Just how far are you prepared to go to feel good about yourself?
I believe the acid test of any political system or indeed any society, is how much compassion it has for its own people, who’re simply going through some travails or deeply in trouble. That very same test applies to such everyday organisations as a business enterprise and right down to an individual family. Where there’s no mutual loyalty and it’s every man for himself and to hell with anyone else, then it’s doomed to fall apart. If it has no compassion, lacks that essential humanity, that subconscious tacit safety net we all need to be there, it’s inherently unstable. The centre cannot hold.
The basis of any reasonably content life is building what I could only describe as networks of care. We make friendships for life, join clubs, have reunions and celebrate events like marriage, which is actually a joining of two care networks. We have a local bar, cafe or even a blog, we pop into on a regular basis and where more importantly, everyone knows your name, like it says in the song. The social compact being made in any care network is unspoken but unequivocal. If you need some help, you know I’ll do what I can for you, because I’m sure you’d do the same for me. Where people feel that deal just hasn’t been made, they’ll go elsewhere, where they can make it.
Care networks are so pervasive and systemic to our lives, that they’re almost invisible until you find yourself in the needy position of receiving help from one. As my grandmother used to say, a friend when you’re in need, is a friend indeed. That help ranges from the everyday to the life changing. It’s that friend of yours who fixes that wreck of a family car you really need to keep on the road but just can’t afford to get repaired, and for nothing more than a beer and a laugh. It’s that someone who puts in a good word for you, which gets you that job when you were down to the last of your savings.
But a care network is a two-way street. You help them out in return and that’s when you realise it’s a win win thing. You owe and not only is it a chance to pay that nagging debt back, perhaps to someone else, but also, there’s a genuine pleasure in doing it. You’ve been able to help out someone you care about, and you feel good about yourself for that.
Care networks engender strong and enduring emotions in us all, which anyone abuses at their peril, because if you do, you’ll never quite get back into where you were; ask any spouse who’s been caught being unfaithful. For the rest of your married life, no matter how well the relationship has been mended, there’ll aways be that tiny question mark over you. A crime that attracts strong universal condemnation is kidnapping; because it’s someone outside a family net, threatening harm to a loved young one, to ruthlessly exploit someone else’s love for them. It’s a direct threat to a type of care network we can all relate to.
The subconscious habit of those strong emotions is exploited in more subtle but none the less manipulative ways, because they scale up to events outside our particular networks. Politicians do things like ask us to pose for ourselves the question of what can we do for our country, rather than what it can do for us, and though it’s an elevated notion, it’s still exploitative, because it’s subtly co-opting us into that bigger care network of a nation.
We’re being emotionally drawn into something bigger than our immediate care networks, into what I suppose could be termed a projected care network. The biggest and habitual exploiters are charities or advocacy groups. They show us terrible scenes of awful things happening to defenseless people, so we quite naturally give out money to stop the cruelty.
Just this week, I read that the UK representative at the Doha climate conference has unexpectedly decided to donate two billion pounds sterling to the developing nations, such as Africa, so they can have their very own renewable power sources such as windmills and solar panels, to fight climate change. It’ll even help farmers in Columbia to plant more trees. It came out of the blue and no doubt, after a few token protests, will be nodded through.
We get shown pictures of those marginal farmers and peasants who’re supposedly going to be the beneficiaries but you’ve got to ask yourself a few questions. Does that skinny guy in the picture, whacking that emaciated cow with a stick, actually have any use for anything so unreliable as a windmill or a solar panel, especially when he doesn’t look likely to have a single electrical appliance in what I would guess is his far from palatial home?
I mean, it’s not as if there’s much point of the occasional and meager burst of power they might produce being used to charge his iPad, especially when he doesn’t have one, doesn’t have any use for one, but also that there’s no internet access there anyway? Surely the money would be better used to buy him a decent iron cooking pot or at least some drought resistant seeds? Yes, he needs our help and because of that care network impulse, you almost feel guilty raising any such awkward questions.
This is the sort of feel-good gesture aid that infuriates the developing nations. It’s inappropriate to the point of being an insult, it’s throwing ten feet of rope to a man drowning twenty feet from safety. If generation devices like that don’t work for us, why should they magically work there? Even if they did, they all require a maintenance infrastructure that simply doesn’t exist in poorer countries.
The real point about that generous donation of two billion pounds, is that financing it will cost the average UK household approximately £70. Can they afford to underwrite renewable projects in other countries, when renewable tax levies on their own power bills, are driving more and more people into fuel poverty? Domestic fuel bills have more than doubled in the last five years.
In the same week, I read the results of a poll conducted on two thousand people, to determine how soaring fuel prices are effecting them. The statistics are quite simply appalling. 10% of family households can no longer afford heating, with a further 14% estimating they won’t be able to afford it this winter. 20% now habitually wear outdoor clothing in their home.
It gets worse. Nearly 25% admitted to rationing food, so they could afford heating. What’s officially called Fuel Poverty now goes by the bitter name of Heat or Eat, by the families suffering from it. They’re down to heating one room, and turning that off when the kids aren’t at home.
As usual, the worst effected are the ones least able to handle it. Pensioners trying to get by on inflation ravaged state pensions and supplements, are now keeping warm by spending their waking hours using their free bus passes to endlessly ride around in warm buses. It’s that or libraries, malls or anywhere that’s heated. The UK now has a higher pro rata rate of cold-related deaths than the nordic countries. Numbers are just data, what’s important is what they mean. In this case it’s quite simple – the UK government is killing its own people to supposedly save the world from global warming.
Those numbers are worse than appalling; it’s a national bloody disgrace.
The human body has a well understood mechanism to cope with extreme cold. Where there’s no external heat, it’ll effectively stoke up the boiler inside you, and increase its consumption of nutrients. You’ll begin to shiver, which increases the burn rate of your calories. When it starts to run short of fuel, it effectively diverts life support from your non-essential organs, to the critical ones. Extremities like your fingers and toes will freeze, because they’re no longer getting an adequate blood supply. They feel as if they’re burning for a while, before you lose all feeling and any control of them altogether. They’ll get frostbitten, which actually means they’ll begin to rot.
The battle now moves to those vital remaining systems and it’s the last stand. As the body slowly runs out of fuel, it’ll gradually close them down, your brain, heart and lungs being the last ones. Mercifully, in the last stage, it starts putting you to sleep and you suddenly feel warm. It is not a nice way to die.
I read an article last year about fuel poverty that finished up with a paragraph about the bodies of two elderly people, in different areas of the UK, being found in their gardens after all the snow had melted. It took the easy condemnatory route of asking where their neighbours were and never asked the more curious question of why they were in their gardens in such bitter weather anyway.
I’m not a scientist, pretending to know everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, so all I can offer is a guess and it’s a very human one. On winter nights like that, the skies are clear, and you can see all the way through to the stars. Perhaps they didn’t want to be found frozen to death in their bed, wearing hats and scarves, overcoats and all the rest of their layers of clothing. Mebbe they felt the pinioned wings of death fast approaching and decided to leave this world with a final act of defiance or acceptance but either way, with some grace and human dignity.
They went out, sat in their snowy garden and looking up at the sky, froze to death, because up there above it all, was perhaps a deity they might have believed in, who was going to take them home to their loved ones. An end of all the slow suffering. Mebbe not. Mebbe it was just the way they wanted to go. Who knows.
I do know, that somewhere, we have to start drawing a line. The UK is now failing that acid test of any society. The price of feeling good about ourselves, has just got too high.
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