Category Archives: Society Mores

He’s at it again

It’s hard to believe, but last week he put his foot in his mouth again.

For one who supposedly wants to be leader of his party, George Osborne is making a pretty poor go of it. And it gets worse and worse.

His Budget last week was, in itself, a bit of a mishmash of old ideas muddled with new thinking. He had trailed some of it already. Not much of it came as a surprise. He continued to favour the better-off in British society and failed to help those less able to help themselves.

As result, the present Cabinet has lost one member – Ian Duncan-Smith, for whatever reason – and may lose more before his Master, it’s chair, David Cameron, decides enough is enough and retreats to whatever ‘retirement’ he choses.

Meanwhile, George seems to think that all he has to do is grin and we’ll like him.

Personally, I’ve always been a little circumspect about people who grin too much. They seem to be hiding something else behind the façade of friendliness.

Sometimes it’s no more than politesse. At others it’s malice; it could be idiocy.

In George’s case, it seems to be a combination of the last two. He looks like a malicious idiot.

And he did it it again last week.

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Is the search for civilisation becoming a lost cause?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a project that’s caused me to look up the exact meaning of a variety of words.

Over the same time – and probably for even for longer – I’ve become aware of the number of doomsters who would have us believe society is going to hell in a handcart.

As a result, it occurred to me to check out the real meaning of ‘civilise’ and its partner, ‘civilisation’, and to wonder if – leave aside the doomsters – we really might have lost our way.

Not the meaning of life

My battered Chambers tells me ‘civilise’ means: “to reclaim from barbarism : to instruct in arts and refinements”. And that ‘civilisation’ means: “state of being civilised : culture : cultural condition or complex”.

Now I’m no expert, but it does seem to me that, for centuries, mankind has been trying to ‘civilise’ almost every aspect of what we’ve come to know as society: our way of life, our habitat, our behaviour, our environment, our laws and much more have all been subject to civilising forces.

And yet, when I look around – were you to look around – it’s hard not to conclude that we still have a long way to go before we can say we have reclaimed the world from barbarism.

True, we don’t still wear animal skins or live in caves. Well, not many of us do.

We are generally polite towards one another. Well, most of us are.

We are, by and large, mindful of our environment. I think.

And our laws do have the effect of controlling the wilder elements of society. Well, most of them.

But couldn’t we do more?

The search goes on

I’m not advocating a society in which everyone is so well behaved, so well housed, so well fed, so well dressed and so polite to each other that ugliness, non-conformity, eccentricity and individualism is never found anywhere.

That would be akin to living in a custard coloured world, with nothing to eat but custard and nothing to wear but custard-yellow clothes.

I’m sure no one wants that.

But wouldn’t it be nice to see a little more progress towards civilisation?

A little more grace and dignity here and there?

Not quite so much noise. Not quite so much of the isolationism borne of headphones and mobile phones and a little more of the interactive behaviour that’s often associated with more “civilised” times.

I’d like to think the search goes on, and that you’ll want to be a part of it.

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Brand’s voting values

Russell Brand has never shirked controversy.

Now, having gone head-to-head with Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight show, he’s really put the cat amongst the establishment pigeons.

Interviewed by Paxman, he had the temerity to suggest that “democracy is irrelevant” and to inform him that he never votes. In a follow-up piece in The Guardian, he said: “The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change”.

Lambasting the entire establishment – politicians, bankers, big business, the police and the church – for its disengagement from real life, he believes that all of us can “contribute ideas as to how to change the world”.

As an example, he cites his friend’s teenage son who, in a school essay, said he prefers the idea of spoiling ballot papers rather than not voting, because it shows the politicians that “we do care”, that we think the political system has no meaning or relevance to our everyday lives.

Suzanne Moore, writing again in The Guardian, backs Brand for his approach to what she describes as “a nexus of politicians, media and police” that currently dominates political debate in the UK, and for stimulating that debate.

She also points out that “it took a comic to do this”, going on to say that comedians often function as “our public intellectuals, wise and witty speakers of truth”.

No joke

Brand may be a comedian, but there’s nothing jokey or stupid about his basic stance.

He may very well have called for the impossible: a utopian ideal in which everyone’s voice can be heard.

But his point about the closed society of the establishment is well made.

The question is: How can we encourage ourselves to take more interest in politics; to give ourselves a chance of making the difference Brand endorses?

How can we break down the walls of the establishment citadel so that its occupants can see the world beyond their limited horizons?

Make us vote

One solution would be to make voting compulsory.

But what if we don’t want to vote for any of the parties on offer?

I don’t believe the teenager’s spoiled ballot paper is the answer.

Spoiled ballot papers don’t amount to anything. So far as the establishment is concerned, they’re just rubbish. Not worth the paper they’re printed on and certainly not worth counting.

Which is why, for years now, I’ve held that – not only should voting be compulsory – we should be given a slot on the ballot paper where we can put an X against NO CONFIDENCE.

Faced with a recognisable percentage of the population who have NO CONFIDENCE in any of the political parties or independent candidates, rather than a vague idea of the people’s disaffection based how many spoiled their ballot papers, the establishment would have to pay attention.

If nothing else, they would have a clear idea of how many of us they’ve alienated.

They think they know now, and that we can be disregarded, but the facts would take some refuting.

Anarchy or empowerment

The present system of voluntary voting and spoiled papers leads only to a deluded level of amateur anarchy.

Compulsory voting, and a guaranteed opportunity for expressing a resounding thumbs-down to the whole system, would lead to a greater engagement in politics in general, and – as Brand has suggested – an increased feeling that we could do something that might, just might change the world.

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Over-working the hard-working

“If I hear that expression once more, I’ll scream”.

So said my partner, a few weeks ago.

Thank goodness she was speaking figuratively, otherwise I’d be deaf by now.

The phrase she hates with such passion, and which I’ve come to loath in equal measure, is “hard working people”.

We hear it all the time these days.

Politicians from every party constantly talk about “hard working people”, as if they’ve identified a special group in society – the hard workers – that they want to identify with.

How many times have you heard David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg, David Milliband, Ed Balls and a host of others say they’re “on the side of hard working people”?

Britain’s Tories quite clearly are. The phrase is splashed all over their current party conference.

Even President Obama used the phrase in a recent discussion about the value of Obamacare. Apparently, it’s for America’s hard working people everywhere.

What I want to know is this?

What’s the difference between hard working people and people who just work? Even people who just work hard?

Do we all have to be grafters employed on production lines to fit into the group and get the benefits? How dehumanising could that become?

Do we all have to have fingers worn to the bone by hard work? How painful would that be?

Must we spend endless hours slaving at work we’d rather not do? How much stress must one person bear?

Are our noses to be worn smooth by constant contact with the daily grind? Where’s the fun in that?

Can’t we have just a little bit of fun, even at work?

Must we always be working so hard?

A joyless life

It seems to me that, if we’re all expected to be so “hard-working” in order to reap the rewards offered by the politicians – the tax breaks, the mortgage deals and so on – we’re likely to lose something along the way.

We’ll all be so exhausted we’ll have nothing left to give to our lives outside work. No time. No energy. Nothing.

Creativity will wither, unless someone’s paying for it. Why would anyone create anything just for it’s own sake?

Family life may suffer, unless one works hard to find a sane balance. How much energy will be left for that?

Joy may become just a woman’s name.

Because everything in life will be governed by whether or not it – or the person who’s done or made it – qualifies as “hard-working”.

I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe.

I’ve never been afraid of hard work; not ever in 50+ years of near-continous employment.

But I hate being expected to join the ranks of the “hard-working” just to remain part of the government’s thinking.

And I suspect the government’s thinking centres on how much tax it can harvest from “hard working” people rather than how much joy it can sow in the hearts of the country’s careworn population.

What a miserable, over-worked “hard working” lot we may become!

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