Open societies are not functional in a globalised, hegemonic, unipolar, technological world. They’re dysfunctional oligarchies where each of these groups is subservient to some other group.
Surprisingly, dysfunctional oligarchic open societies can appear quite working. The extractive power of geopolitics is the main fuel for these societies. The technological advance smoothens out the dissonances for average people. The globalised hegemonic unipolar situation makes everyone share the same basic issues. The cross border sharing of problems (not of benefits) makes the group of these sharing societies appear to be even more open.
But they are not open.
Local authority and the public will have literally zero effect. Trans national organisations with sweeping powers put people in jail for trans national offence. The political representation of a society’s inner workings is effectively gone, across the liberal map, and it’s replaced with an over the top soap opera that can only last based on perpetual polarisation..
For Popper, the author of the cornerstone work on open societies, an open society is shaped by a structure flexible enough that individual liberty and critical thinking have the needed degrees of freedom to thrive. Rule of law and real impactful democracy are also foundational for an open society. Our fake open societies have a rigid structure, because of self preserving castes making the rules for themselves, democratic process with zero impact, because of constant lobby overreach, and the rule of law is to laugh at when individuals own fortunes valued more than entire countries do.
I mean, what is this better than? In my country’s Ceausescu dictatorship, we had castes making rules for themselves, individuals with influence above the rule of law and a fake democracy that always resulted magically in exactly what the centralised system planned anyway. Same, same.
The so called “freedom of speech” is the last remnant of an actual difference, but that too through the efforts to de-platform inconvenient people appears to be erased.
But wait, the horrors of communism! While the atrocities of attempting to make people accept communism and repent for having their own thoughts seem surreal to a liberal society citizen – they need to be contextualised, in the sense that the reeducated were, a lot of the times, actively trying to recruit anti-system revolutionary support. The same thing is going on today. Some of the reeducated (through gruesome methods) were innocent of any charge but removed from society because they were in the way of a big shot. The same thing is going on today. But today we have the means, mostly technological, to avoid the grotesque, to the very last moment, to that last moment when Guantanamo becomes necessary.
So it’s hard to discern what are the humane ideals that those in the other side of the iron curtain risked their lives and their family trying to evade. There were obvious economic reasons, particularly towards the end of the communist charade, but the “freedom” and liberalism seem today like the proverbial images on a cave’s wall. For us, the ones in the communist cave, the images on the wall were akin to literal heaven on Earth, where people were paid fairly for work, goods where plenty, anyone could say what the wanted and become a politician, and the “American dream” existed.
Once we’re out of the cave, we see people are not paid fairly for work, goods are abundant but kill you ruthlessly in various ways, you don’t really own anything, it’s all credit, which your children inherit, saying what you want has “consequences” and becoming a politician is as futile as those virtuoso playing instruments in metro stations.
The system doesn’t even work. Out of the cave we learn that, wait a minute, the abundance comes from theft, slavery, environmental catastrophe. Hold on, the “democracy” is accompanied by a level of inequality that twenty revolutions and ten rebellions can’t dismantle anymore. Wow, actually, by comparison the cave people had lower levels of technological prowess but no ecocides, scarcity but based on their own resources, and most of the inequality was social, not material, an inequality which could be engineered away, personally or as a group.
How exactly does unleashed markets, the relentless cultural revolution, sponsored by proponents of open societies, and corporatocracy actually opens a society? For now, they seem more closed than ever, biologically visible in the loneliness pandemic plaguing the “developed” world. To top it all we can’t even agree on the colour of the sky anymore.
Maybe the ideals of Popperian inspiration should go to a bottom drawer for now. We’re in a very different world, a very different situation, a very different future than what he envisioned, or hoped, when coining the open society idea. Today, societies should start closing, maybe like a wound that has to close to heal, because the realities we have to live with now are not symbiotic, they’re venomously parasitic: a global extractive empire, aimless and backward empire enemies, calcified international networks of wealth and a capture of societal political life in a web of deception, uninvited secret service activity and overarching corporate influence.
Can we come up with a better metaphor for what we want? In his final power Ceaușescu offered the unhappy crowd lower prices and bigger salaries. Everyone laughed. In our minutes before doom the powerful of now offer us a one way trip to Mars and nobody laughs.