I do not have the words to write this piece, it needs years of consideration, of learning, and of careful deliberation. I cannot guarantee I have years and so I feel I have to try and mould it now and risk it being half formed. I cannot be sure I have hours, none of us can be sure what time we have and that motivates me to put my thoughts to paper. Mayhap I will return to it another time and, as a wiser person, make it what it truly should be. For now this is what I have to give.
“We need to highlight the role women play in perpetuating and sustaining patriarchal culture so that we will recognize patriarchy as a system women and men support equally, even if men receive more rewards from that system. Dismantling and changing patriarchal culture is work that men and women must do together.”
– bell hooks
We have a tendency to devalue that which we possess and to over-value that which we are denied.
In the feminist gatherings and events I have been privileged to be a part of I have seen the greatest of human strengths – the strength of people from diverse backgrounds to stand together against seemingly immovable domination, the strength to fight against impossible odds and carry on regardless of defeat after defeat, seizing the little victories, taking the baby steps that lead inchingly closer to equality. I have both learned from, and been humbled by, what I have experienced.
At these gatherings I have been taught by the most inspiring of people. Women who chose to accept my lack of knowledge and, sometimes harshly, correct my beginners mistakes. To them I am and will continue to be indebted. I have seen so much good and so much hope and yet I have also, repeatedly and subtly, seen a lack of understanding when it comes to the actions of men; most especially a lack of understanding of mens oppression under patriarchy. Perhaps this is to be expected, men have many benefits under the patriarchal system and it is easy to see men who have been warped by patriarchal society as the cause of the oppression as opposed to a symptom of a greater issue. This lack of understanding is perpetuated by the fact that, under patriarcy, the vast majority of men are cut off from their ability to experience their own feelings and articulate their emotional needs. We, as men, are self-prevented from educating others by the deeply ingrained rules of our society. We are guilty of being unable to take the step that those brave feminists took with me to help educate other genders about our own personal experiences and through teaching seek to redefine and mold them into a healthier form.
Others have done good work around the experience of male oppression. I recently read bell hooks “The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” and also Terence Real’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” and there is huge insight there – but the body of knowledge surrounding the male experience of oppression is under-developed. This subject needs to be furthered and, if patriarchy is to be replaced, it needs to take it’s place alongside the other oppression literature that helps to educate us about the world in which we live and arm us for the struggles ahead. We need to understand men’s oppression not as an excuse for patriarchy – there is no excuse for patriarchy, whichever group seeks to further it – but as a legitimate position in the web of oppression that we struggle with on a daily basis. Men need to be helped to see their oppression for they are strongly conditioned against recognising it. Groups need to come into being in which men can share experiences without judgement and learn to reflect and reconnect with the feelings that were taken from them in their childhoods. Men need help to see they are wounded so that then they can take responsibility for learning to heal and through that healing learn to moderate their own privilege.
The Emotional Purging
I am capable of fully experiencing three emotions – Fear, Love and Despair. I have the capability to properly express one emotion – Fear. Everything else can be felt only up to a limited point. I feel happiness, but only in a limited way, beyond a point my body shuts down and I become instantaneously numb. It is as if the gas propelled shutter that protects a bank teller from assault has been activated – you do not see anything move but suddenly an impenetrable wall is there and the happiness is on the other side. It cannot hurt me, cannot leave me vulnerable. I can experience a little but then I experience nothing at all.
I can remember a time when I had access to a full range of emotion – aged ten is the latest age I can be certain I experienced life fully but I may have had a few years longer. By 16 I definitely had a foreshortened ability to experience emotions. Somewhere in between, most certainly in my years at senior school, the emotional range left me and was replaced by the safety mechanisms that keep it out today. These mechanisms hold the emotion on the other side of a barrier, I still know they are there, I still know that I should be experiencing them and feel despair at my inability to connect with what I, perhaps naively, equate with the ability to be human.
This experience does not just belong to me. The few men that I know who are capable of speaking out about it tell similar tales and, almost exclusively, the emotional disconnection happens in the teenage years. The years in which we take the step from being boys into being men. It is in this period that what I choose to call the ‘masculine ideal’ is embedded into us.
How We Survive
How does a person survive within the masculine ideal if they cannot allow themselves to transmit, or even experience emotions? Well, it turns out that humans are ingenious and plastic animals. If the majority of the male sex is incapable of communicating a concept due to the same disability then it actually gives them an ability to empathise (at least intellectually) with the suffering of their fellow men. It is this empathy (or perhaps proto-empathy as it is highly limited in its scope) that both drives the male urge to bond and allows a coded understanding to exist between men regarding their general emotional state. The fact that I can let another man know how I feel, that he can decode my pain and I his is just enough to carry on.
If I am depressed, if I am feeling truly bad or perhaps even suicidal and a close friend asks me ‘how are you doing’ I will not break down in tears or explain how my world is falling apart – I will not because I cannot – but I will say ‘not too great’ and if I am feeling seriously bad I will give a single firm pat to his shoulder as I pass him. Those words combined with such a blatant digression from the rules of no contact acts as a strong signal regarding my pained state of mind. A signal most men would ‘get’.
I can express my love for a friend through my actions, my willingness to takes risks with him and for him. Indeed, as my friendship with this man grows I may seek increasingly risky situations in order to enable both of us to express our mutual trust and platonic love. The means of expression for this potentially life altering emotion? A half nod before the risky act, a short smile afterward as the adrenalin begins to ebb, a spontaneous hug with back slapping and verbal high fives. These are examples of the strictly regulated means that men are permitted by patriarchy to share emotion. Though crude these means can and do serve to form a bond of common purpose between groups of men that last a lifetime and allow the spanning of vast periods in which the men may be apart. In a world without emotional communication those you make any contact with will always remain your friends.
Although it seems like a blunt instrument, and contrary to popular stereotype, communication within the masculine ideal is incredibly subtle and nuanced. It’s defining factor is not its lack of depth but its lack of breadth. It can communicate a limited range of what may originally have been ‘forbidden’ emotions between men and serves to both bind those men closer together and lessen the mental anguish associated with their inability to express emotion. From the moment of group expression onward the individual will feel more comfortable with that group of men than he does alone or often with members of the opposite sex. He will have found a family, but a family that is ‘addicted’ to each others presence, a family that needs to engage in occasional acts of societally unacceptable behaviour in order to enable it’s members to renew their bonds.
A Personal Perspective
My personal experience of emotional amputation is re-played inside me every day. I suspect it is the same for others, to some extent we can all hear the knocking on the other side of the barricade.
I have cried once in nearly twenty years. There is no capacity for me to cry – any emotion that would cause tears gets shuttered before it becomes intense enough to have an effect. I suspect this reaction was learned in the schoolyard to protect against the violence doled out to those who didn’t meet the masculine ideal. Nowadays it means I do not cry at the funerals of friends and relatives – indeed I often give the readings because I am unencumbered by emotion and unlikely (unable) to break down part way through. During moments of intense passion the shutters come down – suddenly I am not passionate, all I have left is an intellectual image of passion that I try to enact. When I do experience any emotion it becomes paired with anxiety. Even the emotion of love is an anxious experience inextricably tied to the fear of loss.
In a disaster I am calm – I’ve been among the first on the scene at several vehicular accidents and in those moments I become a ‘man’ and take control – the internal conditioning kicks in. Afterwards, when the adrenaline dies down and I begin to shake, I will take myself away and hide somewhere quiet because I cannot accept others seeing my perfectly understandable physiological reaction – a reaction I (and many men) interpret as weakness. People ask men why they do not seek help when they are hurting, why their rates of alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide are so much higher than those of women. I say that the answer lies in patriarchal society teaching us that the single most important thing is the masculine ideal. Teaching us that, by inference, it is preferable to be a drunkard or an addict than to lose our masculine status by expressing emotion. It is even preferable to die by our own hand, an act that carries a certain manly respect, than to let our emotions free and become nothing.
It is an act of immense courage for a man to cast off his allegiance to the masculine ideal and enter into a potentially permanent period in which not only other men and women but he himself is forced to regard his current and past personal worth as zero. It would be a truly rare man who could take that step alone – to leave himself without any form of traditional or cultural support, who would choose to become a no-one. To my mind this is reason that most of those who have begun this journey were already outcasts or had already buckled under the pressure of maintaining the masculine ideal and exhibited mental illnesses born of that strain. It is mostly those who have had little or nothing to lose that have chosen to walk a path that begins with total loss. Even then the man may find that he chooses to regress as his self-esteem raises, as he realises that he can reintegrate into the society of men at some level and once again receive the emotional support that it provides.
This is the position I find myself in now. I choose to renounce the masculine ideal and try to reclaim the emotions that I feel will make me human once again but for every two steps I take along the path I take at least one back. For every dream I have of my freedom I dream another of dominance and violent aggression. I talk to my loved ones more about my feelings but I am acutely aware that I cannot access many of those feelings – and if they are unshared with me how can I share them onward? I am walking in a wilderness in which I feel little worth in my achievements and a constant pull toward returning to past harmful patterns. What keeps me moving forward are the supportive friendships I have with a number of people, mostly feminists. Lately I have felt that these friendships are not enough. For all their support these mostly female friends cannot understand the nature of the thing with which I struggle because they themselves have never experienced it. They cannot truly understand a man’s oppression by patriarchy just as I can never truly understand a woman’s. We can acknowledge each other, support each other, but we cannot truly know the other’s enemy.
My experience of the birth of the masculine ideal within patriarchy, as a man, begins within the schoolyard. In no other place within our society are the rules so strictly enforced and failure to conform so rigidly punished. At the age of eleven your friend relationships are everything, even eclipsing the familial, and those relationships are governed by strict rules learned from our relatives, peers and the media at large. Strict rules regarding the attributes of maleness and the concomitant suppression of emotion that involves. I personally grew up with a solid diet of war stories, war films, tales of singular heroism and stories of individuals or small groups overcoming all odds. The values these things project are oddly similar to the masculine ideal I have found as an adult.
The traits of a man, as presented within my culture to a boy of eleven are as follows:
- A man can be anything he wants to be if he tries hard enough (and by inference, if he fails to be what he chooses he has not tried hard enough and he is not a man).
- To show any emotion but anger is weakness (to shed a tear is an act of failure whilst to intimidate another is to be a success)
- Physical ability is a paramount achievement (and so those who fail to make the team have failed to be men)
- A man is sexually attractive (to be unable to secure a woman is a failure to be a man)
- A man is resolute (to take time to think or search for balanced opinion is a failure)
What is telling about the above traits is not what they prescribe – all men know the masculine ideal – but the meaning ascribed to the failure to meet any or all of these requirements. To show emotion does not make you a woman, it makes you not a man. In the absence of another gender identity it makes you nothing. It nullifies everything about you, it makes you zero and leaves you unmoored and adrift. If you are not a man then you cannot partake in masculine bonding and form emotion venting groups, no matter what you achieve in the state of not-a-man the sum value of your life will always be multiplied by zero, it will never amount to anything of worth. If the child, and later the man, does not follow the code then they must rapidly break free of the entire patriarchal masculine ideal or be forced to live a life with no forms of connection at all. To be male is not a state of being, under patriarchy it is a target one must constantly fight to achieve lest you cease to exist at all.
We absorb these truths from innumerable films and television programmes. Every war movie in which the stoic hero goes to his death in the service of a cause or saves a friend by dying in his place. Every time a hero runs after an opponent, leaping from rooftop to rooftop before pummelling his nemesis into bloody unconsciousness. We absorb these things from our fathers who in turn have absorbed them from their fathers. We absorb them from our mothers and grandmothers who encourage us to be whatever we want whilst openly admiring the strong or the quick or the beautiful, who identify a character as a ‘baddie’ because he is ugly or limps. It is not the fault of most parents, they cannot do anything but reinforce the dominant patriarchal current within our culture – but they perpetuate and strengthen that current nevertheless.
Even those of us with access to somewhat more open-minded parents cannot be protected. Our schoolmates bring their parents attitudes with them and re-enact them with great force. There can be no meaningful escape. To survive we buy in to the patriarchal narrative, we bury ourselves deep in the knowledge that our emotions cannot, must not, be found if we are to survive.
By the time we leave the schoolyard the damage to most men is done. We carry the lessons onward into the world at large. We carry the understanding that we must constantly push and dominate to maintain our maleness and that those who are ‘weak’ can be looked upon with love or sympathy but can never be considered equal. We understand that only by playing the game will we acheive any emotional release any catharsis regarding our internal divisions. We also carry with ourselves the knowledge of the absence of our emotions. It is hard for any person to come to terms with an amputated limb, even if they understand the amputation was necessary for survival, so too is it hard for any man to come to terms with his amputated emotions – especially when he thinks he can still feel them behind the barricades – like a phantom limb cramping where no real limb now exists.
Many men are desperate to find a way out of patriarchy but they do not know it or at least cannot name it or see the bars of the cage that restrains them. Men everywhere struggle to understand their feelings of entrapment and desperation in a world in which they feel they should be masters, who are appalled at their own destructive behaviour but cannot identify its root or control its expression. Many men need help and whether it is our role or not the only way many will receive it is if we help to educate and rehabilitate them. I would even suggest that to help to heal them is the only viable way to overthrow patriarchy in our world.
The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, it is the crisis of patriarchal masculinity. Until we make this distinction clear, men will continue to fear that any critique of patriarchy represents a threat.
– bell hooks
I have looked for and failed to find a body of support for men as they pass through the wasteland of the post-masculine ideal and attempt to construct or discover a new, more holistic, way of being. Some resource exists, the Goodmen project, for example, are centred around responsible and fair behaviour by men within this society but fail to address the underlying problem. No-one I have found addresses the twisted form of socialisation that our society takes as normal and uses to wring the emotional capacity from their male children. I support the Goodmen because their stance is well meant and does some good – but they are not enough to address this problem.
I dream of an organisation of men who have chosen to enter into the wilderness and, at least temporarily, discard their values. A society of men that can offer the support that each of them will need as he is tempted to return to the aggressively dominant ways that he has been taught; who struggles with the truth that it feels better to be emotionally crippled and yet supported by your peers than it does to start out on the journey to wellness alone. I dream of a society of men that can offer each other support, as best they are able, and who strive to find a better way for themselves and the generations that will follow them. They will get things wrong, they will need to learn from others and be constantly forced to build and rebuild bridges. They will need to learn to find a new way of being, a way that feels alien to them and that may well leave them rejected by the women and men they’ve left behind. They will need to break a new way that ultimately lets them feel and express the emotions that were stolen from them in their childhood. A way that their children wont consider new, but normal. A way that will grow and help all men.
Such an organisation does not exist.
I will try to do my best to help build it.
Within our moral structure it is a central, but oft unspoken, tenet that individuals must give their consent prior to any action that may affect them or that may prove limiting or distressing to them. It can only be through an individuals private decision to partake in an action or to allow change to be made that they can meaningfully engage with that change or action. Furthermore, it can also only be through their private decision to partake that they can own any negative consequences of their actions. If they were forced into participation then they become a passive victim of any backlash, if they chose to engage with full knowledge then they have accepted the negative possibilities and can take responsibility for the outcome.
This tenet is often taken to apply to all things but, I suggest, the mere act of being raised in our society undermines the concept of consent and we have put little provision in place to reinforce it.
In our earliest childhood we either do not have preferences (because we are yet to encounter any options) or we have difficulty in transmitting the nuances of our preferences. In order to keep us safe and (hopefully) healthy good parents must over-ride our infant preferences to ensure that, for example, we eat a balanced diet – or in some cases even eat at all. In this situation we understand that the child must be protected and occasionally forced into situations with which it is unhappy and for which it does not give consent. Some would even argue that a young child is incapable of giving meaningful consent as it cannot fully comprehend its options (although this is a slippery slope that could also be applied to adults).
There are different extents of ‘domination’ over our children. Some parents follow a path of baby led weaning and will always respond to cries of distress; some dictate when weaning will take place and will follow the route of allowing the child to cry until it learns that it cannot manipulate its carers in that way. I don’t know which route is healthiest but I do know that either set of parents will override their child’s express desire to climb into a well or play dangerously close to a fire – they will move the child against its will and without its consent. Similarly its consent will be overruled to enable attendance at important events such as picking up a second child from school. There are times at which we must act to protect or progress against the expressed wishes of the child – without its consent – and this is correct and good.
If there are so many situations in which a child’s consent must be over-ruled then when does a child’s consent matter at all? At the age of two the child is certainly capable of independent thought but we are forced to say that whilst its consent may matter in small things its life will still be mostly directed regardless of its consent (for even of it consents to have a bath or go on a journey we would not change our route if consent were withdrawn). This is correct and good.
At age four if it doesn’t wish to attend school it shall rarely be given a choice. If you think about that in an adult context it is quite horrendous. If an authority figure were to tell you tomorrow that you had to fundamentally change the structure of your life to enter a situation you found threatening every single day and that your consent was neither required nor relevant for this change – I would have difficulty with that (although on re-reading it sounds a lot like our social security system). For a child this is correct and good.
This marginalization of consent continues again and again and again through the child’s formative years. In significant issues consent is only requested as decoration – the child, when asked if it wants a haircut or if it wants to move house, or undergo an operation learns that its consent is meaningless – that to say no just brings argument and unpleasant sensations. For a child this is correct and good, they must be looked after and school is good for them. Furthermore they must learn to survive in a society in which obedience to written and unspoken rules – regardless of personal preferences – is a requirement.
The two sentences that closed the previous paragraph is the summation of childhood dominance. The child does not know better, the child does not understand, and so we will enforce what is good for it- we will override their preference and not seek their consent because when they experience the thing we are providing they are expected to like it or expected to benefit from the lesson it imparts. A child will internalize this message, how can it not, and yet it is a necessary evil to keep them safe and enable them to function in a society that imposes certain demands regardless of consent. For a child no does not, and cannot, mean no.
And so the child grows.
As a teenager they begin to question in earnest and society begins to allow a degree of freedom from parental control. By this stage it is implicitly hoped that they have internalized the requirement to follow rules that they neither understand nor agree with and associate this rule following with safety and protection. Having internalized this they are safe to be released unchaperoned (at least for short periods and preferably under strictly defined times and conditions). By this stage we can be fairly certain that although they want that thing in a shop window they will not simply take it and that whilst they will rebel that rebelion will be within societally accepted limits.
Teenagers challenge the impositions that have been made upon them by their parents and society and through this provide a hope that the individual will learn that their voice can matter, albeit in a small way. This is the moment they walk that deadly high wire between learning that, as adults, they cannot be forced into an action without giving consent and learning that some things should be consented to even though they are restrictive (for example, many laws are restrictive upon us but give to us more than we lose – in the greater analysis). This is the moment that these lessons must be learned. If the teenager remains trapped under the equivalent of parental domination then they may transfer the lessons they received in early childhood to their adult life – that they have no agency and that, therefore, their consent is irrelevant. If they entirely reject the caring domination of childhood (assuming for the individual it was caring) then they cannot function within the bounds of society – and whatever we think of society it is hard to thrive when completely outside it. Teenagers must learn that giving voice to consent (or lack thereof) is a vital part of a healthy life and moreover a vital part of a functioning society. They must learn to look to the bigger picture as well as the personal so that they can understand that laws are required (but able judge when laws are incorrect). They must learn to look to the personal when issues or actions affect them directly and when peer pressure to perform an act must be resisted for their personal health. In tandem with all of this they must learn that the consent of others is as vital as there own and must be acknowledged and respected.
The law of the parent, until that moment, is often ‘do what the dominant person demands or be forced against your will.’ That law creates expectations and those expectations take away the individuals agency. Even with the best of parents the lesson can only be that the systems of childhood are at an end and that ‘now you are grown you have agency, you can give or withdraw consent and expect that action to be respected and followed’ but can the internalised message of all those years spent under childhood rules be so easily erased?
The development of a fully nuanced understanding of consent should emerge in the liminal space between childhood and adulthood in order to create a fully functional adult human being. I am not convinced that we give people enough assistance in developing this vital and nuanced understanding. We imagine that it will emerge magically from a teenagers experiences, as if society or the universe will teach it by osmosis. We assume that our young will know that they should question and withdraw consent when offered dangerous drugs or pressured to have sex that they do not feel ready for and yet we have spent their life to that moment teaching them that their consent is of limited importance and liable to lead to argument as well as being overridden when expressed. We expect our children to ask for someone’s consent before performing actions that are sexual or physically dangerous and to know that acting against consent is wrong – but their most important childhood interactions have told them that it is okay for a dominant force to impose its will in order to teach the weaker individual or show it something it is expected to like. Of course, external to the dominance of the parent the child has, hopefully, been taught to respect its peers but the dominant power interactions all act at some level against the concept of consent.
Why do we assume that all teenagers will simply know that a change of rule has taken place without our explicit guidance?
Why do we offer so little resource to teenagers, or those who failed to be given the message as teenagers, around the topic of consent?
If we are lucky we touch on sexual consent. If we are very lucky the idea has been instilled that in matters pertaining to someone’s body we must ask for consent before performing any potentially distressing act. Again, if we are very lucky the idea is lodged that an individual receiving physical advances is not only able but actually obligated to make and voice a decision – the need to consent or refuse consent has been instilled. We must hope that they know that when that decision has been made they are free to change it, at any time, and that it is not and never will be okay for someone to pressure them or coerce them into changing their decision – it is their inalienable right to create a boundary that must be respected by others. We are lucky if this much has been taught.
Do we ever explicitly touch on political consent? The fact that we consent to be governed and that we can withdraw that consent. Do we touch on how to withdraw political consent not just through the often meaningless act of voting but through lawful protest?
How about the consent to be managed at work? We explicitly give that consent by signing a contract that defines the extent of that consent through a job description but do people understand that they cannot legally be pressured to take actions that are far outside the contract they consented to and that they can withdraw that consent if they choose? What does consent mean in this situation in which they may have to take a job to put food on the table? Do they know how to withdraw consent from a blatantly abusive employer and what systems exist to support them? Are those systems functional and sufficient and if not can consent be meaningfully said to exist in the workplace? Of not how does this cascade to borderline work events like Christmas parties?
Do we have these conversations with our children? Do we help them to understand that consent is a complex and many tiered thing that permeates all the strata of our lives? That we ourselves probably do not fully understand it but that in some aspects it can be grey whilst in others it is resoundingly black and white. Do we teach them to think about consent or do we stay silent and hope that they learn these things as if by magic? Hope that the most important system in our morality gets taught to them by someone else. Hope that they don’t rape, or steal, that they learn that it is their duty to speak out against oppression and not to slavishly follow a group or government without considering whether their actions are correct. Do we want to hope that the complexity of consent is taught or do we want to step up and ensure that it is taught?
How are we, the ones who have come through this learning experience more or less intact, helping the next wave of people – the ones currently trying to navigate the signpostless wilderness from which we have emerged? We need to give them resources to understand their right to consent and their right to withdraw that consent. We need to teach them the skills that we learned and are still learning so that they might do better than we have done in a country that is rife with both rape and political abuses.
The last lesson under the enforced conditions of childhood must be that consent is important.
The first moment of adulthood must be to invite them to partake in a supportive resource that will teach them the basics that they need to know, without pressure or coercion, you cannot teach consent to those who do not consent to be present.
It’s fifteen years since I wrote a poem, so imagine my surprise when Mr Cameron provided the long missing inspiration. I don’t pretend its great, but it carries my feeling well.
Crisis in the Balkans!
Imperial proxy wars aflame.
Whilst bullets fly a dynasty is overthrown.
supported by Austro-Hungarians.
The Balkans need the Russians now, a new entente
A crown falls away from the three
The double eagle eyes the bear and prepares for war.
War in the Balkans
The Bears nose is bloodied and Serbia
left alone. The Prussian Eagle brings peace to guard its nest.
The Cock crows
The Prussians sit uneasy in Alsace-Lorraine
The Bear goes home, begins to build and build and build for war
Bulldogs want peace
Trading empires need calm to grow
Bulldogs tries to balance every ounce whilst Eagles laugh.
Franz Ferdinand dead,
The Archduke of Eagles undone
By bomb wielding, Serb trained, Bosnian student assassins!
The Eagles demand,
The Bulldog bays for profitable peace
Demands cannot be met without Serb death. Back to war in the Balkans
If not now, when?
Two empires threatened
With time the Bear will be unstoppable, Prussian Eagles soar to war.
Austro-Hungarian Eagles war on Serbia
Prussian Eagle wars with Bear
The Cock won’t promise neutrality, the Prussian Eagle swoops
Trading Empires live and die on contracts. The Bulldog sides with the Cock.
The Rising Sun, long allied to the Bulldog, takes aim at the Prussian Eagle
Austro-Hungarian Eagles face the Bear
The zoo is revolting
Imperial powers like dominoes
Stacking their young men into rows to fight for Empire
Six weeks at most,
Of all the learned men that send
their young to war. Only Kitchener says three years.
Billy Smith stands,
With shit in his pants, his mate dismembered
A Boro bakers boy six months ago. A Bulldog’s soldier now.
Is celebrating animals that through
their own stupidity get others maimed and killed.
Commemorate the dead,
whichever animal sent them there,
Those bakers’ boys, train drivers, ferrymen and more
Keep respectful silence,
As you mourn the idiocy of their fate,
And shout, shout loud when some new animal calls for war.
There are many theories of government and many viewpoints on the role that government should fill. Except for the basest conceptions these theories agree that the provision of food, shelter and healthcare to the people of the state is a basic part of the government role and every ‘western’ government addresses these needs in some way (even the US government now provides something, although it lags behind the rest of the world).
It is an ongoing debate within most ‘western’ countries as to how much resource should be put into the provision of these basics, especially in this neo-liberal age in which the government is envisaged as corporation and many individuals receiving these basics are portrayed as non-producers. Non-producers such as some of the disabled, the unemployed, the elderly and those who have a wish to personally guide the upbringing of their children have minimal value in the neo-liberal conciousness.
Many modern governments, being run along the lines of corporations, seek to reduce the expenditure on these provisions and thus maximize governmental profits (or more precisely the profits of the corporations that largely control them). The maxim being that if an individual chooses to live off ‘benefits’ then their standard of living should be kept low or productive members of the workforce will become jealous and may well cease to produce and choose to live off ‘benefits’ as well. Of course this rationale does not apply to the disabled (do many able bodied people choose to become disabled?), the elderly or to parents raising children (who are conducting work that benefits the long-term economy by creating functional and well rounded workers) but that is glossed over and the benefits afforded each group are typically similar and low. What matters is short term productivity for short term gains.
The payment of these ‘benefits’ (although they would be better termed basic rights or, perhaps, brights) is typically handled by multifarious agencies each separately charged with assessing a mass of individuals that have been carefully divided and subdivided into different groups. Therefore, one group handles housing, another unemployment yet another disability and so on. Each group is charged with the provision of the minimum amount of resource necessary to provide food, shelter and healthcare to their target group and are, at least in theory, equipped with sufficient expertise to make those decisions. In the case of disability in the UK this is openly farcical as the system refuses to accept diagnoses or input from specialists that have been treating the individual for some time and instead follow the recommendation of a privately employed and less qualified practitioner who has seen the individual for as little as one hour. Individuals with intersectional issues (for example, disabled parents who are unemployed) face a near impossible struggle in receiving their basic rights. We must constantly bear In mind that these are rights all civilised governments are mandated to provide.
The system is dysfunctional, it is inefficient and it relies on the demonisation of those who are forced to access their basic rights as citizens that we have all voted into existence and which 95% of us will need to access in our lifetimes.
Here is a proposal to repair the system.
On housing. Because every government is mandated to ensure food, shelter and healthcare to its citizens it should cease to devolve these responsibilities to multiple agencies and instead create a single centrally administered provision that is capable of offering a house or similar abode to every citizen regardless of ability, wealth, age, status or any other factor. The houses shall be provided free of rent and shall be of sufficient size and construction to hold that individual and their family (including extended family if that is their choice). The houses shall have basic amenities such as hot and cold running water, heating, cooking facilities and a communal area. Maintenance shall be included free of charge and be provided by government employed maintenance teams that do not pass on their costs to the home dweller.
On Sustenance: Every member of the population shall have made available to them the resources to buy sufficient food to fully provide for their needs. This provision shall be in the form of food vouchers, issued to every citizen regardless of their situation (as housing, above) and will have a cash value redeemable at any food outlet and not restricted to any particular foodstuff. It will be illegal for a shop to refuse to accept vouchers or to discriminate against any individual redeeming them. The shop will be able to treat these vouchers as cash with regarding to banking so that no additional overhead is placed upon the business.
On Healthcare: The evidence is absolutely clear that the state provided healthcare provisions provided by many European countries massively outperform fully privatised systems wherever they exist (you only need to compare outcomes and cost per head in the US and the UK to have this illustrated). Therefore the state should look to the creation of a public or public/private healthcare system, free at the point of need for all its citizens.
Agencies will continue to exist for the administration of aid to specific target groups but the bureaucratic and emotional overheads, and governmental pressures currently suffered by these agencies will be reduced as they are ‘wasting’ less profit and as their actions can more directly be tied to specific individual needs. No longer forced to worry about basic subsistence and administration of payments the agencies will be required to solely look at support such as assistance in getting employment or for reasonable adaptations required by disabled individuals.
What of those who do not wish to live in a government provided house or who wish to buy expensive foodstuffs on a regular basis? These individuals can continue as they always have. The state provided houses do not have to be taken and such a house will always be present in the future when the individual chooses to retire or needs to cut back on expenditure. The food shops will still sell food to those with money, they do not only have to take food vouchers. Indeed if an individual is so socially affected that they do not wish to use a food voucher then they can dispose of them and spend cash instead. They can even pay for healthcare if they so choose, the free alternative shall be no worse, although perhaps the room wont have cable TV, it is their choice.
We must, of course, address the costs of such a scheme. In the first instance the large scale social housing projects that will be required to create homes for those who want them will require the undertaking of additional debt on the part of the government. This will be somewhat balanced by the massive boom that will occur in the construction industry and the concomitant lowering of unemployment as additional labourers are employed and trained. Additionally some savings will be made through the reduction in the inefficiencies of the current provisions (as the new provision will be universal no assessment will be needed for individuals). However, a debt increase will be required.
The government will recoup the expenditure through increased taxation on industry and through the long term advantages that it will bring to the economy. The nature of this tax can be discussed separately (I favour a simplification of the taxation system by reverting to a sales tax levied on all transactions in which the buyer is in the country, combined with an import tax on foreign goods, and a Pigovian addition for industries that have identified long term issues – this simplification in itself would save huge amounts in overheads and make prosecution of avoiders easier). Industry itself will adjust by lowering the wages of some – after all individuals have shelter, food and healthcare for free and we may have done away with income tax (see previous sentence) – but they wont be able to lower them too far or it wont be worth someone working at all (therefore real terms pay for minimum wage jobs may well have to increase).
What of criminals who take advantage of this system? Well firstly, every system has it’s criminals and their existence should not be sufficient to discount it out of hand. Criminals within this system would be treated as in any other with the advantage that this system is simpler and therefore detection will also be simpler. Except in the worst of cases individuals should be punished financially (clearly their drive to financial gain is important to them, so significant financial loss should be a good initial punishment). Only repeat offenders would face incarceration (we want our citizens to be able to work, unlike the near 1% of the US population currently incarcerated).
There is one final concern that I feel needs to be met. What of those individuals who are happy to live their life in a government provided house eating government provided food? Surely this system will engender a race of humans that are content to be provided for until such a time as the system collapses under its own weight?
The first question I would ask is would you, personally, do no work if offered basic housing, food and healthcare? If you would work then why do you have such a negative conception of your fellow humans that you assume they would have no drive or interest in bettering themselves? Is your assumption based on evidence or prejudice? I would still work, although I would be pickier about where I worked and what I was prepared to put up with from an employer. At the moment if I have a boss who singles me out and makes my life hell I have to put up with it, at least in the short term, if I knew I would survive I could leave. If a company noticed that the turnover for a certain manager or division was high then they sure as hell better find out why and fix the problem. Lose the bad manager or lose the staff and the productivity. A basic provision of food, shelter and healthcare provides the freedom that allows the workforce to move and with that freedom comes an impetus for employers to provide good working conditions and for staff to no longer be satisfied with mediocre treatment.
Secondly, if modern society has taught us anything it is the power of advertising and consumer demand. If you want the latest phone, games console or car then you will need an income, not just home, sustenance and healthcare. The drive to get a job is still their if you want to possess nice things and the evidence suggests that most people do.
Finally, there will always be some who choose not to work. Perhaps an artist who chooses to live so simply to focus on their art, or an individual who really doesn’t want anything but the basics (a monk, perhaps?), maybe even someone who just doesn’t care. These individuals will be the extreme minority and as a society we should be prepared to carry them.
A reaction to the millions of injustices the church did not just ignore but actively perpetrated. This was drawn not long after a new pope had been ordained and it appeared that we were facing more of the same. It turned out we were.
Back in 2010 there was a lot of social change on the table (as there is now) but what worried me the most was the additional powers being passed to the police and being passed out of the hands of the UK people. Rape victims were being jailed for ‘false reporting’, America could extradite British citizens without having to show any evidence of guilt and I was personally hassled by the police for having the temerity to take a photograph near Liverpool Street station in London. All that’s not even mentioning the extraordinary rendition cases we were tangled up in and the foreign invasions we were perpetrating to keep the Americans happy and steal other peoples resources.
All of this is still happening today.
The country is in the grip of war fever. The government, in the name of all those who chose to vote, have troops everywhere in the world and occasionally (usually not deliberately) things go horribly wrong. If you are happy for the troops to be sent, and you are happy to support the system by voting, then you must also accept the responsibility for the mistakes that will inevitably happen.