One of the most common dismissals of those trying to make the world a better place is ‘get real’. Ironic, given the complete distortion of reality that governments and corporations are creating for us today. Our beef is horse, our horses are on steroids, our money is debt, and our public services are private. Daily life seems to consist of a Mad Hatters Tea Party where people are sipping imaginary tea and scoffing from empty plates as they occupy an ever less real world.
How much of the high performance we see in the world of sport is natural human endeavour, and how much is an unattainable result based on performance enhancing drugs?
The world of cycling’s biggest hero, Lance Armstrong was found to have been part of an extremely sophisticated doping regime. Armstrong had won the Tour de France seven consecutive times, despite undergoing treatment for cancer. He was hailed by cyclists and non-cyclists alike as one of the world’s foremost sporting heroes. In reality, he was the world’s most effective drugs mule. Furthermore, there are now claims that the regulatory body for the sport of cycling (the UCI) knew about and deliberately covered up Armstrong’s doping regime in order to maintain the attraction of his unbeatable success. And cycling is not alone.
Just this week, one of the UKs most prestigious stables was found to doping its horses with steroids to get higher performances out of them.
A yearlong study by the Australian Crime Commission found drugs are “widespread” in Australian professional sport. The report found that scientists, coaches and support staff were involved in the doping regimes across the world of sport, and that their activity was supporting organised criminals.
As capitalism demands exponential growth and record breaking profits each year, so goes sport. Yet despite this growing evidence that these achievements are fake, they draw an ever growing audience, paying ever greater ticket prices.
Matchday ticket prices for UK Premiership football have risen by 1,000% in the last two decades. During the same period, footballer pay increased 1,500%. For all this money, one would think Liverpool striker Luis Suarez could afford a decent meal, rather than feasting on another footballer’s arm.
The pretence of competitive sport has nothing on the pretence of politics. Despite clear evidence that, at least since Thatcher, there is not a cigarette paper between the three main political parties – people continue to vote for their original party of allegiance. These voters then exhibit stunned outrage when that party rejects its manifesto and carries on the same neoliberal project.
This view, of a monochrome politics, is not a view confined to anarchists, liberals, lefties or indeed any political group. In the UK, Conservative commentators bemoan the Conservative party’s transition from a conservative to a neoliberal party, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats face the same accusation. Despite this, the pretence in maintained. Flagship news programmes pit these ‘rival’ politicians with identical arguments against each other as if they were engaged in ideological warfare, and by doing so perpetuate the myth that there is any battle of ideas at all.
In the UK, the thirteen year leadership of the Labour Party following a decade of Thatcherism only saw her project extended. Labour massively escalated the Private Finance Initiative programme which is currently bankrupting the NHS and Schools. Labour failed to overturn a single of Thatcher’s anti-union laws and rebalance power between employer and employee. Thanks to this, despite introducing the minimum wage, the average wage during Labour’s time in power entirely failed to keep pace with a rising cost of living. In the ten years between 1999 and 2009, the annual salary rose 13.6%. During the same period, house prices went up 130%, a loaf of bread went up 147%, a litre of petrol went up 42%. This goes some way to accounting for the fact that personal debt rose during this period by 158% as access to credit created consumer demand which concealed the gap between wage and cost of living inflation. There is little point in a minimum wage, if it is not a living wage.
The current Coalition government has simply gone into the next phase of the neoliberal project: the erosion of the remaining welfare state.
Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, many are in a political wilderness. There are people vowing to vote Labour to put an end to the Tories. It might, but then people with red ties will do the same thing as the people with blue ties did before them and those Labour voters will express stunned outrage once again.
If insanity is defined by doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result, then the UK electorate has gone stark raving mad.
The world of Economics is in chaos. The term ‘Economist’ has now shifted from referring to anyone who is involved in the theory, teaching or application of economics, to denote simply one variety of economist or economics – neoliberal economics (be it classical or neoclassical). This is a big issue because this brand of economics is not based in a scientific method of research, critique and challenge, but anti-scientific, rank ideology.
This kind of economics brought us the ‘trickle down effect’, the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, the idea that privatisation and deregulation equals progress, that GDP growth was a measure of social progress; all of which enjoy little evidential basis, while evidence to the contrary piles high.
I have yet to find a greater or more comprehensive slaying of neoliberal dragons than that achieved by Professor Steve Keen in Debunking Economics. He summarises these arguments in his article ‘Neoclassical Economists: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’. Not only did these neoliberal ‘Economists’ fail to predict the biggest global financial crisis of the 20th Century, they said it was impossible. Those other Economists such as Steve Keen, Nouriel Roubini and around twenty others who forecasted not only a crisis, but the specific cause (the derivatives market and debt) and timing, were branded lunatics.
Despite this manifest failure, most universities, most economic institutions, most mainstream economic journals and almost all media discussion is dominated by this defunct ideology.
If one afternoon, all the world’s suspension bridges collapsed, we might want to investigate that failure and rethink suspension bridges. We might also have a revised level of trust in the engineers who built and maintained those bridges. Yet, if we took the same approach as we have with economics, we’d be busy employing the same engineers to rebuild the same bridges, on the same blue print – all in spite of the physical inevitability that those bridges will come crashing down once again.
A few years ago, we were reaching a political consensus on climate change which reflected the scientific consensus. The scientific community is almost unanimous (97%) on the reality of climate change, humankind’s role in it and the need to act with intent and urgency to avoid impending catastrophe.
As political consensus drew near, the corporations deeply invested in profiteering from the status quo decided to take action.
A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists discovered the world’s top corporations were claiming green credentials in their adverts to gain customers, while simultaneously providing enormous sums of money to anti-scientific think tanks (and other organisations) to lobby against climate change legislation on their behalf.
As a result of such efforts, political messaging on climate change has become confused and polarised. In the US, less than half the population now believe that our behaviour has an impact on climate change. Worse, they are split clearly along political fault lines. In last year’s presidential election, just 42% of Romney supporters were convinced, versus 88% of Obama supporters. The political row made up of congressman and senators paid by corporations to change their minds on climate change, is changing the minds of the public too. The change in US domestic opinion has stalled global cooperative efforts to act on climate change, and the ambitions of the Kyoto Protocol and the Rio +20 Earth Summit melt away with the polar ice caps.
The World’s Gone Mad
This is a red pill, blue pill moment for citizens of the world. For many, it is clear that the music has stopped and therefore so must the dancing; others appear to cling to the fracturing edifice of an unreal world as if they’re very existence depended on it; some opt for blind ignorance and immerse themselves in irrelevance so as never to face the disquieting thought: the system is corrupted.
This thought, once you’ve had it, demands something of a person. It demands a quest for the real world – new facts, new ideas and justice. It is terrifying and exciting to be one of those sliding their seats back from the table of the Mad Hatters Tea Party, standing up and meeting the eyes of others doing the same.
No matter how hard those at that table try, that imaginary tea and cake is never going to fill the void. This anaemic fantasy hasn’t got a patch on reality. The real wonder is not in trinkets and tokens, but our capacity to care for ourselves, each other and our planet.
Word of Credit: This blog post was inspired by a conversation with Ceri Lowe-Petraske.