Christmas is coming and the geese and turkey that have gotten fat are sadly feeling a little apprehensive, while I am just feeling a bit ambivalent about this yuletide time of year. But, while preparations for this festive season have been passing me by there have been a few other things to keep an eye on.
The EU has entered into a period of disintegration or rejuvenation – depending on whom you are talking to – leaving debt issues still unresolved and the whole continent on the verge of collapse or at the point of renewal. In the US, the Occupy Wall Street movement managed to highlight that only 1% of the population owns half of all financial assets and investments. At the same time the movement’s actions shone a light on the growing number of worker collectives being established in America. In China, the townsfolk of Wukan have taken a significant step by cooperating to oppose the land grabs and private developments being pursued on their lands.
The town-wide cooperation in Wukan was fuelled by the fact a member of the community mysteriously died while in custody. At the point of writing the town was free of all government officials, while there was a military blockade to stop anything going in or coming out of the town. Only time will tell how this particular situation will be resolved, but these are issues that go deeper than what form of political organization or monetary system we have. Whether we look at these land rights confrontations in China; disgust about Wall Street bonuses in the US; or concerns about runaway debts in mainland Europe, there is an underlying constant. And that is that our governments are, on the one hand, unable to guarantee what many of us have gotten used to, and on the other, unable to guarantee what many have been looking forward to getting used to, and that is economic stability and opportunity based on a system of profit and growth.
To differing degrees in different countries there are claims of mismanagement, lack of regulation, cronyism, embedded corruption and greed. However, to focus on these effects of systemic malpractice is, in my opinion, to miss the point. Wherever we find these claims we find governments struggling to manage themselves and the populations they serve. Life in all these different environments is more and more unstable. And this is the case whether you come from a small Chinese town, a city in southern Europe or a large American state. There is now not even a guarantee of a safety net in old age – whether that is by way of a pension, extended family or community – let alone the chance for all of us to live a fulfilled life.
This is the new early 21st – rather than late 20th– Century context, in which a system with some dysfunctional parts has now degenerated into an entirely unstable structure. We have been taught during the last few decades to come to terms with the fact that the world would be increasingly competitive, unstable, and changeable, and that transferable skills and the ability to adapt to changing environments would be fundamental to our survival in this modern world. We are now finding that being prepared for these unstable circumstances isn’t enough, as we can’t even rely on the long-term stability of the whole system itself. By this, I mean the long-term functionality of our nations’ economies, the long-term liveability of our environment, and whether investments in houses and pensions will be reliable sources of support for us in our later years. It is the whole edifice that our choices are contained within that is coming apart.
If we pay attention we will be able to see that this is something that we are all sharing all over the world. One thing that does seem pretty sure is that most of us are not going to find it that easy to deal with. And, if we don’t want it all to descend into a catastrophically violent blame game, then we need to look closely and see our own role in all of this. We need to work out what we can do about our own priorities, our state’s priorities and what we can accordingly do about a failing global system that is killing our natural environment, severely restricting us as autonomous, complex and creative entities and diluting the value of genuinely different cultures. But, it is one where we humans are tied closer and closer together: due in part to these failing trade systems, our now global means of communication, and a universal sense of instability and nothingness.