In Nikolai Gogol's Nevsky Prospect, one of the first themes to appear is that of greed and how it interacts with the citizens of this main street in the city of Saint Petersburg. Today, well over a decade into the twenty-first century, corporate greed has ruined and scarred the lives of millions around the world. Is the US election a game changer?
This remains to be seen, depending on who is voted into the White House - the insider Hillary Clinton who already knows the furnishings and the outsider, Donald Trump, part of the corporate elite of the United States of America but not (yet) a member of the political Establishment.
Since Gogol wrote Nevsky Prospect (it was published in 1835), so much, yet so little has changed. The world has moved from the agricultural revolution to the industrial revolution, we have experimented with autarky, the planned economy, capitalism and now we have the corporatist market-oriented model which instead of spreading wealth, has globalized poverty and dependence and destroyed democracy.
Those who take decisions these days are not the politicians we elect as our representatives, they are faceless, unelected bureaucrats or staff members of trans-national global corporations, taking decisions on spread sheets or Excel programs in Western Europe or North America, affecting the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across the globe. This is not democracy.
The bottom line for these unelected decision-makers is not the welfare of those working for the Corporation or those buying its products, the bottom line reads "profit" or in a symbol, $.
What matters is not the education of children, or the excellence of the healthcare system, or access to university. What matters are not housing conditions, crime rates, affordability of staple goods and quality of life. What matters is not whether people have stable jobs and a permanent source of income to raise their families and put bread on the table at the end of the day. What matters is how much profit is made to pay dividends to the shareholders in the corporations and stakeholders in our collective existence.
This in turn runs by robotization, automation, outsourcing and downsizing, in which formula the human factor is worth zero, this runs by firing drivers of buses to replace them with automatic driverless ones, firing pilots to replace them with drones. Fast forward and we will see drones waging wars, delivering books, and food, we will see fully automated banks, supermarket check-outs, call centers all with a token human somewhere, sometimes partially available.
As we take a look around us, this is increasingly already the world we live in, and as we travel around from Brasilia to Bissau, from Moscow to Maputo, from London to Luanda, this is what we see growing around us.
It is an aggressive world without the love that Gogol describes in his stories, without the passion of the young man who races along Nevsky Prospect, chasing after a dark-haired beauty who with one glance, freezes his soul and steals his heart. It is a world without human warmth, without human regard, devoid of care. It is cold-blooded, stone-hearted and callous.
A growing number of young couples decide not to have a television dominating their living room, while simultaneously they decide not to have children...because what's the point? If they want an education, they will have to pay through the nose for it, if they want a higher education degree they will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars. If they want a house, they will not be able to afford one and the banks will apply ever-more rigorous stress tests placing home ownership further and further out of reach. If they want a job, they will be over-qualified or under-qualified and by the time they reach thirty-five years of age, they will be too old for the market and way too young to retire. If pensions exist by the time they get there.
The etarian pyramid in some countries stands upside down and countries can only provide public services by borrowing. What controls our economy is the servicing of sovereign debt, what staffs out decision-making bodies is the unelected lobbies which dictate policy.
This is where the red lights start flashing, for we are moving into an area where our collective, continued existence defies logic. Like Piskarev in Gogol's story, where before we sought beauty, today we find ourselves in a wretched and miserable den surrounded by dark creatures who wish us no good.
This is not the world I have fought for, this is not the world I dreamed of and it saddens me that the elder members of my family move towards the twilight zone with sadness for the present and despair for the future... and longing for the past, which was far better.
It is in this context that the people of the United States of America gear up to choose their next leader. If it is one who allows the Establishment to close around her/him like a vice, then we will see more of the same. Or worse. If it is one who has the emotional intelligence to cut the "leader of the free world" crap and work honestly, with humility and mutual respect, to create a multi-polar international community which puts the human factor back into the equation, then that is the one with which the USA, and everyone else, will benefit. The answer, the future, lies in the hands of the citizens of the United States of America. The rest of us, like Piskarev, are onlookers.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.
How many angels are there on the tip of the needle? This question is just as pointless as an attempt to find an answer to the question of how many NATO missiles there are in Europe