The Blog

Unless We Are All 'I Daniel Blake' Nothing Will Change

The criminalisation of poverty has destroyed more lives in this country than any number of terrorist bombs ever could. Men, women, and children have had their spirits crushed under the juggernaut of despair.
Nicky J Sims via Getty Images

It is in the interests of the political establishment to have us believe that any rights we have were given to us at the behest of a system that is essentially good, decent, and moral. Whether it's the prohibition on child labour, the right to vote, trade union rights, the NHS, housing, or any or the rights we associate with a just society, they paint us a picture of benevolent governments working in the interests of the entire country, under which we are all treated equally and fairly as citizens with the same opportunities to succeed and attain the happiness we are taught is consonant with hard work, ability, and acceptance of the status quo.

It is a myth predicated on a lie so ginormous it is a testament to the way we've been socially conditioned that we've swallowed it.

If Ken Loach's I Daniel Blake, which is currently showing up and down the country, does not succeed in waking us up to the lie then nothing can or ever will.

Perhaps we would rather not be woken up, preferring instead to deny the brutality being inflicted on hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens on a daily basis up and down the country, as then it forces us to either do something about it or ignore it, thus inviting a personal hell as we struggle to overcome a conscience that refuses to allow us to do so easily. However the reality of the society in which we live is that it has only ever been to the extent that people have been awake to the injustices of a system that mirrors the Darwinian law of survival of the fittest that we have enjoyed rights that we mistakenly take for granted.

Those rights were won not handed down to us. They were won in struggles fought by previous generations, people who refused to accept a status quo of obscene wealth for a tiny few and poverty and despair for far too many, served up to them under the rubric of democracy. Poverty is no natural phenomenon; it does not arrive in our midst like the rain. It is instead the product of economic policies implemented by politicians with the objective of favouring the interests of a particular section or class in society at the expense of another section or class. When Karl Marx opined at the beginning of his Communist Manifesto that "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles," he took a scalpel to the benign mask behind which the snarling, feral beast of class power resides.

But just as you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, neither do you have to be a Communist to know what injustice looks like. All you need do for that in 2016 is take yourself into any Jobcentre in any town or city on a given day to see it being played out in real time. The criminalisation of poverty, carried out in the name of austerity, has destroyed more lives in this country than any number of terrorist bombs ever could. Men, women, and children have had their spirits crushed under the juggernaut of despair which those responsible have the temerity to describe as "helping people back into work".

The staggering thing about it is how so easily and willingly those who work in Jobcentres and at the DWP are able to dole out this level of economic terrorism. Where are those with the moral courage and principle to stand up at their desk and proclaim "No I won't?!" It's as if they are part of a vast Milgram Experiment, affirming the horrifying extent to which ordinary people are capable of committing monstrous acts of cruelty in obeisance to authority.

As the sociologist and psychologist Erich Fromm reminds us, "Once the living human being is reduced to a number, the true bureaucrats can commit acts of utter cruelty, not because they are driven by cruelty of a magnitude commensurate to their deeds, but because they feel no human bond to their subjects. While less vile than pure sadists, the bureaucrats are more dangerous, because in them there is not even a conflict between conscience and duty; their conscience is doing their duty; human beings as objects of empathy and compassion do not exist for them."

Ken Loach with I Daniel Blake has stirred the collective conscience of a society that has been complacent in its acceptance of a brutally unjust status quo, one consistent with the moral values of the rich and powerful - values we have imbibed as our own. In this regard, we are frogs in a pot of water being slowly brought to the boil. The only difference is what position you occupy in the pot. The Daniel Blake's, sitting at the bottom, are already being boiled alive, while for the rest of us it is only a matter of time.

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