Sunday 22 November 2020

What is the 'Great Reset'?

We've seen the Covid denialism, the playground pettyness of the anti-mask whingeing, and the regular demonstrations of those for whom the lockdown, social distancing, and the coming mass vaccination are tied together by conspiracy theory. Considering the complexity of 21st century societies with looming crisis and political instability set as the new normal, the appeal of such are not difficult to fathom. We might be headed to hell in a handcart, but at least conspiracy theory makes for an immediately relatable and easy-to-understand explanation for the many dooms visited upon us. The newest story doing the rounds, as helpfully outlined by the BBC, does the job of tying the global response to Coronavirus together as a prelude for some form of naked Iron Heel-style direct rule by and for the super rich. Sounds arresting.

Like nearly every conspiracy theory the "Great Reset" is all things to all people. Here we have one hyper-local blogger (remember them?) arguing, in all seriousness, that Boris Johnson has signed the Conservative Party up to a global communist plot. Others see it as a Keynesian conspiracy - led by Prince Charles, no less - to hammer individual freedom and bring the state back into matters economic. Terrifying. So-called Bitcoin libertarians are among those getting sweaty, and another boring bunch of contrarian think-tankers locate it as an authoritarian effort to force green capitalism down everyone's throat. And then we have the "leftist" version, such as the one forecasting a "a fascist transhumanist hell in which freedom has been abolished and humans are merged with robots and turned into commodities for elite profit." Naturally, the piercing dog whistle of "globalists" features heaviliy in the Great Reset discourse.

In this country, most of the running has been done by Neil Clark - litigant in a never-ending dispute with Times hack Oliver Kamm, and an interesting journalistic resume that sees him contributing features for The Mail and The Express while penning stuff for, um, The Morning Star and Russia Today. Of late, Neil's Twitter feed has ramped up the conspiratorial coverage, mixing in genuine questions about half-arsed policy such as the mooted "freedom pass" and concerns about the tier system with baseless claims a global fascist power grab is in preparation. This piece on RT sums up his position well. Using a speech by Boris Johnson in which he notes "History teaches us that things of this [the virus's] magnitude ... do not just come and go. They can be the trigger for economic and social change." A completely innocuous statement on Johnson's part, and completely uncontroversial. Except for Neil. This "trigger for ... change" is deeply sinister, apparently. Along with the green industrial revolution, social distancing is not going anywhere. As Neil puts it, "Working from home is here to stay, with “gigabit broadband,” shopping from home, conferencing from home… in fact, let’s do everything from home. Who needs to meet other human beings? Not that there’d be anywhere to meet, with pubs, cinemas and theatres all closed down due to the never-ending coronavirus restrictions." Never one to enjoy being in the position of defending the Prime Minister, but this is obvious bobbins. The problem with the national lockdown is it's not rigorous enough, and contrary to enthusiastically pulling down the shutters on the British economy the government spent the Summer undermining public health by opening everything up, with bribes to encourage people to visit restaurants, bars, pubs and what have you. Either the British government didn't mean it and was a grandiose distraction techinque vis their true conspiratorial intentions, or the argument is completely groundless.

And yet like all conspiracy theories, an element of truthiness based on some facts does exist. There is something called the Great Reset, and groups of elite policymakers and tech capital have been pushing it - albeit in broad daylight. Perhaps the illuminati are simply brazen these days by hosting a website on the World Economic Forum to allow all and sundry to peruse their schemes. What gives then, what is the plan? According to the blurb global capitalism needs a reset, citing examples of stalling economic growth, rising unemployment, and rising debt - two of these three being the case before lockdowns rolled around the world. The consequence is an intensification of existing inequalities and social problems, as well as opportunities for some governments to scrap regulations and protections in the name of jumpstarting economies. As these problems are global, a global effort is required to address them. As such, this requires scary policies like ... the coordination of tax regimes, addressing the rules of trade, and creating a "stakeholder economy" - fashionable managerial speak for decent wages, full employment and (perhaps/sometimes) a bit of a say over the workplace. The second component of this strategy is stimulus spending so we can bounce back from the Covid crisis, but these should be strategic investments that build for the future - so more green industry, better infrastructure, more responsive institutions, and incentives for private capital to follow this policy lead. Lastly, the final round of objectives is to harness the fruits of the fourth industrial revolution to address the health and social problems the pandemic is leaving in its wake. For anyone paying attention to British politics these last five years, what the World Economic Forum are proposing is little different from the policy menu of the last three Labour manifestos, and the rhetoric of Theresa May and Boris Johnson when a One Nation turn in their speeches were warranted.

In other words, what the Great Reset is is a prescription for fixing the problems global capitalism faces. What a shocker that a bunch of mainstream policy wonks, fancied visionaries, and businesses might band together to come up with a way forward for their system. Like this has never been done by anyone before. Perhaps we should look back at Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave and Nicolas Negroponte's Being Digital as advance warning of the global fascist one-world government we've lived under since the turn of the century. Oh, wait.

Like the most successful of conspiracy theories, the Great Reset idea takes a little bit of reality and runs with it, reliant on the fact most of the people who'll lap it up know little to nothing about what is being described and what is going on. Take the fourth industrial revolution cited by Neil Clark and his conspiranoid friends. This is not a plan as such, but rather the emergence of a cluster of new technologies around artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, genetic medicine, space flight, and much else besides. This is simply an aspect and outcome of capitalist development, and one the left is well aware of and has written a lot about. Any decent political programme worthy of its name would work to inform the public about and consider the social implications the possibilities these new tools allow for. This is exactly what the World Economic Forum and its founder, Klaus Schwab, are doing. It just so happens the key innovation of this fourth wave is the reduction of commodities to information, and the possibility for their endless, infinite reproducibility with zero to very low cost. Thanks to advances in 3D printing even physical goods won't be immune forever, and so the problem for their system and the wonks of the liberal centre and conservative right is not the general betterment of humanity, but how to save property relationships and profits from the fourth wave's existential challenge.

There are two issues here then. Advancing a ridiculous conspiracy theory can blunt serious and necessary criticisms of government policy. Already there have been several occasions of the Tories, for instance, dismissing critique of their measures as Covid denialism - and a stupidly irresponsible intervention from Labour aimed at curbing conspiracies ahead of the vaccine roll out. There's your first reason why anyone pushing the Great Reset conspiracy is a fool or a knave, especially if they claim to be on the left. Fancy another? As the point has been many times before, conspiracy theories are not just false in the sense they are presented, they stand in direct opposition to a real understanding of the way of the world, and particularly how money is made and power configures and flows. In this sense it's much worse than conservatism, which at least tries to deal with the world as it is through a lens distorted by privilege and ruling class interests. Conspiracy theory, like the Great Reset, is fundamentally backward because it refuses social explanation, petrifies the elite relationships it claims to uncover, and ultimately leads to fatalist resignation or the toxic politics of the far right. As we have some experience with.

There is then no 'Great Reset' conspiracy. It is, nevertheless, a collective effort of utter rubbish written from the right, and hyperbolic grifting bullshit from so-called leftists. If one cannot resist a little bit of theorising in this direction, ask what our super brave truth tellers stand to gain. How might rightwingers benefit from pretending opposition to their free market fundamentalism, even of the liberal/Keynesian variety, is a fundamental affront to human dignity? Why would a bunch of Bitcoin stans feel insecure about a global effort to promote green capitalism and socially useful (albeit still capitalist) production? And whatever might leftists without much of a platform accrue from being the voice of a "socialist" version of this pack of lies? Join the dots, as they say.

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Andy Hoffnung said...

While the internet is no doubt inundated with right-wing fan fiction about the Great Reset, there's still a "conspiracy" among formerly hegemonic right liberal institutions to recreate capitalist modes of production in the new economy. Some of them have designated this process "The Great Reset". Therefore it seems unfair to say that "The Great Reset is a conspiracy theory" in such a disparaging way.

The proposal described above, which is being genuinely and openly developed by "globalist elites", may well align with some local manifestos. This is hardly a refutation of a conspiracy: we are given the option to vote for one of 3 or 4 parties, all of whom have policies which derive from and agree with the World Economic Forum. Aside from the occasional plebiscite, that is the limit to our democracy in the UK. All of this is entirely consistent with the theory of a liberal capitalist "conspiracy".

What's more, a right winger might legitimately disagree with the real rationale for "The Great Reset", even if it's for a stupid or petulant reason. To deny this, and characterise it as a misunderstanding of the premise, seems like an evasion of the real question: do we want to "reset" the global economy? If so, on whose terms?

david walsh said...

Yes. A conspis theory can get beyond theory pretty quickly these days. Back at the turn of the millennium, in our part of the NE I was a regular guest mentor, as a council leader, at the local arm of Common Purpose, a 'leadership training' group set up by the Industrial Society and designed to get, on Chatham house rules, local politicians and regional agency talk and work with up and coming graduate trainees across the private and public sector in the region. However, the 'Chatham House' part of the work got to the attention of those who fret about such things, and for the last decade CP has had to spend precious time trying to rebut the notion that it is some kind of reptilian indoctrination agency, funded by George Soros and the EU.

In terms of the Great Reset, a clearly pissed off Oliver Kamm has lashed out at the Icke extended family in CapX. Worth reading;

Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

David, I'm not sure I'd use that gentleman as an example of anything positive. He managed to get himself blocked from editing certain topics on Wikipedia and has a "interesting" track record on "adjusting" the facts to suit his theory. Whatever he has to say about conspiranoids (like that word!) is, shall we say, based on lived experience.

The trouble with conspiracy theory is that at some point, viewed from one perspective, to those outside every group project can be a conspiracy. Alternatively, just because a group of people have got together in secrecy to plan something doesn't mean that what they have planned is a bad thing.

The Great Reset IS a conspiracy, if you aren't involved and don't understand it. It's ultimate aims are NOT to benefit the great mass of humanity, but to ensure the continuance of their privilege. But it might actually be better than the alternative, and it might be the only change which is likely to succeed in making the world a less awful place than it might become.

Transparency is great, and an open, honest, candid explanation of motives is refreshing, but anything anyone says is liable to be twisted, manipulated and misunderstood regardless. So, that leads us back to conspiracy.
One man's necessary reform is another conspiracy. One woman's system fix is another's conspiracy. And so on ad infinitum.

Unknown said...

We will own nothing and like it, their words! We must get acclimated to eating crickets?? How can we not create "conspiracy theories?"