Friday, April 24, 2009

Waiting for a Jubilee

In some sense all revolutions fail, although the brief interval of true revolution, like carnival and disaster, can lead to substantial change. There was a particular carnival of sorts that sought this renewal specifically, the jubilee that has always hovered as a promise and never been executed as an actuality. The jubilee described in Leviticus is supposed to happen every fifty years and "proclaim liberty throughout all the land," free slaves, cancel debts, return land to its original owner (who might be God or no one), let the fields lie fallow, and bring about a long reprieve from work. American slaves sang of jubilee, early nineteenth-century revolutionaries embraced it as a great redistribution of wealth, a starting over with justice for all, and the British group Jubilee Research (formerly Jubilee 2000) seeks Athe cancellation of Third World debt as jubilee's modern equivalent.

[THE USES OF DISASTER: Notes on bad weather and good government By Rebecca Solnit, Harper's Magazine, October 2005]

Until I had read Rebecca Solinit's remarkable article excepted above, all associations I had with the word Jubilee were tied into a plastic commerative coin I received at school in 1977 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's II 25 years of reign. But powerful ideas have a way of infecting you and the notion of jubilee has taken me.

I thought of jubilee when read Jill Lepore's article “I.O.U.,” in the April 13, 2009 issue of The New Yorker where she traces the remarkable history of debtor's prison. There used to be a time - not that long ago really - when only traders were allowed to declare bankrupcy and thousands of ordinary people were jailed for the smallest of debts.

I thought of jubilee when I learned that there are more slaves today than any other time in history.

I can't help but pass on the idea of jubliee to others.

And I think I may have been successful in transmitting this idea a little farther along from my introduction to it in 2005. You see, last year I played an massively muliplayer forecasting game called Superstruct and in the game I proposed that we reinstate the jubilee. Berkley's Institute of the Future has recently released exerpts of its forecast based on the ideas generated in Superstruct and in it I learned that they've included a Jubilee year in its projected 50 year timeline [pdf].

Its going to be in 2051.

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