Living in the age of uncertainty

The year is ending and it leaves us with the feeling that nothing is as it was a year ago. The age of globalization is rapidly sliding into an era of uncertainty, where the reference points, the theories and the fundamentals of previous years are crumbling – from our relationship with the climate and the weather to the global economy and our future as pensioners. This sense of uncertainty translates into a general lack of confidence in our leadership – we vote for parties but we don’t expect them to govern well. In Greece, just three months after New Democracy’s re-election, and after George Papandreou’s renewal as PASOK’s leader, 45 percent of voters don’t see either party as capable of governing. A poll conducted for Kathimerini and Skai by the Public Issue company found also that 69 percent of respondents believe Greece is headed in the wrong direction, with only 20 percent believing that the country is on the right course. Furthermore, 43 percent do not feel at all secure about the future, while a further 31 percent are «not quite sure» about it. In other words, 74 percent feel insecure about the future. How could it be otherwise? Every day we hear about climate change and are told that if we do not change our own lives radically, the Earth will be destroyed. And yet we see the inability of the state and government at every level to handle even the most basic issues. In just one example, recycling bins, which entered our lives so belatedly, are overflowing and now contribute to the rubbish scattered across our streets. The countryside too is full of garbage – in more than 3,000 illegal dumps but also on every corner of provincial roads and in ravines, where people dump rubble and rubbish at will. One could argue that this is how Greece has always been, so what makes things worse today? But the context is all. The fires of 2007 left deep wounds on the environment and on the conscience of citizens. A large section of the population that had been indifferent to public issues has woken. It is clear that the public debate in Greece is changing: It will no longer be confined to politicians and journalists. Today the people demand answers from those whose performance so far has done nothing to instill confidence. The sense of uncertainty will grow. The same applies to other issues of vital importance, such as the social security system, education, unemployment and the rising cost of living – we keep hearing how threatening these all are but we see nothing approaching a solution to them. Beyond our borders we see the uncertainty caused by the Kosovo conundrum and understand that Athens’s dispute with Skopje will not have a happy ending. Further away, we see a planet with one superpower – but a superpower that has lost much of its credibility and is itself in search of direction. Above all, though, that which has shaken our era is the end of the theories with which the world functioned in the past few decades. The collapse of communism in 1989 signaled the triumph of capitalism and open markets. But today the open markets have exhausted themselves. The British government (of all things!) is considering nationalizing the Northern Rock bank in a bid to stem the tide of losses caused by the mindless policy of lending large amounts of money to people who would not be able to repay it, mainly in the United States. (In Greece, we do not have the same problem, but there is an army of people who borrowed at a mortgage rate of 4 percent that has now climbed to 6 percent and it is very likely that sometime these hostages will need help.) Suddenly, last Thursday the five biggest central banks in the world coordinated their efforts to ease liquidity on international markets, in yet another signal that the unquestioned triumph of the open markets is in doubt. Putting the brakes on the runaway train of the global economy (or attempting to) is not a bad thing, but it underlines the fact that things are changing across the globe and no one knows which theory will form the basis of our future. This brings us to the other great question: Who will govern us and how? The exercise of power depends on confusion – citizens vote for those who persuade them that they know the way out of the bog, or at least are in possession of a compass. Today, though, no one can convince anyone that he knows where we are nor where we should be headed.