There is a need to avoid the rose-tinted glasses (or binoculars) when making comparisons from the past. We are both of that "baby boom" generation that "never had it so good" - to utilise two well-worn euphemisms - that missed two major European wars and benefited from unequalled social and economic progress. In particular free education and full employment, other than the absence of war, must be regarded as chief boons.
In Britain at least, the fifties and sixties were marked by an indefinable optimism, epitomised by the popular music industry to which Eno has contributed a significant part. What it had done to American cotton it did to American blues and rock. Imported, reworked and exported again and taking the world by storm.
The only thing I would add is that no one in politics has a clear and practical master plan to counter the trend he describes, that can probably be traced to the industrial strife and economic woes of the 1970's. What room for manoeuvre is there when the last government, despite all its promises, all its cut-backs that have disproportionately disadvantaged the poor, despite all the sales of the "family silver", has doubled the National Debt? The country is effectively 'broke' despite being regarded as being one of the wealthiest in the world.
This is the essence of the problem. Public poverty at the heart of private wealth. Everything the government does appears to exacerbate the adverse relationship. Not until this issue is adequately addressed will the trend be reversed.
There needs to be a proper and fundamental debate on what services and operations we as a nation regard as being essentially in the public domain and what in the private. We need great thinkers to develop the philosophy that might underpin the politics and policy. With a Labour Party in disarray, and a Liberal Party decimated, only the parties of separation appear to provide an opposition to what is effectively a Parliamentary Dictatorship that must fuel the sort of movement Eno supports.
Will Brexit, if it eventually comes to pass, make the national rich/poor divide better or worse? Will Britain be more insular or more international? The only way to pay for public services is either by tax or direct payment, and neither are popular. Is private enterprise intrinsically more efficient but less caring? Where affluence for the majority is the norm, how can the poor be protected and motivated? How can social stability be enhanced and destructive forces controlled? Is society on an unavoidable downward curve towards nihilism and dystopia? As individuals are we powerless to do anything about it?
Below there is a copy of the Facebook post by the famous musician Brian Eno. Wikipedia describes him as follows: "Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, RDI ( born 15 May 1948 and originally christened Brian Peter George Eno) is an English musician, composer, record producer, singer, writer, and visual artist. He is best known for his pioneering work in ambient and electronic music as well as his contributions to rock, worldbeat, chance, and generative music styles."
The consensus among most of my friends seems to be that 2016 was a terrible year, and the beginning of a long decline into something we don’t even want to imagine.
2016 was indeed a pretty rough year, but I wonder if it’s the end - not the beginning - of a long decline. Or at least the beginning of the end….for I think we’ve been in decline for about 40 years, enduring a slow process of de-civilisation, but not really quite noticing it until now. I’m reminded of that thing about the frog placed in a pan of slowly heating water…
This decline includes the transition from secure employment to precarious employment, the destruction of unions and the shrinkage of workers’ rights, zero hour contracts, the dismantling of local government, a health service falling apart, an underfunded education system ruled by meaningless exam results and league tables, the increasingly acceptable stigmatisation of immigrants, knee-jerk nationalism, and the concentration of prejudice enabled by social media and the internet.
This process of decivilisation grew out of an ideology which sneered at social generosity and championed a sort of righteous selfishness. (Thatcher: “Poverty is a personality defect”. Ayn Rand: “Altruism is evil”). The emphasis on unrestrained individualism has had two effects: the creation of a huge amount of wealth, and the funnelling of it into fewer and fewer hands. Right now the 62 richest people in the world are as wealthy as the bottom half of its population combined. The Thatcher/Reagan fantasy that all this wealth would ‘trickle down’ and enrich everybody else simply hasn’t transpired.
In fact the reverse has happened: the real wages of most people have been in decline for at least two decades, while at the same time their prospects - and the prospects for their children - look dimmer and dimmer. No wonder people are angry, and turning away from business-as-usual government for solutions. When governments pay most attention to whoever has most money, the huge wealth inequalities we now see make a mockery of the idea of democracy. As George Monbiot said: “The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the purse is mightier than the pen”.
Last year people started waking up to this. A lot of them, in their anger, grabbed the nearest Trump-like object and hit the Establishment over the head with it. But those were just the most conspicuous, media-tasty awakenings. Meanwhile there’s been a quieter but equally powerful stirring: people are rethinking what democracy means, what society means and what we need to do to make them work again. People are thinking hard, and, most importantly, thinking out loud, together. I think we underwent a mass disillusionment in 2016, and finally realised it’s time to jump out of the saucepan.
This is the start of something big. It will involve engagement: not just tweets and likes and swipes, but thoughtful and creative social and political action too. It will involve realising that some things we’ve taken for granted - some semblance of truth in reporting, for example - can no longer be expected for free. If we want good reporting and good analysis, we’ll have to pay for it. That means MONEY: direct financial support for the publications and websites struggling to tell the non-corporate, non-establishment side of the story. In the same way if we want happy and creative children we need to take charge of education, not leave it to ideologues and bottom-liners. If we want social generosity, then we must pay our taxes and get rid of our tax havens. And if we want thoughtful politicians, we should stop supporting merely charismatic ones.
Inequality eats away at the heart of a society, breeding disdain, resentment, envy, suspicion, bullying, arrogance and callousness. If we want any decent kind of future we have to push away from that, and I think we’re starting to.
There’s so much to do, so many possibilities. 2017 should be a surprising year.