I was thinking this morning about the various new political organisations that have appeared over the past 70 years or so (i.e. over my lifetime). The UN, the EU, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, and the like come to mind.
They all seem to start out as small, fairly benign organisations, which attract support and money. But as they grow in influence they all seem to gradually be infiltrated by zealots of one sort or other, and become oppressive and tyrannical. And I wondered why that was.
My particular bête noire, of course, is Tobacco Control, which is (to the extent that it is a single entity at all) a subdivision of the WHO, which is in its turn a subdivision of the UN, much like the International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. So it seems that small organisations grow into large organisations, and spawn new organisations, all the time attracting more and more money and power and influence.
And none of these organisations ever seem to be particularly democratic, or even at all democratic. They are closed societies or clubs. Membership is often by invitation only. And that means that any activist who can get into them can fairly rapidly exert considerable influence within them, and attract like-minded people into them as well, swelling their ranks with “true believers”.
And so if the WHO seems now to be infested with antismoking zealots (and the IPCC with global warming zealots), it’s probably because a few antismokers (e.g. the Dr W I knew many years ago) somehow entered their ranks, and worked assiduously within them, and attracted/hired like-minded zealots, and fired non-believers/sceptics, and eventually established complete hegemony within them, and then went on to use the power and influence and money at their disposal to press for more and more draconian smoking bans.
The same thing probably happened with climate science, which was something of a quiet backwater of science a few decades ago, but which is now populated by global warming activists bent on removing Carbon from the periodic table.
And if one looks back through history, someone like Lenin started out as a political radical in Zurich, and the people he gathered around him were to become the most influential people in the Soviet Union. The same applied with Hitler in the fledgling NSDAP in Germany. If you knew Hitler, and had bought him a cream cake in a Vienna coffee bar, you might easily rise to be a major figure in the Nazi party.
Oddly enough, the same process applies to May Pang – who I was writing about yesterday – who rose within the Apple Records company that grew up around the Beatles, and did so because she would work every hour of the day within it, and gradually became indispensable, even though she wasn’t a musician or artist. The Beatles, of course, were not a political party or pressure group, but they had enormous cultural influence, and their every word was at one time analysed as if it was Mosaic law written on tablets of stone.
It seems that, depending on the influence these various organisations exert, they attract followers and emulators (Suddenly everyone wants to be in a rock’n’roll band). But as they expand and multiply, rivalries emerge within them, and competitors and enemies appear around them, and an inevitable process of decay and collapse (or of parody, like Spinal Tap) follows. They’re like thunderstorms that build and grow, and then rain down lightning and hail on everyone, before dispersing.
The Communist party of the Soviet Union, and the Nazi Party in Germany, and the Beatles as well, may now be past history. But Tobacco Control is at the zenith of its power and influence. In this respect the sexual harassment lawsuit(s) being brought against Stanton Glantz, whose Wikipedia entry describes him as the “Ralph Nader of the anti-tobacco movement,” must surely signal that this movement is now well advanced into a period of terminal decline and disintegration. For Tobacco Control has made a lot of enemies for itself (i.e. about 1.5 billion smokers around the world). And it is noteworthy that the lawsuit(s) against Glantz are being brought by other antismokers, within the ranks of Tobacco Control, indicating rampant internal division.
Almost all the organisations that I mentioned at the outset – the UN, the EU, Greenpeace, etc – seem to be experiencing the same sort of problems. They’re all losing popularity, much like the Beatles. And while at one time everyone wanted to join them or emulate them, more and more people now want to escape their overbearing strictures. They’ve all grown to become a bit too big for their boots.
Looking further back in history, the rise of empires like the Portuguese or Spanish or British empires saw similar expansions, heydays, followed by decline, and disintegration.
Where did they all come from? How did they arise? One might say that the Portuguese empire arose out of the maritime innovation of the ocean-going caravel, armed with cannon. Once this technological innovation had been perfected, the Portuguese, followed by the Spanish and British and Dutch, were able to sail all around the world, and carve out empires. And it was the innovation of the radio, the vinyl record, and perhaps also the electric guitar, that enabled the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and countless other bands to carve out global global musical empires for themselves.
It seems to be technological innovation that drives political and cultural innovation. The caravels allowed the Portuguese to sail all around the world, and the electric guitar and radio and vinyl record allowed the Beatles to invade (and capture) America. But in each case, internal rivalries, and external competitors, fairly rapidly toppled these new empires.
And technological innovation is proceeding these days at what seems an ever-accelerating rate. Over my lifetime I’ve witnessed (and partaken in) the computing revolution that produced home computers, mobile phones, and the internet. And the internet is driving further political and cultural innovation in its turn. Donald Trump seems to have been a much smarter internet user (via Twitter) than Hillary Clinton, and saw possibilities in it that she and her advisors did not.
And if technological innovation drives political and cultural innovation, then we should expect to see more and more political and cultural innovation. We seem, for example, to be witnessing the decline of the established mainstream media that was built upon the printing press, telegraph, radio, and television in favour of individuals like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Alex Jones. The Smoky Drinky Bar is another small cultural (and political) innovation: people all over the world can meet up and smoke and drink together, despite Tobacco Control having banned them from real pubs and cafes all over the world.
We live in terror these days of a globalised New World Order which will be as tyrannical as anything in Orwell’s 1984. But given the pace of technological innovation, it’s actually much more likely that we’ll see all sorts of cultural and political innovations as surprising as the Portuguese empire or the Beatles or Donald Trump. And nobody will see any of them coming.