On 11/9 the world woke up to a blue screen error, or better yet, a red screen error. The electoral maps showed that the Trumpian, tribal virus had been much more contagious than expected and that the neoliberal operating system had failed. This is not a transitional point for just the United States. If we do not understand the consequences of the tribal virus for the global challenges humanity is facing, we may be as delusional as my German Grandparents when they assumed that the tribalist bug would simply pass like a flu virus.
If you think me alarmist I hope you are right: let's, of course, hope for the best, but let's not be stupid, and prepare for the worst. Humanists of the world need to unite and code antivirus patches.
Operating Systems of Humanity
For the sake of simplicity there have been three operating systems which inform politics and the economy: humanistic, tribalist, and neo-liberal operating systems. The mainframe of Western civilization has been coded according to humanistic specification (OS I) which respected freedom and human dignity of all (democracy). It was not a very stable system, and always contended with simpler, tribalist products that respected the human need to bond and feel protected. Tribalist operating systems (OS II) such as fascism or collectivism could be marketed more easily because there was a clearly defined audience. These systems, however, were typically not very resilient and crashed because they lacked freedom and did not provide dignity for all.
After the last major system breakdown, when the fascist operating system had destroyed Europe, the neoliberal operating system (OS III) was coded by a number of economists. Building on the humanist mainframe, Friedrich von Hayek and his colleagues of the Mont Pelerin Society gathered in 1947 to hash out the specifications. While the Soviet collectivist system (OS II) was spreading, the new liberals focused on design parameters that should protect human dignity and promote individual freedom. There were internal fights about how to code a resilient system and those that respected the human need to bond lost (i.e. Wilhelm Roepke, a defender of a social market economy). The roll-out of the neo-liberal program updates took a while, but were facilitated by politicians like Ronald Reagan, the fall of communism, and later the international institutions such as IMF and World Bank.
While there may be many reasons why people voted for a return to Trumpist tribalism including frustration, ignorance, racism, or sexism, one of the more benign explanations suggests that it was a scream for dignity. In that sense the neoliberal code obviously failed. Speaking to the global elite gathered at Davos in 2001, Kofi Annan said "If we cannot make globalization work for all, in the end it will work for none. " This prophecy has become reality because the code of neoliberal globalization facilitated unfettered capitalism, in which the powerful could violate human dignity without much repercussion. The resurgence of tribalist political movements across the world (Turkey, Hungary, Britain to name a few) indicates the extent to which neoliberalism has not promoted the kind of well-being humans aspire to.
Tribalist Hacks of the Humanist Kernel
Bad news for Western Civilization has been in the making for some time. The kernel of civil progress, the search for truth (science) and the recognition of facts, has been successfully hacked by corporate media outlets and their social media allies way before the latest election. Algorithms for interest-based propaganda have replaced it. Anything goes as long as it feels right.
The hacking of another important "civilatory" element is on the way. While the neoliberals claimed to promote freedom , the system is currently being recoded by hyper tribal hackers across the globe. Under the strategic leadership of Stephen Bannon, the U.S. is now trying to catch up. Reports of censorship, including self-imposed forms showcase that the tribal virus very quickly infected the cultural kernel. I was told, for example, by well-meaning colleagues to not publish this piece for fear of retribution.
In the wake of freedom lost, dignity is suffering. Talks of a national register for Muslims may turn into reality quickly. Such a registry in a time of big data, social media, and the NSA can easily be turned into a tribal defense algorithm directed at anyone the tribal leader, Trump, considers disloyal (input variable x = black, white, green, red, Jewish, former competitor, overweight, or female). Prison sentences and internment camps are just an operational afterthought. Jeff Sessions, who could not become judge because of racist tendencies, may be heading the Department of Justice charged with protecting civil rights. Human dignity of outgroups could soon be a bug in the system, not a feature anymore.
These basic hacks affect the economy as it becomes tribalized. With a lack of checks and balances that require truth and freedom the economy can quickly be turned into a self-service shop of the tribal elite and family. In fact, at this point, the first family shows little interest in keeping political power and economic interests separate.
Even if none of the above is going to be taken to its extreme, the code is created as we speak. Complacency and tolerance of intolerance turned the German mid-century experience of tribalism into a complete system failure. I hope that this time the humanist elite will awaken sooner and code anti-tribalist virus patches. There will be fundamental conflicts about system design between neoliberals and tribalists, and humanistic universalists need to be exploiting those to upload patches that protect truth, freedom, and dignity for all.
Needed: A New Humanistic Operating System (OS IV)
There is an eerie silence from the neoliberal elite about the systemic hacks, may they come from Russian Intelligence Services or from the incoming administration. There is a willingness from business elites to accept the tribal updates coming their way and play along. Many intellectuals seem to be distracted by the social media shenanigans and hope that the humanist mainframe will be resilient.
The best way to turn that hope into reality is for a new responsibility elite (Mont Pelerin Society 2.0) to start designing a new operating system (OS IV). Humanist system designers need to build on the remnants of the civilizational kernels and learn from the security vulnerabilities of the prior systems. OS IV needs to set out what the designers of OS III tried to do: ensure freedom and dignity for all. There will be a time when the world is ready for such a system update.