“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows” George Orwell – 1984
I’ve been thinking a lot about echo chambers and social media and Brexit and Trump and the world that we live in. It seems on almost all issues, we have become polarised. Nuance is dead, long live nuance. Today people have their teams that they ‘stan’ or ‘cape’, or ‘ride’ for (thanks Urbandictionary.com – Ed), but, more than that, we actively distance ourselves from those that disagree with us, stopping only to chastise them online, cheered on by those on our ‘side’, normally in the currency of likes and retweets. Why is this the case? I think I’ve figured out the answer.
Consider the case of Alan Shore, who has written sensitively and angrily about what it is like to live with a terminal illness in modern Britain. If lines like:
Eighty terminally ill people a month are found to be ‘fit for work’ and go onto die within six weeks of that expert finding.
And if that isn’t bad enough, more terminally ill people lose their benefits because they haven’t died quickly enough.
I (and 2 nurses) had to talk a 40 year old terminally ill man from suiciding after being told he hadn’t died and so was being punished.
He was a burden to his suffering family, you see. They’d be better off if he was gone.
I’ve held the old, the young and the middle-aged whilst their souls shatter. Not dead yet. Not dying enough. Not enough pain, not enough invalidity, not enough cancer.
aren’t enough to make your heart break, it can only be because you don’t have one. Shore’s article, which I highly recommend, reminded me powerfully of I, Daniel Blake, the Ken Loach masterpiece that laid bare the difficulties of being British and not ‘perfect’.
If you are ‘perfect’, Britain is an amazing country. If you are lucky enough to not need any kind of state help; if you are perfectly healthy and have disposable income; if you can afford to retire and are surrounded by people that love you, then England is Paradise found. The second you need help from the state. It is hellish. I have friends that have been diagnosed with conditions that prevent them from working and friends who have children with developmental disabilities. Every one of them is smart and were exceptional at their jobs. And every single one of them has told me a horror story about the government.
We are apparently living in somewhat of a golden age for horror films. If you want to be truly horrified, speak to someone who has had to have a PIP disability test. Rose from Get Out has nothing on ATOS or Capita. Jordan Peele wouldn’t write a scene where his main character was diagnosed with MS and denied government assistance because they could walk 20 yards. It would be seen as too cruel.
Unless, of course, his main character wasn’t human, but a skiver or a thug. Then it would be fine.
I have been tickled pink by the gammon controversy (…Really?-Ed) and have laughed heartily at the rage of those that have been maligned by the label. I have seen tweets that imply that the term is degrading. And it is. we often use labels as a way to justify our actions and beliefs. It’s easier to lack empathy if all we are told is that a group are a ‘drain’ or ‘leeches’ or ‘cheating the system’. The alternative, that there are millions of people in this country that aren’t any of those things, but are earnestly trying to carve out a life of dignity for them and their loved ones and are being squeezed by a government that is apathetic, no, not apathetic, is actively against them, is too difficult to stomach, too hard to countenance. The people that support the government could not live with themselves if they believed that. So they tell themselves alternative things. And there is some truth in what they say to justify their support. There are some people that abuse the system, committing fraud. And it does cost the taxpayer – to the tune of roughly £2 billion pounds a year. I won’t even do the normal thing and compare that number to the number that is lost annually through tax dodging (£5.9 billion). I don’t want to engage in whataboutism – I do want to suggest that we shouldn’t let the actions of a few colour how we feel about the many. I fear that what people lack today is a desire to want to empathise with those different to them.
This post is comfortable for people that don’t identify as supporters of the government. They will be getting ready to like and retweet this article. The problem is that many people that disagree with the people I described in the previous paragraph also lack desire to empathise – everyone does – conservatives and liberals and most everybody in between. My politics lean to the left, and I recognise that I am guilty of ridiculing people that disagree with me for not listening to basic facts or for saying things that I find reprehensible. I’m trying to open up my echo chamber and it’s unbelievably hard. I often feel like I’m being gaslighted. I read things like this:
and I wonder if I’m living in Airstrip One. How can the same groups that are failing have their contracts extended? In what world does a government spokesman argue with the National Audit Office? Can two plus two sometimes equal five? I’m not perfect and really want to engage with people that don’t share the same views as me. I just fear that they might be idiots. Which is the same thing that I am sure they would say about me.