Wednesday, December 23, 2009

3 Days to Christmas

Joy is the flavour of the Christmas season, and yet for many people around the world this year, it will be marked with a sense of despondency, frustration, and to some degree, disappointment. The global economic crisis has been particularly hard on the middle-class that form a substantial chunk of white collar workers who have been one of its biggest casualties. Life will probably not be the same for many as adjustments will have to be made to their lifestyles, and the old pattern will recede into a distant memory.

For those who have lost their jobs, it won’t be a ‘merry’ Christmas but instead the season will be plagued with uncertainty and tinged with a faint hope that the New Year will be happier. For those companies that have been closed down, it’s the loss of their credibility combined with a sense of shame that will make their owners long for, at least, a morsel of success in the year ahead. However, for that to happen, it all depends on how quickly the recovery takes place, and how soon the boom times, if at all, make their appearance.

Some historians talk about déjà vu in reference to the crisis, and say we’ve been here before 70 or 80 years ago.

Such information is of little use to those who aren’t sure how to pay their bills next month, pay their children’s school fees, pay their mortgage and avoid defaulting on their assorted loans and credit card bills. Or worse still, how to handle sudden illness in the family if they don’t have health insurance for medical emergencies.

Dire situations like these rarely occurred in the lives of most middle-class/ white collar workers, and the humiliation of having to experience poverty of this nature has been rather disheartening. However, the biggest question in most people’s minds is, how on earth did we land in such a big soup? Who is responsible for messing about so many lives and so many industries? What were they thinking?

While some would like to blame capitalism and the culture of free market reforms, there are those who feel that the banking and the real estate industry are responsible for much of the mess. Then, of course, there are still those who feel the real culprit ought to be the champions of deregulation and laissez faire business practise. Obviously, someone has finally discovered that freedom and anarchy are not bedfellows after all.

Alan Greenspan probably got it right when he told the BBC that we the economic crisis will happen again but it will be different.

“They are all different but they have one fundamental source. That is the unquenchable capability of human beings when confronted with long periods of prosperity to presume that it will continue."


He goes on to add that this behaviour is human nature, and “unless somebody can find a way to change human nature, we will have more crises and none of them will look like this because no two crises have anything in common, except human nature."

I don’t know if Greenspan is talking about ‘hamartia’, but it definitely appears that he is without saying so explicitly.

Back in the 80s, ‘greed is good’ was a popular credo and its principal proponent was the tragic figure of Gorden Gecko played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. He seemed to have it all, and though the film looked at the finance industry with Stone’s characteristic scepticism, nevertheless, the culture of the 80s was such that it made him an attractive figure.

However, looking at Gecko and others like him with perceptions gained through the intervening years, we realise how phoney it was. Greed might have seemed good on paper, but it certainly had its limits and the economic crisis demonstrated the hollowness of this dream. Ideas like actions have consequences, too. Gecko might have probably retired on a fat bonus but Gecko’s ideological children ended up with their credibility torn to shreds and their reputation ruined forever. Or at least, till the next big news event.

The trouble with ‘morality by hindsight’ is that it is usually preceded by a bitter lesson that forces a change in one’s path. We need to be dragged by our ears to learn something, and have it drilled in our minds and our souls. We are slow learners, if we learn at all. But a crisis can be a good starting point for a new moral direction, and if the present global economic crisis will end up being that teacher, then so be it.

However, for that to happen, we need to undergo a ‘meta-noia’ (new mind) moment because nothing else will really work. The question is, are we prepared to do just that or will we dither, and allow historians to talk about déjà vu the way they are doing now?

Christ once said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let’s ask ourselves: what is that treasure ruling our hearts? The answer to that question will determine how joyful we want to be, and how joyful we want our world to be.

It may not cure depression or mitigate despondency, but it will be a start.

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