The Worst is Yet to Come by Peter Fleming (2019) (read in 2019)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve in reminding me of what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

Though this book was occasionally better-written and often more coherent than Snyder’s (reviewed above), I occasionally got the same feeling that the author was squeezing his material to fit his premise (exactly as Snyder did).

The thesis that everything can—and probably will—get worse, is so broad that the author feels comfortable hanging pretty much anything he can think of happening in the world on it and try to make it stick. It’s not uninteresting to see how his observations from life in London translate to premonitions of further doom, but it’s also only rarely convincing.

And still he only got to about 160 pages, with a very generously sized “Glossary”, which was just another hodge-podge of mini-essays that he couldn’t be bothered to integrate into the rest of the book.

I was grateful that I didn’t buy this book, either. At least Snyder’s felt like it’d had an editor who’d actually looked at it. Fleming’s book was rife with typos, outright misspellings and bad grammar. At one point, he wrote “tranny” instead of “tyranny”. ‘Nuff said.

Citations

“Neoliberal capitalism had probably run its course, spawning progeny it could no longer protect itself from. The constellation of possibilities that once flourished in cities like London had vanished. There were no antibodies left. Capitalism was undoing itself at nearly every turn. A kind of neo-Feudalism was on the march. Perhaps we were witnessing the birth of post-capitalism after all, not a clean and better alternative to the system, but (rather paradoxically) a much worse version of it,”
Page 9
“Neoliberalism’s mandatory individualism shrinks collective experience and the communal solicitude it engenders, keeping us hurried, alone and always on edge.”
Page 10
“As overwork transforms the home into a living nightmare (bickering about bills, unhappy children, Sky News), many react by escaping into work, embracing the very thing that caused the trouble to start with.”
Page 11
“Like most large cities tethered to the sinking ship of late capitalism, London hates its children. So they hate it back.”
Page 11
“My theory is this. Most advanced industrial societies have actually outlived the principles of capitalism and are busy transitioning into something else. It is still too early to say what that “something else” might be. But we do know the break won’t be clean. So the post-capitalist future we should prepare for will be no classless utopia. The worst features of capitalism will be amplified and applied reductio ad absurdum, coalescing around the return of preindustrial norms of authority and an incredible polarisation of wealth.”
Page 12
““On every new thing there lies already the shadow of annihilation”, Sebald avers. The corruption “of every individual, of every social order, indeed of the whole world” runs all the way down.”
Page 33

What is it with these short books that endlessly cite Holocaust survivors.

“Despite the self-help tone of his articles and talks, Petersen is actually peering into the void — or more precisely, the bottom of a lobster tank.”
Page 38

He seems to be bending Pinker and Petersen’s ideas to fit his thesis.

“The most troubling part for me is this: since the financial crash over ten years ago — wrecking ordinary lives and spreading great hardship — the mega-rich have actually increased their wealth in a remarkable fashion. Sure, the initial crisis was a shambles. But what transpired in the decade that followed was probably worse, with a new breed of oligarchics mapping out a post-capitalist future, one that is starting to take shape.”
Page 38
“If a bomb shelter is the dominant metaphor we live by today, then be careful who you share yours with.”
Page 40

This pithy bit of advice comes absolutely out of the blue; it’s pure filler.

“The conceit of homo economicus helped Friedman and Schultz build a more formalistic theory of human capital. This served an ideological purpose too. The very phrase “human capital” implies that human beings’ interests naturally coincide with the values of capitalism. No doubt the two economists believed this could be an effective retort to the Marxist threat.”
Page 45

That’s an interesting point: our economic theories, outlook and unswervingly propagandistic pedagogy stem from the Cold War.

“The fear that unfriendly AI will break-off on its own and fuck the planet is unfounded. An uglier situation could emerge, where people play a very prominent role. If robotics is a manifestation of human power relationships, then it’s not the enslavement of mankind by some cybernetic “superintelligence” that will spell our demise. It will be the perpetuation of an exhausted present, only a deeper variant of it… a digital web of domination so stupid and inane that a “necrolypse” might look like welcome relief in comparison.”
Page 62
“If the religion of work is still promoted in the digital dark age, then post-workerism ought to be our central demand, including a radical shortening of the working day and week. Otherwise capitalism will produce its ultimate contradiction: the glorification of work in a world where jobs are rare.”
Page 63
“We’re now told that the real question is no longer when we will retire but if we’ll retire, with the prospect of working until you drop likely to become the norm. According to one concerned pensions expert, “the danger now is we will have a generation who really can’t afford to retire”.”
Page 74

Unlike Snyder, he has footnotes, but can’t make cases match (in this case, we turns to you).

“The thematic of war recently reached its zenith when Donald Trump said he planned to establish a sixth branch of the armed forces, a “Space Force”.”
Page 85

This type of book is too superficial, with no research to establish context. The book is too short to accommodate anything but a skimming of superficial news sources and clickbait articles. The first mention of a space force was in a strategic document from the nineties, under Clinton. This is not fodder unique to Trump. Trump is copying his predecessors.

“A paper published by the Weizmann Institute of Science conveys the scale of the disaster. Human beings account for 0.01% of all living things since the rise of civilisation. Yet they’ve eradicated 83% of wild animals. Moreover, if we look at the total number of mammals on Earth today, a staggering 60% are livestock, 36% are humans and only 4% remain in the wild. Meanwhile, German researchers discovered that 76% of all flying insects have disappeared in the country since 1989.”
Page 95
“Concerning the latter, radical ecologist Derrick Jensen contends that the only effective way to save the planet is to end civilisation as we know it.14 There can be no happy coexistence between us and nature. It’s a zero-sum game. The best way to rescue the White Bellied Heron, the Baishan Fir, Franklin’s Bumblebee and the Hula painted frog, for example, is to terminate the global capitalist order immediately. As Jensen puts it, “to reverse the effects of civilisation would destroy the dreams of a lot of people. There’s no way around it… what right do I — or does anyone else — have to destroy them? At the same time, what right do they have to destroy the world?””
Page 97
“The problem is that the worst is yet to come. We therefore require a good understanding of the ideological terrain upon which that struggle will unfold. Most importantly, and returning to the thesis of this book, we won’t necessarily see the clean death of neoliberalism but an exaggerated and unsustainable deepening of it. It will then buckle under its own weight, yielding a windswept post-capitalist dystopia… if nothing is done to counteract it now.”
Page 118
“This is how Google can enjoy yearly sales in the UK of £1.03bn yet post a pre-tax profit of £149m, with a tax bill of £36.4m. Some firms might even record a “loss” (despite heathy revenues), then use the “Double Irish” with a “Dutch Sandwich”, and pay no tax whatsoever. Combined with shadow banking, transfer pricing, trade misinvoicing and tax havens, here we see where neoliberal capitalism is heading in the end times. The ultra rich — and their phalanx — floating above the state as the public sphere shrinks and society descends into disorder. Moreover, it is precisely here that neo-Feudal social structures make a comeback, linked to family oligarchies and their tremendous influence over governments, bypassing the democratic process.”
Page 137