We live in a time of social isolation and on far too many occasions it is miserably uncomfortable and decidedly unnatural to us. We don’t have to look far to find the cause. We are social animals by our very nature and most of us are happiest when we are living in a family or as part of a tribe. And yes, I do know that doesn’t encompass all of us. Some are happier or feel safer on their own. But most of us feel lost without the affectionate presence of the ones we love. We need society. So the two big questions we all face now is 1) what sort of society do we want when this deadly pandemic is finally over? and 2) How can we bring it about?
Societies have evolved and changed throughout human history so there are plenty of blueprints. One of the best I know is the American Declaration of Independence. And yes I know I’ve quoted it here before but I think it’s worth another airing, because it is often surprising and frequently prescient. It’s a long document but I will only quote the bits I think are relevant to us today. And here they are:-
”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
This was the start of what we have since come to call Western Democracy. And at the present moment both the USA and Great Britain are a very long way from these ideals and have reached a point when it is ‘self evident’ that huge changes are imperative. It is extremely dangerous for any country to be ruled by liars, especially when they have a huge, rich, all powerful media machine to persuade a gullible majority of the voters to believe what they say and vote for them. That way lies corruption. I would like to see a House of Commons that had the power to pass a law requiring all MPs to tell the truth in the House and to the Media on pain of being dismissed from office. We could well see a healthy change then.
But perhaps the next question we should be asking ourselves is ‘Do we want a fluid society or a rigid one?’ My hope would be for fluidity. A rigid society is structurally opposed to change and it takes a long time and endless, often painful, effort to persuade our rulers if that is the case. You only have to look at the history of the Chartists and the Suffragettes to see that. And the history of domestic service in this country is equally revealing.
I’ve recently been reading a little book about ‘The Duties of Servants’ which was published in 1894. It contains some absolute gems about how the upper class treated their servants. In those days the bulk of the working class either worked on the land or in the factories, where they were very poorly paid, or went into domestic service where at least they got their uniform, food and keep for free. But their wages were very low indeed. A butler, who was the kingpin of the household got between £50 and £80 pounds a year, a scullery maid or a laundry maid got £12. You weren’t allowed to have much of a life of your own. Maids were not allowed to have ‘followers’ and even butlers were restricted. Take a look at this for how to treat a butler.
”Some masters and mistresses object to engaging a married man as butler; they consider that a married man is likely to spend too much of his time at home and to be consequently away from his master’s house when most wanted;” But there’s another and more unpleasant reason too. ”Great poverty might induce a father or husband to commit acts of dishonesty.” And she goes on to explain that if the butler’s family were ill, he might be tempted to rise the money he needed by pawning the family plate adding ”This is by no means an imaginary temptation, but is one of frequent occurrence, as the police reports testify.” Well, well, well! That’s a long way from Downton Abbey. But of course this was 1894 and that’s a long way away from 1948 and the establishment of our NHS. Before 1948 a doctor wouldn’t see you until you’d paid his fee, which could be a guinea, or five guineas or even ten. Think of having to pay that if your annual wage was £10. And now, Heaven help us! we face a real risk that our mendacious leaders will sell it off to American big business and we shall all be back to a time when we either pay the fee or put up with our illness on our own.
The time for a change is approaching fast. Roll up your shirt-sleeves!