Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16: Northrop Frye and all that

On the weekend, I dropped off some books at the library So I saw the fine image of Northrop Frye sitting on a bench at the entrance. I'm sure he would have been pleased to know that his image would be seated in front of the library he had so often studied in - a library that today is one of the worst funded libraries in Canada. And in a city whose politicians give no evidence of ever having read his works.

That seated figure is a fine piece of work. I like it. I wish it reflected a reality about our attitudes to books and thinking.

The business page of the Times and Transcript (Your Investments) has a big story about somebody's sword collection. There is no mention of the scandals sweeping European banks, much the same scandals that swept American ones, and that caused the recession that still has a long way to go. (Nor does it mention that investigation has begun of Canadian banks.)

The reality is that bankers over most of the world have been breaking laws and behaving both illegally and irresponsibly for many years - rigging interest rates, lying in reports, taking wild chances.  It is their normal way of doing business. It is emerging (in European papers, at least)  that governments were tipped off to this years ago - and have done nothing.

American bankers who broke the law, stole hundreds of billions and put millions of people on the street weren't investigated for it. They were given bailouts, with massive bonuses for the scoundrels who had done the damage. The same thing is happening in Europe, where whole countries face generations of poverty because of the criminal acts of their bankers - and there, too, the bankers are being rewarded with bail-outs and bonusses - at public expense. In Britain, at least, it seems some of them MAY face criminal charges - though the questioning has so far been gentle, to say the least.

As a result, the rate of poverty has risen over most of the world. And so has the rate of super-wealth. We are living through the biggest theft in world history. Some of us, most of us, are going to suffer from it for the rest of our lives. And the biggest stories in today's Moncton Times and Transcript business section are about a sword collection, paying taxes on tips and whether you need life insurance.

This is really quite similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s, with terrible suffering for most Canadians - but with the super rich actually getting richer all the way through the worst years. R.B.Bennett, a New Brunswicker that New Burnswickers take pride in without knowing much about him, ordered a study of this phenomenon. It was published as Report of the Royal Commission on Price Spreads and Mass Buying. Pick up a copy at the library - if it has one. (Tight budget, you know. We don't want to raise Mr. Irving's taxes.)

People should know more about Bennett. Yes, he was arrogant - but he had brains -  and had more compassion than any prime minister in the history of this country.

But even at its worst, the TandT is better than The Calgary Herald and other papers which blame the poor for causing the recession. It says the problem is their sense of entitlement. Really? Entitlement to what? Some modest social help when they get laid off or locked out? To pensions which they pay for in a lifetime of taxes?

There are countries in this world whose citizens are"entitled" to a hell of a lot more in education and health and pensions than we are. Sweden and Finland spring to mind. Of course, they also keep a closer eye on their bankers.

Is this anti-capitalist? No. I have no patience with people who waste time and energy pimping for any 'system' - capitalism, socialism, communism, democracy, dictatorship - as the one and only true solution.

The reality is that we are not the identical and never-changing objects on the assembly line of any ideology. There is no such thing as a one-size fits all and fits forever system. That's why Harper is going to prove a disaster as a prime minister. He's an ideologue and a remarkably narrow one. "Step right up, folks. This magic ointment will cure all your ills."

The problem with all systems is that they are run by people. And us people, well, we can get greedy, and cruel, and uncaring, and corrupt, and criminal.... It can happen in every economic system I ever heard of.

And we're well down the road.

What we call our capitalist system is not capitalist at all. It's a welfare state for the very rich who demand 'entitlements' like low taxes, timber rights, resource rights, free loans, grants. They even expect us to pay in lives and money to fight their wars.  In the last decade, fighting wars to make billionaires richer  cost the US alone over 4 trillion dollars that it doesn't have - and much of that money cannot be accounted for. It is a system that has so far corrupted government that it can be said the very rich ARE our governments.

In our democracy, too,  power goes to those who can raise lots of money - a trend Harper has encouraged on a major scale. Our news media are so far corrupted and controlled that, despite the few exceptions that do an honest job, we are largely ignorant of what is happening.

You think, from reading Time magazine, that the West wants to bring democracy to Syria? So how come our great ally in this is that notorious dictator called the King of Saudi Arabia? Are we horrified by the killing in Syria? So how come we're not horrified by the killing of protestors in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates - not to mention Vietnam and Guatemala and Iraq and Afghanistan?

Our information and our democracy have been hopelessly corrupted by a capitalism that is, itself, so corrupt and distorted that it ceased to be real capitalism a long time ago.

There is no such thing as a system which will solve all our problems. We are not run by systems. We are run by people. Sometimes capitalism, properly controlled, will work. Right now, it's not working. Right now, the people who operate the system have created poverty and instablity throughout the world, perhaps most notably in Africa and Central America. Now,those people are extending their reach; and there is not the slightest reason to believe that they will treat us any better.

Where will this take us? We don't have to guess. We're already most of the way there - to the police state with arbitrary imprisonment, torture, highly intrusive police powers to collect data on all of us, a constant state of hysteria that focusses our anger and hatred on, say, Moslems.

Eventually, like the Soviet Union, it will break down, not because of revolt but because of the sheer incompetence, in our case, of the super-rich to manage societies. Here, in New Brunswick, we have an Irving-appointed committee to plan our economic futures. It's already happened. The sharks have been appointed to manage the aquarium. (Sharks aren't real good at that.)

Sorry to stray so far off the point. The fact is, there was nothing in the TandT worth discussing. If you like more photos of old cars, you'll love today's paper. Ditto if you like seeing press releases from NB Power posted as if they were commentary. And if you live on tips, you'll certainly want to read the column on how they're taxable - or you might want to check out what our economic aristocracy does with off-shore bank accounts, deductions for buying politicians, etc.

Meanwhile, forget the arguing over capitalism, socialism or whatever. Very few people actually know what those words mean and, in any case, it's not systems that govern us. It's people. And the people who govern us now have become hopelessly corrupt and corrupting.

Check out the letters to the editor. There are a few good ones.

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