Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Money, money, money

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. - Timothy, 6:10

It's not often that I look to the Bible for gems of wisdom, but I find this particular extract ubiquitously true. I've often heard it paraphrased as "money is the root of all evil", but I think that misses out a crucial human element. Currency in itself is neither evil nor benevolent; but the pursuit of wealth, the ease with which we exploit fellow humans in a bid to maximise profit and reduce expenditure certainly forms the foundation of pretty much every worldly evil I can think of that we visit upon one another. I've pondered this one for a while and I cannot think of one single atrocity that cannot be traced back to money. 

Periodically, I struggle with writing about humanity. I find myself drawn into existential crises, unable to justify why we spend so much of our lives worrying about things that really - in the grand scheme of things - just do not matter. I watch the news and despair at how unkind we are to each other, whether that's one person committing a violent crime against another, entire governments carrying out appalling attacks on their own citizens, or deeply ingrained social attitudes about immigration, benefit claimants, drug abusers, obesity, mental illness, etc. It alarms me even more when I put this into the grander context of civilisation and realise that we are pretty much living in a golden age of compassion, by historical standards at least. There is not a single period in history that springs to mind where human beings were habitually kind to one another and endeavoured to improve the lives of their fellow men and women for no reason other than that they could. Instead our history books are overflowing with records of war, torture, oppression, slavery, bigotry and murder. Yes, this is all punctuated with notable examples of philanthropy, but the fact remains that the instances of People Being Nice To Each Other are comparatively few and far between.

In essence, human beings, as a species, are not very nice. And that's before we get anywhere near how we treat animals and our planet. This is only dealing with how we behave towards each other. 

It all comes back to money and the acquisition of wealth. I've posted before about global corporations exploiting the poor and doing an astonishingly good job of covering it up, because they have the means to do so. Global industry is so rife with this sort of behaviour, that it's very difficult to buy "necessary" products that are 100% ethically sound. I do not wish to perpetuate the exploitation of my fellow man but the likelihood that my clothes, furniture, mod-cons and food were all manufactured by companies endeavouring to ensure that every member of staff at every level of production was properly paid, well treated and happy is slim to none. Why? Because business need to make profits. Bigger profits than their competitors. Oh, and they need to keep the costs for the end user at the lowest possible so they don't lose customers to competing companies, so profits can't come from hiking up the prices at that end. The profit margin has to be struck between minimising the cost of production and offering a attractive price to the masses. The company who can come up with a way to strike that balance will be a ground breaker indeed!

Business isn't the only culprit. Socially, we (at least in the developed world and specifically, for the purpose of this rant post, the UK) are greedy and invest far too much emotion in the value of Stuff. I read a fantastic piece a few days ago about the audacity of poor people daring to own shiny things (here) and it really brought home to me how ludicrously cyclical the whole thing is. Appearing to be well off is important, even if you're flat broke, so we have credit options for those without the actual cash to buy the latest commodities and endless upgrades to quickly outdate the latest shiny thing for those who do have this kind of disposable income. Oh, but be careful not to flash your non-existent cash too much or you risk incurring the wrath of... well... of people who think they have the right to pass judgment on whether you fall under the banner of the "deserving poor" or the "undeserving poor".

It's all changing at the moment. It used to be ok to be poor; there was a reasonably decent welfare system to stop you from hitting rock bottom and a bearable stigma to claiming from it legitimately. Then something happened, a sea change came upon us and now we face an extraordinary conundrum where even middle of the road earners cannot afford to own or rent their homes, pay their bills AND put food on the table without an income top-up from the state but our newspapers and social media chatter are filled with extreme and inflated examples of the workshy fiddling the system to fund a decadent and frivolous lifestyle. If this was your only source of information, you could be forgiven for thinking all poor people are scheming and manipulative, plotting their next move to extract cash from the hard-working wealthy upper class, all while the poor fatigued government endeavour to instil some manner of work ethic into the nation. Yes, Mr. Cameron, I'm looking at you again. 

It's not even ok to be disabled anymore. Just in case you were wondering... I have always believed that you can judge how civilised a country is by how they treat the vulnerable and the deviant. Our deviants are probably not doing too badly, compared to the rest of the world. We don't have capital punishment anymore, we don't (officially) carry out or endorse torture. There are massive gaps in the efficacy of our justice system, but I'll take it over that of the USA or China, thank you very much. 

Our vulnerable, however, are not faring so well. Thanks to New Labour's moves to reduce the number of Disability Living Allowance claimants - and let's not forget, for all that I loathe about the Conservative party, it was New Labour who brought in ATOS - even the life-limitingly unwell are targets. Got cancer? Well you can still sit in a chair and type, right? You over there - missing three limbs? Pfft! That one remaining arm could stack shelves! Mental illness? What's that?! 

Medical assessments of a person's fitness for work are being carried out by people with no medical background. Consequently, people who are utterly unemployable are told that their disability benefits are to stop and they must try to find someone who will give them a job and then hope to God that they can actually turn up to work every day and fulfil the requirements of that job without either being fired for unreliability or dropping dead from the stress and strain. 

Why are we doing this to people? Because the government need to save money and reduce what they're spending. Never mind the fact that benefits make up a TINY fraction of their annual expenditure - in fact, in the last fiscal year, more was paid out in interest on national debt than on unemployment benefits. Poor people make an easy scapegoat because we don't have the means to fight back. 

Once again, it's all about money. WHY do we accept it? The government have constructed a very helpful rhetoric, demonising those with the temerity to be poor and we are buying into it. Those who fight back are quickly dismissed as bleeding heart lefty liberals. Well I know where I would much rather align myself.

I fully intend to post again about this issue, hopefully in a less ranty capacity. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this thought:

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