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Economy

Would You Like a Thirty-Hour Workweek?

Meena Miriam Yust

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Authors: Meena Miriam Yust and Arshad M. Khan

In the earliest days, foraging was key.  Fruits, berries, edible plants and roots comprised a varied diet, the roots often mashed and made into meal. 

Then there were days when the men — usually layabouts for foraging — would get the urge in their bellies for meat.  That was when all the chatting and bonding paid off.  Working together they could down a large beast and share the meat with the whole group … feasting for several days. 

No nine-to-five slavery in those times, no five-day work week.  That is all of recent vintage.  And it leads to an unmistakable Monday morning feeling …  

Millions of alarm bells sound in the wee hours of the morning, as semi-comatose individuals slide their snooze buttons hoping for a moment’s rest before the inevitable rush to the office.  The weekend is over.  Fun over, work beckons.  Marching along like ants going to their own funeral, masses of people will soon swarm into the subway, vying for a seat in a stench-free area, surrounded shoulder to shoulder with others like them. 

And for what when we know first hand that wage buying power hasn’t changed in decades while US income inequality continues to grow.  Good luck to the rich who keep getting richer as the stock market booms while trends in wealth show the lower 60 percent have seen a net worth decline.  Can we ever get a real wage increase?  Yes, by working fewer hours for the same weekly salary when the over overtime on a few hours more would boost our financial health.  More money and free time makes for a happier work and life balance.  Just as raising the minimum wage, it would have an impact on pay inequality as economist Ben Zipperer made clear in his testimony before Congress last year.      

For most of us, next come the Tuesday blues, that lethargic, listless feeling of no escape.  Wednesdays mark the halfway point, Thursdays bring the hope of almost-Friday, and then Friday arrives with the joy of the weekend break.  But soon it will be Monday morning again.  The majority of our lives are spent working.   The weekend leaves barely enough time for recovery, laundry, and if we’re lucky a smidgen of fun, before returning to the tedium of the five-day work week.   It’s not that the powers that be are unaware of our circumstances.  As long ago as 1935, the Senate Judiciary Committee held thirty-hour work week hearings but the idea failed to get traction. . 

But is this weekly misery necessary?  And where did it come from?

One year marks an orbit of the Earth around the sun.  Months too are derived from astronomy. Five thousand years ago, the ancient Sumerian calendar had 12 months marked by the sighting of a new moon.  They did not have weeks.  And archaeologists have discovered a hunter gatherer calendar from Aberdeen, Scotland dating farther back from 8,000 B.C., which also appeared to mimic phases of the moon to track months.  

The history of the seven-day week leads us to Babylon 4,000 years ago.  With a lunar month they used seven days to represent each of the four phases of the moon, adding an intercalary day(s) to synchronize it to the actual lunar cycle.  All of which worked out very well because they believed there were seven planets in the solar system and deemed the number significant.  The seven-day week eventually spread to Egypt, Greece, and thence to India, China and Rome, ending up in the Gregorian calendar we use today. 

The five-day work week was first introduced in a New England mill in 1908.  Before this, Saturdays were a half day and Sundays a holiday.

It was not expected that humans would still be doing this a century later.  John Maynard Keynes in 1930 predicted that the work week would be reduced to 15 hours, within a couple of generations, due to advancements in technology.  In 2017, economist and historian Rutger Bregman put forward its feasibility by 2030 in his best seller, Utopia for Realists.  A Senate subcommittee in 1965 also predicted we would be working 14-hour weeks by the year 2,000.  

More recently, companies have started to study whether there are benefits to a four-day work week.  Microsoft Japan recently reported the results of a four-day work week study.  The company had employees work four days while receiving five-day pay.  The results were striking – a whopping 40% increase in productivity.  The firm also reported increased efficiency in several areas, including lower electricity and paper usage.

A New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian in 2018 experimented with a four-day work week with five-day pay.  It resulted in a 20 percent increase in productivity while employees experienced a 45 percent improvement in work-life balance.  The company has now made the policy permanent. 

Another example is a company called Basecamp.  Employees work 8 hours a day for four days. Jason Fried, the CEO, states in a New York Times op-ed that “Better work gets done in four days than in five.”  

Despite the jokes about civil servants they do work, and some very hard.  In a study of British civil servants, it was determined that those who worked 55 hours per week showed a comparatively greater cognitive decline some three years later than those working for 40 hours.  Imagine what happens to us when we extend this to a lifetime of 40-plus-hour weeks. 

The question is, do we need to work even 40 hours per week?  If Keynes predicted humans would only need to work 15 hours by this point in time, and there has been an explosion of technological advancements in the last 30 years unimaginable to him — from computers to robotics to the internet and advancements in every type of engineering and medical field — then why are we still 40-hour slaves, particularly when the Basecamp example has demonstrated that 32 hours per week is equally or perhaps more productive? 

Next is the question of whether even 32 hours, as at Basecamp, are necessary.  David Graeber is an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.  His 2018 book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory describes jobs that appear to have no useful purpose.  These are far more common that one might expect.  In a poll of British citizens, 37% considered their jobs meaningless.  In the Netherlands, 40% of respondents believed their job had no reason to exist.  Graeber defines bullshit jobs as “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”  

In many of these jobs, employees sit at a desk five days a week with nothing to do.  In other jobs, higher management invents tasks for subordinates to complete solely to fill their time.  Some jobs exist merely for appearances.  He splits them into categories, encompassing jobs with which we are all too familiar.  “Flunkies” serve the purpose of making others feel superior (these include doormen, assistants, etc.).  “Goons” encompass those such as the public relations professional whose job is to show the public that Oxford is a top school!  “Duct tapers” are people in an organization who have to deal with its incompetence.  For example, the person who handles lost luggage at an airport or addresses complaints on the phone. “Box tickers” are designed to look busy and push paper work forward. “Taskmasters” are split into two types – those that assign more bullshit work to subordinates “bullshit generators”, and those who supervise people who do not need supervision. 

For the 60% of people who do not have “bullshit jobs” – studies have shown that fewer work days increases productivity and efficiency, not to mention mental well being.  Companies will be more efficient, workers will work better and will be rested and refreshed, and employees will be more likely to stay in their jobs.  It’s a plus-sum game if the work week is cut to 30 hours/ 4 days forthwith.  Anything beyond 30 hours would be overtime, at time-and-a-half rates.  The proposal is still twice John Maynard Keynes’ 15-hour expectation.  

There is another very good reason for this proposal:  Real wages in the US have been stagnant since the 1960s while the GDP is up over four fold and the stock market Dow is up about ten times, also in real terms i.e. after allowing for inflation.  It means stock and asset holders have been getting much, much richer while the working sucker is getting nowhere.  Cutting the work week down is a fair way to get part way (a very small part) even.  It is 25 percent less work and a one-third real increase in wages making a minor dent in the horrendous inequality in the US, which happens to be way ahead in this dubious honor among all developed countries. 

It is a long time since the hunter gatherers of Scotland or the Babylonians.  Their week remains ingrained, and the weekend created thousands of years later expanded from the Biblical single day of rest to one-and-a-half days in England, and then finally to two in New England at the beginning of the 20th century.  A hundred years later, is it not high time we advanced to three days?  Or perhaps to diminish the chances of worse Monday morning blues, it might be better to work two days, have a day off, then two more days of work before the regular weekend.  Humans were not designed for undue stress, we were designed for leisure, to be gathering food as we need it, and occasionally hunting, as the Scots mentioned earlier, and others of our ancestors did happily for generations.  

Authors’ Note:  This article first appeared on Truthout.org in a shorter edited version.

Meena Miriam Yust is an attorney based in Chicago, Illinois. Educated at Vassar College and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, she published a draft Migratory Insect Treaty with commentary in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

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Economy

How War lead to the advent of Market Economy

Gulraiz Iqbal

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Evident throughout history is the belief that the bipolar divide of social reality has been between government and markets especially governments that wage war. Social reality is termed here in a sense to give an idea that how people place themselves in this context to either of the poles. That is to say that their political choice dictates their economic choices. Interestingly enough, the bipolar divide in its popular sense appears to be questionable. In fact, markets have appeared as a consequence of military adventurism led my governments.

David Graeber, an economic anthropologist at the London of School of Economics and Political Science aptly explores this historical anecdote in his book Debt: The First 5000 Years.In his account where he refers to the Axial age(600 to 800 B.C), a term coined by a German philosopher Karl Jaspers is a time period in which apparently all the major philosophical/religious movements came to the fore. What is most interesting is that it was the same period in which coinage was born. To keep things simple coinage was characterized by a set pattern of coins/currency being developed by local citizens and subsequently taken over by the government. This pattern followed in all the major regions such as Greece, China, and India. However, one thing of particular significance to this inquiry is that the first ever coins to be produced were in the Kingdom of Lydia which is the present-day Turkey.

Graeber argues that the Gold, Silver, and Bronze from which coins were made was initially only limited to the Kings and the nobility. That however started to change in an intriguing manner. Such precious valuables started circulating among the common masses which was how these coins were made. Here Graeber refers to David Schapsa professor of Classics: according to him, it was a period which he calls the ‘’generalized warfare’’. It is then of common sense to understand that in the aftermath and in the duration of war, loot and plunder is a consequential hazard. In such a circumstance it became inevitable that people were left with large amounts of precious metals. It is in this sense that Schaps argues:

‘’It may well have been the protracted wars among the states of these areas that first produced a large population of people with precious metal in their possession and a need for everyday necessities.’’

It is important to note here that at this point of time financial markets had virtually no relevance. It was only taken as war bounty initially but what’s fascinating to note is that it is in this very sense of material fulfillment that gave people both the want to diversify their economic life and as well the need to fullfil their basic necessities. Furthermore, in the context in which is discussed; war led to plunder and plunder led to the market trade based on exchange of valuable metals. Before dwelling deep into it, one should bear in mind that these metals and stones were not wholly looted for the fact of being simply precious but it had an added factor of being portable as well. As armies would mobilize according to situational needs, so their plunder would include such items which they can carry with them as well. Coming back to the central argument, Schaps further argues that:

 The constant warfare of the archaic age of Greece, of the Janapadas of India, of the Warring States of China, was a powerful impetus for the development of market trade, and in particular for market trade based on the exchange of precious metal, usually in small amounts. If plunder brought precious metal into the hands of the soldiers, the market will have spread it through population.’’(Pg 226)

As mentioned earlier the term ‘’generalized warfare’’ which engulfed the major empires did something which had no historical precedent; that is to say, it laid the foundations of a market economy. This might not be as straight forward as it may sound. The very fact that governments, the kings had the monopoly over national wealth and also the fact that the war was not a new phenomenon known to humankind and so the subsequent loot that would take place, the essential dissimilarity of the Axial age from the past was that during the times when coinage was born, the Greeks were improvising their war mechanics and sophisticating it.

This led to the demand of their troops world-wide and as obvious as it is, essentially a service of such sort demanded reward as well. Therefore, it is necessary to understand that these mercenaries were paid in diminutive value of what consisted as large-scale valuables. This leads to another factor explained above which is ‘’portability’’ of these items or to use an appropriate word, ‘’renumeration.’’ Any other form of exchange or barter would made it plausibly impossible for these mercenaries to carry them.

Governments had vested interests to monopolize this changing reality. On the one hand, due to the capacity it had, governments were responsible for distributing the newly formed currency/coins to the masses and on the other hand, due to this very fact it could regulate the flow of this currency internally by giving it an official value. This provided an eminent premise to create markets with the authorization of government subsiding all the other currencies which might have existed in one form of the other. Usage of coins as renumeration is believed to be a practice which started in the Kingdom of Lydia. Exploring the politically important regions of that time, Graeber concludes that as a practice of the day it was largely coinage which proved to be a solution to the prevailing debt crisis which happened to exist way before the coinage. Athens in this regard is an example of it where a crisis of such sort prevailed in 594 B.C. Any solution to curb the crisis would entail either being in servitude to landed elites or being a part of free- peasantry which would liberate the populace of debt servicing so that so their children would spend time training for the army. All the major economic activity of the time was centered around the distribution of looted goods in war and conflicts which has been repeatedly mentioned to be precious metals and stones. In Athens, it was not only limited to the distribution among the army but also the common masses.

A catalyst to this chain reaction was the phenomenon of slavery as well. With reference to Alexander’s army, Graeber describes that he had a long-standing army of more than 120,000 men which needed to be paid and since his attack on Persia resulted in large number war captive slaves. He directed them to mining fields in order to mine more gold and silver. Resultantly causing to formulate the ‘’military-coinage-slavery complex. ’’However, slavery is not of particular relevance to this inquiry but it did play a vital role in shaping the politico-economic landscape of that time. Exploring further, Graeber discovers the pattern to be similar in India as well. Divided in different forms of governments in terms of regions, the kingdoms here too held huge armies which were on the payroll of governing authorities. Simply put, those having control of the mines were able to sustain armies of large magnitude which would result in a more powerful assault on the enemy in case of war and the resultant cycle of subsequent war bounty. Eventually, the concept of the economic thought evolved. What is understood in modern terms as the public and the private sector find its ancestral roots in Axial Age. Governments reinstated officials on a fixed salary. The institutionalization took place in terms of establishing its monopoly of power and control. What started off as a consequence of war was extended to the entire governance system to establish economic monetization. The cycle of economic activity was established by having trading houses, warehouses etc. The aim was to put back into the treasuries the metals, stones and silver. This was the basis of economic commercialization.

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Economy

Pandemic Recovery: Follow the trail of silence

Naseem Javed

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When common sense becomes the enemy of state; deep silence slowly slips and slides, covering high and low competence in order to survive; gagging new ideas and killing change.  Discover hidden peaks of such fears, lack of skills and incompetency and follow the trail of silence and here to achieve a faster pandemic recovery engage in open discussions eliminating fears of change and encourage upskilling. Wake up the sleepy isolated Rip Van Winkle from the dreams as the world has already changed.

Now is post pandemic recovery time. Follow the silence and engage in constructive dialogue.

Trapped in post-pandemic paralysis of local economy facing restless citizenry; today, some 200 nations mostly in critical lack of digital transformation, without speed and efficiency to uplift the nation, all delayed for fears of change and lingering incompetency, already leaving some 100 high potential nation critically behind.

Digitization of Public and Private Bureaucracies of the world became critical necessity decade ago, almost free many years ago, but the deep silence never allowed any open bold debates on transformation for fear exposure of mismanagement risking job securities.

Today, stripped naked in public are broken economies of the world, buried under mountains of crumpled twisted paper, trying to figure out backlogs and deep losses. Nations without digitization will remain crumbled economies, businesses without digitization will not survive and individual office workers without advanced understanding on such topics may have no future. Any business model irrespective size, type, location to go forward must base on solid digitization to bounce of global stage.

When people stepped out of caves or from darkness into light, a time came when without electricity a business could not function.  Digital transformations of world economies during the last decade were at a snail pace. Now Covid-19 simply stepped on that snail. Calling nations to digitize or linger on bankruptcies. Institutions lagging behind, like Chambers and Trade Associations in old models and Public Private Sectors of the world all now openly challenged.

Pandemic recovery needs massive real value creation, calls for revitalized national SME base, digitized on global standards, capable and upskilled citizenry to produce quality, performance and profitability. Ability to dance on global digital platforms and showcase talents creating collaborative synthesizim.  Today, any absence of national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of national SME on digital platforms for exportability is becoming number one national economic and political issue.

Trade wars mostly become issues when nations lack skilled citizenry with speed to earn exportability and create foreign exchange to boost economy and create grassroots prosperity….hence, chaos on the streets, towers of debts, broken economies. Today, the global masses are not waiting for The Fourth Industrial Revolution as what they need is ‘mental-industrialization’ a serious process of self-discovery gymnastics to liberate them from blockades of old mental-divides and enter into new digital-divides.

Daily Briefing 365 Days: Cold Facts and Harsh Realties

The world learned quickly, how national leadership could shine with daily LIVE briefings, regimented execution and presence with all hands on deck to tackle issues of national importance. The populace of the world is thrilled. Following are the current critical issues of national economy, craving for the national leadership to go LIVE daily and hold open and bold discussions with questions answers and shine. Make daily briefing a yearlong agenda to fast economic recovery.

The tectonic shifts, affecting nation by nation

Hastily, societies all over the world are losing addiction to endless consumption like repulsion; such shifts on buying behaviors will alter consumption based economic models and create new narratives. This may shrink Retail 50% in developed economies. Offices may shrink by 50% due to remote-work acceptance. Downtowns may shrink 50% in selected countries. The ‘cement-structure based retail’ as predicted decade ago will eventually give-in to ‘cyber-structured-retail’ now fully dressed up in cyber-windows with AI+AR+VR 24x7x365 a new thinking emerging.

What are the new game plans; how to bring all such calamities to calm and authoritative regional and global debates and Round-table discussions to achieve sustainable systematic solutions?

The global educational delivery system crashed decades ago; the value of education lost years ago, with heavy burden on society in times of crisis must try to save itself under new models, pricing and thinking. Now speed and execution skills with complex problem solving with entrepreneurial leadership flares are the top skill needed for future, national leaderships must create daily briefing on such special areas to uplift the smartness of working citizenry.

Where is the national umbrella to park all these conflicting ideas but open discussions with new discoveries?

The small and medium size business will play the most significant role on coming years. The national trade groups like vertical trade associations and Chambers of commerce of the world will all need new adjustments to deal with new and digitally advanced entrepreneurial centric world. Some 100,000-trade associations and 11,000 Chambers must come together on digital platforms to lead in the future.

How mobilization of all such institutions and trade bodies land on digital platforms with amazing results?

Metamorphosis of Coronavirus; hidden in the damage is a bright future, the isolation and break down of economies have shifted the cause and action;  The global populace has now advanced, metamorphism has new craving; as if a caterpillar pretending asleep but in reality learning fast to fly; now leaves chrysalis, spread colorful wings and fly…

Next Step:

Firstly, speak, boldly explore and claim your path to victory and change; create big and small discussions, internal or companywide podcasts, local, national or global webcasts, but always bold and open discussions. After all, any lingering incompetency is only a proof of new grounds in big need of fertilization to uplift and upgrade knowledge. Lack of skills only represents that the discovery and exploration process of new skills never occurred. The world’s greatest people were all lifelong learners. They openly explored their own levels of competency, changed and advanced. The more you realize how little you know the more new doors you open to new ideas with amazing new information uplifting skills to advance your future, try it, share it. Follow the trail of silence and help achieve fastest economic recovery for all…

The rest is easy

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Economy

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the “Phoenix” of the Globalized Technological Capitalist System?

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to acknowledge that three prominent intellectual figures spanning the 19th and 20th centuries forecasted the cataclysm of modernity. Thomas Carlyle, René Guénon, and Jacques Ellul provided reasoned accounts to justify their views that modernity is engulfed in a state of crisis on the basis that the not-mutually-exclusive hegemonies of technology, capitalism, and globalization are not invulnerable.

While each offered a slightly different viewpoint and a slightly different description of what they took to be the crisis, their views all coalesce around the general thesis that the continuous expansion of the material and technological built landscapes will eventually prove to be catastrophic. This is for two reasons. The first, because an ever-more complex system becomes ripe for error, an error which could cause the whole system to go haywire. Essentially, “the bigger it is the harder it falls.” The second reason is that in constructing an external environment as its hegemonic priority, humanity is neglecting giving attention to spirituality, philosophy, and developing the human inward nature. The external and material becomes the fog that humanity becomes ensconced in to such an extent that pursuing such things as the ascertainment of spiritual reality through intuition, the project Plato inaugurated academia with and inspired Christianity and Islam’s later development with, becomes wrested away wholesale from the consciousness of humanity. The two factors work in a type of synergy in that they mutually reinforce one another and precipitate cataclysm. The renunciation of the pursuit of constructing an ever vaster and more complex material system, which ostensibly implies a turn toward the spiritual as a premise, is the only means to stave off ever-greater cataclysms as the material system continuously grows more complex and more globalized.

Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, technology, capitalism, and globalization have exerted their unquestioned domination only increasingly—until COVID-19. Technology, capitalism, and globalization have been unquestioned to such an extent that in hindsight it is obvious, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that a global emergency of major proportions was necessary to even entertain the question that they were bound all along to eventually lead to a breakdown and inflict unprecedented harm to global health and the global economy. World War II was a destructive moment, but in no way did it impede the post-war expansions of technology, capitalism, and globalization in the latter-half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st. The COVID-19 pandemic is dissimilar even to the catastrophe of World War II because of the magnitude and the nearly-universal geographic scope of the economic toll it has taken in such a short time. Moreover, while there was room for technology, globalization, and capitalism to both re-emerge and expand following World War II, their room for expansion from their forms immediately prior to the economic contraction COVID-19 exacted is likely to be minimal and is more likely to be non-existent or even negative. The contraction of the technological globalized capitalist system would inherently imply the beginning of a new post-globalization era.

What makes Carlyle, Guénon, and Ellul interesting to entertain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is the grand, global, and “esoteric” natures of their philosophies of modern history. It should be noted that the dominance of scientific rationality, mechanization, and materialist economy in the modern era itself was the lens through which enabled their philosophies to bereceived as radical and “esoteric,” or not based on empirical, positivist, scientific evidence. If their views had found a way to usurp the hegemonic position in the popular collective consciousness, they would not have been seen as radical or off-base.

Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus is an 1836 fiction book that essentially inaugurated and epitomized modern social criticism toward the blind commitment to the Enlightenment and the resulting emergence of the non-spiritual materialistic basis of 19th century European politics, economy, and society. It was a chief inspiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and a foundational book for American Transcendentalism as an intellectual movement in general. In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle offers a cryptic diagnosis of the ailment of modernity during the midst of its advent, the Victorian industrial age.

Speaking through the voice of the book’s protagonist, Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, Carlyle theorizes of a “phoenix” that can be forecasted to take place roughly sometime in the 21st century. Carlyle writes, “we are at this hour in a most critical condition; beleaguered by that boundless ‘Armament of Mechanisers’ and Unbelievers, threatening to strip us bare! ‘The World,’ says [Teufelsdröckh], ‘as it needs must, is under a process of devastation and waste, which, whether by silent assiduous corrosion, or open quicker combustion, as the case chances, will effectually enough annihilate the past Forms of Society; replace them with what it may.’” This is flowery language that communicates Carlyle’s view that the world is destined to be consumed and destroyed as a function of the domination of those who uninterruptedly pursue the “boundless” construction of the material economy single-mindedly as their highest/only priority in conjunction with those who are non-spiritual, the “Unbelievers.” The “Armament of Mechanisers” and “Unbelievers” are synergistic and largely synonymous in that they are those who acknowledge only that which is material and perceptible by their senses.

To Carlyle, the “Armament of Mechanisers” and “Unbelievers,” by promoting the material economy, are inherently ignoring the spiritual realm, a realm that would be a moderator and reign in all-consuming materialism by embodying the virtue of renunciation (a virtue in nearly every theological and spiritual tradition). Humanity loses consciousness of the spiritual because modernity inherently divests the world of its spirit. Such a process is unsustainable because the finite nature of the world and its finite resources cannot sustain the pursuit of infinite material consumption and the increasing chaos that inherently manifests with a system that grows ever more complex. Thus, the materialist economy is bound to come into its full being, just like the mythic phoenix, before returning to ash and emerging in a different form. Carlyle reflects, “what time the Phoenix Death-Birth itself will require depends on unseen contingencies” and that it is a “handsome bargain would she engage to have [it] done ‘within two centuries.’”

René Guénon, a 20th century intellectual and metaphysician, offered what is perhaps the most sweeping and all-encompassing critique of the historical trajectory of Western civilization. He is also noteworthy in the contemporary sense as an inspiration for Steve Bannon, a chief political and policy adviser to President Donald Trump and a prominent promoter of traditionalist conservatism through such channels as Breitbart News Network. For Guénon, the West is in precipitous decline and he forecasted that it will reach a breaking point since the world is progressively displacing the realization of the quality of what he called the “Essence” of the transcendental realm (i.e. what lies beyond time and space and is perceived through the use of Platonic/spiritual intuition) with the realization of ever-greater quantity of the substance of what is material on Earth. Essentially, the progressive development of civilization corresponds to a cheapening of it and what he refers to as a “reign of quantity” rather than a reign of the quality of what can be nominally cast as the timeless Platonic Forms. Rather than conceiving of an ideal (i.e. a Platonic Form) through the use of intuition and then pursuing its realization in the Earthly material realm, everything modern defaults to gravitating around what Guénon takes to be the lowest-common-denominator, which is the measurement of everything by its quantitative rather than qualitative value. In other words, we are losing our ability to grasp and realize by intuition the ideal incarnation of all objects, concepts, and phenomena that are timeless and unchanging in the transcendent realm yet ephemeral in the material Earthly realm.

In The Crisis of the Modern World, published in 1927 shortly after World War I’s explicit embodiment of the rejection of the narrative of continual progress in modernity, Guénon reflects: “the belief in a never-ending ‘progress’, which until recently was held as a sort of inviolable and indisputable dogma, is no longer so widespread; there are those who perceive, though in a vague and confused manner , that the civilization of the West may not always go on developing in the same direction, but may some day reach a point where it will stop, or even be plunged in its entirety into some cataclysm.”

Guénon parallels Carlyle in Sartor Resartus in that he acknowledges the deeply problematic nature of cutting material existence on Earth off from any transcendent/spiritual/divine reality, a phenomenon which is only increasingly taking place in the context of modernity and not in previous ages. Devoid of any collective consciousness of transcendent reality that may prove effectual to moderating the continuous expansion of materialism and the “reign of quantity,” Guénon thinks modernity takes on a dimension antithetical to the transcendent and thus can be deemed “satanic” in the simplest nominal and non-theological use of the term. This narrative, Guénon maintains, explains the eventual dissolution of the modern world, as “the reign of quantity” will maximize the realization of quantity to its farthest limits, before triggering a cataclysmic contraction. According to Guénon in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, the “rectification” of modernity “presupposes arrival at the point at which the ‘descent’ is completely accomplished, where ‘the wheel stops turning.’” Guénon concludes that until such a breaking point is attained, “it is impossible that these things should be understood by men in general…”

Jacques Ellul, who was perhaps the foremost philosopher-critic of technology in the 20th century (and a chief inspiration for the Unabomber), largely reincarnated without citation Carlyle’s original criticisms of modernity. Ellul felt that modernity was synonymous with one vast global technical civilization that was autonomous and not subject to human control since its overall historical development as a system and long-term consequences are not subject to human control.Ellul defines what he takes to be technical civilization in his magnum opus The Technological Society, published in 1954: “technical civilization means that our civilization is constructed by technique (makes a part of civilization only what belongs to technique), for technique (in that everything in this civilization must serve a technical end), and is exclusively technique (in that it excludes whatever is not technique or reduces it to technical form).”

Ellul made known his theory that the technical civilization will have to perfect itself and sustain its perfection, as the only other alternative to perfection is the commission of an error, either small or large, that has the ability to cause the vast and interconnected system to go haywire. Ellul declares, “the technical society must perfect the ‘man-machine’ complex or risk total collapse.” For Ellul, technical civilization is a “Behemoth” and it can “rest easy” as nothing “will prevent him from consuming mankind.” Such an elucidation of the stakes involved in creating an ever-more complex and gigantic globalized and technological system are deeply relevant to the narrative of how COVID-19 wreaked havoc on global health and the global economy so quickly and so easily. Air travel and other forms of transportation infrastructure were technological developments that had reached a zenith at the time of the onset of the pandemic as a function of globalized capitalism also being at a zenith. The totality of the network of global transportation infrastructure manifested by technical civilization’s progressive global development since the Industrial Revolution was compounded by the growth in the levels of global travel on the part of the largest global population in history at the time of COVID-19’s onset.

Ellul denounces liberal political economy for providing the favorable climate necessary for the unquestioned manifestation of technical civilization and refutes prospective critics who would maintain that liberal economy and technical civilization are compatible for the long-term:

“It will doubtless be pointed out, by way of refutation, that production techniques were developed during the ascendancy of liberalism, which furnished a favorable climate for their development and understood perfectly how to use them. But this is no counterargument. The simple fact is that liberalism permitted the development of its executioner, exactly as in a healthy tissue a constituent cell may proliferate and give rise to a fatal cancer. The healthy body represented the necessary condition for the cancer. But there was no contradiction between the two. The same relation holds between technique and economic liberalism.”

Just as Carlyle documented what he took to be the crisis of modernity at its advent during the initial industrialism of 19th century Victorian England, Guénon documented in the context of retrospectively accounting for the catastrophes of both World Wars I and II, and Ellul documented in the context of the post-World War II exponential growth of technology, the COVID-19 pandemic provides another milestone with which to, at a minimum, revisit their mutually compatible theses with respect to the cataclysm of modernity. Whether COVID-19 proves to be the “big one” and arrests the hegemonic triumvirate of technology, capitalism, and globalization remains to be seen. At a minimum, what can be gleaned from Carlyle, Guénon, and Ellul is that modernity’s improvement of the material standard of living for so many globally needs to be balanced with a view toward moderation and long-term sustainability. Liberal political economy, science, and technological innovation have until now been single-minded seekers of continuous growth without acknowledging the need to at some point ossify or plateau the technical civilization they have each been instrumental in constructing so that it does not become a phoenix and burn to ash.

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