December  2018
LUXURY DISEASES and the end of a GOLDEN AGE?

A vocal set of Westerners now believe- with religious intensity- that humankind is 'the enemy of the planet'. In the extreme, their vision is that we should go back to living 'in tune with nature' (in small vegan communities?)- which would require 4 or 5 billion people to 'disappear', and inevitably cancel out most of the gains in life expectancy and living standards we've enjoyed since industrialisation. And many now seem to be convinced that every difference in outcome (income, wealth, and especially status) is, and can only be, the result of sexism, racism and oppression, and that ethnicity and gender are a personal choice rather than biologically determined.

They are only able to hold and give voice to these absurd beliefs because of the wealth and prosperity generated by the very things they are opposed to: Industrial development and competition within a merit based society. Such views are therefore unsustainable (using their own favourite word).

But their influence is putting a brake on many things which seem sensible. Geo-engineering schemes to control the climate for example, which are rejected as heretical before work can even be done to determine whether such ideas can be effective and aren't too risky. In a local example, New Zealand refuses to consider waste-to-energy plants- because this would weaken the 'moral imperative' to reduce rubbish. And social justice warriors are well on the way to having appointments and employment determined by quotas and victimhood status rather than by ability and work. To stifle discussion of how retrograde this is, they've activated a baying mob to intimidate those who dare question their dogmas. That the focus of the West is turning away from the material world (productivity, wealth creation and power) has perilous consequences. There are practical reasons why progress is useful (better healthcare, more efficient transport, quicker ways to do things), and countries that don't keep up inevitably get bullied by those who do. But there is another good reason to support the industrialisation that has increased average life expectancies from less than 30 years to 80 for many developed countries. And this is that people who become alienated - or get left behind for any reason- become extremely resentful of those who then become better off than themselves - and often express their anger by turning to violence. At an individual level, those whose lives are screwed up with drugs and gangs are more than averagely inclined to anger and violence for example. Regrettably, it's not at all difficult to convince people that someone else is to blame for their failures and that violence in pursuit of redress is therefore justified.

And this reaction applies at national scale also.

The Ottoman empire, 1453 to 1922, was successor to the various caliphates that had led the Sunni Islamic world during its explosive expansion. At their peak the Ottomans ruled from Egypt to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucasus to Hungary, having made inroads into the Balkans with repeated bloody attacks over hundreds of years. Crucially, they lost to Venetian led European naval forces at the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and failed to take Vienna in 1683 when John Sobieski's Polish cavalry arrived just in time to lift the siege. The Ottomans were a spent force by the 19th century, having refused to change with the times- or being unable to. Entrenched vested interests, hierarchy and stultifying regulations prevented necessary change- as did their underlying Islamic ideology; that everything needed to be known is in the Koran and hadiths- and change is neither necessary nor possible. During their decline the Sunni world fractured into multiple dysfunctional states. We are all now paying the price for this in Islamic extremism, which in large part appears to be driven by Sunni resentment that the world at large became prosperous and powerful while they slipped into poverty and irrelevancy- notwithstanding major oil reserves. The Shia arm of Islam (Iran led) isn't doing so well either and also take out their anger on the world through terrorism.

China is another example: There's plenty of evidence that for the 2000 years up to the 15th century, China, under various dynasties, was the world's wealthiest and most powerful country. During this period, they invented the compass, paper, printing, gunpowder and many other key elements of the developing world. They had cast iron from 2500 years ago- 1800 years before it came into use in Europe. But during the 1400's, they turned inwards, became bogged in bureaucracy, took to resisting change and penalising innovation. The results were predictable; by the 19th century they had no defence against Western powers who imposed foreign 'concessions' and one-sided treaties- and plundered them during the opium wars, culminating with the sacking and occupation of Beijing in 1900. The Chinese have not forgotten- they call this time their century of humiliation, and are intent on reclaiming what they regard as their rightful place in the world.

Until recently this goal has been carefully understated; Deng Xiaoping, leader from 1978 to 1989 said; "-- hide our capacities and bide our time --". But it has recently become clear, with occupation and militarisation of the South China Sea, blatant stealing of Western IP, bullying behaviour to countries that don't kowtow, and ruthless suppression of dissent. Though Western powers treated China badly during the 19th century, it's also true that they would not have been able to if China hadn't stopped the clock for a few hundred years. Now, after just 40years of catching up (counting from Deng not Mao), they are back to challenging for top spot. And as they assert their new-found strengths and a new balance of power emerges, the risk to world peace is considerable- which is a high price for a wrong direction taken 500 years ago!

This should give pause to those in the West who now oppose nearly everything the West does that makes us strong. We are under sustained attacks by single issue crusaders on everything from farming (use of water, animal welfare, emissions), defence forces (human rights, gender), business (health and safety, employee rights, environmental) to education (everyone should be equal), free speech (the truth is no longer a defence to accusations of 'hate speech') and even private property (environmental and planning regulations, tax policy). These environmental and social causes pursued without regard to cost/benefit are diminishing our capacity to protect ourselves against foreign aggression while maintaining high living standards and social support networks. Life expectancy in the West may already have peaked. In my view there's no conspiracy behind this, it's just that as people become more secure and have more leisure, they can indulge concerns that would previously have been left aside. To borrow the term the Dutch use for this, we are afflicted by luxury diseases.
Unfortunately, it's happening at a time when a rising power is ready to seize every opportunity for asserting power and influence.
Hopefully the West will re-focus in time to hold onto a position of strength and protect its currently enviable lifestyles.
But Moslems didn't (still haven't), and China didn't (has now, won't make this mistake again for a while).
If the West doesn't, China could very well become the world's dominant power once again.
What would this world look like?
I'll guess that it won't suit environmentalists, because in China's view, the natural world is there to serve people, not the reverse.
And it won't suit equalitarians either, because the Chinese firmly believe that some ethnicities are smarter. than others- and that women and men a fundamentally different.
Nor will it suit those who see business as the Great Satan; this new China is most of all about business.
And there will be concerns about a culture that takes opponent's families hostage to force obedience.
And, that in contrast to the West's accommodations, China's response to Islamic activism has been to lock up a million or so Uighurs in "re-education" camps and outlaw the symbols of their religion.

I fear that the West may wake up too late- and when we finally do, prospects for recovery will be bleak.
Will it then be our rage and senseless violence that disrupts the world?
Perhaps were coming to the end of our golden age.

PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON NEW ZEALAND, DECEMBER '18