garden of delights by Bosch

Last week’s summaryIn 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population as authorities cannot anymore deliver security. The last phenomenon driving Everstatan governing bodies’ rising inefficiency in ensuring their mission is an outdated worldview that leads to misunderstanding and disconnect, which is first upheld by ideological stakes.

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The knowledge institutions and related people, which are guardians of norms and thus have ideological stakes in upholding an outdated worldview, are also motivated by material stakes in seeing norms respected, upheld and continuing. Indeed, their institutional  survival depends on the continuation of those models, for example, through funding and employment.

Even if some or most within those institutions (again with variations according to their exact normative function) are increasingly aware that models have to be revised – but how far and how deep – being the first to do so could mean being cast away and thus losing both status and income. Individuals within institutions are caught in a system similar to traders on the stock exchange in the period preceding the burst of a bubble.

Furthermore, as the lender nexus and other elite groups benefit from the new means to appropriate public power, as those appropriations are permitted by the current model and underlying norms and thrive from the lack of real understanding, then those elite groups also have a material stake in seeing the current model and norms remaining in power. This is even more the case that some of those elite groups gained status as well as income only because of the absence of adequate models. If another model of socio-political organisation existed that allowed Everstate to face the new pressures, ensure security and thus bring back the satisfaction of the population then those elite groups would lose power. They are thus most unlikely to willingly abandon their new found or reinforced privileges.

If or when new understanding and new models, possibly with the slower creation of new norms and beliefs emerge, this will create new elite groups while the discarded model will imply the disappearance of existing elite group. Those new and disappearing elite groups will not only be related to understanding and knowledge as well as needed skills but also to the disappearing and emerging needed resources, that will then be fully integrated within the new model.

Any attempt at proposing something new or different is thus, for now, either muted or remoulded in agreement with the existing paradigm. Its authors, if they are too weak institutionally, are either marginalised or bought in to the price of the novelty of their ideas. In one way or another, new ideas are not heard.

Thus beliefs outlast the situation. As beliefs constrain understanding, which in itself conditions actions, a growing disconnect takes place between reality and actions. As actions disregard reality, they may only imply further dissatisfaction and become essentially increasingly escalating in terms of tension and scope of grievances.

For example, in other countries, protests then violence had followed an escalating pattern. For the initial phases, that looks very much like what is happening in Everstate. There, the trigger had been, surprisingly for the government and the elite, an increase in food prices. Yet, such increases had been constant over the past three years. This new price rise had not even been major. People had been thought to be used to those increases that were, anyway, expected. Furthermore, people had been repeatedly told that such inflation was not that important because the prices of so many other items, including wages, were not increasing, which showed, from the economy and monetary experts’ point of view that there was no real generalised inflation. Obviously, the monetary and economy gurus had forgotten to consider that seeing constant increase in food prices while wages were remaining stable would soon become a major problem in real life for real people. They had also forgotten that despite beliefs in the law of the market, the demand for some vital goods was inelastic, and that related shortage was not an option. Those would be translated in political terms rather than nicely remain within the sole economic field. Thus, the analytical tools set up by experts were congruent with the model and the norms, but so far away from reality that escalation and tension could not only rise unnoticed, but also be dismissed. When violence exploded, it took everyone by surprise. The strength of the norm is such that quickly an explanation fitting the model and avoiding possibly questioning it surfaces: the revolutions that took place could be explained by the need to embrace the democratic model, not by any other need.* Thus, from the normative point of view, Everstate, being a democracy and having been for quite a while, can learn no lessons from those other protests and their escalation, as they bear no resemblance whatsoever with what is happening in Everstate… or so the model says.

The situation into which Everstate and the normative world to which it belongs find themselves is blocked.

The people and the nation, composed actually of the same people, are twice discontented: first, as people, they have to pay for the elite, adjust to new less than pleasant working and living conditions; second, as ruler, they are seeing their power dwindling. Furthermore, fear and anxiety starts spreading as understanding either lacks or appears by bursts, soon to be muted while meaninglessness settles.

The situation is increasingly unsustainable and leads Everstate to its loss.

As the people and the nation start taking actions to express their discontent and see their goals met, their representatives begin considering changing the situation as continuing delivering security to citizens is the only way for them to still govern thus to remain in power.

But what can be done? And by whom?

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* The inspiration for this paragraph comes from the 2008 food riots, as well as from the winter and spring protests and rebellions that occurred in the Middle East and North Africa. For a very interesting article on Egypt suggesting very early a different interpretation, read, for example, Walter Armbrust: “A revolution against neoliberalism? If rebellion results in a retrenchment of neoliberalism, millions will feel cheated,” Al Jazeera English, 24 Feb 2011, This article first appeared on Jadaliyya.