Skip to content | Skip to menu | Skip to search

Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Truth or Consequences

Truth or Consequences

When you drive from Albuquerque to Las Cruces in New Mexico, you will probably get a good chuckle when passing by the town of Truth or Consequences. Who on Earth - or any other planet for that matter - would name their town like that? But the reality is relatively prosaic. The place is named after a radio show from the 1950s whose host promised to broadcast it from the first town that would adopt the its name.

But I like this unusual name because it reflects one of the fundamental dilemmas of this world. Every now and then, we face a problem and in order to resolve it we have to choose between dealing with it directly (the truth) or postponing it until it grows into a full blown crisis that will enforce the resolution through its own cascade of uncontrollable events (the consequences). On the surface, understanding the roots of our plight (the truth) seems preferable, but untangling their snarled structure often engenders identifying culprits, which in turn invites conflict - and that is something most people are trying to avoid. For this reason, many of us let the problems fester until the consequences set off a cathartic waterfall of actions. Perhaps, there is a primordial belief in deus ex machina involved in this calculation. The drawback of this approach is that consequences can be unpredictable and eventually much more devastating that facing the truth early on. It's like worn brake pads. You can choose the truth and deal with them early (replacing them) or you can wait until some kind of consequences materialize themselves - which they often do as you speed down a steep grade road while sandwiched between two semis.

For couple of decades the western world has lived above its productive means and our time for choosing the truth or the consequences has arrived. What cannot be sustained for ever, won't be. So what shall we do? Going for the truth could be a tricky business as there were many beneficiaries of the ocean of liquidity that our financial bubbles created. Direct or indirect. Names would be named, profiteers singled out, clawbacks demanded. That would involve investigations and some pretty hard judgments about who did what and who didn't, who profited and who was shortchanged, whose wealth has been justified by hard work and talent, and whose has merely been a chance reflection of the associated game of smoke and mirrors. Separating these would be next to impossible. Not to mention that we'd also need to admit that much of our past wealth, and by extension much of our lifestyle, were illusive and a fair reset mechanism would have to be found. And that's a tall order. So for now we have been papering over the widest rifts and wondering whether the coming consequences would have the form of an avalanche or a tsunami.

To make this Gordian knot even knottier, the strength of recent economic turbulence has blurred the lines between causes and consequences. If the experts cannot agree on the flowchart of the problem, what chances do unwashed masses have? Consider this. One pearl of wisdom I keep running across in the comment sections of economic blogs is: "The current predicament of Greece/Portugal/Spain/Italy shows that austerity does not work". This statement always makes me scratch my head a little bit: what!? That is like saying that hangover shows that we should never have stopped drinking. Austerity is the consequence, having lived beyond our means for several decades is the problem. It's not like we are choosing austerity because it is cool. Just like we are not choosing to have a hangover. But most adults understand that when you do something silly, the way out will involve unpleasant things.

But I guess the main reason we get so easily confused is that consequences have a nasty habit of showing up at our doorstep uninvited and wearing patched camo uniforms. For a good example take a look at the Italian politics. After suffocating on the European fiscal periphery for a couple of years, supported only by a weak technocratic government, the Italian voters finally opened their door and guess who showed up for the party? An unlikely triumvirate of a comedian, a communist and a convicted corruptioneer. How is that for funny consequences? And I am not even peeking into their political programmes. That would be a real fiesta of camouflage. See the Achilles heal of democracy is that in general it rewards pleasers, rather than leaders. And bad things supervene.

That is why choosing the truth - however painful - is mostly the way to go. Being proactive rather than reactive - even if it entails an occasional conflict. For the resulting consequences are rarely the kind that you could bring home to Mom.


No Comments for this post yet...

Comments are closed for this post.

This site works better with web standards! Original skin design courtesy of Tristan NITOT.