Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cracks showing in the temple of Capitalism

MY favourite story in the chronicles of Christ has always been the bit where he furiously overturns the tables of the money-lenders in the Temple.
I suspect it goes closer to the heart of the real man than almost anything in the religion St Paul built around him after his death.
If nothing else, it clearly answers the popular question “What would Jesus do?” in relation to the anti-capitalist protesters camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral. He’d be right there with them.
As for the protesters themselves – if nothing else, they’ve focused minds on what is arguably the crucial question of our times.
Almost ever since the fall of Communism, now more than 20 years ago, there seems to have been a near-worldwide acceptance that Capitalism has won. That it is the right – in most people’s minds, apparently the only – way to run a society.
There have always, of course, been a few rowdy dissenters from this view. And an imponderable number of less rowdy folk who kept their doubts private.
Now the doubters are growing in number and openness. To the extent that “anti-capitalist” protesters can both seem and be normal, sane people with a rational view.
The temple that has been built around the money-lenders – actually, the Stock Exchange and the big banks – is seen for the grubby, rapacious, anti-social edifice it is.
The rhetoric of the Cold War was that there were only two ways of doing things. Which was the Right Way and which the Wrong Way depended almost entirely on which side of the Iron Curtain you happened to have been born.
The rhetoric, always preposterous, has survived long after the opening of the Curtain and the closure of the War.
But in one sense it is only now that the final effects of the Cold War are really starting to be felt.
And it is being felt right in the heart of the political and economic system of the side that thought it had won. The side which for a while even bought into one of the daftest ideas ever sold – Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that the victory of the Capitalist West was “The End of History”.
What a curious end. And what a curious victory it has turned out to be.
What really brought about Communism’s collapse wasn’t the supposed superiority of Capitalism’s ideas, or even of its jeans, its motorcars and its rock music (though they may have helped).
It was the fact that the Soviet Union went on spending more and more of its resources on military might until its economy and its people could simply support it no longer.
Which – not by coincidence – is exactly what is happening in the supposedly victorious United States today.
And the US, as we all know, is the central pillar of the Capitalist world. In just the same way that the USSR was the pillar that held up Communism.
Seen from within, there were cracks appearing in the Communist superstructure before the whole thing came crashing down. But the crash when it came still felt extraordinarily sudden.
Now look what’s happening today, not just on the steps of St Paul’s but more significantly on Wall Street. Those looks like cracks to me.


NOT much could bring greater shudders of horror to any driver than what happened on the M5 at Taunton last weekend.
In such a scenario no one can be safe, however carefully and well they drive. There is no such thing as a perfectly safe driver, or a perfectly safe vehicle, when your life is dependent also on those around you.
I’m not pointing any finger of blame. But whether the fatal pile-up was caused by smoke from a bonfire party, driver error, mechanical fault or a combination of those things, there was certainly another factor.
A factor common to the way nearly all of us drive on today’s crowded roads.
One which at any time could simply and rapidly turn a small event – a blown tyre, say, or a stray animal – into a tragedy.
And it’s not just about speed, though that comes into it.
It’s how close so many drive to the vehicle in front. It gives you too little time to react to the unexpected.
Some years ago a good friend of mine was caught up in a mass collision on the A1, right under the impassive gaze of the Angel of the North.
Possibly the most skilful and aware driver I know, he managed to stop without running into the crashed vehicles ahead of him.
Then, almost inevitably, the car behind ran into his, knocking him into the wreckage. As he watched, horrified, in his mirror, car after car went on ramming into the tail of the smash.
Seeing his petrol tank erupt and fuel start spraying, he scrambled out of his car while he still could. And so lived to tell a tale with a slightly happier end than at Taunton.
There but for fortune. As he, I or any of us could say.

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