As Twitter noted, this piece about ISIS and modernity appears to hit Peak Guardian:
In the neoliberal fantasy of individualism, everyone was supposed to be an entrepreneur, retraining and repackaging themselves in a dynamic economy, perpetually alert to the latter’s technological revolutions. But capital continually moves across national boundaries in the search for profit, contemptuously sweeping skills and norms made obsolete by technology into the dustbin of history; and defeat and humiliation have become commonplace experiences in the strenuous endeavour of franchising the individual self.
Significantly numerous members of the precariat realise today that there is no such thing as a level playing field. The number of superfluous young people condemned to the anteroom of the modern world, an expanded Calais in its squalor and hopelessness, has grown exponentially in recent decades, especially in Asia and Africa’s youthful societies. The appeal of formal and informal secession – the possibility, broadly, of greater control over your life – has grown from Scotland to Hong Kong, beyond the cunningly separatist elites with multiple citizenship and offshore accounts. More and more people feel the gap between the profligate promises of individual freedom and sovereignty, and the incapacity of their political and economic organisations to realise them.
Phew. I’m feeling exhausted already.
Wait … there’s more?
Isis mocks the entrepreneurial age’s imperative to project an appealing personality by posting snuff videos on social media. At the same time, it has a stern bureaucracy devoted to proper sanitation and tax collection. Some members of Isis extol the spiritual nobility of the Prophet and the earliest caliphs. Others confess through their mass rapes, choreographed murders and rational self-justifications a primary fealty to nihilism: that characteristically modern-day and insidiously common doctrine that makes it impossible for modern-day Raskolnikovs to deny themselves anything, and possible to justify anything.
The shapeshifting aspect of Isis is hardly unusual in a world in which “liberals” morph into warmongers, and “conservatives” institute revolutionary free-market “reforms”. Meanwhile, technocrats, while slashing employment and welfare benefits, and immiserating entire societies and generations, propose to bomb refugee boats, and secure unprecedented powers to imprison and snoop.
You can’t deny that the writer, Pankaj Mishra, has a way with words. But … there are maybe just too many words?
The contradictions and costs of a tiny minority’s progress, long suppressed by blustery denial and aggressive equivocation, have become visible on a planetary scale. They encourage the suspicion – potentially lethal among the hundreds of millions of young people condemned to being superfluous – that the present order, democratic or authoritarian, is built on force and fraud; they incite a broader and more volatile apocalyptic and nihilistic mood than we have witnessed before. Professional politicians, and their intellectual menials, will no doubt blather on about “Islamic fundamentalism”, the “western alliance” and “full-spectrum response”. Much radical thinking, however, is required if we are to prevent ressentiment from erupting into even bigger conflagrations.
Ah. The ambitiously vacuous mixed metaphor to conclude, the last refuge of the over-excited lumpen Marxistist global intellectual: a ressentiment erupts into a conflagration!
No-one can read this rambling screed and follow the argument. He seems to be saying that Society is to Blame for Islamist murder, not the actual, you know, murderers themselves.
But lo! There, at the last, is the core assumption: that ‘progress’ is being made by a ‘tiny minority’ and that that fact is annoying everyone else to the point of fomenting insane extremism. That assertion is reflected in the Guardian sub-headline:
Islamic State is often called ‘medieval’ but is in fact very modern – a horrific expression of a widespread frustration with a globalised western model that promises freedom and prosperity to all, but fails to deliver
The utterly amazing thing about the world today is that more freedom and more prosperity are being ‘delivered’ than ever before. A fact that might be worth mentioning?
Dubai is a dusty small hot stretch of land of some 4000 km², ie roughly half the size of Cyprus. It is probably fair to say that of the billions of actual things (buildings, road-signs, doorknobs, carpets, pencils, air-conditioning units, cars, bigger cars, cars covered in diamonds and so on) now seen in Dubai, almost none at all have been invented in Dubai itself. Instead Dubai has managed to attract these myriad objects and all the underlying creative processes that produce them to its shores through clever management.
The result is stupendous buildings like the Burj Khalifa. That’s where I was the other week. Here’s a couple of snaps I took:
Those tall buildings far below rival our pipsqueak Shard in London, Europe’s tallest building. But they are nothing compared to this beautiful, impossibly brilliant monster, with its lift that swishes you to the viewing-point in about a minute and the fact that everything works when you get there. Just imagine the vision and cleverness to pump people and water to that dizzy height – in the desert.
It reminds me of my favourite quote from Atlas Shrugged. An elderly professor of literature sees the youthful John Galt and friends in a junkyard, dismantling the carcass of an automobile:
He stopped, shook his head and said to Francisco,”A young man of your position ought to spend his time in libraries, absorbing the culture of the world.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” asked Francisco.
Yes, a busy handful of Muslim freaks and losers find all this progress and freedom and creativity and prosperity worrying, and go to join a death-cult that offers nothing but violence, submission and ignorance. Meanwhile huge numbers of poor people across the planet are working out how to get to Dubai to work in the sprouting shopping-centres and office-blocks.
Obvious. So what? So nothing. The point, of course, is that even if by any meaningful measure the ISIS/AQ tendency is small and vile, it does have a restless energy and wider disruptive/subversive power that is hard to measure and contain. A handful of ISIS lunatics causing massacres in any Western country will be incredibly awful.
But it will go nowhere. And on the whole, the world will trend towards accepting the curious mixed values of Dubai. Because Dubai just works, bringing people together in an improbable way that adds reassurance and peaceful cooperation.