will the true leviathan please stand up?

In April 2020, a document titled Grey Briefing #1: Post-COVID-19 Political Futures for Europe and North America started circulating on social media. The document came out of a secretive group called Special Circumstances Intelligence Unit (SCIU). SCIU introduces itself on https://www.greybriefings.com as follows: “We are a ‘discrete society’ of futurists, technologists, authors, policy-makers, civil servants, academics, entrepreneurs, investors & entertainers. We stretch from Singapore to San Francisco, from Stockholm to Soweto. Our members are behind some of the most interesting projects & headlines of the day. Our main goal is to inform, entertain and educate each other. However, on occasion, we develop useful observations that deserve to be shared. The ‘Intelligence Unit’ consolidates these insights into briefing papers and scenario exercises for larger dissemination. The society is by invitation only.” The members of the group remain anonymous; so do its financiers.

The chilling question central to Grey Briefing #1 is the following: what would happen to Europe and North America if COVID-19 lasted a year or more? Repeated lockdowns, aimed at the suppression of a deadly virus, would exacerbate existing socio-economic problems, setting the stage for radical societal change. What could this change possibly look like? Grey Briefing #1 presents us with three scenarios. The first, called The Pyramid, describes the rise of populist, nationalist, authoritarian governments, exemplified by the Trump administration. The second, called The Leviathan, predicts a dramatic increase in centralized, supranational government power, but apparently strictly for the common good, resulting in a kind of green socialism worldwide:

“The line between the public and private sector blurs, following a state-capitalist model akin to China or Singapore. Personal luxuries and individual freedoms are curtailed in the service of larger social needs. Surveillance is pervasive, linked to individual behavior and attitudes, and social compliance is explicitly and implicitly enforced.”

Finally, The Village is the scenario in which top-down state intervention fails, leaving a vacuum, opportunistically filled by local initiatives. The benefits of stronger local community ties are outweighed, however, by the danger of intensified tribalism. The exposition of the three scenarios is concluded with a simple diagram presenting scenario 2, The Leviathan, as the clear winner, the only one with no serious downsides.


Source: https://www.greybriefings.com

Who could possibly be behind this? Structurally, Grey Briefing #1 is remarkably similar to Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development, a 2010 publication (easily found online) by The Rockefeller Foundation and Global Business Network. Instead of three scenarios, Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development outlines four scenarios exploring “the role of technology and the future of globalization”. The scenarios in the Rockefeller document are named Lock Step, Clever Together, Hack Attack and Smart Scramble. Eerily reminiscent of the current situation surrounding COVID-19, scenario 1, Lock Step, details a hypothetical flu pandemic that would sweep across the globe in 2012:

“During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets. Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified.”

But the move towards tighter control harbors risks, especially if strong nationalistic sentiments are present: “By 2025, people seemed to be growing weary of so much top-down control and letting leaders and authorities make choices for them. […] Even those who liked the greater stability and predictability of this world began to grow uncomfortable and constrained by so many tight rules and by the strictness of national boundaries”. The favored scenario here seems to be Clever Together, in which natural disasters resulting from climate change prompt “highly coordinated worldwide strategies” implemented by “centralized global oversight and governance”.

Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development reads like a delirious patchwork, an utopian dream continuously morphing in and out of a dystopian nightmare. Of course, the structural similarity between Grey Briefing #1 and the Rockefeller report alone can not serve as proof for a common origin. It does, however, become clear that wealthy institutions such as The Rockefeller Foundation are massively interested in change on a global scale, and they are acutely aware of the potential of catastrophic events for catalyzing such radical change. Under pressure, everything becomes fluid, the saying goes.

Apart from the anonymity of its creators, a further enigmatic aspect of Grey Briefing #1 is the title of its preferred scenario, The Leviathan. The name Leviathan is etched in our collective mind on account of two sources: Thomas Hobbes’s 1651 political treatise by the same name and the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Both sources are discussed in The Leviathan with Jason Reza Jorjani in the online video series New Thinking Allowed, interviews conducted by Jeffrey Mishlove. In the Book of Job, Leviathan serves to prove God’s absolute dominion, Dr. Jorjani points out. None but God Himself is able to subdue this mighty beast: (Job 41:10) “No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Who then is he who can stand before Me?” Hobbes uses Leviathan as a metaphor in his argument for a strong state, an absolute monarchy in fact. The state should embody an awesome power, like that of Leviathan, in the face of which the individual stands powerless. The sovereign at the head of the state is God’s agency on earth. Today, the image of the Leviathan surfaces again, in Grey Briefing #1, where it refers to the vision of a global eco-socialism, governed by a supranational assembly of public and private actors, “following a state-capitalist model akin to China or Singapore”. In the present time, members of the global elite, such as Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, call for a reappraisal of Marxist ideas [1]. Political and business leaders are taking the initiative towards shaping a new social contract, preferably on their own terms, I suspect.

The deeper tension that arises is between, on the one hand, a collectivist state ruled by an untouchable, sovereign elite, and, on the other hand, forms of liberalism in which the individual, any individual, is permitted to challenge the authority of the ruling class. The former can be symbolized by hierarchical structures like the beehive (The Pyramid, The Leviathan, Lock Step, Clever Together) whereas the latter is more akin to decentralized systems like fungal mycelium (The Village, Hack Attack, Smart Scramble). The centralized model, not surprisingly, seems to be favored by today’s ruling elite, and, being backed by such immense power and wealth, appears to have a bright future ahead of it. But the dark horse in the race is on the side of (economic) liberalism, and it’s called Bitcoin. A decentralized, peer-to-peer transaction network with a fixed monetary supply, ruled by the cold, impersonal laws of the free market, Bitcoin is poised to disrupt the financial status quo worldwide, radically. The San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Kraken was one of the first of its kind. It is tempting to think Kraken’s founders chose this name to bring to mind the class of invincible sea monsters of which Leviathan, too, is a representative. With thousands of copies of its genetic code and life history distributed across the globe, Bitcoin is a Hydra which can’t be killed easily. Users of the Bitcoin network do not have to know or trust each other in order to transact securely; no middle men are required for the clearing of global transactions. Its blind, indifferent nature is akin to the human collective unconscious, the deep, dark waters preferred by sea monsters of all kinds.

Job 41:34 says the following about Leviathan: “He sees everything that is high; he is king over all the sons of pride.” Was it pride that made the anonymous authors of Grey Briefing #1 choose the name Leviathan for their vision of top-down globalization? I think it was, even though their presentiment of a radical shift in the global order seems accurate. Radical change, however, will not come from the top of the pyramid but from the foundation, the root (radix, Latin for root, incidentally is the root of the word radical). It looks like liberalism has not quite run its course. Is Bitcoin the true Leviathan, God’s agency on earth? 

Silvan Laan, August 2020

[1] Schwab, K. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Crown Business, 2017.