The emphasis everywhere on everything these days is speed. It has gone out of control. Be it the fake news or the masses of data to which we are exposed in these times of global Covid-19, I feel uneasy being fed high-speed dodgy algorithm skewed messages. I observe our younger generations being geared to speed: any visual information on TV or the internet lasting more than four seconds cannot be absorbed.
Yes. Technologically-driven life has turned increasingly unpleasant. Most new electric machines have complex control buttons whether it be on remote television, mobile phones, ovens, or even car direction systems. All of these have become ever more complicated and leave me increasingly grappling — particularly on my MacBook computer where passwords have me pulling my hair.
I now need to consult my handwritten list of over 40 passwords covering everything from Twitter to Firefox and Norton to PayPal. I must confess that I have been forced to use differing passwords ever since gangsters entered one of my older banking passwords. I suffered minor losses but wasted enormously exasperating hours with irritatingly hyper-compartmentalized security bureaucrats. I feel the endless challenges and tests I must face daily in our high-speed tech-driven world are direct attacks on a civilized way of life. We are painfully experiencing a Runaway world.
It took our brains millennia to advance slowly and accommodate according to the environment. However, driven by capitalism, scientific advances — and the incredibly fast development of our technology — in only 200 years the world jumped from steam power to nuclear power. In less than 150 years we jumped from electric power to the internet and in less than two decades we moved from the telephone to the mobile. Now in under a decade two companies are advancing us to remote Zoom work. Such startling progress has been so rapid that our runaway technology has begun unbalancing us as human beings.
I see the unrelenting pace of change as Runaway, but feel the most alarming is the ever-increasing population now dominating the planet. This is followed by run-amuck Pollution whose many aspects threaten our life on Earth. Then comes Technology running the gauntlet swiftly innovated by Data and Algorithms. I continue with Money, as leader of the economic power of Runaways, including and concluding with Debt, Profit, Competition and Corporations all of which have become increasingly uncontrollable. So much has gotten out of control that I cannot cover all the aspects in one blog. What follows here are what I believe to be the most threatening.
I. P O P U L A T I O N
This tops all our runaway problems. When I was born the global population was just over 2.3 billion. Today it has risen to a staggering 7.8 billion. This means we have multiplied over thrice the world’s inhabitants in one lifetime: an unacceptable development for this planet and we shall still increase this critical total by more than 81 million this year… and more in the years to come.
Thomas Russel Malthus wrote two centuries ago in his Principle of Population (1798):
“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio.”
This conclusion warned us BEWARE! We have done nothing to stop it. Plagues used to keep the global populations down and so did malaria and other diseases. The vaccines for Covid-19 will ultimately end this plague and barely affect our dire population numbers.
II. P O L L U T I O N
This ever growing horde of people has led to the pollution of our air, water and soil. In the 21st century we have at last come to recognize the threat of fatal poisoning to our environment. A multitude of ecologists and writers have dealt with the scope and challenge of this complex Runaway. Automation and robots will steadily make both office work and manufacturing far less polluting.(This may also lead to Runaway unemployment, but I will not get distracted here.) I will focus here on two polluting solids: Plastics and Cement.
Globally we have moved from producing about 1.7 million tons of plastics in 1950 to 390 million tons today, polluting the waterways, the rubbish dumps, the beaches and most importantly, our oceans. There are now 5.25 trillion macro- and micro-pieces of plastic in our oceans and it is now estimated that there are 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tons. Every day around 8 million new pieces of plastic makes their way into our seas.Tons of plastic pellets are likewise dumped into the oceans every day and untold amounts are then swallowed by birds, fish, whales and ultimately, even human beings.
Statistic on the totals of burning plastics are not available but these are also steadily poisoning the atmosphere. Only 9 percent of the total production of plastic is being recycled. Fortunately there are numerous ways to slow this particular Runaway down… but when?
This planet is becoming greyer with the spread of concrete every day. After water, concrete is the most widely produced material on this planet. Enough concrete is poured every year to cover an entire surface the size of England. In other words cement is ruining the environment. The production of cement had risen from about 1,100 million metric tons in 1990 to 4,000 million metric tons in 2020. That’s Runaway expansion in need of international control.
China is now pouring more cement every three years than the United States did over the entire 20th century. Globally, concrete is now entombing enormous tracts of fertile soil. Runaway Japanese government-subsidized construction projects “have wreaked untold damage on mountains, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, everywhere — and it goes on at a heightened pace. That is the reality of modern Japan and the numbers are staggering,” says the longtime author and resident of Japan, Alex Kerr.
III. T E C H N O L O G Y
Technology has swept the world to the extent that we are now trapped by it. From space tech satellites to logarithms which will soon enable corporations and governments to set up their targets and goals, technology will triumph. All machinery, is based on it. The efficiency and speed of technology make it most desired. The new “cognitive technologies” such as algorithms dominate our determination for the ever greater masses of data to which we are being subjected. Charles Dickens back in the 19th century satirized the utility maximizing machine in the person of Mr Gradgrind who hoped to “weigh and measure every parcel of human nature.” Nowdays he would have included soul-searching. For example, somewhat perversely, logarithms have been used to expose whether a man is straight or gay on the basis of male portraits on TV dating sites.
Algorithms also are being used by politicians, corporations and governments to increase their power. The administrators in Washington DC and the bureaucrats in Whitehall have used their interpretations of logarithm data to emasculate the labor unions. However, the misinterpretation of data also has led to leaders like Trump and Johnson to make embarrassing turn-arounds.
In my introduction to Runaways, I gave some indication of the extent to which Technological Trauma is being caused by the ever faster changes in the use of swiftly multiplying Apps.The overwhelming exposure to data is altering our perceptions which can seriously affect our thoughts. The datafications of everything in our national statistics, from our census bureaus to innumerable surveys by universities and the media, are at the basis of our economic systems which collect taxes, declare our debts, incomes, fines, and properties… all of which are then processed and stored.
IV M O N E Y
Money is at the core of economics and has been one of the fastest of all the Runaways. Money now controls Washington, London and Paris and not the other way around. The value of money is also based on trust and we can all see that this is running away at high speed. The national debt of the United States of 27 trillion dollars is about to become greater than its national product. Money printing, which is now called “Quantitative Easing,” has given limitless space to the printing process. This kind of macroeconomic mismanagement as well as the introduction of virtual money in the creation of digital currencies, form an inevitable recipe for economic chaos. I had not predicted this particular economic trajectory in my book Dollars or Democracy (2004). Nor did I cover the money-laundering which has enmeshed our globe.
V C O R P O R A T I O N S
The gigantic runaway tech corporations of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have also begun to use their billions to enter into politics with bribes and favors. Profit is the single-minded desire of corporations. Even money-hungry banks are likely to run fast for whatever they need.
Big corporations do not operate with transparency. Not only do they hide mistakes but they avoid public scrutiny into suspect profits, hidden assets and dubious practices. With their freedom to move capital anywhere in the world, the multinationals have transformed tax avoidance into plain evasion of all responsibilities except to increase the profits.This focus on ever increasing profitability makes it difficult to justify to their shareholders putting funds into projects which could create jobs rather than those which trim the number of employees.
Corporate competition knows no limits. No existing effective principles nor guides exist. By joining with profit, corporate competition is at the forefront of global destruction. The “free-market” with its greedy corporations has been able to run the capitalist states for over two hundred years. It’s time is about over.
VI D E B T
Publius Syrus wrote around 50 BC that debt was “the slavery of the free,” and Thomas Jefferson some 1800 years later came to regard “public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.”1 Runaway economies all over the planet have seen extremely low interest rates which permit national economies to grow faster than their debt repayments. This eventually opens the doors to economic disasters which may be one of the ultimate runaways just like the ever growing trillions of US debt. Perhaps quantum computing may come to the rescue with new ways of thinking which could overwhelm economics. That may be one of this world’s ultimate Runaways!
1Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Governor Plumer in 1816.