There have been three important men in my life. The dreams of all of them have been betrayed.
My grandfather was and in many ways still is everything I admire. He began working down the pit when he was 14 years old. He retired at 65 and a few fleeting years later was dead of cancer. But in his life he fought for the dignity of the ordinary working man and woman. He believed that if we wished for a better world, a world where ordinary people had a chance in life, a chance to earn a living wage, to educate themselves and see their children educated, then we all had an obligation to fight for that dream. And he did. When WWII began he was too old to be called and as a miner was exempt, but volunteered and at Dunkirk saved the life of a young man who became his life-long friend – my godfather. After the war it was his generation, his vote, his willingly paid taxes, which made sure his children would have what he had not, a National Health Service and a chance to go to university. These were his dreams and he fought for them every day when he went to work.
Once, to see for himself what his father did, my uncle went with my Grandfather, down the pit. In those days narrow seams would be worked by men lying on their sides cutting the coal out with a pickaxe. My grandfather was one of those men. At the end of the day my uncle asked my grandfather how he could stand to do such work day after day after year after decade. He replied, “So that you’ll never have to”. That was my grandfather.
Later in my life one of the closest friends I have ever had was an incredibly tough man called Henri Goujat. Given away as a child, he too began life working in a pit, as boy in occupied France. After the war he, like my grandfather, had believed his county’s leaders when they assured him, that he and all those like him, were fighting to build a better country. He spent a hard, physical, working life digging and laying water and sewer lines all across rural France. He believed any hardship was just his part in the struggle to realize what my grandfather’s generation had fought for – a better world. It might sound naive now but Henri remained loyal to that ideal and it sustained him.
I spent all the summers of my late 20’s and early 30’s with Henri, travelling with him, listening to the stories of his life and the stories of a generation of ordinary French men and women that I came, through him, to know, listening to their hopes of a better France, their profound belief in the struggles of their lives. But not long before Henri died he told me, that he had come to see that they had all been lied to. That all they had built had been for others to sell from under them.
Now my father, is nearing the end of his life and he too has tasted the ashes of his dreams. His was the generation that inherited the things my grandfather and Henri built. And in his own way he too believed he had fought the good fight. He did things in his life that I never knew about till decades later. Things still covered by official secrets. Things he really believed were for the good. Good people, he believed, with good intent had asked him to do things which he had willingly done. But now he looks at what it has all amounted to and is angry. Angry at the stupidity, greed and arrogance.
Who betrayed their dreams and hopes? Of course in the final analysis the answer is us. But who helped us, helped us understand that our parents’ dreams would be more ‘valuable’, their old age more ‘affordable’, in fact their entire society more ‘efficient’ if it was all sold off, privatised? Who presided over the efficiencies whose benefits we are now enjoying?
By what name could we being to know them?
And let’s make no mistake names can give you power over things. The names we give, or more importantly those we accept, influence how we think. Think of all the names for us, that we have accepted in to our parlance, our thoughts: The Consumer, the Clients, The Workforce (if we’re lucky) or if we’re not then, The Unemployed, the Welfare Recipients, the Punters, the Proles, the Mob, the Common People.
But who are they who rule over us? It’s all very well calling them Neo-cons, or Thatcherite/Reaganite Free-Market Deregulating Zealots, or even The 1% or The Global Overclass, but these names tell us nothing about the nature of these people. They tell us how much they own or the brand of Fundamentalism they worship.
When I look at people like Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs CEO) or the billionaire vulture fund boss Paul Singer making sure he gets his pound of profit from the Argentinian people regardless of their need, I am quite sure I do not want any future imagined and presided over by any of the verminous little Ceasars of Wall Street.
For me these people are The Disloyal, because for all that they have, they have none of the loyalty which made my grandfather , my friend and my father the admirable men they were. Whatever they may claim about their vastly superior understanding, their wealth creating genius, their technocratic brilliance, none of it will be put at the service of anyone or anything beyond their own greed. These people will not hesitate to betray any and all in the pursuit of their own advantage. This we have already seen in action. Nothing that has been done to bail out the banks, or protect the bond holders, has been for any purpose beyond helping those who owned those bonds or were invested in the shares or bonds of those banks, or whose wealth and power was held in the paper IOU’s issued by those banks. We have ‘saved’ a system not because a new or better system was impossible, or because the system we had was the only or best system, but solely because saving the financial system saved the wealth and power of those who sat at its apex. This is not what my grandfather fought for.
What has been achieved? Are the banks safer? No. Have risky financial products been banned? No. Have those who laundered billions, or who knowingly created and sold fraudulent securities been gaoled? No. But the wealthiest have become far wealthier and the gap between them and the poor has widened. That has been achieved. Is this the better world my friend Henri struggled for?
The people who rule over us dislike democracy. It hinders their plans and threatens to curb their desires or subject them to the rules and laws that, they feel, only little-people should be bound by. Those who sit at the apex of power and wealth today are no longer interested in democratic debate or civilized disagreement. They are interested only in being above the laws which bind you and me and in wielding power over the democracy we think we still have, not being subject to it. We are coming to the point where what their system needs to sustain itself will brook no disagreement, no debate. In the name of ‘protecting’ the system which maintains their wealth and power, they are already systematically closing off one door to democratic debate, control and change after another. Trade Agreements and Bilateral Investment Treaties already bind nations in ways that future governments will be told they cannot undo. This is not what my father thought he was protecting.
We must see these people for who and what they are. They have no loyalty to democracy, to you or your children or to any future in which you might hope for better. “Better” is to be reserved entirely for them. They have no loyalty to any nation, any people, any ideal save that which guarantees that they will become richer and richer while others get poorer and poorer. Their only loyalty is to amassing more and more wealth and the power over others that it confers. They will betray you at every opportunity. Have we not already seen how willing they are t0 sell out any project, to bend, break or game any law or rule and think themselves so superior for doing so? Have they not already lied to you, assuring you that lessons have been learned and behaviours changed while crowing in private over how they duped you? Have they not already shed poisoned tears of fake contrition over wrong-doing while finding new ways of doing the same? Their only concern is profit. Their only currency is betrayal.
They have no loyalty to us. The only thing they feel for us is fear. If it comes to it, and it will, they will not hesitate to call out their private police forces to spy on you, arrest you and intern you if needs be.
If we do nothing now, while we still can, we will soon find that our ability to ‘reform’ the system , or tinker with it or change it from within will be closed off. To change will soon require the repudiation of so much, that future governments will be afraid to even try. In many ways this is already the case. And those in power would like it to be much more the case.
Our present leaders would like it if future governments could be kept in line, prevented from even attempting to reassert sovereign, democratic power, by threats of what chaos such an attempt would unleash. Paranoid fantasy? Think of Henry “Hank” Poulson in 2008 threatening the US Congress with anarchy and tanks on the streets if the TARP was not passed right there, right then.
The agreements which will shackle us are already being negotiated in secret. The TTIP and TPP and soon the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), unless stopped, will roll back democratic control of finance in ways that will make a mockery of all the sweaty wheezing of our congressional and parliamentarian blow-hards, that have done nothing whatsoever to reform or reign in the banks and financial elite.
Think how quickly we were fed the new concept of Too Big To Fail, which actually means outside of both democratic and judicial control. A new vocabulary for a new era. At home TBTF, ‘technocratic’ governments, Austerity cuts, wage restraint for the many but not for they few, and abroad regime change, rendition, secret flights to secret prisons for the new disappeared without trial, appeal or hope. No judge, no jury just the assumption of guilt. Today it is others they will come for. When will it be people you know, or you or your children? When will voicing or organizing opposition become domestic extremism?
If we do not fight the peace then we will one day soon find we are forced to fight a war. Fighting the peace is hard. It requires standing up and saying things that others might ridicule. But is that so very hard?
Our future is in the hands of The Disloyal. Is their future the one you want? Do you want to live in a country rotted by systemic and protected dishonesty where the law is a whore, democracy a pantomime, integrity and honour sneered at and loyalty to others forgotten? I do not.