Monday, 23 April 2007

Monday's Musings...

One of the sites I visit occasionally is the TWO Community which is an excellent place to discuss and find out more about the weather and climate. Recent debates on global warming have, in particular, been very informative.

They also have a more general discussion section and this caught my eye. Now, I've never met Brian Gaze though as a meteorologist, his expertise is formidable. His comments on life and society interest me because I know that what he says is echoed by a significant number of people across the country.

Now, I don't wholly disagree with what Brian says and I can't argue the facts as he sees them. The point is that all the issues he points to are in my view "social" or "cultural" problems and almost impossible for Governments of any hue to get to grips with. You can pass laws banning graffiti or the dumping of litter or speeding or binge drinking but they are individually and collectively quite unenforceable without levels of Police which would be unsupportable. I don't think I would want to live in Britain with armed police on every corner and a much deeper penetration of society by the authorities than we are used to.

This latter point is what separates Britain from, for example, Singapore. Those who look to a well-ordered society point to Singapore as an "example". Now, Singapore is a lovely place (well, the tourist bits are) and you are certainly safe to walk down Orchard Road at 2am (though I was accosted by someone trying to sell me a fake Rolex) but all that comes at a price. Singapore is an elected dictatorship run by the People's Action Party, whose organisation is as pervasive and penetrating as that of the SED (the former East German Communist party). Opposition to the PAP isn't just a political act, it affects you economically and socially. The PAP pervades society at all levels in ways that British political parties never have.

I enjoy the "freedom" of being able to oppose both the Labour and Conservative parties (which are basically the same) and if the cost of that freedom is the lack of social order, then that is a price worth paying. "Order" is not the same as "freedom" - societies function best when there is a balance between order and, if you like, chaos. No one wants anarchy but then is total conformity also desirable especially if you don't want to conform ?

The problems Brian identifies are part of that element of chaos or disorder that allows societies to develop. All societies need a dynamic and in some ways pushing the barriers represents part of that dynamic. However, that's not to say I don't sympathise with Brian's points. All the issues he identifies as "problems" are behavioural/cultural in nature. It's also interesting that a number of the problems are associated with youth or the young.

I have come to the conclusion that in pursuit of economic and material advancement (we are, more than anywhere else in Europe, time-poor and cash-rich) we have failed to impart some form of wisdom, responsibility or respect in our children. I put part of that failure down to the decline in local communities and successive Labour and Conservative Governments, through their policies of democratic centralism, must bear a large part of the blame.

I also think employers are responsible too - the demands on individuals to work hard are now too great and in many parts of the economy, there is nothing to stop workers being further exploited. We are also in a wider sense part of a consumption culture which is predicated on spending, using, enjoying as much as often as possible. There is ALWAYS something going on, something to see, somewhere to go. We are not encouraged to be idle or thoughtful or even creative - our life experiences are provided for us (as long as we have the money).

People from other countries come to London because they want to be part of a busy, bustling city. People from London want to go to the French, Spanish or Italian provinces (or elsewhere) because they DON'T want to live in a busy, bustling city. Living in London is physically (and economically) draining. London is like a person addicted to caffeine - it always needs another stimulus to keep going.

When you are surrounded by images of consumption and you can't (for reasons of money or youth) be part of it and you want to be part of it, what can you do ? If you can't afford a house or a flat, invest everything in a car, go drinking Friday and Saturday nights etc, etc.

We laud freedom, we argue for our "rights" at every turn but rarely do we consider our responsibilites, not only to each other but to ourselves. It's unfair to expect Governments to control our lives for us - in the end, it's up to us.

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