by Umair Haque
May 31, 2018

from Eudaimonia Website

Why This is an Age of

Tragedy, Dystopia, and Rage...

We seem to be stuck, you and I, in an age that's hell-bent, dead-set on repeating on the mistakes of the past.


The Greeks might have smiled, and called that tragedy. But not just any mistakes. The biggest and ugliest ones...


The ones the world made in the fatal decade that saw stagnation, depression, and disintegration lead to war, atrocity, and holocaust. Yet even that understates it.


We're not just remaking the great mistakes of the 1930s.


We seem relentlessly, unwaveringly, unfalteringly committed, strenuously devoted to repeating them. Lovingly attached to and reverently admiring of them. We're stuck in an age that has come to somehow believe, like an imbecile, that the mistakes of the past are somehow its greatest glories and triumphs.

Let's start from the top.

The first mistake was bailing out banks, instead of, say, middle classes, young people, old people, poor people, students, retirees, workers, or anyone, really.


Because we transferred bank debt onto the national balance sheet, a generation of ultraconservative politicians, grossly ignorant of history or economics then quickly shouted "but we're broke!"

Now, because wages had already been stagnant for many years  -  decades in America's case, from about the late 90s in Europe's case  -  it was easy for people to believe this myth.

"Hey, if I'm broke, then we must be, mustn't we?" reasoned the average voter.

But that isn't how economics work.


Countries can't really go "broke" or even "bankrupt"  -  and when times are tough for the average person, that's when societies should invest in people.


But people believed the myth, which was soon enough promulgated by an unholy alliance of ignorant journalists, devious think-tankers, and clueless pundits.


"We're broke!"  -  the second mistake.

What do you do if you're broke?


You tighten your belt. And so societies began a vicious program of slashing and cutting. They eroded every aspect of the social contract  -  from education to healthcare to media to finance.


In America, in particular, the costs of these things began to skyrocket.


The myth of "we're broke! We'd better tighten our belts!!" was exactly backwards  -  the less that societies spent on these goods, the more expensive they got, and so the poorer people got  -  but no one explained this to people well, often, or even at all.


This was the third mistake,


Austerity caused what it always does  -  you'd think people would come to their senses, but in fact, it makes people swing harder to the extreme right.


Why is that? Well, because the poorer that they get, the less that they think anyone else deserves any kind of social support, investment, safety nets, stability, or security  -  they begin to contest these very things and covet them from their neighbors.


So a kind of wave of cruelty swept across societies, a degeneration of moral fiber, of shared spirit, of humanity and decency.


By this point, it was probably already too late. But here is what happened next. People, who had been made cruel, mean, and foolish by sudden poverty, were easy prey for demagogues.


The fourth mistake :

 societies swinging to the extreme right, denying each other what they all needed most (think about that for a second), at the precise moment that they needed to invest in each others' healthcare, education, finance, infrastructure, lives, futures.

So a new wave of demagogues swept the globe.


Trump and Erdogan led them, and soon, those in,

  • Germany

  • Hungary

  • Poland

  • Italy,



They incited and inflamed the sentiments of people who by now were hardened to the suffering of their neighbors.


Demagogues offered people a new kind of social contract:

if you join us in kicking out, denying, and excluding those who are not like us, then there will be more for the "real" people, the true volk.

Make America Great Again! The fifth mistake :

 the all-too predictable rise of demagogues, in the ruins of broken societies.

Now, at this juncture, you might wonder:

"well, why didn't anyone oppose them? Why were they allowed to rise?"

The problem was this.


Elites were so invested in the myth of their own success that they could not admit any of the above:

  • That the bailouts had been a mistake

  • That societies were never broke

  • That austerity was a foolish error

  • That the whole last few decades had been one great and tragic blunder, a colossal mismanagement of economy, polity, and society

So they simply whistled, cheered, and kept on crying, "but things are fine!" even as people's life expectancies began to fall, their incomes flat-lined, and their futures were siphoned off by hedge fund trading robots.


The sixth mistake : 

the hubris of elites, that made them too arrogant to admit their faults.

In other words, elites were counting on people's stupidity.


Yet the demagogues understood that people might be dumb, but they are not often stupid. They lent people a sympathetic ear  -  at least the majority, the heartland, the forgotten masses. They offered them moral support and emotional succor. They gave people a sense of grandiose optimism again.


And people, being dumb but not stupid, soon enough eagerly lined up to sign the new social contract they were offering, first by the hundreds, then the thousands, and by then, the demagogues were in high office.


The seventh mistake  :

demagoguery went mainstream, despite the repeated and strenuous warning of people who'd lived it before.

Today we are beginning to see just how terrible and lethal the social contract of the demagogues is.


The rule of law is being demolished, the media attacked, basic institutions of governance deconstructed, minorities scapegoated, police forces militarized, parallel institutions, little Gestapos and Stasis, emerging.


The human toll of all this is beginning to mount now  -  as it always does.

  • 5000 people were left to die in Puerto Rico

  • 1500 kids disappeared

  • Europe is marred by anti-semitism again

  • America is inflamed by racism and bigotry, as Nazis march proudly in the streets

  • The world is awash in tidal wave of filth and ugliness

But it's a mistake to only see the detritus in the flood, and not the force behind the flood.

One of Italy's proud new extremists put it very simply:

"People are willing to trade higher incomes for democracy," he generously explained.

History suggests he is not just right  -  he is so right he is understating the case...


Give a forlorn, bedraggled people a sense of optimism, hope, belonging, purpose, strength again  -  and they will give you their lives, their neighbors, their decency, their humanity, and even their history and futures, too.


They will do anything and everything for all that. Even turn a blind eye to people abandoned to die in the storm. Even put children and old women in the camps and ghettos, and proudly call it civilization.

But it is not civilization...


We made all these mistakes before once  -  each one, in precisely the same order, the same eerie sequence of ruin. That terrible decade, which still haunts humanity, was called the 1930s.

What a tragedy, then, it is to live in the second coming of apocalypse...