Swans Commentary » swans.com December 14, 2009  



Perspectives: A Review of 2009


Notes From The Edge


by Jeffery Klaehn





(Swans - December 14, 2009)   I have been asked to write a brief article offering my reflections on 2009.

With each passing year, my appreciation for irony grows. The last time I was asked to write an article along these lines was exactly ten years ago. That article was very focused and dealt almost entirely with free market ideology in relation to government deregulation of the market, human rights, and basic civilizing standards of life. Here are some excerpts:

Advocates of free market ideology oppose government intervention in the market and, for the most part, are happy to explain why we ought to be celebrating the market.

As we enter the year 2000, there is no question that transnational corporations and their proxy governments have embraced free market ideology. The question is: what type of world do we imagine for the next millennium?

Over the past two decades, corporations have increasingly taken over regulatory responsibilities. Numerous sources, notably the Brundtland Report, tell us that the planet cannot survive economic development that is driven exclusively by the needs of profit maximization.

In Canada, citizens are being 'restructured' out of their livelihoods even as their employers announce record profits. Here and abroad, human rights are [increasingly] taking a backseat to economic policies that are designed to enrich the rich. Under the current market system, links between human rights and trade are viewed as barriers to capital investment, as are unions, minimum wages, safety and environmental standards. Unions, which struggled to achieve minimum wages, public health care, social security, and old-age pensions, are cast as barriers to capital investment.

The role of the state under such a system of social organization is to ensure that no social, political or environmental barriers impede the free circulation of capital or the ability of extremely wealthy market agents to accrue additional profits [...] Servitude to the free market ideology and corporate agenda from which it flows is frequently rewarded with campaign financing, corporate and press support. Some are given directorships on boards of major corporations after leaving politics. [...] Governments are encouraged to adopt legislative reforms designed to make the economy more 'cost effective,' to 'break down barriers to investment,' and to rid the market of elements that prevent business 'competitiveness.' [...] We must 'deregulate' and 'adjust,' we are told, and 'listen to what the market is telling us.' According to free market ideologues, what 'barriers to capital investment' must be broken down? Those protecting working conditions, workers' rights to collective bargaining, rights to minimum wage standards, rights to security of basic income, rights to compensation for job-caused injuries and diseases, and safety standards? [...] In other words, the barriers that must be broken down are those that ensure government protection of basic social and human rights. [...] Democratic governments have demonstrated a remarkable eagerness to cede control [...] Over the past two decades, we [in North America] have witnessed a transfer of power from the electorate to elites, their corporate bodies and institutions. This has been accompanied by a rapid redistribution of wealth from the public to those who are already the wealthiest. Both Canada and the United States have accumulated massive public debts financing the redistribution of wealth required to provide wealthy market agents with giveaways and 'market-friendly incentives' [...] Banks and financial institutions have profited enormously from the privatization of Canada's debt. The [Canadian] government's own statistics acknowledge that 94 percent of Canada's escalating deficit between 1979 and 1991 was the result of tax reductions and exemptions to corporations and extremely wealthy private citizens, and increased compound interest rates paid to private money lenders and [commercial] banks.

Many of the "hot-button issues" of 2009 echo topics that I wrote about in this now decade-old article: the dangers and real-world implications of government deregulation of the market; the dangers of political and economic short-sightedness; reasons why quality of life depends upon social, economic, and environmental "health" and well being.

What are my thoughts on 2009?

I wasn't permitted to submit a love poem, unfortunately.

So instead, my notes from the edge:

— Many of North America's most popular TV dramas (such as Criminal Minds and CSI) promote a culture of fear, paranoia, and suspicion
— I wonder about the popularity
— Violence has become a social norm within North American society vis-à-vis pop culture, the nightly news, and political leadership; it's consumed as nightly entertainment
— In Copenhagen (Denmark) mothers often feel safe leaving their children unattended; what does this say about the way of life in North America, when we are socialized (here) to regard strangers with suspicion, if not outright contempt? In Canada, if a "strange man" offers a woman an umbrella in a rainstorm, he might well be sent away and called a "creep" simultaneously
— Have you watched Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours trilogy? If not, rent or buy Red -- the film explores ways in which people are connected to one another
— Imagine if, instead of crime procedurals, the top rated TV programs were all either romantic or positive in a feel-good type way (what kind of "insane" world would that be, right?)
— Like, if there were a very contemporary, cool prime-time show about, hmm, love affairs that take place on a cruise ship, say? Like a love-boat?
— Yeah, probably wouldn't work
— These stories involving violent murders and stalkers, etc., etc., are so much more "entertaining"
— Escapism
— That's what we want, right?
— To escape?
— From "reality"?
— What do we want?
— Freedom?
— Imagine if there were top-rated TV programs that explored the realities of working-class life in North America
— Oh, shoot, that wouldn't be very "feel good" either, would it?
— First-person shooters are far more popular than "old-fashioned" J-RPGs today (apparently); just to talk video games for a second
— Love stories on prime time TV, instead of violent stories involving murder, etc.
— Insane?
— Love is dangerous to the status quo; passion and love have a way of shifting perception(s); love makes one realize what's truly "important" in life
— Important: the term's so problematic, isn't it?
— So, relative?
— What is important?
— Human rights
— Thinking about how fear is ideologically serviceable
— Freedom
— Opportunities and conditions of employment
— I recently re-read Article 23 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights
— Success, lack of success; should be based entirely upon merit, no?
— Equality of opportunity is important, right?
— Are politics equally important?
— Is mediocrity the new excellence?
— In Canada, the class structure has remained consistent for the past century, longer actually
— Have you ever seen the film version of The Fountainhead? What do you take away from this movie? You think I'm referring to objectivism? No. Just wondering what you think about the very obvious point the film makes, actually
— How does this play out, in different contexts?
— Hmm, that's THE REAL QUESTION isn't it?
— It's less controversial to talk about the "beauty myth" (everyone talks about this)
— Still on the issue of why jealousy is destructive and really just all-around awful, have you ever seen the Italian romance/drama, Malèna (made in 2000)?
— North American society is increasingly youth-oriented; in 2009, in North America, if you're in your mid 30s, you're considered "old" or "older"
— You're "supposed to" get married in your mid to late 20s here
— Ever seen Indiscreet?
— In the Spider-Man comics published throughout the 1970s, Peter Parker was portrayed as being in his early to mid 20s or thereabouts; in the contemporary Spider-Man cartoons, he's like 15 at most (I think)
— Side note: Wasn't Jimmy Stewart "too old" to be dating Grace Kelly in Rear Window? He had to be, hmm, almost twice her age, right? No? That was okay then? And he was in a wheelchair, and she, well, she was incredibly beautiful, and she was portrayed as being in love with him! You'd never see this in Hollywood films today
— Wait: there was Shadowlands (starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger)
— Television commercials and pop culture bombard us with messages and images of products we can buy to recapture our apparently lost "youth"
— Feeling lonely? Phone a chat/dating line! Just look at all the attractive people in the commercials
— Feeling tired, old, and unattractive?
— Ask yourself why?
— Is this natural?
— No?
— No
— This is me answering my own question in this made-up conversation we're having
— Best not to question it
— Be happy to have what you have
— Remember Calvinism
— Yeah
— Don't think about the fact that someone else (or an entire class of people) might be working far less (or not at all) and enjoying a quality of life that makes your existence look unpalatable (to put it nicely)
— Feeling exploited?
— Equality is important
— Imagining the freedom?
— We live in an age of diminishing expectations and diminishing returns
— Feeling inundated with trivial information and utterly uninformed?
— Feeling alienated?
— Atomized?
— Buy something, you'll feel better!
— You're just going through a "phase" and are probably "thinking too much"
— Be happy
— Someone else always has it worse, right?
— Keep telling yourself this
— You'll be okay . . . in the end
— The system is fair, right?
— Assent to it
— Have you ever seen the film, Brazil?
— Ever read about Mary, Queen of Scots?

A brief break/reprieve: to reflect upon the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

—Emily Dickinson

Reprieve over NOW, back to "Notes From The Edge":

— Notice how "The" is capitalized: as if to emphasize, THE edge
— The market is there to seduce you
— To provide for you
— Education: that's what's most important
— Ignore the dialectic between politics, power, and education
— Creativity/individuality?
— What does it mean: to educate, to be "educated" in 2009?
— "Hey, did you hear the latest about Tiger?"
— Don't think about the stuff that really matters; don't
— Romance, desire, and "beauty" can always be yours: unless you're "old"
— Judge a book (or person) by its cover; content is relative and meaningless; and always reify things, because it's always structures and systems doing things that are necessary and unavoidable (never individuals)
They Live is a movie that was made over 20 years ago; it was directed by John Carpenter
— In truly civilized societies, health care should be entirely free, effective, and easily accessible
— Why must this self-evident truth be so politicized in 2009?
— When I was an undergraduate, one of my best friends had a virtually perfect grade point average (meaning that he had scored at least an "A" in every class that he had taken as an undergraduate), and he'd always wanted to be a doctor; he was rejected by every medical school in Canada that he applied to; he was accepted at a medical school in Ireland but didn't want to leave the country, mostly because he was romantically involved with someone; so he ultimately got married and stayed here, working for his father, who was a (wealthy) factory chicken farmer; later, for their wedding present, his father actually gave him and his wife their own chicken farm and (rather large) house, so he made out okay and was quite nicely set-up financially, but I remember his dismay at not having been accepted by any of the medical schools here in Canada, and his disappointment at seeing his dream go astray; he'd truly wanted to help people
— How much political power does the College of Physicians and Surgeons (of Ontario) have? To what extent is the "doctor shortage" created? By design? Why is no one asking this question? Is this question controversial? It shouldn't be; why is THIS not a "hot-button issue" in 2009?
— Well, who would be talking about it? That's a revealing question, really
— Increasingly, today, social problems are being transformed into medical problems, which profit big pharmaceutical companies
— Having trouble sleeping? Don't ask why, just take some pills, like the pleasant television commercials advise
— Stressed out? Has poverty, joblessness, or despair got you down? Hmm, there are pills for this too . . . and jails?
— In truly civilized societies, dental care (basic and restorative) should be publicly available and entirely state-funded
— Why is this not a "hot-button issue" going into 2010?
— "Isn't it as important as . . . factory farming?"
— Have you seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon?
— I love minimalism
— In North American society, consumer culture runs rampant; it's why we clutter our living spaces with useless consumer products that we don't really need to be happy, to live
— We gauge "success" in terms of relative socioeconomic status, so it all sort of fits nicely together
— Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights; in Canada equal pay for equal work continues to be widely resisted; the term "working poor" is used to refer to the great many people who work in excess of 40 hours a week but are unable to afford homes or cars because their rate of pay is so minimal; homeless Canadians will die on the streets this winter; soup kitchens are struggling to meet demand; joblessness is endemic; there is a push for privatized health care; universal dental coverage isn't a political issue, and isn't even close to being on the media agenda
— The public is being told to expect uncertainty
— There are two things we may be certain of, however: conformity will be rewarded (as it always has been) and more tax cuts and giveaways for the ultra rich will be coming (although this will be a blip on the media radar because, you know, the ultra rich own the commercial media)
— Am I talking about development in terms of the domestic context? Am I talking about human rights in relation to Western governments? I sincerely apologize; unsure what's come over me; best take a pill of some sort
— The term "welfare" only refers to the social underclass (and should not be associated with corporations and banks and extremely wealthy individuals, who expect and receive welfare like a regular paychecks)
— Best just play Halo and buy into the whole militarized culture of fear
— By the way, better to talk about, hmm, visual culture and media than the political economy of the mass media
— Write papers about CSI or globalization and/or human rights in relation issues to "somewhere else"
— Remember what Emily said, assent - Remember also, it's style over substance; jargon over meaning; popularity over substance (and where you publish, not what you publish)
— Always trust the "experts" and embrace essential truths (like a perfect companion)
— Make of all this, hmm, what you will
— In closing: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." (V for Vendetta) and "Soylent Green is people!" (Soylent Green)
— The headline of the article I wrote ten years ago was "Markets rule: In this prosperous world, the gap between rich and poor Canadians is actually widening" and it was published on page A7 of The Record on January 11, 2000 -- did a lot of good, that article, didn't it?
— Now run, Runner, run . . . !!! (reference to Logan's Run)





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About the Author

Jeffery Klaehn is a widely published author and cultural commentator. His scholarly writings have been published in national and international peer-reviewed journals and he is the editor of, and main contributor to several books. At present, he is completing his first novel. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, and maintains a personal blog at: http://jefferyklaehn.blogspot.com/.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/klaehn09.html
Published December 14, 2009