By The Landlord
“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” – Henry Kissinger
“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” – Dante Alighieri
“In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics.” – John F. Kennedy
“Dougal! Don’t touch anything!” – Father Ted
Oops. How did things go so awry? What a dire dilemma. What a prickly predicament, what a pathetic pickle, idiotic imbroglio, malignant Eton-made mess, what a crazy catastrophe, a totally awful, absolute, omnishambles, what an utter, backfiring hairy bollock superfart of a clusterfuck! I ordered an oatmilk latte with an extra shot and they gave me … a soya flat white! Outrage! Disaster!
But really, yes, things are a right mess. As I begin to write about this topic, I wonder whether I'm jumping the gun, that it ill become far more apt in three or six months' time. Even so, this week, it’s important to not get too sucked into a world in which there’s a robot British prime minister stuck in repeat without that necessary inbuilt programme to see reason or resign, not to mention the malignant members of her party who one minute say she’s too inept to be their leader, but then still vote for her to be good enough lead the country. And then there’s that US president who thinks a major triumph is to buy 300 (or maybe 1,000 - he can’t remember) lukewarm Big Macs and fries and other fast “great American food” served on White House silver for guests, all because he’s shut down the government, leaving 800,000 people out of work, all because he’s thrown a strop over his fantasy wall. National embarrassment? How low can things go?
So in this crazy general climate of non-consensus, ideé fixé, reactionary greed and hypocrisy, it seems like the time is ripe to step back a bit and see if we can see all this more clearly throught the prism of song. Crises? Whether they are political, economic, climate, or personal, let’s dig out the truth through song lyrics, looking at all aspects, from causes to cures, how it feels to how it can be fixed.
But first up, what might make everyone feel a bit better? For me, a bit of swearing. Alright a lot. Scottish swearing? Even better. That’s the fantastic fictional head of communications for the PM, Malcolm Tucker, bollocking his boss and everyone and around him from The Thick Of It. We need a dose of Tucker in at No 10 right now:
His reaction could apply to anything going on in the present, but on that note, let’s get a more recent dose of Janey Godley, Scotland’s real-life female equivalent to Tucker, reacting to the crappy, now rejected Brexit proposal, and how it was received by the idiots who brought it about in the first place:
Crises have always been going on. And whatever problems faced in Britain or the US right now, things are never going to be as bad as for those in Syria or Yemen. But how do things compare with relatively the past? The Cuban Missile crisis? Watergate? Oil and inflation in the 1970s? The crash of 2008? Of the former, some perspective from Noam Chomsky: “What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded. The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane.”
George Soros looks back even further: “Throughout the 19th century, when there was a laissez-faire mentality and insufficient regulation, you had one crisis after another. Each crisis brought about some reform. That is how central banking developed.”
But unregulated banking and the financial sector is behind much of what is currently going on. In times of financial hardship, those most badly affected are blame others who aren’t responsible. As Barack Obama put it: “Food stamp recipients didn't cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.” But as during war, while many face hardship, for others it’s a time to make hay. “A financial crisis is a great time for professional investors and a horrible time for average ones.” says US businessman Robert Kiyosaki. “There is energy and power in a crisis,” says governor Andrew Cuomo. “When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity,” said John F. Kennedy.
But he was wrong on that - that’s a popular misconception. According to Wikipedia:
While the character 危; wēi does indeed mean "dangerous" or "precarious", the character 機; jī is highly polysemous and does not, in isolation, translate as "opportunity". The confusion likely arises from the fact that 機; jī is a component of the Chinese word for "opportunity" jīhuì (機會; 机会, literally "meeting a critical point”.
A critical point indeed. And misconceptions are often where the problem lies with crises. Whatever the rights and wrongs of EU membership, the instigators of Brexit are the very rich, the media owners, such as Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail and Mail Online, or Rupert Murdoch of The Sun and Fox, who want deregulation and tax havens. It’s as simply and obvious as that. And arch Brexit Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg is very much of the same ilk. In a revealing 1997 book written by his father, former Times editor Lord William Rees-Mogg, made a gloomily gleeful prediction about how the agile entrepreneur can clean up, and in which, by 2010 onwards, “the future is disorder”. The Sovereign Individual: The Coming Economic Revolution and How to Survive and Prosper. It’s a horribly accurate prediction of the current crisis caused by, and thrived upon, by those with wealth and power. But it’s OK if you’ve got wealth already, because you can exploit it. Shudder.
So crisis might bring out the “best” in some people, but for others it brings out the worst:
“In times of crisis, extremist forces, populist forces, have a better ground to oversimplify things and to manipulate feelings. Feelings of fear,” says Jose Manuel Barroso.
“A crisis is made by men, who enter into the crisis with their own prejudices, propensities, and predispositions. A crisis is the sum of intuition and blind spots, a blend of facts noted and facts ignored,” wrote Michael Crichton in his crisis thriller about a the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism The Andromeda Strain.
“In times of war or crisis, power is easily stolen from the many by the few on a promise of security. The more elusive the or imaginary the foe, the better for manufacturing consent,” wrote Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress.
But will people rise up, such as in a post-Brexit Britain helping finding new feet and a new era? Unlikely. Here’s the great documentary maker Adam Curtis: “Ever since the economic crisis in 2008, millions of people have accepted cuts in all sorts of things - from real wages and living standards to benefits and hospital care - without any real opposition. The cuts may be right, or they may be stupid - but the astonishing thing is how no one really challenges them.” The difficulty is, as Anton Chekhov put it, that “any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.”
And here’s Douglas Coupland, from his book, The Gum Thief: “… we're told by TV and Reader's Digest that a crisis will trigger massive personal change – and that those big changes will make the pain worthwhile. But from what he could see, big change almost never happens. People simply feel lost. They have no idea what to say or do or feel or think. they become messes and tend to remain messes.”
But that’s all very depressing. We began with Father Dougal pressing the ‘do not press’ red button on a plane causing fuel to be dumped in the fantastic Father Ted episode Flight Into Terror, in which Ted, in a parody of the Jeff Bridges film, Fearless, must rise above his terror of flying.
But let’s end on an upbeat positive note, from a man who made millions laugh without saying a word. But in 1940 he made The Great Dictator in the middle of fascism at its height, and while this is really a propoganda film design to gee up a nation at war, to invert Hitler, some of these words a still relevant in how to face a crisis:
“We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …”
So then managing crisis no doubt with skill, expertise and humour, let’s welcome back that very paragon of guru excellence, this week’s great leader ParaMhor. Place your nominations in comments below for voting deadline at 11pm on Monday UK time GMT, for playlists published on Monday. Onwards and upwards!
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