I want to take you on a journey.
Please press “play.”
You’re listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They aren’t your everyday, ordinary band.
They raise their instruments to the gods and sing without voices. Godspeed You! is the sound of life and death.
After a decade-long recording hiatus, the Canadian band just recorded a new album with the modest title, “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”
They recently spoke with The Guardian UK about the world as they see it. Let’s listen in for a few moments:
In a lot of crucial ways, it’s easier to find common cause than it was 10 or 20 years ago. You talk to strangers in bars or on the street, and you realise that we’re all up to our eyeballs in it, right? So that right now, there’s more of us than ever. It’s a true fact. Every day it gets a little harder to pretend that everything’s OK. The rich keep getting more and we keep getting less. Post-9/11, post-7/7, there’s a police state that tightens more every day, and in our day-to-days, we’re all witnesses to the demeaning outcomes of debauched governance – random traffic stops, collapsing infrastructure, corrupt bureaucrats and milk-fed police with their petty intrusions. Our cities are broke, they lay patches on top of patches of concrete, our forests cut down and sold to make newspapers just to tell us about traffic that we get stuck in. You get a parking ticket and you waste a day in line. Cop shoots kid, kid shoots kid, homeless man dies waiting to see a doctor, old men lay in hospital beds while a broken bureaucracy steals away what’s left of their dignity. Folks flee to our shores, running from the messes we’ve made in their countries, and we treat them like thieves. Mostly it feels like whatever you love is just going to get torn away. Turn on the radio, and it’s a fucking horror show, the things our governments do in our name, just to fatten themselves on our steady decline. Meanwhile, most of us are hammering away at a terrible self-alienation, mistreated, lied to and blamed. Burning fields and a sky filled with drones. The fruit rots on the vine while millions starve.
So we’re at a particular junction in history now where it’s clear that something has to give – problem is that things could tip any which way. We’re excited and terrified, we sit down and try to make a joyous noise. But fuck us, we make instrumental music, means that we have to work hard at creating a context that fucks with the document and points in the general direction of resistance and freedom. Otherwise it’s just pretty noise saddled to whatever horse comes along. A lot of the time all’s we know is that we won’t play the stupid game. Someone tells us we’re special, we say: “Fuck no, we aren’t special.” Someone asks us what the thing we made means, we say figure it out for yourself, the clues are all there. We think that stubbornness is a virtue. We know that this can be frustrating. It’s fine. We don’t think in terms of narrative so much. We try to play arrangements that are a little out of our reach. We try to make sure the songs ring true or not at all.
Read more here.
Their words brought me back to something else I’ve been reading lately, and it is the work of Michael Hudson. He is a former Wall Street analyst turned economics professor and government adviser. He often talks about debt and how, in past societies, when debts exceeded the possibility of their ever being paid off, rulers would often forgive them. This served several purposes: It would win the leader the support of the populace; it would prevent the population from essentially becoming debt slaves; and, also, if you needed a war to be fought, the two previous outcomes made it a lot easier to get people to fight for you.
So, for example, if a drought or flood destroyed all the crops and made it impossible for farmers to pay their debts that year, a ruler would likely declare a debt jubilee to erase them.
Our economy today is much more complicated, of course, but Hudson makes the argument that financial predators have crafted a system that puts people and nations in so much debt that it will never realistically be paid off, which essentially makes us all debt slaves.
Most of the political discussion you hear today is how people and nations must pay off their debts. It’s a moral obligation. It’s quite simple and those who lend money would like the conversation to end there. But this completely ignores questions about what debt is, how it was created and what are the obligations of the lender.
Those are the discussions we must undertake.
Here is an excerpt of a transcript of Hudson’s remarks prepared for a really fantastic documentary called “Surviving Progress”:
Most people think that if someone borrows money, they should be able to repay it. But the reality is that many can’t pay, except by borrowing even more. The debt keeps growing, forcing economies to cut back public spending, including ecological renewal. Brazil is cutting down its forests and other countries are permitting companies to strip the environment and even sell off water rights to get the money to pay the creditors. This is called progress. But financial progress ends up becoming antithetical to human progress, industrial and agricultural progress at the point where economies are stripped by the mathematics of compound interest.
Many people blame themselves as they fall into debt. The natural tendency is to take responsibility. But unfortunately, there’s little that most people can do as individuals. The problem is the financial system that has gained control of government policy and is behaving in a destructive way. The oligarchy’s first rule is to take away democracy’s most important financial right, that of creating money and regulating debt. The lie is repeated again and again that the hallmark of democracy is an independent Central Bank. But no real democracy would give Wall Street veto power over its bank regulators. That’s oligarchy, not democracy.
It often is said that people can’t live without hope, but hope also may be their undoing. Hope is what financial predators and other con men play on. They’ve played on the hope that despite declining real wages in the United States since 1979, families can maintain their living standards if they borrow and hope that real estate prices will rise and retirement can be paid out of paper stock-market gains. The public relations trick is to convince people that they can get rich by running into debt to speculate and gamble at the financial racetrack. This is a false hope. Throughout history the hope of most people has been to stay out of debt. An economics of deception has turned their hope and desire for life against them.
This is why the financial sector so often has been likened to a parasite. It is not simply a case of the parasite taking the surplus for itself. In nature, successful parasites are more than just organisms that sap the host of nourishment. To succeed for long, the biological parasite needs to take over the host’s brain and trick it into believing that the free rider is part of the host’s own body, even its baby to be protected and nurtured. That is how the financial sector operates. It tricks the host economy’s brain – the educational system and the government as planner and lawmaker – to make it think that the way to grow is to promote a financial oligarchy. What the financial sector really does is suck up everything for its own benefit, and depict this appropriation as irreversible “progress” and “wealth creation.” The classic warning remains that of the prophet Isaiah denouncing the rich (mainly creditors) for putting plot to plot and house to house until there is no room in the land for people.
Read more here.
So we’ve come a long way together, my friend. That was some epic territory.
What I really want to impart here is that the landscape is not always as solid as it seems. Sometimes, if a society wishes to change it, it can be changed.
More specifically, the economy is our creation. It does not own us. And it should not be a tool for others to own us. Remember this, and next time someone says to you that we must ignore the needs of human beings because of a moral obligation to pay a debt, start asking questions about that debt. Perhaps you will find the debt is immoral.
I hope the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor helped push you through this rough terrain. I know they keep me lifting my skinny fists like antennas to Heaven …
And, if you still have it in you, check out the trailer for “Surviving Progress.” The film is streaming on Netflix.
In fact, if that interested you, the whole film is streaming right here: