Don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing my level best to ignore the increasingly disturbing financial news coming in from – well, from everywhere – for several months now. Fortunately, ignoring the financial news is second nature to me anyway. I’m a helpless business dunce. My brain won’t let me even understand that stuff, let alone find it interesting. Whenever someone tries to explain even the most rudimentary economic principle to me, I can feel my entire mind glazing over. Entering shutdown mode. Protecting itself from boredom by willfully slipping into a coma. My eyes remain open, I occasionally even grunt, but my inner being has wandered several thousand miles away. Sometimes I’m rudely awoken by a cold strand of drool dripping on to my collarbone. If, as I regain consciousness, their explanation is still going, I wipe my chin clean and go back to sleep.
But recently – well, it’s become harder to ignore, hasn’t it? Every other news story seems to open with blood-curdling proclamations about Greece or the eurozone or the global economy, and although I can scarcely comprehend the nuts and bolts of the issues involved, I recognise despair when I see it. The business pages read like the “down” entries from a manic-depressive’s diary, in which the situation is bleak and can only get bleaker.
Back in 2008, when the bubble burst, it seemed the financial world had been asleep for years but had now been shaken awake. Unfortunately, it reacted by closing its eyes and trying to resume that comforting dream it was having about endless free money and cake. But it can’t get back to sleep because the alarm’s still going off. Oh, and the house is on fire. We’d only imagined we had all that money, and now everybody’s penniless – apart from the people whose fault it was, the ones we bailed out by forfeiting our own futures. They’re absolutely rolling in it. Which is just as well, because the way things are going they’ll need to spend millions sealing themselves inside a mob-proof steel casing behind a ring of razor wire and trained attack dogs. Seriously, if I were a top banker, I’d plough that multimillion bonus into developing an all-over protective exoskeleton that farts teargas at the touch of a button, just so I might survive an extra 15 minutes or so when the Grand Reckoning arrives.
In the meantime, I keep seeing articles with headlines such as “Has capitalism failed?” – and I’m surprised by how worrying I find that thought. Don’t get me wrong; anyone with half a brain in their noggin can see drastic change is necessary if all seven billion of us are going to continue to flat-share the one planet. But the moment you start talking about the complete collapse of capitalism, I start to worry about two things, the first being the future of Shreddies (more on that later) and the second being the prospect of a massive global war.
As a species, we tend to hold massive global wars when we’re having an identity crisis – a bit like a character in a soap opera tearfully smashing up their living room to demonstrate how upset they are at the climax of a particularly harrowing story arc, but worse because millions perish. (If you think that sounds like I’m trivialising the terrifying prospect of a massive global war, you’re right. It’s a psychological defence mechanism designed to stop myself screaming while I type.)
The complete collapse of capitalism would bring on an identity crisis of staggering proportions. You mean we listened to all those advertising jingles for nothing? We memorised PIN codes and coveted “brands” and shuffled round shopping malls in search of personal validation – and we were wasting our time? And those eerie puppet people who dressed like Apprentice contestants and sat on the Bloomberg channel burping out phrases such as “collateralised debt obligations” and “securitisation” and “facilitate” and “drill-down” and “going forward” – those people were boggle-eyed bullshitting lunatics and the entire system was a tosser’s delusion? None of us could ever have guessed. We didn’t have to guess. We knew. We knew.
We knew in our hips and our hearts and our heads that this stuff was nonsense, but we just had to keep going. We had to, didn’t we? Because that’s what everyone else was doing.
But now, to be told the entire backdrop to our lives may have just been a Crayola sketch on a suspended bedsheet, not a real landscape at all – well, that’s a little scary. When I contemplate the complete collapse of capitalism, I feel like a minor background character in a video game – a faceless pedestrian in Grand Theft Auto, say – being told the powers that be have just discovered a fatal bug in the software and the whole thing may be deleted any second. I may not have enjoyed trudging through my dystopian city, but it was all I knew. Will the pavement now be deleted along with the walls? I have no way of knowing.
If the entire global economy goes down the wazoo (or up the wazoo – I guess it depends on where the wazoo’s orifice is located), all currencies may be rendered meaningless. But if we adopt some kind of medieval bartering system instead, how will I pay for my Shreddies? I for one refuse to perform sexual favours at the checkout. Will we still have checkouts? Or Shreddies themselves? Even if we do, I bet we won’t have the “Frosted” and “Coco” varieties any more. Just plain standard Shreddies, eaten from a bowl fashioned from a dented hubcap, purchased in exchange for a hand job during a massive global war.
Anyway, like I say, I’m doing my level best to ignore all that. And so far, I’m succeeding.
Charlie Brooker, Guardian