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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bread and Circus

Glad to see a voice of common sense among all the media hype about the London Olympics - in an article the stupendous insanity boiling around the London Olympics  which focuses on the incredible money being spent on things such as the security systems to ensure there are no protests let alone terrorism. Harold McMillan - a British Prime Minister in the 1960s - was once asked to suggest the collective name for a group of Prime Ministers and famously replied "a lack of Principles"! I think of this phrase whenever I think of the Organising Committee of Olympic games - the most aloof, out-of-touch and corrupt group of people one can imagine who inflict on hapless cities a modern-day equivalent of potlatch (burning of one's possessions as a sign of wealth and conspicuous consumption) . We should remember that the Athens Olympics were probably the straw that broke the camel's back in that country.
The Olympic spectacle has always crystallised two things: first, the unrivalled power of governments to lay on such gigantic and ludicrously wasteful spectacles; and second, whatever madness is swirling around the host country. Running, jumping and swimming, by comparison, will always be an added extra.In Moscow (1980), the Olympics displayed the vanities of what might be called late communism, just as the invasion of Afghanistan revealed fatal Soviet hubris. In Los Angeles (1984), the games embodied the decisive arrival of the consumer capitalism that has since eaten the planet (my favourite bits of the opening and closing ceremonies were Lionel Richie, and the 84 grand pianos). Beijing (2008) attested to the niceness of the Chinese state by forcibly moving 1.5 million people to clear the way for Olympic buildings and installations, and allowing no opening for any noises-off about such minor matters as Tibet. And Berlin in 1936 barely needs mentioning, though it's worth bearing in mind the subsequent comments of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee: "People are worried … by the fact that the 1936 games were illuminated by Hitlerite strength and discipline. How could it have been otherwise? On the contrary, it is eminently desirable for the games to be thus clothed, with the same success, in the garment woven for them over four years by each people."
The London games will be an expression of three of the most rotten aspects of our version of modernity: surveillance and the arms trade; out-of-control consumerism; and most spectacularly, the fact that the elites who make their money out of these things have been barely touched by the crisis that is ruining lives across the planet. The fact has been barely commented on, but needs repeating: no matter that this week sees thousands of disabled people having their income cut by £100 a week, or that endless areas of public provision are being hacked down at speed: the cost to the public of an orgy of corporate hospitality, is currently put at £11bn. £11bn! Meanwhile, the distance between 99.9% of people and the Olympic elite has been beautifully demonstrated by perhaps the event's most unpleasant bit of symbolism: those "Games lanes", along which dignitaries and sponsors will be sped to east London, while the rest of us sweat our way through likely gridlock.

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