Last weeks’ summary: In 2012 EVT, Everstate (the ideal-type corresponding to our very real countries created to foresee the future of governance and of the modern nation-state) knows a rising dissatisfaction of its population. Alarmed by the rising difficulties and widespread discontent, the governing authorities decide to do something when new elections start, which begins the second scenario, Panglossy. The new Everstatan government, dependent upon past thinking, decides that a return to economic efficiency through growth is the key to the crisis. The first years, however, fail to bring back growth; the power of the lenders’ nexus and induced appropriation of public power continue unabated as the regulation of the international financial system does not progress. The initial efforts to fund growth through infrastructure investments show minimal and disappointing impacts. Worse still, the implementation of the ISSIGE flagship project on air quality by the consortium Novair triggers a nationwide wave of outrage as the struggle against air pollution is monetized.
(The reader can click on each picture to see a larger version in a new tab – a navigating map of posts is available to ease reading – Research/methodological note at the bottom of the post – see credits for the images in the references)
The monetization of the struggle against air pollution is perceived by Everstatans as nothing else than the privatization of air. It generates such a strong reaction and mobilization because it creates a feeling of injustice, actually moral outrage, as it impacts and upsets all layers of beliefs of Everstate’s population (see Ideological Stakes in an Outdated Worldview).
Most fundamentally, monetizing air is at once an appropriation of an essential element that has so far belonged by right to each living being by the simple fact of it being alive, and a desecration, both going against the deepest human beliefs as shown by symbolism, as air is an image often found in many cosmological, religious and philosophical myths, books and systems. Air is one of the four (or five if we include aether) elements of classical thought. It can be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Bon (Tibetan philosophy), in the Japanese traditions, and more recently in medieval Western alchemy. If it is not present per se in the Chinese elements, breathing, notably in Qi Gong, is seen as fundamental. In the Bible, the “breath of life” is God’s power to create and give life to man (Genesis 2:7). Air and breath go thus beyond one religion to reach something that can be seen as archetypal, following Jung. It is the very relation to the Mystery of life (Mystery meaning “a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand”), life’s origin, beauty, and continuation or termination, that is being upset by Novstate-Air.
At the normative level, more superficial although also crucial, the monetization of air is one more attempt at privatizing the commons, at transforming the public good into public goods that can then be transferred to the private, sold and bought in the name of any ideology, as recently denounced again, among others by Reich. This process is also known as commodification, for example the commodification of water or the commodification of nature. Indeed, in the real world, the latest failure of the 2012 Rio+20 summit (Montbiot, June 2012) is not lost on the private sector and, among other impacts, open the door even more widely to an all-out commodification, as underlined by a recent article in MarketWatch:
“So while it is a sad time for the planet from a policy perspective, the private sector has just been handed a golden opportunity.” Kostigen, 29 June 2012
The privatisation of the commons started in England, as early as the 12th and 13th century, then accelerated with the rise of capitalism – and modernization – through the centuries-long struggle over the right to use common land to graze livestock, which ended up with generalised enclosure and the disappearance of the commons. History shows that privatization leads to protests and revolts (e.g. Hardin 1968, Moore, 1966).
“In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.” Orwell, 1944
If, as underlined by Hardin, we must also be conscious of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” with air pollution as a perfect example, and one that he singles out, commodification and monetization of the air, paid only by consumers, may not be the best solution, even if this solution has worked beforehand for other commons. Indeed, the ideological battle that is actually taking place questions now this approach, and could very well emphasize that as, modernity, it is part of an outdated order.
One could also argue that Everstatans felt directly threatened too, as air, actually oxygen, is one of the most basic, fundamental elements for living beings on earth since the Great Oxidation Event, because cellular respiration depends on it. Being deprived of air means death within a few minutes for the strongest. However, historical facts and research, including the direst political phenomenon that is genocide, have shown that direct threat to life alone does not lead to rebellion or even to escalation, whilst feeling of injustice and moral outrage, in specific conditions, do.*
The Everstatan government and elite are surprised by the moral outrage that spreads because of their position within the ideological battle that is taking place. Moreover, during the last decades of economic, materialistic, technocratic, politician supremacy, they have forgotten the most fundamental political dynamics, or, if they know and understand, they do not care because they believe that those who will have to deal with the most violent side of political processes are not them but future generations. The analogy they used to create Novstate-Air and the monetization of air, the commodification of water, also plays into their inability to foresee Everstatans’ reaction. Privatizing water has so far not created such a moral outrage. Thus why should air be any different? Does the acquiescence to water’s monetization show that the air revolt will be short-lived and soon forgotten if Novstate-Air, backed up by the government, remains firm?
To be continued…
Research and methodological note
This post (and the next one) and the way the scenario narrative unfolds suggest that what the elite does, more precisely the way public power is appropriated matters. Here, however detailed our model (see Creating the model part 1 & 2) may appear, especially when it is described in number of variables used (compare with the 2 to 8/10 variables that are most often suggested as ideal for foresight), the means and processes of appropriation are not detailed.
The question is: should we translate those processes in terms of our model and add them to it, to the price of complicating the model even further, or should we, as I have done here, add further understanding only through the narrative, keeping the model as guidance?
The answer depends upon the degree of automation of the system and of the composition of the foresight team. The more automated the foresight system (let’s imagine it is computer run and can generate automated foresight scenarios through text-generation) , the more important to continuously expand the model, when some processes appear to have been underdeveloped as here. This begs the question of detecting such underdevelopments. The more diverse, knowledgeable and well-educated the team of foresight analysts, the more the model can be kept as such, being used as guidance.
* Among others, Sambanis, Nicholas, “Using Case Studies to Expand the Theory of Civil War,” (World Bank, CPR Working Papers, Social Development Department Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Network, Paper No. 5, May 2003); James C. Scott and Benedict J. Tria Kerkviliet, Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance in South-East Asia, ed. (London: Frank Cass & Co.; 1986); Scott, James C., Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, (New haven: Yale University Press, 1990) and Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); Moore, Barrington, Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978); Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, Francesca Polletta, Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).
Hardin, Garrett, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 13 December 1968: Vol. 162 no. 3859 pp. 1243-1248 DOI: 10.1126/science.162.3859.124.
Kostigen, Thomas, “Rio+20 was a win for social investors,” MarketWatch, June 29, 2012.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Mystery.
Monbiot, George, “After Rio, we know. Governments have given up on the planet: The post-summit pledge was an admission of defeat against consumer capitalism. But we can still salvage the natural world,” Guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 June 2012.
Moore, Barrington, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, (Beacon Press, 1993, 1966).
Orwell, George, “As I Please” column, Tribune, 18 August 1944. in Alex Peak blog.
Reich, Robert, “The Decline of Public Good,” 4, January 2012.