The Bubble Burst

I’ve been hearing a lot about the Stock Market bubble bursting, or the financial bubble has burst or whatever, but what it really seems to be is that the whole bubble of our culture is about to burst.

And why? For the same reason that these big financial institutions are in trouble: when something gets totally cut off from reality, it forms a bubble, and forms a little reality of its own- the trouble is, this reality, like any bubble, will pop sooner or later.

I have heard the UK political scene described as a bubble many times, and the reason it hasn’t quite popped yet is because the bubble includes the media and the politicians- if it was just the politicians, then the media would pop their bubble pretty sharpish, but the politicians have been clever and have invited the media into their little London-centric, ex public school reality bubble with them, and they have both sailed off together into the sky, leaving everyone else behind.

At first people gazed in wonder as the bubble rose into the air, wondering if it was too late to join, and some squeezed in to join the party going on in there. After a while though, those inside realised they could only see each other, and the inner walls of the bubble were mirrored so they couldn’t see out at all. They felt pretty clever that they had left all the ‘ordinary people’ behind on the ground but as the bubble rose, they started to get the nagging feeling that they had left terra firma with no idea of where they were going.

We ordinary people down here can see the bubble for what it is, that is we can see that the politicians and the journalists have got a pretty cosy little arrangement going on, and we can also see that they are almost totally detached from reality. Those few people who take what politicians say seriously (and they seem to be getting fewer) are surely to be pitied, but they are perhaps investing their faith in something obviously flawed for the simple reason that they can’t see anything else to believe in. This tiny amount of remaining faith is the last string connecting the ‘media reality’ to the ‘actual reality’, and when this breaks, and literally no-one believes a word politicians are saying, then their bubble will burst.

The financial markets’ bubble is in the process of bursting for the same reason: it is getting harder and harder to believe in. There are so many layers of belief, with so little underpinning them, that it is soon going to be hard to believe in money at all. It is just created out of nothing as figures on a screen in the first place, and we have to work all our lives to scrape together a minute fraction of what someone else can create with a couple of strokes on a keyboard.

Add to the fundamentally insubstantial nature of money the overwhelming complexity of the money markets, and it becomes clearer why the bubble is bursting: no-one at all has any idea of what is going on, and therefore has no clear idea of how to save matters. This was an advantage for a long time, because it was assumed that underneath the complexity was something very profound and substantial, it was just that I, the individual looking at the situation, was not clever or educated enough to understand it. Now it just becomes clear that the layers of complexity were mainly to hide both deception and the underlying nothingness at the heart of the system; and if the layers could be stripped away somehow, they would reveal precisely nothing beneath.

What we have forgotten, it seems, is that all the clever philosophers who said that truth is just a matter of opinion, and that my truth is as good as your truth, and ultimately there is no such thing as truth, were wrong. What truth actually is may remain a mystery, but the fact is that if you create a bubble, the thing that eventually causes it to pop is going to be truth in some form or other. This is bad news in some ways because it means we can’t live in our bubbles forever, and that all debts must eventually be repaid (and I don’t just mean financial), but as we see various parties float off into the stratosphere, we can take heart that they will be back, possibly with a bump, as reality bursts their bubble.

The really scary thing is that those in the bubble may not know they are in it, and in fact we may find that our entire Western culture is a bubble, just ready to be popped- and the landing may not be a particularly soft one, especially if we land in a shanty town full of people who spent their childhoods making our running shoes.