It’s hard to know what to deal with first—not only is the world continuing to go to hell in a handbasket, but the speed of descent seems to have increased. In the United States, where police continue to go unpunished for killing unarmed citizens, and national income continues to flow steadily to the 1% as wages decline and infrastructure falls apart, President Obama finally decided to call for some mild measures of income re-distribution at a moment when, with the Republican victory in the midterm elections, such things have become practically impossible. The international climate change negotiations are clearly doomed to insignificance, while the earth had its hottest year of the last 130 years. Wars rage in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Despite the European Central Bank’s firing up the printing presses to create new wads of imaginary money, Europe seems likely to drift deeper into depression, while the Chinese economy continues to slow.
In the face of such developments, the bankruptcy of official discourses is inescapable. In France, where large numbers of schoolchildren refused to honor a minute of silence for the victims of last month’s terrorist attacks, the Minister of Education announced a program of “moral and civic training” that would include (according to the New York Times) “lessons on how to fight racism, anti-Semitism, and ‘any form of discrimination.’” Will this include discrimination against Arab and other foreign immigrants to France? Will the schools discuss methods of lowering the North-African immigrant youth unemployment rate from its current estimated 60 percent? It was, let us not forget, Manuel Valls, Interior Minister of the Socialist government, recently seen insisting on the importance of human rights and French civic values, who called for the accelerated deportation of the Roma, saying that Roma people have “lifestyles that are very different from ours” and that “their destiny is to return to Romania or Bulgaria.”
Out of the many topics for investigation offered by this gloomy state of affairs, this month’s Field Notes is devoted to three topics: Greece, where the election at the end of January cast a light both on the developing economic, social, and political situation in that country and the potential for a revived social-democratic politics; Paris, where the murders of cartoonists at a satirical magazine and shoppers in a kosher supermarket, both carried out in the name of Allah, have raised profound questions about the content of “Western values”; and Mexico, where the “disappearing” of 43 students focused attention on the interplay between national politics, official corruption, and the drug economy. I am grateful to correspondents who provided materials (and translations) on these three hotspots-of-the-month. As ever, we welcome contributions on any and all topics for future issues.