Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Austerity is a Pretty Word

I was just reading an article in The Guardian: Greece Braced for Mass Protests as Austerity Cuts Bite, and I realized that I get a little thrill when I see the word austerity.  Obviously, 10,000 Greek public sector workers losing their jobs is a terrible thing (and I say this as a public sector employee), but sometimes I just wish we could all sort of band together in the spirit of austerity.

I watched BBC's 1940's House for the first time years ago, and it's the only one of that whole series that I've re-watched.  What it is, is kind of a retro reality show, where a family live under the conditions of World War II London.  They wear the clothes, the build a fallout shelter, they plant a garden, they put up blackout tape on the windows, there are simulated air raids and they undergo rationing. It's absolutely fascinating.  From the back cover of the DVD: "One modern family takes on the challenge of domestic life on Britain's home front in this recreation of a World War II household. This time-travel experiment covers the period from the outbreak of the war in 1939 to Victory Day in 1945, compressing the events of six wartime years into nine weeks. While the military threat is metaphorical, the privations are real and the pressure creates tensions nonexistent in modern society."

Growing up in the upper Midwest, I've dealt with my fair share of overland floods.  Pretty much every year around the same time, Fargo, ND goes under water.  1997, when I was in high school, our region underwent the most severe flood in over 100 years.  It completely devastated the region, and school was canceled for about a week so everyone could go out and sandbag--even if your own house was fine.  While that flood certainly wasn't a good thing, it really did bring home the "we're all in this together" feeling of solidarity that is decidedly lacking these days.

It was inspiring (which is not a word I bandy about too often) to see strangers just turn up at someone's farm because they heard that person needed help.  And even watching last year's flood via the internet and facebook, dozens of my Fargonean friends would post statuses like, "I want to go out and help--who needs help right now?"  I sandbagged the houses of people I'd never met--I couldn't even tell you their names.

My hope with the great recession of the past few years had been that we would get back to a little more of that "we're all in this together" mindset.  Certainly, massive unemployment is frustrating, but the push to live more simply hasn't come through as much as I had hoped.  Initially, when the bubble burst, there was a push for people to do more volunteering, help those in need and maybe learn a bit about how the other half lives.  That seems to have gone by the wayside, and even though we at the library have people trying to volunteer all the time, we don't have the staff to supervise them.  Now it seems like everyone is just bickering sniping and blaming Obama.

Regardless of what the rest of the country and world do, I'm going to keep up trying for austerity.  Austerity without severity--that's my new motto.

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