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the way we live now - The Villages

hutch0
Date: 2009-02-07 13:12
Subject: the way we live now
Security: Public
Location:home
Mood:calmcalm
Music:television


The problem with the British is that they don't live the way experts say they should.
This was probably always true, but it first occurred to me a while ago with regard to blocks of flats. Back in the 1960s, architects and town planners in this country bought into a utopian dream of urban redevelopment. In cities across the country the old Victorian estates and slums would be bulldozed and their residents relocated to great blocks of flats, `streets in the sky' stacked one on the other to form new vertical communities.
My home town's experience with streets in the sky wasn't a terribly happy one, but it wasn't unusual. The sense of community didn't travel, the flats were badly-designed and often badly-built, the walkways and stairwells became crime-ridden, maintenance became poor, the blocks became great bleak run-down monoliths between which howling winds blew litter. Instead of utopian communities, the blocks were places to escape from, if you could afford it, and they became places for local councils to dump problem families. Eventually, councils had to admit the experiment had failed, and many of the flats were demolished and their communities - and the social problems bred there - were scattered to new housing. For a lot of councils, though, there was no alternative but to retain the flats, and some of those hi-rises and lo-rises remain grim places to live.
This is not to say that the blocks had a monopoly on social problems. There were housing estates in the Sheffield of my youth that were, by reputation, every bit as rough and tough and deprived.
If you look at the Continent, though, it's hard to see why the experiment failed. In Poland the majority of the population live in towns in blocks of flats, many of them grim Stalinist blocks erected in the Sixties and Seventies, and there's no social stigma and - from my admittedly limited experience, anyway - no more crime and social deprivation than you'd find anywhere else.
There, and in Germany and France and elsewhere, I think, the culture is different, there's a mindset which allows people to live in places like that quite happily. The British seem to be wired quite differently.

This also became apparent a few years ago when the government decided to institute all-day opening for pubs. When I was growing up, pubs were allowed to open between eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon, and between seven in the evening and eleven o'clock at night. I understand these were actually relatively recent innovations, brought in during the First World War to ensure that factory workers and others doing war-work couldn't spend all day and night drinking.
In recent years there have been growing concerns about drinking and drink-related violence in this country. I don't know for sure whether things are as bad as they say, but it's become a handy cudgel for the media to beat the government of the day with - all you do is send a reporter and a photographer out to the centre of London or Sheffield or Cardiff or any big town late at night, take some shots of drunks fighting and falling over, interview harrassed and understaffed police forces about the problem, get rent-a-quotes from Opposition parties, and splash it across a couple of pages under the head `BOOZE BRITAIN.' It's cheap and sensational and it gets people reading. And you can run the story for a few days with op-eds from experts and columnists.
Anyway, the government decided that the problem was people drinking frantically to finish their drinks before Last Orders at eleven and then all hitting the streets at once. And they decided that the solution was to abolish Last Orders.
Their thinking, as I understand it, was that places like France don't suffer similar drink-related problems the way we do, because they don't have drink restrictions and are therefore more relaxed. The government's aim, as I recall, was to engender a `cafe society' in this country by removing certain licencing regulations and thus prompt Britons to drink less.
The thought of trying to foster a cafe society in Briton seems rather comical now. I don't have any figures to hand, but my impression is that getting rid of Last Orders - and it was a voluntary scheme; pubs could apply for late licences if they wanted to, but it wasn't mandatory - has made little or no difference. Brits like to drink, it seems, and if you give them more time to drink, that's what they'll do.

Most recently, the government launched an initiative called `Change4Life,' which is meant to combat what I've seen described as the `obesity epidemic.' Basically it's an advertising campaign warning of the health impact of having too much body fat - diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and so on.
The initiative follows a study on UK obesity compiled by `250 experts,' which warned that `excess weight' had `become the norm' and that by 2050 the obesity problem, if not tackled now, would cost British taxpayers in England alone £50 billion a year in health costs.
I found the launch of this interesting on a number of levels. Firstly, it seems to me to be an inexpensive - although by no means cheap - way for the government to appear to care about the populace. Secondly, it seems to me to be a way of saving money, and I do wonder whether, if the NHS wasn't in such a poor state, the government would care how fat we all are. And thirdly, I know it's only a coincidence that, at a time when our minds are focused on how badly the government is doing during the present economic crisis, a campaign has been launched which is intended to focus our minds on how badly we're doing in our own lifestyles.

So if we don't behave the way the experts say we should, who are we?
Well, it seems to me that we live in a culture geared to instant gratification, a society that demands that figures in authority take responsibility for failings, while at the same time trying to avoid responsibility ourselves. The chaos caused by the recent snowfall has sparked predictable calls for heads to roll among the people who run things, followed by a predictable chorus of `not my fault, guv' from those same people.
We live in a society where Pop Idol and The X-Factor are the most popular shows on television, offering the promise of instant stardom, an easy ride to the top that short-circuits the dreary grind of paying your dues.
We live in a society where, speaking of the shooting murder of a young boy in Liverpool by a gang member barely older than the victim, a policeman said that the youth of the area could only see two ways of getting on in life - drugs or becoming footballers for one of the top clubs.
It's a society where boys are taken more or less straight out of school and given unimaginable amounts of money by teams like Manchester United and Liverpool and attention by the media, and are then expected to behave as `role models' for the young.
It's a society where our sense of decency, our sense of what's allowable, is increasingly dictated by media who are pursuing their own political agenda and dwindling sales. We've discussed the furore over the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross affair and the Prince Harry video, but new outrages seem to come every day. Carol Thatcher was recently dropped by the BBC for a remark, similar to Prince Harry's, that she made, and the same papers - the ones who despise the BBC - who heaped opprobrium (for several sales-boosting days) on Prince Harry have come out fighting for her, saying the BBC have only dropped her because she's Margaret Thatcher's daughter. Meanwhile, Jeremy Clarkson has got himself in hot water for calling Gordon Brown a `one-eyed Scottish idiot' and not been fired, further fuelling the anti-BBC brigade's outrage.
At the same time, while we're being told to take responsibility - for our health, for our behaviour, for our failings - we're treated to the sight of Gordon Brown - who was Chancellor of the Exchequer during the years when the conditions which led up to the present crisis were being put in place (and who, actually, is Scottish and does only have one eye, although he may or may not be an idiot) - repeatedly refusing to share any of the blame for the economic problems we have now, stressing over and over again that this is a global problem and it started in the US and `not my fault, guv.' There was even a transparent attempt this week to pin part of the blame for the early bank panics on financial journalists (personally, I don't think they're entirely whiter-than-white, but they're certainly not to blame.)

So, where are we? It's impossible to tell what shape Britain will have in future. We remain celebrity-obsessed, manipulated by the media, and utterly scornful of what `experts' tell us we should be. I suspect the future will just be more of the same. Which is rather depressing.
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User: sarcobatus
Date: 2009-02-07 16:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
OMG, you just described America. Oh beautiful for spacious skies (smog) and amber waves of . . . genetically modified corn for fuel and livestock consumption, and dead bees, diseased bats dying off, fat, violent children, skinny violent children, robber barons, crooks with law degrees (do you know that a great percentage of lawyers practicing "law" earned their degrees while doing time in the big house?), rat politicians, and corporate killers poisoning our food supplies with trans fat and anything else they can put into processed food to alter good health into poor health - then they deny us health insurance. The only people who can afford good health are the wealthy, the denizens of Mt. Olympus.

How's this for a commentary rant? And I said I wasn't going to be on the puter this weekend. Well, really, I need to go . . . business to tend to. Let me just say, in parting, that I agree with you 100%, Hutch.

In Australia the final drinking hour is called "the five o'clock swill".
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teacher_bear: Flying Thoughts
User: teacher_bear
Date: 2009-02-07 16:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Flying Thoughts
Oh yes you did!

Edited at 2009-02-07 04:48 pm (UTC)
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-07 18:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That kind of week. Apologies.
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User: sarcobatus
Date: 2009-02-07 22:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ditto!

A sad but true commentary. Not surprising, however, considering that our species is winding up for "the big one." The irony, here, is that people in America (ego-centrism) think that it's only happening in America. This isn't true. It's global disintegration/polarization.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-08 22:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'd disagree that there's a `big one' in our future any time soon - although as you know by now pretty much all of my predictions turn out to be wrong.
I can't speak for the way American society is going because I haven't been there for thirty years or so and all I know is what I read. But speaking for Britain, we have to be careful about predicting how things are going to go. I remember 1976 and '77, when as far as the Establishment were concerned Punk seemed to herald the End of Days. And to people of my parents' generation, the Beatles and the Stones and everything they represented were harbingers of the fall of civilisation.
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User: sarcobatus
Date: 2009-02-09 03:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, I see your point, Hutch. On the other hand, we're dealing with unprecedented criteria, weather crises from global warming, over population, with a considerable portion of the world populace criminally inclined, many lacking a conscience altogether -- and I'm not referring simply to Joe Schmo with a crow bar, trolling the streets for victims. World leaders have demonstrated destructive psychopathic dynamics (e.g., Bush and Cheney), while terrorists have multiplied exponentially; not to mention with the world economy the way it is, people who were less apt to commit crime before the economic crisis might suddenly find themselves having to turn to a life of crime simply to feed their families.

I see our species as parasitic to the planet, and, as with so many of earth's cycles, down through the eons, our planet will eventually eradicate us by way of entropy. We will destroy ourselves because we are an arrogant species that has acquired singularity: but it is this singularity, in and of itself, that will eventually be our undoing.

And then the earth will start all over again, like she always has. Nothing lasts forever. The thing is, life will continue. That's the good part. We're just a vain glorious blip on the radar.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-11 23:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hm. You'll know by now that I'm not the sunniest of chaps, but I don't think even I have quite as...apocalyptic an outlook on the human race as a species. Despite the evidence to the contrary, I prefer to think the human race, on the whole, is rather decent. It's just the assholes that give us a bad name.
There's a theory - and it is only a theory - that about 75,000 years ago there was a supervolcano eruption at Lake Toba in Sumatra which reduced the human population of the Earth to somewhere between 10,000 and 2,000. And somehow we dragged ourselves back from the brink. I suspect that, short of a genuine extinction event, we're here to stay, for good or ill.
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User: sarcobatus
Date: 2009-02-11 23:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are a greater optimist than I, which is very healthy. I am a misanthrope, on the other hand, who is not altogether thrilled with humans. There are few whom I count as friends; but the ones who are my friends I love with great devotion and loyalty.

So I'm not too messed up, eh?
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-11 23:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
From what I know of you, I don't think you're too messed up at all. Which is a considerable achievement. Misanthropic or not, you're one of the good guys.
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User: sarcobatus
Date: 2009-02-11 23:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks, Hutch. I feel the same about you. :)
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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2009-02-07 18:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What? But brown is a one eyed scottish idiot!
And he apologised, which is fair enough.

We've been americanised- in the rush to become more free wheeling and free marketeering, anythign historical has been chucked out the window, from the ideals of moral rectitude, down to ideas of community. Although I suppose that was also done in the 50's with the high rises.


But every government will make things up and blame other people when things go wrong, what is annoying is how many people seem to fall for it.

More comments later.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-07 18:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Indeed. He is a Scot and he has one eye. These are incontrovertible facts. Whether he's an idiot is a matter of opinion, which in a free society we're allowed to express.
Curiously, Clarkson has apologised for calling Gordon a one-eyed Scot, but has refused to apologise for calling him an idiot.
Laters.

Edited at 2009-02-07 06:44 pm (UTC)
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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2009-02-07 20:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Nick Davies in "flat earth news" says that the Daily Mail exists to tell its readers fantasies, to pander to their misty eyed view of the past and fulfill their fantasies by attacking their enemies. Or something like that. It makes sense- the Mail is not in it to tell the truth or accurately report things, but instead to pander to its readers misconceptions.
Which is of course dangerous, when millions of people prefer to get self referential and ignore the wider world.

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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-07 21:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I heard a better one, and I can't remember who said it, but they said the Mail's purpose is to scare the middle classes.
Marina Hyde has a rather entertaining article along these lines in The Guardian, and she quotes Adam Curtis's thesis in The Power of Nightmares that if you can convince the populace that they're under threat from a highly organised malevolent entity, they become pliant and unquestioning.

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calcinations
User: calcinations
Date: 2009-02-08 22:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It can of course be both- why do people tell ghost stories and like to moan to each other in the pub about the horrible things that are going on, when if the horrible things were really that horrible and bad, they would be out in the streets with petrol bombs.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2009-02-08 23:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Of course. The way the Mail works is to allude to the misty-eyed fantasies of the past which Nick Davies mentions, and then scare the wits out of its readers by telling them that this Utopia is under attack from socialists/asylum seekers/moslems/gays/Jonathan Ross/the BBC/travellers.
It tells its readers how terrible things are because of all this, and holds out the tantalising City On The Hill which England (because the Mail doesn't recognised Britain) would be if we could get rid of all these things.
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