SF writer Charlie Stross has an excellent analysis of why so many people now feel politically powerless.
He asks why is the world so clearly going wrong and why can’t anyone fix it. His proposal is that the problem can be laid at the door of corporations, which are hive organisms “constructed out of teeming workers who join or leave the collective: those who participate within it subordinate their goals to that of the collective, which pursues the three corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and pain avoidance. (The sources of pain a corporate organism seeks to avoid are lawsuits, prosecution, and a drop in shareholder value.)”
Potentially immortal, they exist mainly in the present, with little regard for the past or the long-term future, and are essentially sociopathic forms, he says. Utilising Governments and the media to achieve their ends, they have spread across the globe. And he concludes: “We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals… In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.”
Which certainly captures a huge part of the depersonalisation of the 21C world. There is another side, though, which concerns the defence of the human race against the alien invaders. The only people who can stop these conquerors are not eggheads with whiteboards or staunch, plucky workers, but politicians.
One of the central beliefs of politics is that politicians always fight the campaign of two elections ago – eight to ten years. They’re looking back to what worked and what didn’t. Their beliefs are shaped during their formative years and rarely change. But with the rapid and accelerating social and technological change of the last decade, eight years ago might as well be fifty. We essentially have 20th century people trying to fight 21st century problems.
The other issue is the decline of the political party system. Before the 1980s, political parties were mass membership organisations, numbering in some cases well over a million members. Now the main parties claim a tiny fraction of that number – and this is true across the west.
In the UK (and in many other countries), candidates are chosen from the party membership. As numbers decline, so does the talent base. Most parties are now down to a rump of unrepresentative activists, who may be decent-hearted and fuelled by a belief in their principles, but are not a deep source of the kinds of talent we need in the 21C.
So the aliens have indeed taken over, and our defenders simply aren’t up to the job of organising the resistance. Meanwhile, we face some of the worst problems ever to afflict the human race. As Charlie points out, that’s not the end of the debate, it’s the beginning…