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Friday, August 12, 2011

The sinking of the titanic


When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. When nothing extends beyond not being able to afford the latest must have non-essential consumables, but also means having no moral values, no hope for the future, no vision of a way forward, no voice, no knowledge of how to articulate your concerns and no way of achieving any of these, then you have created the perfect environment for total despair and social disintegration.

The evidence from the riots of today is that we have created a society in which despair is the only thing to be found in abundance. The situation is so bad, it is hard to find any time in human history when despair, especially amongst the young, has been in such abundance over hope. Even in the darkest days of the Second World War or on the cusp of the Cuba Crisis, our social structures remained intact, as hope triumphed over despair.

It is almost impossible for anyone to read the papers today and not feel overwhelming anger, panic and dis-empowerment. Climate change, peak oil, ecosystem collapse, social decay, stigmatisation are all themes that were not even on the agenda during the last set of riots in 1980s. Despite these clear warnings of imminent collapse, our government and governments around the world to cling on to the outdated concepts of maximising economic growth, which is an even more stupid concept than the Titanic proceeding at full speed through a sea full of icebergs. There was always the chance the Titanic might of missed the icebergs, we have no chance of avoiding economic collapse.

Just as it was the steerage class on the Titanic who were the first to know that the ship was going down when they hit the iceberg, because they saw the rivets popping and the water coming in, whereas the elite in first class carried on oblivious as they were insulated from the first warning tremors of the unavoidable crisis, then so it is today. The steerage class of today's society can see the ship going down as they experience at first hand the pain of high food prices, energy costs, transport costs and declining public services. Today's steerage class is made up predominantly of the young who are drowning in despair. Just as the steerage class of the Titanic did not need to be qualified Naval Architects to know disaster was looming, then the steerage class of today do not need to have degrees in Economics to know that today's society is sinking.

Meanwhile those in the first class, which are predominantly baby boomers over the age of 45, idly pontificate over their dinner parties about how the next generation will have to simultaneously solve runaway climate change, tackle peak oil, pay off the national debt, reduce over population whilst at the same time they should gratefully accept being saddled with student debt, survive in an economic system that will never allow them to buy their own home, nor offer them secure employment nor allow them to save for their future.

The young people, the steerage class of today, must tackle all these challenges within a morally bankrupt framework which rubs in their face the vision that if you can not be a top consumer you are nothing, and which blatantly transfers wealth from the poorest to the richest of society.

Only one week ago, a £32 million grant was given to AugustaWestland for them to convert an existing military helicopter design into a private helicopter for executive use. This is money that would be far better spend on supporting the social services for those confined to the steerage class, rather than supporting the most carbon intensive mode of travel for the super rich. This immoral transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest of society is but one example of many. The list barely needs repeating, but includes such events as MPs expense scandals, on going tax avoidance by the super rich, BAE Systems systematic overcharging on defense contracts, blatantly fraudulent environmental claims for developments such as airports which ignore the existential threat of climate change, nonsensical ideas of carbon trading, ill conceived and corrupt ideas on biofuels,  all of which further marginalize and weaken the poorest.

But just as it was in the Titanic where the first in the life boats were the first class and the steerage class were locked below deck to die, then so it is in today's society. The strongest will use their strength to survive, whilst the crisis simultaneously weakens the strength of those at the bottom.

Following the last financial crisis the top bankers held on to their bonuses, whilst those at the bottom of the social ladder suffered spending cuts and increased costs. In the ensuing debate, the bankers told us that the bonuses were essential to their continued utility to society and they held on to them. What outrageous rubbish – the bond market collapse over recent days has seen the banks profits collapsing yet again and the humble tax payer is being geared up for more bail outs. It demonstrates the banks profits are determined by market conditions, not their ability to pay massive bonuses, but more importantly it shows that each emerging financial crisis simultaneously weakens the dispossessed and strengthens the possessed. This is the only outcome that can be expected in an economy that now has fixed limits and where one persons gain must be another persons loss.

And regrettably, the bankers are but just one group of people who are able to use the economic crisis to strengthen their power. The biggest corporations receive more tax breaks and grants because economic growth is now deemed to be so much more important in a slump and by the same rational more sacrifices are to be made of the environment to support economic growth.  All these  contribute to a further weakening of those at the bottom and strengthening of those at the top.   

The only fundamental difference between today and the Titanic, is that today the first class passengers expect the steerage class to save the ship while they simultaneously drown. This is a situation that can only be described as madness made all the more apparent by the wanton and criminal disregard for the environment and equality in society that the elite have shown. In the circumstances, we should not be too surprised when this madness becomes infectious and passes down through through the layers society to the point where it arrives at the people who can only be victims and have no way of articulating their concerns. But now, it is time to be cool, calm and sane at all levels of society and for us to face reality together.

The stark reality is that we now face a bleak future, which we are all genuinely in together from steerage class to first class. We must all recognise that our society is currently based on economic growth and our laws and institutions are predicated on supporting this model, but economic growth is neither our present nor our future. By contrast, the bleak future of continuing economic contraction has started now. As a consequence of rising raw material costs, food costs and population, economic growth has already reversed for the majority of our community, especially those in the steerage classes. The contraction will go harder and quicker as the implications of climate change and resource depletion bite deeper into the fabric of our society at the exponential growth rate of today. It will be accelerated if we maintain the collective madness that has now broken out and finally gripped all levels of society.

Cool heads will now be needed, because as the sea levels rise, as the food rations get consumed, we will suddenly realize that there are not enough life boats to go around, because we all liked to think the ship was unsinkable.


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