People

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?


The picture is by Blake, and depicts Pity and the child of Los, the blacksmith of the heart and fallen prophet who gets her 'up the duff'.

People are such an odd blend of culture and learned behaviours. I'm growing increasingly suspicious of any opinions in themselves, by which I mean--and you'd expect someone who was trained as an historian more than a barrister to write this--that none of us ever really leave the matrix of experiences and context that exists behind our eyes. Me and my multiple identities....

I write that after turning over two things on a long walk back from a small seminar job in Marylebone the other night. Past the Dorchester, past the homeless tents near the toilets in the tunnels beneath Marble Arch. Past the shops shifting volume and not value as they hurtle towards rent day and deflation or stagflation.

Many are blaming the present banking crisis, which I think has a long way to run, on President Clinton's initiative to include the poor in sub-prime mortgages, for instance. It is a way of identifying an absurd recipient of largesse, and seems to be a litmus test for particular sorts of conservative. However--and people should always bear this in mind--the crisis we find ourselves in, and which indirectly has just fired a woman who has been running her store for twenty six years with her husband who I have just been talking to whilst buying a bottle of wine--is a banking crisis.

Banks misused derivatives. Bankers turned offices into shops for mortgages and loans, which they used as raw material for derivative operations that allowed them to leverage and evade rules about capital. They then hid how much they had abused the concept of mixed collateralised obligations, which were meant to blend risky, safe, and so called 'mezzanine debt', or spread it regionally. If banks had been telling the truth about their debts and not hiding in shadow investment vehicles out of greed, the hundred billion or so of sub-prime debts would easily have been contained by the apparent half a trillion of bank capital that they said they had, but which we now know doesn't exist.

So why do people still blame the American poor for taking loans? The loans were mad--ponzi-scheme mad. But the way the derivatives market was apparently working, they made sense, and there was a certain sort of wisdom in the crowds who responded by apparently buying their homes for a short time. People want that sort of thing. It's a tic of humanity--to want the legal appearance of ownership even if a bank actually has it. I suppose some thought that that was better than spending their precious, short lives renting. I really wish a system would develop, however, in which people would see that a mortgage mostly means that a bank owns your house unless you have sufficient equity to fend them off when they 'over-exuberate'.

The second thing I thought was telling this week, and my friend Martin Kelly has published on it with a more instant humanity than I, was the condition of those caught in the Cumbrian floods. As Martin points out, BBC types will launch an appeal for foreign countries, some of whom are now nominally richer than us, who are inundated by floods at the drop of a hat. They'll wave the canard of sea level rises in Fiji to justify taxing the little people with aplomb.

But why do the media take one trip to Cumbria, hastily survey those who have lost everything, then head home and blame people for wanting houses that were built near flood plains or feel satisfied in some way that what they at their dinner parties falsely term climate change is hurting someone other than them?

Is it because many of the houses and flats in London now purchased come surrounded on surveys by drawings of waves to symbolise flood warnings that make plans look like pirate treasure maps? Is it because they escaped and the working people didn't?

There is a local Cumbrian Appeal, by the way--it isn't getting much coverage, but you can obtain details of how to do something for it here, if you wish.

Oh, I know. Facts are facts, and floods happen, and our housing policies have been flawed for years. I still feel for those who have lost everything, though. I have friends in Carlisle, whom I telephoned last week, so as to check that they were safe, and they tell me that the people are determined up there but still shocked.

I wonder. We're told people are so heartless in an atomised, broken Britain. I sometimes near, but I hope don't slip into, that valley myself. Yet I read today in the Evening Standard about people of all ages, sexes, and conditions in Peckham who woke up to find their flats burning and who, instead of simply running, made sure that their neighbours woke up and escaped too. The kindness and fellow feeling seemed instinctive, but made me glad of the invented community I feel with them as a Londoner. I'd prefer there were not disasters, but they sometimes seem to bring out the best in the people of these islands.

The story in the Standard was accompanied on the same page by a tale of a massive fine to a major fashion chain which had locked its basement and marginalised its staff so that, when a fire broke out, insured stock might be sacrificed and people might die, but at least theft would be minimised. It made me think of the London Monster and Calico cloth, and since the Standard is the house magazine of feudal banksterism, I'm sure that the irony was unintentional.

People. The strangest human beings I know are all so...well, human. We can follow logic and understand reasons and see opinions, but anyone who spends any time just listening to people will know that the idea of people uncovering the true Reason and philosophy of the universe is an idea best buried beneath a large pile of commonsense and experience. It takes some years to learn that.

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