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Behind the Screens
“A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact.” - Encyclopedia Britannica
Big thanks to Julie for suggesting this week's topic.
How will panocracy persuade an increasingly sceptical public to adopt it?
Our dependence on technology has been increasing ever since someone first discovered that some things tasted better after they'd fallen in a fire for a minute. Early hominids also knew that fire and fingers don't mix – a lesson that modern governments have forgotten in their haste to intervene in matters they don't understand.
The failure of public policy to deal successfully with Covid-19, as evidenced by increased post intervention mortality rates around the world, is raising distrust of credentialed experts, scientists and politicians who all assured us that theirs was the only true path. Perhaps even the notoriously slippery Big Pharma won't be able to weasel its way out of its inglorious part in the whole debacle.
The environment we humans inhabit has changed markedly since our ancestors lived in caves and mud huts. We humans have not.
The ordinary man, and especially the city-dweller, lives in an artificial environment and has more or less lost touch with nature. And yet our education system has failed to give him much of a grasp of nature’s brave new technological replacement. At the touch of a button he can gawp at the latest hysterical headline, watch a movie from 1970 or read informed and uninformed analyses of Friedrich Nietzsche's will to power (OK, I don’t know what you do).
Things we don't understand are naturally a source of fear. Fear begets suspicion, suspicion begets 'othering' and othering begets violence. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and people have a habit of reverting to their great ape instincts around hierarchical control. So it ends with the 'strong man' – the demagogue – who takes control with promises to right all the wrongs.
Usually by creating much bigger wrongs.
As a consequence of enlightened thought and the industrial innovation of the West over three centuries, most of us now live in a cosseted environment untroubled by heat or cold, wind or weather, or even major food supply glitches.
And yet most people haven't a clue about the workings of the technology that cocoons us. Whether it's food, transport, water and sewerage, heating, lighting or mobile phones, very few have an understanding of the mechanics and even fewer any appreciation of the social consequences.
You might think that this would breed a lot of suspicion but paradoxically it doesn't seem to. Yet.
People largely seem to be in awe of technology and oblivious to what might be going on behind the screens. The mobile phone is a magical talisman to protect its owner from missing out. Its hidden capabilities are never questioned by its users. The makers of iPads, Teslas and covid vaccines go unquestioned and expect to be so.
It's a modern day Faustian bargain: what is gained is comfort and convenience; what is surrendered is personal information and, ultimately freedom of thought and word.
Information about you and your habits and beliefs is the product that's now on offer. That information is used to target personalised product ads, and for other less conspicuous purposes.
Some people may even be pleased with the convenience that the system understands their desires. They may relish the idea that technology has removed the troublesome chores of finding things out for themselves. But as Nigel Farage and Canadian freedom truckers discovered when their bank accounts were shut down, information can also be used to determine social credit.
Most people seem to regard this in much the same way as they regard their supermarket. The supermarket removes the inconveniences of shopping – trailing from the butcher to the baker to the grocer ..., comparing prices, parking, closed at inconvenient times; a government undertakes to remove the inconveniences of life – educating your kids, organising roads, security, waste disposal and so on.
The price asked may be high. But if you don't like Waitrose's prices, you can always shop at Aldi. The same isn't true for government.
If the supermarket sources some of its products using child labour or battery hens then the budget conscious shopper may turn a blind eye; if governments employ dirty tricks to 'protect the interests of the people' then we the people probably won't know much about them until we experience the reality of unexpected foreign vitriol, a terrorist atrocity or an economic crash.
“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” - Lord Palmerston, Speech to House of Commons, 1 March 1848.
Palmerston didn't specify exactly who he meant by 'our' or what he meant by ‘interests’.
It's the convenience, stupid
To summarise: convenience is the driver of modern decision making. We choose in life what we believe will make our lives easier. We should look more carefully at the consequences of our decisions but mostly we tell ourselves that others - those good folks at Sainsbury's or in the Home Office - have already done that particular donkey work. Most people are happy to accept their unspoken assurances that there's nothing to see here.
When we come to thinking about our panocracy there are two ways of looking at this:
On the positive side it will be easier to 'market' a technical panocracy. And it makes voting a breeze. It's convenient for the vast bulk of the population. For the sake of a quiet life most people won't question its inner workings. But as it makes the backrooms of politics accessible to the man in the street, those who do will be able to dig as deep as they want.
Conversely, it will be harder to introduce a technical panocracy as some people will be very suspicious of all things technical (think of those modern day Luddites, the Climate Catastrophists) and will instigate an orgy of outrage-mongering to try to bring it down. Such people tend to be vociferous and it takes a lot of evidence gathering and patience to debunk their ideologies.
So it's important that what panocracy is and how it works is made as open and comprehensible as possible and that it's defended with evidence and reasoned argument rather than bluster and hyperbole.
The system, the institutions and the agencies of our panocracy will need constant monitoring by its citizens. Fortunately, as happens now, there are plenty who will contribute to this task.
The difference in our panocracy is that their voices will be heard.