Life is all about becoming accustomed to new normalities. When we were four, it seemed inconceivable that one day we would be allowed to cross the main road outside the school on our own. Then one day we were deemed to be mature enough to do it on our own and soon it seemed completely normal.
Riding a two wheeler, being allowed into pubs, doing exams, passing a driving test, voting, being a sixth former, being a parent, eating snails. Coming of age stuff. Passing milestones. Doing things that once seemed so out of reach until in no time at all they become day to day.
We have a similar experience with the world around us as things alter and shift and change.
One minute the wild tribesmen of the
Kush are violent savages to be kept down by Kipling’s cavalrymen
of Empire. Fast forward a few decades, and they are suddenly our gallant best
palls who heroically take the fight to the evil Soviets with the help of our
weapons. The next minute these very same tribesmen are once again the epitome
of all that is bad and wicked and evil and we do all we can to eradicate them
with Hellfire missiles fired from our Predator Drones. In twenty years time
these same lads might pick a fight with the Chinese who by that time might have
become our most implacable of foes, and once again they will become our heroic
That’s the world for you. It is nothing if not fickle.
Saddam’s a top guy keeping the wild eyed Iranian nutters in their box.
Saddam’s the worst man in the world to be hunted down so that we can sleep safe in our beds.
Catholics are a threat to national security who need to need to be weeded out and burnt at the stake.
Actually. They’re OK now. Well not quite. We still must make sure the law ensures we can never have a Catholic King or Queen, but other than that…
One minute there is a Cold War and a grey wall running through Potsdamer Platz. The next minute there is no wall any more.
And of course there is all the life style stuff. Thirty years ago the idea of having a phone in your pocket was pure Star Wars. Now we watch TV on the train.
Sixty years ago chicken was a once a year luxury and a smallish bird would set you back £50 in today’s money.
Sixty years ago you could get a hundred pints of ale or fifty packs of fags for the price of a single chicken.
The world moves on. Sometimes the new normality is a completely good thing. Like when slaves get freed or women get the vote or Mandela gets freed from jail. Other times the new normality isn’t so good. Like when Jewish people are re-classified as vermin and eradicated.
Only two or three years ago, it was pretty inconceivable that people would be deprived of all their income as a punishment of being ten minutes late for an appointment at the Job Centre. There would have been a degree of public outrage at such a thing. And such outrage would have been entirely normal. Check out the theme of so many of those much treasured Dickens stories. They come from the angle that it is really pretty rubbish to live in a country where some people live in spectacular luxury a couple streets away from people who are starving to death. That was deemed to be a bad thing. That was deemed to be something that had to change. The default position was that the done thing was to feel sorry for poor people.
Human sympathy and compassion are hardly new emotions. I am no Christian, but it seems that giving a helping hand to poor people was a pretty big deal for Jesus.
But of course things have never been quite so black and white. There is generally a certain category of poor people who are deemed to deserve everything they get. Maybe this is because they are considered to be not really human at all. Different. Worse. Bad.
Black people once upon a time fell into this category. They were seen to be so very sub-human that it was fine and dandy to round them up and ship them half way around the world to sugar plantations to be worked to death.
In 1910, most Germans would have considered the idea of frog marching Jews into ghettoes to live ten to a room and be starved to death to be more far fetched than any fairytale spun by the Brothers Grimm. And yet a mere 32 years later it was deemed to be OK. More than OK. For by then Jewish people had been re-classified as scheming, money grubbing, Christ killing, communist rapists who deserved everything they got.
So things change and they often change in a hurry.
And the way we react also changes.
Take this case study.
A father of two has worked for a local plumbing firm for twenty three years. Then one day the firm goes belly up the father of two finds himself out of work. So he signs on the dotted line and frantically spends his days looking for a job: any job.
He lives a few miles out of town and it is a twenty minute bus ride to the local Job Centre. One day, a wagon driver misjudges a roundabout and sheds a full load of timber. There is a delay and the bus is held up in traffic whilst the police sort things out. The father of two is sixteen minutes late for his appointment. He explains what has happened but his reasons are deemed to be unacceptable. He is sanctioned of all benefits for a month and for that month he has to feed his family by collecting emergency food parcels from local charities.
Two months later he has resolved to make sure that he will never find himself in such a situation ever again. He now catches the earlier bus to make sure he is outside the Job Centre an hour earlier than he needs to be. But one morning the early bus doesn’t show. It has blown a tyre two miles up the road. No worries. That is exactly the reason he has decided to get the earlier bus. But Sod’s Law is as reliable as the laws of gravity and quantum physics and the next bus doesn’t show either. It has run into the back of a pensioner’s car which has pulled out unexpectedly. This time he is a whole hour late and once again his explanations are not accepted. Of course he has no knowledge of the burst tyre or the octogenarian who failed to check the blind spot.
So this time he is sanctioned for three months.
Five years ago the vast majority of Brits would have deemed such treatment to be cruel and unusual. Outrageous. And what is there not to be outraged about? A decent, law abiding guy who has worked all of his life is rendered absolutely penniless for three months because the buses have failed to run on time.
And maybe some reporters might have compared his punishment to the punishments metered out for other offences. The average wage in the
£400 a week. That means that three months of income is about £5000. What would
you have to do for a Magistrate or Sheriff to fine you £5000? It is hard to
think of many offences that would lead to such a punishment. I am no kind of
expert, but the only cases I can think of which come close are heavy drink
driving offences where a fine of two or three thousand might be levied. As a
rule of thumb, if we do anything that is so bad that we could be fined £5000,
the odds are that we will almost certainly be sent to jail instead. UK
That is how things are for a British citizen who has a job.
A very different set of rules are now in place for any British citizen who doesn’t have a job. Such citizens are now deemed to be different that the rest of us; they are the shirkers. The spongers. The idle. The leaches. The bad.
The undeserving poor.
Of course they are, because everyone says so all of the time. The politicians and the media and the bloke at the bar in the pub and the woman at the counter in the Spar shop.
And all of a sudden it seems to be deemed as OK and quite normal for someone to have every penny of their meagre income taken away for three months as punishment for being ten minutes late for two appointments.
There is very little public outrage. Instead politicians are now vying with each other to come with ever more draconian ways of hammering the poor. And every time they do this they find themselves to be more popular.
Just like Hitler and his cronies got ever more popular as they hammered away at the Jews.
Only a handful of years ago we would have been appalled to see a father of two left to feed his family care of charity food parcels.
Now it has become a new normality.
Worse still, a majority of us seem to think that it serves him right.
When the Germans watched the early stages of the Nazi Party’s Jewish policy, they certainly didn’t lose any sleep over it. Nobody but nobody saw that it was a road that would in the end lead to a camp in a small Polish town where a sign reading ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ hung over the main gates and the ashes of over a million souls went up the chimneys.
The kind of judgemental hatred that our politicians and media are fuelling with such gusto can be a poisonous thing indeed.
It is a new normality that really should make our blood run cold.
But it isn’t.