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Posts Tagged ‘financial crisis’

southport pierSince 2007 we’ve been observing a world in freefall. Something’s gone wrong with the money machine, and the machine is a mystery to me. Try as I might, I just can’t figure out how it works so, like my car, I tend to leave such things to the mechanics. All I know is that the mechanics tell us we can’t just print money when we run out of it. If we print it, they say, the prices in the shops go up, so we run out of money again and have to print even more. The result is a never ending and upwardly inflating spiral of destruction.

The problem is, of course, we have indeed run out of money – lost it apparently – but such is the depth of my ignorance, I don’t understand where the money has gone. I know money is largely computerised now, but when the pundits opine that billions have been wiped off the value of the stock market, does that mean there’s a computer program somewhere deleting it?

If I only understood these things a little more I’m sure I’d be less cynical when we hear the tired old politicians’ saw that we’re all in this together and tough decisions must be made. But I’m not so ignorant I don’t understand that phrase: “tough decisions”. It means diverting money away from anything that betters society – diverting it to where, exactly, I’m not sure, but certainly nowhere it will do the majority of us any good. Those tough decisions may be expedient in terms of getting the  machine going again, but it seems also morally perverse, no matter what the money mechanics tell us.

To my eyes, something is wrong at the heart of the machine, yet the solution the mechanics are groping towards appears to be a painstaking restoration of the very thing responsible for the breakdown in the first place. It seems unwise to merely restore a system we know has imperfections so deeply ingrained it cannot help but impale itself again on the future shards of its own avarice. I’m aware this is a naïve view and it’s probably why I’m unsuited to the field of money mechanics.

The majority of people remain silent on these things, like me, lost in ignorance and apathy, focussing purely on the next pay-cheque, the next bill. We regard the economy the same way as the weather – something we must occasionally take shelter from, and are powerless to control. So, we look on in dismay and gather those closest to us, that we might comfort them with platitudes as the tornado cuts another swathe. But human beings are not meant to live like this for long. And six years of “tough decisions” is a long time.

We are all of us aspirational. If we cannot feel the thrill of life, however we define it as individuals, it makes us crazy. We might be tempted to expand ourselves in directions we ordinarily would not. And if the compassionate, inclusive directions in life are closed to us, what then?

They say there are no powerful ideologies any more – left or right leaning, that we run in the safe groove of the middle ground. Indeed someone famously declared the end of history with the fall of communism in the 1980’s. I think that was premature, for what is the avaricious freemarket economy, if not an ideology? And what are ideologies anyway, but irrational beliefs, each born from the ashes of the ideology that preceded it? But the thing with ideologies is the seeds of the old ways remain, like prehistoric grasses, frozen into the glacier of the new. And that glacier of the free market economy, has been melting so very fast of late. At what point will it release, drip by drip, those ancient seeds?

In Britain the ancient seeds are most visibly represented by the minority politicians who occupy the far right. I saw their footsoldiers in the summer. They went leafleting en-mass along the promenade of a wealthy seaside town in my locale. Bright eyed, jolly lads, they were. White, shaven headed and patriotically tattooed, they strode out with a purpose. But they also seemed intent on a parody of themselves as they handed out their literature of race-hate.

The Britain of my personal experience remains for the most part inclusive and fair minded, and I’m happy to report those leaflets were received with largely contemptuous ripostes. But I wonder at what point will those fair minded summer crowds be rendered vulnerable enough for the dark seeds take root?

Although the money mechanics remain by far the most vociferous of the media pundits, it’s clear by now this is much more than a financial crisis. It’s something that has reached to the psychic roots of our being and has begun to reshape us as people. We must therefore take care in the ideals we hold to, as individuals, for the only cure the mechanics can come up with is more of the same – namely the ruin of nations and the impoverishment of our children, generation upon generation.

In order to repair our world along the old familiar lines, it seems we must first destroy it.

So, as we stand on the cusp of this new age, and look to the future, we must be mindful of the times to come, that we shall at times feel our hands so tied we can no longer do any good in the world, that we will feel at times ever more restrained, unable to expand and feel the aliveness within us. Yet expand we must, for this is our nature. But whatever path we choose, let us remember the old doctor’s saw, that we must first do no harm.

There is an axiomatic kernel of decency in all of us, no matter how cynical and pressed. It’s an ancient thing, God given and born of dreams. It would always have us act to safeguard our fellow man, not out of legal necessity, nor national interest, nor economic expedience, but out of compassion. If we could only wake up to such an ideal as that, we might fix the machine properly so it works for all of us, instead of so intractably against most of us.

There has to be another way.

I know, I know,… I write stories, and most of them are fantasies too, but I remain hopeful.

 

Graeme out.

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They say the best camera you own is the one you’ve got on you at the time. Unfortunately, that’s usually a mobile ‘phone and mine’s rubbish – but it didn’t do a bad job with the interior shot of old Grumpy yesterday morning. 2.5 Degrees, he’s warning me (the central dashboard display), slippery roads. But 2.5 I could live with. I remember minus 15 this time last year and that was a drag.

I was just backing out of the driveway, heading over to a local garden centre to finish off a few items of Christmas shopping. “What are you doing?” Asked the good lady Graeme, as I snapped the pic. I didn’t really know, and what I saw in that brief moment certainly doesn’t come across in the photograph. I should know by now you can’t capture ghosts on camera. There was a bit of snow turning to slush in a steady drizzle, and the morning felt a lot colder than those 2.5 degrees. What was it I saw? Emptiness? Despair? I don’t know – just something. I’d been feeling lighter recently – more positive about myself and the world, but something dark was stalking me. Again.

At the garden centre I found myself browsing the books. I’ve noticed a trend for repackaging ancient out of copyright books, dressing them up in nostalgic hardback covers and flogging them to the Christmas “market”, because people will buy any old rubbish at Christmas and there’s not the inconvenience of the publisher having to pay the writer any royalties, because he’s been dead a long time and his stuff’s legally up for grabs. To be fair though I found a lot of the titles interesting and also very telling.

There were a lot of old war books – not the guns and gore type – more the home front type: Dad’s Army, rationing, wartime civilian nostalgia, even some works by Baden Powell on military training, preparing, making ready, battening down the hatches, all in it together stuff – that sort of thing.  Anyone would have thought there was still a war on.   The feeling I got was one of entrenchment, of taking cover, taking shelter, of making do and mend, and what would Grandma have done because our backs are really up against the wall and we could do with some of her wisdom now. If only we’d listened to her tales when we were younger.

After the garden centre it was a trip to the local mini-mart to stock up on a few essentials. While I was there I also stocked up on the headlines from our newspapers – broadsheet and tabloid. I don’t buy newspapers any more. I just take a snapshot of what the current “message” is from the fourth estate. I was never much of a cricketer – could never cope with spin on a ball, always tried to judge it as if the laws of physics were in charge and not the last minute twist of the bowler’s magic fingers. I always failed. Maybe I’d be better at it now. In meditation, we watch the flow of our thoughts and we ask who is the watcher? In reading headlines we ask who is the spinner? What message are we be being spun here?

Our PM says the “UK is a Christian country”, according to one of the headlines. I don’t recall in what context these words were spoken and in a way it doesn’t matter because the media wanted to say something else, but what? That we’re not a Muslim country, not Jewish, not Baha’i or Daoist or Buddhist? Warning shot to you no-good Johnny foreigners? We’re watching you? I felt a shudder run down my spine. They have Christians like that in certain parts of America – but they also carry guns. Another headline said: Children should know their times tables by the age of nine? What’s that saying? Our kids are thick? Our teachers are useless layabouts, who’d rather teach multiculturalism ? Well I’m married to a teacher and I know what goes on in our schools, and layabouts our teachers are not. And our children aren’t stupid either – just increasingly alienated and disenfranchised. Another headline spoke of the deepening rift between the UK and France over this week’s spat about the Euro-zone crisis. Anglo-French relations have been the stuff of legend for centuries, all of it myth and spin. I swing the bat, as the ball bounces. I don’t catch it full square, but I do catch it and it drops safe. I hold the wicket – no thanks, I’m not running with that one, you bastards. As for the  shabby local rags they were, as usual, fixated on sordid local crime, trying to convince us our neighbourhood aren’t safe to live in. Don’t go out. Stay at home. Lock your doors. Evil is afoot.

Anyway, the impression I returned home with was one of a population bludgeoned into thinking the clock had been turned back seventy years, with rationing about to be reinstated and the dreaded Hun about to invade all over again. And the reason? A lapse in our Christian values, a lurch towards lilly livered liberalism, the decline in standards of education, and those bloody Europeans,… And the solution? A return to Christian values, the three R’s, and cast the UK adrift from mainland Europe, because we’re better on our own? Anyone would think we’re in the grip of Eurosceptic Conservatism.

I’m sorry, political commentator I’m not. Cynical Brit who believes nothing he’s told any more and asks at every unsolicited encounter with strangers these days, what’s this guy trying to sell me? Possibly. All I know is our problems are more complicated than anything we’re being sold or told, and the solutions likewise. I do know however that what we’re spun is nothing more than a daemon haunted myth and requires considerable analysis if we’re to make sense of it. At the moment it’s a dark myth, one I hope won’t slide any deeper into the gutter of entrenched nationalism, because the daemons who live down there are a pretty foul smelling lot and have a habit of laying waste to things. They like to find someone to blame, usually the the least culpable in society, and least able to defend themselves. And when things are good? When the myth is boom-time, like the bubbles of the eighties and the mid noughties? Well during that kind of myth-making it’s the wrong kind of people who get rich. And during the ensuing dark times, when the bubble’s burst, it’s the wrong kind of people who get shafted.

I don’t know, I’m just a family guy hoping the world will straighten itself out before his kids have to saddle it up and ride. That’s what I saw in that photograph this morning.

Gotcha!

Later on I watched a film, (getting to the title bit now) saw it on sale in the mini-mart while I was browsing those curve-ball headlines: Wonderful Life – James Stewart and Donna Reed. It’s an all time favourite of mine, and if you can watch it without a tear in your eyes you have no soul my friend. (I blew my nose all the way through it, told my good lady I felt a cold coming on) But that old movie has a message that seems curiously apposite today. I suppose you need to watch it and then ask yourself if you’re a George Bailey, (the endearingly earnest Jimmy Stewart) or a Mr. Potter (the suitably evil Lionel Barrymore).

When the world falls apart, whose side would you be on? Whose boat would you jump into? Would you sell your soul to Potter for the guarantee of life – no matter how miserable and undignified, because that’s where we’re heading. Or would you go with George, even though his boat’s a bit leaky and there’s a 50-50 chance you’re going to drown? Me? I’m a Romantic. I’d rather drown, than live in Potter’s world.

They don’t make films like that any more? Well, I’m not so sure. Among the dark grumbly, fire and brimstone daemons, there are always the other kind who inject the occasional voice of hope, when times are grim. And a bit of research tells me that film began life as a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern who initially couldn’t get it published anywhere. (I know how that one goes) The film itself was also considered a flop at the time because it didn’t break even at the box office. Never mind the message, just count the bucks. How ironic is that, given the premise of the film? But sixty years later, we’re still watching it and saying: Yes, they really nailed it there.

The pursuit of “financial growth”, or even just “financial stability”  without the stabilising effect of a social and moral conscience really is the road to hell. We all know that, so why are we led down it so easily, time after time? Don’t believe what you read in the papers – Mr Potter owns them all, and he’ll pander to what’s darkest in you. It’s really not the end of the world. At times of crisis, the last thing we should be doing is digging ourselves into entrenched nationalism, intent on looking after number one. It’s precisely at times like these we need to be reaching out globally, as well as locally. It wasn’t nationalism that won the war on the home front in the dark days of both world wars. It was being neighbourly, lending a hand, keeping a good heart and trusting it would all work out well in the end. That may also be a myth, but it’s a good one. Come to think of it I hope one of those “home-front” books turns up in my Christmas stocking this year.

It really is a wonderful life, but you have to look at things the right way, and I’m with you George Bailey.

Buffalo Gals, won’t you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight. Buffalo Gals, won’t you come out tonight, and dance by the light of the moooooooon,……

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