by Terry Oliver on December 2, 2012

“Was Karl Marx Right After All?”

This headline was on the BBC World News the other night when I switched it on here in the little city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico where I’m spending the winter.

I know the blogosphere is full of dire warnings about the collapse of Capitalism and the end of the American Empire but it’s a surprise to see the establishment news media posing such a radical change of direction on the world news.

Perhaps, as a friend suggested, it’s because older people have more time to read in-depth coverage of news stories and even leaven them with a historical perspective gleaned from the plethora of non-fiction analysis and history books available to us.

We also have the time to follow a wide variety of commentators churning out stories on the internet on websites we’ve come to rely on, as the mainstream news media becomes more and more obsessed with sound bites and potted news items reflecting mainly corporate interests.

I find this division between mainstream and alternative news sources makes me feel almost schizophrenic. On the one hand, slick eye-candy popular news formats bombard us with reassurances that everything is going to be fine – just a few glitches and we’ll soon be back to business as usual. The politicians, the bankers and the military-industrial complex have got it all in hand. Just keep consuming.

On the other hand, alternative news websites like Democracy Now, Truthout, the Tyee, the Energy Bulletin and commentators from Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Richard Heinberg, Dimitri Orlov, Michael Greer and Bill McKibbin paint an entirely different, convincing but disturbing picture of a western society on the brink of collapse.

It makes it increasingly difficult to live a normal life unless I adopt a very blinkered outlook.

It also raises troubling questions for older people like me as to how I should meaningfully spend my time. I find it harder and harder to act in a satisfying way. My life becomes more  and more compartmentalised as my guilt levels rise. Setting aside a day here, a half day there, a couple of hours somewhere else for volunteering in the Mexican community of San Miguel – from food banks to Amnesty International to tar sands protest marches – my attempts at activism seem hopelessly inadequate.

And at the back of my mind is the suspicion I don’t really want to do any of it. I just want to do my own thing – write my play, grow my organic vegetables, spend time with my partner and grandchildren.

History helps, I find. I’m discovering insights, both comforting and disturbing from reading historians like Howard Zinn, John Michael Greer, Arnold Toynbee, Jared Diamond and even, at last, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – I’m halfway through it on my e-book reader.

As that old cracker-barrel philosopher Yogi Berra said – it’s déjà vu all over again.

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