The Welfare of Society

We will not be a government that uses poverty as a weapon against its own people. Metiria Turei, Green Party Co-Leader

Poverty is in the news again as the Green Party puts out their Mending the Safety Net policy and throws a gauntlet down before the other parties. The bottom line is that everyone should have enough for their families to flourish, no ifs, no buts, and no government sanctions to penalise those who are failing. I gave an inward cheer that at last the unspeakable was being spoken: our society is broken and needs fixing in a radical way.

social-welfare-cartoon

Then I started reading the comments section of the media coverage, and my heart sank again at the mean-spirited, self-righteous, I’m all right Jacks, who seek to perpetuate the punishing of poverty, and the stigmatising of the poor.

I’ve had a pretty privileged life, but there was a time when I had three children under five, and was pregnant with my fourth. My husband had just been sectioned under the Mental Health Act to a psychiatric hospital after nearly a year of erratic behaviour and even more erratic financial management. In those days, the bank account was in his name, it was the early 1980s and I was dependent on him financially, not having embarked on a career before the family began. In that year, I was really grateful to receive what was then a universal child allowance of $6 per child, it was the only independent money I had, and was usually enough to buy the children essentials like a pair of shoes.

It was a week before Christmas, I had nothing, literally, other than some food in the pantry, but certainly not enough to last, and nothing to cover the needs of babes and toddlers still in nappies. The Public Trust, which stepped in to manage the finances of mental patients while they were under the MHA, was closed for the year and would not be able to take any action to release funds to me until mid January.

Sunnyside Hospital 1977
The feeling of utter helplessness was overwhelming, but at the same time I had some pride and was reluctant to ask my parents for help (loving though I knew they were, and would do anything for me). I was still in shock from the brutal sectioning of my man, which had involved the police forcibly subduing him, followed by his hospitalisation in the then Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital. I cried myself to sleep every night, and for many of my waking hours trembled with tension and heartbreak. Not knowing what was going to happen, or how I was going to cope, haunted my every thought.

I was lucky, I was surrounded by a caring rural community and had people calling by with meals and offers to baby-sit. My parents also rallied as soon as they realised my dire situation, and came to stay over Christmas and New Year, bearing gifts.

Without that support, I can’t even begin to think what I would have done to survive and care for my littlies. And yet, this is what so many women have to go through for periods much longer than I. They have to struggle for years to make the meagre government handouts stretch. They have to live with the abuse and name-calling that the uncaring in society inflict on them: “dole bludgers, parasites”. So often in commentaries you read the view that the poor shouldn’t have children, or go on having children if they can’t support them. There is no empathy, no sympathy, only judgment and belittling.

But I know that circumstances can change in a life, the unforeseen does sometimes happen, and a comfortable life can be overturned. No one is exempt, and only the truly hard-hearted, or foolish, can say that “it can’t happen to me”.

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To those who say it is irresponsible to have children if your circumstances can’t afford it, we chose to have no more children when my husband was better and back home with us. I had a tubal ligation. It failed, I was one of 3%, or whatever the failure percentage is, and within a few months of my operation I was pregnant again.

You see, sometimes life just throws us a curved ball and you have no say on where it will land. Most of the time we can’t change our situation, no matter how much we try. A truly caring and progressive society sees value in everyone and is prepared to pay the price of picking up those who stumble and need a helping hand.

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To those small-minded naysayers who make accusations of socialism as if it were something to be ashamed of, I say I’m proud to support the Green Party that has such a conscience and is prepared to draw a line in the sand against the policies of privilege and selfish individualism.

I always loved the song by the Hollies: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.  We are all on this road of life together, and it is easier for us all, if we extend a helping hand, ungrudging, to those less fortunate, for we never know when it might be our turn for a hand up.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

Barbarians still

image

Lo, it is nearly 350 years that we and our fathers have inhabited this most lovely land, and never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race, nor was it thought that such an inroad from the sea could be made. Behold the church of St Cuthbert spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples …’. Letter from Alcuin of York to Ethelred, king of Northumbria, 8 June, 793.

I’ve been catching up with the TV series, Vikings, watching series 1 and 2 all in one week. Like many others, I had been brought up to consider the Vikings as the epitome of barbarism. My Anglo-Saxon ancestors, no doubt, having some sway in that prejudice.

As a child I loved the Norse myths as expounded by Roger Lancelyn Green, and have fond memories of my father reading to me the exploits of the gods, Thor, Odin, Freya, dwarves, dragons and heroes; and to complete my initiation into the romance of the Norsemen, I would sit on my father’s knee when he was listening to Wagner’s Ring Cycle and follow the words of the libretto. Heady stuff for a six year old.

MGM and the History channel’s version certainly perpetuates the myth, while adding some human love interest and gentle family interactions in between the betrayals and factions; and of course the brutality is not spared as the actors seem to relish the fight scenes. It’s well done with a convincing authenticity.

The Viking invasion of Britain took place from 793–1284, the last of several waves of invaders, over a thousand years ago, and I asked myself how has the human race progressed in that time. I wondered how many lives have been lost in battles for land, for religion, and tribal internecine strife.

I started thinking about barbarity as this is a word that has been bandied around in recent times with regard to the Daesh in the Middle East and their vicious struggle  to establish a caliphate and the battle to stop them. Even the Prime Minister of our country, John Key, has used the concept of standing up against barbarism to justify taking our troops into the battle zone, only to “train” Iraqi troops, of course.

My concern is that our government is buying into a lie and leading our nation into defending actions that are as barbarous as those it decries.

There are no good guys in war, only aggressors and victims. What difference does it make if the violence is a beheading or obliteration by a remotely controlled drone? Lives are lost for no purpose that can be justified.

The Vikings may have been barbarians, but modern man is no better, and at heart has not changed at all.

“They bound Edmund and insulted him ignominiously, and beat him with rods, and afterwards led the devout king to a firm living tree, and tied him there with strong bonds, and beat him with whips. …They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog…When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so” Abbo of Fleury, Martyrdom of St Edmund, King of East Anglia.

There’s a whole web page that has compiled the numbers who have been killed in strife over the centuries, it doesn’t make pretty reading, nor does it inspire hope that man learns from the mistakes of history.

Just a few facts to ponder from our more recent history:

Daeshm/ISIS
“In its report, the UN mission to Iraq says at least 5,576 civilians were killed and another 11,665 wounded from 1 January until the end of June. Another 1.2 million have been driven from their homes by the violence, it adds.

The pace of civilian deaths over the first six months marked a sharp increase over the previous year. In all of 2013, the UN reported just over 7,800 civilians killed, which was the highest annual death toll in years.

The fighting “has inflicted untold hardship and suffering on the civilian population with large-scale killings, injuries, and destruction and damage of livelihoods and property”, the UN report says.

It also documents human rights abuses by both sides of the conflict that may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The UN said Isis and its allies had committed “systematic and egregious violations” against civilians, including killings, sexual violence, kidnappings, destruction of property and attacks on places of religious worship.”
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/18/iraqi-civilian-death-toll-5500-2014-isis

‘Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue’
John Pilger wrote:
“Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations – 69 countries – have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America’s modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as “sanctions”. The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed.”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article41117.htm#.VPINTIEPDlY.

Iraq war
“Nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, according to an academic study published in the United States on Tuesday.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/iraq-death-toll_n_4102855.html

Vietnam
Total military casualties from both sides 1.475 million
Total wounded from both sides 2.094 million
Total civilian casualties from both sides 4 million

WW2
Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 3% of the 1939 world population (est. 2 billion)

WW1
The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.

List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll

When delusion becomes a reality

Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence. Edgar Allan Poe

Back in 1984, a portentous year for sure, someone very close to me had a major psychotic episode. The substance of his paranoia consisted of delusions of mass surveillance on a global scale by secret forces such as the CIA and FBI. The scenario of his terror was that of satellite observation of our personal communication systems, even to the extent of our thoughts; his obsession was to resist such intrusions with all of his being.

Of course in 1984 such Orwellian fears were  the stuff of science fiction and those who believed and feared such fictions were reality were considered mad and dealt with appropriately by compulsory treatment in mental institutions, and thus it was with my dear one.

Fast forward thirty years and the revelations of Edward Snowden and an intrepid band of investigative journalists show that the substance of paranoid delusions are now a reality.

So, are those who suffer from paranoid delusions like  the seers and prophets of old, who had an interpretation of a future reality that could not be understood until it came to pass?

Is the loss of privacy, intrusion into our private communications, our inner thoughts, a deep seated human fear that is now a reality?

Instead of locking away the troubled within our societies and silencing their ravings with drugs, perhaps we should heed their warnings, and question whether the path the agents of secrecy are leading us down is the the path to losing our very humanity.