Friday, March 31, 2006

Mechanics of history

Yes, economics is a dreary, peripheral subject. Should talk about something more essential but it has been on my mind lately listening to the shrill, shortsighted political discussion in Finland and elsewhere in the West. An interesting dichotomy in fact echoing larger, deeper themes: the discussion is shrill I think largely because there is such a clear political and social consensus that increased marketization is not the direction we should go. Yet, it is the direction: mechanics of history at work.

Defenders are shrill because powerless, the cheerleaders of change shrill because in minority and intellectually shallow: both at heart bystanders, witnesses to history. Debate does not much matter, it is more a concequence than a cause. Blind structural change, change that is born from the logic of the chaotic situation, easily beats all reason and democracy. I don’t much blame the new elites or the loud irrational voices around them. People don’t use power, power uses people: you get a role, briefly, you get your lines and your moment, and then it’s over, power moves on. Institutions have a life of their own, a life span of their own, powered by an ever changing cast of individuals focused on the short views, the claustrophopic decisions.

Surely, echoing Frederic Manning, history is not only a crime, it is also a punishment for a crime. Yet, how harsh should we be in our self-condemnation? It is not easy to think of any individual as completely innoncent - but also not as completely guilty: we are animal creations of circumstances, not naturally suited for reason, moderation and mercy. The more you contemplate humanity, the more you think of us as a powerless, migratory species, destined for disaster – destructive, fearful and cruel no doubt, but eternally also hoping for improvement, for a transformation, working ineffectively towards it.

Who knows, it might not be beyond us in the end. In the meanwhile we struggle on, focusing on the short or the long views, varyingly guilty, varyingly innocent. Perfectly poised between hope and despair. With enlightenment, moral and ethical awareness and responsibility, many have embraced hope, progress and transformation but we should not be too judgemental of those who have the short views, roles dictated to them by harsh power, those more guided by fear than hope. In these iron structures no-one can afford moral superiority, all are tainted, all innocent.

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