Tag Archives: tolerance

Aristotle, The Troika and Hubris

Democracy in chains (image © adeg 2009)

Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that had happened to a person or might happen to a person, but merely for that person’s own gratification in the victim’s humiliation. In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance.

The Troika (IMF, ECB and EC*) are guilty of it in both it’s ancient and modern meaning. Their intransigent stance has little or nothing to do with curing the long term problems that bedevil Greece (and Italy, Spain and Portugal) and much more to do with punishing the Greeks for daring to challenge the status quo. No-one with any modicum of intelligence (whatever else I think of them I acquit Merkel, Lagarde, Schäuble, Juncker and Draghi* of stupidity) can really believe that more austerity will do anything to solve the Greek crisis. Many well respected economists and even parts of the IMF itself are protesting ever more loudly at the absurdity and wrongness of continuing to administer poison to a dying patient but are resolutely ignored. The present situation has been brought about by the inequality of power and by the strong being unable to exercise restraint – being unable to resist pushing for that final total capitulation by the weak. Greece must be punished not because it will do them any good but to show them who rules. So the Greeks have been shown the naked power of the money and bankers.

Less than a month after being elected the Greek government was told in no uncertain terms that the will of its people as expressed at the ballot box was irrelevant. The Germans in the person of Schäuble indulged in some distasteful triumphalism; his comment “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, deserves to rank with “Let them eat cake”. The troika have not budged from this stance in all the months of negotiation.

Only a small fraction of the €240bn (£170bn) total bailout money received in 2010 and 2012 found its way into the government’s coffers to soften the blow of the 2008 financial crash and fund reform programmes. Most of the money went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash. Unlike most of Europe, which ran up large budget deficits to protect pensioners and welfare recipients, Athens was then forced to dramatically reduce its deficit by squeezing pensions and cutting the minimum wage. In January the social crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Greek economy prompted them to elect a government pledged to end austerity. For the Greeks there really is no alternative. The ‘TINA’ so beloved of neoliberal proponents of austerity was turned on its head and the gloves came off.

The Troika continue to threaten Greece by saying voting ‘No’ means a euro exit (and by implication an EU exit). That is blatant interference in the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the present crisis whether Greece votes Yes and capitulates or whether it votes No and marches into the unknown is almost irrelevant against the fact that the leaders of Europe in conjunction with the IMF have destroyed its raison d’etre. In the aftermath of the Twentieth Century’s two wars that had wrenched Europe apart and led to untold misery for millions, leaders who were a diverse group but who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe, came together to lay the foundations of the European Union in the Treaty of Rome. The ideal of a Europe that created prosperity and stability for all its citizens has been subsumed to the demands of the market.

‘The Market’ and ‘Market Forces’ have come to be invested with the kind of superstitious reverence and belief in their omnipotent capability to solve and rule every aspect of life. This bears much more resemblance to Cargo Cults (the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth) than any model of society based on enlightened, humane and consensual (democratic) beliefs. If we are indeed a union then the stronger economies should support the weak (as has always happened within Nation States where governments direct support to poorer areas for example in the UK extra development funds to the North East of England or the Welsh Valleys; though sadly I fear this may also be in danger from austerity fever). What we seem to be witnessing in 2015 is the opposite; the main beneficiaries of the wealth created by Europe pointing the finger of blame at the poor. Malthus* is alive and well and holds the consciences of our leaders in his grasp.

That said I believe the true crisis here is one of democracy not economics. Neoliberal ideology could not let a left wing government demonstrate a viable alternative to the social engineering of society through austerity. In Britain we start from a stronger base but we are the subject of the same wrenching apart of society through ever widening inequality and Malthusian attitudes to the ‘poor’. British exit from EU will not solve our problems but it might just solve Greece’s. There will be a lot of pain but at least there will be some hope of a better and fairer society whereas there is none on offer from the present zeitgeist of Europe. Not what I hoped when I voted enthusiastically for Britain to join Europe – betrayed is the word that sums up my attitude to EU now. How many hundreds of thousands of Europe’s citizens are, like me, sitting in their homes reading about or watching to the unfolding crisis and wondering how the ideals and the vision of those who founded the European project have been so fundamentally betrayed.

The events of this last week would on the surface seem to make Britain’s exit from Europe more likely but no doubt even if the British people were to express the desire to leave the Union their votes would count for nothing if multi national corporations, bankers and billionaire manipulators of politicians want us to remain in the EU. Freedom and democracy are linked as if the one predicates the other; as if freedom implies democracy and vice versa. The generally accepted definition of democracy up to now has been Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” That is rapidly becoming the big lie of the twenty first century. The forms are preserved but the freedom to choose is ever more limited. How ironic that the nation credited with the invention of the democratic ideal is the one where its funeral rites are being held. Where the panegyric delivered by Merkel et al in praise of democracy trumpets this ideal as Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives except where this conflicts with the interests of banks and multi-national corporations.”

*International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission
*Agela Merkel German Chancellor, Christine Lagarde head of IMF, Wolfgang Schäuble German Finance Minister, Jean Claude Junker head of the EC and Mario Draghi head of ECB)
*Malthus – Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834) Malthus developed the theory of demand-supply mismatches that he called gluts. Discounted at the time, this theory foreshadowed later works of an admirer, John Maynard Keynes. He is however best remembered for the views expressed in his 1798 essay on population “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.” In it’s most extreme form – being kind to the poor is cruelty and it’s their own fault they are poor so only harshness will prompt them to work to lift themselves out of poverty.

Update on absence – migration and brain fade

os cachorros loucas 2This post is prompted by the thought that I should let those of you who are kind and interested enough to follow my musings know that I have not dropped off the blogging twig.   The silence is entirely due to all my energies being subverted from writing into the business of emigrating.   Whoever said moving house was up there with death and divorce as the most stressful experiences nailed it.   Emigrating is moving house on steroids.   It is not the practical stuff – packing, sorting and organising, that is child’s play compared to the decision making.   ‘If this, then that but what if…’ is how we start almost all conversations these days. The dogs  merely concentrate on whether we’re packing a suficient number of dinner bowls and their favourite food and are all ready to depart in their own carefree way (as illustrated) leaving us to sort out everything else.

I certainly feel that I am now a character in one of those locigal brain teasers as in ‘there are six villages on the only perfectly round island in the universe….’ or ‘there are five cousins…’  where you have to work out the solutions from cleverly  misleading or incomplete information.   Example from our current life – five phone calls to the Inland Revenue about self employed status abroad and five different and conflicting sets of information provided – work out the correct route to take.   If you get it wrong you get fined and no we’re unable to give you an answer in writing because then it would be too easy for you.  AAAARGH!   If I continued with Rats at the moment (assuming I had any energy left after ten hour days of DIY and bureaucracy) it would be darkly Kafkaesque, unintelligible and depressing.  Rats will however be back in due course as will the rest of my musings.

We shall be shortly joining the hordes of Migrants allegedly flooding round Europe – Mr Farage and UKIP please note we are performing our own Brexit.   One of the reasons we’re leaving, apart from the British weather of course, is the depressing result of the general election.  At least UKIP only got one seat – what a nasty, narrow minded lot they are – migration is actually a good thing.   In terms of the stunningly unexpected this election was right up there with Kinnock losing in 1992 or Harry Truman beating Dewey in 1948.   I don’t know anyone who isn’t horribly depressed by the Conservative victory and the threat of the savage cuts to come plus the stupidity of a referendum on EU membership but then most of the people I know are intelligent, caring and compassionate.   Plus no doubt Scottish Independence will be back on the agenda before long.  At the moment there’s a Facebook petition doing the rounds for the North of England to apply to become part of Scotland.  It has a surprisingly large number of signatures.  The only problem is the area which people want included is gradually spreading southwards!

 

Lines in winter – for Raif Badawi

Lines in winter

                            I

Black flakes of birds, wind driven, tossed
from tree to tree across a bleak sky.
Winter stubble fields sullen and empty

tramlines of pale stalks in dark mud
even the weeds seem to have given up
attempting a foothold in this cultivated desert

The news is full of dismal stuff

Wars and plagues, immigration and austerity
and as if all that wasn’t enough
Politicians shuffling through piles of dead words

And I keep thinking of Brecht’s line
that it is almost a crime
to speak of trees for it is
a kind of silence about injustice

                           II

You think we have no reason
to write of anything beyond
personal experience, introspection,
intricacies of words and emotion
because no one will put us in prison
when our words offend?

But what is the purpose of poets
if not to focus the mind’s
attention where it is needed most;
to sing like canaries in dark mines
in the space between heartbeats?

                             III

And this skinny little man
with an impish grin and unruly hair
this twenty first century Voltaire

with his tongue and his pen,
who dares to use them to question
and to oppose oppression

and every beat of the cane
draws a line of fire  across his back
“he made no sound” the witness said
“but you could see he was in pain”

and each stroke of the lash opens
another throat to sing.  Becomes
one thousand strokes of one thousand pens;

lines of pale stalks that remain
defiant and upright after snow and storms,
gleaming against the dark of the earth

©2015  A de Grandis

Raif B 1Raif Badawi is one of us, a blogger and part of our community – he is a writer and activist who co-founded the website “Free Saudi Liberals”.  In 95% of the world he’d be doing what the rest of us do, leading his life, going to the day job, happily expressing his thoughts and opinions on his blog but not in Saudi Arabia.

In May 2012 shortly before his arrest he addressed the nature of Liberalism on his blog
“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”

His final thought quoted Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
More of his writing can be found at
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

Raif B 2On January 9, Raif Badawi was taken from his prison cell to a public square outside the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was subjected to the first fifty of the sentence of one thousand lashes.
Days later, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair’s prison sentence was extended to fifteen years
Then, on January 16, Badawi’s next 50 lashes were postponed because his injuries from the first round were too harsh to withstand additional flogging. They are scheduled to resume this week.  The Saudi Authorities will resume their torture once he has healed enough to withstand the next fifty lashes.

The crime that prompted this appalling punishment is that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for ‘sorcery’.  He does not advocate violence and what he says would be taken as self-evident truth outside the closed, medieval and fearful world that is Saudi Arabia.

I’d urge all bloggers to take up Raif Badawi’s cause if to do no more than sign the petition that Amnesty International have organised to stop his further flogging
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/saudi-arabia-free-raif-badawi-flogged-blogger

We must not forget that we enjoy our freedom to blog and to express our opinions because in our countries in the past there were individuals like Raif Badawi, writers and thinkers who dared to speak out against oppression and injustice.  I believe we owe him our support and our voices, which is what prompted me to write the poem.  I’m happy for it to be shared and used to help his cause.

On Friendship and Difference

winter iris final

i.m. A.H. – Frost Ferns and Winter Iris.

My intention this week was to write about language or more specifically the origins of it.  A subject in my mind not completely divorced from my musings last week on the way in which we categorise the world and the need to encourage ‘chaos thinking’.   Life, however, as it has a habit of doing, intervened.   This week my friend lost her battle with Motor Neurone disease.   A battle which she had no hope of winning but which she nevertheless embarked on with determination and humour.

By the hand of fate and the even more inscrutable workings of the college authorities she and I met on our first day at university.   We were allocated rooms next to each other on the same stair.   We had nothing in common.   Freshers are valence electrons in the atomic structure of college and in their excited state they make multiple collisions for a short period of time before losing energy and settling into their ground state.    I was no exception; I pinged about the University looking for my orbital.  Of the people I bumped up against in those first few weeks I remember nothing at all except that they were the gateways to the people with whom I settled into real friendship over the course of the next few years.  The exception was my neighbour on the stair; everything that I was not – an abstemious non-smoker even as a student, politically a conservative, a devout Christian with rigidly orthodox views on  sex, sexuality and gender,  not given to experimentation of any kind not even hypnosis let alone mind altering substances.   She regarded my hobby of rock climbing as proof of lunacy and she made the worst coffee in the history of the universe.

After University our lives followed very different trajectories and since in those dark days there was no such thing as Facebook, we exchanged occasional postcards and even more occasional letters and the odd phone call.   We met up at intervals, sometimes with years between them but unlike some people from University with whom I had perhaps more in common our friendship never dwindled to the point where we ceased to be in touch.   Whenever we did meet we simply picked up from where we’d left off as though we’d seen each other only yesterday.    That is the litmus test of a comfortable and enduring friendship.   I saw her a few weeks ago and we sat in her garden talking about this and that and she started making plans that we should visit our old college next year to celebrate fifty years since we met.   One of our many differences, she was a great one for college reunions whereas I tend to avoid them like the plague.   My feeling about them being that the sort of people who turn up for them are the ones you spent your time avoiding while you were an undergraduate so why inflict on yourself the pain of standing in a room pretending that it’s absolutely great to see them again and they haven’t changed a bit even though they have become rich and successful, lost their waistline, hair or teeth and are wearing garments made of crimplene with elasticated waists – (my partner has made a living will asking to be taken to the vets and put out of his misery if ever he starts wearing garments of this nature; but I digress)   My friend obviously reading all this in my carefully neutral expression hastened to say that she didn’t mean an official reunion, just a day out.   So we sat there having fun planning what we could do and see, despite the fact that both of us knew that if she was still alive the chances were that she would be too ill to go.

Well this all set me pondering on the reason why our friendship stuck.   To begin with it clearly came into the class of ‘friendship by circumstance’ of the sort you make with people such as work colleagues or in our case proximity and a shared kettle.   These friendships are genuine but rarely survive the change in circumstances.  Changing jobs or moving away, loosens the glue that holds them together and they gradually dwindle and fade.  That didn’t happen to us; despite our many differences we had a deep and abiding respect and liking for each other.  I realise that we shared one thing and that one thing was sufficient to overcome the multiplicity of things we didn’t have in common.  We shared the quality of tolerance, an acceptance or patience with the beliefs, opinions or practices of others;   a readiness to allow and embrace difference as a necessary part of being human.   Which I realise brings me by circuitous routes back to the idea explored in last week’s blog about labels and the bigger picture.   If we’d stuck to labels then we would never have become friends.