Featured image: the incomparable Stevie Wonder a blind man who helps us to see…
Above: commentator, poet, children’s change agent Lemn Sissay
Lemn Sissay won’t give up. Ever. Out of experiences of fostering and institutional care in childhood that took him beyond his own experiences into the experiences of so many children and back into what he does now as a valued commentator, writer, poet, performer and social activist.
He writes a blog and keeps on asking, like John Bird, in his pieces, hard questions, breaking through the undergrowth, the swamp of history like a re-pioneer a re-colonial but this time for more of the people, more of the time. This week he’s asking about social work and we do know that social work needs to be resourced and valued so that social work can work to help regenerate the culture, to re-establish ambition, vocation, achievement, motivation and connection for everyone.
It made me think about why we are in a place where there’s such a gap between the privileged and the underprivileged and we just can’t move, are frozen….
The thing is the complexity of relationships and the human being: social work has always had the problem of its background: charity, patronage and very dubious and exploitative relationships between the classes.
We’ve always had the knowledge of what makes humans thrive but we’ve chosen to market it as superior genes or whatever. Lemn Sissay is right, we’re all right: the fact that we have so many interest groups in city centres every weekend means we are trying (but failing because we’re intimidated out of our own lives by these great big institutional forces that surround us 24/7).
In the city centre we see every weekend the Sally Army, the fight ignorance about Islam people who are so pressured that they just become ‘end of times’ interest groups in the same way that the Hare Krishnas, Jehovahs Witnesses, Mormons and even some evangelical christians working in social work or the health service subscribe to the idea that things are rotten (but rather than use political structures and processes to increase representation and ameliorate things now, they don’t move, they’re petrified by dogma and don’t ‘do’ anything except observe and describe) and this isn’t a proper use of knowledge, skills and education.
Until we change this frozen world of the ‘superstition‘ that Stevie Wonder realised was so toxic, while it isn’t challenged democratically, politically, we are all in the wrong, while one homeless person is ‘observed’ and not reintegrated into our potentially wonderful society, then we just allow the ‘gamers and gamblers’ on our lives and futures to blindly take us into oblivion.
When you think about gambling, gaming and losing the plot at home at work in leisure, it’s all because we’re now too literal, too practical and yet fundamentally disorientated and distracted in everything we do. We think it’s cool to be half in and half out but really we’ve just accepted a move back in time to a feudal notion of society where assets are locked down, we think the rentier, gig and gang labour economy is a good base to build a future and it isn’t.
Consider the woman who set up Bet 365…she came from a background of betting shop owners and when she went to Sheffield university and got a first class econometrics degree. That woman has a wonderful, brilliant potential…but….. why was no-one able to teach her beyond the notion of gambling, betting and the next level of her ‘family heritage and inheritance’ to do something much better with her econometrics degree, online, IT knowledge and family networks and connections?
It’s like IT becomes the plaything of an aristocratic notion of privilege that takes it out of the hands of ordinary people and into the hands of interests that aren’t ours. It creates a structural underprivilege that takes us away from any kind of universal declaration of human rights, creative and meaningful work and connection throughout our lives into a kind of feudal and medieval idea where nothing changes.
This is why we have end of times religious terrorism (in all of the religions who put religion between them and other people).
I saw this in Leicester, yesterday, all the religions, peering at each other over pamphlets, books, pretences, while they watched the homeless, the unemployed, the mentally ill, the lonely, walk by. Far better if they would be proactive and do something, here, now, in the moment to change things. It is a crime against any moral code to see privilege and underprivilege and just describe it for your pre existing religious template. We’ve been given a life to make it work well for ourselves, our closest people and for the others in our orbit and on our horizon.
We are being trained to accept lack of hope because of lack of hope for simple things like a universally available health service, a reliable infrastructure of water, energy, transport, a curriculum for every subject that can be locally, regionally, internationally developed to assist knowledge and social mobility, not impede it and to encourage connections between all forms of economic activity in an area does take us back to the Middle Ages, dependance, fear, humiliation and anxiety.
If the founder of Bet 365 could have had a much closer look at the inner cities, if she understood the social geographies, the epidemiologies, the real oral histories of people she’d see that success is always a shared enterprise that all people hope for.
She’d see that all people start out with hope and she’d then see the attempts, the efforts of others as part of the cultural fibre of this country: she’d see the little businesses, the markets, the ideas in the poorest as well as the more affluent and then, if her education had been broader she might even have said: ‘well local authorities aren’t supporting these great, potentially valuable businesses with economic development, this isn’t just privilege and underprivilege really it’s all potential but it’s not being in any way supported any more because local authorities have been virtually privatised’.
She’d understand more then, about the history of service, services and how in the gambling shop and 365 culture she’s stroked into being she’s encouraged the very dependancy the ideaology around the free market pretends to despise.
If she’d been really thinking in a visionary way she might have started asking bigger questions which take as much courage as setting up an innovative business and said: what’s a good model of retailing in the city centre in the 21st century that will connect the disconnected, bring people together? It’s surely not the smash and grab view of society that I’ve been socialised to think explains success and failure: it’s about distributing knowledge so everyone gets to become a contributor and the quality of everyone’s life can begin to improve.
She might have thought instead of how can I succeed, how can we all succeed?
And then she might have gone on to consider the John Lewis model (I know they’re suffering now but that’s for the same reasons: greed and warehouse capitalism given too much respect) where each little business could become a 21st century viable indie business with an online and a face to face connection in a shop. Best of both creating something really new for more people, more of the time.
We should be coming together, to gather more around what we see and feel powerless to change: we need to normalise elite images of success and power taking the big people in our minds into our local shops, our homes, our neighbourhoods, our cities and asking them questions in our minds and hearts about what can be better.
We should be ignoring the mad media that just spreads the daily pestilence of stasis (the link is to a populist newspaper in Aurora, Missouri a hundred years ago when the menace of Roman Catholicism can be compared to the way media today is used to whip up hatred) and starting to create a really fertile ground that could be fantastically beautiful because it’s local, regional, national and international: but we need accountability.
The Bet 365 woman is essentially under the shadow of her family in the same way as the most underprivileged children and children in care are under the shadow of ‘family’.
We’re obsessed with family in an unhealthy and ambivalent way.
The Bet 365 inherited wealth principle is at the heart of what many politicians think is a ‘healthy economy’ but really they’re conning good people who are successful as much as they’re conning and exploiting the least able and excluded. It’s a kind of Made in Chelsea (or Essex) immortality instead of being able to grow up comfortably and become more than marketing segments throughout our lives.
Everyone needs to evolve, not through marketed ‘experiences’ however soft or extreme but through learning about who we all really are and the responsibility we have to become individuals who can evolve and mature without embarrassment, shame or too much fear.
We need a more mature society so we can value each other better.
The one we have is shortening the lives and the life chances of everyone. Even the so-called ‘successful’ themselves because they’re as much in a hive as everyone else. Let’s have society for everyone where everyone can grow and we can benefit from a much better quality of life and making a living.