Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Your truth? My truth? At the end of the day truth doesn’t matter when the house is burning down. And will the euro and the EU survive? (Who said ‘who cares’?)

There are a great many slippery concepts in philosophy, whether your philosophical discoursing is taking place in a university seminar from undergraduate to PhD level or whether you choose instead to operate at pub bore level. By the phrase ‘slippery concept’ I mean those words, notions and ideas which we all think we understand but which, when we home in on them, when, for example we are asked ‘to define’ them seem to disappear before our eyes.

One of those words ideas is ‘the truth’. We all think we know what the truth is but I suggest we can’t, none of us, because ‘the truth’ doesn’t actually exist. That is not to say that some things – by no means all – cannot be ‘true’ or ‘false’. If I turn the light on in my living room, it is certainly ‘true’ that the light has been turned on. But ‘being true’ and ‘being false’ are pretty far removed from any notion of what ‘the truth’ might essentially be.

I must admit that I wasn’t the most diligent student and that most of my ‘philosophical knowledge’ is pretty threadbare – although that doesn’t necessarily mean I am unqualified to deal with some questions, mainly because the questions themselves if not the answers are very simple indeed.

The body of my ‘knowledge’ consists of half-remembered ‘facts’ from my college tutorials and seminars and scraps I’ve scavenged listening to folk far brighter than me. But that isn’t necessarily a drawback. Even if you happen to have overheard that it is very unwise to put diesel into the tank of a petrol engine and weren’t actually party to the discussion, not putting diesel into the tank of a petrol engine is certainly very wise.

One of the scraps I scavenged was Soren Kierkegaard’s notion of ‘subjective truth’. It was his attempt to get a little closer to the conundrum that at the end of the day ‘the truth’ doesn’t actually exist. Kierkegaard (if I got it right) suggested that ‘subjective truth’ was what was ‘true for me or you personally’. So, in a political discussion one side, on the Left, might claim that the truth was that the bankers and capitalist classes were intent on destroying the ‘ordinary working man’. Not so, his opponent, on the Right, might declare: the real truth is that socialism is always bound to fail because of human nature.

Whichever side you agree with will define which of those statements is ‘the truth’ for you. Both would seem to be mutually exclusive (and admittedly my example is not the best) in that if one is ‘true’, the other isn’t, irrespective of your preferred truth. (It has just occurred to me that I might even question ‘the truth’ of the statement that ‘both are mutually exclusive, but here is neither the time nor the place to get overly complicated. My brain is beginning to ache as it is.)

. . .

So what is the ‘truth’ about the situation in Greece? Did ‘the feckless Greeks bring it down on themselves and only have themselves to blame’? Or is the ‘truth’ of the matter – or rather one ‘truth’ of the matter – that the bigger countries in the Eurozone have used the Greek debt crisis simply as a means to restore the health of their big banks which took a blast after the financial crash of six years ago? Is it, as one Syriza MP has claimed, at heart a battle ‘over democracy in the EU being waged between Europe’s middle class and its working class? [Syriza is a left-wing party]? You pays your money and takes your choice.

My attitude is that when a house is on fire, you don’t sit around working out why the house is now burning to the ground and who might be responsible for the blaze, you concentrate all your efforts on damping down and extinguishing the fire or, if that is impossible, salvaging what you can from the burning house before it collapses in on itself. So with the situation in Greece. And that situation is dire, awful, terrible.

For anyone who might not be up to speed on what is going on: after Greece joined the Eurozone, it took adavantage of the low interest rate charged throughout the zone to borrow as though there were no tomorrow. (One of the claims made – someone’s truth – is that although the European Central Bank, which administers the euro, is charged with being fair to all member states, it quietly fixed the interest rate at a low level to help out Germany which at the time was having a rather torrid time economically after the re-unification of East and West. The claim is that other Eurozone economies, ones suffering from higher inflation, for example, might well have benefited from a higher rate.

The fact is that interest rates were low and on the strength of that Greece borrowed like there was no tomorrow. And furthermore it didn’t use the money it was getting to fund infrastructure, but simply to pay its day-to-day bills. The crunch came when the world found itself in the middle of the 2009 financial crash and Greece and her banks needed to be bailed out. That’s really when it all kicked off. Since then ‘the Greek situation’ has lurched from bad to worse, culminating in the total fuck-up we Europe is now in. Here is today’s front-page online headline from the Telegraph. For

 once a newspaper isn’t particularly over-egging the pudding. Greece’s former finance minister Yani Farouvakis (who resigned before the latest round of ‘negotiations’ last Sunday – my quote marks might give you a hint at which particular truth about them I subscribe to – has warned of the resurgence of Golden Dawn, Greece’s exceptionally nasty extreme right-wing party of thugs and morons.

Incidentally, Britain is not a member of the euro for the very trivial reason that our former prime minster Tony Blair wanted us to join, so his chancellor Gordon Brown, who my then loathed Blair, vetoed the move. That’s it. That insignificant piece of petty spite has been Britain’s saving grace in this whole disaster. Where France would have been liable to lose a whopping €65 billion had Greece reneged on its debts and left the Eurozone, Britain would have been given a pass.

As I write (at 8.25 on the morning of Tuesday, July 14) the Greek parliament is due to meet and pass laws which are necessary for ‘more talks on a further bailout’ to begins. And passing those laws would mean accepting the EU’s conditions, one of which is that a substantial amount of its public assets would be sold off and the money used to help pay off its debts. To be blunt, Greece is being dictated to like an errant fifth-former and that, if nothing, else would seem to make it pretty likely that it’s all going to end in tears and civil unrest.

. . .

That, as I see it is the situation now, and for the time being the ‘truth’ of who is responsible for the EU arriving at this point is irrelevant. Quite apart from the situation in Greece, what does all this mean for the euro and the future of the Eurozone?

Well, once again, you pays your money and you makes your choice. There are some, the euro zealots who still insist that it will all come good in the end, that the current ongoing crisis – ongoing, that is, for the past six years, but there you go – are simply the growing pains of a new system. It all had to happen in time and the faith the Eurozone members have in the system will eventually see it through. Then there are people like me who think the zealots are whistling in the wind and kidding on no one but themselves.

Right from the outset I – most certainly no trained economist – was more persuaded by the idea that the euro system was badly thought out, badly constructed and would eventually burn and crash. The argument was that until and unless all members were part of one fiscal system with their economies guided by one central authority (which would imply ‘ever closer political union’) which would set an optimal interest rate for the whole Eurozone, it would all end in tears. The doubters were derided. Now, it seems, they have been proved correct.

So as far as I’m concerned the Eurozone, in its present form, is a dead duck. It cannot be resurrected. Too much trust has been lost. And what of the EU itself? Will that survive unscathed? Good question. And the answer is ‘yes, it will survive’, but it will bear the scars of the current crisis and can never be the same again. For we have seen, for better or worse – and (see above) which it is depends on your particular ‘truth’ – Germany wield its power. And that makes many uncomfortable, although not me. I have longed tired of all the bollocks spoken that ‘the EU is just another attempt by Germany to dominate Europe’ and other such crap and as I am half-German and know Germany and its people to a certain extent, I can assure any undecided that continental domination is not on Germany’s agenda.

I shall make this point, however: two of Germany’s national failings is a stubborn inflexibility and a somewhat two-dimensional imagination (which might explain why they make great cars but don’t actually design great cars). They happen, in my view (i.e. my ‘truth’) to be quiet right on practical housekeeping matters and the very idea of ‘muddling through’ is anathema to them. The trouble is that when, as here in the handling of the euro crisis they are wrong, it is bloody difficult to impossible to shift them from their position. And that rather two-dimensional imagination stops them from seeing the virtues of alternative solutions.

As it is the original notion of a ‘European Union of equals’ has already gone out of the window in many ways. Once each member state more or less had an equal say in all matters. Now their say is tailored to how big they are, which most certainly gives the big beasts an adavantage. Where one decisions had to be unanimous, they now need only an 85pc majority. And I would be very surprised if, despite all the talk of equality, some of the original members didn’t rather look down on new members as Johnny Come Latelys who don’t quite cut the mustard I am all in favour of an EU as a trading bloc and then some, but really do draw the line at ‘ever closer political union’.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea in theory, I think that given just how different are the cultures of EU member states – well demonstrated with this business over Greece – it really is all pie in the sky. Britain is at present in the process of renegotiating the terms of its membership. Before the current phase of the Greek crisis that looked like a rather soulless and fruitless experience and the likelihood that Britain would vote to leave not at all small. Britain now has a far stronger hand with many other members, shocked by the goings on of this last week, agreeing with Old Blighty that reform is very much needed. The question is: will the EU functionaries – the unelected EU functionaries – in Brussels play fair or not? I doubt it.

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