Wake-up siren

September 11, 2015

This is the season of slosh. People you never hear from one Rosh Hashana to the next — forgotten family, former friends, discontinued business and commercial relationships — all re-emerge via greetings and messages, most of them inane, stupid or trite. Where once these were physical items written on paper and placed in an envelope, to which a stamp was affixed — evidence of human input, with the possibility of actual thought involved, perhaps even some personal recognition — now it is all virtual, mass dissemination, untouched by human hand and disconnected from human brain; at best robots, at worst zombies.

Perhaps no New Year season since 1945 has seen so total a disconnect between the vapid banality pumped out (in every language) in electronic ‘cards’, and between the appalling situation in the world beyond the Facebook page and the Twitter twaddle. Between the virtual reality in which most middle-class Westerners, including Israelis, live most of their waking hours, and the real reality which they do their best to ignore, shut out or dismiss with mantras and clichés.

The commercialisation of the Jewish New Year — as of religious holidays of all creeds, everywhere — is so far advanced that most people are unaware that apple-and-honey, the ubiquitous symbol of the wish for ‘a sweet year’ (whatever that means) has almost nothing to do with the substance of the festival itself. More relevant by far, although included with decreasing frequency in the slosh and froth, is the shofar. This, over and above its biblical roots, has genuine symbolic value in that its plaintive wail is supposed to act as a wake-up call.

The steady disappearance of the shofar is a fair reflection of the increasing desire of people not to wake up, but to be left to molder undisturbed in their world of make believe. This idea has obvious religious relevance, but it is no less pertinent in the world of money, markets and making and losing wealth — which, of course, has nothing to do with religion.

The sheeple and the elite

This column has adopted and employed the concept of ‘the sheeple’, a term used to describe the mass of the general public who do not wish — and/ or are unable — to think for themselves and are shepherded by the media/ celebs circus. These shepherds push the sheeple wherever the elite — “TPTB’, the powers that be — want them to go. By the same token, they are prevented from going elsewhere, in their thoughts, with their money and, especially, in person.

This last aspect is critical, as we now see in Europe: the process of gradual implosion of the euro, the European Union and European culture has now been shoved forcefully into high gear by the mass movement of refugees from the Middle East. These are people who were previously prevented from going anywhere by the regimes under which they lived; then they were blocked from reaching where they wanted to go by the regimes of the target countries. Now they have, by sheer weight of numbers, overpowered the first group and are set to overrun the second.

But middle-class Western people have no interest in moving their persons. The issue is their money which the shepherds, via their control of the central banks and the financial system have succeeded in channeling into assets carrying high levels of risk. In some cases this higher risk is recognised, but the resultant expressions of concern are assuaged via various mechanisms — including greed (“you TOO can enjoy high returns” and shame (“why be a fool and accept next-to-nothing in your bank deposit”…). In others, the risk itself is concealed or simply denied by endless repetition of misleading mantras (“bonds are safer than shares”; “property values always rise over time”).

Yet even within this ‘1984’-style world, the mechanisms of deliberate distortion and denial are coming under unprecedented pressure, in every sphere — geo-political, socio-cultural and economic-financial. In the financial markets, the pressure has been building up for a long time, but in recent weeks and months the signs of strain and indications of imminent implosion have become impossible to ignore and are undeniable — unless you have carved yourself a niche in la-la-land and simply don’t want to know.

Wake up and take cover

The purpose of a siren is to break through the cocoon in which people live their daily lives and notify them, urgently, that they need to take action — usually to protect themselves. An air-raid siren or missile alert, of the sort Israelis know all too well, is designed to jolt them into immediate action, to protect their physical person. The shofar, in rabbinic thought, is meant to spur them into awareness of a spiritual threat and trigger a suitable response.

In an era of electronic markets and electronic money — the global elite now wants to make cash illegal, but that’s a topic for  another time — there is no more sound, let alone sirens. No hubbub in the trading pit, no shouting on the exchange floor, just the hum of servers powering super-computers that conduct super-fast (and hyper-unfair) trading.

But when prices make multi-percentage moves within minutes, and cumulative moves in both directions of 10-20% in the course of a single trading day, they are creating an electronic siren with the same urgent message: snap awake — and take cover, while there is still time.

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