Virtual irreality

I've been getting more and more networked, involved and entangled through Twitter, the Red Room ("where the writers are"), Zoetrope, and this blog, among other sites, in a virtual space so active -- so many messages, so many chances to connect with so many other computer users -- that it's easy to forget. There is a real world out there, and it's inhabitants -- all of us -- are in trouble. A lot of the people using these networks are barely making enough to keep their cyber connections, let alone rent, child care, health etc. Real income is dropping, steady job opportunities are disappearing, the mass of people considered redundant is ballooning, inequality is increasing as fewer secure ever greater proportions of the wealth.

But as long as all the precariously employed or unemployed have got the 'net and SMS to voice their protests virtually, they are not much of a threat to this skewed system. They're not going to answer the calls of the trade unions to march down the streets (real, physical tarmac streets in real, physical cities), because the trade unions don't represent them and because they're too busy on their computer screens. So, the professional fortunetellers (e.g., Gaggi and Narduzzi in their new book, "Full Unemployment") tell us, in post-crash society people will just docily accept our diminished lives. Without rebellion. There may be neo-Nazi outbursts here and there, but mostly, people won't know where to direct their anger other than by virtual screaming into cyberspace.

Maybe. But the skewed system is unstable. The big shift is eastward: when new technology and new high-skilled industries in everything from windmills and solar power to transportation and communications create new wealth, it looks like they'll be centered in India and China and maybe in other places that may surprise us (Brazil? Africa?). Western Europe and even Japan and the U.S. are rapidly losing their privileged positions. This is very hard for politicians and their voters in those countries to accept.

Which I think explains the irreality of political debate in Spain right now -- and much the same in the U.K., France and Germany. Not to mention Italy, where Berlusconi has diverted all attention to his dating habits, but I'm talking about places with more serious politics. In Spain, the head of the right-wing Popular Party blames the Socialist government for soaring unemployment (neglecting the role of his Party's 8 years of government in artificially pumping up the construction boom that has just collapsed), saying the Socialists don't have a clue how to solve "the crisis." He's right that the Socialists don't have the answer, no European party does, because the solution isn't even in Europe. What is ridiculous is his claim that the Popular Party does.

It's going to be rough here in Europe, and especially in Spain where rapid economic growth was premised on such a low-skilled, inefficient, and inessential industry as second homes for pensioners (whose pensions have now collapsed, and thus nobody is buying). Not just in Spain, but for all of Europe and beyond, because we're going through yet another global redistribution of wealth, like the one that got Europe started as a dominant power in the first place beginning in the 16th century. It's useless to deny it. But we can and should prepare for it, to do what we can to make sure the new power centers don't treat us as badly as our European ancestors treated them back then. To try to see that in this new redistribution of wealth, we don't reproduce the global inequality of the old system.

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