Thank you Greece

I recently read a quote attributed to Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minster and head of the euro group, to the effect that “we know exactly what we should do; we just don’t know how to get re-elected if we do it” (quoted in Guardian Weekly 25.05.12). I then heard Yiannis Milios, top Economic Advisor of the Syriza Party, currently polling highest in the run up to new elections, on BBC World Service’s Hardtalk.

Think for a moment about what Juncker is saying – according to our economic policy framework and paradigm, we know what we should do, but we also know that it would be immensely unpopular with people. What does that tell us? One of two things: either the people are ignorant and don’t know what is good for them and their countries, or the socio-economic paradigm from which our politicians are trying to manage the crisis is fundamentally flawed. I tend to go with the latter. They are trying to impose more of the old when the old itself is the problem – because they don’t know any better.

Listening to the Hardtalk interview, I was struck by how, for the first time in a long time, views that fairly fundamentally challenge the current economic paradigm and assumptions were given a serious airing. Something is shifting. And Greece is leading the way.

This is not to say that I agree with everything Syriza stands for nor the energy with which they are going about it. But that is not the point. The point is that life is giving form to a new way of thinking about our societies, and Greece and Syriza happen to be the channels for the new birth. Passion, positioning and polarisation is part of the process. This may sound romantic but is actually a blessing very much in disguise. Greece is the innovator here, and for an innovator to carve out a new paradigm at this level is going to be extremely tough.

The transition will be painful, as people struggle to make ends meet playing by the rules of a game that is dying. It will take time for the new ways to emerge and crystallise in such a manner that they really serve the needs people are feeling and can be widely adopted (see this emergence of local solutions as an example of innovation due to need). There will be recriminations towards the old order, babies will be thrown out with bathwater, sides will be taken, society will be polarised. But eventually the new order will settle down, people will have space in their hearts to forgive, they will remember the good elements of the old and will re-integrate what has been rejected too hastily, and Greece will once more have been the cradle of a new civilisation.

Thank you Greece for being so bold. Thank you for cracking the old mold. And thank you for the suffering you undergo for us all. We hold you in our hearts.

Pay Back Time

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It was November 1994 in the small village of Bole, Northern Region, Ghana. The news that reached me had a strange effect – on one level it was unbelievable, on another level it made total sense. Either way, I knew it would heavily influence my future life choices. Bole secondary school where I had been teaching English for a year through Voluntary Service Overseas had been burned down by stoned, drunken pupils, with teachers beaten and chased to town.

I remember a shift in my state of consciousness when I heard. I didn’t feel fear, but a grim determination to do what I could with my life to make sure that this kind of thing didn’t have to happen again. Continue reading

Time to Call Our Bluff

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An invitation to withdraw our consent from current economic leadership and do what needs to be done

bluff, to deceive or seek to deceive by concealment of weakness or show of self-confidence or threats (orig. in poker to conceal poor cards). – call someone’s bluff to expose or challenge someone’s bluff (Chambers Concise Dictionary)

“Words ought to be a little wild, for they are
the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking.”
J.M. Keynes

The news is filled with stories of nations on the edge of economic collapse, going with a begging bowl to the financial markets, European Union and International Monetary Foundation for billions of dollars of “rescue package”. Should the markets or institutions be gracious enough to lend them the money (which must be repaid with significant interest), the countries must introduce a package of “austerity measures” to get their economy “back on track”. To please the High Lords of the global economy, funding is cut to public services, people are made unemployed, subsidies for the environment and international development are slashed – all in the name of “getting our economy back on track”.

But what are we actually talking about here? Do we need to go along lemming-like with the commands of the current economic priesthood? Or could we start questioning the consensus reality, testing its integrity and authenticity, seeing if the emperor really has any clothes? Continue reading