Sunday, March 29, 2020

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 31-03-2018 10:49

Cambridge Analytica rules the world, OK?

A considerable number of influential men and women have come to the conclusion that both Brexit and Trump lack legitimacy.

Thanks to a pink-haired whistleblower, we now know why Western democracy is in trouble, with once reliable electorates voting for lunatics and perfectly reasonable policies getting rejected by much of the populace in countries once famous for their levelheadedness. It is all the fault of Cambridge Analytica, a British firm allied to Facebook that wields Big Data like a club which it uses to bludgeon people out of their senses and transform them into rabid right-wingers. Supporters of the crumbling middle-of-the-road establishment, whose representatives had grown used to taking it for granted that no decent person would ever dream of questioning their moral authority, think millions of people have been inveigled by evildoers into backing an unsightly assortment of populist extremists determined to bring civilisation to its knees.

They comfort themselves with the revelation that, had it not been for the marvellously cunning geeks running Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a majority of Britons would have voted against Brexit, while in the US Hillary Clinton would have handily defeated that dreadful man Donald Trump in the 2016 elections. As far as the more fervent are concerned, such sinister international cabals as the Trilateral Commission, the World Economic Forum and even the Synarchy – whose nefarious activities greatly worried Juan Domingo Perón and his acolytes – have had their day. Cambridge Analytica now rules the world.

A considerable number of influential men and women have come to the conclusion that both Brexit and Trump lack legitimacy and that to save democracy from the individuals who are pumping mind-warping software into the social media something very much like censorship will prove necessary. They want to put the tech giants under government control to prevent them from giving a platform to “hate speech” which is already outlawed in the UK and is regularly stamped upon in many prestigious academic institutions in the United States.

The malaise that has Europe and the US in its grip is not that hard to understand. The steep decline in the birth rate may seem wonderful to those who insist that there are far too many humans in the world so the time has come for a thoroughgoing cull, but whatever the long-term prospects may be, countries in which the native population is beginning to shrink are already facing difficulties they will not be able to surmount. Generous welfare systems that were devised decades ago have ceased to be viable, but politicians know that if they try to replace them with more Spartan arrangements, they will soon be out of a job.

To make matters still worse, the demographic implosion has coincided with a technological revolution that, as the astonishing wealth accumulated by a handful of US companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook – and the enormous difference between the earnings of financial, sporting or entertainment superstars and the also-rans – remind us, greatly favours a tiny minority while leaving hundreds of millions of others in the lurch.

For Western societies to survive, they will have to reproduce themselves, which means that on average every woman should have at least two children, but for a variety of cultural and economic reasons, many have little interest in doing so. The idea, expressed most eloquently by Edmund Burke, that to be sustainable a society must respect a contract embracing past, present and future generations seems pathetically reactionary to people without offspring or, at most, a single child, who despise their unenlightened forefathers and care only for what they plan to do next week.

As for the hope that importing millions of philoprogenitive individuals from other parts of the world would solve the problem, that was never more than a pious illusion. Only a tiny percentage of the people who have made their way across the Mediterranean or the Balkans in response to Angela Merkel’s call have what it takes to thrive in an advanced country. The nuclear scientists, brain surgeons or skilled economists well-wishers cheerfully said were flooding into Germany so she could astound the world with a new economic miracle turned out to be few and far between. A large proportion of the newcomers were barely literate in their own language. Along with relatives brought in with the help of family reunion programmes or “chain migration,” most will end up depending on Europe’s already overburdened welfare systems for a modest income, which for many will be humiliating and, needless to say, is bound to lead to the ‘radicalisation’ of youthful malcontents who, like those rednecks that were once alluded to by Barack Obama, will get bitter and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

The last few weeks have been unkind to middle-class progressives who, until fairly recently, assumed that their way of thinking would continue to dominate the developed world. In country after country, movements they deride as ‘populist’ or condemn as ‘rightwing’ are getting stronger and forcing governments to take a tougher line on matters like illegal immigration. In Italy, the majority voted either for a wildly eccentric movement founded by a stand-up comedian, who enjoys sticking it to just about everyone, or a stridently nationalistic outfit whose members would like to expel large numbers of Africans and Asians. In Germany, polls suggest that Alternative für Deutschland, a party that is unabashedly opposed to Islam, has already overtaken the Social Democrats and could soon be snapping at the heels of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

Throughout Europe, attitudes are hardening. Even life-long moderates feel that the ‘progressive elites’ betrayed their compatriots by forging an unnatural alliance with Muslim organisations whose ideological preferences – to judge by their leaders’ public statements about what they would like to do to unbelievers – have much in common with those of the Nazis. Among other things, the willingness of individuals such as the British Labour Party boss Jeremy Corbyn and his counterparts on the continent to appease Muslim militants has given rise to a marked increase in anti-Semitism that is greatly worrying the local Jewish communities. None of this bodes well for the future.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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