Thursday, 23 February 2017

The coming US failure in Syria

US Defence Secretary James Mattis is busy across the Potomac building a fresh, restructured plan for dealing with the Islamic State militants.

Part of his design reportedly includes sending conventional ground forces into Syria. This doesn’t mean US manoeuvre battalions, but it doesn’t matter much anyway. The reason the US finds it impossible to deal with the militants is that its own domestic political system has made it impossible.

The Islamic State is easy to understand. These people are nationalists, hoping to create a specific kind of nation. The "root cause" of nationalism is not resentment, it is not education and it is certainly not the printer. Nationalism works because people think it has a chance of success.

I was for the US invasion of Iraq because, by the standards of all sensible, civilised people in the 19th century, 18th century, 17th century, 16th century, and even the first half of the 20th century, it was a no-brainer. By these standards, any hostile infringement on sovereignty is a problem. The problem is not the quantitative impact, but the game theory.

If a guy comes up to you on the street and asks you for $5, do you give it to him, because it’s only $5? If he then asks you for $10, do you say, what the heck, it’s only $10? When he says, okay, $20, what do you say? By the time you get to say, $160, you might have a little trouble getting rid of him. That’s Saddam’s Iraq.

Remember that the Iraq invasion was a smashing success. What failed was the occupation. Fortunately for the IS crazies, Washington is so broken that it can barely conquer and occupy a third-rate, Third-World country. Of course, Washington can’t conquer and occupy its own inner cities, either.

If there is one thing that can be said for the disastrous occupation, it's that jihadis are sneaking into Raqqa rather than Auckland. They are not "motivated by the Iraq occupation." This is Wilsonian nonsense. They are motivated by the desire for power and glory, like everyone who fights. But at least we've made that glory available locally only in the desert.

The pattern for the last 50 years of Syrian history is that the insurgents of today are the rulers of the future. And it is obvious to anyone with a brain and an AK-47 that the Americans are (a) weak, and (b) not going to commit. Plus, fighting the US offers all those riches, power and glory.

One factor I think almost everyone overlooks is that the people who want to be “terrorists” are warriors, which isn’t exactly a new role in human history. And warriors would much rather fight in a war than strap bombs to themselves and blow up shopping malls.

It’s not that they won’t come to Auckland to blow up shopping malls, it’s just that with Iraq and Syria going on they feel like they have something better, more exciting and more manly, to do. Whereas before 9/11, they didn’t.

So if you want to say the occupation of Iraq was a failure, that’s fine. But it’s disingenuous to calculate therefore that occupation of a foreign country is impossible. In reality, military occupation of a foreign country, whether the natives are Arabs, Eskimos, Japanese or Finns, is not a difficult problem. Consider that 100 years ago, the British governed Egypt for 25 years. Egypt is not Syria, but it's about as close as you get.

According to Lord Cromer’s 1908 book Modern Egypt, the population of Egypt was about 10 million. Number of British soldiers needed to control it: about 5000. All costs were paid by Egyptian taxpayers. Number of militias, private armies, political parties, ethnic mafias or jihadists in Egypt: 0. Number of assault helicopters, main battle tanks or UAVs owned by British Army: 0.

In the end, it seems to have succeeded in Iraq – congratulations. It seems likely to fail, however, in the fourth-rate, Fourth-World country whose primary domestic industry is throwing stones at women. No prizes for you, America.

Here’s how to successfully pacify Syria, Lord Cromer style: Establish a Syrian government whose employees are Syrians and whose executives are internationals. Establish a Syrian army whose officers are Americans and whose soldiers are Syrians. Suppress all political parties, mafias, militias by hanging as many people as necessary.

Then set up a transition plan which involves handing over a stabilised Syria to a real ruler, probably a Gulf prince. Better yet, split the country into emirates and pick a Gulf prince for each. It's not like there is some great shortage of Gulf princes.

The irony is that Lord Cromer's advice would be to cancel the Syrian intervention plan because Washington can't do any of this. An effective programme of colonial administration run by the Pentagon is impossible because the State Department wouldn’t allow it. The root cause of terrorism is liberalism. And it is essential to address the root causes, not the symptoms. But the symptoms remain dangerous.

In reality, State Department progressives don't care about Syria or Syrians. We saw how much they cared about Vietnamese human rights in 1975. Their real motivation is the same one held by everyone in politics: defeating their real enemy. In this case, the US military, which they hate like poison. (I’ve been to San Francisco. Don't try to tell me I'm wrong about this.)

The Pentagon and Mr Trump’s fundamental error is to think they can win a domestic political victory by winning a foreign military victory. Its Beltway enemies are on to that game. There is no way they will let it happen. Staging a civil war by proxy in Syria is a waste of time, money and lives. If the Pentagon wants to take over Washington, it should grow a pair and do it the old-fashioned way.

If Washington was a well-run nation-state, no band of jihadi crazies would be able to influence its behaviour. Anyone who tries to slice off a piece of a state’s sovereignty by controlling its actions through violence, even if the policies they want to force you to adopt are good ones, must be defeated through violence. And at this point, I’m starting to wonder if the State Department actually finds IS useful for its side of this domestic Beltway civil war.

This is the problem with people who point out that deaths on 9/11 were only 1/10 of annual US car fatalities. This is the logic of sheep: to a sheep, anything bad that happens is an accident. Sheep next to you falls in a well: accident. Sheep next to you is eaten by a coyote: accident.

We are not sheep. And we pay enough taxes that we should not be the prey in any sort of predator-prey relationship, no matter how trivial. Moreover, the obvious way to minimise the impact of predation is not to be predated at all. Being predated, but only mildly predated, is a tricky balance to maintain.

Because the jihadists (who are just Third World revolutionaries with a Kufic font, not Islamofascists but Islamo-communists) will take anything they can get. The question is not what they will take, because their military capacity is irrelevant. The question is what their friends, the progressives, will give them. As the experience of South Africa shows, the maximum answer is: everything.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Are natural borders moral?

Nothing seems more polarising than nationalism. Borders are walls – according to a certain section of people who say “we” when they really mean “the government.” Borders serve only to punish people for the GPS coordinates of their birth.

Then again, the new US president and half of Europe’s new “populist” politicians don’t think borders are so bad. What’s the point of natural borders anyway?

Apparently there’s no essential moral distinction between national border controls and apartheid. Both assign an arbitrary classification to an innocent new-born baby. The grand idea of apartheid was that two separate nations, in the Latin sense of the word, could live under one government in one part of the Earth's surface, participating in the same labour market and all that fine stuff.

Since apartheid no longer exists, it's hard to call it a success. Perhaps if the Afrikaners and Rhodesians had put some fences between themselves and their hereditary enemies, they wouldn't have had to flee their homes and countries. (Which they stole, of course, from the noble savage. I can't think of anywhere else that might have happened.)

David Hume had a few things to say about borders, and he’s is one of the “we” folk’s Enlightenment heroes. Perhaps they appreciate his morality on empiricism and scepticism, but was he fundamentally wrong on borders?

“The very presence of people speaking other languages in public threatens our culture, the best culture. And mixture of cultures and genes threatens to lead our people, the best people, to extinction.”

Actually, it's much simpler than that: the presence of Mexicans in the US democratic electoral system tends to turn that political system into the Mexican political system, the government into the Mexican government and the country into Mexico.

These people seriously believe the difference between the US and Mexico or Syria and Sweden is a function of climate, geology, electoral laws or in fact anything but demographic disparities. Maybe there’s some magical force – the public school system, perhaps – which transforms the children of immigrants into Norman Rockwell characters? What "empirical basis" reinforces this belief?

On one hand, a recent Pew report shows more Mexicans leaving the US than ever before, but the same foundation also found 34% of Mexicans say they'd move north if they could. And that's just Mexico. It happens to be next door to the US. The Pew Center didn't ask, say, Nigerians. Presumably a different foundation is responsible for them.

Assuming those who hate borders also believe in democracy, it strikes me that importing vast breeding colonies of foreigners so those people can keep winning elections makes any questions about Mr Trump’s Hitler impersonation or voting machines rather silly. I just don't get it. But I have trouble understanding why people believe in democracy in the first place.

Progressivism would not exist in anything like its present form if not for the US Immigration Act of 1965. The last Democratic president to win the white vote was LBJ. I'm not sure if one of their beloved Enlightenment thinkers is Machiavelli, but a touch of old Niccolo and a little less Jean-Jacques Rousseau might add some cogency to these anti-border moralistic musings.

Maybe they’re not for the single borderless world, at least not today, but perhaps in 2038. My first concern is the physical security of myself and my family. My second concern is the desire not to live in a Third World slum. I'm not sure what my third concern is, but I suspect Voltaire, Hume and Smith would share it.

The thing about cultural hegemony is that someone always has it. Transnational progressivism is a culture, too. It's a set of values, beliefs and perspectives and it certainly can't exactly be described as tolerant of contradictions. What culture is?

What I find most interesting is the extremely rarefied moral tone. Again, very Puritan. Humean oughts can no more be proved wrong than right. But surely the only purpose of government is to create a safe, pleasant and open society in which ordinary people can live ordinary civilised lives.

I think open borders could work perfectly well in the absence of democracy. The existence of ancien-regime France, cradle of many Enlightenment reveries, shows how vast disparities in prosperity and civilisation can exist within a single country.

Any sudden influx of foreigners can cause profound discombobulation, and a sovereign state should at least be able to secure its cities and clear them of militias. Just a small request for our overlords. Do us this little favour and we'll let the “we” people get right back to the apparent vital moral imperative of invading and inviting the world.

Friday, 10 February 2017

How to think about the US government

The first mistake common to most analysis of the US is that the president has any significant power. Let’s clear this up once and for all: he doesn’t. The second mistake is that the US government operates without a political religion. Well, it does.

This dynamic is important because little of the world’s events outside of raw geopolitics make any sense without it. You might think the US government is well-understood, but it absolutely is not. And it’s far easier to understand the political future of the country if you understand the ideology behind it.

What you call “political correctness” is what I call (from a political standpoint) progressivism, or (from a religious standpoint) Unitarianism, or (from a comparative-historical standpoint, by analogy to Japan's state Shinto) state transcendentalism. The idea is inarguably the most successful modern branch of the mainline Protestant tradition. Which happens to be pretty much the most powerful religion on Earth today and for the last century, although it has mutated away most of its theism.

You can say four things about this creed: 1) it was the dominant belief system of New England, 2) it is the primary heir of the Puritan tradition, 3) it is the primary ancestor of the creed ("political correctness") now enforced at the same institutions where it was born and 4) since WWII it has been the state religion not just of the US but of the world at large. Listen to what the Beehive says.

The four ideals of progressivism are: Equality (the universal brotherhood of man), Peace (the futility of violence), Social Justice (the fair distribution of goods) and Community (the leadership of benevolent public servants). They believe these ideals are universal, can be derived from science and logic, no reasonable person can dispute them and – if applied correctly – will lead to an ideal society.

I believe they are arbitrary and inherited from Protestant Christianity. They also serve primarily as a justification for the rule of the progressive establishment in the US and everywhere in the “international community” and are a major cause of corruption, tyranny, poverty and war.

So, in this frame, Hillary Clinton was a religious candidate. Her supporters wanted a more progressive government. Similarly, most Trump supporters wanted a more Christian (traditionalist, salvationist, fundamentalist, etc) government. There are policy implications to this struggle, but at bottom it’s just a good, old-fashioned religious war.

The US state religion (that which is taught in public schools and mainstream universities) is not too different from traditional religion. Its egalitarian and humanistic notes are recognisably Christian. In fact, you might simply call it a form of Christianity following the apparent philosophy of Jesus, while discarding most of the weirder magical and institutional overtones. Progressivism is the logical endpoint of the Protestant tradition.

The doctrine of universal salvation, versus the doctrine of salvation by faith, is the best measure of this divide. It corresponds almost perfectly to the red-state/blue-state thing. Universal salvation leads very quickly to humanism, democracy and state-worship. Salvation by faith leads to snake-handling, gay-bashing and Billy Graham-worship. Both are horrible.

There are still traditional Christians around, but their political power is very small. All of the “born-again” institutions are voluntarily organised and have little or no support from the state. Their entire revenue stream depends on maintaining a high level of commitment from their base. This is why they evangelise – they have to, or they’ll perish.

If you want to really, really boil the thesis down, my point is that Protestantism is leftism and leftism is Protestantism. In looking at the evolution of European Christianity without tethering it to paranormal doctrinal controversies, this pattern is clear.

“Liberalism” in today’s American sense of the word is simply a synonym for Unitarianism (or Nonconformism in the British usage). There is clear historical continuity and hardly any doctrinal change. The reason you don’t see Unitarian churches everywhere is that, in the 20th century, the State became the holy institution of this faith, and the universities and press became its transmitters. It’s the wonderful world of caesaropapism.

But there were mutations needed to make this process work. Liberalism had to deny its Christian character and history because, as an official religion, it needed to declare itself universal and non-sectarian. But, because no one can get elected in the US with only the Unitarian vote, candidates say they’re Christian to avoid offending the large number of voters who have not followed this transition. The whole system follows the path of least resistance.

The history of Western government in the 20th century, unless you count the Nazis, is hardly a story of populism. It is a story of ideas being born in Unitarian universities and pounded into the masses by sheer repetition. So the question is: what about egalitarian post-Christianity in the American mainline Protestant tradition made it so successful in capturing and retaining the Western political system? Was it just a military coincidence, or was it due to some particular adaptive advantage?

Those of us who don’t believe in democracy tend to take it for granted that any creed, culture, tradition or faith which captures the modern political apparatus can and will capture the population. Why should the principle of cuius regio, eius religio have somehow been repealed in the 1960s? History shows us over and over again that intolerance works, and there’s no belief more intolerant than progressivism.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Don't call rioters fascist

It must feel good for American social observers and critics to call the rioters and anti-Trump crowd “fascists,” but I am warning you that this is dangerous, both politically and personally.

Articles such as “Who are the real fascists?” and “Why Leftists are the real fascists” are precisely the conversation you thought you weren’t having.

Everyone who went through schooling in the West knows fascists are “literally Hitler,” as in, they’re the worst thing ever. Fascism is terrible and no one who calls themselves a fascist should get any airtime. Ok, got it. I’m less comfortable with this from a free speech perspective (I’d rather get as many of the bastards into the open as possible), but I understand the sentiment.

Fascism in the US isn’t the answer to a broken system, regardless of how you think. It would still mean the default assumption is democracy and if you thought last century was fun, imagine what another 100 years of that populist tonic will do.

The deep problem with this argument, however, is the rhetorical victory achieved by progressives when their opponents call them “the real fascists.” In a very real way, the rioters and anti-Trump agitators have set the form of the argument as fascism=bad. But their trick is to cede the idea that this rioting and violence is itself fascism. As in, anyone who commits violence is a fascist. And their opponents make this argument for them!

Why is the argument structured in this way? Because when you blame all the violence on fascism, then there’s no room for blaming progressivism. Therefore, progressivism gets away cleanly and the fascists take all the hate. Even though the progressives are both clearly not fascists and are committing all the violence.

The entirety of the 20th century proves leftism/progressivism is just as capable of violence, if not more so, as the other versions of democracy. But since fascism is the worst of all possible worlds, and progressivism is in control of the modern world, it is heads I win, tails you lose every time.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Society of the Co-opted Spectacle

Who wants to uncover something ugly about themselves?

Look at these photos from the recent University of California, Berkeley protests, and despair. Don't get caught on the bonfire or the masked men. Observe the crowd. What do you see?





When you learn to pay attention to the shape of the negative space, and also the contents of the negative space, you begin to notice what shouldn't be seen. With media images, you have to "see" what isn't there: how is the story constructed out of what is not shown. A typical media manoeuvre is to show a story without showing you the media itself because seeing it tells a different story.

In movies, you're supposed to know this, but willingly block out the knowledge so you can enjoy the movie. But this teaches you to accept willingly the blocking of the same setup when watching an interview of the prime minister or, in this case, footage of a protest. The presented picture doesn't just leave some things out, it leaves almost everything out except one tiny part.

I

So back to the violence in UC Berkeley. In the blackness, the fire rages sending hot light across the courtyard, but in the foreground are sprinkled far more dangerous blue lights. Hundreds of them. Every point a connection to somewhere, anywhere that's not here. Those lights transport the viewer to a pretend world created by the camera-holder. But what is far worse for the soul of society, those lights also serve to remove the person holding the camera from the life in front of their eyes.

They carve off pieces of themselves to cling to the belief they are both involved and distanced. In their broken minds, the mutually exclusive realities don't actually clash. Trained as they have been since birth by CNN and Hollywood to understand the world within frames on a screen, the reflex is to reach for the camera, not to assert its irrelevance.

II

Sending images to "inform the world," isn't the goal. The desperate psychology explaining the frantic energy is to feel comfortable, to pathetically search for a process, and therefore control what's in front of them...somehow.

Those kids were told what to experience in life (travel the world, go to college, find a job you enjoy), but were never told how to experience life. To them, they see only chaos and mystery and have no process by which to comprehend that storm. Allowing the chaos to overwhelm them, they feel an unavoidable revelation that maybe they aren't free after all, that they aren't in control of their lives.

Out comes the camera to "capture" the scenery offering the blessed comfort of fake control, like the reverse psychology of telling a group of six-year-olds they "can only have one asparagus each" so the little tykes think their choice actually matters.

That photograph of the violent protests depicts a common sight in modern political street action, and it's why all this talk about a "people's" resistance against the new American president is doomed to failure. As I've written before, the first thing protestors should do is tip over the news van. The media is not your friend. And if you notice camera lenses glinting in the firelight, use your smartphone to shatter the glass. Just don't then stand on the pile of warped cameras and satellite dishes to create a spectacle. Understand how the spectacle is the problem.

Try also to see how the moment those kids chose to lift their cameras towards the firelight and click record, they also chose not to participate. You can't have it both ways. You can't stand with phone in hand acting as an observer and be part of a violent political action. Or do you think the Bolsheviks could still have stormed the palace with a pistol in one hand and an iPhone in the other?

Yet participation isn't really what you wanted, was it? If you had to ask what motivated your decision to arrive at UC Berkeley that evening, would "willing to die for a revolution" accurately describe your desire? Of course not. You're the same as everyone else in that courtyard. Ask them, and you'll get the same answer. You were told through the ether that meaning and belonging were waiting in the cold night air. Deep down, you all probably knew it was a lie, but to a starving person even bread crusts look like gourmet meals

III

By publicising their experience, they highlighted the poignant limit of the connected world, and that limit is this: we all face death alone.

The experience of a riot becomes less scary if they tweet about it, mock it, or turn it into a game. In other words, they turn to Twitter as a real-time escape from an unpleasant experience. People have always done this. Escaping from reality when that reality becomes uncomfortable is a common, and effective, coping mechanism. It's why grown-ups with full concentration and furrowed brow, will struggle their way through crossword puzzles at the dentist’s office.

But those phones also unveil the true role of “social media” in our modern world. Social networks are not really about connecting us with others, they are about mediating our experience of reality. Twitter and Facebook allow us to distance ourselves by allowing us to comment reflectively and reflexively on real-time events.

IV

Susan Sontag wrote a now famous book about photography everyone should read called On Photography. Ms Sontag remarked how taking a photograph means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world which feels like knowledge, and therefore like power. She says photography is a way to alienate oneself from the world, to abstract it and make it emotionally and cognitively manageable.

She also rather famously wrote, “the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.” I would argue social networks have a similar effect. The act of tweeting or updating our status, of constantly reflecting on the unfolding of our experiences right in front of us, makes us tourists in our own lives. We abstract everything away to give us the illusion of understanding those events and therefore to give us the illusion of power over them.

V

But more importantly, and unlike photography, social networks validate a mistaken belief that our lives are worth visiting, that our private joys and tragedies somehow play out on a grander scale than is actually the case. I bet every one of those kids at the riot somehow believes that bonfire is important enough for the history books. After all, their own lives have been a cascade of repetition and practised boredom, percolated with messages that their lives truly matter and are important.

They have to believe this. The alternative is to grapple with their obvious and inescapable insignificance. To struggle with the terror of a life not lived, followed by the never-ending days of being dead.

One day they will ask those questions, but because they live behind a frame any answers will be weak and wrong. They will instead claw for something, anything, to assuage the existential terror. They won't know the answers are lies because they've never seen the truth. "I am so Tweeting that!" Sigh...

VI

Psychotherapist Otto Rank says the central fear of life is the fear of separation and individuation, the fear of becoming an individual. Conversely, fear of death is the fear of the loss of individuality. Considering Sontag and Rank together, we realise that Twitter, whatever the social or political benefits, is fundamentally a symptom of a greater neurotic condition: the fear of being absolutely present in one’s own life.

Be careful with mediating reality through Twitter, photography or a blog. It is an abstraction away from life because to experience life directly is too personal, perhaps too intensely stressful or too intensely joyful. The civil war never stood a chance in this environment. Come one person, come ten million people, it doesn’t matter. The only thing with any power is Twitter’s algorithms.

Everyone in those crowds uses the Twitterverse to obviate their understandable fear and anxiety over a violent political action. Standing there in the maelstrom is to be forced to comprehend their acutely vulnerable individual selves – small, bewildered and powerless. Completely at the mercy of human forces no modern American really understands.

What can we make of this call for revolution and civil war? This is tension, sure, but what threat does this pose to the system? A reset is not a revolution. A revolution is a criminal conspiracy in which murderous, deranged adventurers capture a state for their arbitrary, and usually sinister, purposes. A reset is only a restoration of secure, effective and responsible government in which the status quo remains.

Of course, a failed reset can degenerate into a revolution. No doubt many involved in the rise to power of Hitler and Mussolini thought of their project as a reset. They were quite mistaken. And it's important to understand that virtually the entire mainstream of political and social discourse today is radical and revolutionary by historical standards. But the tension cannot build if it is constantly dissipated by smartphones.

The protests will fail. They will eventually be co-opted by the media, branded as either this team or that and assigned leaders no one would ever pick, ever. The reason it will fail is that none of the participants want it to succeed. They are still holding on to the economic delusion that the 1990s can be reinvigorated. They can’t. It’s over.

“We want more jobs!” yells one side. “We want free education!” yells the other. Double the taxes, triple the taxes, it makes no difference. It’s over. Aside from inflation, the only answers are a new war or cold fusion. And inflation has the side benefit of pushing the rioters into a higher tax bracket and everyone will be able to see what a $US1000 bill looks like. You want change? Throw away the damn iPhone.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The looming non-collapse of the world

The world is about to burn, apparently. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hour-long speech at Davos recently said “the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from,” referring to the protectionism outlined by US President Donald Trump and others.

Politics aside, everyone seems to think civilisation is on its way to collapse. Pretty much every hobgoblin of the “fear the future” movement gets airtime – global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, etc – so it’s worth understanding this system of thinking.

If you are the kind of person who likes to kill trees and spill ink on their dried remains, the end-of-civilization mantra is unflatteringly referred to as “doom porn.” I think the term is appropriate. To its audience, collapse it is exciting and titillating, yet it has some serious problems.

What makes this worldview difficult to argue with is that its assumptions are largely true. Yes, oil exploitation is probably peaking. Yes, atmospheric CO2 is negatively affecting the environment. Yes, human population is growing rapidly. However, it isn’t enough to have the right assumptions. It also needs a predictive model for those assumptions, and that’s where it breaks down.

The problem with collapse thinking is that at no point in human history has civilisation been sustainable. That’s why civilisations progress. Sustainability is not the target.

One counterargument is that “science and technology will save us.” But doom porn anticipates this argument, lumping it dismissively into the term “cargoism.” After all, the idea that “science will save us” is a belief, not a scientific fact. It is sloppy thinking that fails to either address the problem or enlighten the solution.

But the counterargument commits the same fallacy as the argument it seeks to counter, namely that this state of affairs we call the present is worth saving. You might not like it, but the present is not worth saving. The status quo never was the goal and maintaining it shouldn’t be the target for the future.

Mr Xi agrees: “Economic globalisation has powered global growth and facilitated movement of goods and capital, advances in science, technology and civilisation and interactions among peoples.” Technology evolves, he says.

Our civilisation can use the scientific method the ability to identify problems. Technology is scientific knowledge mated with engineering. Science gives us knowledge, engineering exploits that knowledge. In a way, science is a type of inexhaustible natural resource, where everything we learn is like the discovery of a new ore.

What we should be pushing for is massive and accelerated exploitation of science. We need more GMO food, not less. We need to live in more-extreme environments, not temperate zones. The way to the future lies in the not-yet-tried and even further in the not-yet-discovered.

Instead, the collapse idea emerges from fear. We see the build-up of atmospheric carbon and conclude combustion engines are inherently dangerous. People react like this because they don’t really understand fossil fuel power, how it works, or what it is, and isn’t. The lesson should be how to build better engines, not get rid of them.

We also need more nuclear reactors, more synthetics, more computerisation, more optimisation, more virtualisation, more high-concept science and bigger thinking. Whatever has not been tried should now be tried.

“But these things are dangerous!” Well, the jury is still out on that. Regardless, dangerous compared to what? The status quo is already unsustainable.

If the alternative is collapse then why hedge our bets by standing in the way of scientific progress? If civilisation is truly on the line – if the stakes really are that high – then let’s take everything science tells us and go all in.

Globalisation isn’t synonymous with progress, and protectionism isn’t necessarily an obstacle. Mr Xi’s message is true nonetheless. The laws of physics and the laws of economics converge on his one point – there is no static equilibrium. No status quo. Civilisation only ends if progress stops. So don’t stand in the way.