Wednesday, June 27, 2018

IN THE SHADE OF HISTORY
II
Un syndicaliste britannique du 19ème siècle (dont je ne me rappelle pas le nom) a dit: "Pour résoudre le problème du chômage de nos jeunes, nous n'avons qu'une solution: l'impérialisme." Cela était possible au 19ème siècle. Mais maintenant que des jeunes peuvent concocter des bombes à partir de site-webs, il est de plus en plus difficile d'envisager de telles solutions. Que faire alors? Les multinationales ont de plus en plus mal à affronter la concurrence mutuelle pendant que le pouvoir d'achat s'écroule un peu partout dans le monde. Les systèmes d'éducation font faillites même dans des pays développés. Le moral des ménages et des jeunes n'est pas du tout brillant. Bref, il y a problème.

History repeated itself in Tunisia and in Egypt in 2011. An Arab Revolution broke out, reaching my country, Morocco, on February 20. The February 20 Movement called for a new constitution. The King promptly ordred one. The new constitution has been hailed as a 'revoltution' in its own right. But people didn't want a new constitution for the sake of a new constitution. They wanted social justice. But then they didn't want social justice for the sake of social justice. What they wanted, in fact, was a better life: jobs, housing, better schooling, better health services, better infrastructure, stadiums...and a lot of freedom. All this is now in the new constitution. The question is, where do we go from here?

In his wonderful book about the British people and their culture, Understanding Britain, John Randle (Basil Blackwell Publisher, 1981) wrote: "The British were inclined to think they had avoided upheaval by virtue of their glorious constitution and their acceptance of gradual reform. This argument may have had some merit, but Britain's wealth increased dramatically in the nineteenth century, and though its distribution was highly uneven, the increase in prosperity among the working class was sufficient to give its members a growing feeling of betterment and security." This kind of prosperity is unfortuanely hard to imagine in the foreseeable future in this part of the golbe, North Africa.

In his book, "Dreaming of Damascus: Arab Voices from a Region in Turmoil", published in 2003, Stephen Glain wrote: "One of the most potent threats to Middle East stability (...) is chronic illiquidilty --the main source of rising unemployment and stagnent economies in the Arab world.

In my country, we often hear business people, economic analysts, and even government officials, say that if tens of thousands of our youth can’t find work it’s because their training is inadequate for business. People with degrees in Islamic Studies, History & Geography, Arabic language, Philosophy, etc., have nothing to do in the business world. They only wasted their time at Faculty. Business wants competent people. It wants engineers, managers, specialized technicians, etc. If you have a degree in the Arabic language, why don’t you be a poet? You’d do well to sell potato chips to kids in front of schools by day and write poetry and love stories at night.

So what to do? Will you study what business wants so that business will be pleased with you? Will you sell chips by day and write poetry at night? Will you join sit-ins in front of Government buildings to pressure the Government to find you a job? Will you wait for economic recovery or better economic growth? Will you use heroin or cocaine to forget all about these problems? Will you turn to religion? Can you wait more and be steadfast when religion asks you to do so? Can you decide for yourself ? Can you defy all people around you? Can you trust yourself? Do you trust yourself in the first place?

One source of our unhappiness is our anxiety about the future. How long will I keep my job in this time of crisis? What about my children? How will I be able to give them the appropriate education if I lose my job? Horrible nightmares. Childless people are anxious, too. Who will look after me when I grow old? I don’t have any social security, will I have anybody to feed me when I grow too old to work?

Le 28 février 2016, Hillary Clinton a dit ceci : "Je sais qu'il peut sembler un peu étrange, ces temps-ci, d'entendre une candidate à la présidence dire qu'il faut plus d'amour et de gentillesse en Amérique. Mais, du fond de mon cœur, je vous assure que nous en avons besoin". Oui, nous en avons grandement besoin dans les quatre coins du monde, ce monde où la précarité et la vulnérabilité ne surprennent vraiment plus personne, avec des jeunes ne sachant plus quoi étudier, pour combien de temps, pour quel débouché ; des parents ne sachant plus quoi faire de leurs maigres revenus, s’ils en ont encore. Chômage chronique, divorce, enfants nés hors mariage, enfants abandonnés, mères célibataires, SDF, la drogue, la prostitution, la pollution, la compétition féroce dans tous les domaines, l’individualisme à outrance, la peur de l’inconnu… On est réduit à rêver de ce qu’on n’est pas ou de ce qu’on ne peut être. Mais –en même temps– on ne veut pas se résigner à constater notre impuissance, quoique démunis, écrasés, dépourvus de tout outil de changement. Même notre démocratie chérie ne nous garantie rien de plus que ce que nous pouvons –et devons– recevoir de nos heureux élus. On n’y peut rien. Le système est plus fort que nous. On n’a qu’à gérer notre colère, notre faiblesse, notre peur. Et si seulement on pouvait comprendre ce qu’il se passe autour de nous ! Mais comment peut-on comprendre un monde plein de richesse, plein de châteaux et de Limousines et où l’on nous dit ça y est, c’est la fin du travail. Vos métiers d’aujourd’hui ne vaudront plus rien d’ici peu. Alors débrouillez-vous ! On ne cesse de nous parler de plans de restructuration, de plans de sauvegarde d’emploi, de délocalisation inévitable pour sauver des entreprises nationales et des emplois ; on nous parle de déficit public, de dettes publiques, de crise mondiale… On nous bombarde matin et soir de statistiques alarmantes. Allez, débrouillez-vous ! Sans parler de guerre et de terrorisme. Sans parler de consumérisme et de solitude. Comment s’en sortir ?

Eh bien, la colère et l’indignation ne semblent plus faire recette. Mêmes les grèves et les protestations ne semblent pas à même de rapporter grand-chose ces derniers temps. On a vu ce que les révolutions ont donné tout autour de nous. Que faire alors ? Subir sa détresse et sa déprime sans agir ? On continue à souffrir en silence ? Si les ETATS n’ont plus de réponses, que pourrait un simple rêveur comme moi suggérer comme solution ?

Dans tous ces cas, qu'est-ce qu'on cherche, en fait? Eh bien, on cherche son bien-être. Certains prient Buddha, d'autres prient Ram, d'autres prient Jesus ou Allah, pour obtenir d'eux ce à quoi on aspire tous: du travail, un(e) conjoint(e), une bonne santé, de bons enfants.... Pourquoi, dirait-on, endurer les peines de la patience et du sacrifice pour une chose dont on n'est pas vraiment sûr? Alors les gens se tournent vers ceux chez qui ils croient pouvoir trouver ce à quoi ils aspirent. D'où L'ETAT-PROVIDENCE. On n'avait pas ça dans nos cultures orientales avant les indépendances. Or on assiste à présent à des scènes de misères socioéconomiques dans des pays sensés être des havres de paix sociale, où les démunis et indigents n'auraient pas à s'inquiéter de leur avenir puisqu'il y a un Etat-Providente qui est là pour subvenir à leurs besoins et faire en sorte que tous soient égaux devant la loi. Les SDF de Grèce, 'Los Indignos' d'Espagne, les membres de Occupy Wall Str....les jeunes chômeurs qui cousent leurs bouches dans les rues de Tunis, etc, tout ça nous montre qu'il y a une certaine limite à ce que l'Homme peut faire pour l'Homme. Il y a donc un certain besoin d'une certaine force plus puissante que l'Homme: pourquoi pas Dieu? De plus en plus de gens cherchent "la vérité" de ce côté-là. Les Etats qui peinent sous le poids de la dette et des déficits se révèlent impuissants. Les gens ne peuvent pas attendre toute une génération pour pouvoir voir une amélioration dans leur vie. Alors, dans ce contexte qui n'inspire pas confiance, il y a des gens qui voudraient essayer d'autre chose.

The blame game is part of human nature. We all blame others for our misfortunes. When there’s nobody specific to blame, we blame bad luck. But let’s be objective for a moment! The best intentioned, most competent government can’t guarantee jobs for all. The most compassionate, most patriotic business establishment in the world can’t guarantee lasting economic growth. There will always be a minority of “unlucky” people. Even highly educated people (doctors, engineers…) may be surprised not to find suitable jobs. (See my article Salam Layla 5.) Even governments of developed countries plead with other governments of developed countries to do better for their national economy. The French want Germans to do more for German economic growth. The Germans want the French to do more to reduce their budget deficit. The U.S. appeals to Europe to do more to get out of recession.

The problem is not merely weak revenue, but a lack of modern banks and financial tools to lure cash out of burgeoning black markets and into the faltering daylight economy. From Syria to Morocco, Arab financial institutions are too primitive and regimes too inept to meet their economies' basic need for capital". That may be true for other Arab countries, but not as much for Morocco. The Moroccan state itself has its own wholly or partly owned ultra modern banks which lend a lot of money.

But here's one of the real problems. Morocco is a Muslim state and Islam prohibits usury based banking dealings. In an article entiltled "Paying More for Money", George J. Church wrote in TIME Magazine (March 8, 1982): "In the past three years, interest rates have shot up higher than anyone could have imagined earlier, and they have suddenly become Topic A in the beleaguered American economy (...) Bankruptcies around the country are beginning to rival those of the Great Depression." Twenty years later, in October 2002, Fareed Zakaria of NEWSWEEK quoted Al Gore as saying in a speech to the Commonwealth Club: "(...) what worries me as much as the Middle East is the Middle West. The American economy is dead in the water (...) Every day we hear of a new round of lay-offs, a new bout of cost-cutting, a new set of economic numbers –alln worse than expected. Profits and business investment have fallen more sharply that at any point since the Great Depression. This year the average American household's net worth will decline for the third year running, which has not happened since World War II. The traditional optimism of Americans is being replaced by nervousness and gloom." Nine years later, in 2011, I heard Ralph Nader, who ran for President several times, say on Aljazeera English: "This country [the USA] is heading towards Third World status"! Then three European Union economies (Greece, Ireland and Portugal) were bailed out to save them from bankruptcy. What to say of my dear country's economy whose GDP is about 100 billion dollars US and whose job-seeking population is ever increasing?

And it's not only the State that has a debt problem. Many, many thousands, if not millions, of my fellow citizens bought houses on credit and are purchasing all kinds of consumer goods on credit. Many of these people are living on a tight budget. The question is, why do those people hurry to borrow from usury based banks? The answer is very simple and very clear.

Now, what does Man want ?   In other words, Man wants beauty and greatness. Men want beautiful women and women want handsome men. Both want beautiful children, a lot of money for housing, for education, for food and leisure. They want big cars, and property in the countryside...to impress friend and foe. They want the comfort of the life of the world as a sign of success, of greatness. Is there anything wrong with that ?  Our knowledge of the world is supposed to help us discern between good and bad and forcus on what is lasting rather than what is transient. 

With their salaries, they believe, they can pay for just anything they want, even interest on loans. Samuel Smiles claimed in his book Self-help, published in 1859, that success was the product of four virtues --thrift, character, self-help and duty. I know of no one here, in my hometown of Mohammedia at least, who has ever heard of Samuel Smiles or his book. But when I speak to people, what I hear is paraphrasings of those four virtues. Very seldom do I hear someone quote the Koran.

When I go out for a walk --which I do very often-- I find beaches, sea shores, roadsides, woods---all littered with stoppers of bottles and cans of all kinds of wine and beer.

Pay is money received in exchange for work. Volunteers apart, every worker expects to be paid. Some even refuse to work unless they get holidays with pay, a right to sick leave and a pension. What more could a worker ask for?

Some workers do negotiate their pay with their employers. Highly skilled people with prestigious university degrees usually get the best salaries. Some job hop for better pay or more comfortable work conditions. Less qualified workers can join unions to ask for pay rise or other rights. But, still, is that all?

Interestingly, some people downshift for the sake of peace. They give up positions where they were rightly paid and take jobs meant for people with less qualifications. The reason, they say, is stress. They were willing to sacrifice some of their original income so as to save their nerves, they would tell you.

There is yet another category of workers. These are people who do not “work” and yet get their pay each month. They just go to their place of work, report for work and sit idly in chairs while others work long hours so as to get the same salary at the end of the month. Curiously, those who “work” are much happier than those who “do not work”. The last-mentioned are not happy at all because their “working” colleagues tease them always, saying something like, “You useless people, we work to feed you. You steal our money…”

Many of those who do work before getting paid are not happy, either. The reason(s) could be stress, harassment, bullying or any form of injustice. The employer could be just, but not thoughtful enough. He may not care if you have personal or family problems. Your problems are your own problem; they must not affect your work.

Other workers just take it easy and seldom, if ever, protest. Some work in dangerous mines or in steel industry, where fire is a daily sight. Others work in the fields in the blazing sun. Others work far away from home, leaving spouse, children and relatives behind. Some are emigrants, others are in the army or sailors on the high seas. They do all that as uncomplainingly as possible because they cannot be paid if they don’t.

Hard work is much better than unemployment. A worker can pay for things a jobless person cannot. It makes a big difference when you cannot borrow money to fill an urgent need because you cannot guarantee paying the money back, while a worker with a steady income can. Worse, it is absolutely painful when you see yourself unemployed at the age of forty or older, while younger friends and relatives are already well-off.

But once you get a job you become like other workers. You too start suffering from new/old problems. You start thinking of holidays, among other things.
Holidays are the opportunity for many to rest and have fun. In France, for example, as soon as people come back from the annual holiday, they start preparing for the next, which obviously won’t come before eleven long months. One reason might be the French like boasting about their holidays. Another reason might be they simply get fed up with work between four walls.
The British, too, take holidays. Some holidays are long, others short- fortunately. Many Brits get bored by the end of Christmas holiday. Some claim that January is the month when so many people in Britain consider divorce. It is perhaps a silly assumption that Brits are anywhere close to work-addiction. But one just cannot help asking why there is so much quarrelling in British homes over Christmas. Does that not have anything to do with work between four walls?

Some people do dream of holidays, but they just cannot afford it. The City Authorities in Paris, France, thought up a brilliant idea to solve this problem. They turned part of the Seine River banks into something like Moroccan beaches. So those who cannot come to the golden beaches of my town, Mohammédia, can enjoy themselves there, in Paris.

What has stricken me all the time as strange is that most of those who fill tour operator buses here are old folks. Far be it from me to suggest that senior citizens should stay at home and help their grandchildren with their homework. But this, however, sets me wondering whether a large number of people do not really look forward to old age and retirement. Couldn’t this be, for them, the time to make up for the “lost time” spent “between four walls”?

Now let me scream: why should one wait so long? After all, work is not a curse. Indeed, work is something wonderful. Yet the pay that an employer gives to an employee is but a nominal -say, moral- compensation for the effort made at work. This pay just cannot compensate for all the effort that a worker invests in his work. Every physical, mental or psychological effort you make to fulfil whatever task your employer expects you to will certainly have some (negative) bearing on your body or on your psyche at some point in later life. Whatever money or privileges you may get in exchange for your work will not replace any part of your body once damaged. Money cannot replace a lost nerve or a burn-out lung.

Smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are some work-related problems. If you add to this harassment or bullying, for example, what would your life be like? How would you behave towards your family? Would it be alright for you to shout at your loving spouse at home and smile at your bullying boss at work? How would you bear the stress of formality and etiquette if your child is suffering in hospital?

Things get worse when yours is not a steady job. As long as your work is precarious, anxiety will hardly let go of you. If you cannot provide for your pension in later life, what do you do?

Your children too will suffer if you lose your job. They will shun the company of their closest pals because they just cannot pay for the same little things, a sweet plus. What do you do then? Will you wait until the next elections to vote for the party promising more jobs?

Even if you do get a job after years of waiting, that will not “wipe out” the effects of your unemployment. The fear of losing your job will stay with you. That fear will affect your health at some point in later life.

Almost all workers lose something as they do their work. The peasant working in the fields in the blazing sun will have to deal with his aching head one day. The constant fear of bad crops will add to his problems. Idem for so many other workers.

One would imagine that, say, an artist, for example, is someone who is free, who can work at his leisure and have a successful, enjoyable work life. But artists too do suffer. (As a novelist, I can tell you so.) An artist may have to weep days and nights, maybe years, before making you smile for a few seconds. An artist too does experience such things as stress and anxiety. An artist too needs money and stability. He too has his own social relationships. He too fears poverty, if he is not poor already.

Even those stars out there have their own “work problems”. It is not easy to become a star. The glamour of fame and opulence may not last a lifetime. And, for artists, this is painful. As soon as a star becomes a has-been, his problems will start piling up.
It’s not unusual to see a writer with a happy smile on his face after finishing a long novel. It’s not unusual to see a woman smile blissfully after delivering a baby. It’s not unusual to see a student on top of the world after obtaining a degree. But that novel has yet to be sold, and that baby has to be brought up, and that degree has to be accepted by an employer. Meanwhile, each of those may have to suffer.
Scientists say that if your head cools down after a heatstroke, that does not mean that you will escape the long-term effects of that heatstroke. The pain will go, but the effects of that and any subsequent heatstroke will pile up so that they may -God forbid- develop into something worse in the future. By analogy, all work-related problems will only accumulate over time.


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