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Monday, 15 May 2017

Community & Society

So my last blog post was read over 1,200 times, which has left me absolutely gobsmacked - but if any single one of those reads has helped someone, or has encouraged someone to vote that wouldn't before, then you know what? It did its job. So my thanks to any of you who shared it, and a greeting to any new readers I have because of it.

I can't promise to always be so succesful, I'm afraid...

I'm going to begin with the definition of two words.

Community: The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

Society: The aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.

We're social animals, and we always have been.

Ever since our earliest days as recognisable and distinct creatures, we have formed social groups, and social evolution is a codified study of that very notion. The idea is simple: we did better because we worked together, a prehistoric example of division of labour that's as old as wolves.

Was everything equal, back then? Hard to say. Probably not. We weren't very complex creatures, comparitively. The idea of equinamity was probably beyond us. Nevertheless, we did manage to live long enough to even invent the concept of equinamity. We must have done something right.

I'm sure most people who read this blog have undergone team-building exercises. I'm pretty sure you've worked with people to achieve something, too - for your own edification. Anyone ever had to do a group project and located the one person that has neat, fast handwriting to do all the scribbling? Or the rapid typist? Or the one with the gift of the gab?

We all have different skills and abilities, and it is in the utilisation of those for the good of others - in the reasonable expectation that they will do the same for us - that our strengths really lie, as a species.

That is what a community is. A collection of individuals all linked by commonalities, all working with each other to achieve a given goal - that goal, usually, being to get to the end of the week with food in our bellies and four walls around us, with as little upsetting data in our brains as possible.

And we can surely do that. Right? as people, we can do that. ...most of the time.

And what is a society, but the sum of everyone in a community? In fact, what is OUR society, except for the sum total of ALL our communities? Society is all of us. The mass of people that make up...everything.

As a plurality, as a significant amount of people working together, we have a lot of power. We can do a lot of things that several smaller groups would find more difficult, or that we as individuals would find it impossible to achieve for ourselves. We have roads, maintained (mostly - I am from the Isle of Wight) throughout the entire nation. We have sewage systems, electrical networks. We have a health service. time of writing, anyway.

So how did it all get so badly screwed up?

Well, there's money. I've done a LOT of blogs on this topic, in particular on greed and austerity. (Money Talks, Drowning In It, The Two Great Evils, That Which Is Owed, Cause, Effect, Regret, and Kraft Und Macht, Wille Und Geld are a selection.) We found money, and it made life easier; and then it made life a lot easier for a small amount of people, the same small amount of people as seemed to be in charge in the first place. It's a system that can be gamed, and it has been, to the hilt. The mighty money is what dictates success in many echelons in society, and when the point of the game is to gain the paper tokens, those that write the rules have a lot of ways of getting those tokens.

Of course, where we are part of a community - and thus a society - there comes a point that one can actually gain those tokens at the same time as other people gaining them.

A pack of wolves can bring down far bigger prey than one wolf. A pack can even bring down bigger prey, in terms of mass per wolf, than a bunch of individual wolves could manage even if they added their stacks together. So if there's one particularly businesswolf that instead demands all the other wolves go and hunt and it takes a proportion of their kill, there's not much to go around at all. If only they had all worked together - yes, including the businesswolf - then perhaps there'd be a bigger prey takedown, and thus, more for everyone, even if the businesswolf demands a bigger share.

Every time someone rejects an increase of the minimum wage, or spending on the poor, I can't for the life of me imagine that they've thought about an actual extrapolation on what that would achieve.

The British people are - or used to be - one of the most highly taxed on earth. Even if we don't earn enough to pay income tax on our wages, we still pay in a lot of other ways. Many of the products we consume every day are taxed with VAT. If we use public transport, the ticket prices incorporate the taxes the company pays on fuel and its own running - as we have to pay tax on the fuel we purchase and the vehicles we drive. We pay council tax to our local government. Every pound we spend, more than a few pennies go back to the government.

So if we get more pennies, then so do they. Right?

But why should companies bear the brunt of this, with - say - an increase of minimum wage, or in paying for a universal basic income out of their taxes? Why should the wealthy subsidise those that aren't wealthy?

If we want to take a really basic view on this, it's because it's the right thing to do. It's the GOOD thing to do. We help each other so we can all make it out in one piece. We pay it forward, because we'd hope that if the situations were reversed, someone else would. That's what empathy would have us do. Sympathy would have us feel that reducing the suffering of others is just inherently a good thing to do - because it is.

What if empathy and sympathy are devoid from your decision-making process? (I'm looking at you, Ian Duncan Smith.)

Well - let's say we have four companies who have all been told that the minimum wage is going up. Companies A and B put their ages up immediately. Company C does so later, but before the deadline; Company D does so on the day of the deadline.

A and B will take an initial hit as they pay their workers more. But in general, every company that those workers utilise in their daily lives will benefit - extra money in pocket means more spending. Now, Company A may be the kind of company that doesn't deal with your average consumer - like those that work for it - but Company B may be, say a retail store or similar. The same can be said for Company D. Everyone needs food, and everyone needs stuff, and so B and D will see an uptick in income simply because the people that shop there are earning more.

So by the time C and D both put up their wages, their incomes should have increased - perhaps by a small amount, but enough nonetheless to slightly offset their workers being paid better.

In the end, we all benefit from those who have the least benefiting, because it pays forward and upward. Trickle-up economics - wherein those below are allowed to increase their income and thus their expenditure, swelling the economy by sheer numbers of small increases rather than large increases in a few paychecks - would perhaps even see to it that people have slightly easier lives, an unexpected benefit of taking a long view at earning as much money as possible.

So when the establishment as it stands demands that we turn on each other - puts pressure on us until looking out for number one is the only real option - it turns out that they're not just punishing us, and preventing us from organising or helping others or thinking for ourselves. They're hurting themselves, without ever wanting to admit it. So ideologically opposed that they won't even consider the alternative.

I quite often talk about how much I hate right-wing thinking, Tory thinking, austerity thinking. I do, it's true. Now and then, though - intermingled with that hatred is just...pity. Pity and sadness, that the people who are clutching the purse strings are so hypnotised by the gold in the purse that they can't work out how to get more (and in doing so accidentally helping out, you know, the rest of the world).

After all, the word Commonwealth exists, doesn't it?

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