01 April 2014

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan

"Vanity and narcissism — the compulsive need to be admired and praised — undermine one's courage, for one then fights on someone else's conviction rather than one's own."

Rollo May

"Narcissus so himself, himself forsook,
And died to kiss his shadow in the brook."

William Shakespeare

"Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man —
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seemed
To his great heart none other than a God!"

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Tithonus

I had intended to write about the winds of change beginning to rise in Europe, but it is hard to find a proper beginning for such a vast and historic subject. But luckily a reader sent me Grant Williams latest newsletter, which you can read in its entirety here. So I may defer on my own effort, and provide a taste of things to come with this.

As you may recall I have said on any number of occasions that when change comes, it will probably come first at the periphery, as in all great changes in empire. In the east it is generally brutish, sturm und drang.   But watch when it comes to the UK, most likely first amongst the English speaking nations.  The backlash and repression there on the whole will be— polite but comprehensive.

The credibility trap takes its toll over time, and people lose interest in the status quo.   The ruling elite never see it coming, because they are so self-absorbed, enamored of themselves.  Their first reaction is disbelief, and then rage, because how can they be unappreciated, so betrayed, such beneficient gods?

I am not saying that the change will necessarily be for the good, but it will come, just as it did in the 1930's, with very mixed results.

Like so many things that approach the universal nature of art, our reaction to it probably says more about us than it does about it. And perhaps for this effort as well.

And the times, they are a-changin'.

Fight Club
By Grant Williams
01 April 2014

...Elsewhere this past week in Europe, there was another sign of things to come — and this time it played out in the UK as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of the pro-European Liberal Democrats threw down the gauntlet to the staunchly anti-European Nigel Farage of UKIP to join him in the first of two live televised debates — ostensibly on whether the UK should remain part of Europe, but in reality a desperate attempt to both blunt the challenge presented by Farage’s surging popularity and at the same time restore some credibility to Clegg’s ailing junior coalition partners.

As regular readers will know, Farage is the very embodiment of the anti-establishment movement. A pint-drinking, chain-smoking everyman who looks like he’d be more at home debating the issues of the day in a London pub than in the European parliament, Farage spent 20 years as a commodity trader and is one of the few politicians amongst the current crop to have a background in the private sector.

Clegg, on the other hand, is the archetypal politician: public school and Oxbridge-educated, related to aristocracy (albeit of the Russian variety), and a man who has been involved in politics for his entire adult life. The debate was fascinating to watch.

Farage’s bluster and soapbox oratory versus the polished politics of Clegg. Farage’s passion and intensity versus Clegg’s measured tone.

In the aftermath, the political pundits had their say on who emerged victorious, and they were unanimous:

Mary Riddell:
No minds will have been changed. The Faragistes who see their champion as the battler against faceless, bloodless, heartless power-brokers will be happy. But Nick won. As he should have. Easily.

Dan Hodges:
Nick Clegg kept calm and stuck to the facts. And it became clear facts are Nigel Farage’s enemy. He became increasingly angry and bombastic. By the end Clegg was engaging easily and effectively with his audience. Nigel Farage appeared to be cracking jokes to amuse only himself. His explanation of his reason for employing his wife was especially embarrassing. Fortunately, by that point, few people in the audience appeared to be listening to him.”

Toby Young:
“Overall, Clegg came across as more in command of the detail (possibly because he’d been briefed by the civil service beforehand) and for that reason I think he edged it.... Farage will certainly have pleased his supporters, but not much more than that.”

So... a humiliating public mauling of poor Nigel. But here’s where it gets interesting. In the Telegraph’s poll more than 81 per cent of readers said they thought Nigel Farage had won the debate.

A YouGov poll found that 57 per cent of people thought Mr Farage won the debate. This is perhaps the most important point.

Regardless of what those who spend their lives around politics believe, the public is ready for change, and they will be very hard to sway unless somehow they feel that quality of their lives can improve drastically — and that is not about to happen.

Measuring political performance by traditional metrics is a waste of time in a world where the people will simply vote for change. We saw it in Greece, we saw it in Spain, and now we’ve seen it in France. Next up, European elections in six weeks’ time.

Public disaffection with the world’s leaders is growing by the day — you can feel it — and nowhere was that made more apparent recently than in Holland last week when Barack Obama, halfway through his tour of Europe, took to the stage alongside Dutch PM Mark Rutte.

Obama, so used to adoring hordes — not only at home, but wherever in the world he is reading a teleprompter giving a soaring lesson in oratory — was presented with the answer to the age-old question about the sound of one hand clapping after he concluded, at a press conference, remarks espousing the USA’s “core values” of privacy, the rule of law, and individual rights. ([See the video below] to watch the most awkward end to a speech since Sally Field accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in 1985.)

People can’t even bring themselves to be polite to the incumbent political class anymore — not even to a rock star like Obama. Make no mistake, from Ukraine to Holland, from the United Kingdom and France to Greece, Italy, and beyond, politicians are under immense pressure to “do something” in order not to lose their grasp on power.

From Nobel to Ignoble