What are we living longer for?

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
Onto a scrapheap, harshly built
By systematic, alternating turns
Of greed and guilt.

[From February, 2013]

 

She said:

“I’m glad I am the age I am,” she said.
“I’m grateful that the road behind
Is longer than my road ahead,
For all I see is war and fear
And grasping greed by grubby hands:
The dark night of the Soul of Man
Enveloping all creeds and lands.

“There’s poison in the hearts of men,” she said.
“An undiluted self-belief and blinding faith
Casts bloody shadows, hollows Hope
And spreads an everlasting hate
Which fashions cold and steals Life’s hallowed Grace.

“There is a madness in the minds of men,
Whose messianic propagations bend
The Golden Bough and fray the sacred threads,
Which then, in haste, they darn with fœtid patches
Lest the Light be glimpsed –
The Truth lies in the gaps,” she said.

[From January, 2013]

Don’t get old‘ – Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian, December 2016

It’s you, Conservative government. Please stop.

Please, Conservative Government, stop putting Britain’s people down. It is fatuous, unpatriotic and downright rude. You are our government; our leaders and representatives. You are privileged to hold the highest offices of public service. Why do you disrespect us so easily? Don’t you like us? Are we embarrassing you? Why do you keep speaking at us and about us as though we were the ones who are letting you down?

Stop selectively comparing us to other countries and other people to bully us and mask your inadequacies. This inferiority complex is yours. It is insulting and becoming tiresome to hear you carping on with your political envy. If their peoples work longer, earn less and have fewer rights, then that is not a competition I wish to enter. In fact, I would prefer that you openly disapproved of such economies. But stop, too, this flippantly pitting of our regions, counties and cities against each other. Stop expediently pointing generalised and judgemental fingers at people. And, please, stop expecting us to be grateful for your mean-spirited crumbs. It is our bread that you are eating.

And stop peddling paranoia to the xenophobes and stop perpetuating scarcity myths over resources that you are squandering. We do not lack the means but that you lack the political will. We do not lack compassion but you lack integrity. We do not lack aspiration; we do not lack gumption and we do not lack self-respect but that you would strip us of dignity and decent opportunity. We do not lack social cohesion but that you keep fostering fear, division and discontent.

Who is in charge of our country’s finances? Who is formulating our country’s policies? Who is devising our country’s laws? YOU. Who has been in charge for the last five years? YOU. Who, in that time, didn’t build enough housing; didn’t train sufficient doctors, nurses, teachers…? Who has denigrated and undermined public service? YOU. Who has introduced welfare reforms without first creating an economy in which this is justifiable? YOU. Who perpetuates a socio-economic system that requires the exploitation of your own citizens? YOU. Who makes blanket policies based on simplistic and insulting stereotypes? YOU. Who is blithely building on and recreating the same conditions that got us into such a fix in the first place? YOU. Who has bent over backwards to accommodate the hyperbole of bigots and Chicken Littles? YOU. Who governs by dubious moral whim? YOU. Who gambols greedily around on the world stage like an oversized and untrained puppy, begging to join in, no matter the recklessness and disingenuousness of the cause? YOU.

Who is ignorantly and wickedly cutting away at the very heart and soul of Britain? YOU.

Who is the biggest threat to the security of our isles, our economy and our families? YOU.

YOU. YOU. YOU.

You are the Government. You are responsible for the tone, content and quality of your narrative and you are responsible for the consequences of your governance. What we really lack is the practical wisdom, maturity and the competent service of an honourable leadership. Change your attitude and behaviour. Stop. Turn around or get out of our way.

Public Ownership as Aspiration

The latest explosion of ridicule and indignation finds its target in Jeremy Corbyn daring to speak about ‘public ownership of some necessary things‘. Media is abuzz with ideologues, lexical hair-splitters and supercilious interpreters making great effort to draw attention away from any constructive debate. If public ownership of natural monopolies had been advocated as a vehicle of Cameron’s Big Society I wonder whether the response would be this inane.

Clause Four! Clause Four! Oh, my good gods but the hysteria and vitriol, from both political wings, is woeful and tedious in its predictability. The capacity to focus in on the least relevant aspect of a message is remarkable. Clause IV (commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production”), re-nationalisation, pre-distribution, mutualism, socialism… Really, I don’t give a rat’s arse for the semantic games and the expedient framing they afford. The concept matters more than a loaded label, right now and ‘public ownership’ is an appropriate description. I care about the intention behind socio-political ideas, the mechanisms employed in manifesting them and their socio-economic effectiveness. Personally, it’s neither here nor there, to me, whether Labour feels a need to officially re-establish the principle behind Clause IV into its ethos. That’s for the Party to wrestle with. I am just glad that Corbyn is putting the basic principle front and centre.

As I’ve written, several times, over the last couple of years, I’d like for essential utilities and services, for example: energy, water, health, education, public transport.. to be in public ownership. You know: those upon which we all depend for national prosperity and personal well-being. How such public ownership is achieved, at this late stage, is probably going to vary according to entity, current systems, rational and legality so I’m not pretending that there’s a magic, one size fits all formula. However, the debate needs to be had. Rightists may have ‘won’ the argument once, a couple of generations back but it didn’t follow that they were wholly correct, did it..?

Why would the population of a country wish to create public ownership of those utilities and services deemed so essential to a civilised and prosperous Society? Why would such a population choose to hand over such responsibility, accountability, control and profit to (often) mercenary, private corporations? Why is it named ‘aspiration’ when it comes to the traditional reasons for individuals wanting to own their houses or to be self-employed/entrepreneurial but it is called a regressive notion for a whole nation of individuals to scale this up and share the responsibilities and rewards of collective interest?

As you know, I believe that it is We, the People, who are the State and that the Government and Official Opposition are supposed to be agents through which it is represented and its affairs managed. For a long time it has been self-interest that has been represented and public expectation that has been managed. We can’t say the People are represented when even the prospect of valid and valuable arguments is suffocated by the ignorance and hubris of the TINA Brigade and when all permissible discussion has to be funnelled, first, through an Overton Window of pro-exploitative, short-sighted and incoherent modelling. Markets, competition, the private and corporate sectors have their place but it is self-evident that they do not automatically constitute some socio-economic panacea and it is insulting and patronising to keep insisting that they do. I would rather the country comes to see public ownership as a matter of civic participation in an effort to better secure the collective pride and interest and the sovereignty of its citizens. The past and the present prove that the outsourcing of the most basic needs of Society does not.

Laborious

When I first joined Twitter I had a little refrain that went: Conservatives: they con us and serve themselves – Labour: making hard work of everything. I’ve seen many variations on the Tory one over the last three or four years. They are true, though, for both parties have become parodies of themselves, Labour being the most disappointing.

I really wanted to support Labour throughout the whole of the last Parliamentary term and, where possible, I did try but the Party made it so difficult that, in the end, I realised they were unlikely to provide the political answers and vision I was looking for. Though I exerted the majority of my contempt on the Cons because they were the ones in charge, I bashed Labour quite often on this site but, at the same time, I still hoped they would win this General Election because I knew that in a FPTP system, we needed them to, just to be rid of the Tories. Getting rid of the Tories became paramount. It was an odd circumstance, therefore, to ridicule and encourage, to bemoan and support Labour but I knew I couldn’t pretend they’d come good just because I wished they would. There can be a fine line between positive thinking and delusion.

Wishing and needing Labour to be the main governing party was, in the end, then, mostly to provide a brake; a breathing space. I remember writing that, when they won, we wouldn’t be able to relax for long; that we would have to push for the changes we wanted in all matters, from Foreign Policy to Social Justice; from democratic reform to environmental responsibility. I think all but the loyally blind knew this, too. Labour, in its present form, with its prevailing mindset, could only be temporary caretakers – willing facilitators at best – while we created something real and reflective of those who knew we could well do with turning ‘left’.

Like the neo-liberal groupthink of economics that thinks super-strength homeopathic treatment is appropriate when, really, we are in amputation territory, Labour seems intent on reaffirming the very characteristics that so many of its would-be, wanna-be voters have clearly and repeatedly expressed as loathing with a vengeance.

After the Scottish Independence Referendum, when Jim Murphy was installed as the Scottish Labour leader, I laughed and sighed and knew that the Party had learned absolutely nothing from the enduring impact of Thatcher and the negative effects of Blair. Since Ed Miliband resigned, the inevitable wallowing has begun and the Party is doing it again. They keep talking about how they must ‘learn the lessons’ and mustn’t go backwards but they can’t seem to move much beyond 1997. They are as misguided and nostalgic; as uselessly sentimental, in their own way, as Ukip and the Conservatives.

The Party still thinks and speaks of people in terms of top, middle or bottom boxes and of aspiration by categories of economic class. It still thinks of aspiration as something only ‘hard-working families’ possess and still imagines that our individual hopes and dreams are predominantly economically motivated and, when it says, like the Cons, that it is a ‘One Nation’ party, I feel it probably means conformist; homogenised, rather than nuanced and inclusive.

Too many in the Party still think and speak of ‘wealth creation’ and enterprise as being purely Business and Market led and that wealth and ambition are always about status and financial enrichment. They present as though only the poor old squeezed middle has aspiration and as though to lack it, in a recognisable form, is a failing. They think they didn’t win because they failed to talk about it enough… They think too much like the Conservatives and that is the last thing we need: more imitation. It is neither necessary to copy nor does it flatter the people of the country/countries – whichever the heck we are, now.

Aspiration is like growth, devolution, choice, Big Society and British Values – just another nebulous concept noun for nodding dogs that greases the wheels of policy but translates down into a patronising sop and an overly shepherded reality. Besides, not only do many people not wish to live by such intangible, politically arbitrary terms but aspiration is a disingenuous, deeply patronising hopium in a system that is knowingly manufactured as one big Ponzi scheme.

Sadly, the more some Labour folk try to explain what they think ‘went wrong’ and what it needs to become, the harder it is for me to even imagine being able to identify with the Party. I watched Liz Kendall on Sunday with Andrew Neil and I liked her. She seemed authentic and resonant, enough that I even thought I might want to give her more time of day. Afterwards, I came across a couple of articles that proclaimed her Blairite credentials which I had not recognised at all from her interview. I sighed. Again. She was going to be too far left of Blair’s, Mandelson’s or elder Miliband’s ‘centre’. Oh, they’ll choose Chuka Umunna, I mused. They’ll never let her lead. And I wondered if I would have liked her sufficiently to want her to and if I’d even get the chance to genuinely find out. How cynical…

Big Society; Big Business

Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” ~ John D Rockefeller

Charity: late Old English (in the sense ‘Christian love of one’s fellows’): from Old French charite (charité), from Latin caritas, from carus ‘dear’ [OED]

Charity is to voluntarily assist that which one holds dear. It is a noble, wonderful concept that demonstrates the caring and generosity of the human spirit. Charity can be international, national or local and be in aid of both collective and individual causes, the most moving, beautiful and appropriate sort being when big, open hearts crowd-fund in the face of sudden large-scale emergencies and small, singular causes. It can begin at home and be brought home and, for the reasons my friend, activist and fellow blogger, Jayne Linney, gives: local charities “are the Ones (most) worth supporting”.

Charity gives: of time and things. It is a service of the heart, whether by true compassion or by there-for-the-grace-of relief and/or guilt.

But Big Charity is big, big business. It creates think tanks, makes financial investments – and reeeeally long advertisements, gets generous tax relief, requires paid staff, is funded by fickleness… It is politicised and corporatised. As such, Poverty is a massive investment opportunity and Charity is a bubble that need not burst.

Personally, I think it’s rather depressing that a ‘developed’ nation still requires so many charities at all and I think it’s appalling that so many are so sorely needed now, just to cover for infrastructural, economic and attitudinal inadequacies.

And yet.. At this moment in time: thank goodness for Charity, whatever its size and form! And for those who donate and those who are volunteering themselves quite ragged, such is the struggle to meet increasing needs. For, under neoliberal socio-economic policies there are now many more holes in the safety net and Charity, in its myriad forms, is indeed the only entity plugging the most desperate and wholly deliberately made gaps. But, as Ekklesia’s wonderful writer, Bernadette Meaden says, “picking up the pieces” is also to risk “letting the government off the hook”. Conservatives see schemes like food banks as supply side economics (the double-thinking nerve of it!) – as a mark of enlightened social and economic success in a civilised people – so the demand they create, through their cruel policies, is spun as evidence that their Victorianesque ‘Big Society’ aspiration is working.

But how ignorant and reckless to purposefully shrink a perfectly reasonable remit of the State and replace it with an outsourced expectation of deeds of guilt and good will. How frighteningly regressive, negligent and patronising is that?! And how shortsighted and complacent is a Society that, rather than lamenting and questioning the political causes of the constant need for Charitable intervention, is, instead, content or resigned to putting its faith in and relying on the philanthropy of the wealthy and powerful – those who also co-create and perpetuate the dependency and help formulate the policies of government. And how terrifying for those demographics compelled to depend upon it in their increasing numbers.

Big Charity is another vehicle by which a government absolves itself of its duties to the State – that’s all of us, remember – and outsources its most ideologically inconvenient socio-economic responsibilities to private organisations. And when Big Charity actually becomes a contracted public service provider, who are its clients: those that provide the funds (which this Government is reducing)  or the intended beneficiaries as per the mission statement? And how pernicious is it that philanthropic organisations should depend upon the perpetuation of the very causes they set themselves up to alleviate and eradicate? It’s a most unpleasant symbiosis that doesn’t look anything like progress and I think we shouldn’t accept it because, while we do, any chance at developing an economy and a more equitable society that truly serves us all is greatly inhibited. What about Society is ‘dear’ to us and what will be the cost if we forsake it..?

What kind of country (or however many countries we are, nowadays) do libertarian proponents think Britain will become as the vast majority of the population is arbitrarily relegated to second-, third- or even no-rate status? Just how long could such a state of affairs actually last? How much country would there be left and who and how many could thrive in it? Or really want to? The trajectory hints at the dystopia of many science fictions.

A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.” ~ Ralph Nader

Farewell, Welfare

Farewell, Welfare.
You cared
How people fared;
Were there
To quell despair;
To square unfair with share.
And you fared fairly well
But now the numbers swell
Under a neoliberal spell:
The bell ends
In a deathly knell,
Telling the overbearing
And the Worried Well
The Safety Net is pared
To fare them well –
While all the rest stare into hell.

Britain Isn’t Eating

Britain isn’t eating and it isn’t only fleeting:
Stomachs growling in their thousands;
Weakened bodies, trembling hands – and
Anxious minds in free fall – all at the behest
Of IDS, a petty, jumped-up, self-made god,
Complete with hooves, in gold-plate shod,
To trample underfoot the poorest in the land.

It’s hand-to-mouth, from North to South;
From East to West – ‘existence’ best describes
The lives this bastard government can bring
Itself to muster. Britain isn’t eating and it’s
History repeating: clusters of the population,
Forced to choose between one outrage or
Another, quite preventable – starvation or the
Food bank.

And flanking, frozen Esther, gimp-like, grins
On point from sculpted plinth, to demonstrate
Her eager sycophancy for her hornèd clod.
The only thing upstaging either’s arrogance is
Clear delight in spiteful and relentless
Choreography. The topographic cheating means
That Britain isn’t just not eating…

Choice is all-competing: food or heating; dignity
Or vouchers; servitude or prostitution; charity or
Destitution; empty pot or pay-day loan; feed the
Car or feed the phone; school trip or a birthday
Gift; a haircut or a coat that fits…

Every day new low-pay, no-pay victims slip through
Nets with holes that stretch to endless loops and
Proxy scolds with folded arms and vulgar sanctions.
Britain isn’t eating while the poverty’s increasing by
Command of those in power who care little for the
Pointy end of choice – excepting as it serves to feed
The few in Britain who continue eating very well indeed.

If Boris were intelligent…

People say Boris Johnson is intelligent. Well, he certainly has good recall of a mercurial and witty mind, though it does seem rather predisposed to a reliance on the Classics – when he’s not pretending to be the bumbling fool. He is clever and instinctively opportunist. Like a fox. But everyone knows intelligence has several aspects. Some are very important. Generalising, there’s how academic intelligence breaks down into the mathematical, linguistic, etc. There’s the artistic and physical. There’s artificial, of course – if the cap fits, Boris… And then, there’s the essential stuff, like common sense, intuitive, social, emotional…

An intelligence quotient test, therefore, does not really measure Intelligence, does it? It can’t. A person can be trained to take it just as one can buy extra coaching for GCSEs. If it were so reliable a test and so accurate a measure of ability school leavers could just be given their number on exit. It could be popped into a computer and CVs could become superfluous. The IQ ruse is a deeply unpleasant red herring of a platform, especially when used as justification for accepting inequality as inevitable. It screams slippery slope. Everyone with an ounce of reason, born before yesterday, understands that people are not equal in every measure. Someone is always better, faster, wealthier, prettier, funnier, stronger, luckier – yada yada. Equality under the Law is, perhaps, as much as can reasonably be expected.

Boris represents that appalling blend of both ancient and modern Establishment: Blue-blooded and Neoliberal. Like far too many in his self-elevated position, he seeks to place a market value on citizens. They are regarded as commodities with varying degrees of value and deservedness. Value as determined by those who would place more in a banker than a nurse; more in the cashier than the single parent; more in the cold-caller than the road-sweeper. If he were intelligent, he would conclude that everyone has human, social and spiritual value as an individual. But Boris would use the IQ as another fiat currency.

Everyone knows that competition can be healthy, rewarding and progressive. But to subscribe to Life-IS-Competition is an arcane feudalistic attitude and it is not a demonstration of some superior intelligence. It just shows the conceit of inherent power. How intelligent is it to have had automatic access to an upbringing which affords the highest privileges and the finest education that money can supposedly buy if what is taken from such a glorified opportunity are merely a means, the strong desire and a sense of entitlement to use it over others? Do these elite institutions teach this deliberately or is it an inevitable consequence of their curricula? Is an escape velocity involved? Are we to say ‘Poor lamb! He is a victim!’ when he has taken such a foundation and squandered it for his own ends? Not everyone from such a privileged background arrives at this state of mind, after all.

If Boris were intelligent, he would conclude that grabbing a few of the academically brightest children and gifting them with selective access is a poor second to making every state school in the land so damned good that only a fool would pay to send their children elsewhere. He would advocate that everyone has their unique worth and something to offer if they only had space and time and encouragement to discover and develop it. Education is supposed to open the mind and inform. It’s supposed to facilitate confidence, critical thinking, curiosity and a love of learning. It is supposed to reveal an individual’s potential. Look what he got from his: that humility and compassion are obstacles to a ‘cream and park’ mentality. As though human decency was a weakness.

Empathy is high-end emotional intelligence. It does not come only from shared experiences. If it did, wouldn’t there be less need of it? It comes also from having an emotional range and an imagination of things outside of and other to one’s self. It requires conscious observation, active listening and the will to understand. Boris cannot help the fortune of his birth, nor the choices made on his early behalf but he sure can help what he has chosen to do with having just about every advantage going.

If he were intelligent, he would understand that the Have-Nots do not suffer from envy. He would understand that the suffering comes from the perpetuation of outrageous injustice by those he so hails. He would understand that this didn’t happen overnight. He would realise that his competitive values contribute to the plundering of resources, the access, accumulation and hoarding of needs-in-common, the return of Serfdom… He would see that this has finite written all over it and that he accelerates his own extinction. He would admit that the systems and policies he advocates are at the expense of everyone else. He would know how insulting, patronising and ridiculous it is to suggest that Society should trust in the philanthropy of the rich and powerful. He would remember that, before the ownership of this world became a competition prize, it actually belonged to everyone. He would have as much shame in his beloved history as he has pride. He would see the context of his becoming and recognise that it is not the solution but a vehicle of cause. But, then, if Boris were truly intelligent, he would have shown some measure of common sense and wisdom ages ago.