What is it we fear? What is it they want us to fear? Is it poverty, failure, military weakness? If you have never bought the pension myth, think on those souls who put their present in hawk over fear of future material poverty and all the while impoverish their day to day family life and relationships. And then think on those who bind themselves to a 9 to 5 slavery of mortgage indenture that taints the bulk of their active life, for a time of distant ‘security’ when they must queue for a hip-replacement. For those who are already poor, it is a state of being which they can only hope will get better. If there are upsides to poverty, these might be found in a perverted kind of inclusion in communal lack.
I speak from relative comfort, but when you extrapolate the hypothetical fear of anything and boil it down to its constituent parts, that fear becomes manageable, but firstly, as with arachnophobia it needs examined. We need a snapshot of the fear presented from a distance at which we can poke and prod before we can take the horror in our hands and stoke it.
Having dodged and dived through these years of rampant capitalism, at times playing the capitalists at their own game in order to survive, I confess to having been a survival hooker, selling myself in their system. In mitigation I can only hope that using their system and operating with their rules, I have done so in a more compassionate and fair way. Still I have no admiration for that system that places market above humanity but can understand now, in a world that demanded my personal adaptation to Jackess of many trades, that the confidence to design a project or a business that might provide collective benefit beyond one’s own immediate needs, takes a lack of fear of ‘the market’ underpinned by the reality-check of failure.
My motivation for inventing businesses was to be absorbed and remain busy – my personal fear, was less of material poverty than being unused, un-busy, un-stretched and unemployed. When no jobs were forthcoming I had to invent my own. This took me right into uncharted territory that I would normally have shunned. The service economy in the tourism business always struck me as thinly disguised cultural prostitution, (sometimes not so thinly if you witness The Royal Mile in the summer). Discovering I could do this touristy stuff better than many competitors was a surprise, but it exploded the mystery of business and showed me that there could be huge potential for development if those that usually eschewed business applied their creative minds to it.
Fear is the ultimate and enduring tool of control – at its’ limit, the employment of physical hurt or violence to control individuals, from women in abusive relationships (yes I agree with Joan McAlpine) to whole populations: look this day at Syria. Both the institutions of state and religion who have needed to consolidate their power employ psychological fear, the primitive fear of damnation or the complex conspiracy fear of terrorism and when they feel their controlled populations become restive with the established fear ‘givens’, they turn up the screws.
Every generation looks back on a more halcyon past and longs for it, and misses the obvious that the present they are living in will be transformed into the rose-coloured past of the next generation. Our survival instinct dilutes the bad memories and allows the rosier ones to prevail. The danger is we either forget the challenging parts of our past, or start to disbelieve they were ever that bad. The prize of building a better future is to refashion the best things from the past into a new configuration of the present calibrated by a realistic appreciation of our mistakes, our fallibility and our weaknesses.
Capitalism has duped us into thinking that money is God, that stuff will stave off unhappiness, and we must work on the hamster wheel of material accumulation to inoculate ourselves from lack. At both ends of the scale we are anaesthetised by alcohol, where those who fall through the net are numbed with addiction. ‘Schooling’ which we call education plays its part too, with the factory model corralling young people into prolonged infancy, in a siding of society with a fiction of education only serving to better prepare them to embrace the rampant money and acquisitive culture that we are told is the only option.
For young people, fear and pressure in equal measure filter up through the pervasive veil of sound-bite positive reinforcement – in the race for exam success, university places, and employability. Where in this crowded adjunct of supermarket-like education and policy documents is there room for the spark of individual addiction to knowledge? The link to education providing a better future life has been lost, in favour of acquisitive exam goods in a shopping trolley.
Profit prevails above sharing because that is the trickle down ethos of the one-party state of Capitalism and like a parent is the one that has the most influence in the end.
The real fear which we should plan for is the meddling by darker side of the imperialist state, which will be operating now in some former cold war control room stacked with umbrellas and bowler hats.
We need to have the confidence to believe that we can think our way to a better small society where we indeed have the potential to turn our collective minds to create a catalyst for bigger social change. We will not leave others behind, but will be the first domino, tipping a change of thought. Our society can become the focus of their hope, the possibility of a better reality for others.
Because things are the way they are is not how they will always be or how they should be. The first step is to free our minds to think that change is an inevitable part of our evolution and that we can shape that through personal agency. The vested interests of the status quo tell us we cant do this, that indeed we are naïve, idealistic, heart-led dreamers who don’t understand the ‘real’ hard world.
We should allow ourselves to believe that we can build the confidence to manage how we share out the poverty or the wealth. The new Scotland may be one or the other and at times both. But is it preferable to have your poverty imposed and regulated like Greece finds itself, or be a people who can at least have a say in how they manage their lack? The 10 years of imposed austerity in Greece leaves a generation without ideological hope. It has been removed from their collective psyche. Greece is being bureaucratically smashed. This was exactly what Thatcher did to Scottish youth in the 80s. For Scotland we should countenance failure but believe that there is the potential to turn the tanker of greed around and give the outmoded mores of sharing some room to breathe.
If we begin to think like this we may develop a society that expects the best in its population, not one that operates in expectation of the worst of human behaviour legislating to the level of the lowest common denominator. Much of the debate over the viability of the new Scotland relies on scare-mongering over our ability to manage ourselves, being too poor or too small. This doom-mongering comes from the traditional conservative business class who see the desire for independence as emotional rather than practical. They cling to their closed shop of business knowledge which they believe the rest of us do not understand.
But it is the very psyche of our people that is the untapped ingredient which is currently hobbled. Unfairness breeds resentment, anger and violence to the self or to external objects. Transparency that the pain is as fairly shared as are the gain is the kind of ‘fairness philosophy’ those under the yoke of global capitalist ethics are desperate for. The emotional wish for independence is no woolly soft option. Hope is key to the well being of humans, and achievable realistic goals as well as longer term dreams are what keep the human spirit moving on. The denial of that hope is a killer.
A population that can overcome its fear is one that can reinvigorate the engines of its collective potential. Perhaps our future will contain the germ of a world where the pursuit of the material is supplanted by the pursuit of knowledge, where it is normal to use what you need not what you think you can secrete away for yourself, that less is sometimes more and where profligacy, greed and competition play second fiddle to communal aid . What is needed is the creation of ‘busy-ness’ as something that replaces the old terms and models of business. A new place where social enterprise and capital will work for humans and the surplus created go to sustain communities through a different financial network of ethical and mutual banks and co-operative societies.
None of this is new, but when the pendulum is swinging there’s no harm in jumping on to give it a bit of a push. It may ironically be that the imposed policies of the Thatcher era that removed the expectation of employment from many and forced some of us out of our comfort zone into the wilderness of business, will in turn come back to bite the very politics that spawned the worst of the hard, real, uncompassionate world of greed economics.
All we have to fear is fear itself, so get that fear on the table, and give it a good interrogation with a stick. Give it a name, then dispense with it for good.