Tuesday, 29 June 2010

How did this happen?

If a historian were to impartially judge the opening decade of the 21st Century, then they will almost certainly pick out two events that profoundly shaped the politics and society of the decade.

The first, of course, was 9/11. The ramifications of this, plus the further attacks on Madrid and London, were predictable - a sudden lurch into ever more authoritarian measures, regardless of country. The reasoning for this was also clear - that the political incumbents, regardless of the country concerned, did not want to be held responsible for missing a potential deadly threat, and acted accordingly.

The second major event was the financial crash. The ramifications of this, though, were counter-intuitive. A huge financial crash, precipitated by a combination of deregulated financial markets and a capitalism focused ever more on short-term profits over long-term investment and risk-analysis, almost bought western capitalism itself to its knees. It was the ancient player - the state - a supposed anachronism in the modern, transnational world, that became this capitalism's saviour.

But what came next was less predictable.

What initially looked like a mea-culpa from many on the political Right - an acceptance that the unfettered free market and the endless pursuit of immediate, maximised profit need to be tamed - quickly turned on its head. As the world moves into a new decade, a full-frontal assault on the very notion of state-led democracy is instead underway.

So, rather like the Republican politician who argues that the millions of gallons of oil swirling around the Gulf of Mexico are nothing to do with oil companies, so the neo-liberal ideologue argues that it is, perversely, the very nation states that bailed out the financial sector that are itself the manifest of all evil.

Whilst the militant wings of political Islam will hear no criticism of their god, so the neo-liberal Right are blind to the defects - no matter how glaring - in the system they hold up as the only righteous path. Salvation, in these terms, can only be found in the pursuit of profit. All other considerations - whether human or environmental - must be secondary.

It is ideological absolutism. And no amount of reason, of debate - and least of all most recognisable notions of morality - can sway many of its proponents.

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