Sunday, May 31, 2015

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You (7)


XI: Survivors

The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
                                C.S Lewis 

We're science fiction readers. We know how you survive in a post holocaust world. 

In Earth Abides Isherwood realizes that it is impossible to preserve civilization after a plague: there are simply too few people left to continue the old ways of living. All he can do is hand on tiny little bits of knowledge that may give the human race a slight survival edge. 

In Terry Nation's TV riff on the same idea, the remnant of humanity keep on keeping on, laying out tablecloths, singing We Plough The Fields And Scatter, wearing floral print dresses and making tea. When the tea runs out, they use toasted carrot. They carry on being BBC English people even if nine tenths of the population of BBC England has died of Lurgy. 

So: there are a few of us left who still believe in sharing and equality and fairness and politeness and kindness. We don't need to go as far as Socialism. Socialism is a word with too much baggage. Lots of people think that the unemployed should be paid an allowance but certainly don't regard themselves as Socialists.

So what are we Survivors to do in the face of the apocalypse?

Well, promote equality and fairness and sharing and kindness and politeness in the old fashioned ways, of course: demonstrations, letters to the newspapers, chaining ourselves to railings, jumping in front of race horses if it really comes to it. The Opposition won't support us: they will say that these are old fashioned approaches, not the way of the future, likely to discourage the John Lewis Pizza voting for Our Lot in 2025. If you really love the BBC, the best thing is to let the zombies destroy it, they will say. And the Government won't pay any attention. If we get a million man pro-Human Rights march together, they will say "Hooray! That means that the other 63,100,000 people agree with the Horrible Torture (Restoration) Bill." Probably, these things will progressively be banned as extremist and contrary to British values; quite likely the thing that replaces the BBC will only be able to interview us if our words are spoken by an actor.

So we will create single-issue parties, single-issue campaign groups. The next progressive coalition, I submit, will not be Our Lot and Your Lot against Their Lot. The next progressive coalition will be the Anti-Climate Change Party, the Medical Treatment For Poor People Party, the Public Service Broadcasting Party, the Humane Treatment of Prisoners Party, the Free Education Party, the We Love Badgers Party and the Free Books For Everyone Party — a huge alliance of people voted into parliament to ride particular hobby horses. They will have messy arguments and massive rows. (There will also be a Christian Party and a Muslim Party and a Jewish Party and they will be embarrassed about how much they agree on.) They will have lots of huge defeats and lots of tiny victories. The Survivors will save a small theater in Putney even as the zombies dissolve the Arts Council; the survivors will force the screws in Wandsworth Prison to provide prisoners with toilet paper even as the Zombies are restoring flogging. (As a deterrent and a last resort, of course. We don't envisage ever actually doing it to anyone, oh dear me no.) No Anti-Slavery Party ever won an election; no Homosexual Party or Anti-Caning Party and certainly no Suffragette Party. Groups of nutters with agendas gradually won reforms. 

Parliament will become increasingly irrelevant. It doesn't, in the end, matter if the NHS is abolished. What matters is that everybody, however poor and however black, gets medical treatment when they need it. So maybe all the people who believe in sharing will have to agree to pay a tithe, over and above their taxes, into a huge trust fund to pay people's medical bills. 

*

A few years ago, a confused man in America wrote the following. 

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses.

Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery.

I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be.

Now, the confused man was telling a willful lie -- or, at best, making a pun around the word "free" in the hope that we would become as confused as he is.  In England health care is indeed "free" in the sense that I don’t have to pay the doctor any money when I get sick. (People from Abroad would hardly believe how normal we find this. Do you remember when the Avengers' butler betrayed them to Ultron because he urgently needed money to pay his old Mum’s medical bills? I literally didn’t understand what "medical bills" meant.) But that obviously doesn't mean that doctors work for free, any more than police officers or court appointed lawyers do. 

However, it's worth taking the confused man on his own terms.

If a drowning child is washed up on the beach and I can do resuscitation, then it is absolutely my duty to save that child's life. If someone bangs on my door in the middle of the night and says that there's been a shipwreck then it's absolutely my duty to run down to the beach in my pyjamas and save as many lives as I can, until I fall asleep with exhaustion. 

If I the confused man were a physician and if he lived in a Wild West town and if there were a hundred miles of injun infested badlands between him and the next doctor, then absolutely it is his moral duty to treat everyone in town, at any time of the day or night, regardless of their ability to pay, as long as he was physically able.

If we can trust Little House on the Prairie, and frankly, if we can't trust Little House on the Prairie we can't trust anything, Wild West physicians did, in fact, treat everybody. Doc Baker sends bills to the very rich and treats the very poor for free. The middling people bring him eggs and apples and fruitcake, or fix his wagon for him when it needs fixing. Unadulterated communism. If it were the case that Doc Baker was being woken up every night by dying children and never got to catch his breath or go fishing, then presumably he would have sent for a doctor friend from Chicago and they would arrange things so that when one of them was having a day off the other one was on call. They would share out the money and the eggs and the apples and fruit cake between them. 

Voila: socialized medicine. It really is a very good idea. 

I understand that the confused man is going to run for U.S President next year.

*

If the Health Service is abolished or privatized, most doctors will continue to treat people who can't afford to pay or don't have the requisite papers. But if there are zombie doctors who won't, well, the rest of us will have to shame them. Maybe there will have to be some kind of non-violent vigilantes who stand outside doctors houses in the middle of the night banging saucepans together until they get up and save the dying child. I wouldn't go as far as planting burning crosses on the lawns of physicians who stayed in bed and left poor patients to die, myself. But I could envisage troops of Morris dancers following them round town, rattling little bells, whacking them with balloons on sticks, and singing "He let an old lady die! He let an old lady die. Hey nonny no, he let an old lady die." 

Hey: I'm brainstorming here. 

But we may have to go a stage further back. The Nasty Party won it's famous victory because people stopped believing in fairness and politeness and equality and kindness and sharing. They stopped believing in them because the Nice Party stopped telling people what brilliant ideas they were. And the Nice Party stopped telling people, I think, because they became complacent. We all started to think that paying poor people an allowance and treating everyone the same even if they looked different and not strangling criminals and not hitting children and not calling black people bad names on TV comedy shows and taking care of sick people out of a common pot and all chipping in so we could have the best television and the best radio in the whole world were simply the natural order of things.

And this allowed genuinely nasty people to come out of the closet. It turned out that behind every sensible leading articles about English speaking schools finding it hard to cope with Polish speaking pupils without extra help, there was a failed reality TV contestant wanting to exterminate immigrants like cockroaches and cancer cells. Behind every perfectly reasonable comment about small businesses finding it difficult to fund maternity leave, there was a disgruntled science fiction fan who couldn't quite see the problem with throwing acid in women's faces. While sensible people with serious faces made hard choices about cutting back on library provision in the name of austerity, children's authors came right out and said that poor people had no right to read their books without paying for them. 

We allowed nasty to become the new normal. So we may have to go back to first principles and restate the case, not for Socialism or Liberalism or Marxism but for being nice. Basic human altruism.  

For historical reasons I don't necessarily agree with, it's quite easy for Rev'd Dum and Rev'd Dee to get a platform: in their local paper, in the House of Lords, on the Today Programme. So they might agree to use that platform to promote being nice instead of banging on and on about where men put their willies. Similarly humanists could spend less time banging on and on about suicide and more time explaining why being nice would be a brilliant idea. Same goes for the Muslims. There's some nice bits in the Koran, I believe. Atheists seem very committed to utilitarianism, which is a nasty idea, but individual atheists are often much nicer than the people who claim to speak for them on television.

The important thing is that the survivors make themselves visible: don't every let the nasty people believe they are majority, and never again allow politicians to think that they have to be nasty in order to win an election. Nice people should talk about how much they like paying tax; how proud we feel if we are rich enough to pay the higher rates. Maybe we could start organizing parties at the end of the financial year, with everyone wearing badges saying "I contributed yay much to living in a civilized society." (We could invite the Morris Dancers.) If we get sick, remember to tell everyone how great our local hospital is; all the great things our kids are doing at school; what a weird and brilliant idea it is to have big parks that even unemployed people and poor people and immigrants can play in.

We need to be careful of becoming prigs, but people who make their living being Nasty need to be shunned, shamed, or at least have custard pies thrown in their faces. If someone looks at the horoscope, there is a good chance that someone else will say "you don't honestly believe in that rubbish, do you?". If someone lights up a cigarette, there is a good chance that someone will tell him he needs to give up, and he'll certainly be asked to leave the room. So why do we let nasty people get away with it? Billy Bragg tells me that it is still fairly hard to buy a copy of The Sun in Liverpool: that if you are seen reading it in some pubs, you will be asked to leave. If we see a friend reading the Daily Mail, why don't we react as if they told us they were driving home after five rum and cokes; or as if they oggling a girly magazine in public? Calling a person in receipt of JSA a "scrounger" ought to have the some effect on a room as calling a dark skinned person the n-word.

The BBC may die: but we'll still have the DVDs: let's agree to show our kids Doctor Who and Life on Earth and Bagpuss regardless of what Murdoch's tits and propaganda channels are showing. Libraries may come to an end; but we can still lend our own books to people who haven't go any. (We may have to put stickers in our windows. "Ask to borrow my books. Ask to use my toilet." I think things may get that bad.) Or, at any rate, tell anyone who will listen that stories are brilliant and there is more to studying than cutting and pasting Wikipedia pages in a different font. Cameron may start conscripting the unemployed to stack shelves and sweep floors in return for their "welfare", but we can agree to call it by it's proper name -- scab labour -- and boycott those businesses which employ scabs.

Boycott; and paint graffiti on the windows; and stand outside their offices playing annoying music all day. 

And one last thing: let's not make any of this the only, or the main thing, we do. What's ultimately nasty about the nasty parties is their gradgrindianism, their willingness to sacrifice everything to make sure that Our Lot has more votes than Their Lot. They want there to be libraries so kids can do well in their SATS and get a well paid job; they want kids to play sports because that reduces the amount of juvenile crime; they want people to be healthy because healthy people work hard and earn money; they want the BBC, if they want it at all, because it gives "us" some kind international prestige. We want people to be healthy because healthy people can go for walks in the country and play cricket; we want there to be libraries so that people can accidentally stumble on Tarzan Triumphs and Imperial Earth and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We want the BBC to carry on because Just A Minute is bloody brilliant. 

The zombies have deep emotional feelings about Scottish Devolution, First Past the Post Voting, Disfranchisement of Prisoners and Pork Markets In China. We must never start to love those kinds of things. Because if we do, we will have become zombies too.




Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.
Robert E Howard




















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