Ambiguities in the Imagery of Financial Crisis (Nov. 12th 2011)

The almost universal use of the terms ‘firepower’ and ‘firewalls’ in reporting on the current financial crisis is surely odd and strangely revealing. David Gow, for example, follows the trend (The Guardian, November 8th, p.4) in describing the proposed European Financial Stability Facility as a ‘firewall’ and lamenting that it lacks sufficient ‘firepower’.

Originally ‘firewalls’ were used in combating forest fires, i.e. a destructive power in Nature, but now, of course, the image reminds us of computer programmes that combat a malign human agency, albeit converted to the form of a ‘virus’ and thus, once again, mysteriously, a threat of Nature. In the military analogy of ‘firepower’, the enemy is human, but we all know that human enemies are more comfortably annihilated when they have first been demonised and thus deprived of their humanity .

The implication is that, from the perspective of us kindly, ordinary people protected only by our pensions and savings, those wicked market operators speculating against ‘sovereign currencies’ are unambiguously outsiders, enemies and, even, hardly human.

And yet those same fearsome speculators are not Outsiders but Insiders, an integral part of ‘the market’ that is as inevitable and familiar to us as Nature itself, and whose ‘freedom’ (to speculate without restrictive ‘regulation’) is celebrated as central to ‘our democracy’.

What this imagery reveals, then, is the ambiguity of capitalism, where we cannot distinguish our enemies as a separate and ‘different’ group, because, as millionaire David Cameron tells us, ‘We are all in this together.’ But although this is the rationale of capitalism, the emotional quality of our imagery tells a different story.

(Published in The Guardian, Letters, Saturday November 12th, p.51)

Other frequent examples: the financial authorities unfortunately don't have at their disposal a 'big bazooker', so that there is a danger that the economy may not be able to 'weather the storm'. Again, evoking threats from external military and natural forces.
And I suspect that these ludicrously mixed metaphors may themselves be serving an ideological purpose (mystification), arising from an inability (or even an unwillingness) to focus precisely on the real political and economic processes and issues.