It’s the lack of updates of our killer apps, stupid!

In his vivid and fascinating book “Civilization” (Penguin, 2011), Niall Ferguson – one of Britain’s most renowned historians, is looking for the cause of a well-known phenomenon: The decreasing dominance of Western Civilization in our world. He reveals the six killer applications that helped Europe (and North America) to rule the world in the past 500 years:

  • Competition,
  • property rights,
  • science,
  • medicine,
  • the consumer society
  • work ethics

He observes that it is not the long awaited ‘clash of civilizations’ that threatens this dominance, but the mere fact that all killer apps have been downloaded by competing civilizations or world powers. The obvious loss of dominance of Europe and the U.S.A. is due to a lack of new killer applications and the lack of updates. Competition has started to engineer his or her own updates – hardly downloadable in the Western Civilization or ‘modernity’. The main cause of this lack of updates, Ferguson argues, comes from within: Lack of backbone, cowardness or, as he puts it, ‘pusillanimity’.

Though the concept of Civilization is hard to define, Ferguson uses a quote of Winston Churchill to illustrate its essence: “The central principle of western civilization is the subordination of the ruling class to the settled customs of the people and to their will as expressed in the constitution.” In other words: The relation between government and society as put down in a law where democracy restricts the privileges of a ruling class.

Civilized people?

But, as Churchill already mentioned: “To sustain a civilization, you need civilized people”. Meaning amongst others people with a fully developed identity, in which a secure work-based identity still plays an important role. The proportion of these individuals worldwide seems to decline. How come?

We have to turn to Professor Guy Standing, who provides a clue in his book “The precariat – the new dangerous class” (Bloomsbury, 2011): “Before globalization that started in the 70s the labor market of economies open to trade and investment had about 1 billion workers and job seekers. By 2000, the labor force of those countries had risen to 1,5 billion. Meanwhile, China, India and the ex-Soviet bloc had entered the global economy, adding 1,5 billion. So the labor supply in the globalizing economies trebled.” Wages crumbled and the following flexibilization of labor (or: re-commodification) has driven hundredths of millions of people into the precariat: A new class in the making in the Marxian sense. Standing adds: “It is not right to equate the precariat with the working poor or with just insecure employment […], precariousness also implies a lack of a secure work based identity. Indeed: A precarious proletariat.”

The rapidly growing precariat needs its energy to survive, misses an important part of its identity, is sometimes socially isolated and probably not very interested in civic citizenship. Neo-fascism, political disengagement and thinning democracy are the results. The ever increasing income inequality fortifies a global elite that wants to protect itself and its property.

The inferno scenario

The basis for a Churchillian civilization is quickly eroding, we may conclude. Democracy is replaced by Internet polls, at its best, and the ruling class owns the government. In his ‘inferno scenario’ Standing describes the well-known reaction of most Western governments:

The panopticon/surveillance society, including panopticon schooling by means of invasive software on P.C.’s, laptops and iPads provided by schools and universities to drill students, the Snowdenian invasion of privacy and… demonizing the precariat (either you are rich – or a looser).

The Paradise scenario

His ‘paradise scenario’ seems to be too good to become true: A basic income for earthlings, redistributing security, recovery of identity, amongst others. I’m afraid this scenario might require an old fashioned revolution from ‘the people’ against the self-appointed elite, who, according to some experts try to implement the New World Order.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Consequences for Breakthrough Energy

The logical consequences of these developments are mostly a reification of all institutions that enabled Western Civilization: Science, education, justice, health care, police, the banking system – all in increasing ‘free market’ mode, dominated by measurable output and money. For these reasons, the established corner-institutions of the western civilization are unable to provide a proper response to turmoil in society – whether originating from a fear-inspiring precariat, or from creative groups or coalitions of the willing (well-willing, I mean). In the present state of our modernity, abundant energy will not make any difference. The consequences for the Breakthrough Energy Community are all but positive; chances that it reaches any goal in a contracting and ‘pusillanimous’ society are low – chances for suppression are high. Chances that Global B.E.M. ends up in the African Sahel, Northeast India, China or Brazil (or another hotspot where conditions are more favorable), too.

Until that time: We, at Global B.E.M., remain determined to gather as much information as possible concerning Breakthrough Energy, concentrate it – and distribute it in hopefully, a ‘save-for-all’ way.

In case you disagree with my reasoning or want to increase the small pockets of hope and happiness: Let us know – we are not too old to learn.

A final quote from Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Lex Ros

(this column was publicized in BEM’s quarterly magazine PULSE – Spring 2014 -

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