The Word Rabbit


This article was written on 29 Feb 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Radical caring

What’s the most radical thing you can do in a capitalist society? The one thing that is so, truly counter-cultural that you could bring the system down by doing it? The one way that you can challenge its values and everything that it’s founded on? That’s right. You could care.

On one level, this could be caring for your possessions. Capitalism relies on things breaking or being worn out. It’s why, for most of my childhood, we got by with just one washing machine that must have lasted for twenty years and only died because they’d stopped making the parts. After that, our washing machines died at neat, three year intervals and were increasingly made of plastic by people who didn’t give a bugger about washing machine design because whoever owned the company had worked out that by getting you to buy new ones, they could make slightly more money than getting you to buy slightly more expensive ones that lasted.

Each time you put polish on your boots or do anything to extend the longevity of something that you own, capitalism gets annoyed. It wants you not to care, so that your boots look scruffy and wear out faster, so that you’ll buy some new ones. If you make your own clothes, well capitalism hates that, because all you bought was the material and maybe some buttons, using your skill to put them together. It can’t get money for your skill, and it isn’t a marketable entity, so no shareholders lives are enriched by you making a shirt. Now capitalism hates you.

Suppose you thought more deeply about the lives of people you come into contact with. Let’s say you do your elderly next door neighbour a favour by helping him with his garden, mowing the lawn, maybe or digging his flower beds. Perhaps you help him harvest stuff from his allotment. Who is benefiting? Your next door neighbour, of course, and you, because we all like to feel useful. But is there money changing hands? No. There’s no financially based transaction of any kind. And if he’s growing his own vegetables, then that’s even worse, because he isn’t spending any money in the local supermarket. Again, no shareholders get any returns.

The list goes on. I volunteer as a Street Pastor, and often help the homeless or others in need. But that’s the key thing. I’m a volunteer. I don’t get any money for my time. Quite the reverse. I might have had to pay for my uniform and have to pay to get to my base. Equally, the homeless people I help aren’t productive. They spend their time begging. Many, like me, have mental health problems or substance abuse problems which would make working impossible and mean that they lead transient lives where getting through the next hour counts as a win. To capitalism, this is a waste. They’d be better off dead, as they use vital services that could go on productive people.

This mentality is seductive. It relies on seeing people not as your brother or your sister, but as someone who is a productive unit, someone whose job is to realise value and to go on realising value, in some shape or form, until they die. Anyone who does not realise value is therefore to be seen to have failed. If you’re disabled, mad or in some other way unable to do what you are for, then you are that worst of things: a drain on other people who create value. You should therefore be made to live some kind of crushingly penurious existence which takes as little from the useful people as possible and leaves you edging genteelly towards a miserable death.

Hate crimes against disabled people are up. This is why. In a society which values the ability to work above all other things, anyone who does not work therefore has no value. They are, in that most Nazi of phrases, ‘useless eaters.’ Steel workers who had been laid off recently were pestered by the Department for Work and Pensions even before they’d washed their hands. There’s no room for compassion here. They needed to get those productive units being productive again so that they weren’t being a drain on a state whose purpose now, by this metric, starts to look uncertain.

It’s one of the reasons why Cameron’s much-vaunted and then quietly dropped ‘Big Society’ was allowed to wither and die. The idea was that volunteers would plug the gaps filled by the reduced size of the state, which overlooked a few problems, most notably that volunteers often don’t have the same skills as the people who were laid off or the same amounts of time to spend. I do about six hours a month as a Street Pastor, which would make me a fairly bad person to run, say, a meals on wheels service. For the rest of the time, as with most volunteers, I have to earn a living. And it’s also not an inherently Tory idea. Doing something for nothing for people who can’t or won’t pay is opposed to all their core principles.

So what is the answer? What is the response? It’s to do what Christ did and it’s just as radical an idea as it was 2000 years ago. It’s to care, without any expectation of reward or praise because caring is the right thing to do. I’ve been called a cunt by people I’ve ended up helping, abused by passers by and mocked. Sometimes, although rarely, I’m threatened with violence. No matter. I’m not doing it because I want to be thanked. I’m doing it because it’s right. All the people in a blood donation centre are doing it for the same reason. Giving blood is right, even though they won’t know who it helped or in what circumstances. Nobody makes a profit or is paid, but the cause of a much higher morality is being served.

Even without my Christian morality on top – and I know plenty of atheists who are just as moral as the best Christians I know – these things are still right. Easing someone else’s burden, for however long a period of time is the ultimate expression of what it means to be human just as capitalism is its ultimate negation. There is no balance sheet which shows that transaction, the interaction between two humans, but that is life at its most devout and beautiful and it redeems anyone who witnesses it. The people who were compelled to go to Calais or Greece are the best that we have to offer because they did so for the highest of reasons – to help another.

Capitalism has no answer to this, because altruism that cannot be costed renders it mute. Nobody ends the day richer or poorer in a way that can be costed, or pays for the receipt of a service, because that service is rendered for free. To my mind, which is silly to some, I’m sure, by such a way the Kingdom of Heaven gets fractionally bigger and humanity is enlarged, while the principles of the society in which I sadly live are shown to be shabby and cheap. Which they are. Love recklessly and with abandon, for there is no alternative which doesn’t cost us our souls.

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