Swans Commentary » swans.com December 19, 2011  



Perspectives: A Review of 2011




by Gilles d'Aymery





(Swans - December 19, 2011)  "It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks," Tacitus -- the famous Roman orator and historian -- wrote some 1,900 years ago in Historiae. This, in much more modest fashion, I have done for the past fifteen years or so. I went back to what I've written over these years, consistently chronicling the rapid descent of our (Western) way of life into the dustbins of history. We are, after all, nothing but a tiny dot on that very long frame of time, even if we would think otherwise as we caress our egos with abandon -- a generational repeat.

Last year, I wrote about The Slow Agony Of Absurdistan, a place in time where senselessness had taken over reason and prudence. The trend has continued, even grown further. The neoliberal utopia exemplified by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper -- the whole destruction of an existing social-democratic system in order to impose an alternative, undefined model -- is raging in full force. The median US household income dropped 3.2% during the Great Recession in 2008-2010. Since the 2010 "recovery" it has dropped a further 6.7%. According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 50% of the American people have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income." ... "An estimated 1.6 million children will be homeless at some time during the year -- 38 percent more than at the start of the recession." In Greece, almost 50% of the active population is either unemployed or underemployed. According to the Greek budget for 2012, estimated at 170 billion euros, over 50% of it -- 88.5 billion euros -- will be used to pay the interest -- not even the capital -- on the country's debt. Roll on to Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and now, Italy...and soon France. Imagine the damages. Imagine the societal destruction.

The banking system that had to be saved with trillions of dollars (trillions of taxpayer money that will never be repaid) in 2008 is still up to its old game -- making money, called Return on Investment (ROI) -- off the backs of hoi poloi. ROI seems to be profitable. The top people in that non-productive sector of the economy increased their earnings by over 25% in the U.S. and a whopping 44.5% in France. And the bankers and other members of the "financial markets" keep a loaded gun pointed at the public temple, which they will undoubtedly discharge in due time.

Meanwhile, those of us who have been frugal and saved some money for our retirement are seeing those savings ravaged by zero interest rates. And we are also being told that Social Security benefits are a thing of the past. "Get used to it." This is the new normality. Applaud Hayek and Popper, and Soros, et al. Enjoy the paralysis in Washington and in the EU. The "financial markets" -- whoever the people behind them are -- have taken control of our destiny.

Or maybe not, as the protest movements all over the world are taking shape to gain back the control that has long been lost. Maybe the Arab Spring will lead to moderate Islamism (explain what that is...) or Salafist "purity," but Wael Ghonim will not be a part of the future. Whether protesters can face and overcome the increased militarized police that violently keep us in check is a question left with no answer. At least, as a consolation, Time chose "The Protester" as its wo/man of the year!

President Obama told the crowd in Fort Bragg -- military people -- that the Iraq war was over, and that it had been a "success." The secretary of defense (whatever his name is) presided upon the furling of the flag in a muted ceremony in Baghdad. The president and prime minister of Iraq did not even bother to show up. That says it all. No need, here, to recapitulate the losses in blood and treasure, and the destruction of the cradle of civilization. It brings Tacitus back to mind: Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. -- "To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace." (Oxford Revised Translation.)

Libya was also declared a "success." Then it will be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and on and on till the end of history.

Meanwhile, ecological disasters from Fukushima to earthquakes in New Zealand and Turkey, from floods in Pakistan, Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S. to drastic drought in Africa, from melting glaciers and sea ice to water scarcity, from...to...are left unattended, but for the usual bureaucratic reports published by international organizations.

The arteries of imagination have become so clogged and atrophied that the blood has jellified. That was 2011 in a nutshell.

One parting thought: George Whitman just passed away. He was almost 98 years old. A friend of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and many book-loving writers and readers, he was known as the "Don Quixote of the Latin Quarter." In 1951, he founded a bookstore located 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, right in the heart of la Rive Gauche in Paris -- Shakespeare and Company. There, for sixty years, he sold books, hosted countless authors, and lived (above the store in a small apartment) according to his mantra: "Give what you can, take what you need." I used to go there on a weekly basis in the 1970s.

What will be the mantra in 2012? "Take all you can and give as little as what you don't need"...or will we change the paradigm?


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Myths and Realities

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Published December 19, 2011