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Re: <nettime> "Too bad your great ideas never work."
Keith Hart on Sun, 17 Sep 2017 02:14:58 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> "Too bad your great ideas never work."

 Hi Felix,

On Sat, Sep 16, 2017 at 3:48 AM, Felix Stalder <felix {AT} openflows.com> wrote:

On 2017-09-15 07:30, Morlock Elloi wrote:

> While one (usually a Marxist) can argue that nothing ever changes, I
> think that the exponential rise of the complexity of everyday
> technology creates a qualitatively new environment, where smaller and
> smaller number of specialists really understand (and therefore have
> power over) everyday "objects".

I think this is the key point here. We are in the midst of an explosion
of complexity that overwhelms our (Western) social, political and, I
would argue, cognitive and psychological structures.

Once again you have contributed a lucid and humane account of the global crisis from inside a bubble where the main voices are disillusioned western techies whose moment in the sun was the 90s. As always you acknowledge the limitations of your perspective, but don't try to stand outside it.

The relationship between technology and society is very different in Asia, Latin America and Latin America, as are perspectives on environment, inequality, development, historical trajectories and the priorities for our world. This was reflected in the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change, where the West, without making significant sacrifices of their own, proposed that the rest should accept lower levels of carbon emissions than themselves. Both the Brazilian and Chinese presidents made the same joke: that Obama was like a rich man who dines alone sumptuously, invites the neighbours in for coffee and then asks them to split the bill. 

The BRICS leaders said that their first priority was development, so that their peoples could hope to overcome poverty and inequality inherited from a world society made by and for western empires. A subsequent disinformation campaign, partly coming out of Germany, alleged that it was the BRICS who wrecked the summit.

Ours is a multi-polar world, not the uni-polar version of 1900, when Europeans accounted for over a third of humanity and controlled 80% of the land. Current forecasts for 2100 have Asia and Africa with two-fifths each of the world's population, Europe with 6%. Economic growth has always accompanied population growth. The only population now growing is African; all the rest are ageing and in decline. Having ridden a machine revolution and demographic boom to take over the world, the whites are now desperate to conserve what they can at the expense of the others whom they despise and exclude.

I am spending this week in Mexico for a UNESCO conference. For half a century I have been inspired and informed by the intellectual products of Latin America's unique historical trajectory and it is still so. The US's culture wars are now being fought on Facebook in Brazil. The democratic experiments, after dictatorship and the lost decade of the 80s debt crisis, achieved great reductions of poverty and began to dismantle racist barriers in some places, but redistribution was financed by high commodity prices and everywhere now democracy is seen to be precarious. But Latin Americans have addressed society at every level from the local to the global through innovative political experiments such as the alter-globalization movement launched by the World Social Forum in 2001. 

The main threat posed by the rest to the West is the rise of Asian countries as capitalist powers and in particular that of India and China who between them house a third of the world's people. No point in rehearsing this story here. But all major human problems, including those posed by environment and technology require political, legal  and  administrative solutions; and we don' t yet have the social forms that are up to the task. You ignore the part played by lawless financial imperialism in our current plight, the destruction of national government, law and citizenship by neoliberal globalization, with only corporate self-aggrandizement as an alternative. How will the American Empire, which created and owns the digital economy, handle competition with Asia? A major war would destroy most of your assumptions about resource scarcity, if not life on earth itself.

Africans, with the partial exception of white Southern Africans, missed out on every phase of the machine revolution until now. But they lead innovation in linking money to mobile phone technology. Sub-Saharan Africa has half the mobile money services in the world. The number of agents there has grown from 100,000 to 1.5 million in five years and they absorb half of the revenues. Mobile money services have overtaken bank accounts. East Africa was the cradle of the movement, but West Africa is catching up fast, growing from 8% to 29% coverage in five years. Overall some 40% of Africans participate in mobile money. The leading countries are Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. 

Apart from M-Pesa, Kenya also leads the world in recycling old computers for cheap purchase and use by poor people. In the US consumers fret over what their fourth or fifth smart device should be. Redistribution alone will not lift most Africans out of poverty. To tell them that growth is over is cruel, evidence of a supreme indifference that is of course the hallmark of Western societies. Africans know that development must be sustainable. Their poverty tells them that. They drown in the Mediterranean rather than accept the impasse they face at home. But they are the most hopeful region in the world and they have good reason to be.


Keith Hart
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