Sunday, May 27, 2012

Postcards from the Zeitgeist

I have less to say than ever, feel more and more that a blog is not where the action is. So this post is a collection of impressions, readings from the world, which together capture, for me, the steadily strengthening Zeitgeist. As a Greek congress to Occupy London put it last year, we are now in World War III, and our enemy's principle weapon is debt. Ours, I like to think, is love. Love begins with understanding. We are trying to understand now, work our way out of a thick fog of deception and disinformation, fit the broken pieces back together. This effort has been very disparate, but it is now coallescing. Hope is its fuel, community its structure, ever-changing emergence its character.

The first quote has been translated by me into English from German, though the text is orginally French. I was handed it by Ralph Boes at a meeting of the Citizen's Initiative Guaranteed Income movement a few weeks ago. The movement hands out copies of this declaration to German employment agency workers, with a red rose, in an expression of solidarity with them, and as part of their long battle to spread the word on guaranteed income.
Declaration on professional and human ethics from Sud ANPE (employment agency union in France)

Above all, it is our duty to help job seekers find jobs, and that is what job seekers expect from us. But there is simply not enough work for all. Neither an increasing number of interviews, nor constant demands to visit the agency can create jobs, but both increase the risk that job seekers are forced, harassed and punished.

We, the employees of ANPE, declare that we in no way want to harm others already suffering from the loss of their job and income.

We refuse to ostracise them, and will enact no further sanctions without prior consideration of the moral and human consequences.

We present job opportunities, we do not force them. We will not shove job seekers into state-conceived pigeon holes. We will not threaten them with sanctions.

We further refuse to be confronted by job seekers’ anger, to be a social police reliant on suppression, so that we might act as public advisors fulfilling the role of finding work for others.

Neither job seekers nor employees of ANPE are responsible for the condition of the job market or the increasing casualization of labour. We declare our solidarity with the job seekers.

We refuse to produce any more false figures, unfair job offers and meaningless interviews, and will instruct our employees to help users of our service in full respect of their human rights.

The second piece is Günther Grass poem published only this week, as translated by me. I hope it speaks for itself:
Europe’s Shame

As it slides into chaos on Market reproof
you recede from the land which loaned you life.

What you thought found which your soul long sought,
is now undone and taxed to junk.

A land bleeds in the stocks, naked as a debtor,
to whom you once spoke warmly of your debt.

Land condemned to poverty, its riches endow
manicured museums: your tended prize.

They who marched with weapon force on this island-blessed land
carried like uniform Hölderlin* in their backpacks.

Barely tolerated land, whose leaders
you once tolerated as allies.

Land without rights strangled by the hand
of dogmatic power tightening and tightening the leash.

To spite you Antigone wears black, as nationwide
sorrow robes a people whose guest you were.

But beyond this land, the lineage of Croesus has it all
stored, golden and glittering, in your vaults.

Drink, damn you, drink! cry the commissar’s claques.
But Socrates, enraged, hands back the brim-full cup.

The gods will curse as a choir the stuff of your soul,
as your will strains to possess their throne.

Soulless, you will waste away without the land
whose soul breathed you to life, Europa.
*Hölderlin (1770-1843), German poet, best known for his novel "Hyperion", which is set in Greece and lauds Greek civilisation.

The third is from an open letter from Quebec where the broadest cross section of society is protesting against the government's raising university fees by 80%. I'm very late to this story, but then I'm no news hound!
News coverage of Quebec almost always focuses on division: English vs. French; Quebec-born vs. immigrant; etc. This is the narrative that has shaped how people see us as a province, whether or not it is fair. But this is not what I feel right now when I walk down the street. At 8pm, I rush out of the house with a saucepan and a ladle, and as I walk to meet my fellow protesters, I hear people emerge from their balconies and the music starts. If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like; the above video is a start. It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all—young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours—we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this.
And finally to Germany, where an unemployed man is being forced by the state to sell a coin collection (German) it took him over twenty years to gather, before he qualifies for benefits.
The job centre granted him Unemployment Benefit II for half a year as a loan, using the coin collection as justification for this measure. The building engineer, however, demanded Hartz IV in addition and sued, arguing sale of the coins would be uneconomical. The amount of money it took to collect the coins, some 27,000€, would only be covered by a forced sale to about 35 or 40%.

An expert from the job center values the collection at 21,750€, more than double the amount of assets allowed those seeking to claim Hartz IV benefits.
[My emphasis]
This brutal greed on the part of the state, a state congenitally blind to the subtleties of human existence, blind too to its own inhumanity, terrifies me, precisely as it is meant to do. The bravery of those risking the state's ire have my deepest respect and awe. They give me the strength I need not to collapse in on myself, to carry on believing in us, in humanity, in love. From the open letter:
I come home from these protests euphoric. The first night I returned, I sat down on my couch and I burst into tears, as the act of resisting, loudly, with my neighbours, so joyfully, had released so much tension that I had been carrying around with me, fearing our government, fearing arrest, fearing for the future. I felt lighter. Every night, I exchange stories with friends online and find out what happened in their neighbourhoods. These are the kinds of things we say to each other: “if I loved my city any more right now, my heart would burst.” We use the word “love” a whole lot. We feel empowered. We feel connected. We feel like we are going to win.
We feel like we are going to win. But the road is hard, and there is much tragedy awaiting us ahead. I leave you with an earnest request to watch "Fierce Light - When Spirit Meets Action" (97 mins) from Velcrow Ripper, the Canadian behind "The Revolution is Love." I cried openly more than once wathcing Fierce Light. These are intense and frightening times, and yet my heart tells me, and I want to believe, we are coming together. We are becoming one people.


Debra said...

I like the Gräss poem.
He sounds... as pessimistic as I currently am...
I'm not sure that I'm all that keen on "love" anymore, although I decidedly do NOT believe in the virtues of.. largescale punishment, be it German or American style. (Look at the incarceration rates in the U.S. When incarceration costs the taxpayer A FORTUNE and can not be justified under any kind of... rationalism.)
No, I think I could be satisfied just allowing myself to be a little bit ? a lot ? indifferent to my neighbor 20,000 miles away, for example. The one who appears in statistics in the daily news broadcasts.
Back to my piano garden, and my garden garden.
Keep your chin up, Toby.
You manage to balance out my pessimism...
That is very valuable, from my point of view.

Toby said...

Indifference is 'justified', as are all reactions to our environment, but I suspect it is a defense mechanism to not have to feel too much.

This is a time for courage, the courage to feel intensely, to be intensely involved. Courage cannot be demanded of anyone, it has to arise from 'within', and can engender an infinite variety of actions. Perhaps the nourishment you receive from your gardens will grow courage in you (you seem like a very courageous woman to me). Hope (courage) springs eternal.

It's nice to hear I balance your pessimism. It's a daily battle here in sleepy Berlin to believe some good can emerge from the terrible challenges we are wrestling with; there is just so much to be done. Right now, and for a while now, I just feel a powerful need to get some good sleep. Lots of good sleep. But we're at war and the stakes are frighteningly high. If we don't rise to the challenge, teach ourselves how to build/grow/generate a better/healthier/juster socioeconomic system, the 'elite' are going to fob us off with something I fear will be far worse than 'capitalism'. And in that sense, all work done in gardens of whatever variety is good work. There is only god, only Universe, only nature.

Take good care of yourself, Debbie. You're one of my favourite human beings!

Debra said...

You, too, Toby, are one of my favorite beings these days.

Timbo614 said...

"all the worlds problems can be solved in a garden" - Geoff Lawton

This I find now is probably true and hopeful, what is disappointing is that it has only been watched by 12,000 people, on YouTube that's not a lot :(

Change is coming Toby, you have been part of my education as to "why". Printing a trillion Euro a month (which they will be doing soon) won't solve it. Neither will us buying more trinkets and "stuff" we are going back "Back for a future!" Shame I'm nearly 60, I would love to see what happens in maybe 30-50 years time, but maybe I won't have that long to wait?

I read about Quebec only because of you, it's nowhere in the MSM. I read about Ralph only because of you.

The financial system/money men are getting desperate I think. Not often mentioned (not ever) in the MSM is a small item from our UK Budget this year. Those on "Income drawdown" from their personal pensions had their capacity to withdraw money reduced by almost 50% - I was taking the maximum (because I no longer trust the system - justified by the fact they did, in fact, "just change the rules"). Now even if I live for another 30 years, I will never, NEVER, get my money back or all of my money out. The "uneducated/unaware" around me say "It's for your own good" Ha! The "good" is "they" get to keep what is left! Never mind - it will worthless anyway in another 10 years. I'm planting my garden "following my own advice" following your philosophy!

Keep the blog "Alive" just now and again especially so we out here know how you are faring.

Best, Timbo.

Toby said...

Thank you Timbo, those are kind words in hard times.

I've joined the movement for a guaranteed income here in Berlin which Ralph Boes is a part of, and will begin translating some of their stuff into English shortly. They are a small group of quite old people, intent on organising themselves non-hierarchically, so there's lots of discussion about what to do and how to do it. I think that's the right way, even if it can be frustrating. Non-hierarchical self-organisation is a skill we desperately need to learn, if we are not to be seduced by some charismatic demagog promising nirvana but delivering war and destruction.

I'll stay in touch via the blog, but maybe only once or twice a month or so. My time is filled up so irregularly it's proving almost impossible to settle, and out there there's just more of the same bs with the MSM pushing for fiscal union in Europe and debts have to be repaid (but not pensions!) and growth Growth GROWTH ad nauseum! But the cracks are definitely there, as you say. Hope springs eternal.

Jason (ReportsFromEarth) said...

Hi Toby,

I know it can be frustrating if there are relatively few comments which may indicate a lack of interest.

You are one of my favourite bloggers and I am sure there are many others who enjoy reading what you have to say.

You have already written so much on the topic of negative interest rates and abandoning the growth paradigm etc.

I would love to see someone write some summaries, overviews and reviews of those many posts.

Actually, a visual representation (infographic) of your opinions, resources, key ideas etc would be most amazing to see. At least for me:)

Without any of these "superstructures" many of your posts will not receive the attention they deserve and new readers get lost in the information forest.

Toby said...

And thank you for your kind words, Jason!

Funny you should say that. What's now frustrating me about the blog format is that is does not capture my world view, does not even closely represent how I see the famous Big Picture. The blog format is now wrong for what I want to do. I need a new format, one I was trying to set up a couple of years ago, failed at it, so took the easy route of blogging. But, because now I have too little mental space and energy (many reasons for this), I can't get a good run up at sketching out what would 'meet my needs', as it were. All I have for ideas at the moment is a wiki-like, layered, graphics and text site, perhaps with video also. Kind of like a virtual book I guess, but dynamic and ongoing, editable, improvable...

So we're on the same page. The next step will take place when I can get myself emotionally and mentally adjusted to my new situation. Watch this space.

And of course there will be other blog postings in the meantime, but far less frequently than before.

Roger Lewis said...

Keep at it Toby I liked the poem too.
Went to see the cure last night.
Robert had Citizens not Subjects emblazoned across two of his guitars.
It figures in my latest scriblings and your blog is a great remembering for me.
I often drop by for nourishment.

Toby said...

Thanks Roger for your kind words. I do keep at it, but elsewhere during those few moments I have for this very important stuff. Building a career to a point of decent and durable solidity from nothing(ish) takes up far more time than treading water in a dead end job, so leaping from the corporate beast will not yield 'free' time for a while yet, though I do see light at the end of this particular 'freely' entered tunnel. I'm sure it's not a train! ;-)