The problem is that some words are too big. They get stretched too far. You paint a balloon with a face then blow it up and the face becomes huge and distorted. We like to categorise things, put them in boxes. Are ideas left or right, moderate or ‘fundamentalist’? Do we believe in freedom and democracy or restriction and authoritarianism? The trick is that words are used as shorthand in place of thought and reasoned argument. They are given values which we accept because we are encouraged to be lazy. Thus ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘sovereignty’ and even ‘childcare’ are good; ‘the nanny state’ and ‘a European super-state’ are bad.[1]
At the moment we are faced with systems in which there is either too much ‘freedom’ or too much ‘repression’. There are different types of ‘freedom’: some are beneficial for humanity, others are not. Let’s see if we can distinguish them and see what sort of society we really want. We need to repress some things which are harmful to our society but we must not be repressive of the human spirit nor unjust or cruel.
Let us look at what has happened here in Britain. What is troubling our life? What are the crises and problems? A lot has changed since the new optimism that came with the end of the war and her transformation into the welfare state. We have become fat, loutish and selfish. When as a nation we were bankrupt we set up the National Health Service. Now when we are rich our health service is bankrupt. Gambling is now state approved as is 24 hour drinking. We are over a trillion pounds in debt and debt no longer has any stigma. Sexually transmitted diseases are out of control. Our politicians are corrupt and lie shamelessly. Marriage is the exception rather than the rule. Words have lost their meaning. Child care is no longer what parents do but what others do for parents. Obesity is endemic. Education is no longer a social right but a cheap and degraded major export earner. Our police kill with careless impunity. In the so-called war on terror we are to be categorised and numbered and our DNA sampled and registered, our irises and face patterns scanned and our fingerprints and photos digitally recorded. We are to be checked going out of and coming into the country and stored on a database. What sort of freedom is this?
When the politicians and the police and civil servants can get away with lying; fraud; murder and blackmail, when gambling and 24 hour drinking is state approved, what incentive is there for the population to think of morality?
It started when Margaret Thatcher brought about a revolution in the name of freedom. Freedom from morality, freedom from logic, freedom from the norms and balances of the society which she declared did not exist. There are freedoms which are poisonous and must be sucked out of the bloodstream of our land or we will choke and die.
We are suffering from being fat. We are addicted to excess promoted by the multi-national corporations who have usurped the pretence of democracy that we are supposed to have. We are obscene gluttons waddling massively across the shopping malls from one food court to another. The hearing and brains of our youth is ruined by repetitive noise injected into their ears while the rest of their bodies are tattooed and riveted. This is a crisis of insanity and sickness. The country cannot afford to pay for its health service, education or pensions and yet it can afford this mad over-indulgence.
During the war[2], and for some time after, the country was on ration. Sugar, fat, meat, clothing and fuel was limited by the number of coupons we were allocated. Vegetables, which could be home grown, were not rationed. We were never healthier. Examples of obesity were hard to find outside 10 Downing Street[3]. Rationing was fair and accepted as necessary for the good of the country. It applied equally to rich and poor. Sure there was a black market, but the black market was limited did not have an overall detrimental effect on the operation of the system.
The hypermarkets have given us a fool’s paradise of a cheap garden of huge quantities of everything. We are encouraged to indulge even more with the BOGOF, ‘buy one, get one free,’ promotion. Small shops have had to surrender to the relentless competition.
Huge quantities of animals are slaughtered to keep us fat. Chicken used to be a special treat. Now it is ubiquitous. Our planet is getting warmer and yet we transport vast quantities of food across the globe in the interests of ‘variety’ and to maintain the availability of food out of local season.
Obesity is a huge and obscene drain on our health and social system. It is a totally unnecessary and preventable disease. Our children no longer walk to school. They are transported because of a totally disproportionate fear of kidnap, pederasty and murder. They sit in front of bedroom computer screens or games consoles. There is no place on the national curriculum for games or sports.
We are told that the wartime requirement to carry ID cards is again necessary because of the threat from terrorism and benefit crime. But we are fighting a far bigger war, one which costs us far more in lives and money, against ill health and against excessive energy consumption. Rationing of fat, sugar, meat and road fuel is justified at wartime levels.
There have been some good things happening too. The ban on smoking in enclosed public places in Scotland has been a wonderful boon for the public health and also for the economy. Bans and restrictions can be welcome.
Music piped directly into the ear from personal players is both annoying to others and causes long term hearing loss. It should be banned in public places.
Tattooing and body piercing carries severe health risks and is particularly a danger for young people who are easily prone to peer encouragement. It has no benefit and only potential harm. It should be outlawed except for earlobe piercing for earrings in females.
Alcohol is one of the two most harmful ‘recreational’ drugs. There is no reason why it should continue to be available. The same is true of tobacco. These could also be phased out by a system of rationing with users being registered and no new users being permitted. It is true that Prohibition did not work in the United States but that is no reason for not trying again. Opium smoking, although once widespread, has been successfully prohibited. The causes of the failure of US Prohibition should be analysed and lessons learned.
It is totally unacceptable that gambling should be officially sanctioned. It too should be prohibited.
Poverty is largely due to debt. Lending on interest is the mechanism why the poor are kept poor and the rich, rich. Loans, together with grants, are a perfectly proper way for the state to help those in need and stimulate certain sectors of the economy. The state does, after all, represent the people and is entrusted with its wealth. The purpose of such loans and grants should be the welfare of the entire community and those individuals and groups in need. The purpose should not be to making more money from people’s difficulties or needs, which is essentially immoral. It is perfectly possible to have such an economy, although it will not be a capitalist one as it is at present conceived with the commercial banks the arbiters of the wealth of the nation. Big business cannot and should not be so powerful as to have control over the means of distribution and exchange. It is essentially anti-democratic.
These restrictions are a vital necessity if the real and highly dangerous problems which are facing our society are to be faced. They can only be achieved if there is a resurgence of a sense of morality and community solidarity and the courage to give love primacy over greed.
Religion is a powerful motive since a belief in a divine unity can help to encourage a sense of community unity and also encourage a sense of collective duty and responsibility required by the Hand that made us. But religion has its dangers too and should not be overplayed. Nationalism is another powerful motive in fostering a sense of community identity and solidarity. But Nationalism also has extreme dangers. The personality cult of a charismatic leader also has value; but again extreme dangers, particularly when the leader dies or is replaced. None of these icons fit comfortably with modern Britain anyway: but an intellectually based morality and sense of justice does exist and can be very powerful in its own right without the dangers that come with the other foci.