My New Year’s Resolution was to give up watching, listening to and reading the news for a whole year. I was tired of the news and I was inspired to give it up by a friend of mine who’s not happy that our nation voted to leave the European Union. Every time he writes on Facebook he’s angry and every time you meet him in the pub he insists that no one can tell him one way in which we’ll all be better off by ‘Brexit’. He’s a good friend of mine, and the driving force behind the fundraising campaign to help me pursue my therapy work, so of course I’ll put up with his rants, but it’s not good for his health nor for the health of the nation.
I’m a huge fan of our National Health Service. I’ve had to call upon them on more than one occasion, due to accident and injury, and when push comes to shove their brilliant and I’m eternally grateful that I’ve never been presented with a bill. But let us understand that they are actually an ill health service and, despite the fact that we may all be living longer, in this nation, and almost certainly across the globe, we are not living healthier lives. There’s no black death, little tuberculosis and smallpox has been virtually eradicated, but the physical stature of man is in decline. All around me I see adults that are struggling to live comfortably in their physical bodies and more importantly children that are failing to develop the strong bodies they need for a good start in life. So what has Brexit got to do with the health of the nation? Well, I would suggest that the dissatisfaction of people that has led to Brexit and the declining stature of man are both the result of mankind’s failure to effectively make the transition into the new age we find ourselves in, what I would describe as the ‘post civilisation digital age’.
Our civilisation, which was built up over the last six hundred years, ended in the 80’s. All the old institutions came to an end. Some had already crumbled and some are still lingering, but the 80’s was the turning point when we made the transition from the collective way of our civilisation into the new barbarian era, an age of the freedom of the individual. So why are so many of us disillusioned and why are so many struggling with their health. When transitions occur, in life, old ways come to an end and new ways begin with an evolved consciousness and what we lose in one sense we have to find in another. What we have lost in the old sense and yet to find in the new is ‘pride’. Now ‘pride’ has become a dirty word in our time. Many want to cling on to the collective pride of old which has had its day; pride in the nation, our imperial history or the institutions you collectively belong to, be they work or social, while others see pride as the arrogance associated with the decadent remains of old ways, but pride is important. To quote Matthew Fox, the renegade Catholic priest, “Pride isn’t a sin. The lack of pride is a sin. Pride is necessary; that’s what self esteem means. Arrogance is a sin. Under arrogance comes anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, homophobia. All that’s arrogant, that’s a sin, but not pride”.
The 19th century was the pinnacle of our civilisation, when British and European empires ruled the world with the enormous power and might of an industrial age. They were harsh times for the working men and women, but what strikes me from old photos is the pride they took in their work, often with a whole community centred around a single occupation, be it shipbuilding, railways, mining or agriculture. They took pride in what they achieved collectively and this collective pride was not just limited to work. There was great civic pride in the infrastructure of towns and cities and the facilities they provided for the people; parks, schools, hospitals, libraries, museums. But that collective way in which we lived and worked has all but gone as we have evolved to become very much more individuals in our own right. The last remnants of our industrial past were swept away by Margaret Thatcher and her government. I don’t think she was wrong in doing so, but that transition into the new era was not made well. Thatcher’s idea of the ‘freedom of the individual’ was to cast aside regulation and leave everything to market forces, effectively unleashing the dogs. She created opportunity for anyone to enter into the world of business and make serious money, but at the same time, in this dog eat dog society, so many were disenfranchised and left on the scrap heap. This was not embracing the individual and how we must all come together having pride in ourselves, as individuals, and so for most people pride was lost and still hasn’t been found in that new sense.
Every year the gay fraternity march with pride and they have much reason to do so. It is not so long ago that they were persecuted. They, and other minorities are truly accepted these days as the individuals they are and in that respect society has moved forward into the new age and has cast aside the bigotry and intolerance of our civilisation. But the pride they march with is the collective pride of old and at the end of the day they all go home to struggle as individuals like the rest of us. Someone said to me the other day that ‘there has never been a better time to be disabled’. He was right in that not only are disabled people also truly accepted as individuals, but society bends over backwards to accommodate us, although I’m rather concerned for the future of those in need of care. What Leonard Cheshire began, shortly after the war, was ahead of his time. It was of the new age before that age had even began. He set up homes to care for people as members of an extended family, but they soon had to start employing staff and now they have been swallowed up by the corporate way. The more they are regulated and the more they become efficient modern businesses, the more the individuals are overlooked. Disabled people have become a business.
We all love the corporations. They give us fantastic motor vehicles, wonderful washing machines and computers and mobile phones for all the world over. They enrich all of our lives, but in this neo-liberal time, when everything is opened up to market forces, the corporations have come to dominate every aspect of life, domination for the pursuit of profit with little regard for the individual. As there domination has risen people have become more and more disenfranchised and subservient to what the corporations provide for us. This may be nothing new. It has been going on since the cotton mills out competed the cottage weavers at the start of the industrial revolution and the other side of the coin is that the automation of production releases people from a life of servitude, but I’m not sure what happened to the life of leisure. Now I’m not a Luddite, but when I was a child in the 70’s the town was full of family run shops and businesses while now it is full of brand names. There were several bakers, butchers and greengrocers galore, but now you’ll be lucky to find a butcher. Our land was covered with small family mixed farms and now you have lonely farmers with hundreds of acres of monoculture to manage with machinery so big it damages the very land they’re charged to care for. This disenfranchisement has led to discontentment, anger and fear and if you find yourself growing up in an old industrial town, stripped of its traditional employment, the situation is far worse. The European Union often gets the blame for this and so many voted to leave for fear of the unelected bureaucrats furthering this process while many others voted to remain for fear of making matters worse.
I voted for ‘Brexit’, but I’m not so naive as to think that leaving Europe really changes anything. As the Levellers sang, ‘the palace stays the same, only the guards ever change’. Our British government is as neo-liberal and embroiled with the bankers, their corporations and big business as the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission, however, I do think it is a step in the right direction. Some say you won’t change the system, but that neglects the fact that the system constantly evolves and has changed dramatically in my lifetime. I was born at the end of social democracy, often referred to as the ‘golden age of modern capitalism’. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was an era that brought improved working conditions, a welfare state, social housing, free education and healthcare. All that is now being eroded as we become subordinate to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power, so change the system we must. Leaving the European Union gives us an opportunity, but one that I very much doubt our politicians will rise to. It will almost certainly take more financial crisis before we are forced to embrace change. If we do not claw food and farming back, from the influence of the corporate way, to reclaim it as a culture of the people then we’re going to be in big trouble soon. Your average Western diet is already malnourished and it will get worse, as will the health and stature of man accordingly, but nutrition is not the subject here. The subject is ‘pride’.
Until we regain pride, in the new sense as individuals, we will not overcome the discontentment, anger and fear. But how can you find pride as a nurse working in a hospital that is so overburdened by an unhealthy nation that it can’t provide proper care? How can you find pride working with the uncertainty of a zero hours contract? And how can you find pride living in a run down housing estate with no end to a life on benefits in sight? The communities of old, built upon that collective way of our civilisation, have all gone and we must learn to build new communities around new ways of working that embrace the individual in all of us. Then we will find pride as individuals and we will once again stand straight and strong.
And lastly a word about the children. Poor physical development of children’s bodies is becoming a serious problem. The conditions of childhood are no longer always conducive to that development. Leonid Blyum talked to me last year about how this has come about with the end of free range childhood. When children were free to devise their own play, in the streets and up the woods, they naturally self regulated exercise and rest which created the perfect conditions for the mechanisms of development. Children these days are either too sedentary, and putting their self into computer games, or, even more importantly, too pressured into constant activity. Some say free range childhood came to an end because it became too dangerous to let kids play out on their own, but I don’t think my home town is any more dangerous now than it was when I was a young child in the 70’s. It was drummed into us then to mind the motors and never talk to strangers as these were very real dangers. Parents may not be prepared to take the risks these days, but, more importantly, the collapse of the collective way of adults has meant that children no longer easily find that collective way amongst themselves. Children are always reflective of the soul condition of adults and as we are struggling to find a way as individuals so are they. So when we as adults learn to build communities anew and find pride in the part we play as individuals in those communities, so will the children once again find a free and easy way of childhood conducive to good physical development.