The Exponential Demise of our Well-Being

You know that sudden speeding montage of thoughts and images you get when a torrent of information flashes through your mind and your consciousness grasps their thematic connections and creates a glimpse of the bigger picture? It only lasts seconds but it’s revelatory and dramatic and, when it produces a physical resonance, can be said to reveal truth – be it the individual’s recognition of a personal truth or of an external reality. You shiver, feel sick, overwhelmed perhaps, or optimistic, even excited if the epiphanous moment is positive. It’s the kind of high frequency, moment of clarity that sparks creativity, spurs innovation and signposts direction – and of course, it can also incite utter panic. The fact that it’s not an everyday occurrence – besides probably making such events all the more meaningful – is likely a good thing: there is such a thing as ‘too much’ and systems, mechanical or biological, do not really appreciate being overloaded.

But what about the low frequency hum of the mundane? The unnecessary, interminable tension imposed by the government and its agents, who intervene for our own good like stereotypical missionaries: they’re enough to drive the sanest people to distraction. For a party which professes ‘small state’ governance, they’ve made spectacular inroads into nearly all levels our daily lives, with their micro-management and moral prescriptions. They’re like all-enveloping smog, systematically choking the goodwill, the patience and the hope out of an entire nation.

This bass resonance features large in our everyday domestic arrangements too. Life is a journey of relationships, private, public and overwhelmingly political in nature. Government is in your face; so is media hype. But maybe, so are your neighbours, members of your family, your friends, your boss, your ‘clients’… we are all someone intruding in another’s space. As the infrasound increases pitch and pierces the surface, the customary dynamics dance under intensifying friction with random acts of ‘true colours’ and out-of-character behaviour.

People are living precariously under perpetual and pernicious stress. (Sorry for the ‘Ps’) You don’t need me to tell you about the growing surveillant, authoritarian management-style; the stark poverty living side by side with gluttony; religious oppression and paranoia; conflict and invasion; economic malfeasance – the list is almost as endless as it is global – and the cost of such dis-ease, as we all know, is far more than monetary. We are being worn down by failure and blame and uncertainty. People can’t help but project their hopes and fears into the future, but how much can you channel or manage them when you are the puppet of puppets?

I see the low frequency as starting to have the same impact as the high. We are overwhelmed and panicked and most people are either fighting it off, drowning under it or veering between the two. This is a fight or flight lifestyle and it is unsustainable: you can’t operate indefinitely on adrenaline, can you? Not without serious repercussions to your physical, mental and emotional health. That would be like perpetual war…

Mental health is a spectrum. We’re all on it. We travel its width in both directions for the length of our lives and, if we avoid the pain at its extremes, it is surely by some merciful grace? But this does not mean that the rest of us are healthy individuals, communities or nations. Not when we live in a state of constant dis-ease.

For as long as they can, people cope as well as they can, with whatever resources they can muster and with varying degrees of success. It might be instinctive but it’s exhausting and dispiriting to exist rather than to live, so it doesn’t take any genius to understand why some will chose denial rather than face reality or the unknown; that many of those who cannot unsee and unknow, will seek intoxication as respite; and that recklessness will become attractive to some while others will withdraw and become frozen.

And people snap. Everyone has a breaking point – though I must confess: it’s somewhat reassuring in the UK, to know you are at least unlikely to be shot at. But, facetiousness aside – I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to discover where my snapping point is – I can’t help but imagine we will see and hear of many implosions, both in our personal spheres and in the News at large. There’s an ever increasing number of people who live every day at the threshold of a breakdown: people who are grateful if they merely find themselves no worse off at the end of their day than at its start. Every day. With no seeming end.

Lives of such fragility are surely unsustainable: they are certainly an obscene mark on a modern world. I fear that, in a climate of continual manipulation and confusion, gifted by the accelerating machinations of a powerful few, the exponential demise of our well-being is almost certain. But, just as pain and anger can be warning signals that something is wrong, so too is the hum and it is screaming at us to make the madness stop: to pay attention to real meaning and create meaningful solutions.

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The Malignant Gulf

The ability of those who insist on popping and squeezing us into deserving and undeserving boxes is so simplistic and crass as to be almost impressive. But, because people tend to believe what they want to and, because any belief a person subscribes to can be encouraged and confirmed by someone, somewhere, it’s easy enough to polarise people with the cheapest of generalisations and the most narrow or distorted of evidence. Of course, for this to be successful the discourse has to be superficial and stereotyped and requires a lot of efficient labelling. People love labels: it makes them feel they have the entire measure of an idea, a circumstance or a person. And nearly every one of us participates in the game to some extent. Yes, it can be benign shorthand between peers but mostly it is a malignant device, more concerned with revenge and punishment than persuasion and which serves to constrain everyone by widening the gulf.

Now, polarisation can and should be a vital and positive state because it provides a gap into which opposing views may encounter, inform and enrich each other. This is exceedingly useful in discerning one’s own personal ideals. It requires, among other things, an honest inner dialogue, access to information and the freedom to be temporarily confused or ambivalent without being afraid of the outcome at which one might arrive. It is perfectly possible, normal and reasonable to hold opposing thoughts and feelings simultaneously and indefinitely – or at least until you are tested.

However, apart from the ‘confused’ and ‘indefinitely’ part, this is not what is happening in the national conversation. In fact there is little conversation at all: rather we are talked at and down to by those who are spiritually and emotionally impoverished. People who lean Left are accused of being Marxist, envious, naive, dependent etc; those who lean Right are presumed to be elitist, neo-liberal, crony capitalists, pull-the-ladder-up types. Classical is pitted against neo-classical economics; big state versus little state. Blah, blah, blah.. Who cares? Who doesn’t? None of them are entirely right; none of them are completely wrong. But for as long as those in control see any and all of this as just a competition to be won; for as long as people try to find the solution based on selected chunks of history and adherence to worn out labels – well… we’re not going anywhere far or fast.

Behind the polarising of a nation lies fear: fear of being taken for granted; fear of not having a fair share; fear that our lives are at the mercy of others. This is a very real fear and a truth for around ninety-nine percent of the population. That covers nigh on the entire political spectrum – from left to right.

Obviously there are extremes and yes, it’s undeniable that currently we are being chauffeured dangerously to the Right – by many quite deliberately created opportunities, I might add. This is the political spin game and isn’t it obscene? We all know this: we all know this is dumbed-down governance, aided and abetted by dumbed-down media. Expedience grounded in seeming ideology. And do you know…? Sometimes I wonder if they’re as ideological as we perceive them to be: isn’t that also part of the game? Because, well… you’ve got to ground your bullshit in something… so why not a trumped up moral judgement? Why not pretend that economics is an empirical science? Why not use divisive tactics? Why not make everything black and white? Why not mislead half the populace into believing they are carrying or being carried by the other half? Why not only pander to one part of the country? That is the game and we are the angry, pathetic but cooperative pawns.

Why are we still allowing ourselves to be played like this? And why are we content to have our own needs so temporarily met at the expense of everyone else?

The Left is struggling to form a palatable alternative voice and vision and there are moves afoot to improve their messages – what the hell took them so long…? But, even if, no, when they get back into power – and Gods know we need the Tories out – it will be three to five years tops and we will be right back here again, arguing over which wing is better; which wing understands economics; how big the state should be; that we are badly served etc etc. Because these aren’t just times of acute crises, requiring emergency action: these crises are the result of chronically bad politics supported in no small measure by inadequate education.

We just go round and round and down and side to side – isn’t that a spiral? Well it’s not progressive, anyway.

People are rarely so absolutist through and through. Most people travel in both directions along a spectrum of opinion. They vary their positions according to context, experience, understanding, imagination and emotional intelligence. I’ve discovered that I lean left on many, maybe most issues, but I don’t run the country and the country is not run for me alone. I understand why people might shudder at the ‘loony Left’ as much as I shudder to hear the ‘righteous Right’. I know I will support the Left sufficiently to remove this dreadful Coalition, but I wish to high Heaven for a harmony. And that will require a more constant consensus than either the Left – and definitely the Right – can galvanise.

I long for the day when the discourse is not about what some theorist or philosopher said: it’s become about as useful as citing the Bible. I long for the day when politicians, media and active citizens drop their heavy reliance on the words of dead people who only ever had half an answer and were products of their time, not ours. It’s not that History has nothing to teach us – of course it does! History is fascinating and vital, provides perspective and creates a narrative for how we arrived here. It’s not that such events or thinkers are irrelevant: it’s that we are held hostage to them. If we can’t understand, define and describe our world, our circumstances in our own terms and words, craft our own solutions – start from here – then perhaps we are not ready to progress in any meaningful way. This is our era; our narrative. We should live a continuum of sustainable, positive progress, not a static, even retrograde and most insane mundanity.

If you can’t…

If you can’t facilitate the awareness and understanding of a complex world to children, then maybe teaching isn’t for you..

If you can’t uphold the law, serve and protect all citizens without bias, agenda, prejudice or irrational assumptions, then maybe policing isn’t for you…

If you can’t put patients before managers or profit, then maybe medicine is not for you…

If you can’t be compassionate and attentive to those who are vulnerable and dependent, then maybe social work or social care are not for you…

If you can’t put your duties and responsibilities before your own whims, bank balance and career prospects, then maybe public office isn’t for you…

If you can’t show integrity, respect for truth and an understanding of what constitutes real public interest, then maybe journalism isn’t for you…

If you can’t be bothered with the well-being, prosperity and concerns of an entire nation, then maybe politics isn’t for you…

If you can’t accept all people as being equal in worth and divinity, regardless of race, gender or sexuality, then perhaps claiming to represent ‘God’ is not for you…

From the hundreds

Hey, Ministers!
Yeah, you lot with the haughty faces
Wagging your pudgy fingers,
As if it was your place
To designate my status.
Bad smell is it,
That sets your nose ungainly high?
Well… aren’t you grand!
What precious, Punic peacocks standing
Deaf above the hue and cry!

 

From the hundreds
By the thousand, marking how the theft is rising
Puffed-up pride kicks to the wayside
Those indentured to your tithing…

 

What a troop of pompous prancers
Robs us in their finest weaves!
What a dubious intellect
That loves a nation on its knees!
But, oh my goodness!
Don’t you look and speak the part!
And aren’t you marvellous icons,
So adaptive and receptive
To the fashion of deceptive arts!
Just look at you!
All smug and snuggled up against the withered hordes
Well, aren’t you lucky! Aren’t you clever!
What vainglorious, cosseted and cozened crowing frauds!

Living Longer

What are we “living longer” for?

A few years more of being poor?

To reach an age of destitution,

Helpless in dependency?

To be neglected; disrespected?

Sitting in the same old chair

In mean and squalid institutions,

Half aware, not really there?

Or, horror! With a lucid mind,

Enduring time and yet more time

To witness co-invented wars;

To weep at wasted brain and brawn –

Our social fabric worn and torn;

To mourn lost generations born

Into a scrapheap, harshly built

By systematic, alternating

Turns of greed and guilt?

The Impartiality Ruse of the News

We all complain a lot these days about lack of impartiality in our televised news. Within any political hashtag timeline on Twitter, you can almost guarantee indignant tweets complaining of Left- and Right-wing bias. And indeed, there is justification in the outcry.

News, in print and on TV has become about keeping stenographers and town criers in work. These days, when it comes to news and current affairs reporting, I find myself wondering more about what is being omitted and how what is relayed is being delivered. It’s not objective and it’s not adequate. Half a report served through a framed lens does not a public information service make.

However, pure objectivity probably doesn’t exist – well, not for fallible, human minds anyway. Everyone has an agenda, whether they consciously act on it or not; whether it’s driven by greed, power, fear, optimism or whatever emotion you think I could have named. An agenda is not an evil in itself, being related as it is, to ego: neither then, can it be completely discarded or disregarded..

Over time, even the most noble mission statement may be lost in a large, powerful and perhaps slightly jaded organisation. They are rarely as independent as they claim or wish to be and, even when they are, they are obviously susceptible to compromise and complacency. Whether they start out with cynical or noble intentions; whether it’s to satisfy investors and Boards – they are either deciding for us what they think we need to know or they have become lazy and incapable of critical thinking. The information we get is increasingly presented through a corporate or prominent individual’s angle on the world which attempts to position the audience accordingly.

It’s the producer’s voice in the anchor’s ear; it’s the graphics, the studio face and the roving reporter: it’s the order of items and the time allocated to each. It’s the tone of voice and the body language; the lexical choice and syntax; it’s the calculated interruption and sudden cutting off – you know the style. Even the most independent heavyweight presenters, from whom we expect a degree of professional standard, too often put their own egos and petty grievances before the clarity and integrity of relevant information. It might be satisfying if you don’t like the injured party but it conveys us nowhere. Every now and then I listen to or watch a report or interview and think it really well done and, of course, there are a few terrific journalists and presenters here and there – conspicuous by their rarity – but frankly, given the dire state of things, this is relatively small comfort. Rubs salt, even.

I don’t think it’s possible for the BBC, Sky or any other mainstream news broadcaster to be completely objective or utterly impartial and it seems anathema or at least a major challenge for individual news journalists. Maybe we expect too much, but I think we expect too little: that we fell for an abstraction.

I think I’d prefer if the pretence at impartiality was dropped: it really insults our intelligence, don’t you think, when the interviewer swallows overt dissemblance or equivocation; when he lets the interviewee babble tripe or answer self-rephrased questions. I’m tired of such bespoke rhetoric: “If you’re asking me, blah, blah, blah…”. I don’t know if they seriously believe they’re doing a good job but I’m sick of being served mostly gruel when they have access to a Smörgåsbord of vital contexts and perspectives. Anyway, it makes the interviewer look like either a shady sympathiser or a sad sop. What I’d prefer to see is discipline:  the clean reporting of the facts by the presenter, followed by a clear and plain explanation when appropriate and then the analysis and discussion.

When it comes to interviews with politicians, journalists and other influencers to whom this medium gives a platform, I want the interviewer to ask intelligent questions and listen to the answers instead of thinking about the next banal cheap shot on a silly tabloid list. I don’t want populism and I don’t want personal, petty point scoring: stop wasting my time and take it outside. I want the interviewer to employ professional rigor to expose motive and challenge the claims of guests from an informed position. I want the interviewer to give these duplicitous narrators and makers of policy a bit more rope…

Under certain circumstances and conditions I must admit to enjoying a bit of spin and clumsy attempts at emotional blackmail, but when this happens it’s because I already have sufficient understanding to see through the crap. Then it’s entertaining, like watching Have I Got News For You…. (Or excruciating, depending on my sympathies for the victim)

But satire, though splendid at exposing gaps and providing astute and timely ridicule is likely to make us all insane if the news broadcasters don’t tone it down. For too long, opinion and wishes and what ifs have been carelessly, even deliberately blended with the actual and the relevant. This is a terrible disservice to public information: a real and cynical dumbing down and a general contempt for the audience. It’s little wonder we have grown so suspicious that we view the mainstream with our own shades of contempt. This two-way cynicism is tragic and very dangerous: this is the way we stop thinking; this is the way we come to believe everything and nothing; this is the way we become ignorant, reactionary and paranoid.

Welfare Reform Scapegoats

So, there’s not nearly enough work for the employable population and by this, I mean those of working age who are fit, healthy, underemployed or unemployed but available. We have the kinds of unemployment which threaten whole communities and entire generations: mass redundancies and NEETS galore who can’t get a foot on the first rung. Now, most sensible managers, given a choice, would utilise this potentially wonderful source first. But not this Government. Oh no….

Instead, the pillocks at the Top Table seemed to have divined that, lone parents and those whose lives are habitually dictated by a spectrum of physical and mental challenges have too little to do and should be the country’s premier source of fuel as a response to economic malaise.

This relentless and ruthless pursuit of the lone parent and the disabled person, at the same time and in the least conducive of economic climates, smacks of crass stupidity and boorishness. Yes, undoubtedly there is need to reform some aspects of Social Security – and certainly Social Care. Yes, undoubtedly there are cheats – but then, is there a walk or sphere of life where cheats do not exist? It seems beyond the wit of this Government to recognise that, as a result of their economic malfeasance, the economic climate is not currently conducive to their ‘welfare’ reforms. In fact, the timing of them is ignorant and cruel and demonstrates that they either don’t care or don’t know how to encourage a climate in which the whole country can flourish. Surely the financial costs can’t be worsened by a stay of these punishing reforms on those whose daily lives are already prescribed in no small measure – especially when the money “saved” is merely diverted to those who are implementing this ridiculous programme. This Government refutes the bigger, wider, sustainable solutions to this socio-political-economic picture, such as major investments in housing; infrastructure; universally accessible and meaningful education and health/social care provision; and whatever else you are mentally adding, dear Reader. But then, as we know, this cowardly Government hides behind easy scapegoats and superficial thinking.

The current measures are not being implemented to bring independence and autonomy to disadvantaged individuals. Nor are they being enforced because the country’s future and economic prosperity depend on it. This is to satisfy an ideological position informed by a mix of puritanical judgement, fake fatherly concern and that panic that comes with a lack of knowledge and imagination. But there is a fine line between pragmatism and cruelty when it requires the disabled and lone parent to validate their existence because they are deemed to be taking up room and draining resources.

A lone parent is often quite literally alone. You can’t rely indefinitely on goodwill and shared resources. If you are the only parent, with little or no unconditional and immediate support, then you are effectively on-call 24/7 – always. You’re bringing up the next generation, the source of Humanity’s continuum – it’s not a hobby – and, while it certainly isn’t temporary, the years when you have most influence and input might be. When you and, mostly you, alone, are that unconditional constant, the stability in your child’s life, you tend to want it to be you who is available when they are upset, or ill, reticent or just on holiday- not the childminder; not Day Care. That’s the sphere of your life in which you need to be reliable – not the job that pays you so little that you still need government credits.

Where is the sense in a society that forces single parents out to work for such low wages that they still require top-up benefits so that someone else, who may not be your idea of a suitable surrogate parent and who may not even like the job, can also be paid a pittance to look after your children? The same society which frets about family breakdown, quality time, modern pressures, neglected kids…

And if you have physical and or mental challenges that were officially recognised as disabling before the economic meltdown, it has already been accepted in some measure that your ability, capacity and reliability are potential barriers which narrow sharply the types of employment available – especially those jobs which pay sufficiently so as not to need government credit. How do you juggle the household, the personal care and the practical help you require: help that is already not always at a convenient time for you; and make yourself available for work: work that is already scarce for ‘fit’ people and probably doesn’t accommodate your variety of needs? How are employers to be convinced into equipping a workplace for someone who can’t guarantee whether they will manage five minutes or an hour of productive and reliable activity from one day to the next? How do you do said work at all if the journey to the workplace is all you can manage? How do you stop yourself feeling like you might be a patronised and resented token, a nuisance, an inconvenient expense?  How do you let go any dreams you had of forging your own progression as you’re herded from one advisor to another, knowing you could well be parked and still poor – and that this is it – trapped in a system with ever decreasing exits?

Is it wrong to be afraid that chains of pen pushers have been given arbitrary powers to play around with and effect control over so many real lives?

[Please do know, dear Reader, that I have experience of both single parenthood and disability and that I am not at all suggesting that lone parents or disabled people should in any way be excluded or discouraged from the workforce. Or that they should be prevented from achieving any degree of personal progress and fulfilment. Not at all. I think anyone, including a lone parent or disabled person who wants to, should be able to contact their not-for-profit jobcentre and obtain generous, competent and useful assistance in entering employment. I also believe in lifelong learning for all, access to retraining and voluntary work that is actually voluntary. But then, I believe in lots of things like that…]