That old Chinese curse of “may you live in interesting times” has rarely seemed so apt as it is today.
With both the US and UK facing major government crisis and even “Mutti” Merkel looking less than secure the Western world has more than enough going on to make things interesting. I was struck recently by just how much these crises have in common.
The root cause seems to be the alienation being felt by huge sections of the population as Governments struggle to develop any kind of coherent response to the impacts of industrial change and what they mean for our social, economic and cultural lives. Whether you look at a Brexit which was driven by fear of immigrants taking “our” jobs, the need to regain a sense of national pride by taking back control of our borders and laws, the wave of hysteria Trump whipped up to “drain the swamp” or “Make America Great Again”, or even the rise of the Alternative fur Deutschland movement the roots all lie in despair that anyone can give back a sense of certainty and control to people who feel that there lives have been turned upside down and no-one seems to care.
I was recently reading Kenny MacAskill’s biography of Jimmy Reid and was struck again by just how pertinent his rectorial address was to society and politics today just as much as it was in April 1972. “Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.”
Read the full address here – https://kerrschangingeducation.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/jimmy-reids-rectorial-address-university-of-glasgow/
It seems to me that the warnings Jimmy Reid was sending out should have alerted our “elites” to the dangers they were building but as usual the need for profit was put before the need of people. Across Europe there is a battle being waged as Governments of every hue struggle to give their populations a sense of belonging and involvement. Their battle is with the same industrial complexes today. We have created a world where technology has been used to create more and more profits by utilising fewer and fewer people. Not too far removed from the situations which prevailed in the early 1930s.
Reid went on to say “Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”
Then as now we are told that anything which threatens the creation of more profit is the ravings of lunatics. The difference is that now the price of that avarice is falling to be paid and the fabric of our society is extremely fragile.
The lunacy which is Brexit looks as though it could be the factor which destroys the whole political structure of the UK. Neither Labour nor Tory leaderships have a clue of where they want to go. A General Election could well rip them both apart as they struggle to hold the rival remain and Brexit extremes together.
Our challenge is to show our people that we can build a Scotland which does have a heart as well as a head. Where wealth is created and then used for the benefit of all of us. If we are indeed a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns, we need to know that Jock is willing and able to look after his bairns.