Thursday, 10 January 2013

Let Them Eat Cake

Here's a re-run of a blog I wrote last summer. I stumbled across it this morning whilst looking for something else, and decided it was worth repeating. 

Is it a sign of hard times, or that we've had it too easy for too long?

A friend posted recently about a new phenomenon she has noticed, that of the objection to charity. It cropped up briefly on a post of mine last week, and then it cropped up on Facebook too. When it cropped up in real life, I just knew I had to write.....

I was raised to believe that sharing was the right thing to do. It was not an easy lesson for me, as I had no siblings. So in actual fact, I didn't have to share much, if at all, at home. I didn't have to share things or attention. Whatever there was, was mine. And yet, because it was explained to me very well, I understood that sharing was right and I had the desire to do it.

As a teenager, I started to learn about the realities of the world, as one does, and a very left-leaning sociology teacher impressed upon us the "greater" aspect of sharing. I'd always known, of course, that there were people in the world who had very little, as I'd been admonished for wasting my dinner when there were starving children in Africa.

But he explained to us that quite often, the suffering of the poor, at home and abroad, was often caused wholly or in part, by the greed, corruption, and manipulation of the rich and powerful. He had my complete attention. For the first time in my life I really understood "wrong". It was tangible.

Off I went to the library. I devoured everything I could find on politics and economics. Guess who got incredibly high marks in sociology. Yes, yes, it was all to do with the teacher's bias, but the learning curve was awesome.

I read Karl Marx. I LIKED Karl Marx. If you'd met me back then you'd have wondered where my beret was.

Working subsequently at the Ministry of Defence, and agonizing about being part of the war machine didn't change my opinion much. High ranking officers were the most disgusting, arrogant people I had ever met.

But then a couple of events made me rethink some of my opinions.

First, I got married. Became the proud owner of a mortgage. Did all the new homeowner stuff. Consumerism stuff. "It's mine!" stuff.

Then I got promoted. Moved to the Unemployment Benefit Office. Fraud department.

It made my head spin. I saw hardship like I had never seen, and I also saw the crassest dishonesty. I saw family men in tears because they could not provide. I saw other men quite happy to steal from the community pot, as it were.

It all stayed with me as I made my way in the world, through fat and lean times. How some suffer, and some lie, cheat, and steal. I met plenty more examples of both, and I know I always will.

And now, the world is back where it was at the end of the seventies. Except I don't remember this, then. I don't remember this attitude of "I've got mine".

Of course, in between we had all that "trickle down" nonsense. Did it work? Some think so. After all, after that all began, things did improve, generally. In theory it should work. The problem with economic theories is that they never take into account the human element. Greed, corruption, and manipulation.

So recession came round again, and what was different about it this time? Two things. The gap between rich and poor is much, much wider. And, the poor are being blamed for it.

But it's not true.

In Britain they even started going after the disabled. In an effort to reduce the amount of benefits paid out, they have done some outrageous things to test the ability to work. There have been suicides as a direct result of the drive to weed out the moochers. The public and the media went along with the idea that it was definitely scroungers that were costing the country.

Recently some figures were done. Money lost from benefit fraud (and by fraud they have now extended this concept to disabled people they deem fit for work) was calculated. Money lost from tax avoidance (legal and illegal) was calculated. The money lost from the latter is 120 times greater than the money lost from the former. Who is costing the country?

Now, it has been pointed out to me that a moocher is a moocher. You can argue about levels of mooching, causes for mooching, definition of mooching, and effects of mooching. The fact remains that there is mooching going on.

And when it comes to government benefits, be they welfare payments, or bail-outs of large corporations, everyone has their own BIASED view of which ones are OK, and which are not.

Let's get back to basics. I mentioned the community pot. In some societies, historically, this was a real thing. All food gathered would be put in it, and it would be shared out equally. As society became more complex the pot contains money rather than nuts and berries, but the principle is the same. Those who would steal extra nuts and berries for themselves, are reprehensible. Those who take more money than their fair share are too. It is WRONG.

Taxes are collected in the modern world, and become the community pot. Anything "handed out" is sharing from that. Taxes are spent on something. If anyone believes they do not get a hand out from that pot, they are deluded. Roads, schools, police service, environmental protection, you name it, everyone benefits. That is the entire basis of society. You may not always approve of exactly how that pot is shared out, but if you disapprove of the system, perhaps you should live on your own private island. Get a fishing rod.

But of course sometimes we are told there isn't enough in the pot. This may or may not be true. Some pots may simply not be full enough for the needs of the particular community it is in. All too often though, whoever manages the pot may be sharing it out badly, or wasting it.

This is why people frequently don't trust governments. There are endless examples of them collecting the money, and then not distributing it very well. The people in power may even keep it for themselves.

All of which is bad enough, but they then have the audacity to blame the poor for the shortfall. This is not new. This has been happening for thousands of years, and I assure you it will continue to happen. It will happen no matter how far to the left or right a government is, and it will happen just as surely smack in the middle. It will happen in democracies just as surely as in dictatorships, because power corrupts. Because the more money you have, the more you want. Because of ivory towers. Because of stupidity, laziness, and vanity.

It doesn't have to happen, but it will. You can have a revolution, or several, and it will happen again after that.

Thankfully, we have a back-up plan. We look out for one another. When the bastards in charge hoard their gold and don't let us poor plebs have any, despite the whole idea of taxation, we simply start a new system of sharing. This too, has always existed. The dirt poor have always shared what little they have with one another, in an act of solidarity.

Until now.

Something has gone horribly wrong. Ordinary people, downtrodden, working-class people, have bought into the rich man's idea of "I've got mine, you can't have it. I earned it. Go away". Neighbours are refusing to help neighbours. They are BUYING the story from the rich that poor people are the cause of all our problems. While suffering hardship themselves, they willingly take this propaganda, and then take on the culture of greed that goes right along with it.

Some will say they give to "deserving" causes. The causes they choose are frequently not those which address need, but which provide more propaganda. Yes, they'll refuse to give to the food bank, but donate to a political group.

Even churches, which are given a tax-exempt status, and all manner of special treatment and respect, because of the "good" that they do, are becoming conditional in the aid they will offer. And it's all political.

Having read all of this, if you think I'm a soft touch, think again. I was called out last week for objecting to aid given to those individuals who waste it and abuse the system. I stand by what I said. I have no time for those who lie, cheat, and steal. I believe in the community pot, and I believe in sharing. I object to those who don't play fair, no matter where they are in the system. I don't believe we should overlook that.

I should also point out that I have nothing against the rich, and would very much like to be one of them.

But I do believe in these pots, no matter who runs them, I do believe they are what separates civilized people from barbarians, and I do believe in compassion for those in need, even if it's their own fault. Because I am not perfect, I have made mistakes, and anyone can fall flat on their face. It is the lack of compassion that troubles me. It's a "Let them starve" attitude. I just don't get it.


  1. Interesting, coming back later - I owe, I owe, its off to work I go.

  2. Okay, so I'm cheating the system; I'm at work. Let's call it my break and move on. So, what exactly are you trying to say with the blog, Melanie? You kind of lost me. Yes, attitudes have changed but to say that the middle class has bought into the "rich" argument is a rather over-simplification. I think there are a large number of factors that are causing the purse strings to tighten in the middle class - I don't think that anyone I know buys into the "It's mine and the poor are to blame for their own fate." I do believe that the purse strings have been tightened and excuses given but the reality is that many of the middle class now find themselves one pay cheque away from poverty. Most of the folks I know are, in fact, living pay cheque to pay cheque, just as folks on welfare are forced to live welfare cheque to welfare cheque. There is far, far less income available to toss into that communal pot and when someone is so inclined as to donate to a cause, they are far more careful which cause and are far more conscious of how much.

    1. To be honest, I wasn't thinking of the middle class at all. But then I stopped and said, hang on, I wonder if our definitions are different. I think of myself as working class, not middle class.

      Anyway, my point is that I see an attitude change. Perhaps that as a much older person I see things differently than during the last real recession (late 70s, early 80s). It could be my perception is off. But that's what I'm seeing, a different attitude. A blame game that doesn't just point downwards or upwards, but sideways. I don't ever recall seeing that before.

  3. Its always been there, Melanie. We just are exposed to it via a wider spectrum. Immediate news and personal opinion via satellite tv and the 'net. These points of view have been around forever. There is even a biblical reference to it.

    1. Is it that? I don't remember it being like this before. I'm sure I pay attention. I don't like it. Don't like this ever widening gasp between the top and bottom. You know statistically the last time it was this wide was 1892?

  4. Nope. It has always been like this. What was this wide? The gap in income or opinion? Also relevant are the number of charities demanding money and the number of collectives screaming for attention. Their access to our homes and our consciousness is far wider than ever. In order to be heard above the rest, worst case scenarios are required, shock treatment if you will.

    Statistics can't/won't reflect people's hearts and minds with any real credibility. They are so easily manipulated as to render them useless for a balanced view.

    1. Income. The gap is back at where it was in Victorian times.

  5. As usual, I agree with what most of what you are saying. Boring if you want a discussion but there it is. However,I have NOT found the "I've got mine" mentality here. Not at all. The reverse is true, we have an increased sense that we are all so fortunate to live where we do, and we'd better pull together more. Maybe I am too Pollyannish to note the darker tones.

    1. Now that IS interesting. You haven't come acros it, for me it's new, Karen sees it as normal. We can't all be right, and we can't all be wrong either. Perhaps location is involved, perhaps it's perception.

      But what I do know is that if we did want a discussion, this isn't a very good venue for it. This is where Blogger falls down. Its whole comment/motification system is just as clumsy as Blogster.

  6. Replies
    1. It's better yes, it's not bad, but it's not threaded.