George Monbiot has recently written a number of articles (published in The Guardian) all of which have appealed to my egalitarian spirit. All of which have evoked in me a further yearning for a more income (+ wealth) equal society. These articles have forced me to ask of myself the questions which writers such as George Monbiot have presented. Questions which many are struggling with. I will not call this piece an answer to one of Monbiot’s recent questions; but it is a response. I encourage readers to find their own response.
The question: ‘Why has the public response to the assault on public life and public welfare been so muted?’ Does anyone care that the current Government are attempting (rather successfully) to rip away the welfare state? Does anyone care that we are being forced into an individual world, where there is no such thing as society? Does anyone care that the only responsibility that we are being encouraged to have is to watch our own backs? Does anyone care that we’re being crushed into a world where nobody is there to help (at least without payment)?
I must admit, whilst I love reading and being asked these sorts of question because my own responses and the responses of others is both enlightening and enpowering, at times they leave me with this feeling of disarray, with a sense of ‘I wish I was born in the 40’s’. That way, right about the age I am now I would be going through life whilst the ‘great levelling’ was taking place. I would have lived right through the era the welfare state was built and at its best. I would have lived right through (and hopefully would have been part of) the golden era of civil rights activism. A time when the collective; the social; the common good was the most important. I would have least known what it felt like to live in an egalitarian society. I would have been taught to value society and all that it does for us. A time when when power was in the hands of the people. I would have chosen this, even if it meant I still had to live through five recessions, Thatcher as Prime Minister, and the drive towards neo-liberalism and individualism.
But I, nor anyone of my generation (I was born late 1980’s), has ever known what it feels like to live in these circumstances. It is on this framework which I base my answer. It is both a response to those who feel my generation simply dont care and it is an encouragement to my generation to educate themselves on more collective societies and what that could mean for life.One doesnt have to look to history, look to Finland, Japan, Denmark or Sweden.
My generation are expected to be more active in preventing this assault on public welfare. But, how can you expect us to get active against the only thing that we know. We have only known a world which drives toward individualism. A world whereby we’re continuously expected to be able to seperate the deserving from the undeserving. A world whereby we’re continuosly told ‘You can be what ever you want’, all you have to do is ‘Be true to yourself’ and ‘Do whatever it takes’ (Ray Dalio founder of Bridge Associates (world largest hedge fund)). A world whereby if you arent self-determined you must be a failure. A world whereby you must prove your worth. Individual goals are everything. How your ‘story’ matches your peers is detrimental.
Going through ‘the system’ the idea that everyone has equal chance and opportunity to be and to do whatever they want has been seeped right through every piece of advice we’ve ever been given. We’re not often told that the very notion of equality of opportunity has been the greatest deception of our time. I’ve had this conversation many a time with peers (many of whom are bored at the very thought of talking about SOCIAL issues) whom believe that equality of opportunity exists. I mean, I cant criticise them for this, even for me, when I look around at my peers I could probably trick myself into thinking equality of opportunity exists. It is easy to forget that social class and the distance between social groups is very very real. It is easy to forget that we live in a segregated world whereby its becoming more and more common for people to live isolated from those of other social classes. It is easy to forget that the welfare state isnt just for those who want hand outs. It is easy to forget the many ways the welfare state has helped me in the past. It is easy to forget the importance of fighting for a system which can protect me in the future.
It is easy to forget all of these things because the only thing that has been asked of me is to succeed and reach my own individual goals by competing against others. My generation have been told over and over again that self actualisation is the only way to move forward. Those who are the most self-motivated in achieving what they want are the most praised. We are told to look up to the guy who is self made, who has done it all on his own, who didnt rely on anyone, who achieved his own dreams. We’re not often told that NO ONE has done it on their own.
I am in a position whereby I spend my life studying these issues and I thank writers such as Monbiot who has encouraged me to learn about those times and places where life wasnt so individualistically driven, where mutual interests and the common good help people get through life. Where helping others helped everybody achieve their own goals. But, I also caution writers such as Monbiot that not many of my peers have the opportunity (nor want it) to study society on a daily basis. Not many realise that we’re increasingly being burrowed into an individual world because this is the only thing that we have ever known. We’re told to deal with private issues privately. They are our responsbility. This is what we’ve been encouraged to be. This is the only thing we know. We have been bound to a world where we are told ‘if you cant beat them, join them’. Being beat isn’t an option in a such a competitive world, the bandwagon of individualism is!