“All that is solid melts into air”

14 Nov 2011 james

I struggle to overcome the fear of disappointment, struggle to overcome the fear of future embarrassment. The media shouts of constant imminent financial collapse, of each day bringing a greater crisis than the last. I stumble through the hourly accounts, believing – perhaps hoping – that tomorrow will bring news of a return to normality, news that the storm has passed. But this news has yet to come. So perhaps slowly I’m  overcoming my fear of saying “Yes, this is truly remarkable what is happening. Yes, something is dying here, and something new may be born”.

I’m constantly grasping for a sign, a final tipping point, which will indicate that we have plunged into the abyss. But perhaps the shift will not be so clearly demarcated, will only be obvious in retrospect, in the rear view mirror? For many the slide into the unknown has long since begun.  I read fragmentary reports of destitution in Greece, of a slow run on the Greek banks in which citizens are withdrawing cash from their accounts and burying it, of the credit cards of Greek businessmen being refused in London restaurants and Paris department stores. Is this the process that will soon unfold in Italy?

In the comment pieces there’s a battle to find comparisons – is this a shift in the structures of capital that is as acute as that which took place in the mid-1970’s? Certainly the crash of that period gave birth to a new phase of capitalism, gave birth to ‘Financialised Capitalism’. Or is this akin to the shift that took place in the late-1940’s? In this latter period Europe lay in ruins – the structures of trade totally disrupted, the economies of many regions shattered. The process of rebuilding was both physical – constructing hearts of old cities according to new plans; social – the founding of the welfare state; and financial – the creation of the Bretton Woods system.  On each level the rebuilding was undertaken within a new frame, a frame that distinguished it from the inter-war period, a frame of social welfare, of ‘Welfare Capitalism’

Last Wednesday the news of financial chaos reached a new pitch of shrillness as the interest on Italy’s bonds passed 7%. On the same day there was some slight coverage of the International Energy Agency’s new report, their World Energy Outlook 2011, that reveals we are on the brink of a climatic tipping point, and that we have just 5 years to radically redirect our industrial economy away from fossil fuels in order to avert a global two degree temperature rise.

Can we imagine that out of the current process of collapse a new rebuilding could be undertaken in a new frame? A frame that was structured around preventing runaway climate change and safeguarding social welfare? Can we direct emotional, imaginative and intellectual energy towards such a rebuilding? If we are witnessing a collapse, can something good be made from its ruins?

Focus Areas