“You see, gentlemen, they have something to die for. They’ve discovered they’re a people. They’re awakening.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune
A few years ago my friends and I would often populate obscure bars of damp cities, debating politics, books, religion and movies in a carefree manner probably innate to our age. Endless armies rose and fell with our words and a new religion spread or perished under the pressure of modern thought. Plato awoke from the tomb to cast poets away from his polis once more and Hitchcock’s birds stalked mankind with renewed strength.
All of it was fantasy, a game to us. We molded the world in our minds and opposed it to the world of another, watching them clash under the dim lights of the bar. Once our interest faded and our eyes demanded rest, we carelessly floated back to our homes through the empty streets. The storm we had created while standing in its ever-calm eye disappeared as if never there and the world restarted itself. Our sleep was as peaceful as ever, troubled only by the bitter loss or a well-deserved victory in the debate.
And such was the state of the dare-I-say informed and cultured youth of Eastern Europe and maybe even the whole continent. Our objects of interest were that of history and theory, a realm of frightful speculation and daring thought. Under the protection of forgotten treaties and threatening bombs, our minds wandered outside of reality but within its possibilities in search of excitement.
Meanwhile, our politicians lay in the cozy positions into which they were voted, debating among themselves a vague new law or distant program of governance. But the economic motor slowed down under the weight of increasingly big business and banks that were “too big to fall”. Thus politicians learned the language of money, trumpeting new measures in order to fuel the machine and its inherent need of repair. Slowly the concept of “economic warfare” set itself in the mind of Gabriel Tarde’s public through media-ensured repetition. PMs, MPs and party leaders seemed warring economists that led numbers into the fray of battle, each wielding the weapon of choice, be it industry, agriculture, small business encouragements or projects meant to attract foreign (Chinese?) investors.
Economic disturbances meant, for the countries surrounding Western Europe’s increasingly weakened ivory tower, that “the sooner, the better” morphed into “the closer to Europe, the better”. An apparent new wave of immigrants, accompanied by the media and right-wing ruckus, created an outbreak of chilling xenophobia among the frightened westerners that clutched to their job security. In the background extremism became the norm, the accessibility of internet and the avid campaign of news editors for viewers propagating teachings of religious violence, convincing teenagers to cross the world in order to join a cult responsible for televised beheadings.
The same outcry for Europe was met with hostility in Ukraine and barricades rose again to be defended day after day. Politicians no longer faced the barricades head-on as February Revolution’s Barot under the eyes of Alexis de Tocqueville, but hid under swinging batons and smoke screens, demanding votes with a broken voice in the aftermath. The sound of marching armies broke out again after decades of peaceful silence and land, along with citizens and cities, changed administrative hands by force. Lists of names appeared, opposing Mossadegh (overthrown), Jacobo Arbenz (exiled), Jaime Roldos (died in plane crash) and Omar Torrijos (died in plane crash) to Anna Politkovskaia (shot), Aleksandr Litvinenko (poisoned), Mihail Beketov (handicapped by beating), Stanislav Markelov (shot), Anastasia Baburova (shot), Natalia Estemirova (shot), Alexei Devotcenko (found dead), Alexei Navalny (jailed) and finally Boris Nemtsov (shot). Each powerful hand extended to the confused masses was dripping with blood.
A hallowing chill slowly found its way lower on the collective spines of the European citizens, lingering on every inch of flesh and bone. But we no longer lived in the age of tanks and soldiers. They were references of the past and residents of our realms of speculation. Destruction had been avoided long ago, by braver and wiser men. Our armed defenders were active only in distant lands of unbearable heat and ever-present sand, unseen and sometimes forgotten by the public eye. Corruption was still its focus, as its scope was easier to comprehend and its uncovering would stroke the class antagonism that transformed into financial ranking. Each time an upper-layer name was crossed off and vans took the formerly powerful away in handcuffs, the crowds shrieked in pleasure. Alas, this was merely a convenient distraction, mirroring only the internal weakness of countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.
But the sound of swords clanging against shields traveled beyond borders and the first sensation of fear slithered into the governments of the East. Material realities became evident. Our armies are ill-equipped, our soldiers few in number. But should that matter in the post-atomic age? Which commander orders the storming of a building when whole cities can be turned to dust with the flip of a switch? Do bullets and hand grenades matter when shock waves lay whole armies to the ground and drones set fire to neighborhoods? Media has to understand that war is no longer a product they can use to narcotize the public with and governments need to understand the responsibility of the act of governing.
Finally, we have awoken to reality. Finally, we have left the dream we started in the dim-lighted bar. We are not immortal, but young. We are not invincible, but fragile. But we do give shape to our own future and we are responsible for every second of it. Our leaders are not mere topics of debate, but decision-makers that within their mandate, decide our future. In the end, it was an autocratic ruler that awoke us.
John Perkins – Confessions of an Economic Hitman