Stagnation, Chaos, Breakdown. The Age of Authoritarianism.

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Economic stagnation, social chaos, psychological breakdown.

In fact, let me simplify it. Stagnation, chaos, breakdown. If you want to understand the next decade — just memorize those three words. Here’s what they mean.

American collapse. Its their first example — but it won’t be their last. First goes an economy, then a society, then the minds in it. But it’s not just happening in America. It’s beginning to happen, or already has, in Italy, Germany, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Hungary, too — to name just a few places. The result is a tidal wave of authoritarianism sweeping the globe. Democracies falling like so many grains of dust. Stagnation, chaos, breakdown. Bang, bang, bang — implosion.

Let’s take those one by one, so you really understand this fatal sequence of ruin that America’s the bellwether of.

Yesterday’s global model of prosperity has failed — and failed badly. Its hidden costs were ultimately too great for societies to bear — even those that were supposed to be its winners. Those hidden costs are so great that they’ve yielded net losses — outweighing, in many places, and for enough people, the putative benefits of the old order. What were those hidden costs?

Consider the life of the average person under neoliberalism. His income has flatlined, so he cannot save. Meanwhile, social safety nets and public goods are torn apart — to pay for bank bailouts, to prop up hedge funds, and to subsidize corporations, but not their workers, only their CEOs. That means that the price of basics, like education, healthcare, finance, and housing, have skyrocketed. Yet at the precise moment he needs some kind of support, his social bonds have snapped apart. Who trusts anyone else when everyone is everyone’s adversary in a contest for survival?

The result is a life empty of meaning, belonging, purpose. He is told only to be a cog in a ceaseless, brutal competition

The result is a life empty of meaning, belonging, purpose. He is told only to be a cog in a ceaseless, brutal competition — in which his former friends and colleagues and peers and neighbours are now his lifelong adversaries, for the basics of life, jobs, stability, safety, retirement. But that competition itself doesn’t benefit him. He is trapped in a dilemma: compete and survive as an instrument of one’s own ruin, or don’t, and don’t survive at all.

So. The hidden costs of neoliberalism: trust, meaning, purpose, belonging, happiness, truth, income, savings, stability, safety. Those perhaps you know. But they run, I’ve come to think, much, much deeper than that. They go to the core of who we are as people. Taking away our dignity and self-worth may just take away our sanity, too.

Like any sane person, having become a mere tool of more and more abstracted profit, in which he never really shares, he is revolting against this broken system. But in a very specific way. He is losing his mind. Neoliberalism has left the average person feeling afraid, shattered, broken — living a life at the edge of constant, merciless ruin. One step away from losing it all. When a person feels unsafe, like they are living in a hostile world, what happens to them? Their fight or flight response goes into overdrive. They are not really in their thinking minds anymore. They are only reacting instinctively, with their regressed infantile minds.

So I’ve come to think this. The deepest hidden costs of neoliberalism include the loss of the mind itself, the shattering of the psyche, into fractured pieces, which cannot think or reason or hang together anymore — only react, which is to say, fear, hate, and destroy. But a dysfunctional mind, one trapped in fight or flight, can hardly power a democracy. What can it power?

Let’s think about it. Fight or flight. When people are done fighting a battle they can never win under neoliberalism’s terms, for safety and dignity and meaning and belonging, since the purpose of neoliberalism is to make them feel unsafe, threatened, worthless, to be hostile and thus whip them into shape — whom can they flee to? Who is left?

Demagogues and extremists and outright dictators. The dictators make them feel strong, safe, protected secure. They soothe them and mollycoddle them and flatter them — all the things that people who have become wounded infants need. The bond between tyrant and supplicant in this new age of authoritarianism is exactly that — strong parent, submissive child. And that is why no fact, no logic, no reason can ever break it — but only strengthens it. The regressed mind will always cling for safety to its surrogate parent — all the harder when that parent is attacked.

But there is a price of the safety of stern, strong surrogate parenthood. Obedience. Conformity. Submission. The price is a new social contract — I give you safety, says the authoritarian, and you give me freedom. Truth. Justice. Equality. Decency. And, of course, at last, humanity. The authoritarian’s gift is safety in the hostile, precarious, unsafe world that neoliberalism created — but his price is the human being in his followers, who, having been robbed of their own humanity, don’t think twice about dehumanizing anyone weaker, setting off the classic vicious spiral of fascist implosion.

And that, my friends, is how democracy is in decline globally. America is its prime exemplar: a nation which demonstrates this fatal sequence clearly — economic stagnation, which leads to social chaos, that causes a kind of psychological breakdown, which makes broken people flee for safety into the arms of authoritarians.

(Let me do an example to make all that clear. American kids, for the last decade or so, have been massacring one another at school — first rarely, then more frequently, now regularly, with sharply increasing numbers of casualties. Why? The reason is straightforward — predatory capitalism makes it impossible to regulate guns, to invest in schools, or to provide any kind of real healthcare to kids, in this case, mental healthcare. “Buy your own bulletproof backpacks!”, they’re told. Economic stagnation in this way drives social chaos. But what effect does such social chaos have? It makes people feel intensely unsafe, trapped, helpless, powerless. Fight or flight, remember? And it is such people who turn towards authoritarians.)

The world is turning away from America in horror — but what the world is only dimly beginning to understand is this.

American collapse is not an anomaly. It is a point in a trend. America is the first rich country to undergo such a style of collapse — a sudden, swift, stark, implosion from democracy into hard authoritarianism — but it will not be the last. American collapse may well be coming soon to a country near you.

We are entering an age of authoritarianism now, what I’ve previously called an authoritarian super-cycle. That age is driven by three trends. Economic stagnation. Which drives social implosion. That causes psychological collapse.

And until we really grapple with all the above, just like poor, pitiable America, we will be impotent to fight it, no matter how we rage, cry, or shout.

Umair Haque, June 2018 -

Originally published on Umair's blog Eudaimonia.
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