Charlie Stross: January 2019 Archives

So last night a British government was handed the biggest defeat in modern parliamentary history (since the middling-late 19th century, at any rate) in its attempt to systematically disenfranchise three million EU citizens, violate the Good Friday Agreement, generate a requirement for a racist and invasive population tracking system (hint: that's an implicit corollary of the NI border backstop, and the Home Office has had a hard-on for a National Identity Register since the 1950s), and irreparably damage the British financial, services, and manufacturing sectors ... all in the name of preserving Conservative Party unity.

(Lest we forget, in a 2015 poll of how the public prioritized different political issues, EU membership came tenth out of a field of ten.)

In the USA, the Republican-induced shutdown of government spending has resulted in Coast Guards being paid out of a charity, Air Traffic Controllers being fed pizza paid for by the Canadian counterparts, and diabetic civil servants desperately rationing their insulin and just hoping to wake up in the morning. If it goes on much longer, a lot of those civil servants won't be around to come back to work: they'll have had to go looking for jobs elsewhere. And yet, the shutdown continues because the mafia shill in the big house desperately needs a distraction from the 17 different investigations into his crime ring, and "build a wall" rallies his party base.

It's almost like these were two sides of the same coin, isn't it?

I'm trying to remember if I said this on my blog some time over the last 20 years, but: one of my working principles is that the event horizon in politics in a democracy is no more than 5 years. (Or: the maximum time between elections.) Consider Germany in January 1934, and how outlandish and dystopian the situation would have sounded if you'd described it to a German citizen in January 1929. (30% unemployment! A dictator and a state of emergency! Concentration camps! Anti-Jewish laws!)

Here's a reflection: the value proposition of democracy is that it provides for a peaceful transfer of power, once an incumbent regime loses its political legitimacy. If you have a working democracy you don't need revolutions to get rid of incompetent leadership. As Enoch Powell said, "every politician's career ends in failure" (unless they die unexpectedly): in a democracy they agree to step down, and life goes on.

But when you get a faction, party, or regime that no longer subscribes to the idea of democracy and refuses to back down gracefully, you get back the old problems: pressure for change builds up and when it erupts the effects can be devastating and unpleasant--especially, as we've had a crash-course reminder in recent years, when the tools of communication make it really easy for dangerous demagogues to draw a following.

I think we can safely say that since 2013, the grip of the beige dictatorship on the western system has been broken. Unfortunately, we're now living through a period of turbulence analogous to that which followed the collapse of the Age of Monarchies in Europe, 1917-1919 (during which pretty much every monarchy in central and eastern Europe went down like a row of dominoes). It took until 1945 for the dust to settle and a stable, broadly social-democratic new order to emerge in the west: I just hope our current turbulence settles down before 2045, because otherwise our planetary climate and biosphere is fucked.



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in January 2019.

Charlie Stross: December 2018 is the previous archive.

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