Temptation of St Anthony
Madrid, Museo del Prado
Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times chief foreign affairs columnist has written a very fine column called, "Generation L and its fearful future". In Rachman's lexicon "L" stands for "lucky". He writes:
Those of us born in western Europe or the US have never really experienced hard times. Our parents and grandparents lived through world wars and the Great Depression. We have had decades of peace and prosperity.I think Rachman has hit the zeitgeist nail on the head here. I think my generation is probably the luckiest group of individuals in the history of humanity, even sinister things like the atom bomb worked in our favor.
Could that change? Perhaps Generation L has just had the luxury of an extended “holiday from history”, which is now coming to an end.
I for one having been born an American at the end of WWII have always had a deep affection for the atom bomb.
Without the restraining terror the atom bomb, the USA and the USSR would have surely fought WWIII with highly developed "conventional weapons" and judging what the contending armies were able to achieve with much more primitive stuff in World Wars One and Two, most of us of military age, in both countries probably including me, would have been killed or maimed. So I am all for nuclear proliferation: the more the merrier. I get the feeling that those, like the USA and Israel, who are afraid of others having the bomb are precisely those that would like to go to war. The great lesson of my youth is that mutual nuclear terror means peace.
If I were to pick a nit with Gideon Rachman, I would say that "Generation Ls" golden age really ends not now, but with the oil embargo and stagflation of the 70s and 80s. That was really the end of the genuine good times. That is when the economy lost its balance.
Intense smoke and mirrors have been applied since then to maintain the patient's healthy appearance… What we have now reminds me of the last scenes of Visconti's "Death in Venice", where the aging Dirk Bogarde goes into a barber shop and gets his hair and eyebrows dyed and his face powdered and rouged in order to enamor the teasing Tadzio; then he goes off to the beach and with the heat melting the hair dye and mixing with his sweat and the rouge, he has a heart attack in his beach chair and dies.
Dirk Bogarde would be the economy, the barber would be Alan Greenspan and Tadzio would be "the pursuit of happiness".
Now a new team of former Clintonites join with the providential Barack Obama to pump up the corpse with massive dose of economic Viagra to see if the old thing (the economy) will stand up just one more time.
Tadzio will probably turn out to be the destruction of the dollar, triple digit inflation and and a Wiemar America.
But I am not dismayed or depressed by all of this. Like Rachman, I believe that:
Long periods of peace and prosperity, however, are not always terribly interesting. Amid all the economic gloom, I do not think I am alone in feeling an odd excitement at the sense of living in uncertain and historic times.Frankly I think we need a good crisis… we need to tear out our hair in clumps and beat our chests and rend our garments and cover ourselves with ashes and scrape at our sores with a pot shard.
After the years of this bloated and fictitious, credit financed “prosperity”, crawling with neo cons and plenty of vieux cons, we need the mental and cultural equivalent of a high colonic enema.
Who knows, maybe somebody will finally write a truly great book again. DS