“Unrestrained capitalism like the kind we’re experiencing right now with all its greed will in the end devour itself,” German Finance Minister Steinbrück
Well it had to happen. After the bling of the noughties we are having the beginning of the bang as the bubble bursts. To put it in layman’s terms the global economy has been acting like a teenage girl who had stolen her parents credit card and was buying everything in sight at the mall; it was fun for a while but it was always going to end in tears.
I recently saw a story about the opening of a new luxury department store in Egypt, it was catering for the growing hunger amongst young middle easterners for consumer goodies. On sale were handbags for $20,000US, what was the store called? Ego. Sums it all up really. The social landscape of the last ten years has been marked by conspicuous consumption; it has been ten years of Paris Hilton, iPods, Hummers, extreme makeovers, Jay Z and Louis Vuitton handbags. Greed became the norm, we got so used to it that we barely noticed that everyone’s ride had been pimped. A culture of insanity set in as no one was happy anymore with being healthy and free, we all wanted the lifesyles of the rich and infamous.
If any one image captures the zietgiest of the last ten years, it was the video of looters in New Orleans stealing Plasma Screen TV’s in a flooded city with no power. We had become a culture that was living beyond it’s means, our expectations of life had become inflated. We lived lives that were the most affluent and comfortable in human history, yet we wanted more. In the Trouble With Paris I write,
“in the hyperreality world, happiness is always just around the corner yet always out of reach. This sense of incompleteness powers the global economy. Happiness is always postponed; fulfillment and meaning can never be found. In many ways, it is like trying to reach the horizon; you can always see it and you can walk toward it, but it stays away at the same distance. Hyperreality is a “I will be happy when . . .” existence. The space following the “when” will be different for everyone and will constantly change. But the principle of postponing happiness is the same for everyone who operates in the hyperreal world. So no matter how affluent or comfortable our lives become, we will always be looking over our shoulder at something better.”
And thus this Hyperreality, this desire to live beyond our means, this disconnection from reality seems to have gripped that mysterious group of traders who seem to be at the wheel of the global economy. David Brooks writes in the New York times,
“These traders live in a high-tech version of Plato’s cave. They do not see reality directly. Instead they see the shadow of reality as it dances around in numbers on their computer screens.”
But now reality has crashed the hyperreal party. We are seeing the consequences of our culture’s credit card lifestyle. So now I pray, because this will hurt a lot of people, most of all it will hurt those at the bottom of the economic pile. Yet I also have hope, hope that sanity will return, that people will begin to question our culture’s hyperreal paper tigers. That people will see that there is another unseen reality that exists in our world. A reality that does not revolve around stocks, currencies and computer screens. A reality that is marked by shalom, righteousness and justice. A reality that is breaking out in our world, that we will see if we just can take our eyes off the dollar signs.