At the End of the Day

As the weather turns cold, very few of us are in the tent

Driving along gently winding country lanes on the way back from a supermarket trip today, I watched as the variously shaded yellow-to-brown leaves fell from the trees on either side. They seemed to me like confetti celebrating the marriage of autumn and winter, but the air temperature outside suggested otherwise: it was 21 degrees here this afternoon. I think that’s the highest I can remember during November in my lifetime.

By 4.30 pm, the air cools rapidly; now that the clocks have gone back to GMT, it seems very odd indeed to be walking about in shirtsleeves one minute and then darkness the next. I was beginning to get used to this towards the end of our stay in southern France, where autumn is well ahead of the UK’s annual leaf-dump. The way we run our lives at the moment, we can quite easily get two summers and nearly always two autumns, but this year has been extraordinary: I’ve been in one form of warmth or another since April. When you add the Australian trip late last year – and the brief African break at the end of Winter – I’ve only suffered two cold months since May 2010.

We’re both beginning to wonder whether this is entirely healthy – and not just in relation to the bank balance, or the potential for skin cancer. While walking the dogs just before lunch, we passed through a huge forest wherein you could taste autumn. The slight damp, the soggy ground here and there, overactive squirrels taking more risks on the ground in their search next Spring’s wake-up fuel….real seasons at the right time are very important. Or at least, they are to me. Flit too much between countries and continents, and you can quickly lose this important sense of everything being naturally normal.

This is especially true, I find, at the moment. Throughout life, I’ve been a vaguely neurotic mixture of joy at the arrival on schedule of nature stuff, and boredom at being asked to deal with the same problems over and over again. Over the last eighteen months, however, a twinge of fear has been in the background too. Being able to discern what’s coming is a curse. It is frustrating when others don’t see it, repetitive at times to write about it, and terrifying when one reaches the conclusion that the people in charge of making the future safe for liberal democracy (and my grandchildren) aren’t up to the job.

For some time, a national game has been played by bloggers and other assorted commentators as to what might be the best year from which to draw a parallel with 2011. I think there’s some of 1789, 1832, 1914, 1933 and 1940 to it myself: barricades, the mob, a grisly timetable countdown, deep economic depression on the horizon, and then backs to the wall. But there are many others from which to choose: Spain’s decline after selling silver in the 16th century, the South Sea Bubble in the 18th century, the coming of Bismarck and a united Germany in the 19th….and that’s just for starters.

However, 2011 is really the first 2011. Every year is unique, but very few over the last 3000 will be seen to have shaped the nature of radical change like this one. Something different is obviously being created, but as the events speed by, it feels somehow like the potter’s wheel is out of control. Bits of useless clay are flying off in all directions; and those who know nothing about throwing pottery are desperately trying to stick the bits back on again. The experienced potter knows the answer: repair the wheel, and start again. Wanted: lots of skilled potters.

The confluence of related change has been masked to some extent by the dizzying variety of big media stories. But put together after the event, they are linked in a manner that is far from accidental. If you like, a growing awareness (often through new media) has highlighted just how much malign behaviour is being practised by people who are anything from incurably narcissistic to completely bonkers; and alongside this, how lazy, agenda-ridden, censorious and gullible most of the mass media are in communicating important information. In short, the world has looked increasingly like a stitch-up, with almost all of us outside the tent.

The Newscorp saga is shorthand for what large commercial organisations, devoid of ethics to the point of depravity, get up to on a routine basis…and how they will routinely lie until their guilt is beyond doubt. But it has also focused many minds on the corrupt, anti-social and perniciously clubbable links between politicians, bankers, media proprietors, police and bureaucrats. Like the MPs expenses scandal, it has – at long last – demonstrated that the very powerful can be brought to their knees, and perhaps even through the tall, dark metal of prison gates. But as often, it has revealed the entire process of government as something of a sham. While in and of themselves like chalk and cheese, the Tea Partiers and the City occupiers are both signs that distrust of all things Big is growing.

The arrival of the EU’s painfully slow meltdown has in turn made pin-sharp the previously blurred line between a political class and an economic form. For myself, I sense an accelerating process by which power in all its forms has been gravitating away from socio-political leaders and towards multinational finance. In the final analysis, there is a remarkable similarity between Rupert Murdoch telling Tony Blair to bomb Iraq, and Brussels telling the Greeks to take their medicine. What starts as hidden persuasion becomes increasingly brazen and arrogant, until eventually its grubby fingerprints are left all over the place for investigators to find….and the really evil motivation behind the influence comes to light. Once again, however, there is a sense that all this is being achieved without asking us.

The two most deluded groups of the year – Superstate politicians and bankers – have come face to face in the eurozone battle as never before. Frau Merkel has, I think, grasped very well that the survival of the euro (in her eyes) is as much about poking financiers in the eye as it is about some grand project; and sovereign lenders have steadfastly refused to budge when it comes to debt forgiveness. Despite all the fun we have about how hopeless, pompous and generally patronising the europols are, the real reason the EU debt crisis has lasted so long is that it’s been, effectively, a tug-of-war between two almost equal teams. Last week, the pols were reduced to telling whoppers about the IIF’s promise to deliver 50% haircuts. Creepily, that does tend to suggest that the money-men may well triumph in the end. Perhaps – the jury is out on this one – George Papandreou decided on UDI last summer, and thus bowled today’s googly as a way of saying to the banks, “Given half a chance, I can bury you all”.

Last but in no way least, 2011 has been the year of growing concern about personal privacy – in particular, the threats to it represented by State/business surveillance on the one hand, and cyber attacks on the other. It was the year that Wikileaks discovered, some four hundred years after Machiavelli, that those running State diplomacy are not very nice…and decided to do something about it. And 2011 also taught far more people that the Newscorp scandal was just one relatively small dimension of technology prying into our secrets. The overall result has been the same: in whatever direction it might be at any time, it is now clearly open season on secrets for the foreseeable future. And in that fieldsport, the UK is still in the Stone Age.

Globalist media, business, banking and government have been held up to the light and, in every case, shown to be weak, devious and – above all – devoid of ideas about how to mend broken societies….or able even to accept that mercantile laissez-faire capitalism is not living up to expectations created for it in the 1980s – and almost certainly never could. Themselves locked in a power struggle, these tribes have neglected to learn the degree to which Asia is removing our wealth – towards a more equable share-out – and yet is, at the same time, gagging to buy things of quality and provenance we might make for them.

So 2011 has been a year in which the all-important penny dropped: that uncertainty is now the only certainty in a world where trust, solutions, bravery and radicalism are all largely absent. The world really will never be the same again: 2012 will be the year in which the Tsunami hits the shore, and those who survive wake up to discover that their homes and possessions have been washed out to sea. Once the plebeian shock dissipates, those living in the privileged uplands will face an era in which, for the first time since 1917, they will have to justify their position – or be cast out.

The average person’s terror of irreversible change leads them to denial in many areas of life – from belief in police effectiveness through to a false lifestyle based on plastic cards. Read the American financial press any day, and the tone remains one of implacable Business as Usual. Most central bankers are putting out the same tosh. For all his faults, only Mervyn King has been halfway honest about warning us of the nightmare to come. Denial and dishonesty have dominated 2011. 2012 will see both these cousins in mendacity threatened as never before.

This has to be a good thing in the longer term. But in a future where the weakness, corruption and useless process of our leaders has messed up more and more of our lives, there are always going to be bombasts keen to tell the Sun-reading couch potatoes that they could make life good again. ‘It couldn’t happen here’ has been the catchphrase of the British for as long as I can remember. It doesn’t apply any more, and the sooner we wake up to this, the better.

27 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. Lovely piece, JW. You’ve managed to make all of your usual, salient points, but with an underlying tinge of sadness. I could almost hear the strings of Mantovani, playing ‘Autumn Leaves’ in the background.

  2. In ’77 the UK was pretty well crippled by raging inflation and marxist unions. Had someone from ’87 appeared and told them in ’77 that over the next 10 years the UK would …., then they wouldn’t have been believed.
    So, yes there is change coming and one hopes that the Big State is seen for the parasite it is. But the UK has shale gas, so we can turn on the economy whenever we want.

  3. Fine essay John Ward

    In terms of history I’m thinking of 1547, when Britain was also flat broke, in spite of the efforts of Thomas’s Wolsey & Cromwell. I wonder if the London Occupiers outside St Pauls are channelling them.

    What are you thinking of in 1832. I’m thinking of the new Kingdom of Greece, with Bavarian Prince Otto as King; now they’re trying to escape the clutches of Prussian Princess Angele. I guess there was also the Reform Act, Tolpuddle Martyrs and All That.

    I’m more inclined to believe that 2012 will be yet another annus mediocris, rather than an annus horribilis or annus mirabilis. But then I’m a Chekhovian.

    “What can we do? We must live our lives. Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us…..” – Sonya, Act IV – Uncle Vanya.

    • Bismark’s Wikipedia page has a banner link to “Conservatism”, alongside the section on his social welfare programs – Health Insurance, Accident Insurance and Old Age and Disability Insurances – which I think were world firsts.

  4. The main difference in these times is not that political and financial tyrants are puting the squeeze on ordinary people, or that the middle classes are in danger of losing their wealth and society is spiralling towards civil unrest. The difference this time is that it is global.

    The tyrants have globalised their greed and control mongering, yet that same globalisation is enabling people across the world to understand, communicate and organise. When more and more people stop believing what their politicians say and what the media report and, vitally, realise that they have to stand up and fight for their freedom, there is hope that the tyrants will be stopped.

    The squirels will even tell JW that they don’t hibernate as they scuttle through the leaves and scamper back up the tree with their recovered winter feast.

    • GG
      Do you know, even as I wrote that I thought, ‘Do grey squirrels hibernate?’ and you’re right – they don’t.
      It was a long day yesterday, but I’m never less than delighted by the intelligent sense of detail displayed by Sloggers.

  5. Thankyou JW.
    When you say “Rupert Murdoch telling Tony Blair to bomb Iraq, and Brussels telling the Greeks to take their medicine.” — as mentioned in a past comment: look to the character of the goings on, and you will see different hands at play. The EU is closer to the U S than Germany.

  6. “I watched as the variously shaded yellow-to-brown leaves fell from the trees on either side. They seemed to me like confetti celebrating the marriage of autumn and winter…..”

    What an excellent description…… ‘Tis a long time since I read something original and so elementally descriptive like this ! One to remember thanks !

    Now back to the rest……

  7. “I sense an accelerating process by which power in all its forms has been gravitating away from socio-political leaders and towards multinational finance……………..….and the really evil motivation behind the influence comes to light. ”
    The idolatrous worship of money, (and just for the record I have no objection to money as an honest medium of exchange), and all its dark influences rides high on its own arrogance among us all in the world. Has its momentum become to great to stand against?

  8. Another superbly evocative and brutally honest piece, John. Once again, I know why I read this blog.
    You really need to get this stuff into a manifesto, so it might be used as a catalyst for real change.

  9. Passing through Warwickshire yesterday, I was listening to BBC radio, and they were discussing, the new Google Earth project, mapping the interiors of properties, as well as the exteriors. The panel were asked if they would allow Google, to come in, and map their property, and without exception, they all said yes, they thought it was a good idea. Therein lies lies the answer, to one of your questions John, the populace, no longer questions the motives, but blindly accepts everything, as the norm.

  10. Great piece John. Enjoyed it immensely. IMO it’s not 1789 or 1832. It’s probably not 1914 or 1940 (and I was around for that, just). That means it is probably 1933, the middle of a flat dull period which accords with my theme (from 2000) that we are all Japanese now. But during that period there will be change from the 1981-2011 modus vivendi, it’s just hard to quantify where the change will lead. I suspect that 2012 will not be a radical year.

    There are elections in France and the US so there will be stern attempts to hold the status quo and get the incumbents reelected which, if I had to guess Sarko may lose but Obama may hold, faut de mieux.

    The fireworks are, therefore, more likely in 2013. That would seem almost a certainty: a reelected Obama might finally try and confront a Republican lock on both houses or a Republican nutter might go hand in hand with the Congressional nuts into something radical, whether the country wanted it or not. In either case, a war with Iran , learning from Roosevelt, might be part of the reflation story. It is interesting that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is really just a reassignment to Kuwait and the Gulf. Of course, an October surprise and war before November 2012 might just help Obama.

  11. According to Big Brother Watch, Britain has one per cent of the world’s population but around 20 per cent of its CCTV cameras – roughly one for every 14 people. And, alledgedly, the sheople want to see more!

  12. Please write a book. I would buy it tomorrow, I have have my twenty quid waiting in my hot little hand. I am sure you could write it before the Greeks default!

  13. O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful! and yet again wonderful, … – As You Like It.

    Yes, I do like it. Thank you, John, it’s a wonderful blog.

  14. “I sense an accelerating process by which power in all its forms has been gravitating away from socio-political leaders and towards multinational finance”

    I understand your comment accords with your belief that most/many of the problems we face are the fault of free market capitalism, but I remain of the view you are misguided.

    IMHO what we are actually seeing are the consequences of:

    - governments with far too much unfettered power and not enough control exercised over them. this is especially true in the UK, but elsewhere too.

    - widespread political abuse of free market capitalism; wanting to have today what tax incomes don’t fund until tomorrow, leading to massive borrowings to satisfy political agendas.

    - a huge growth in unaffordable welfare programmes by socialist politicos: “Vote for me, I’ll promise you largesse from the treasury and a free ride too.” Such that even more conservative govts have been forced to tag along with them or face electoral oblivion.

    - woefully inadequate regulatory oversight of the banking system by our political elites. necessary to allow the above to happen. It has been known for a very long time that left to its own devices, unfettered capitalism goes out of control. But it is still the only known system that works.

    IMV, the banks and other financial orgs have a lot of blame for this, but in essence they were the conduit for the flow of credit.
    The buck must stop with the political elites. THEY caused it, THEY created it and THEY cannot have it both ways. THEY must pay the price.

  15. It all comes down to morality, and there will be a decisive backlash within the western societies against our own decadence and greed.
    The bizarre thing is how -in our modern oh-so-smart world- on earth do we get from where we are, to where we will be in a decade?
    Which presumably is either religious fundamentalists, or Mao Redbook automatons. (or maybe we just submit?)

  16. After the Christchurch Earthquakein February, Mum rang from NZ most upset of course and said among other things “what a terrible tragedy, 2011 was going to be such a wonderful year, what with the World Cup and Everything” I pointed out that in my view 2011 is going to be a very very bad year indeed, among the worst we have seen for a very long time and potentially only bettered by what follows it in 2012. She was very taken aback. I just felt it in my bones by reading all the stuff that was brewing in Banking, Politics and so on. My prediction was followed swiftly by the Tsunami, the riots, the ongoing arab Spring, and so on cant remember the order. But the whole house of cards is coming down around our ears and Its all a bit interesting seeing where we go from here. At least its still mild out.

  17. quote :”I watched as the variously shaded yellow-to-brown leaves fell from the trees on either side. They seemed to me like confetti celebrating the marriage of autumn and winter,”
    This typefont on a screen is akin to having free session at a masterclass of great writing. I pride myself on living a simple life with our greed or envy….Untill now. John these two sentences are simply beautifully written. I wish I had just a wiff of your talent. Damn, you just made me break one of my no envy rules. Thank you John.

  18. In support of BT’s wee rant, von Mises:
    “If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.” “Manufacturing and commercial monopolies owe their origin not to a tendency imminent in a capitalist economy but to governmental interventionist policy directed against free trade and laissez faire.” Ludwig von Mises – Austrian Economist 1881 – 1973

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