I have just released The Voyage of the Kresala, the latest title in my Seven Songs fantasy series, where we start to see more clearly the great divisions taking place across the European continent. The conflict, of course, arises from the question of the moment, currently affecting several countries and it boils down to this: Which do we want? The megastate Europus, uniformly bent to (for want of a word) Germanic aims and standards? Or the beauteous Europa with her myriad and varied delights that Zeus himself could not resist, and so carried off to Crete on his bull-like shoulders?
When I put it like that, I suppose it’s fairly clear which of the two I would rather see. It’s also fairly clear which of the two is preferred by Syriza’s Yanis Varoufakis, the “erratic” Marxist now heading the finance ministry in Athens. For him, the question is not simply one between head and heart, as some might suppose. Varoufakis sees as inevitable that the Europus he dislikes so much, born out of neoliberal economics and politics, will fall apart with the demise of capitalism that Marx predicted. As he says confidently, it carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.
We have a reasonable idea of what Europus represents. Rigour, uniformity, discipline, good housekeeping (to evoke Madame Thatcher) and so on. All that Kafka warned us against, in vain? Equally George Orwell in 1984, a scary vision, in many aspects already a reality: people at the service of the machine, too frightened to be different, and controlled or monitored in their very thoughts. What perhaps we hadn’t realised as we created Europus is that people were dispensable in this great work. As the juggernaut trundled through our once independent little nations, changing all the road signs as it went, people were shovelled to the wayside like snowfall on a motorway. This human wreckage, fruit of austerity, was the “price to be paid.” Not by the bankers, not by the politicians, nor by those with their noses in the trough in Brussels and Strasbourg. No, a price paid by the young, the small traders, the elderly and the vulnerable. Civic values, democratic values, social values, all these were waved aside as the economically correct troika imposed its will on one nation after another, in the process setting up governments that simply toed the line and were given no option to do otherwise. In other words, not representative of their nation’s peoples at all.
Can we say what Europa herself stands for, by way of contrast? Diversity, imagination, creativity, art, elegance, versatility …? And adding to those the relational values of trust and mutual self-awareness, perhaps that offers us a mix that we see in imitation of nature itself. Such a blend would be characteristic of sustainability, the most vital quality that we should be aiming for given the state of the modern world.
Perhaps we can throw light on the difference between Europus and Europa if we think in terms of Henri Bortoft’s authentic and counterfeit wholes. Europus in this schema would be a counterfeit whole par excellence, a monolith to which its parts are in service and even servitude. For, let us be clear, we are only parts in this construction, and therefore are truly dispensable. Just as the giant corporation turns thousands on to the street in its juggling of the books, so Europus’ first instinct is to do the same. The bottom line is made up of numbers, not of human lives.
Europa, though, may be considered as an authentic whole. I do not daydream about perfection here, but it is very noticeable how deeply the values in southern, Mediterranean cultures hold society together at the daily level of life where it really matters. Leaving aside the long history of conflict between powers, there is an underlying social fabric that goes back hundreds of years, and now we find a growing sense in these countries that something precious and meaningful in its own right has been violated. Just as Islamic militants shatter ancient artefacts that are meaningless, even offensive, to them, so also the juggernaut Europus wields the hammer against all that offends economic probity. Well, yes, in some cultures perhaps there has been a lack of care for the morrow, in the interests of living today to the full. Yes, we acknowledge there, too, the hidden workings of those family knots and networks that cut corners in the interests of getting results. And those inexcusably long lunches before getting around to the real business on the agenda … Time wasted? Who is to say? Perhaps this is a more valid way of establishing working relations and outcome, as opposed to alcohol-free profit-making purely for its own sake.
What emerges from Europa’s way of doing things is a continually self-refreshing dynamic, often full of surprises, that actually makes “government” at times irrelevant and certainly of less importance. This is freedom, but for a purpose. The future will manifest these battle lines more and more, I predict, as our century progresses. The smaller political parties that favour Europa are already marshalling support and will grow in strength and number. Their social mission is becoming clearer and clearer.
As mentioned in the opening, I present an imagined future for these developments in my fantasy series, The Seven Songs, where the battle is already over as we enter the first book of the cycle, King Abba. We are in the year 2134 and Europus is in hegemony. Those faithful to Europa have been swept aside in a merciless suppression and are reduced to handfuls of dissidents scattered in places of relative safety. But the monolith must fall through its own internal weakness and all is up for grabs again. Can the freedom fighters unite and regain the initiative? Will deposed King Abba’s children be able to turn the clock back and restore the beauty of Europa?
I watch with interest as events in the real world unfurl, bringing about huge social changes which King Abba himself has foreseen, and in which he will play his part, too, for the eventual salvation that we and Mr Varoufakis all devoutly pray for.
The latest title in The Seven Songs series, The Voyage of the Kresala was released in February.