The Madness of the Willful Destruction of Our Dependable Popular Way of Life
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London -- I have known my postman for more than 20 years. Conscientious and good-humoured, he is the embodiment of public service at its best. The other day, I asked him, “Why are you standing in front of each door like a soldier on parade?”
“New system,” he replied, “I am no longer required simply to post the letters through the door. I have to approach every door in a certain way and put the letters through in a certain way.”
Across the street was a solemn young man, clipboard in hand, whose job was to stalk postmen and see they abided by the new rules, no doubt in preparation for privatisation. I told the stalker my postman was admirable. His face remained flat, except for a momentary flicker of confusion.
In Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley describes a new class conditioned to a normality that is not normal “because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does”.
Surveillance is normal in the Age of Regression — as Edward Snowden revealed. Ubiquitous cameras are normal. Subverted freedoms are normal. Effective public dissent is now controlled by police, whose intimidation is normal.
The traducing of noble words like “democracy”, “reform”, “welfare” and “public service” is normal. Prime ministers who lie openly about lobbyists and war aims are normal. The export of $5.5 billion worth of British arms, including crowd control ammunition, to the medieval state of Saudi Arabia, where apostasy is a capital crime, is normal.
The willful destruction of efficient, popular public institutions like the Royal Mail is normal. A postman is no longer a postman, going about his decent work; he is an automaton to be watched, a box to be ticked. Huxley described this regression as insane and our “perfect adjustment to that abnormal society” a sign of the madness.
Are we “perfectly adjusted” to this? No, not yet. People defend hospitals from closure, UK Uncut forces bank branches to close and six brave women climb the highest building in Europe to show the havoc caused by the oil companies in the Arctic. There, the list begins to peter out.
At this year’s Manchester festival, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s epic Masque of Anarchy – all 91 verses written in rage at the massacre of Lancashire people protesting poverty in 1819 – is an acclaimed theatrical piece, and utterly divorced from the world outside. Last January, the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission disclosed that 600,000 Mancunians were living in “extreme poverty” and that 1.6 million, or nearly half the city’s population, were “sliding into deeper poverty”.
Poverty has been gentrified. The Parkhill Estate in Sheffield was once an edifice of public housing – unloved by many for its Le Corbusier brutalism, poor maintenance and lack of facilities. With its Heritage Grade II listing, it has been renovated and privatised. Two thirds of the old flats have been reborn as modern apartments selling to “professionals”, including designers, architects and a social historian. In the sales office you can buy designer mugs and cushions. This façade offers not a hint that, devastated by the government’s “austerity” cuts, Sheffield has a social housing waiting list of 60,000 people.
Parkhill is a symbol of the two thirds society that is Britain today. The gentrified third do well, some of them extremely well, a third struggle to get by on credit and the rest slide into poverty.