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Robin Ince

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What's the Point of a Rich Society Without Generous Ideas?

Posted: 21/10/2013 16:15

I have finally watched Ken Loach's The 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 adultliteracy 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 holidays 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 patronizingly 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).

Robin Ince is a comedian, actor and writer currently touring "The Importance of Being Interested," a show about Charles Darwin, Richard Feynman and red-lipped batfish. Visit www.robinince.com for tour dates.

 

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