Objectively speaking, human life has never been better. Humanity’s pretty much got the whole AIDS thing more-or-less under control; Jimmy Carter’s got the guinea worm on the run; the global population is stabilizing even in the Global South; and even the refugees from war zones are well-fed, well-educated, and sport tricked out smartphones. There’s still some warfare, there’s still some starvation, there’s still some disease, to be sure. But objectively speaking, the world is not falling apart.
And, yet, it sure does subjectively feel like it’s falling apart for most of us. You can chalk it up to our being more informed and more sensationalized about the bad things going on, and there’s some truth to that. You can indulge in some psychological self-harm with some hand-wringing about how we don’t appreciate all of our blessings, and there’s some truth to that, too. But what political commentators and theorists consistently fail to grasp is that all politics is relative.
When one views contemporary politics through the prism of relativity rather than objectivity, a disturbing portrait emerges of relative disharmony which, if it’s not addressed, will eventually spill over into objective disharmony. Harmony equals expectations times the speed of progress squared, and the uneven nature of progress in the past few decades has resulted in massive disparities in outcomes relative to expectations. These are far more relevant to predicting future political unrest than the objective disparities.
Objectively speaking, the young Western male has little to complain about relative to, say, an African struggling for clean drinking water or an Afghani schoolgirl struggling against cultural and economic barriers to literacy. But pause for a moment to consider the relative context. Statistically speaking, his father is disappointed in him for struggling relative to himself. His sister and potential mating partners enjoy superior educational achievements and social status to himself. The jobs with pensions, the homeownership, the late model cars, and the stable romantic relationships are all slipping away from him while his friends, family, and society look on in disappointment.
The kinds of people who unironically watch TED talks might scoff at his plight relative to a worldwide context which isn’t relevant to him. But that’s not his world. His world is very much falling apart, and it’s exacerbated by an academic, social, and political context which actively gloats about and rejoices in his dispossession as turnabout and revenge for historical injustices and inequalities which he played no part in and enjoys little if any discernible advantage from.
Relatively speaking, the world is indeed on fire. Western women are promised that they’ll get to have it all if they focus on their educations and careers, but end up barren and unfulfilled with dead end jobs and abysmal romantic prospects by the time they’re encouraged by society to settle down. Syrian refugees and their more numerous economic migrant cohorts are promised a veritable El Dorado of prosperity and inclusion by Angela Merkel and the Western oligarchs for making their treks, only to end up fighting for a USB charging port with a bunch of other disgruntled migrants in a makeshift barracks in a cold and dark Finnish village filled with anxious and cagey locals as the unforgiving nordic winter sets in. China’s factory workers are making more money than ever, but the treadmill keeps pace, keeping middle-class comfort and affordable family formation just out of reach.
Only the affluent chattering classes have the privilege of thinking about politics in Newtonian rather than Einsteinian terms, adding insult to injury to the White working class with their condescending lectures about objective standards of human development and prosperity. Objective standards of human development and prosperity are little comfort when one’s parents, dating prospects, peers, and self all expect and demand much more. The response to the first world crisis of despair is being met with derision and demands for even more rapid and complete dispossession, pressurizing a political powder keg which will take the quants who think exclusively in objective socioeconomic terms by surprise.
The global oligarchs are indeed concerned about “inequality,” but in a contrived egalitarian way which fails to account for the uneven distribution of human capital. Rather than dig into their own pockets, they push for policies which flatten the distribution of wealth among the 99%. In practice, this entails taking privilege and wealth from the West and redistributing it to The Rest. There are hotspots, largely within the BRIC bloc–Brazil, Russia, India, and China–where there has indeed been a lack of economic capital relative to human capital. But for the most part, the elites’ machinations are creating an artificial and unstable disparity between human capital and economic capital which is bound for a seismic correction.
Perhaps the most acute embodiment of this phenomenon lies in the #BlackLivesMatter movement on American college campuses. The White males who are already in relative crisis are the targets of increasingly aggressive demands from minorities and White females with unrealistic expectations drummed into them by the elites. There’s simply not enough of this ephemeral “privilege” to go around. And if the insurgents continue framing matters in competitive rather than collaborative terms, the cornered White males are going to fight back and they’ll win when they do.
I look forward to that historical process coming to fruition, and my only hope is that they are at least as vigorous in seizing what is rightfully theirs from the global oligarchs as they are from the minorities and the Global South. The NPR-enthusiast elites promised the world to the world in the past several decades. And rather than digging into their own overflowing pockets to ameliorate income inequality, they squeezed the White and East Asian workers a little harder with each passing decade. As tension over unmet expectations mounts worldwide, they’ll most likely double down on this strategy, guaranteeing more populist outrage and civil disobedience from disgruntled young White and Asian males.