Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Waldheim’

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

European Democracy in Retreat: Austria Elects Nazi President

May 23, 2016

Today’s Mirror reported that Norbert Hofer, the candidate for Austria’s FPO party, managed to win the presidential election with a fraction over 51% of the vote. I gather that the presidency in Austria is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, the Mirror was worried in case it showed that the party was going to win a majority in the country’s forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The FPO is the Freiheits Partei Osterreichs, or Freedom Party of Austria. It’s an avowedly far-Right, Neo-Nazi, anti-immigration outfit. It was founded in 1956 by the former Nazi minister and SS officer, Anton Reinthaller.

I was also sent a Channel 4 News report on Hofer and his party from one of the great commenters on this blog. Hofer is a former aeronautical engineer and supporter of gun rights. He walks with a stick, having damaged his leg in a paragliding accident. The reporter notes that the mainstream parties simply don’t feature in this presidential debate. The Social Democrats and Conservatives, who have governed the country for decades, are completely absent, and Hofer’s opponent was a member of the Greens. In a brief interview with the reporter, Hofer states that Austria should offer genuine protection to the real refugees that need it, but the problem is the vast scale of immigration to Austria. The reporter states that the party’s success is a reaction to the increasing number of immigrants from Syria, as well as violent confrontations between the police and pro-immigrant groups on the Italian border. The report shows footage of just such a confrontation between Austria’s rozzers and a crowd holding placards with signs like ‘Immigrants Welcome’. He talks to a family of Syrian refugees in a house established by a former investment banker. She says she put it up to give refugees a safe place to stay. The family are all learning German, and all want to stay. Except for one man, who fears that he has no one to protect him, and so will not be able to.

The reporter also talks to Haller, a Jewish artist living in one of Vienna’s most sumptuous palaces. Herr Haller is a celebrated artist and intellectual, who believes that the current resurgence of the far Right in his homeland is merely another version of anti-Semitism, which has simply metamorphosed into islamophobia. He states that as a Jew, despite his surroundings, nothing feels more natural than to have a suitcase packed ready to be moved on.

The reporter also talks to some of the people about Hofer and the FPO during the Corpus Christi celebrations in Vienna. There, surrounding by dancing people, music and firecrackers, several young guys tell him they support Hofer and his party. In response to the question about which British politician they like, they say ‘Nigel Farage’, as they think he would be good for us. One woman also tells the reporter in German that she voted for Hofer because with all the immigrants coming in taking jobs and so on, she felt like a stranger in her own country.

The reporter in the above video notes how slick Hofer is and his sharp suit. His comments about Austria needing to provide a safe haven for genuine refugees sounds like any discussion of the subject from a mainstream politician. It seems to be part of the way the European extreme Right has become more mainstream by apparently adopting a more mainstream, less openly Nazi attitude, like Marine Le Pens’ Front National across le Manche. I am also not surprised that Hofer’s a gun nut. Quite apart from the notorious militarism of the Far Right anyway, Alex Jones’ bonkers conspiracy site, Infowars, reported that Austrian women were buying guns to protect themselves from Arab/ Muslim rapists during the mass influx of Middle Eastern immigrants from Syria through the Balkans earlier this year. The pro-gun stance seems to be symptomatic of the generally fearful situation in the country, where many feel they need firearms to protect themselves from the physical threat presented by immigrants.

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremist organisation, Hope Not Hate also have a piece about Austria on their website. This gives a brief summary of the Far Right in Austria and the various extreme Right-wing parties and splinter groups, including Hofer’s FPO. The article states that Nazism and pro-Nazi sentiments were allowed to survive in Austria because of the myth that the country was Hitler’s first victim during the Anschluss, despite the fact that many Austrians welcomed their country’s annexation by Germany. The article also notes that from the 1970s the state would not investigate Austrian citizens, who had been leading Nazis, and the controversy in 1986 when it was revealed that Kurt Waldheim, the country’s president, was a former Wehrmacht officer. In fact there was rather more to the scandal than just his membership in the wartime German army: Waldheim was also implicated in a possible war crime against a group of British squaddies during the War. It was only in 1995 that Austria also started paying full compensation to the victims of the Nazis. The FPO was in a coalition with the Conservative Austrian People’s Party – OVP – between 2000 and 2005, and so the country became the only European nation suffering diplomatic sanctions by the EU because of a Nazi government. The party has also been complicit in a series of corruption scandals.

The article also notes that the FPO appears to have infiltrated and manipulated the parts of the civil service and intelligence agencies, including the Office for Protection of the Constitution and Counter-Terrorism (the BVT). No official report on the extreme Right in Austria has been produced since 2002, and the ultra-Conservative student associations, from which many Nazis are recruited, has been removed from the list of suspect organisations. It also appears from a court case involving the Nazi Alpen-Donau.info site that Austrian Neo-Nazis have supporters within the police, the BVT and the Ministry of the Interior.

http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/country-in-focus/austria/

This is how it begins. Hitler started formulating his far-Right ideas when he was young in Austria. He states that he first became an anti-Semite when he moved to Vienna. Going through a back street, he saw one of the Jews from the Austrian Empire’s eastern provinces, probably the Ukraine, in a long kaftan, and recalled how he felt a stranger in his own country. He was also impressed by the mayor of Vienna, Karl von Lugerer and his viciously anti-Semitic Christian Social Party. In fact, Hitler had probably imbibed anti-Semitic and far-Right views before that. Many schoolchildren at the time were pan-German, wanting their country to unite with Germany, and despising the polyglot, multi-ethnic Austrian Empire, and particularly its Slavs and Jews.

Looking at Hitler’s career, and the origins of the Nazi party, it’s hard not to be struck by the impression that history is repeating itself, with islamophobia replacing anti-Semitism as the artist, Haller, said. It has to be stopped, before the West is submerged yet again in brutality, genocide and barbarism.