costs. In other words, we are rapidly approaching the point where the tower collapses, because constant increases in complexity will no longer be either manageable or affordable.

In the arms industry this point has already been reached

Our “Brave New Artificial World” has now reached a point where with every passing day, there is a growing likelihood that something might “happen” because of mere chance or human failure. This is the inevitable result of nuclear missiles becoming faster and faster so that the advance warning time for their impact likewise becomes smaller and smaller. In the case of a first strike on the part of the opponent, both Russians and Americans will no longer dispose of about half an hour after its discovery as was still the case a couple of decades ago. Now that a few days ago Russia successfully demonstrated to the world the test flight of “Zircon”, a rocket of nine times supersonic speed, this already minimal period has shrunk to a few minutes (depending on where the nuclear missiles are fired from).

Fortunately, the danger of an arbitrary first strike by a superpower is so small that an optimist may completely neglect it. No president is so powerful that he would not have to consult with his military beforehand – and the military knows the consequences quite well. The situation is quite different with the second strike, which may be triggered by sheer misinformation. That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union in 1983. At the very last moment the apocalyptic counter strike was prevented by the great Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov. As for the US after Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, an auxiliary (currently female) has to follow an American president wherever he goes with a special black suitcase, so that he is able to give the final order for a nuclear second strike in case an inimical first strike has been spotted. Since a first strike only makes sense if it destroys the enemy’s entire nuclear arsenal, the second strike must likewise be of maximum strength. Due to the minimal time window of meanwhile five minutes, a serious consultation with the military has, of course, become all but impossible. The president of a superpower must either rely on computers or on his guts to decide whether or not he will reduce the globe to rubble.

Whether we like it or not, we must acknowledge a fifth Basic Law

The growing complexity of the artificial world we have ourselves created has increased our freedom only in specific cases, but has radically restricted it as a whole, since the self-extinction of the human species – the maximum loss of freedom – hovers over our heads for the first time in history as a real danger and perspective. Even if – for reasons of mental health – we suppress this sinister possibility from our consciousness, we cannot overlook the prospect that growing complexity is pushing humanity towards a systemic collapse and therefore towards a total negation of freedom.

In the field of armament, where each superpower forces the other to respond to growing speed and deadliness with ever faster and more lethal systems, the state of unstable complexity has already been reached. The banking system will soon reach that point when all codes can be deciphered effortlessly. The technical progress in genetics is also heading in the direction of a complexity that threatens to elude the control even of experts, since we will probably never know for sure what long term effects selective interventions in the genetic material will have on the organism as a whole.

But the now classic example of potentially fatal effects

of growing complexity is the fossil-industrial revolution itself, whose main feature is the increasing hunger for resources on the one hand and their transformation into waste products largely consisting of non-biodegradable toxins, on the other. We know that the removal of CO2 from the air, of plastics from the seas and of electronic, industrial and radiating nuclear waste from the ground represent the great unresolved problems of our time.  While initially only raw materials such as coal were mined, thousands of other substances up to the rare earth elements have now been added. However, the waste materials and potential toxins are already in the hundreds of thousands. We thus exponentially increased the complexity of our interventions in nature – with consequences that can no longer be ignored. Climate change is only the most visible sign that the artificial tower could very well collapse.

Failure of ethical control

Technology is a subsystem within social realms while technical intelligence constitutes a subsystem within the mental abilities of human beings. As long as technology serves man, that is, human society as a whole, we have reason to call its achievements “progress”. But as soon as the technical subsystem becomes independent and – due to its growing complexity – turns into a danger for the social system as a whole (and that of nature), we are forced to speak of its achievements as “technical regression”. With the large-scale destruction of the natural foundations of life, the fossil-industrial epoch has reached a stage where this “technical regression” is visible to everyone and (at least in the field of armaments) even questions man’s very survival.

With regard to the human body, we speak of cancer when a subsystem gets out of control. Then we say that the immune system is failing, i.e. the body’s defenses. If, on the other hand, technology gets out of control, then the immune system of a society is damaged. Its ethical controls no longer work – those controls, which examine and evaluate all human activities according to whether they are beneficial or harmful to the common good.

The ethical control of the whole

over its parts – its diverse subsystems – should be a matter of course. In the case of technology, it has failed because a taboo stands in the way, which has by now been hardened into dogma. The dogma looks somewhat like this: Every new discovery in the field of natural sciences represents an expansion of our knowledge – which is undoubtedly correct – and is therefore a blessing for mankind – which is undoubtedly incorrect.

The historical roots of this dogma are rooted in the fact that the beneficial effects of technical progress were long felt to be so overwhelming that the doubt about it could be dismissed as mere backwardness and stupidity. This explains why every time a Nobel Prize is awarded to the luminaries of science, humanity falls into a kind of euphoria, even though it is precisely this newly acquired knowledge that tends to increase complexity in our artificial world and heightens its instability. We are on the way to hopelessly damaging the natural world with its artificial counterpart, but it is still considered the worst heresy to doubt technology itself, even though it has brought about this process in the first place.

Decomplexation – the new Basic Law

If we do not want to fail because of the self-created complexity of the new artificial world, only decomplexation, i.e. the conscious reduction of complexity, can save us. Of course, this does not mean a revolt against technology, as if we had to regress back to the early Stone Age, where only a few thousand people in small hordes passed through Europe. Technical intelligence has long been our destiny and the artificial world is a subsystem that we can no longer do without. But this system needs strict control in order not to become completely uncontrollable.

Once society regains control over its technical subsystem, it will not only prohibit further research on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons but will also ensure that no more money is made available for research that promotes the development of a surveillance state and thus the suppression of freedom. Knowledge in itself, for example knowledge about how we may kill people en masse, has no value at all, but only knowledge that promotes life and freedom. Society therefore has not only the right but an obligation to distinguish between ethically valuable and ethically dangerous knowledge – to promote the one and to bring research on the other under its control. Because knowledge and truth are by no means neutral seen from the ethical perspective. We owe to a philanthropic science that service of truth which, in the 17. and 18. centuries, the times of Enlightenment, had successfully eliminated so many dogmatic lies. But knowledge and truth, which serve the development of weapons of mass destruction or increase complexity to the point of uncontrollability, retrospectively call into question all previous achievements that science and technology conferred on man.

The Demise of American Democracy

When the highest representatives of a community are eager to throw mud at each other. When arguments merely serve as a façade to convey anger, mockery or contempt, then history has just turned a corner. One period has come to an end, a new one begins. Since September 29, 2020 we know that in the United States of America democracy is undergoing a process of rapid disintegration – it is being torn apart by diverging forces.

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Ye shall know them by their Fruits!

This classic saying from the New Testament (Matthew 7:16) confronts effect and cause. A bad effect is not likely to have a good cause, and vice versa. Thorns do not bear grapes, and we find no figs on thistles. We should therefore not rely on fine words and theories. What counts are the effects that arise from them.

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Difficult truth – cheap lies

In times of the Internet, historical memory shrinks. Who remembers today that for almost half a century the United States of America represented the realm of enlightenment, truth and progress, while the other side of the Iron Curtain was ruled by arbitrariness, gulags and politically decreed lies? This contrast was inflated by mutual propaganda, certainly, but forced labor camps and those millions of people Stalin had sent to their deaths were bitter reality. There was so little doubt concerning this gruesome past that Solzhenitsyn’s accusations were read worldwide, that is even in Russia. When Gorbachev finally dared to say the truth, the collapse of the regime was inevitable.

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Adam Tooze – An experts’s review of ten years of global economic crisis

Recently (on 14 August) I had the good fortune to follow an interview with the British historian Adam Tooze on Austrian Radio. I was so impressed that I immediately took to reading his book “Crashed. How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World” (Allen Lane 2018) ) – and so an important work finally reached me with a two-year delay. These are my comments:

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The snow of yesterday is today’s Deluge – Remarks on an amazing book by Daniela Dahn

There are books – and, alas, they make up the vast majority – that one skims over because they offer nothing more than facts that we barely take note of. There are others where each sentence acquires importance because it expresses an attitude, a person’s relationship to the world, and therefore urges the reader to take a stand. I was recently allowed to read one such book, its author is Daniela Dahn. She writes about the injustice that Germany’s Western half has done to the citizens of the East, calling on the West to reflect on its failures. What so much pleases me about this book – even though its theses are anything but pleasant – is its honesty. In times of generalized dishonesty, where arguments mostly serve as weapons in the struggle of parties, this is a refreshing book. Let us listen to the author’s own words.

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Charles Darwin, Chance and the good Lord – a Philosophical Excursion

In 1970 Jacques Monod’s seminal book “Le Hasard et la Nécessité” (Chance and Necessity) was published, on the cover of which the renowned biochemist summed up in a single and concise formula the world view that had dominated first Europe and then the entire world since the 17th century. For the objective scientist, so Monod’s message, the world is nothing but chance and necessity. For there is nothing in the world but these two principles alone: on the one hand, necessity representing that order, which the natural sciences explore in the shape of laws, and on the other hand, chance, which denotes the void within this order – in other words, a meaningless nothing with which science does not know what to do. Since Monod established this formula, neurology has made tremendous progress, his book is certainly no longer “up-to-date”, but the view that reality has nothing else to offer but these two dimensions has become even more entrenched. According to a now prevalent view, our world is made of calculable mechanisms of the physical and neuronal world, and the yawning emptiness of meaningless chance.

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Young and Old

Nobody is interested in the fact that, because of my date of birth, I have to be counted among the elderly, perhaps even the old people – certainly the fact is of no interest to myself. But a malicious being of microscopic size takes very much interest in the matter, as it likes to choose its victims mainly within my group of age. And the stakes are equally high for the modern welfare state; for the latter the virus came at just the right time – at least that’s what nasty rumors claim. Continue reading Young and Old