A Manifesto for the 21st century: The Meaning of Life, the Climate Crises, Chinese Hegemony and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I did not realise the intellectual blind spots in both myself and the education system until I attended University. Through virtue of smart phone and social media technology, the modes of social organisation had been transformed. Through experimentations in rock and roll, rave culture, travel, reading and writing I realised that I was ill equipped to practice self-contemplation. I assumed that through attempting to become a Rock and Roll star I would be able to produce the long-term phenomenological sense of joy that I had when watching biopics of great musicians. This did not happen. Seven years since starting at the University of Bristol, I have been searching for the best answers about how to navigate the subjects of self-contemplation and the changes in 21st century technology.

The former subject has led towards a dedicated practice of mindfulness meditation. The latter, towards enrolling in a Data and Society Masters at the LSE. During my time at LSE, a little-known movement called Extinction Rebellion started to block bridges throughout London. At secondary school I hadn’t studied Geography for GCSE and the subject of climate change wasn’t found in the study of biology. I was not conscious of the climate crises and underestimated its significance. I remember laughing at a speech from a former Ed Miliband advisor where she described climate change as the world’s biggest problem – ironically assuming she, not I, was ignorant for lack of reading.

Though I had studied the subjects of civil disobedience through the American Civil Rights Movement, Extinction Rebellion was the first instance of seeing people care enough about a political cause to enact non-direct violent action. This impressive act of political theatre inspired my own reading on the subject of climate change, subsequently leading me to work for Extinction Rebellion during the October Rebellion – the world’s largest non-direct action protest – and then for the successful protest against the Bradley Open Cast Coal Mine. Through various WhatsApp group discussions, I realised the parameters of popular climate change activism. In particular, there was, from myself and my WhatsApp comrades, a lack of knowledge and unwillingness to engage with the subject of China.

In 2020 I led my own excursions into the rising superpower guided by the work of Lu Xun, Peter Frankopan and Rana Mitter. In the same year I started to investigate the subject of domestic digital violence, leading a campaign called the Coalition Against Digital Coercive Control, aiming to co-ordinate UK specialists to understand the scale of Digital Coercive Control within the United Kingdom and come up with solutions to mitigate the unchecked rise in domestic digital violence, eventually giving evidence to the 2020 Law Commission on the Communication Harms Bill.

My journeys in the mind are by no means special. With correct attitude and interest anyone can take the exact same trip, however, I feel through virtue of my age, personal experience and the selection of texts that have been assimilated into my memory, my understanding of these problems, in some cases, is unique and insightful to anyone who is interested in solving the most important problems that humanity faces today. Alternatively, I might be introducing or simply adjusting the focus of readers that may not be aware of certain subjects who had not thought about problems in the given terms. While previously I have written about a lot of these issues, these are curated in separate articles and therefore cannot be viewed holistically –  as they should be – so to make connections between and to understand their present context and significance. This essay explores the following subjects:

–   Consciousness

–   Climate Change

–   Chinese Hegemony

–   Platform Society

–   Cyber Crime

On the 11th of May Tony Blair wrote an article for the New Statesman asserting that ‘Without total change Labour will die’. If Labour, or in fact any modern political party interested in good governance, lacks vision then the problems described above would be a good place to start.

Consciousness

Students in the British schooling system aren’t taught how their mind works. We are entered into effective routines that aim to focus our attention on the things the education system deems most important. Like the History teacher who doesn’t tell his student how to write an essay, students are completely unequipped with the tools to have any meaningful insight into consciousness. We are taught to analyse the world through a great number of technologies – language, television, books, mobile phones, video games, films – yet we are not taught how to navigate consciousness, the foundational level of experience for utilising every other form of technology.  

There is a harmful notion in the British education system that we are offered strategies of strengthening the habit patterns of mind only after someone experiences mental health problems. Both cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation are scientifically proven to increase mental resilience and provide effective tools for understanding the mind. Through virtue of understanding how the mind operates we are able to understand how the mind functions from moment to moment, in other words, we are given an accurate understanding of the quality of our experience allowing us to make better decisions in the present and future.

Aldous Huxley diagnosed this very same deficiency in the education system in the 1960’s, writing that great levels of suffering were caused through virtue of the habit of turning the ‘chaos of given experience into a set of manageable symbols’, adding that while some of these symbols ‘correspond fairly closely to some of the aspects of external reality… sometimes on the contrary, the symbols have almost no connection with external reality’. In Through the Doors of Perception, Huxley accuses the mind, evolved for biological survival, as being a ‘measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on this particular planet’. Huxley’s insights into our relationship between symbolic thinking and consciousness emphasise the primacy of mindfulness meditation over cognitive behavioural therapy, as the former trains the individual in non-symbolic and non-conceptual conscious awareness.

From a subjective level, my practice of meditation has given me extraordinary levels of resilience, meaning and joy. Through being able to recognise thinking as thinking, and locating sensations within my body, I have cured the bouts of depression that I experienced in early adolescence. Through my ability to accurately appreciate the power, depth, complexity and richness of consciousness I’m provided daily with frequent moments of intrigue and joy. Mindfulness meditation sharpens one’s attention towards their senses. When walking through South Kensington or Richmond Park I’m better equipped to access my sense of smell, touch, temperature, sight and sound to effectively connect with the present moment.

Despite benefitting massively from my local Church of England community, the Church failed to provide spiritual sustenance beyond the social function. Quite simply I, nor any of my friends that attended church believed in the stories we were told in the Bible. The rejection of Protestantism isn’t in itself the acquirement of meaning. At first, I searched for spirituality through the counter culture, yet, experimentations in sex and drugs and rock and roll failed to provide the strength, sustenance and philosophy necessary for understanding the miracle of life, therefore, it was not until finding mindfulness meditation that I was able to acquire the philosophy, skills and insights to make sense of the miracle of life. Mindfulness meditation, through virtue of understanding how the mind works, how to effectively read thoughts and emotions and how to approach the present moment has given me the philosophy to make meaningful sense of my existence and to enjoy every day of life.

There are clear problems within the British education system that can be in part improved through virtue of the implementation of mindfulness meditation programmes. Everyone’s Invited led to mass articulations of sexual violence and in some cases labels of rape culture within Britain’s best private schools. In Universities it has been said that there is a ‘mental health crises’. At the University of Bristol 11 students committed suicide in just 18 months between 2016 and 2018. It seems self-evident that an education system that fails to provide students with an understanding of mind, physiology, thought and self are bound to create societies of anxiety and ignorance that might lead towards violent acts like suicide or sexual violence.

The implementation of an effective mindfulness meditation programme would serve to provide students with practical tools to understand mind, consciousness, physiology, thought and the self, thus alleviating trappings of attaining illusory visions of identity that are generally determined by subculture, peers, celebrities, media and TV who either have no idea what they are doing or were created purely for the purpose of entertainment.

Climate Change

The benefit of teaching yourself the discourse about climate change is that you are aware of the aspects of the climate change argument that gave you the greatest clarity in understanding the problem. For me, it was imperative in the introduction to every article on the climate crises, to repeat the source of global warming; the result of human induced emissions of greenhouse gases, the aims of the climate struggle; the Paris Treaty signed in 2015 aims to keep global warming below two degrees after which we are at a global tipping point, the projections; the IPCC predicts global warming of 3.2 degrees by the end of the century, and the consequences of different stages of warming;

 ‘at two degrees, the ice sheets will begin their collapse, 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unliveable, and even in the northern latitudes heat waves will kill thousands each summer. At three degrees, southern Europe would be in permanent drought, and the average drought in Central America would last 19 months longer and in the Carribean twenty one months longer. In northern Africa, the figure is sixty months longer – five years. The areas burned each year by wildfires would double in the Mediterranean and sextuple, or more, in the Untied States. At four degrees, there would be eight million more cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone and close to annual global food crises… Damages from river flooding would grow thirty fold in Bangladesh, twentyfold in India, and as much as sixtyfold in the United Kingdom… Conflict and war could double’ (David Wallace Wells, the Uninhabitable Earth, Page 12)

The climate problem is very complex. The fight against global warming knows many theatres that seem unrelated: the Courts of Justice ruling on the Heathrow Third Runway, the Cambridge Trinity College Lawn and the Open Cast Coal Mine in Bradley Durham. Therefore, synthesising the problem to a source, an aim, a prediction and outcome variable, serves to remind protestors, readers and myself the context and relevance of each individual battle.

Through examining media coverage of climate events my main concern was the collective silence in connecting climate disaster towards global warming. Evaluating 18 articles from from major media companies (Sky, The BBC, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, ITV, the Mirror and the Evening Standard) covering Storm Jorge between the 28th of February and the 1st of March it becomes clear that the media does not want to talk about climate change. Just 5 articles, 28%, connected the wettest February since records began with climate change. Of those that did, they provided the exact same, limited and light sentence from the Environmental Agency that the country ‘needs to brace itself for “more frequent periods of extreme weather like this” because of climate change’. Whereas events like terrorist attacks or surges in Coronavirus infections may cause a strong media, political and public response this data suggests that climate disaster does not posit the same response, meaning that increased level of environmental deterioration may not serve to catalyse responses towards the climate crises.

George Marshall, author of ‘Why Our Brains are Hard Wired to Ignore Climate Change’, explains the local phenomenon of ignoring the climate crises in the face of climate disaster writing ‘it is hard to imagine any social environment in which a narrative of responsibility, austerity and future hardship would be less welcome than a community recovering from a climate disaster’. This sentiment may seem appropriate for media coverage, however, the fact that evidence of climate disaster results in subjective and media silence over the climate crises should seriously concern all those that aim to avoid climate disaster.

The subject of China is key towards effectively solving the climate crises. China is responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. 85% of its energy comes from fossil fuels. 60% from coal. Moreover, through China’s Belt and Road policy, the country has ‘positioned itself as a major provider, in some cases the major provider, of the infrastructure of industry, energy and transportation in much of the developing world’ therefore, China’s policy towards building the Belt and Road initiative has great consequences for the carbon neutrality targets of all 131 countries involved in the scheme.

In order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, 80% of coal needs to remain in the ground, however, China is ‘adding three new highly efficient coal mines each month’. A 2019 study by Greenpeace East Asia indicates that China has put over five times more coal power into the Belt and Road Initiative than into wind and solar, moreover, throughout the Belt and Road initiative ‘China’s commercial banks face few restrictions on funding coal fired plants’, with coal plants being built in European sites like Bosnia and Herzegovnia.  

China will likely be the main contributor and beneficiary toward global efforts to combat climate change. China produces 70% of the world’s solar panels. The Times recently reported that China accounted for half of the new installations of solar, wind and other renewable power capacity. In 2020 the Chinese wind generated power market produced ‘above the combined total for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America’. Therefore, while China is making the greatest contribution towards building renewable infrastructures, it’s utilisation of coal, through consumption and investment, heavily undermines these contributions.

Elon Musk’s pledge to stop accepting Bitcoin acts as de facto pressure on China’s use of coal powered electricity. 65% of Bitcoin mines are in China. 40% of these mines are powered by coal. Musk’s admission that Tesla will refuse Bitcoin until they are mined with ‘sustainable energy’ puts market pressure on the Chinese to adopt sustainable methods of generating power.  

Chinese Hegemony

The Chinese economy is due to overtake the US’s in 2028. The rise of China has already started to influence the United Kingdom most evidently through consumption, investment and the education system. In the United Kingdom popular knowledge of China is limited. In comparison to its rival superpower the United States, the cultural understanding of China is almost non-existent. Niall Ferguson has described China as a totalitarian state. The greatest moments of conflict between the United Kingdom and the Chinese stem directly from these political differences.

China has demonstrated disregard for international diplomacy. The Financial Times has emphasised that China has been ‘desperate to convince the world that it is not to blame for the pandemic’ claiming that the coronavirus was delivered to Wuhan through frozen food. China has blocked attempts of World Health Organization investigations. Australian calls for an international and independent inquiry were branded as ‘dangerous’ by the Australian ambassador who made light threats that Chinese consumers and tourists would stop visiting and investing in Australia and Australian products.

China has actively ignored and sought to attack any who publicise the abuse of Uighurs in Xianjing. The Washington DC think tank the Newline Institute has indicted the Chinese with violating the 5 conventions of the 1948 UN convention on Genocide in their treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xianjing. Research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has shown that Xianjang births fell by almost half between 2017 and 2019, adding to the evidence on forced sterilisation and birth control. China has denied all accusations of Genocide. In response to the expulsion of four Chinese officials over the alleged mass rounding up of Uighur Muslims, China imposed sanctions on 10 UK organisations, like the China Research Group, and individuals like Iain Duncan Smith.

The CCP is likely conscious of its post-colonial history. One of the founding texts of Mao’s China, ‘the story of Ah-Q’ written by Lu Xun, explores Chinese impotence in resisting imperial opposition. Awareness of this history of domination may explain Chinese suspicion of international diplomacy, nonetheless, China has demonstrated their willingness to ignore or even deceive the western liberal order and actively pressured those that seek to hold China accountable. If China cannot be held accountable or criticised by commonly accepted standards of objectivity and international law, then Chinese ideas on authoritarianism, surveillance and misinformation may become increasingly fashionable.

The Platform Society

Digital technologies are responsible for the platformization of infrastructures. Gillespie describes platforms as an ‘infrastructure to build applications on’ with social media platforms providing ‘a technological framework for others to build on geared towards connecting to and thriving on other websites, apps and their data’.

In 2020, aside from Aramco, the world’s five biggest companies, were platform infrastructures. The economic importance of these companies has been strengthened through the pandemic where businesses relied on platform infrastructures to function in remote working, and e-commerce sites like Amazon, posting profits of 220% since last year, were relied upon to limit contact with shoppers and to mitigate the closing of local shops.

The uptake of internet enabled technologies has revolutionised social organization and technique. As of 2021 there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide – 59.5% of the global population, of this 4.32 billion accessed the internet via mobile phones and 4.2 billion people used social media. The uptake of social media use was rapid. In 2007 the percentage of the world’s internet populations using social media was just 6%. In 2011 the percentage of the world’s internet population using social media was 82%. By the time I was at University, in 2014, social media platforms were the main student infrastructure for organising events and group communication. Perceptions were formed through social media representations and the pieces of language we had in our heads through our latest Facebook photo or Whatsapp chat.

Through structuring the techniques of communication – the creation of emoji’s, interactive features like likes, retweets, unlimited scroll and stories and delivery features like algorithms and time stamps – these platform companies create the linguistic tools used to communicate with billions around the world. In redesigning products like Facebook, Google or Twitter, platform companies are in effect redesigning the social habitat and media infrastructure of everywhere from Newport to Pokhara to Istanbul.

With great power comes great responsibility. The inability for ordinary citizens to influence these companies should be of concern to our society. The impotence of governments in the face of Silicon Valley should be even more worrying, with the UK, a country where 77.9% of the population use social media, unsuccessfully summoning Mark Zuckerberg to Parliament three times.

In order to regain some sense of stability within the social infrastructure I have two ideas that I would like to investigate.

Firstly, embrace platform infrastructures by institutionalising them and limiting market competition that drives platforms to design novel ways to increase user surveillance and data extraction. This would lead government to co-operate closely with the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Microsoft to safeguard their market dominance in return for greater co-operation with National and Local government. This would allow governments to help build the platform infrastructure in the image of media and social environments within the United Kingdom and thus improve the products within the given nation.

Secondly, I think that platform unions should be created within geographical locations to provide a grassroots method of communicating with representatives of technology companies within a given area. At the moment, we’ve got a situation where it takes tragedies and media campaigns to merit some form of response from social media companies. Social Media platforms are designed through extracting the user’s behavioural data. While these platforms provide excellent communication tools for free, the platforms rewire the social fabric in unexpected ways. The creation of platform unions would allow users to effectively communicate what is happening to users, families and communities through intense interaction with these products.

With the advent of automation and Artificial Intelligence set to create even more transformations to our way of life, it is important that some form of local communication is created to give individuals and families a voice as they see their worlds redesigned.

Cybercrime

Demos’s November cybercrime report titled The Great Surrender provides a short and powerful statement: ‘one thing is certain we are under attack’.[1] The Great Surrender paints a picture of Britain and America in crises as order and society is uprooted by the infrastructure of the internet led 4th industrial revolution.

The true scale of cybercrime is unknown. Demos found that 70% of victims never reported the crime.[2] Previously the City of London has given the figure of 80% of unreported cybercrimes.[3] Of those that do report cybercrime, dissatisfaction is great. 50% expressed disappointment with Action Fraud, the UK’s National Fraud and Cyber Crime Report Centre.[4] Moreover, of the inadequate number of cybercrimes that have been reported, very few result in arrests – in the United States less than 1% resulted in convictions.[5]

The qualitative and quantitative data on technology facilitated coercive control provides the rawest articulations of how technology is increasing violence within society. ONS data from 2019 to 2020 showed there was a 110% increase in stalking cases, of which Paladin, the national stalking advocacy group, says most involve a cyber element.[6] This makes stalking the most significant new crime in the United Kingdom. Cumulatively the ITV Tonight programme has recorded an increase of 1800% in cyberstalking cases from 2014 to 2018.[7]

You would think that if the means of securing law and order faced such grave threat, we would be mobilizing our civic, state and media apparatus towards effectively solving these problems. With relative silence from the press, a government who seems conscious of the problem but uninterested in action and a charity sector who are left burdened with providing the support the police can’t, it is accurate to describe technology facilitated control as one of the great modern threats to living lives of qualitative value.[8]

Demos are defending this gap in governance providing effective solutions for dealing with the cybercrime crises, my favourite being the establishment of a National Reporting Hotline for fraud and cybercrime with a simple three digit number providing the example of ‘119 for Cybercrime’. [9] This would serve the function of a) showing that victims experiences of cybercrime matter to the government and to law enforcement and b) removing much of the confusion around the reporting, which prevents victims from seeking help.

Through my experience investigating the subject of digital coercive control, technology and domestic abuse helplines and charities are very often the first line of defence against novel forms of digital abuse. The data recorded by these charities is crucial to understanding the grossest products of the fourth industrial revolution and is therefore of great importance to police, politicians and journalists to have a good understanding of what is going on in the digitally enabled world. Investigations like the Australian WESNET survey on technological and domestic abuse emphasises the great insights that can come through collecting mass responses from technology support and domestic abuse practitioners. I suggest creating some form of co-operative body which communicates what the domestic abuse and technology response practitioners are seeing in response to the uptake of internet technologies. This would give civic society the tools to conceptualise the nature of cybercrime and digital violence in the 21st century.

Conclusion

Effectively solving these problems requires great effort from a lot of people, nonetheless, the work is being done and can be improved. Simple things like implementing mindfulness meditation lessons within the British education system will offer great results with nominal input. Other ventures like experimenting with institutionalising major platforms may not provide the desired results, but good governance solutions are increasingly necessary to navigate our networked platform infrastructure.


[1] Demos, The Great Surrender, November 2020, page 5  https://demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/The-Great-Cyber-Surrender.pdf

[2] Demos, The Great Surrender, pg 12

[3] D. Drinkwater, ‘London police chief admits cyber‐crime failings’, SC Magazine, 15 April 2015, http://www.scmagazineuk.com/london-police-chief-admits-cyber-crime-failings/article/409167/

[4] Demos, The Great Surrender, pg 29

[5] Demos, The Great Surrender, pg 31

[6] ONS, Crime in England and Wales: year ending June 2020, [28/10/20] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingjune2020 [accessed 01/11/20]

[7] ITV, Tech Abuse: Stopping the Stalkers, 8th of January 2020 (https://www.itv.com/news/2020-01-09/tech-abuse-stopping-the-stalkers-tonight) [accessed 17/02/20]

[8] See the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violences 2017 report on tackling domestic abuse in the digital age http://www.womensaid.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/APPGReport2017-270217.pdf

[9] Demos, The Great Surrender, pg 7