I’ve written nothing here for some while.
Mostly this is because I set myself the task of trying to use this blog to make some sort of “positive” contribution to our thinking and feeling, however oblique. That has seemed increasingly difficult to do that. Such small efforts in that direction as it has seemed possible for me to make have been attempted elsewhere, for example, through my interactions with members of Utopias Bach .
So why return to it now?
One way of answering that is to say that I have just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost (which is an extraordinary account of her life, in particular her childhood and illness), and am now half way through reading a collection of essays by Alex Danchev – On Good and Evil and the Grey Zone, published in 2016 by Edinburgh University Press. (I had recently read his biography of George Braque, which I found inspiring, and wanted to know more about his thinking). The first two chapters of Danchev’s book, along with his discussion of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, have me hooked. His discussion of Vasily Grossman’s notion of ethics in his Life and Fate – a book I started but did not finish and to which I will now have to return – focuses on the importance of small-scale, apparently private or unwitnessed, human kindness seems to me to fit closely with something central to what the Utopias Bach collaborative is doing. The second chapter, on witnessing, also strikes a powerful cord and is perhaps, along with Mantel’s book, the prompt for returning to this blog.
Both books suggest to me very strongly that it’s necessary to write something about what I witness in my daily life. Namely, the accelerating destruction of Britain as any kind of genuinely humane society. A project that, at least in its particular current form, seems to have been initiated by the late, unlamented, Margaret Thatcher. Almost weekly, now, either my wife or daughter comes to a midday meal with news of the death of someone in their community of contacts among those who are socially neglected because chronically ill or disable. These deaths vividly provide the names and particular circumstances that shed a personal light on the consequences of policies shaped by the current Government’s ideology.
Policies put in place by men and women who, in the majority of cases, seem to share Jacob Rees-Mogg’s view that the voluntary support given to food banks is “rather uplifting”, rather than the reality of the situation. Namely, that the need for such voluntary support should be seen as both indicative of political failure and a national disgrace. A clear indication of the growth of an inequality that folds into a deeply inhumane aspect of our society. Ress-Mogg’s notion that this voluntary support “shows what a compassionate country we are” is typically and bleakly disingenuous, the use of a partial truth about one sector of society used to deflect any possibility of responsibility for addressing that inequality by those with the power and wealth to do so. As such it’s on a par with his view that the current Tory Prime Minister is a “socialist”, or that UNICEF’s analysis, and resulting practical concern, over child poverty in Britain was “a political stunt”. And this is the man who, as I write this, is reported by the Daily Mail to be weighing up whether or not to make a bid to run for the leadership of the Tory party should it fail badly at the next general election.
The deaths that form a regular feature of our family life are usually the result of either suicide or medical neglect. (Reading Mantel’s book, her experience often seemed to parallel ours as a family that, of necessity, largely revolves around our chronically sick daughter). Although it is far from the whole story, I tend to feel those suicides and our constant awareness of medical and psychiatric misdiagnosis or neglect as symptoms of a broader social decay. The result of both personal and collective choices predicated on an ultimately less-than-human blindness to the reality of others exemplified by the ideological policies of the current British government. Since the start of the Brexit campaign the British, and in particular a substantial section of the English population, have seemed hell-bent in bowing to tendencies that can are already leading towards civic collapse; tendencies emboldened by those happy to listen to the self-serving liars who have dominated political life in “Great” Britain since the Brexit debate began. This despite the obvious reluctance of many of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish (and, indeed, a significant minority in England) to join in the Tory death-dance, the death-dance of the fundamental socio-environmental relationality on which we all ultimately depend.
Sadly, I fear that in 2023 things in general will only get worse. That being the case, we will each need to increase our dedication to small-scale, apparently private or unwitnessed, acts of human kindness.