Security and over-reaction

Christmas Day’s curious security incident has had some major and important ramifications; security organisations worldwide have introduced some puerile and bizarrely reactive restrictions; (no blankets over one’s knees for the last hour of a flight?), and once again a fragile world is tossed into chaos and distrust.

Today it is airline terrorism, but it could so easily have been the economic terrorism that our stock-markets and financial security have inflicted on us so violently in recent times.

I have spent the past couple of weeks in London, and among the pleasures of this wonderful city is the privilege of riding its underground system; the transportation is terrific, but its advertisements are truly works of art and fiction. Knowing that their audience will have a couple of minutes at least to digest the contents of the posters, writers have a glorious canvas with which to work. My favourite this trip was one in a series of contemplative pieces quoting Mahatma Ghandi; “There must be more to life than increasing its speed”, he said (or so my memory recalls), and it is a lesson that resonates.

“Speed Kills”. An aphorism that we all have heard is as applicable to information and ideas as motor cars.

Terrorism changes the world; be it Islamic, economic, biologic or simply the playground meanness of children, terrorists hurt. Much of the world has changed through terror; hundreds of thousands of lives have been irreparably damaged, families’ plans and hopes thrown into chaos and relationships between governments, business and the populations at large fractured by a deep distrust.

Of the many people I am privileged to know, I think of Ia, Sigfus and Caetano. All bright, capable, hard-working and successful, and now, they suddenly find themselves in a new and undefined world.

Ia is the general manager of a fine travel company in Georgia. I had dinner with her one lovely evening in July overlooking the gorgeous old-town of Tbilisi. Life was good; the travel business building, the country’s infrastructure emerging strongly and the democratic institutions that we take for granted taking root. Three weeks later, the Russians invaded and her life altered overnight. In an email yesterday she told of the school next to her office being home to hundreds of refugees, and life in this fascinating Caucasian country on pins and needles. We dined again a couple of weeks ago, and only now, eighteen months after the invasion, life was slowly coming back to a semblance of normalcy.

Sigfus lives in Reykjavik and along with as many as one third of Icelanders lost some or all of their savings and pensions overnight. They see their proud island nation now coming under the austere hand of the International Monetary Fund, and the death of their proud currency, the Icelandic Kronur, imminent. People who work in Iceland in conventional jobs, bank tellers, bus drivers, hotel staff find the value of their wages declining by the day; inflation will take its inevitable toll, and with an economy as small as Iceland’s it will be a very hard process for everyone. No cash, banks frozen, savings gone and prices of all imported goods (which means everything but fish and geothermal energy) rising faster than one can imagine form a very distressing future. On Monday next week, we will meet in Iceland, and I am sure that his indomitable Viking spirit will shine through issues that none of us who live cushy lives in North America can possibly understand.

I have known Caetano for over forty years; he lives in a small town in Portugal and has sunk his savings, time and life into his restaurant, the Restaurant Mare in Sesimbra, some thirty miles from Lisbon. The Portuguese economy was fuelled by the intoxicating mixture of the Euro and reconstruction funds from their European Union membership, and for years cash and the inevitable credit coursed through the country’s economic veins. And then it stopped; almost overnight credit ran out some two years ago. The local market for evening diners waned, and only the foreigners remained; now this market is fading fast, and Caetano’s hopes and dreams lie dimming.

While we look at the world’s economic woes and think of the opportunities now for “cheap” travel, we must remember that the drop in prices that so attract us are being paid for by many others whose lives have been so rudely interrupted by these global events. For every privilege in life there is a counter-balancing responsibility; there is a yin for every yang. In this case, it appears, our privilege is being paid for by a lot of innocent victims of this economic and territorial tsunami.