Alexander Bard about futurological predictions, turbulent times in human history that we are going to go through, new paradigm of the digital era and other important matters
Alexander Bard is a man with a wide range of activities. Probably known mostly to the masses as a musical producer and artist that stands behind one of the most grotesque camp bands of the 1990’s Army of a Lovers, and also the inventor of such high rating for Swedish pop-export of 2000’s bands like Vacuum, BWO, Alcazar and Gravitonas, Alexander never bounded his interests with showbiz and is also one of the cutting-edge philosophers and sociologists.
Having written five books with his partner in crime Jan Söderqvist, and a sixth on the way, Alexander payed attention in them to the research of the basic narratives of mankind, new paradigm that digitalization brings to the society, futurological predictions and other far away from frivolous pop music serious themes
We had an opportunity to talk with Alexander about his new book, the agony of old power structures, the new paradigm of the digital era, the pandemic as a way for massive break of technologies and other interesting topics.
Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov
Hi Alexander! Thank you very much for finding time for us. There is such a wide range of things that you are doing from musical producing to TV presenting and writing philosophical books. What have you been up to mostly recently?
Hi! I just finished the TV show “Sweden Got a Talent”, we had the final two weeks ago. And I’m working on a new book together with my co-writer Jan. Söderqvist—the sixth book that we are doing together. We did a lot of research last year, before starting to write.
Will the new book be the continuing of ideas and future projections that you started to develop in your first book “The Netocrats” and have these ideas and basic principles of your philosophy changed somehow over the years?
Our philosophy is based on the principle that human beings do not change at all and technologies are changing rapidly. That means you must study technology to understand how the human society will change. Human beings are constant, technologies are variable—that’s our fundamental principle that stays the same.
All our future projections that we had in the first three books (“The Netocrats”, “The Global Empire”, “The Body Machines”—which are all together The Futurica Trilogy) were right.
In our next The Grand Narrative Trilogy we went deeper in our philosophy. We have already released two parts of this trilogy (“Syntheism – Creating God in The Internet Age” and “Digital Libido – Sex, Power and Violence in The Network Society”) and we are working on the final part. In these books we explore how all the major stories of mankind, religions and philosophies were constructed; what kind of narratives we had since nomadic life began 150 thousand years ago; how we started settling ten thousand years ago; and why these narratives are structured the way they are. And we are looking for the new narratives for the age of living today, that will come with the unification of Eastern and Western philosophy and the new philosophy that will have to be constructed because of the digitization process.
So you think the digitalization with any doubt will lead to the unification of not so similar Eastern and Western philosophical systems?
Systems are much more similar than you think. If you study Confucianism you will get an understanding that it is not different to Western philosophy. In our new book we go through narratives that drives the system and show that a global understanding of West includes East, like the global understanding of East includes West, and the most important thing that happened to mankind in the last few thousand years is the Silk Road, which leaded to the unification of East and West through trade. It is a good metaphor for today’s unification process in the digital world. And there is no way back, we can’t turn back with this unification, even with this harmful nationalism and conservative reactions at the end of the day we will be leaving in a very global world, because digital drives globalization.
Your vision is that in this rapidly coming new digital society the social system will change and the new ruling class netocrats will replace bourgeoisie. Do you think we can already clearly see this process?
Yes, and we are only in the beginning of this process. When we wrote “The Netocrats” 20 years ago the tech giants in America were only starting; there was even no Facebook at that time, it again shows how right we were in our predictions..
Now in the beginning of netocracy, we can see only people who know how to collect data, the next step will be when they will know how to process and structure it and then how to create algorithms that will provide orders in this database.
So and how can we briefly describe a typical netocrat? Who is he—a kind of a master of puppets who is standing in the shade of a tech giant, collecting data or controlling a digital media empire?
He is not a master of puppets because he doesn’t need any puppets, that’s the problem. Everybody needs a master to come in and to give them a job and that’s an old paradigm, but with rapidly developing technologies in the new netocratic reality coming we are not even sure that these people will be necessary. Think we are going to miss slavery.
Netocracy is creating a global nomads world. Usually netocrats speak several languages fluently and working in the technological field, you can find them in places like Singapore, Dubai, Hong-Kong. Or a successful YouTube vlogger can be a netocrat as well.
Can you label yourself as a netocrat?
I guess I am as a philosopher the part of this structure, I speak on the behalf of netocrats and I oppose and fight with them with old power structures.
What are these old power structures that you are fighting with?
The old power structures are politics—that is the imaginary sphere, academia—the symbolic sphere and traditional pre-digital industry which takes the real sphere.
Politics is already an old game for the old people. In America PewDiePie is in some ways more powerful than the president of the United States. Young people follow him much more than Donald Trump. Nobody wants to go into politics any more. If you want to get powerful you start a technology company. In 2020 if you will start a technology company you will be much more powerful in ten years from now than if you will start a political career. Technology companies will kill all the industries of the past, this is where all the future profit is.
Academia is dead, there is absolutely no future for it. The encyclopaedic knowledge you can get online from Wikipedia is in a way much more than in Encyclopaedia Britannica, as there are fewer mistakes in Wikipedia. I didn’t study at Harvard or Stanford; I have spent some time in Stockholm School of Economics but never finished it. And we started to write with Jan Söderqvists sociological and philosophical books 20 years ago, staying away from all traditional academic institutions, publishing books independently and this looks absolutely more credible in the current environment than any works of representatives of traditional academia and this is why all our predictions came true. I don’t think university professors can make any help in the world today. I think universities are over and students are starting slowly to discover that there is no use in them and that this traditional education is just a waste of time and money.
Think everything is understood about the pre-digital industry. All the functions in it will be soon taken by machines. And as a real sphere of the old power structure pre-digital industry is already replaced by data collection and processing.
And who controls and leads this forming netocratic movement?
The only one who tries to control netocracy is the dictator of China, Xi Jinping. But he will fail. As the first dictator who is trying to be netocratic he is trying to control through the internet the entire population and in this he is much ahead of Trump, Putin and all other modern politicians. But you can’t have an innovative culture when you are trying to control people’s minds through some institution.
The plural systems have the most power. We write a lot about it in our last book where we go through all previous empires in human history. We compare, for example, Ancient Persia with Ancient Egypt—Egypt tried to become a dictatorship the way China is today. Persia had a much more plural system and at the end of the day Persia as an empire was much more creative and lasted in a way longer than Egypt. The empires that are plural in their constructions and allow multiculturalism are always much more creative. Having this plurality at the bottom of the system functionally is much better that having a monolithic system with a dictator on the top. We can see it if we will compare today’s China with Taiwan. These 24 million Chinese people that live in Taiwan in an open democracy system have in a way a much more creative and upgraded society. And I am not moralizing here and defending traditional democracy but it’s a fact that plural and tolerant societies are much more functional than dictatorships.
Don’t you think that besides all the good impacts, one of the consequences of the plural society in the digital informative age can be the so called “post-truth” phenomena and the fact that people starts to feel very disoriented, it becomes harder and harder to find something they can rely on in this never-ending traffic of information, point of views and fake news that they see online?
There is such a thing. But you can find the truth, the truth is always there and you can find it through your own algorithms with the help of artificial intelligence that will analyse your behaviour. If you will listen every day to people with different points of view, specially to you antagonists—you will grow because you become smarter when you communicate with people who disagree with you rather than with those who agree with you. If you will stay only in your eco-chamber like people did back in the 2010s, you will become stupid.
I don’t believe in this post-truth society; I even think that we are finally arriving at the truth that we can get through data and algorithms. A good example of how data works could be the coronavirus pandemic. The world is incredibly complex, and we can’t predict such things like pandemics they just happen. And we need weeks and months to figure out what to do while the virus spreads. In the last weeks we finally figured out how the virus works, how it spreads, who dies from it—we have all this data. And in this light of this data we see that many political manoeuvres that were done last month were wrong. All things we have to know we can figure out quickly now just using an algorithm and we have to change politics to algorithms as they are much quicker.
What do you think about such freaky creatures in the current political environment like Trump and Putin, are they like one of the last representatives of the dying imaginary sphere of the old power structures that will be replaced by algorithms in the future?
Trump and Putin are both television and indeed act like television clowns. They are the last politicians and the last politicians are clowns. We predicted it already in “The Netocrats” 20 years ago; in chapter six we wrote that soon in the USA they will elect a president as a reality show. This is what just happened with Donald Trump, for the lack of the alternatives he was just elected as the most famous person.
People are starting to understand that politics is not what it used to be. Politics can only destroy now, it can’t create. No new values are created through politics any long. There is no vision in politics, there is no future in politics. All the visions of the future have moved into the world of technology.
So, in your perception and in the light of all these future visions in the field of technology, what will be the key for building a new advanced society with a sense of now?
This pure algorithm that directs you towards all your life’s desires is an ultimate value and power in netocratic system. And this algorithm will not be available for everybody in the same way, the will be much shaped according to your own behaviour and to the behaviour of people that belongs to your subculture. So, the algorithm itself will reflect you and your surroundings. And that means the end of the individualism. Everything will be about creating tribal structures, subcultures. People who are highly successful will be socializing with the others and co-creating things.
This is why it is so important to make friends around the world and to challenge yourself with living in different environments and cultures—it’s the way to become wise and also it is access to the truth. Just stop trusting authorities telling official truth—newspapers, television, radio stations are always lying because this old media always serves the old power structures they came from. They serve the politics, academia and the traditional pre-digital industry.
Everything that is offered by this media is not relevant anymore; people are going into the online world looking for the new narratives, and the ones who’ll guide them online and will tell them new stories that will help them orientate in the current environment will have the power. Power is moving now from the physical to the online world. And coronavirus pandemic speeds up this process, people go online now more than ever. Because everything that is offered by the internet can be much better than the things you will get in traditional media and it will be better if you use the right algorithm. The algorithm is ordering your data.
If anybody is still waiting for the Messiah, the Messiah will come and The Messiah will be a machine, not a human being. And the Messiah will be private and it will be your own algorithm. This is why you have to work better on your algorithm. You must be careful with the time you spend online because if you spend time on entertainment you are gonna be stupid. However, if you learn and challenge yourself you are gonna be intelligent.
What will be the new power structures that will replace the old ones?
The previous essences of this control were land ownership, then money, in the netocratic system it will be data. Whoever controls and processes the data will have the most power.
At the end of the day you always end up with some tirade construction that will control the society. The netocracy will eventually need an imaginary sphere, a symbolic sphere, and a real sphere. The real sphere is already the realm of data collection and processing. While the imaginary sphere will replace politics with sensocracy and the symbolic sphere will replace academia with algorithms.
What is this “sensocrasy” that will replace traditional politics?
We use this world a lot in our last book ” Digital Libido – Sex, Power and Violence in The Network Society”. Sensocrasy is a world full of sensors that are in human bodies and brains connected with each other and the outside world. This is the only way to solve the problems like the climate crisis, future pandemics and possible nuclear war.
The only nation that has clearly seen the beginning of the sensocracy is Chinese. But they want to build a sensocracy as a dictatorship. Historically it is always a disaster when you try to implement a new paradigm through a dictatorship. This is why philosophers like me and Söderqvist are trying to teach the world that sensocracy could be implement in a plural society and this is why we love to work in such countries like Taiwan, Korea, India as they a perfect base for implementing an alternative to China’s one party state model of sensocracy.
We agree with Chinese that technologies are everything. But we will need a plural sencocracy system with different competing interpretations of the data that is coming out from the sensors. This is the only way to make credible decisions and to create the technologies that we really need to save ourselves.
How close are we to this brave, new world?
First step will be that everything will go to anarchy and chaos, there is nobody to take over. The scary thing is that the old power structures are falling apart so quickly, and we have not replaced them with something better yet. We will see more violence; this is just the beginning. And there is a major risk that atomic bombs will spread across the planet; in this case, we will have worse problems.
Do you think it will be a long way from a historical perspective?
I never give dates in my predictions. I never say will it be in one year or ten years because there are so many unpredictable things happening. In the light of the world’s complexity you can always expect something unexpected. But I can say that everything that we were talking about in our first three books (Futurica Trilogy) has happened and the things we were writing about in our last two books are starting to happen.
What are your general thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic and what kind of impact it can leave on these turbulent historical processes that we are going to go through?
We are lucky because the coronavirus could kill children, but it doesn’t. It would be worse if it was killing children like The Spanish flu did in 1918-1920. Pandemic happens in human history and the coronavirus is not the worst. As we already know 99% of victims who are dying from coronavirus are people over 60 with medical problems. That’s terrible itself, but we are still lucky that children are safe.
I think the lockdowns will be put down in a few weeks because people have to go to their work; otherwise, it will be an economical disaster. This hall situation was a good test that shows how variable our societies are and how hysterical they can become. So, we will know next time when a more serious pandemic will come how to handle it.
As for the coronavirus impact on the development of the society I can say that it moved the future ten years closer to us, and it is a massive break in technologies. Because of the pandemic we can experience now what is this living in a completely digital world. People are sitting home and ordering everything online, while all the regular shops, restaurants and bars are going down.
What do you think about your home country’s approach in dealing with coronavirus without putting people in stress with lockdowns?
Swedes are happy to follow instructions from epidemiologists. They do not like to obey political orders.
It’s understood that because of this enormous need for buying things online that we are seeing now, a pandemic impact on business is the flourishing of e-сommerce. But what trace you think the coronavirus will leave on the culture?
It is the best day for different e-activities, e-culture and what I call infotainment. The infotainment principle is driving all algorithms, and it is based on doing something in an entertaining way but with a strong educational aspect. Everything now is about mixing art, entertainment and education into one and if you will find out how to do it, you will be a winner. We can see how it works on the example of Netflix that is just exploding during the pandemic. It’s all about storytelling and new narratives, especially in the time of chaos when old power structures can’t explain what’s going on and can’t save us from the current problem. It is just a perfect time to go to isolation in your house with your friends and family and go to narratives that can explain to us what’s going on in the world.
Seems like a perfect recipe that we will follow during these long lockdown days that we will follow. Thank you very much Alexander for this interesting talk—it was a pleasure.
Photos: Mikolai Berg