An outrage which thrives on illusions about crisis, democracy and the market economy
In Spain, Greece, France and elsewhere, large crowds of people, most of them young, assemble in downtown squares and protest. They show their deep disappointment, describe themselves across all national borders as the “outraged”, and find a common ground in their refusal to appreciate or accept how they are being treated by their governments. They unfurl banners that say:“We are not against the system – the system is against us.”
No question, they’ve got that right: the system is against them. A general attack on their living conditions has taken place and continues to take place. The life they have eked out until now is not only becoming increasingly difficult, but impossible on an ever larger scale. More and more people, including and especially the oft-cited “well-educated young people,” are to be consigned to long term unemployment; governments are mercilessly cutting social programs, etc. The “system” is taking away the prospects to which they are accustomed. They counter that they aren't asking for anything unreasonable; they just want to be able to continue to live that life, that they are just ordinary people and can't understand why they are being given such a raw deal:“We are ordinary people. We are like you: people, who get up every morning to study, work or find a job, people who have family and friends. People who work hard every day ...” (Manifesto of the Spanish Demonstrators)
But what makes the “outraged” think that by referring to themselves as ordinary people they have acquired something like an entitlement, a right that the authorities show them some consideration? And are the authorities really committing a violation if they redefine what it is to be an ordinary person? Because that is what is happening and that is what the “outraged” refuse to realize.
They say they are used to working hard. They also say they are used to going through life with modest demands – they carry this like a seal of approval when they say that they are not demanding anything unreasonable, just the status quo. So they assert their willingness to – keep on! – doing their duties as a small cog in this system. But the thing is, they never sought out this state of normality, and they certainly didn’t bring it about; it was arranged for them by the authorities. The latter’s laws determine down to the smallest detail what normality looks like and what people have to do to get by in it. They have defined the only way people can earn a living, or how they have to get by without any earnings, how they have to start and organize a family, how and whether they can afford retirement or not, etc., etc. In brief, in the normality which the “outraged” want to take back, they were nothing but dependent variables, pawns of the state. If they say: “We had a chance which you now take away from us,” then that was a “chance” which the state had established – not for their sake, but according to its calculations and its benefits. That hasn’t changed at all, which is proven by their governments’ current actions and which the “outraged” themselves experience for themselves and complain about. On the basis of the laws laid down by the state, the politicians, that is, those who are responsible for state interests, make the laws with which they create the “new normal,“ the normality needed by the state – and if that means casting aside the basic needs of the people, then that is how the state implements what it needs. The “system” is not meant to accord with the basic needs of the people; rather, the latter’s living conditions are made to accord with what the system needs for its ends. It makes clear how pathetic the calculations of the so-called “little people” are in relation to the calculations that count in this “system.” And what the “system” currently deems necessary is no secret; the politicians are entirely open about the fact that this society is based on and thrives on the functioning of the credit system – and if its “rescue” comes first, then not only is that more important than the normality longed for by the “outraged,” but the latter is also incompatible with the rescue of the credit system. In the words of the Greek Finance Minister: “Our measures are harsh and unfair, but there is no way around them.”
The “outraged” say: “The system is against us.” So they see that the “system” is not willing to put up with their livelihood. But as the first half of their slogan assures, they are very clear about the fact that they are not willing to show the same intransigence in return: “We are not against the system.” According to what they say themselves, the “system” has announced a fight against them, but they do not want to reciprocate this fight. The only way they care to deal with the antagonism between their own needs and those of the system is by pointing to it in outrage: They beseech the politicians, assuming that nobody could actually want to harm ordinary citizens in this way, and that the people simply don’t deserve that kind of treatment. The whole protest is permeated by a persistent lack of comprehension, a constantly repeated complaint summarized in the cry that this just can’t be happening!
But it is happening – so the “outraged” try to explain the truly incomprehensible. They do not come to the conclusion, or rather, they refuse to come to the conclusion that the “system” now as before acts according to its own needs and that the “outraged” now as before are only the material for pursuing those needs. They can only explain the truly incomprehensible by assuming some grave deviation or violation that has brought the “system” into conflict with itself. If the “system,” which once allowed an ordinary life, now suddenly makes that impossible, then they assume that this can only be because some evil will has imposed itself. Instead of looking at the reason for the way the “system“ is managed, they are looking for someone to blame in the “system.“ That can of course not have been the ordinary people like you and I, but only “the powerful,” who have been irresponsible and who have failed in their primary task of preserving “normality,” because they are only looking out for themselves and have sold out on all that is good and true. In short: The “system” is not managed not on the basis of its own laws, but has gone bad in a single violation of the law – wherever you look, it is pervaded by “corruption.” In the words of a manifesto:“We are all concerned and angry about the political, economic, and social outlook which we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice. This situation has become normal, a daily suffering, without hope.” (True Democracy Now! Manifesto)
First, it is a riddle why the same politicians, businessmen and bankers who guaranteed and were responsible for the old and supposedly bearable normality should have suddenly embarked on criminal careers. Second, it is a mistake to denounce these characters, the Zapateros and Papandreous, even if one is impudent and demands “away with them all!” The protesters thereby only reject the people in office, not their legitimate authority. But what would change if new people came to occupy the same offices? Third, the fuss about corruption is ridiculous, because what is personal enrichment compared to the force that these politicians are entitled to exercise over and against others in line with all the rules of democracy? But all that is of no interest to the “outraged” – the main thing is they have found their culprits and can actually continue to believe in a truly “good system.” It doesn’t occur to them to fight against the culprits now with all their might, rather they want to make an impression on the “powerful” by referring to their own “helplessness“ and lack of a “voice.” Why do they think they are able to score points against the “powerful” with that kind of a complaint? Can they really not imagine anything different than that their living conditions continue to be set by politicians, businessmen and bankers, that they must continue to conform to their orders? “Everyday suffering without any hope,” they say pathetically – they want to continue to be able to hope. They themselves are “helpless and without a voice” and can only hope that the “powerful” come to their senses, as only they can again provide a better normalcy.