From Iceland — Catastrophology


Published October 29, 2009


Q: Will they ever stop speaking about billions?
A: Blablabla … billions … blablabla-blabla … billions and billions and blabions, blablabions and blablablabions. Blablabions? Blablablabions. This was a random sample from Icelandic public debate in 2007. Here comes a random sample anno 2009: BLABLABLA! BILLIONS! BLABLABLA-BLABLA—BILLIONS AND BILLIONS, BLABIONS AND BABLIONS, BABLION YOU! YOU BABLIONIC LITTLE BABLIONEE!
Ontology is the field within philosophy where it is debated what exists, and what it means for it to exist. Ontological debate is not needed for those who follow the news at all: what exists is money. Even non-existent money, which is the most discussed sort, exists in its own special, but all too real way.
There used to be an escape route. For the better half of the 20th century, there were countries where people spoke of something besides money. According to historians, well, according to the pundits of neo-liberalism anyway, people in these places did not have much else to speak about, no coffee-table items of curiosity, and the little they had they dared not mention out of fear that a secret agent might overhear, and wrong words uttered in their presence might get you a one way ticket to Siberia. A cold and dreary place where people just worked, worked and worked until they died, in the gloomy silence of a Kiesloski film. Well, at least they did not have to suffer this endless, no but absolutely endless, delusional talk of imagined things. Imagined, made-up, gone with the wind, and still as absolutely real as God used to be, as made clear with every second word uttered in this mad little place.
Now, since there is no place to visit East of the Wall anymore, for those wanting a brief pause from these absurd non-items of fascination, what is there to do?
Perhaps you’ve thought of staying somewhere alone for a while. That may help—you can rent a cottage, or even borrow a place somewhere on the countryside, there’s enough room available in the small towns that used to be fishing villages. Whether here or there, though, can you be trusted to think of anything else, even if you lock yourself up without radio and internet, bring food, bring some books of poetry and give no one the address, thoroughly hermitize for a few days?
Furthermore: Can you afford it? Tourists pay billions every year to escape talk of billions in a safari or by hiking through the silent eventless wilderness of glaciers. There will be a bill. Try travelling in an area where you don’t speak the language, you will still hear billions mentioned on the radio, in the café, in your sleep—billions sound the same everywhere. And yes, they also speak of money in the third world, especially when you’re around. They may not mention billions right away; you’d get a break from that, if you travel in Burma, for example. But they’ll be after your dollars, explicitly, on every street corner. You, who hardly have any. You’ll likely have to pay for food and lodging anyway and one day anguish awaits you as your minor fractions of a billion have dispersed like … mercenaries. Those opportunistic fractions.
The same goes for other ideas: pursuing your studies, given that your field is neither business nor economics, it won’t get you far away from the world of billions anyhow. Study literature and you will find that since the lost generation, writers have tended to stay in any country with an undervalued currency, fleeing all booms like a herd. Paris became popular when the Franc was low. Study anything and you’ll spend the rest of your life applying for sponsorships and stipendia.
Activism sounds wholesome and neat, but perhaps you just don’t see yourself as an anarchist—perhaps you endorse hierarchies, you may not be anti-power as such, just anti-wrong-powers. Anti-other-people’s-power. You may not like the dress code, their noises, you may not like all the fun they seem to be having and you’re not sure you’d get laid as an anarchist or that the anarchists would like to lay you. The police seem to get all worked up about them—and besides, they seem to be following the news too, getting all worked up over other people’s money. And you, you just want some peace.
It is not there. Our languages used to be warzones, but they were conquered by billions. And then looted. There will be ceaseless talk of billions everywhere until judgement falls. Lucky for you, even if the 2008 economic crisis fell short of being the end of the world, a rumour is spreading in London that 2011 might just be it. And if not, there is the looming ecological catastrophe. Just hang in there. 

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