This is yet one more take on this years news events. Many commentators have been stating how remarkable this calendar year has been. Is this just good copy, does 2011 live up to the hype? For all the hyperbole, 2011 has been worth it. There have been so many political, natural and sociological events that have etched a profound mark on the timeline of history, the resonance of which, politically speaking might just echo long into the future.
Politically speaking, perhaps the most globally important thing to have happened has been the Arab Spring. A young fruitsellers self-immolation lit the touch paper for tenacious unflinching revolutions that created a domino effect from Tunisia to Syria. The power grab in the Maghreb may have had a happy ending, thus far but brutality and violence still looms large in Egypt. Protesters against the ‘security forces’ are being raped, injured and killed despite the removal of the 41 year dictatorship. Then there is still the slow unravelling of social order and stability in Yemen and more seriously Syria, where it is claimed more than 5,000 people have been killed by government forces.
The method in which the uprisings took place, through Twitter and Facebook, is a story in itself. That these modes of communication are now shaping capitalism and counter-culture as a parallel force, should be news enough. How we define our personal relationships to individuals and companies through things such as brand loyality or gainful employment have changed dramatically – and much of this development has happened through these platforms this year.
While the the Arab world was making big revolutionary waves, smaller but no less important waves where being made with the very same tools in New York and London, and 91 other countries by October, as the Occupy movement made headlines but not, according to it’s critics, creating political alternatives.
The aggregated number of people who showed their displeasure with capitalism while not available, runs to a considerable number. Occupy Wall Street attracted huge numbers for a continuous protest, in London Occupy created much more media interest than public support but had a small nucleus for backing has now branched out into other projects. While the ultimate aims were unclear for Occupy, the overall message struck a chord with many people now believing that the gap between haves and have-nots is not too dissimilar to the political models (and distribution of wealth) of developing economies, to whom the developed world sees itself as superior.
Tax breaks for the well-connected, stealth privatisation of key services and the continued spectre of a publically supported, failed financial sector continue to go against the mantra that “we are all in this together.”
The closest thing to revolution in the West came in August as four days of rioting shook the capital and affected Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. The unrest started after the shooting of Mark Duggan by the police, for resisting arrest, possesion of a firearm, and intent to murder a police officer. Initially the Met Police claimed that they returned fire after asking Duggan to stop his vehicle.
It was later known that Mark Duggan did not fire a gun, nor possesed a firearm. Unrest started in Tottenham, north London and spread through the capital – with many using this as a tenuous excuse to smash up local communities and set fire to both residences and businesses alike. JD Sports, a nationwide sportswear chain became an icon for riots, as looters smashed their way into the firm’s shops with many intent to steal trainers that they’d wanted rather than to protest the death of a seemly innocent man. To criticise the shortfalls of capitalism (for those that did, flimsily) with further evidence of [illegal] consumer behaviour, only seeks to enforce negative social policy through stereotyping. Indeed, 2011 was the year where inequality, privilege and exploitation became fully legitimised as a global phenomena.
During the summer the the phone hacking scandal re-emerged, costing Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation a full takeover of Sky TV and a leading Sunday newspaper title in the News of The World, which closed after widespread phone hacking was revealed. While not a new allegation levelled at the British press, public anger grew after allegations that Milly Dowler’s mobile had been hacked days after she had been abducted and killed, and before her body had even been found. Things took a turn for the surreal when Rupert Murdoch was hit with a shaving foam pie in the face upon give evidence to the House of Commons culture committee (see video above).
Further allegations have been made of common practices at The Sun and News of The World and potentially, many other newspaper titles. The Leveson Enquiry has taken evidence from a number of public profiles but is on-going and it’s results will probably have little effect on distracting people from the real issues, continuing to help multi-national media companies swell their coffers further.
Despite the growing use of technology and science in our every day lives, mother nature was there to remind us that natural forces can still wreak havoc in the 21st century. Arguably the most spectacular example of this happened in March, when Japan was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami within the space of a few hours. The loss of life and the damage to coastal settlements was truly horrific. If a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami were not enough for the Japanese to contend with, a nuclear power plant at Fukashima suffered meltdown, with a 20-mile radius exclusion zone still in place. The effects of this, will not be revealed for decades to come although many believe it could be more damaging to life than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986
Elsewhere, Turkey and New Zealand also suffered significant deaths due to earthquakes, with Christchurch suffering a 5.7 magnitude earthquake killing 182 people and continues to suffer tremors 10 months on.
Other significant natural disasters this year include a severe drought in Eastern Africa, where 30,000 children are said to have died from hunger and tropical storm Washi arrived in the Phillipines unannounced and took 1,200 lives.
Perhaps the most shocking news of 2011, due to its circumstances and location was the killing of 91 people in Norway by Anders Breivik a lone gunman who bombed government buildings in Oslo before killing 69 people at Workers Youth League of the Norwegian Labour Party camp on the island of Utoya, on 22nd July. Breivik has since been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was involved with far-right wing ideology and believed (surprise, surprise) that social ills have come about through ther islamification of Western Europe. His attacks on the WYL were motivated by his hatred of Marxism and leftist ideology, and it is alleged that Breivik had links to the English far-right, contacting groups like the English Defence League.
News that has been on-going and gathering increasing seriousness is the Euro crisis, where some have predicted that if the single currency fails there could well be a global depression on the scale of the 1930s. Is this likely to happen? Who knows, but for people in many parts of Europe it’s already happening and the economies of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (The the so-called “PIGS”) have already reached a point that will take many years from which to recover. Austerity packages have been the order of the day in the most robust of economies and the likelihood is, that the state will sede to the private sector in being the primary means of delivering traditional social support.
The previous 12 months has seen European leaders argue and dither not sure whether to put business, the electorate or pan-European interests first. What has become clear is that a two-speed Europe has started to form with the struggling Mediterranean economies (plus of course Ireland and Portugal, two countries on the very Western fringes of the continent) having to pay back debts to zone’s industrial powerhouses – notably Germany and France. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) have of course tried to quell the crisis by saddling Greek society with further debt bondage, and European leaders are said to have taken their begging bowl to China, to no avail. The Euro is on borrowed time.
The most interesting thing is that Greece and Italy, the two cradles of ancient civilisation have given rise to both the economic and cultural collapse of Western culture – by this I do not mean that they are responsible for it – both the Euro as a currency has been exceptionally bad for both countries and everyone bar the exceptionally wealthy. That the start of the ‘Chinese Century’ and Europe as the dominant cultural force be opened and closed with two ancient seats of civilisation is rather fitting. With America now punch-drunk and on the ropes, having outsourced itself and all it’s meaningful work to Asia, it’s unlikely that it will go down without a further fight.
However, 2012 will see the world take another giant stride towards Chinese cultural hegemony and with it a world of new rules and possibilities, and another year of jaw-dropping news.