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.