Life in Europe Without a Future

While avoiding work yesterday, I wandered to El Pais’s website and found a link to a live feed of the 15-M anniversary demonstrations. Tens of thousands of people were in attendance singing and banging drums. The broadcast included a few inserts and in one of these a reporter asked a young man how he saw the future of the movement. He smiled and answered the silly question: “We don’t have a future.” I’ve been corresponding with a Greek friend of mine and although we have somehow assumed a fairly clinical tone in our discussions about politics, it’s pretty obvious he’s not very hopeful either. He has some plans for the future, but he also sees his country has been ravaged by austerity measures and that they will run out of money soon.

The thought of living without a future sounds melodramatic at first, but melodrama does not motivate tens of thousands of people to take to the streets, move billions of euros within the eurozone, or help elect neonazis into the Greek parliament. Most of us have some idea of what it is like to live with uncertainty, but it’s difficult to see what happens when there really is no future. For my parents the plan was to get married, make babies, work and buy a house. I can’t see myself doing any of these things right now. But there is something even more profound going on in the current crisis. Not many people believe that Europe’s problems can be solved with traditional politics. And the problems are many: the financial crisis, massive unemployment, growing unrest, you name it. We have grown used to the hopelessness brought on by the crisis and we are finding ways of living with it instead.

It might be a philosophical question, but I don’t know what kind of philosopher would philosophize when he can’t see beyond the present. Living fully in the present goes against human nature as well. Dr Johnson famously said that he who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man. Easier said than done. The beautiful Spaniards shown in the broadcast talked of revolution with very human and infectious smiles on their faces. Humorists might make light of the fact that futures were the thing that got us into this mess to begin with, but it’s grotesque to laugh where a smile will suffice. Besides, my Greek friend isn’t amused and I would hate to joke at his expense. Neither of us can afford it.

Assuming either an optimistic or a pessimistic attitude to living without a future is impossible, because there is nothing toward which one should assume the attitude. The answers are not forthcoming and it’s understandable, because the problem is that the answers have disappeared from the horizon. The stalemate has begun to grow into the new norm. Perhaps fairly soon we can feel genuine nostalgia for days gone by, when everything actually was better. That is, if we can forget the mess that became of that better life. Getting used to the crisis is different from accepting it as the norm and this should be pointed out from time to time. The Spaniards have reminded us all how important it sometimes is to raise your voice in protest just for the sake of protesting. Let’s hope they have the courage to continue.

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