Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Monday, 26 March 2012

So – should the unemployed ‘give up’?

‘So’ is an album by Peter Gabriel and was recently featured by BBC4 on their ‘Classic Album’ series. It was Gabriel’s seventh album and, like most of his work, took a long time to make – a year in this case.
‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’ are the best known tracks from ‘So’, but it was inspired by a dream Gabriel had had that is the subject of the first track ‘Red Rain’ that seemed to relate to or foretell of some horrific episode [red rain implied blood] – the album was released in May 1986.
Those old enough to remember, or have studied politics, will know that in the early years of her first term Thatcher closed factories, shipyards and coal pits – seen as inefficient – in an effort to bring down inflation. This was successful, but it also created 3 million unemployed – a level not seen since the 1930’s. To put this into context 1.5 million were unemployed when she took office in 1979 – this compared to 1 million in 1974, 580 thousand in 1970 and just 300 thousand in 1964.
Not only did her actions put many out of work, it also marked the time when the UK became a net importer of goods with so much of the manufacturing base destroyed and the underlying cause of the nations continuing financial difficulties to this day.
Thatcher faced down the riots of 1981 and those of 1985 [when Gabriel had his dream] because even by then, although inflation had been brought under control, unemployment was still high. Given the apparent elation with which Osborne delivered his recent budget – suspicions must be raised that he sees himself as Thatcher’s successor.
There is little doubt that the impressionable male Tory youth of that time saw and still see her as some kind of demi-godess – as do some from other political parties. They do not take heed of the fact that Thatcher, by the time she left office, said that if she had her time again – she would not have taken up politics, because of the effect it had on her family. Her children now rarely see her.
A lesson that might have been learned is that if something is achieved by force, rather than agreement – it cannot be sustained indefinitely and that hatred by those defeated is the reward for those who pursue this course.
One matter that does bear considering is that ‘Don’t Give Up’, one of the biggest hits from the album contained these words:
‘got to walk out of here
I can’t take anymore
going to stand on that bridge
keep my eyes down below
whatever may come
and whatever may go
that river’s flowing
that river’s flowing
moved on to another town
tried hard to settle down
for every job, so many men
so many men no-one needs
don’t give up [etc.]
Since the album was a hit and ranked high in both 1986 and 1987 in many countries, we must assume that the sentiments expressed were generally accepted – that it is right to extend compassion to those out of work during times of high unemployment. How different today when Cameron and Osborne seem to have successfully branded the unemployed as benefit scroungers and are condemned for not chasing every job – even if there is little or no chance of success.
How was that done? It is not the unemployed fault that there are not enough jobs – yet it is they who are being blamed. They did not cause the financial crisis that has led to the Coalitions austerity measures and a reduction in public service jobs – that was the bankers.
Quite why it is the ‘squeezed middle’ who are receiving the majority of the Party’s attention when this group are least likely to vote Labour because the Tories have successfully laid the blame for the financial crisis at the Party’s door. Also because all of the three main parties are, and will, make every effort to win this vote – as the next General Election approaches.
In contrast, the worst off and the unemployed are a significant part of the electorate, who are  less likely to vote unless a party recognises their plight and appeals directly to them. The best placed party to do this is Labour and winning a large proportion of this vote would almost certainly see its returned to power, but this will not happen unless they are given priority.
The measure of a civilisation is not the splendour of the lives of its richest – but the quality of the lives of the poorest.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

What is the purpose of marriage today?

In an article for the BBC, Lauren Everitt traces the ‘Ten key moments in the history of marriage‘. Starting with the ‘Strategic Alliances’ of the Anglo-Saxons, where the institution was seen as a way to establish diplomatic and trade ties, through to more recent developments. For instance at eight, ‘Love Enshrined’ is related to the more romantic notions of the Victorians.
For people today, the ninth stage ‘More Than Baby Making’ will have an impact on the religious where their faith pronounces on whether their followers should use contraception to prevent unwanted children. Roman Catholics still see one of the essential things about marriage as ‘the procreation of children’ and would not marry a couple who had ruled this out. However, the Anglican Church started accepting contraception from the 1930′s and today ‘does not regard contraception as a sin or going against God’s purpose’.
The tenth stage in the list, ‘Civil Partnerships’, is generally seen by the non religious as the equivalent of marriage and does have the advantage of allowing same sex partnerships their own form of marriage, but, ‘To many Christians, however, while a civil partnership confers all the legal rights of marriage, a church wedding is seen as a mystical event, the making of promises before God in a sacred setting, endowing the relationship with a special “blessed” quality.’
It can be argued that we have, today, reached a new stage, if we view the issue objectively, that should be recognised. Clearly contraception is necessary if we are to avoid the global population rising rapidly from its present seven billion to eight billion with all of the attendant environmental problems that such a rise would/will create. Arguably we should be looking to decrease our numbers, as is generally the case with the endemic people of the West, and this would probably have been allowed to continue if modern economic theory did not require a continuing rise in the population – or more precisely consumers.
Although, from an environmental point of view, any attempt by the Roman Catholic Church, or any faith, to prevent contraception, particularly after a couple has had two or three children, can be condemned. However, It can be argued that this faith is right to view marriage as being essentially about children – in fact, now, solely about children. It is for their procreation, their protection and their development. Essentially a contract to help ensure that the parents are giving their children the best upbringing possible so as provide a sturdy basis for their entry into an increasingly challenging world. Apart from this, why would the state be concerned with who is living together?
Statistics show that married couples stay together longer and since ‘children tend to enjoy better life outcomes when the same two parents give them support and protection’ marriage, today, is better seen as a commitment purely for the benefit of children – although it might be more than this for many with a religious faith.
If this is not the purpose of marriage – what is its value in a modern society that recognises the equality of the two sexes? A way of preventing or binding an unhappy partner in a relationship from moving on? Clearly if two people decide to set up home together some contract is needed so that any assets acquired can be fairly divided if it ends, but surely not to detain one partner when they would wish to leave.
Although it is true that some couples do say that they have been ‘in love’ throughout a life long relationship – however, for most the ‘in love’ stage lasts only for the first few years. Those relationships that last longest will be those where the partners have chosen wisely and are still very fond of each other when the ‘passionately in love’ stage has passed.
It is generally accepted, by psychologists, that we do grow and develop throughout our whole lives. Often aspects of our personalities do not emerge until later in life – because there had been no room for them to develop in a busy and demanding life. However, it is quite possible for a couple, initially compatible, to develop on different paths as the years pass or, perhaps, one wants to start a family and the other cannot or will not accommodate this wish.
Since no blame can be attributed to this development, to use an institution such as marriage when there are no children, to prevent one partner from moving on to avoid the other from being unhappy seems regressive. Better surely that the one being left accepts and adapts to their new situation rather than the one who has developed be shackled – if the existing relationship cannot accommodate this change.
There are few things in life that endure – the only real certainty is change.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The silent victims

It seems that the drive for women to have a more equal chance in their careers as men, and the political efforts to ensure this is the case, has been over accentuated at the cost of a more important cause. Although it is undoubtedly right that women should be given equal chances with men to rise to the very top, it seems that for many working mothers – the issue is whether they should be working at all? Recent research has shown a number of outcomes:  88% of working mothers feel guilty for not spending more time with their children; that part-time work is preferable to full-time in the pre-school years – for mothers; but children do better if their mothers delay returning to work for as long as possible.
It is opportunity coupled to social acceptability, for mothers with children of any age to work that has created the problem. Stay at home mothers were the norm after WW2, however, as technology improved and household duties were significantly eased, the possibility for mothers to work increased.  Initially it was the child’s grandparents that were most likely to take over. However, as families have broken down and grandparents, now more affluent, are less willing to take on this role – this can no longer be the solution for many and some form of child minding service is the only option. It is whether these services come close to being an adequate substitute that must be questioned.
Now that the economy is in such a poor state, jobs are scarce and there is a downwards pressure on wages, the chances of working mother either giving up work or reducing their hours becomes even less likely – in fact any chance of extra hours is probably grabbed with both hands – increasing the already high levels of stress and reducing the time spent with their children. Something is likely to snap as the austerity measures bite deeper, leading to more cases of the ‘forgotten baby syndrome‘, which can occur when mothers put, or are obliged to put, worldly matters above the responsibilities of motherhood!
We seem have lost sight of the fact that for the young of most species, certainly primates, to lose certain and early contact with their mother when danger threatens, will lead the instinctive emotions felt by these silent witnesses is that of the terror of death – unless this contact can be quickly re-established. They have no capacity to rationalise this trauma and when it happens, an underlying insecurity forms in their unconscious minds, along with the attached emotions, that will, for the vast majority, remain with them – significantly reducing their chance of a happy or rewarding life.
Apart from the richest, who can afford full-time nannies, and those with family members prepared to provide care, the risk of children being robbed of this essential devotion is too great to be trusted to ‘profit motivated’ services.
Surely, a way can be found to start to remove working mothers, at least of pre-school children from the work place. If the unemployed are to gain work experience, let them help these mother’s with their work in order to give these children a secure foundation for life in their early years. At least work of this type would be advantaging young children and their mothers, rather than increasing the profits of giant corporations.
Wouldn’t it be better for the Labour Party to advance this cause rather than focussing on getting more women into top positions, which will clearly come in time to those women with the necessary talent. In the main, these career women will not be Labour supporters, in contrast to the most hard pressed working mother, who would wish to spend as much time with their newborn before they started school.
If there is some money available for redistribution in the budget – let it be targeted directly at mothers of pre-school children – for there is no better cause than taking proper care of the nation’s future – its children!