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Locked in one dimension

Politics and political science, says Ulrich Beck, share a weak point: the chronic underestimation of the power of social movements

Josep Ramoneda

"Reality in itself is worth nothing. It is perception that renders it meaningful," wrote Brodsky. This is why politics is also a struggle to impose certain meanings. After a year of aimless drifting littered with broken electoral promises, Prime Minister Rajoy now says that things are looking up. Setting aside the cynicism that can say this about a country heading for six million unemployed, just how are things "looking up?" Well, because Spain is gaining in competitiveness, and because the bank bailout is practically finished. Euphemisms aside, competitiveness merely means that people are working for less. Competitiveness is gained either by lower wages, or by creative innovation. In a land where the government is destroying research, only the first option remains. Can this be a cause for satisfaction? Or is it frankly accepted that the objective is not public wellbeing, but company profits? So, too, with the bank bailout - the result of a huge transfer of public money (principally from people's wages) to the financial sector; that is, of a process performed at the cost of the wellbeing of citizens. Which, meanwhile, is not yet complete; nor do we yet know the total costs for all of us. Is this a reason for the government to gloat?

Politics and political science, says Ulrich Beck, share a weak point: the chronic underestimation of the power of the impotent, the power of social movements, especially in conflicts of transnational risk. Albert Hirschman, who died this week - an economist of the kind who put the human condition first - examined the capacity of pluralist societies to find ways of addressing the conflicts they themselves engendered. Even as new surges of wealth generate unprecedented forms of inequality, new demands for reform and justice arise, which must be attended to. Unfortunately, Europe is dominated by leaders who are deaf, who do not hear. They only want us to sing along with them, to the effect that society does not exist, that there exist only individuals, ever more loaded with obligations and despoiled of rights, and that there is no alternative. Unfortunately we live in a landscape where government and opposition are stuck on the same song. The only hope is that the capacity of governments to control the perception of reality (their power of hegemony) is growing less and less efficient, and cannot manage to confuse the citizen.

The European star of 2012 has been Mario Monti, cheered by the captains of the banking industry and the EU

The European star of 2012 has been Mario Monti, cheered by the captains of the banking industry and the EU. Around his figure the European leaders are giving a chilling idea of what they understand by democracy. Monti - convinced, like his sponsors and adulators, that the only moral authority is that of the experts - is prepared to go on being the Italian prime minister without reference to the ballot boxes. And the European leaders break with any idea of respect for the independence of countries by applauding this aristocratic snub to the people against the legitimate democratic alternative of Bersani. The degradation of European democracy begins in Brussels, where EU commissioners, entirely devoid of democratic legitimacy, consider they have a technocratic right to everything. As Ash Amin puts it: "It is time to give the politics of rationality a chance, to prevent the politics of purge from leading us into the disaster it proposes to prevent."

In the face of the immense transformations we are going through, the homo economicus, writes Daniel Cohen, "is a poor prophet. Seeking to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of continued enrichment, and in the name of efficacy, he persecutes his competitors, the ethical man, the empathic man, those other aspects of man which aspire to cooperation and reciprocity. But by triumphing over his rivals, he dies, shutting human nature into a world that is deprived of the ideal and, finally, ineffective." Such is the success boasted of by Rajoy and his peers.

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