The Market Is The Message - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The Market Is The Message

The Market Is The Message

Published October 20, 2011

Strangely enough the emphasis on the importance of the market has not been reduced in Icelandic society after the crash. You would think people would be interested in something other than the market after its failure, but this is not the case. While Spain, the Arab countries and now even Israel have their own mass movements of “indignados,” spreading new hope, Iceland’s indignation and political awakening seem to be fading fast while a new turn is being taken, a turn where, once again, the market is the message. What do I mean by the market being the message? I’m pinching this from philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase “The medium is the message” to express the fact that all medium is influenced by its form to the extent where the message that the medium brings us IS in fact one with its form. The medium is thus constantly talking about itself.
I should rather say that “the medium is the market”—meaning what I’m trying to say, that Icelandic media is overflowing with news about the market. The news is the same as before, only with a negative twist: Before, the news told us that everything was booming and the rate of this or that was sky high, now they say just the opposite, plus we should be worried about a new worldwide economic meltdown. Why? Why should we worry about that? The speculative realm of our minds has limited space, and there is absolutely nothing we can do about some prophecy that a new economist has just brewed up. In terms of speculation, we have the possibility of filling our minds with something completely different: literature, music, the new constitution.
The speculation about the new Icelandic constitution says that congress will probably kill it. That it’s too democratic for this world, they will never let us vote on a constitution made by citizens voted directly by the people. Constitutions have usually not been made like this; the founding fathers of the United States wrote theirs in secret, and it was mostly penned by Thomas Jefferson. Then it was presented to the people. In Spain they wrote a constitution some thirty years ago. The fact is that a large part of it leaked out before it was ready. As it happens, an important Spanish intellectual read it and found it full of mistakes and trite material that had nothing to do with a constitution. He wrote an article in the paper, pointing out its mistakes. What happened? Thirty years ago a worried Spanish president phoned the writer and asked him to visit him and elaborate on the subject in person.
Would this happen today in Iceland, a much smaller society? Probably not. As far as I know, the government has not even invited the authors of the constitution to a meeting to expand on the subject and discuss it. What will they do? I don’t know. Nobody seems to be willing to ask the government, the news is filled with items about the market. Nothing can be more important for a society than a constitution. Yet the Icelandic public television has not seen fit to stage a public debate about it.
In many ways, the new constitution looks good. It is a reform, and even goes beyond simply being an improvement on the old one. But it still has flaws. According to the present constitution, my vote has less value than a vote from the countryside. These are remains of an old policy, according to which a certain balance should be kept between the city of Reykjavík and the rural areas; the population of rural Iceland should be more or less equal to that of the city. This policy flunked as early as 1950.
Today there is no real policy of balance between the two worlds of Iceland, happy as I would be to have one. The thing is more or less out of control with some remnants of the old policy still lurking around, meaning it’s much easier for someone from rural Iceland to get voted into congress than it is for someone from Reykjavík. No constitution in the world has different kinds of vote, where some of them weigh more than others. While this has been largely corrected in the new constitution, Iceland is still not one constituency, meaning that my vote in fact still weighs less than my friends in Þórshöfn on Langanes.
Why is this still so? We have no way of knowing. For the government is not opening up any discussion or publicly seeking a solution or pondering openly whether there should be an election about the constitution or not. Why no public meeting with members of the constitutional board? My hunch says that the government is looking for a great way of turning the thing into something they can present to the media, a piece of marketing.

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