Friday 18 January 2013

Our problem is not "a bit of snow" but something more malign

As Britain once again grinds to a halt in the face of the weather, it is time to reflect that our problem is not, as many will say, that we can’t cope with a bit of snow. It is something far more malign. The government must be rubbing its hands in glee as the media will yet again act as willing accomplice in spreading and reinforcing the insidious mindset that sets worker against shirker.

The words come out of the newscasters’ mouths at times like these, advising safety, advising caution, repeating the warnings against “non-essential journeys” (whatever the hell that never-explained term means). Yet at the same time there will be stories of the plucky few, those who made it to work against the odds, the plucky backbone that personifies the blitz spirit. And in a completely befuddling illustration of false consciousness, there will be utter incredulity at the mere suggestion that this is a double standard.

This lionisation of the reckless, the thoughtless, and those with their life’s priorities askew is a very British thing. This is a culture where advertising regularly extols the virtue of products that don’t let something so mild as the flu get in the way of the day job. Where those who don’t want to inflict their norovirality on office mates are condemned as part of over the top health and safety gone mad. We are a country where you will regularly hear people talking about “human rights” as a negative.

And as those who for whatever reason live within walking distance of work continue to scoff at those who don’t or can’t, we will see stories of hardy nurses and doctors who braved the elements for the nation’s good. And we will be praising their pluck where any sane society would be seeing this as a starting point for demanding an end to second home ownership and the creation of affordable housing near places of work for anyone who needs it.

So before we come out with the usual platitudes, let’s take some time out to think. Why are we so quick to praise those who put their safety and the well-being of their families at risk? Why do we think it is fair and good to punish those who decide that sense and health and being there to care for those they love is a good life priority? Why is health and safety such a bad thing? Why are human rights terrible? Why do we insist on praising recklessness, on believing that work-life balance is only in place when the former utterly subsumes the latter? As we enter a new year, let’s use this time of weather-enforced reflection to put an end to a society who sees someone who works 100 hour weeks to build businesses as role models, let’s create a country where words like entrepreneurialism, capitalism, career dedication and “pluck” are seen as dirty signs of a society that has inverted the basic principles of humanity, where our first concern is the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable, where we seek to build relationships not businesses, where those public services so essential that they must run come hell and high water are supported not by preying upon the consciences of individuals but by the collective will to create a housing infrastructure to enable it. Let us start the slow trudge out of a chill far more damaging than that brought by snow and ice and build a society where the fulfilled lives of all, starting with the most vulnerable and put-upon, is the priority that trumps all others.


  1. Yes.

    Also, it annoys me when The Daily Mail etc. uses the fact that it has snowed in winter a bit as somehow being proof that global warming isn't true...

  2. My thoughts are with you all in the snow. And being somewhere like Laos underlines exactly what you are saying - the distinction between need (food, clean water, health care, education) and recklessness to acquire what we think we want, but never quite makes us happy.

  3. Jo, hope you are having a wonderful time :)

    and James, yes, don't even get me started!

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