The openMovements series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.
When Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the well-respected United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, resigned his position in 2018, world public opinion was manipulated into overlooking the fact, let alone its true meaning. His appointment to the post, back in 2014, had been a watershed moment in international relations.
He was the first Asian, Arab and Muslim to hold that office, which he did with brilliance until he decided to vote with his feet. He would not give in to the pressures that were disfiguring his office, pulling him away from his mission of defending the victims of human rights violations only to turn him into an accomplice of such violations at the hands of countries with a prominent standing in the world system. In his farewell speech and interviews, he expressed outrage at the way in which human rights were becoming the pariahs of international relations, an encumbrance to authoritarian, unilateral strategies seeking geostrategic domination.
He had to conclude that the exercise of his office forced him to oppose the majority of countries that had backed his appointment, lest he betray his mission. He further pointed out that the very nature of the UN faithfully reflects dominant relations. As an organization, it could therefore be either brilliant or pathetic, and in his view the latter side was getting the upper hand. His was a warning cry against the dangers facing the world, given the advance of the nationalist populisms coming from the right and the far-right, to which he had long been calling attention.
By denouncing the growing vulnerability of a large swath of the world's population to serious human rights violations, he himself had become vulnerable and had been forced to step down. The warning cry was hushed by the silence of diplomacy, of connivance, of the arrangements that are so typical of the pathetic internationalism he had denounced.
All this occurred in the year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was commemorating its 70th anniversary and when many of us, myself included, advocated the need for a new, more robust and more truly universal declaration. This need is still felt, but right now what is truly important is to identify the forces and processes that are blocking the existing declaration and turning it into a mere piece of writing that is ultimately as disposable as the populations subjected to the human rights violations against which the declaration was meant to protect them.
It should be added that the declaration aimed at demonstrating the moral superiority of capitalism over communism. Capitalism, like communism, promised the increasing well-being of ever larger populations, but it did so while respecting the principles of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. It was the only system compatible with democracy and human rights.
The conservative and reactionary wave now sweeping across the world is the complete opposite of the philosophy that presided over the making of the Universal Declaration and poses a serious threat to democracy.
In fact, the conservative and reactionary wave now sweeping across the world is the complete opposite of the philosophy that presided over the making of the Universal Declaration and poses a serious threat to democracy. It requires a two-pronged authoritarian and radical discipline that cannot be imposed by democratic processes worthy of the name. I am talking about economic discipline and ideological discipline.
Economic discipline consists in imposing a self-regulated capitalism, driven exclusively by its own logic of unending wealth accumulation and concentration, unchecked by any political or ethical restrictions – in a word, what we used to call wild capitalism. As to ideological discipline, it consists in inculcating a collective perception or mentality filled with imminent and unpredictable dangers that affect everyone without exception, particularly those collectives that are closest to us, be they the family, the community or the nation.
Such dangers create an insurmountable fear of strangers and the future, an absolute insecurity in the face of an overwhelming unknown. In these conditions, the only security left is to return to the glorious past, to seek refuge in the affluence of what one has supposedly been and possessed.
The two forms of discipline are so authoritarian that they amount to as many undeclared wars on the vast majority of the world's population, the destitute popular classes and the impoverished middle classes. Such double war requires a vast, ideological-mental industrial complex sprawled across the planet, including our neighborhoods, our homes and our privacy. This complex comprises three major factories: the factory of hatred, the factory of fear and the factory of lies.
The factory of hatred is where the need to make enemies and the weapons for effectively eliminating them is produced. The real enemies are not the powers that leftist critical thinking has demonized – capitalism, colonialism and hetero-patriarchy –, but rather those that until now have posed as friends, i.e., all those who have invented the idea of oppression and mobilized the naive (regrettably, a considerable portion of the world population) into the struggle against oppression. They came in the guise of democrats, advocates of human rights, the rule of law, access to justice, cultural diversity, and racial and sexual equality. This is why they are so dangerous. Hatred presupposes the refusal to argue with one's enemies. You eliminate your enemies.
The factory of fear produces insecurity and the ideological-mental artefacts for producing security, which in order to be infallible requires non-stop oversight and non-stop overhaul of the security technologies. The goal of the factory of fear is to eradicate hope – to make the present state of affairs the only possible and legitimate state of affairs, which only madness or unbridled utopia can challenge. The issue is not to ratify all that exists, but to purge what exists of all that kept the glorious past from perpetuating itself.
Finally, the factory of lies produces the alternative facts and ideas put forward in place of everything that has passed for truth or the search for truth, notably the ideas of equality, negative freedom (liberty from constraints) and positive freedom (the liberty to achieve one's own objectives, free of outside impositions or underhanded control), the rule of law, violence as the negation of democracy, open dialogue and recognition of the other as an alternative to war, common goods such as water, education, health and a healthy environment. This factory is the most strategic of the three, in that it is where the ideological-mental artifacts have to be packaged to appear ideology-free. They are all the more effective because they do not tell the truth about themselves.
The relentless factories of hatred, fear and lies are trying to steer the technological revolution toward a greater concentration of economic, social, political and cultural power
The proliferation of these three factories is what drives the reactionary wave we are experiencing now. The proliferation has to be as broad as possible, so that each one of us can be turned into an entrepreneur of hatred, fear and lying; so that there is no longer any difference between production, distribution and consumption of such "products".
The hegemonic media, punditry, the social networks with their algorithms, and the churches that preach the theology of prosperity, are all powerful assembly lines. But that does not mean that the parts on the conveyor belt are anarchically produced throughout the world. There are centers of innovation and technological overhaul to ensure the mass production of increasingly sophisticated ideological-mental artifacts.
Such centers are the silicon valleys of hatred, fear and lies. The technologies were originally developed with two major customers in mind: the military with their wars, and mass consumption. But these days the customers are a lot more diverse. Included in their number are psychological manipulation, public opinion, political marketing, and moral and religious disciplining. Technological sophistication is geared to abolish the difference between distance and proximity (tweets and soundbites), between institutionality and subliminality (by means of mass-produced maximum personalization), between truth and lies or half-truths (oversimplification, the trivialization of horror, the selective reporting of social conflicts).
Just when we are on the brink of a new technological revolution dominated by artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, it looks like the relentless factories of hatred, fear and lies are trying to steer the technological revolution toward a greater concentration of economic, social, political and cultural power, and therefore toward the creation of a society so unjust that justice will become a repulsive monstrosity.
It is as if, on the eve of the massive arrival of artificial intelligence, natural intelligence became more and more artificial and automatic, so as to coincide with artificial intelligence or to be confused with it.