Monday, September 17, 2012

World In Flames

If you haven’t been living under a rock lately, you may have noticed that the whole world’s going up in flames. Even a normally sanguine and level-headed person like me is starting to get a little worried about the news. Just over the past week we’ve had:

1. Riots across the Middle East/North Africa from Tunisia to Indonesia (and even in Muslim diaspora communities as far away as Australia) ostensibly about a shlock film that insults the prophet Muhammad but really almost certainly about something else. It’s interesting how closely this corresponds to potential action against Iran (see below) and Romney’s flagging presidential campaign. There are an awful lot of men in an awful lot of countries with little to do in life but protest.

2. Anti-Japanese riots in China like something out of World War 2 ostensibly about some disputed islands between the two countries, but almost certainly really also about other things. Japanese cars and cameras are being demolished in nationalist frenzies. The powers involved are openly talking about a limited naval war over these islands. In case you forgot, these are the world’s second and third largest economies. The fact that this corresponds with the epic and long-anticipated slowdown in the economy that has been the engine of global growth for the past twenty years is almost certainly not a coincidence.

3. Warships moving to the Persian Gulf, where it looks increasingly like Israel is planning a war with Iran with or without U.S. help. I don’t think I need to tell you how much oil flows through the Persian Gulf.

4. Thousands protesting austerity measures in Spain and Portugal. Greece continues to be a basket case.

5. Another round of massive protests against the Vladimir Putin sham oligarchy in Russia. And as for Russia and the Mediterranean, see this: Actual fascists in actual black shirts are waving swastikas and murdering ethnic minorities in Athens. And in Russia:
The comment took me back to a video I had watched on the internet before setting out. It showed a man - possibly from central Asia or the Caucasus - being dragged through a forest. It's like some dark horror movie, but this is real. There are screams, which may have been added later. But then, the man is tied up and killed. The details of how he is savagely murdered are too horrific to watch. Those who have studied the video assure me of its authenticity and say the killing is the work of a far-right gang.

No authority seems to have the power or desire to take it off the web. It is part of the lawlessness of Russia - a country where the armed ultra-nationalists seem to have almost been given free rein to take the law into their own hands.
5. The one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protest with the appropriate ratcheting up of the police state in New York City.

6. Protests in Argentina against the Kirchner administration and disturbances across Chile.

7. Mexican hackers have taken down government Web sites in protest agsinst the suspicious presidential election.

I’m reminded of the oft-used metaphor in the run-up to World War I about a ‘tinderbox’. Well, we’ve got one hell of a pileup of underbrush just waiting for a spark.

I’ve come to believe this period will be known as the breakdown of global capitalism. We had the first and second industrial revolutions, the Great Depression when it all broke down, the War and the Long Boom fuelled by cheap energy and commodities as global capitalism was rebuilt, and then the Washington consensus leading to globalism, deindustrialiszation ,offshoring, automation, a massive chasm between the rich and poor, unemployment, social instability, bankrupt governments and the financialization of the economy leading to boom-and-bust.

Now that’s run its course, and since 2008 we’ve been witnessing the breakdown, first of economic arrangements and now of political ones. Everywhere around the world governments are spending most of their resources keeping their own people at bay, despite the supposed universal victory for democracy. And globalization and free markets have led to the greatest chasm between the rich and poor our species has ever seen. Bailouts, quantitative easing, The Eurozone debt crisis, empty cities from Spain to China, declining living standards, recrudescent diseases, the pursuit of low-quality, polluting dirty energy sources (tar sands, shale, etc.), climate change causing hurricanes, droughts and melting Arctic ice; all these are past and parcel of a system in total and complete breakdown.

So what’s next?


  1. You omit the developing proxy war in Syria which may end up being the spark that sets the whole tinder on fire.

    How does Syrian regime react to an Israeli attack on Iran? What if the mullahs give an ultimatum to Assad: "we've just been attacked, give them everything you have (including the WMD) or we're cutting off the material support, at once."

    World War before Christmas?


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