December 5, 2020

Elephants, Community and Capitalism

A Balanced Life

In the Babar stories by Jean De Brunhof “the elephants work all the morning” then in the afternoon they are free to do as they please, read, dream, play tennis.. not a bad system in my view. If everyone who was able shared the work that needed to be done we could get it done in a few hours and spend the rest of the time pursuing our passions and spending time with those we love. I remember excitedly coming to a realisation as a teenager that technological advances would mean less mundane or unpleasant work would need to be done by humans. We could all live lives rich in meaning, connection and community.

Sadly this has not yet happened but I haven’t given up hope! Currently however we live in a top heavy system, reminiscent of the feudal times of old. A small number of people become excessively wealthy – these days the ratios are staggering. According to Oxfam almost half of humanity is living on $5.50 dollars a day while the world’s richest 1% hoard trillions of dollars.

Free Market Mythology

My recent watching of The Crown on Netflix reminded me of the neoliberal fairytale spun by Margaret Thatcher that everyone has the opportunity to go from sweeping the hearth to dancing at the palace ball. In the Thatcherite version there is no need to find a fairy godmother or a royal husband, hardwork and determination are all that is needed. 

How does this map on to reality?  If we lived in a society entirely comprised of entrepreneurs who would empty the bins, stack the shelves, look after the sick, raise children? The grimey, smoke billowing engine of capitalism can only grind  if we have people to do this work. A ghost of a workforce made invisible by their status, hidden in factories and institutions, without which those who claim the glory of being “self made” could not function. Behind each self made person there is the painstaking care of a parent, inspiration of musicians and poets, tailors, growers… at least a village worth of support. We need to stop telling the lie that everyone can rise to the top and heaping praise on those that do so that the rest of us can live with dignity. The choice to stay at home with our children if we want to, wages for everyone which at least match the cost of living.

Common Goals

Life for many working class people in the UK does not look like this.  I recently read “Beyond the Read Wall” by Deborah Mattison, a study of why many traditional Labour supporters voted Conservative in the last election. Many of them felt unheard and under represented. She gives the example of a grandmother who works three minimum wage care jobs just to make ends meet. The injustice of this makes me want to weep. It is sad that the Red Wall voters had a sense of being understood by the conservative party when, in my opinion, Jeremy Corbyn would have done a better job at fighting for their rights, increasing wages and cutting housing costs. Part of the problem may simply have been PR: When Mattison read Labour policies to people without telling them which party they belonged to most were in agreement with them.


According to Mattison’s analysis many people voted Brexit because they wanted a return to industry; mills, potteries, mines to reopen. Even though the work was difficult it gave people a sense of belonging, of community, heritage and history. Most importantly it offered meaning – John Vervaeke talks about the fact that we are willing for our subjective well being to go down if there is an increase of meaning in life. People are willing to labour in order to bring back the beating heart of their communities. Whatever your political standpoint essentially we are all looking for the same – connection and meaning.

How do we do this? Perhaps by acknowledging the importance of all of the work which makes it possible to live in comfort. Those doing the least pleasant and most essential tasks could be paid the most. Let go of outdated hierarchies of class and status so that we can find our way back to lives which provide deeper nourishment. This is a big topic, these are only a few thoughts. I am excited by finding solutions, there is growing support for Citizens Assemblies and Universal Basic Income, I am also inspired by the notion of a Real Living Wage.


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