One day I’m going to take a stand against the division of time into arbitrary regular periods. It’s a delusion anyway. The periods aren’t regular – I’ve noticed throughout my life that they grow consistently shorter. A year is a trivial amount of time now. On current trends, by the time I’m 80 one will last about as long as a summer’s afternoon did when I was five. No doubt it’s healthy to stop and take mental stock every so often, but marking every single year that comes along feels like indulging them.
But then again, without this end-of-the-year show it could easily have escaped my ephemeral notice that 2011 was an extraordinary one. I doubt if we’ve had so much change – especially so much hopeful change – since at least 1989. In some ways we’ve seen the anti-2001; the greatest act of terrorism was carried out by a Christian extremist, the people fighting for democracy were Muslim. It went a long way towards repairing the damage perpetrated during the miserable presidency of George W. Bush.
Except of course that done to the world economy, which is still utterly buggered. At least people rioted in the UK. Yeah, I see that as a positive. If we create a society where the rich can blow it all gambling yet somehow still stay rich, meanwhile telling the poor that they have to be poorer now, then it is a good thing that some people say “OK, we’re not playing by these rules anymore”. This isn’t justifying theft, it’s pointing out that societies are made out of people and you can’t keep taking the piss.
Similarly I think the riots against austerity in the Eurozone were on balance a good thing. I’d sooner peaceful civil disobedience like the Occupy movements, but a riot is the next best thing. Certainly, either is better than the supine attitude we seem to have adopted in Ireland.
This then is my greatest hope and fear for 2012. How will we channel our anger? Here in Galway, city councillors are trying to close the little Occupy encampment that we have on the grounds that it’s bad for business. That is how much our politicians care for actual politics. Every challenge to the system in the last ten years, from organised terrorism to music downloading, has been used by the powerful as an excuse to give themselves yet more power over the individual. There are real threats in the world to democratic capitalism, it is true. The greatest is from undemocratic capitalism.
Disturbing to watch Tea Party representatives talking about how they’re praying for guidance as the economy teeters on the edge. This is the American Taliban. They have their own fundamentalism, ostensibly Christian rather than Islamic perhaps, but like the original Taliban they hate the American government. Unlike them, they have a real chance of harming, possibly destroying it. And they don’t even need weapons, because they attack from within.
On whose behalf are they fighting? That of America’s greatest enemy: Its own wealthy.
Many of America’s rich want to divest themselves of any responsibility towards their fellow Americans. It’s not as if they were ever under a lot of pressure to help out anyway, but in recent history at least it has worked better that way. You would employ Americans to make things to sell to other Americans, who could afford to buy things because they were employed to make things… Not everyone was included within this benign circle of course, but the general upshot was an optimistic land where it was at least believed that everyone’s lot could be improved.
But now that circle has been broken. The simple fact of the matter is America’s rich don’t need other Americans anymore. They buy, make and sell globally. America is just one market, and they don’t need to invest in it. Americans do get cheaper goods that way, but less and less are they buying them off each other. So though the super-rich are making more money than ever before, a large part comes from effectively taking a cut out of the export of America’s jobs and wealth. We can only watch in horror as what was once a country of opportunity for the poor grows an ever-widening gulf between a tiny minority that becomes more fantastically rich all the time and the vast majority whose position is deteriorating.
How can that ever happen in a democracy, when it is up to the people how the country is run? It’s simple really. The super-rich sponsor all the parties. But the Tea Party is taking it to new extremes, preaching a blatantly wealth-favouring agenda while using prejudice, fear and religion to manipulate others into voting against their own interests.
The irony is that it’s named after the Boston Tea Party, an incident leading up to the American War of Independence, yet the people its policies favour want to run America exactly like an exploited colony – milking it for what can be got, giving as little as possible back. The US has a new aristocracy, and they will be a lot harder to dethrone than one based far overseas.
In 2003, the USA, UK and sundry allies invaded Iraq on the pretext of bringing democracy, while simultaneously supporting regimes throughout the Near and Middle East that wouldn’t know democracy if they buggered it with an electric cattle prod. And they did. Egypt was one such of course.
The West had been happy to turn a blind eye to this during the Cold War because previously Egypt had been getting awful close to Russia. Better it be one of our oppressive failed states, right? That stopped making sense after the fall of Communism, but Egypt was somehow converted into a bulwark against revolutionary Islam. Hell, dictatorship is pretty much a bulwark against any sort of change, right? And change is scary. Scary is bad, so therefore dictatorship is good. The logic is watertight. Mad, but watertight.
What we are seeing today in Egypt and across the region is a movement comparable, in both scale and moral significance, to the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. Social media told the people what the conventional media was forbidden to tell: That they were many, and the government’s minions were few. If we ever needed an argument against allowing censorship of the Internet, there it is.
These people who are angry in Egypt are people like us. They have Twitter accounts. They’re on Facebook. Our governments may have colluded with their government in the past, but we must tell our governments to stop being stupid. You can’t bomb people into freedom. Freedom rises upwards.
We are either on the side of freedom or we’re on the side of oppression. In Egypt right now, Christians are standing guard to protect Muslim protesters at Friday prayer from the police. Check out #Egypt on Twitter. Express your solidarity.