New revolution is not for the timid

The world is on the verge of an information revolution.

This upheaval will take people out of the machine age and into a “brave new world,” according to Dr. Ian Angell.

“Why brave? Brave, because this is not a world for the timid,” Angell told a group at a Speaker’s Forum on the future of technology, held recently in Toronto. “This is a brutal and brutish world where the socio-economic certainties of the twentieth century, its power cases, its institutions, are collapsing.”

Angell, a professor at the London School of Economics, said a new order is being forced upon an unsuspecting world by advances in telecommunications and mobile computing.

“Everything is changing, and I really do mean everything – politics, economics, business society as a whole. This is not a tidy transition, but a severe and total dislocation with the past,” he said.

Angell recently published The New Barbarian Manifesto, which he describes as a “restatement of the Marxian view that economic forces drive societal development.”

The way that a society organizes economic production feeds back and reshapes that society, he said.

“The inescapable fact is that information technology is amplifying the destructive forces that are deconstructing production, and hence societal development,” Angell told the group.

He added that the end result of the fundamental global changes that society is going through is that individuals, companies, communities and countries will either be catapulted into a new prosperity or relegated to poverty, obscurity and extinction.

“The pressure caused by the stresses and strains in today’s society has been laying dormant, waiting for a catalyst to trigger a chain reaction,” Angell said. “That catalyst has arrived in new technology, creating an explosive mixture.”

He continued that institutions will have to be completely reinvented if they are to survive. National economies can no longer grow themselves out of unemployment, according to Angell, who said growth has been decoupled from employment.

“Productivity is now delivered by a technology needing only a few machine-minders. The idea of a job, born with the machine age, is changing beyond all recognition. Individuals, communities and companies relocate, physically, electronically or fiscally, to where the profit is greatest and the regulation the least.”

Angell stressed that the brave new world will have intense global competition and companies will not survive without mobile and independent knowledge workers.

The lights are going out for whole sectors of society, he said, and for whole categories of employment. “The promise of progress has proved a lie.”

The barbarians are at the gate – virile, vigorous and vital opportunists are striking at the very heart of the current power base of politicians and “all other trivializers of our age,” Angell continued.

“In our degeneracy we have two choices, follow ‘new barbarians’ and advance to an uncertain future, or obey ‘old barbarians’ and return to the rigid permanence of a false past.”

The new barbarians, Angell explained, sweep away old moribund institutions with new ideas, new moralities, new rituals and new power structures, while the old barbarians are throwbacks, who by dint of the strength of past glories have managed to survive up and into the present.

In a later interview, Angell said he used the term “barbarian” in reference to a quote in Nietzsche’s Will to Power, where the writer equates the new barbarian to Prometheus unchained. In mythology, Prometheus was punished by Zeus, whom Angell calls an old barbarian, for giving man fire.

In fact, the concept of the new barbarian isn’t just applicable to those in the technology field, Angell noted, this is just the latest environment.

“Things will stabilize and a new environment will come along,” he said. “New barbarians will come along and create a new society, and the ones who refuse to change create an old barbarian society, which loses. Old barbarians degenerate into second and third world environments.”

The new barbarians, he said, will create this new environment for individuals.

“And it’s the individual vs. the tribe. And I want to be an individual, but we have to form a collective. It’s a paradox that we have to form a collective to fight collectives. That’s how new ethnicity happens.”

He cited the differences between old barbarians and new barbarians to the group.

“The new barbarians represent the winners in the new economic reality -leaving the losers to circle their wagons around old values and rituals, easy prey for the old barbarians. New barbarians see individuals, old barbarians see body counts. Old barbarians talk of command and control, the new talk of husbandry and trust. Old barbarians are intolerant of other views, new barbarians are permissive. Old barbarians profess a philosophy of difference – the new barbarians a philosophy of variety.”