Saturday, June 16, 2012

Here's an irony: I know even less than you probably do

And the agonising goes on. And on. And on. We're in the shit, Europe is in the shit, the US is in the shit and, with a bit of bad luck, the rest of the world which relies on us buying their crap, their not so crap and their most certainly not crap goods, will also be in the shit if we stalwarts in the Western World (capital Ws to be discarded, perhaps, when our economies cut us down to size) can no longer afford to buy our goods.

I've long believed, and when in my cups proclaimed, that the only really universal theme is 'irony'. I don't by that mean the pseudo-cynical attitude in the West of disbelieving everything and everyone however sincere they are, but the original meaning of the word. That, funnily enough for an irritating modern habit, is a direct descendant of the (cribbed from the Ancient Greek εἰρωνεία eirōneía - I 'have' no Greek so like everyone else these days I am obliged to crib from Wikipedia, an irony in itself,- meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance. But I don't mean that. These days, irony means, for example, a man who has staunchly proselytised about the sanctity of marriage being cuckolded by his wife; or perhaps, and this I do know, the blind prophet Teiresias being the only one who realises - sees - what is really going on.

The irony of the Western philosophy - the zeal to establish 'democracy', 'capitalism', 'growth', 'liberalism' and although it is, of course, no philosophy whatsoever - is that at the end of the day it is just a prolix justification for what in our heart of heart we all suspect is simply bad, self-interested, greedy behaviour. Or if we don't suspect as much, we still, again in our hear of hearts, feel a little queasy about.
Take 'economic growth'. It seems to be an economic truism that 'economies must grow'. I once asked my brother why. He told me that 'economies' must 'grow' because the global population is growing and that we must ensure that - well what? That everyone is taken care of? That everyone gets a slice of the cake? Well, that isn't happening, is it? It is almost impossible to collate 'figures', but we do know that an extraordinary number of people, more or less in every continent, are living extremely shitty lives. I don't have the figures to hand but an extremely large number of people do not have access to clean water and suffer because they don't. An extremely large number of people toil and sweat for no reward at all except dying next year instead of this year. An extremely large number of people have no say whatsoever in how they are 'governed' at all. But, we are told, economies 'must grow. Must they? I rather doubt it. In a sense 'economies must grow' rather as a man in debt must keep borrowing in order to pay off his debtors. And the essence of that is irony. And that is exactly what we are seeing in the 'euro crisis.

Curiously enough I don't any more want to write about 'the euro crisis'. At the end of the day the 'euro crisis', for all the misery it will bring will, in time, be just another historical event, one to be analysed and dissected by future historians and economists, but one which, in time, 'will be in the past'. But will future nations, economies, societies and communities learn from all that analysis and dissection. No they bloody won't.
It's at this point that I am obliged to bring in another aspect of irony: many reading this (of which there are not very many at all) might feel inclined to demand 'change'. 'We must change things' they will shout, 'the system must be changed, and if necessary, violently. But change to what? Do you really manage to change how we, all of us, behave? Has any revolution anywhere, in the long term, actually change anything? Well, yes they have. The French revolution brought about, after a while, universal suffrage. The October revolution - which, 'ironically, depending upon which calendar you use, took place in November - meant that a substantial number of Russians were no longer serfs, were no longer 'owned' by land owners. And is are the lives of modern-day French and Russians any better? Well, in man respects they have improved beyond recognition.

But 'ironically, in many other ways they are more or less the same. Russia once had a dictatorial czar.
Now it has, arguably, another dictator called Putin. Granted he can no longer, because of changing circumstances, rule willy-nilly over the lives of Russians but, in my analysis, that is only because Russia has a thriving middle class who will keep him in power because they are doing OK, thank you very much. France is, of course, very different. Only a madman would claim that the lives of ordinary French folk have not in many, many ways improved enormously since 1789. But what is France facing today? At the very worse an economic crisis the like of which they have not faced for many years. Granted, it hasn't yet happened, and might nor even happen. But the way things are going, the best advice this pundit can give is: keep your fingers crosses and buy gold. But I have somehow slivered a long way from my initial diatribe.

Let me give you another example of irony: here in Britain while our NHS pays for women who cannot conceive normally to get IVF treatment so they can have children, elsewhere private companies abort several hundred foetuses by the day. While modern medicine beavers away tirelessly to find ever more effective ways to prolong life, our Western society has also started debating the 'morality' of euthanasia, which can be seen - can, I don't say is - seen as an efficient way of getting rid of old folk whose continued existence could present a heavy cost to society. That might well be seen as an 'irony'.
Here's another 'irony': while half the world (I say 'half' but let's not quibble about figures) still does not have enough to eat, the other half is suffering from an obesity crisis. And throws away food because it is 'beyond the sell-by date' and might therefore pose a threat to health.

So where is this all taking me? Well, I don't know. Were I 40 years younger I might well advocate a global revolution. But as I am not, all I can say, bathically (look it up, although I'm not too sure it exists yet) is: try to be just a little more honest with yourselves. I'm not saying don't tell lies, just don't pretend to yourselves, whoever else you pretend to, that you are not telling lies. Unfortunately, that's exactly what most of us do. Every time EU finance ministers hold a summit conference to 'sort out the euro crisis' and come up with 'a solution', they are all telling themselves lies. They know it's crap and we know it's crap. Time to read again Hans Christian Andersen's tale of The Emperor's New Clothes.

PS The ultimate 'irony' might well be that I am completely wrong. Oh well.

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