So today I'm going to talk about "techno fascism". Many of you will have heard me use this phrase in other talks and lectures, and some people find it cute, and some people kind of object to it. They say "hey, isn't that a bit strong?" So I'd like to explain and defend, and to situate the phrase a little bit. I don't think it's particularly extreme, I think it's really quite fitting in many ways. It's certainly a great shorthand that encapsulates many complex ideas that would be hard to fit under one banner.
I think it's timely to talk about techno fascism. And finally, it's certainly not my phrase, so I'd like to talk about where it came from, and that it's really quite an old description. Well, oddly, you know, I don't actually have a single definition of techno fascism, and maybe that's a good thing, because it's a phrase that's obviously open to much interpretation. A few that I've written down here highlight some of the features of it.
In the first place I might characterize it as the misuse of technology, and particularly the misuse of technology to enslave. Slavery can take many forms, of course. You might think of something horrible like an electric fence, or something like that, something more akin to virtual prison bars, and indeed I think that's very much what our mobile technologies are becoming.
But other forms of slavery can be economic. And they can be forms of information slavery. And a great definition of slavery is also addiction. To be utterly dependent on something and unable to live your life without it is of course a form of slavery, and in the last 50 years our relationship with technology has changed radically from one of it being a tool and a convenience, to one where we see no future at all without it.
Which brings me to my second definition here, which is tyranny disguised as tools, and here I'd like to amplify the point that, at the heart of this is a deception, in a disguise. Many forms of enslavement are obvious traps, and we instinctively recoil from them, but sweet bags of candy and shiny things, and the way that somebody gets hooked on drugs, it's always a nice experience. What we encounter does not immediately repel us. It attracts and seduces us.
And so without going now into the details of what I mean exactly by dehumanization, I'd like to point to the third definition I have here, which is a willing mass dehumanization, and I think it's very important to understand here that there isn't necessarily a coordinated oppressive force - fascism in this case is not some political party, wearing uniforms and armbands and marching together.
Fascism can be a cultural phenomenon and very importantly it's one in which large numbers of people collude willingly in their own enslavement. We'll shortly go into some of the psychological reasons why that happens.
A last definition that I'd like to give, and I'm sure that you can add many more yourself, is the death of positive vision, and I mean the death of a positive vision of technology and its benefits for mankind.
If you do a thematic analysis, a kind of word analysis, of most tech journalism and most of the output of Silicon Valley and political discussion of technology, over the last ten years; a word that features very, very highly in that list is "inevitable". In almost every sentence you will see recurring reference to the "inevitable march of progress", the "inevitable digitization of everything", "the inevitable and irresistible intrusion of technology into our lives".
The word inevitable is almost an invisible qualifier to any comment that can be made about technology. And this is very ironic. This is tragic and fascinating at the same time. Most people who would call themselves technologists and scientists and progressives are of the mindset that really like control. We like to understand the universe. We like to be in control of it, and to be able to make predictions. And yet by profound irony we encounter this force which we believe to be inevitable, to be irresistible, to be outside of our control.
And so there's a great schism within the concepts of technology which many philosophers have pointed out over the ages, but I think are now really coming to a head in the early 21st century, that our desire for control over everything has led us to an absolute abdication of will of purpose and direction for the human species. And so I think that "techno fascism" is deeply connected with this death of a positive, alternative, optimistic vision of a technological future.
The very last and most general definition that I'd like to give is simply; domination by big businesses using technology. Now, in this case the businesses don't have to be tech companies. In fact they rarely are. At least not to start with. But what happens is that these businesses insinuate themselves into our lives through technology in such a way as to make other dangers and traps of technology unavoidable.
Well, later on we can talk about how the Cambridge Analytica scandal came about, because they were able to use personal data as an alternative currency. But this pattern more generally, is that large businesses are able to circumvent regulatory frameworks, merger and monopolies regulation, money laundering safeguards, and all the stuff that's there to make big businesses behave themselves.
Hard libertarians look at that and they will say "Well hey, that's just innovation". That's just say, Uber for example, running around all the regulations that govern private taxi companies by calling themselves a "smartphone technology company". And what we have is this invisible nexus of partnerships and arrangements and data sharing incentives, and so on, plus enforcement mechanisms, through lock-in and walled gardens, digital restrictions management. And these create what are in effect enormous nebulous conglomerations of business interests which are unassailable by current legislation and more or less beyond the scrutiny of judges and the justice systems of nation-states.
Now I'd like to distinguish that from the effects of globalization. I think we all realized that in an international business environment it's very difficult to evenly and universally apply laws. And these companies can simply move their interests to a more sympathetic tax haven, or in many cases bribe states to accept them within their borders. But this is not quite the sense in which I mean "techno fascism" to apply to that kind of domination.
Rather, that digital technology sets up a NEW playing field, with NEW rules and relationships and processes which are almost entirely invisible to traditional oversight. What's worse, is that the old power that doesn't really understand how the world works now, makes things much worse by trying to regulate technology. So we then have enormous problems of bureaucracy and make-work activity, ostensibly designed to avoid things like money laundering for example, but what it does is simply interfere with everyday small business and individual behaviors. The large corporations that it was intended to regulate can afford lawyers and processes to simply get around that kind of thing. So naive legislators just go after the wrong targets.
But to expand a little; this phenomenon is anticipated by Neil Postman in his book "Technopoly". Technopoly makes an important distinction between "Technocracy", a technocratic state in which formal process, over systematization and bureaucracy is the fabric of its operation, but in a technocracy individuals still have relatively free choice. They're simply burdened by technological bureaucracy.
However, in a techno-poly the influence and effects of technology are total. Everybody's life simply becomes part of the act of servicing an ever-expanding sphere of technological control. And the reason that the tech companies absolutely love this, of course, is that they intend to supply the infrastructure the frameworks, the fabric of that new technooply. The areas into which they are positioning themselves now are things such as healthcare, census-taking, elections, managing criminal records, and the informatics for the legal and political systems that run society. These of course, should ALL be completely independent from big tech businesses, and they should be operated entirely using free open source software, using open published public standards, and for security reasons built on code which is auditable and transparent for everybody.
Okay. So the phrase, as far as I know, was coined by Joel Kabakov, who is an American Humanist poet, also a writer and musician. And it was brought to my attention by Joe Deken, who is the author of, amongst other things, "The Electronic Cottage", which was a popular book back in the 1980s during the initial surge of enthusiasm for home computer technology. And after Joe had switched me onto this phrase I was really curious, and of course I wanted to talk to Joel, to dig a little bit deeper into the origins of the phrase. And Joel told me that he had had this phrase kicking around in his head for the past 20 years, and that actually very recently some friends of his had said this phrase just so nails our current situation that you have to write a book on it. And now Joe Kabakov does in fact have a book about to be published. I'll give you some details of that on screen.
And as much as I've tried to avoid using the word, it just became quite irresistible to me, as a shorthand for talking about Silicon Valley, Cybernetic Governance, Big Data's abuse of technology for political influence, for psychometric profiling without consent, for the intrusion of damaging technologies into education and the lives of our children, and for the many forms of subtle coercive control that communications tools are now turning into.
So, what do you do with a phrase like "Techno Fascism"? In a way that does not alienate people, and cause them to think that you're some kind of reactionary or conspiracy theorist. So here's what I want to look at today. And obviously, key to this discussion is the word fascism. Is fascism just too strong of a term, for the very dystopian side of technology that we're currently seeing emerge? So, this section is titled "Don't blame the government for caring for you - (but maybe dump your smartphone while you still can)".
A cynical view may be that; governments care only about the economy. Action against Covid 19 is evidence of precisely the contrary. It tells us that in these times of financial fetishisation, and neoliberal excess, we still have human governance. But only just.
People react to this crisis in different ways. Not always consistently. Some people have interpreted my use of the term "techno fascism" as being against government - and that is wrong. Others, rather naively I feel, fail to take the term seriously at all. So what I want to address is that misunderstanding. Here, I actually think in many ways that our European governments have done really, really well in the Covid 19 crisis.
I think the measures have been necessary and proportionate. And, as I said before, the Brits have responded well to them, with dignity and civic responsibility. Based on my understanding of the science, I'd even go so far as to say that the measures don't go far enough. But there are elements of bad governance. And within our own system.
So, the worst government is obviously China, who effectively caused the problem in the first place by suppressing evidence of the outbreak, and very likely killing the scientists who raised the alarm. Arrogance, authoritarianism and vanity are a deadly combination. Even worse is when they say "Look to China for your example!" Well, it's an example of quiet domestic bliss obtained by beating your wife into silence every day.
Next in line is the USA. But for different, and indeed quite opposite reasons. Trump may be the laughing-stock of the world, but the wishful thinking of American people is also a fault of equal measure. I feel really sad for U.S. Americans, because their noble defence of absolute freedom is leveraged against their deeper self interests.
But everywhere on Earth, it's about the same battle - a battle between the interests of the rich industrialists, the invisible powers, and real government if you like, those who are trying to put the interests of 'the people' first. Crisis events can have a leveling effect. But equally, power resists that, and it always tries to take advantage of hardship to make gains.
Most European states are aligned with common sense. They have the courage to go up against the dominant classes, and their very precious economy, which I think is code for the continued dominance of the minority interests. And no doubt the Germans have approached things with a hallmark brusque directness, but even if the methods are heavy I think the logic is sound, and the intention is benevolent.
So this is what GOOD government looks like. But there's a world of difference between necessary temporary restrictions on physical freedom, and feeding those forces that are corrosive to democracy in the long run. The issues around technology are therefore very different. There's a great quote, but I forget the source, I think maybe it's George Carlin, who says "The definition of absolute terror is waking up one day in your middle age and realizing that all those people you went to school with are running the world."
For me, these were the people playing Space Invaders while I was coding in Z80 assembly language. They're the ones who solved the Rubik's Cube by taking all of the stickers off it. You remember those guys, right? As I see it, either governments have absolutely no understanding of technology, or they're actively mendacious and malignant in their aims, or most likely they're being taken for a ride! I think it's the last, of course. They seem to be advised by people who are corrupt and dangerous, who are infiltrated by intelligence agents and private big tech agents.
So, like the Chinese doctor who tried to raise the alarm, moderate thoughtful and truly intelligent voices - indeed science and political science itself, is being ignored or sidelined. I think we're in the midst of a soft technofascist coup. It's one I do not think will succeed. But nonetheless, unless the people push back each surge has a ratcheting effect. Like the Covid 19 virus itself, can this actually be a wake-up call? Can it help us see that Google, Microsoft, Amazon Facebook, and the dozens of other technology companies around the world are not just economically harmful as monopolies, I mean we could have built a dozen hospitals with the taxes that the tech giants have failed to pay, but they're profoundly dangerous entities in their own right, with sinister agendas.
So far, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and multiple scandals like Cambridge Analytica have failed to impact our behaviour. Even if opinion has moved slightly. My opinion, and my duty as a computer scientist to say it, is that our addiction and dependence on smart technology is a more immediate threat to humanity than climate change. Not because of the potential of the technology per se, but that those who are producing and controlling it have extraordinarily dangerous 'Transhumanist' motives.
To me those motives are fairly transparent, because I do have the technical understanding to know how benefits could be obtained without the terrifying totalitarian agenda. As I'm recording these thoughts today, I heard that Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk had passed away :( It makes me really sad. Because Kraftwerk is music that I'm deeply connected with. It does remind me of my own passion for technology, and why I defend a different vision of the 'man-machine', one which amplifies our self-defined identity, and respects creativity, and difference. It's technology which can be a friend, and a guide, a teacher, and a whole world to explore - as all hackers understand.
But the Tech-fascist version forced upon us in these dumbed down idiot boxes is really the antithesis of that. It's everything that created the ruins and cultural vacuum from which Kraftwerk emerged. It is technology as a tool of control. Of deception and surveillance. And of course hats-off! to the Germans who have suffered and seen away not just Hitler but the Stasi too.
I think if the tech giants had their way, there would be no government. At least not one made up of people who debate, and agonise over difficult decisions. Google would conduct our elections. And algorithms would decide who lives or dies based on perfectly rational logic. So don't blame your government. They are fallible people. Thank God!
Be glad that you still have one, with enough human interest in people to try to protect us. What they do not seem to have is the spine or good sense to stand up to the tech fascists. So maybe help them. Realise that your smartphone really has total control over your life. Not you not your government - but a little box, it's made in China and owned and operated by a corporation thousands of miles away in a bunker. As it stands, they have you right in the palm of your hand. Their hand seems to be a caring, loving hand, but at any moment it will snap shut into an iron fist.
So, to be clear my objection has nothing to do with any measures to battle the Covid 19 virus, rather that the crisis is being used as an opportunity by what are already threats to democratic society to advance themselves further. The science, and the statements from the W.H.O. seem pretty clear. There's not much that digital immunity certificates or tracing applications can offer. Technology could play a part, but not without the earned respect, honesty and civic duty the government's can only obtain by fair dealing.
So far, the situation unfolding in Britain looks like a scandal parallel to the Cambridge Analytica disaster. It's actually the worst thing that could have happened if elective, privacy respecting technology, is to have any part in fighting Covid 19.
I think that everybody knows what we really need is the painful option - an extended lockdown, and the courage to support that, and the courage to realize that certain sectors of the old economy are going to have to be let go. It's the safer alternative to surrender of freedom potentially forever.
More to the point, having weathered the pandemic we need to think about how to restructure our shared economy for a possibly long endemic period. That's a conversation to which I think big data should NOT be invited - at least not until the grown-ups and mature political thinkers have set the rules. We need to set rules so that we're not all funneled into a technological nightmare.
Silicon Valley, the new Cambridge Analytica, which is Palantir and Facebook, and all these data parasites on our society, need to be stopped.
Now here's a question. Do we actually need a new phrase like "Techno-fascism"? Is there some gap in our vocabularies that's not serviced by some alternative word? Well, I think the answer is yes, sometimes it seems really hard to pin down exactly what is going on in a technological neoliberal society. We are not sure if some things happen for economic reasons or whether they're driven by party politics or whether there are technical reasons for the problems that we see.
One really great phrase is offered by Lucy, the presenter of Juice Media's "Guide to Honest Government" - which is really funny satire and I would highly recommend it if you want a good laugh - it's the closest thing that we have in 2020 to "Yes Minister".
She says that governments are up to their necks in shitfuckery. Now shitfuckery is a brilliant word for it. Amongst our circle of friends and family, which includes Nobel prize-winning scientists, CBE's, high ranking, experienced medical and military persons, general practitioners, and our local Vicar, we're all very comfortable with the word shitfuckery. And when the grown-ups are talking, we all know very well what we mean - with respect to crappy privacy invading software, to being ripped off by parking meters and supermarket self-service machines, getting to the end of a 20 page web form and finding that it bombs out on you, or just adds an extra five quid surcharge for no reason.
Basically, all the ways in which we are victims of abuse by technology. And we know very well that that technology was designed to abuse us, and that our abusers hide behind the technology. So, everybody's lives every day is an experience of "shitfuckery". Because technology creates an unassailable one-way membrane it resists scrutiny, it resists feedback, analysis and correction, by those who are victims of its abuse, and it hides behind an unquestionable but essentially fake narrative of necessity, inevitability, and unquestionable progress.
Everybody who encounters technological abuse feels extraordinarily frustrated by this constant shitfuckery, but again it's fine to talk this way when the grown-ups are having a conversation, but unfortunately the word is not OK for children under six years old and business people. It's funny maybe that we put those two things in the same category. It's a strange world indeed when the vicar and my friend's 97 year old grandmother are perfectly comfortable and understanding of the word shitfuckery, but a 25 year old person who hides themself in a suit and assumes the epithet 'executive', or rather everybody these days is a 'CEO', of something, those kind of people feel the need to feign offence at what the rest of us take for granted. But this is all very much part of our fake society, with our fake values, the shallow virtue signalling that passes as corporate values today.
So those of us who are merely upstanding professionals, pillars of the old society, need to tone down our language a little bit, if we're to be allowed to participate in the discourse controlled by the corporate mass media. In which case we need a more acceptable and polite word, to stand in for "shitfuckery", and it seems that maybe by comparison "technofascism" is a quite mild and safe word. Another reason that we need a word like "technofascism" is as a way to deal with the complexity and fragmentation of the entire arena of discourse around technology and society.
For example, we could try to examine the previously mentioned example, of the parking meter that rips you off, in terms of database access, real-time versus batch processing, of transactions quantization of fungible denominations of money, and management of software versioning: - but at the end of the day the common factor behind the process of decision making in the entire design it's just one of putting technical efficiency ahead of human values. In other words it doesn't help us to make a technical deconstruction if the common problem is one of disrespect for people. Each stage of the technological analysis makes perfect rational sense.
So, even if you were a computer scientist who was able to understand these things, you'd find it very hard to argue against any particular step or component of the design. It's only when taken as a whole that the overriding principle of the design which is: "fuck you, give us your money" becomes apparent.
But anyway, the problem is that ordinary people do not understand these complex and difficult concepts, or the technical vocabulary of software engineering, and neither are they familiar with the language of InfoSec and Security Engineering - of trust models, of zero knowledge proofs, of forward secrecy and ephemeral keys, of non repudiation and key exchanges, of hash collisions, 128 bit unique identifiers, prime factorizations and elliptic curves! People just want to know that their stuff is safe. And that their conversations are private.
But unfortunately not only is this stuff hard to understand, people are just lied to, either by marketing and advertisers or lied to by those who stand to benefit from them leaking data due to insecurities. So many security products are insecure by design. And indeed deceptive. Just this week the British government blatantly lied to the British people by saying that the NHS contact tracing application offered privacy and anonymity. Any freshmen InfoSec student who looked at the designs would see immediately: that cannot possibly be the case.
This is in fact a perfect example of what Harry Frankfurt, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University called "bullshit". Indeed, Frankfurt attempts to give a very specific and precise meaning to the word bullshit. What he means by it is words that are spoken by those who have a contempt for meaning. It's not so much that they intend to deceive, as that they just don't care at all about the words that come out of their mouths, so long as their objectives are achieved. So by this account at least, the government department behind the NHS contact tracing app are completely full of it!
My point here is that one quality of technofascism, and it's something that I don't think ordinary people yet have a handle on, or proper words to express, is the degree to which the technological society treats them with CONTEMPT. In our technologically mediated relationships our common sense intelligence is treated with complete disregard. We are expected to believe that we are merely the beneficiaries of some kind of benevolent magic. And that our ideas of how technology should be used and its place in our society are beneath consideration.
So let's look at some points of departure. People will say: well you know Andy... fascists kill people. And what I'm not seeing here is the lines of mass graves and bullet-pitted walls outside of Google. I'm just not seeing those Microsoft Death Camps. And yeah. Yeah, okay. Right. You can't see mass graves at Google, because there are no mass graves at Google. But it's not like there are no mass graves because of Google. Like their code development... that's something that they can outsource to China.
And people say: "well, hey Andy you know, fascists wear uniforms. And I've worked at Google, you know, it's pretty laid back. We drink lattes and have hipster beards and kind of kick back on beanbags. What's the big deal man?" But, you know what? Uniformity and forms of totalitarian opposition to difference, to choice, are to me, increasingly qualities which define the technology market. We are now into territory which I see very much as feudalism. With walled gardens, and cult-like corporate identity. It might not look like a 1930s rally in the Olympic Stadium. But when you have two or maybe three billion people wearing an Apple badge on their computer, I don't think the issue of lockstep uniformity is something to ignore.
Finally, people will say: "well look Andy, you know you can always spot a fascist because they love obscure classical music". And you're right. I can't see Eric Schmidt or Mark Zuckerberg weeping to Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony. I guess they're more kind of Wagner guys.
So yeah, it doesn't look as if the project of technofascism really meets the criteria, of real fascism by those accounts. So then, let's think about the definition of real fascism in a bit more serious depth. And I think we ought to start by stating that there are definitely three elements or levels on which we could think about it.
Fascism exists as a visible political force, with all the trappings of uniforms and mobs of people shouting. But that is underpinned by less visible sociological forces - norms and mores, habits, accepted values, tolerances and thresholds for ideas, a Zeitgeist, to choose a slightly wanky term. And beneath that is Fascism as a form of individual psychology.
Fascism as it exists as a propensity, a tendancy, or predilection within the minds of anybody, all of us, a circuit or activatable personality trait, which in a cultural analogy of epigenetics can be switched-on, given the right circumstances or environmental conditions.
So when we're talking about fascism we need to think about these three different realms, or kinds of phenomenon - the psychological, the sociological, and the overtly political. And I'm going to go through them in that order, a reverse order if you like, building from bottom to top.
So. To begin with the psychological, and the origins of fascism in fear, let's begin by thinking about biology and attachment theory and so on. And the need that the infant has for protection. We spend a large percentage of our lives looking to the protection of others. Now it's really quite fascinating because human beings having very large brains, being intelligent animals have very large heads, and because the hips and the birth canal can only be so big during childbearing, we find ourselves in a very precarious situation compared to other animals.
Unlike a zebra that can drop a foal onto the ground, and a few hours later it's ready to run away from a pack of hungry lions, as humans we spend a very long period of our lives being cared for by others. Because our very large brains take a long time to develop. And so human children and young adults have a much more complex relationship with adult caregivers than other animals seem to.
Now, it's really important to realise that there should be at some point a healthy separation. In the journey to adulthood and self-actualization a being has to become self-sufficient and confident. But more and more in modernity, because of economic considerations, and housing, and how we structure our societies, people are spending longer and longer in a state of dependency. You have adults now that are 40 years old living with their parents. They can't afford to buy a house. And have no confidence to manage their own lives.
So what we do as human beings is we build institutions of care. We make institutions like schools and hospitals. And the biggest institution of all, if you like, is The State. So, I'd like to talk for a moment about Thomas Hobbes and the rationale behind the state.
So, who is Thomas Hobbes, and what does he have to do with fascism? Well, even though this is a really very complex part of political science and human psychology I'm going to try and simplify it as much as I can, and ask you to think for a moment, which gang do you turn to when you're in trouble? Now, in a feudal land that's made of warlords and local chiefs, and gangsters, to get justice you go and appeal to the local strongman. And he sends his lackeys to go and beat up your enemies. And thereafter you're in his debt. And so the world gravitates into many local centres of power, each of which are potentially at war with each other.
Now it's hard to imagine that at one time in history there were many police forces. Think of a film like Gangs of New York. For example, the problem with many local centres of power is that they're always at each other's throats. There's a lot of violence. There are blood feuds. And tit-for-tat killings. And it can go on like that for decades.
The establishment of the modern state is really a kind of a bargain. We call it the "social contract", and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes was instrumental in our definition and understanding of this. There's a very famous book called Leviathan, in which Hobbes crucially defines the state as being that entity which has a monopoly on violent force. So why would anybody agree to having one all-supreme force?
Well, the counterintuitive argument is that this brings about peace. And of course it does. Because the essence of the state is: while we invest that monopoly to power in it, it tries to never use it. Hobbes defines this social contract as an agreement between citizens and state. That the citizens would allow the state to exist, and not to use force against it, or against each other, in return for centralized and coordinated peacekeeping force if you like.
Now, to understand why Hobbes's social contract is somewhat wanting and very different from a similar but distinctly different kind of social contract which came around the same time via somebody called Jean-Jacques Rousseau you have to understand Thomas Hobbes' personality. Hobbes grew up in a time of civil war in England. And it really must have been a horrible time for him personally. He famously coined the phrase that without a social contract life was "Nasty, brutish and short.", invoking the idea that life before Hobbsian politics was something of a medieval Monty Python sketch, with everybody grubbing around in the mud for food and chopping each other's heads off with swords.
Well, I really don't think that was the case. I think Hobbes was a product of his times, and civil wars are very ugly. Hobbes was very brutalized by the war, which leaves the Hobbesian social contract very tainted. It's very distorted by a pessimistic view of human nature, one which is dominated by a fear, of decay, a fear of disease and disorder, and so what seems to come out in Thomas Hobbes' account of a social contract is seemingly a very authoritarian outlook, a quite obsessive need for order, strong disdain and disgust, all the elements of the "authoritarian mind" laid out by Theodore Adorno and more recently amplified by people like Jordan Peterson.
But most of all it's one that is dominated by fear. Especially fear of the unknown and fear of strangers and so on. It's a life that's "lived on the back foot" as it were. And along with it goes an almost obsessive need for control. Control can be manifest in many ways. In good ways - as scientific curiosity and technologies like medicine to fight disease. But it can very quickly become a dangerous desire for immortality and complete mastery of others. For "Total Information Awareness" and many qualities that we might characterize as the Apollonian archetype, of which I'll say a little bit more later. And within this mindset people tend to want not competent leaders, but strong leaders.
Obviously, over the centuries the form of that strength has changed greatly, from physical prowess to more the Machivellian charisma, a psychopathically deceptive kind of person who's able to obtain a following based on their charm and trickery. But what gets lost in all of this is a very different, alternative form of social contract and state which derives from the more optimistic interpretation of Rousseau. Rousseau has a very positive view of humanity. He calls man the "compassionate animal". Almost the complete opposite of Thomas Hobbes in many ways, and if you like, Rousseau's version of the social contract is based on a mutual collaboration between Citizen and State, to co-author a nation's existence.
Rousseau's form of social contracts tempers democracy, whereas Hobbes' social contract tempers tyranny. But remember, that both forms were considered by Aristotle as corrupt, and as poor substitutes for polity. So what we have tainting 21st century politics are these hangovers from 17th and 18th century philosophies, which normalize violence even though today the state rarely employs it and prefers soft power. But still, it perpetuates an admiration for strength which is wholly inappropriate in many modern contexts.
So let's think for a moment, what's changed in a modern context? Well, for a start, coercion is rarely conducted through either physical harm or even the threat of physical harm. Power, as explained in texts by people like Michel Foucault, an oddly much-despised philosopher, I don't quite get why, is exercised institutionally as a form of very soft power now. We call it nudging, or gentle influence.
We have a Nanny State figure, we have education systems which are functionalist in nature, designed to create mostly uncreative and docile compliant individuals, and they're ruled over in in a way that Aldous Huxley understood very well, in contrast to George Orwell. We are ruled over by absolute benevolence. By caring corporations which offer us all the riches of science. And all you see is the carrot, never the stick. If you do see the stick, it's very subtle sabotage to your well-being in life, usually as a kind of smearing or social exclusion, or disadvantage of some kind.
These tactics were developed and perfected in the communist regimes of the USSR and North Korea and in China today. China very much so, which has given a formal digital structure to using shame and exclusion as technologically-mediated sticks for social control. But nonetheless, this violence still exists and in many ways it's a much more dangerous kind of violence. There's something very much more honest and easy to deal with when you have a brutal dictator. When you have men with guns who say: "if you say this, we will shoot you!". "If you denounce the leader, will arrest you and will beat you up!".
But instead, the violence of a cybernetic government, of a technologically mediated government, is for the most part automatic. It's coded-in. It's statutory justice which unfolds without anybody's intervention. And it's linear. There's no threshold or point at which you can conceive "a crime" has been committed. There's simply a constant push back against all forms of free-thinking, of independent and creative living, and of challenging speech. You simply find that your career opportunities and travel opportunities and the whole potential of your life is limited. You are excluded, and ostracised and gently pushed to the margins of life.
So in this sense, the Hobbesian state predicated on fear is still very much alive, but its forms of violence have changed. And what really enables that change is modern digital technology.
I'd like to move on now to another topic and examine the idea of synthesis as a hallmark of fascism. Now, you've probably heard before the phrase "separation of interests" or sometimes the "separation of spheres". For example, in most secular countries, we expect there to be a good separation between Church and State. And perhaps two other clearly separated spheres might be Employment and Education, because we don't much like the idea of child labour.
We also like to think that public and private life are things that can be kept separate. That those who have a professional public life, like celebrities and politicians, should be able to enjoy personal family time. But when you take a closer look at many attempts to separate spheres you find that very often they are a sham. Or at least, wishful thinking.
So the idea of keeping business out of politics, or politics out of business, is really a very silly idea. And the artificial line that we draw between the corporate and the political, when we pretend the influence of those upon each other is corruption of some kind, is really a fantasy.
So one of the common and very strong definitions of Fascism - is a very cosy relationship between government and big business. And although many checks and balances are put in place to fight corruption, to make business people accountable, to make sure that tenders are processed for government contracts and so on, pragmatists know that really it's a great tangle of enmeshed interests.
Rather famously an American President, President Eisenhower made a remark, rather coined a phrase that I think most of you will be familiar with, when he warned against "The Military-Industrial Complex". And actually, you know, for sure, the arms industry is still very large, and wars are still profitable for weapons manufacturers, and so on, but I think today the real problem, and where we should be placing focus and scrutiny, is in the Data-Industrial Complex, if you like. It's in the intersection of consumer technology and governance, and by comparison I think Eisenhower's military industrial complex looks quite quaint and old-fashioned.
So most of you will immediately think of big-tech companies like Google and so on, but to take a historical perspective, I highly recommend reading Edwin Black's quite shocking book called "IBM and the Holocaust", it's in a nutshell, about how the IBM computer company allegedly, knowingly assisted the Nazis in processing of the Jews in the Holocaust. But really that's part only of a bigger picture which is even more shocking in some ways.
If you think our history of World War II is something like "Saving Private Ryan", where we were all united against this unquestionably evil Nazi force... well, that just wasn't the case for many Americans. Many of America's richest industrialists were, throughout the 1930s and very late into the war, arming both sides. They were supplying goods and services to the Nazi regime. And very interestingly, after the close of the war, they then went on to successfully sue, to prosecute the American government for having dropped bombs on their factories in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Even though at the time those were enemy countries with whom we were at war.
So, the relationship between business and State... it's not what you think. We talk a lot about regulation as if nation-states really had the power and the stick to control large businesses. But I think if we're realistic, that's not quite the power relationship that exists. And once you really starts to understand the financialization of capital, which sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, and it's subtle... so I'll take a stab at explaining it, as I understand it, is that what we think of as modern corporations really do not exist anymore.
The "corporations" don't exist. A person who explains this very well, and whom I learned from, is Professor Wendy Brown who did an excellent talk on the radical changes that have taken place in the governance of universities in the past ten years. She explained that, you know, many academics are so out of touch in their criticism of the modern university system as being corporate, where as corporate is a dead word in this sense.
Because the real control, the money, is no longer with corporations. Corporations are simply instruments to be bought and sold on the market. International global capital, in a sense, floats above the market. It is a political force not only outside of nation-states, outside of the visible and tangible fabric of the business world, yet these financial powers absolutely rule nation states. They may not have a direct voice. They may not have any immediately visible, tangible form, but nonetheless this invisible capital is what rules our lives. And oddly, it's not valued in dollars or pounds. In order to exist outside of the banking system, highly financialised capital is all about share price.
So, take for example a company like Twitter. It essentially has no business model. It's never made a profit. In fact, if any freshman business student came up with Twitter as a business model for an assignment, they'd immediately be failed by their professor. That's not where its value is! The naive idea that we learn at school about business, that we should balance the books, we should meet demand with supply, we should create a surplus and therefore a profit, and we should create value in the world... Well, none of this applies to modern financialised business.
So what is the value of something like Twitter? Well, it's reputation. It's influence. It's the value of that brand symbol and that network, to attract money, to attract power, and to attract following. It's a nexus for control. And if you think about it all in this revised context you have to ask the question - well, "just what are businesses in the 21st century?" Well, businesses are just gangs! And so we're back to where we started in the pre-Hobbesian model.
The only way that governments and nation-states have to deal with these international gangs is to - shall we say - "work with them". And by "working with them" I mean collude in various forms of anti-democratic actions and corruption.
So in this sense the social contract is void. And we find ourselves in a world in which one of the key tenets of Fascism, one of the key markers, this collusion between big business and government, via various forms of corruption, is highly prevalent today. And the place it seems most active is within the tech industry.
One of the interesting reasons is, well I suppose you've heard the quip that data is the new oil, and most of the safeguards put in place to tackle corruption involve the tracing of money so businesses cannot pay governments and governments cannot give money to businesses without it being visible.
But what happened in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and what I believe is happening now in the NHSX application scandal - I'm sure it will be seen as a scandal at some point, is that data is being used in lieu of money. Data which corporations have gathered is very hard to trace. You can fit a billion personal records onto a USB stick and slip it under the desk. So, there's no way for the mechanisms which tackle corruption at the financial level to deal with corruption carried out in this alternative currency.