We might feel shocked, helpless or saddened as we see people taking their lives, cutting their throats, walking in front of cars or annihilating their children and we wonder what it is within these individuals that drive them to such extremes. We are asked to consider whether it is a sickness of mind at the level of the individual but never at the level of society or the material conditions governing peoples existence.
On Monday a man walked into his local benefits office, he was upset about the “bedroom tax” and according to an eye witness, he became upset because he felt that the points he was making were not being understood.
“From what I could see, the bloke had gone to see an adviser.
“He was upset about the bedroom tax and wasn’t getting through and he started to cut his throat on both sides and threw the knife on the floor and he had blood coming from his neck”
The reaction of those signing on, people who’s experiences and life circumstances are similar is what is so chilling about this case and illustrates perfectly how we have become so disconnected from others. ““Everyone was just sat about normal waiting to go and see the adviser. I was in the queue. Nobody did nothing.”
How different it might be if the staff had been permitted to listen, to acknowledge and to show some human compassion. To do this though might necessitate a benign or simply just ambivalent attitude to the poor, something that people are actively discouraged from doing. How different it might have been if all those people like him waiting to be demoralised, stripped of their dignity in the process of signing on, which is little different to holding out a begging bowl, “please Sir, may I have a little more tax payer’s money” had either rushed to his aid or been permitted to speak about how they too felt desperate. And It beggars belief that the news paper that reported this incident only thought to publish a few inane comments from a witness to this., or is it that they have no desire to ask the right questions or indeed to engage in any discourse with the other witnesses, who after all must not be heard either. Of course a full on riot in the Runcorn benefits office might have made bigger news, after all how can it be that these people have the sheer audacity to be angry with the system that strips them of their value, reduces them to an angry bitter collective. I’m sure the mainstream media would have reported with their usual bias and spewed out their usual propaganda “ angry mob rampages through benefit office” & “violent, dangerous protest”
However we must at all times think of the poor as slothful scroungers out to make a fraudulent claims upon the hard pressed tax payer. Those amoral people, with their trumped up problems and insignificant, uncomfortable stories of desperation, must be batted away with scant regard to their mental welfare. They must be made to feel insignificant, to have it driven home that their value to society is measured only in their ability to serve the needs of capital, measured in what they earn, the value they create and then measured in what they consume and subtracted from this value is what they “take” in tax payers hard earned money. Under the coalition government we have been bombarded with the message that joblessness is akin to the very worst of crimes and that the feckless scroungers are stealing the money away from hard pressed working people. Chancellor George Osborne said that it was unfair that their “blinds were down” while the working man starts his day. A new elite directed frontier opens on the class war, the war between working class people and this “sludge” that capitalism creates at the bottom of the class hierarchy. This sludge of course is made up of none other than less fortunate working class people unable to find work, or find that their Zero hours contract means just that……….zero hours
To not be listened to, to be ignored, is that worse than to be vilified and distrusted? I think so. We have become an increasingly vain and narcissistic society of disconnected super stars, all living in our bubble where we expect people to look in and comment. But this is all part of the neo-liberal agenda to ram home the idea of personal responsibility. Suffer in silence is a convenient message because it stops people from analysing the material conditions of their lives and making the connection that their own situation is very closely linked to that of others. It prevents solidarity and collective action. We are unable to see that we are not just individuals but single parts of a much larger whole.
In times past people would have taken collective action, stood together and demanded change. Remember the first Jarrow March? People in 1936 didn’t internalise the failings of capitalism, rewritten in some deceitful rhetoric about personal failings. Instead the working class understood all too well what was at stake if they failed to fight for their survival, their rights. In the 1980’s the Job centres had panic alarms installed because of the number of desperate claimant attacking benefit staff.
Today………………………………people slice their throats in benefit offices, knowing that others are looking on to see. They might even be shocked enough to pull out their phone and post it on you tube but they’ll be far too self absorbed to rush to anyone’s aid. I suspect though that the DWP offer their staff counselling after witnessing these events.