What’s the point of a rich society without generous ideas?

I write a blog post everyday. It is squeezed in a short burst of time that I find. I warn you that I frequently fail to proofread. Be warned, there will be errors.

I have finally watched Ken Loach’s Spirit of ’45. It is inspiring, enlightening, but depressing too. Those who were there when the Attlee government came into power talk of the time before and the hope after. There are tales of fleas, five in a bed, squalor and death. Miners  talk of pit deaths caused because to earn your wage you needed to bring up coal, there was not time or reward for mending props or safety. Then, when Attlee won the election, we’re told of tears streaming down even the most rugged worker’s face. A doctor talks of modern USA society, though he might as well be talking of Britain, he asks, what sort of society can be that is rich and yet not have generous ideas.

Last week, in a fitful burst of reading newspapers, I read of the Red Cross getting ready with food parcels for the poor in this country, of the UK having some of the lowest adult literacy rates in the world, of the increasing number of working Londoners in poverty (and reports say this is true in the rest of the UK too) , while today I hear of instant profits from the sale of the Royal Mail. As the words, “we’re all in it together” were used so often, the fog of liar’s language so clearly failed to cover up what is under our noses. In three generations we’ve gone from the hopeful tears of a fairer society, to the clearest schism between an us and a them. 

I am one of the fortunate ones, I am firmly middle class. I have not known real financial insecurity in my life. I have pinched pennies in my 20s, but never so firmly that I feared living on the street or felt the true ache of hunger. This is despite the fact that, when opening newspapers, I have often read that “the middle class will be hit hardest”. It’s an effective campaign to ensure we believe we are the victims, so we don’t notice the real victims. Cuts in holiday’s abroad, access to fee paying schools, less cream on a pudding, all join black lung and rickets on the list of true suffering. 

“You think you had it hard, when I was growing up there were some weeks without a delivery from Ocado, we lived off mince and fennel one Sunday.” Once we are put in a “we are suffering” frame of mind, then when anyone else offers up their suffering, well, “we’re all in it together”. Don’t come to me with your malnutrition when I can’t afford After Eights. 

The preposterously rich, whether wealth is gained through bailouts, off shore accountancy, or selling what isn’t really theirs to sell, are deserving, they’ve worked hard to ensure scams and thievery is governmentally sanctioned for the few. Just as their doubloons are deserved, so the impoverished have got what they deserved, their trip to the food bank is of their own making. You’re poor because you are lazy or maybe you just have the poor gene. Reading of Gove’s educational adviser, Dominic Cummings, interest in the importance of genetics in educational performance, I look towards the shelf with my copy of Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius. Does this reveal this government’s thoughts on themselves and us, you are what you are because of the genes, George Osborne is Chancellor of the Exchequer because he is an Ubermensch, it is all in his As, Ts, Cs and Gs. Much as we might patronisingly attempt to improve people with quality education, healthcare and attention, we are fighting a losing battle with nature. Don’t you see, they were born to be drones. It takes a lot of pressure off if you start thinking that way. Altruism can be replaced by vague pity, and profit can trump people because nature says it is so. The economy is not about people, it is about some people. Why don’t we read more about the undeserving rich? 

We are at the mercy of tittle tattle, distracted by non-stories while post war dreams are sold from under our noses. Is it because all politics has moved so far to the right that the vaguest idea of fairness in the distribution of wealth will be smeared as rampant Stalinism?

Are we in a paranoid age where fear for ourselves and the constant anticipation that all will come tumbling down on us means there is no time to look out for others. 

“If they get left behind, it must be because they are weak”.

Reading Rawl’s Theory of Justice, and thinking of the idea of a society being designed where you have no idea what position you would find yourself in, would George Osborne really be happy with a zero hour contract? Would Gove be gleeful with the tin of processed peas and meat from the food bank? Well, it could never happen to them, they are the deserving class, they’ve sold your bed and now you’re going to have to lie in…what? 

How do we rekindle the passion and communal desires that we hear the class of ’45 so fondly speaking of? Altruism is an evolved trait, if Bonobos can use it, why can’t we? 

If we want to talk genetic traits, then the greed and hoarding for the few is really what is against nature. Before we swab the mouths of school children to read their DNA and place them in the correct class for their code, we better scrape the roof of the mouths of prospective politicians to check they haven’t got that rogue gene that means they force others to pick the lice off their backs, but run away to play before doing their share of the pickings. 

It is time for generous ideas (if we can just stop being frightened). 

I am off around the UK shouting, sometimes with Josie Long and Grace Petrie and sometimes on my own – Manchester, Colchester, Edinburgh, Finchley, Cranleigh, Evesham, you get the general idea – all dates HERE

 Brian Cox and I are putting on another two nights of Christmas Science, music and comedy at Hammersmith Apollo. Profits to Medecins Sans Frontieres, Sophie Lancaster Foundation and Student scholarship fund. Details HERE

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18 Responses to What’s the point of a rich society without generous ideas?

  1. Every time I hear Cameron say those words a semi Withnail & I quote jumps into my head.

    Stop saying that. we’re not in it together. The only thing you’re in that I’ve been in is this fucking universe.

  2. Pingback: What’s the point of a rich society without generous ideas? | Robinince’s Blog | Snaptophobic

  3. gavomatic57 says:

    Reblogged this on There Be Beasties! and commented:
    Yup, nail hit squarely on the head here.

    Thanks to my mate @snaptophobic for pointing this one out.

  4. Why are we letting this happen? This sort of thing ought not to be happening in the 21st century, yet it’s unfolding before my appalled eyes. All I seem to manage is to get more and more angry, raging against the injustice and selfishness, yet my rage is impotent. It makes no difference. Have we become so scared of losing what little we have left that we are afraid of standing up and saying “No! Not in my name!”? Will we have to schedule the revolution to fit in between X Factor and Strictly so we can guarantee some attendance?

    • Scurra says:

      The Roman Empire still needed the Vandals and the Visigoths to topple them, even though they were clearly unstable (in every sense) – an outside force strong enough to make an impact. Meanwhile, to have a proper revolution, you need the government to have really pissed off the army.
      I don’t see either of those things happening soon. (Well, I guess that when the US payroll stops, something might happen there, but I suspect that the Army will be paid before any “social security”…)

    • Ben Kirkby says:

      If the Facebook comments by friends and acquaintances following that ‘on benefits and proud’ programme is anything to go by, too many ordinary people are in thrall to the miserly penny-pinching worldview put forth by our ruling classes for any revolution to occur yet. As our society is chipped away at piece by piece any time people start to get angry about it, like clockwork a family with dozens of children creaming in apparently enormous amounts of money from ‘hard-working people’ in benefits is wheeled out by our national media outlets and the anger is diverted away from the crooks selling us out.

  5. sam says:

    History makes hard viewing for people who believe in human progress. The Royal Mail 500years in the making, then bang gone in a week

  6. angela says:

    You have desribed exactly what is happening today. Most decent people are angry enraged by it and are doing there bit, speaking out ,starting campaigns,online petitions etc and i for one will be at the next march against cuts!! Whatever you have planned drop it and please be at the march!

  7. ‘scams and thievery are governmentally sanctioned from the few’..very true

  8. Hear, hear!! As one of those nasty little working class ingrates who had the temerity to become chronically ill and become a leech to the nation, I wholeheartedly agree!

  9. Richard says:

    I am disheartened that the ‘opposition’ are not screaming about this daily. I read yesterday that healthy life expectancy for a woman in Sunderland is 10 years less than for a woman in Hampshire. That fact alone should have us all marching through Westminster.

  10. Carole says:

    have any of you read New Scientist this week? Editorial is “Think or be damned”. Superb! You’ll like it.

  11. Jeff says:

    I felt a little throbbing in my pants at the mention of Rawls’ theory of justice. Excellent post.

  12. Reggie Adams says:

    I’ve got bundles of new ideas. No shortage at all. That’s if anyone wants to hear them. See http://www.thehumanistparty.com and http://www.nowutopia.co.uk

  13. Simon Fakeson says:

    “How do we rekindle the passion and communal desires that we hear the class of ’45 so fondly speaking of?”

    Many people in my circles are beginning to look at Basic Income as a way of overhauling the welfare system and providing a monthly sum to every citizen unconditionally. It may sound like a fantasy but I seriously believe it is possible, we just need awareness and to push for it.

    It has a long history of working in various places and I think we really need to start taking the idea of it seriously if we are concerned about the long term public health and human well being of our citizenry.

    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/34269 Here is a discussion on the LSE by an economist who believes that in such a system “revenue neutrality would be possible”, I would also advise to look into the work of Guy Standing too.

  14. markelord says:

    Great article, expresses much of how I and many people I know have been feeling. However, I feel it’s not just a matter of getting the Middle Classes to change but everyone. The urgency of now, today not tomorrow, next week, next year has to be impressed. The blinkers must be removed. As a musician and would be writer I know how Community Arts/Music can benefit everyone. When the funding for these programmes was taken away I could see that drones is what the Government wants. They don’t want free thought because that would be detrimental to their ideas. they only want worker bees who make no fuss and accept their ‘lot in life’ which is to make heaps of cash for the 1% and be happy with that. What is being missed by these narrow minded, 80′s tribute Governmental policies is the fact that some kid/s somewhere, and they may be from a ghetto, could hold the key to the cure for Cancer or HIV or be the person that solves the energy crisis or has the blueprint for a fair society

  15. It’s exactly the same here and everywhere. Its so very frustrating that the bands of thieves governing our countries have a large band of naive simple minded followers they have been able to convince that they are doing it all in the name of their God and that its so much more important that the 1% stay at the top or it would be catastrophic to the world. Just the amount of anger over universal healthcare, since when did it become such a bad thing to have medical available to the masses without them having to choose between life and being homeless. I recently had a friend die because she didnt have insurance, for fear of a bill she would not be able to pay, she died and in a country that many arrogant assholes claim to be the best in the world, not through my eyes, I know what I see and its not good.

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