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Götterdämmerung 2015

I’ve never been a fan of Wagner so I surprise even myself assigning the final cycle of his epic opera Der Ring des Nibelungen as the most fitting anthem for 2015. In Norse mythology, the opera refers to a prophesized war among beings and Gods, resulting in the violent destruction and renewal of the world. Gotterdammerung (1) represents a disastrous conclusion of events. Something 2015 may indeed usher in. I’m not looking for it but the ominous signs cannot be ignored, despite my mother’s failed attempts at persuading me to “be more positive.”

Wagner was a serious man who produced serious works requiring serious concentration. Four-hour operas are not for the faint of heart. Nor it appears will 2015. This is a serious year, requiring serious people to address serious problems. Much of what ailed our world in 2014 – whether political, economic or cultural – has carried over into 2015 with cold and calculating aplomb, and will linger long after we’ve given up all hope of translating the meaning of Auld Lang Syne.

Two battlefronts are of grave personal concern to which I intend devoting considerable attention this year. The impending implosion of the Greek economy, and the consequence of crippling student loan debt in the United States. Both are transforming into Gordian Knots few adequately anticipated and even fewer now know how to untie. While seemingly unrelated, both events demonstrate similar patterns of intransigence or the willingness to admit system failure and begin anew.  The concomitant implications should concern anyone concerned with the status quo, whether preserving it or dismantling it entirely.

I tend to embrace that latter camp. Everything must change if everything is to stay the same.

As a Greek, I have watched the debt crisis now entering its seventh year transform from an economic crisis to a political one, where citizen fatigue and a complete collapse of civitas may culminate in the election of a new far-left Prime Minister Alexi Tsipras, a man who has clearly expressed his intention of abdicating Greece’s obligations to the Troika, essentially constituting the mother of all defaults. Should this come to pass, anyone anticipating airplanes full of banknotes from Frankfurt flying into Athens under cover of darkness to stem the silent bank run already afoot, may need another exit strategy. Like a Grexit. January 25. 2015 is Election Day in Greece and a day (forgive me) that will live in infamy.

As an educator, I see a political crisis of consciousness within the Academy now transforming into an economic one. Millennials – 80 million strong – so burdened by years of borrowing money to attend university at predatory lending rates, will be entering the mainstream economy of this country unable to afford the pathway to the American mandate: consumption. They won’t be able to buy cars, homes, vacations, furniture, martini glasses from which to savor their Ketel One or eco-friendly earthenware made by the Amish on which to enjoy their kale and quinoa salads…the stuff that style mavens have painstakingly and ubiquitously assimilated into the consciousness of the American consumer as a path to a better, more meaningful life. The impending delay in cash registers registering new purchases from this enormous consumer cohort means that the longer graduates remain financially unstable, boomerang back home to save money while working full time and in many cases multiple jobs to pay back loans, the longer it will take Millennials to ascent into the economic and social fabric of the country. That means a big, fat shift in how markets are made and who makes them.

The synergies connecting these two events suggest a global capitulation to the predictive apparatus of the 20th century. It has failed both Greece and the Academy and yes, the irony of the former creating the latter is not lost on me. Greece seems headed into a storm even Odysseus couldn’t have survived and college students face equally stormy shores, where the tides of what’s possible has been replaced by a tempestuous horizon of uncertainty and prolonging their entrance into a world of financial and intellectual independence, precisely the commodities so needed at the dawn of a new year.

The Germans have another polysyllabic word that captures so much meaning in one expression. Schadenfreude. Which means drawing pleasure from the misfortune of others. I wonder if in the private annals of European capitals, there is not a bit of “they had it coming” on the issue of Greece. As for young Americans, who among us could possibly derive pleasure from a generation “thrown into the center of world for caprice and its derision for disappointed hopes.”(2)

No wonder both have taken to the streets in angry riots. The language of the unheard.


My thanks to: 1. James Nass 2. Jane Austen

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