Archives for category: Poverty

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Twenty years ago I would regularly tramp up to Plymouth Hoe to raise a sociopolitical fuss about something. Usually, at that time it was the Criminal Justice Bill, the one that took away your right to silence while under arrest. Well, it didn’t, except that  ‘it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.’ What a busy copper with a quota might make out of that I leave to your imagination.

So we didn’t get the Bill stopped, but we made a noise, and there was at least a sense that people in the UK could be roused to some form of caring about the slow erosion of their rights that has been taking place for half a century. I remember standing on the steps of Charles Cross Police Station shouting slogans until two fellow protesters, who had been nicked for swearing within earshot of a police officer, were released. There were about fifty of us.

Recently, I’ve felt like I’m living in a nineties flashback. I’m utterly broke, marginalised and angry. I’m listening to Senser and Sacred Reich, and going to protest events. Pretty soon, I’ll buy a pair of second-hand combat boots and fail to do the laces all the way up. Then you will know that the revolution has arrived.

On Saturday, I was excited to be doing my protesting on the Hoe again. I hurried home from my saturday morning appointment with my daughter ( a visit to ‘Soft Play’, something like the assault course at Lympstone in bright primary colours) to change my Primarni jeans for combats and shove waterproof trousers into the pocket of my ragged coat. I fortified my self with some Public Enemy and toast, and set off.

Arrival

Two slices of toast and too much coffee sat resentfully in my belly as I walked through grey drizzle to the Hoe. The tarmac expanse of the Hoe seemed empty. Two elderly women and an equally venerable man with a stick walked calmly by. The didn’t look much like the forces of peaceful revolution, but they did look peaceful.

At the far end of the Hoe I saw some coned off parking and headed towards it. To my left, the Wheel, Plymouth’s cargo-cult London Eye, turned slowly, pausing every minute or two to allow hopeful tourists to embark and disappointed tourists to escape. The Wheel doesn’t extend the seaward horizon far enough to be any different from just standing on the Hoe, and the landward view of Plymouth City Centre’s concrete and cardboard bleakness is hardly edifying. A gently somersaulting pallid pachyderm.

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There appeared to be no unusual activity on the Hoe at all. Dog walkers and mums with pushchairs were my only companions. I began to wonder if I was even in the right place. Was this supposed to be in Freedom park, or Central park? I noticed a group of people milling around between me and Smeaton’s Tower, and began to head towards them, but soon deduced from their bright man-made fabrics and rucksacks slung on both shoulders that they were in fact foreign students, and thus slightly less useful politically than even british students these days. They began to dissipate as I approached.

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As I passed though the cloud of peach fuzz moustaches and iPhones like a neutrino through candyfloss, I drew my phone to text my friend James, hoping to find out where I should be. Almost as I did so I spotted James standing at the base of Smeaton’s Tower. The gentleman with the green mohawk in the Victorian iron shelter near the tower could only be Wheelie, our organiser. A few other people milled around in the drizzle.

The greeting James and I shared perfectly captures the moment.

‘How’s it going?’ I asked.

James looked around him with a wry expression and replied; ‘Yeah.’

‘Innit.’ I agreed.

We stood in the swirling moisture for a moment.

‘The brave man does not fear the rain on his face,’ I observed, ‘But the wise man seeks shelter.’

Over in the shelter, Chris ‘Wheelie’ Wilshire was characteristically upbeat. ‘Quality over quantity,’ he grinned, and commented on an almost complete death of hatred. Hate can’t bear the rain. One-nil to us.

We hung around a bit, while families took photos of themselves standing at the base of the light house. We talked about World War Z and allegations of Facebook jiggery-pokery. I sat up on the central divide of the shelter and looked out at the steely expanse of the sound, naval vessels out near the breakwater, and turned my gaze from the Citadel all the way around to Mount Edgcumbe and Devils point, seeing the fortifications of old wars.

The best soldiers are often those with the bleakest backgrounds. When much of the military stone work around Plymouth was put in place, the British Army really was the best in the world, not only in spite of, but because of the fact that most of its recruits were attracted mainly by the fringe benefits of Army employment; like eating more days than not, a half pint of rum or pint of wine guaranteed daily, and military service being a generally preferable alternative to hanging or transportation, rather than any desire to be professional soldiers.

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I wonder briefly if that’s the purpose. Do the elite envisage a return to a way of war that burns men like straw, and need to degrade us to the point that fighting at the front, killing the man in front of you, who is no different from the man next to you, is a better option than enduring the home front? No, don’t be silly, I thought. If it get’s that far the war will be all over in an afternoon.

James broke into my increasingly dismal musing.

‘Have you tried the tapas bar down on the water front?’

My brain made the same noise as an old stereo needle dragged recklessly across the orignal cast recording of ‘Cats.’

‘James! This is a left-wing protest dude!’ I spluttered. ‘It’s not Yuppies Against Hate! Tapas!’

‘Tapas is like carefully sliced and prepared hate’ laughed Chris.

‘Served on crispy corporate recklessness,’ agreed James, gravely.

The gathering peaked here, at nine people. Sixty had agreed to come on Facebook, with thirty-eight maybes. Not many, but some. Some is better than none, but it was hard not to feel disappointed at such a level of literally fair weather activism. Will we never have a people’s revolution in this country for no other reason than the weather? Iceland managed it, so apathy must be the real reason.

The Police arrived, two WPCs on mountain bikes cycling along the seafront. They passed by without even seeming to notice us. They don’t need to. The narcotics fed into the populace through their LCD’s suppressing dissent and protest far more effectively than nightstick and water cannons.

Make no mistake, peace in your country in this era does not indicate that revolution is not needed. The countries in which rebellion and revolution are even now taking place are the ones that are not irreversibly advanced down the path of quiescence and have a chance to save themselves. Those of us anesthetized by celebrities, consumption and self-regard slip further from freedom every day and do not notice, or even care.

In coming conflicts, we in the ‘civilised west’ may come to realise we are not the global good guys we like to think we are, but by then it will be too late and we will have no choice but to fight, like Sven, Porta and the Old’Un, not to win the war, but for personal survival.

Getting cold and wet now, the gathering began to disperse. James and I tramped wetly across the tarmac of the Hoe, past the monuments to Drake and the war dead, down past the Holiday Inn and into the concrete heart of a wet and dreary Plymouth. Thousands braved the rain to come here and buy things, nine came to suggest that perhaps buying things isn’t the be all and end all.

‘What you said about the rain…’

‘Yeah?’

‘That was an Egg Shen quote, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

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According to an infographic I saw recently, pregnancy and childbirth are the biggest world-wide causes of death for 15-19 year old girls.  The infographic is understandably quite upset about that.  It offends our western sensibilities to hear of women this young, children almost, being enslaved to the womb  as soon as menses are happening.  To us, childbearing is something that is supposed to happen when your body is fully mature, you have decent security and a support network and a shiny hospital to give birth in.  Isn’t it?

Unfortunately, for much of the world, no.  No it isn’t.  To me, this is a prime example of the overriding challenge facing humanity now: reconciling our evolved instincts with our emerging rational thought.  We evolved to live in a very different world to the one that most of you who read these words actually live in, and even those furthest from ‘enjoying’ western civilisation probably do not have quite the life pressures of the first humans.

Childbearing is something that is supposed to happen as soon as possible, evolutionarily speaking.  The earliest humans had a rough old life, with a projected lifespan of around 20 years and the childbearing process had grown long and arduous, with a practical limit of two viable offspring at a time, those offspring being entirely dependent on the mother for a dangerously long period before they can start to contribute to the tribe.  In that situation it was advantageous (to the species as a whole) to breed as soon as possible, and as often as possible, the creation and nurturing of the next generation of the species taking evolutionary priority over the quality of life, or even survival, of the current iteration.

In the ‘civilised’ countries where marrying and breeding in the high school years is generally frowned upon, we face a terrible struggle to stop the randy little bleeders doing it anyway!  Anyone with a daughter, and who was once a teenage boy, sweats with panic at the thought of parties and concerts and nightclubs and school trips away.  The activation of the human reproductive system (after a very long wait compared to most other species) brings with it a compelling desire to use the damn thing, now, while the body is young and elastic and strong enough to bear the strains of savannah life, climbing trees to sleep, running from leopards and so on, while several months pregnant. We have beds now, and the leopards are generally no longer a problem, but that compelling desire is still there.

In the ‘first world,’ we’ve increased our lifespans, opportunities and standard of living to the point that, when viewed intellectually, the imperative to breed early does not seem so pressing, and we’ve taken control of our reproductive biology to the point that we can have sex just for fun, with a far reduced risk of unwanted pregnancies.  We don’t need to squeeze out children as fast as possible, in the hope that one or two of the nine mum birthed, before number ten killed her, will make it to adulthood.  We can plan it, get everything ready and go ahead in the almost certain knowledge that it will be ok.  In the west, a stillbirth or miscarriage is a seen as shattering tragedy, but for many elsewhere in the world it is a numbly accepted fact of life.

If we want the luxury of placing one’s own quality of life ahead of the biological imperative to perpetuate the species that western middle class life affords with its security, education and health care to be extended to all human beings, then, well, the security, education and health care have to be extended to them too.  It’s that simple, and it will mean that the middle classes of the west will have to bite the bullet and accept a slight reduction in their standard of living to effect a massive increase in everyone else’s.  Such a small sacrifice really…like going from you having a 46″ telly and me having no telly, to both of us having a 28″ telly.

We are really a very simple animal, and when achieving even the bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not necessarily a given, then self-actualisation goes out of the window in favour of the older, more basic, drives.

People in the developing world facing a 35 year life span, in which infant and childbirth mortality will touch every family, in which one of a woman’s jobs is to birth new pairs of hands who will hopefully live long enough to help work the farm and…oh, please…keep us all fed for another season, will respond, have responded over generations, by developing societal norms that fulfil the biological imperative to reproduce, health and happiness taking  a much lower priority.

Viewed from our privileged perspective, these norms seem, well, not normal, and it upsets us that people are forced to live like that.  Eliminate situations like this by eliminating the economic, educational and health care gulfs between the world’s haves and have nots, and you eliminate the pressures that perpetuate the evolved, instinctual behaviour and allow rational consideration of one’s individual future to take place.

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Take a look at this by The Void.

A beautiful example of  middle-class provincialism. Either you live like the people who run the food bank…quiet, safe, obedient, boring…or you have a ‘chaotic lifestyle.’ Just ‘lifestyle’ on it’s own is an insidious word; it implies a choice, a decision to be a certain way, a bed to be lain in. No one chooses to have a life in chaos, any more than a buffalo chooses to stampede.

This attitude fails to realise that living a life in chaos implies certain fundamental things have gone wrong; limited education and opportunity, poor decision-making skills, and, deliciously, societal pressure to conform to the idealised life we’re shown on TV add up to throw these people into chaos. No one took the time to help them realise where their potential was, how to avoid chaos, how to distinguish want from need; how to use the rational mind. They choose to live the way they do the exact way a chimpanzee chooses to run up a tree and scream when it sees a leopard; through instinct alone and lacking the understanding of viable alternatives.

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Trying to shame/punish/starve the chaotic into self-actualisation is insane. The whole point of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is that each preceding layer must be complete before the next can be addressed. I already know people who are taking past-sell-by-date food from bins at the back of supermarkets. (Unless this has happened.) When you are solely engaged day-to-day on securing shelter and food, in the constant cycle of tick and nicking and the micro-boom-bust of giro day then you have no time or energy, or inclination, for self-improvement.

Regardless of what I would wish, society, no matter how egalitarian, will always generate drop-outs and misfits. The uneducated, the underprivileged, the simply not very bright, the addicts, the folks who just aren’t very good at this society (me, for eg.) will always find themselves struggling along at the back. There has to be someone at the back.

We could see ourselves in a race and devil take the hindmost, but I’d prefer to see humanity marching forward together, bundling the slow into the middle of the pack if necessary, helping them keep up, and yes, carrying them in extremis.

Punishing people for behaving like animals in a way that will only force them to behave still more like animals to survive can only reinforce animal behaviour. When everyone has a full belly, everyone can have an open mind.