State love / Eternal children

Thoughts on the welfare state and the British underclass

State love / Eternal children

Postby Elliott » 01 Aug 2011, 02:42

In What We Have to Lose, TD gives a wonderful little account of human frailty (as in hypocrisy, naivety, etc.):
I remember watching rioters in Panama, for example, smashing shop windows, allegedly in the name of freedom and democracy, but laughing as they did so, searching for new fields of glass to conquer. Many of the rioters were obviously bourgeois, the scions of privileged families... That same evening, I dined in an expensive restaurant and saw there a fellow diner whom I had observed a few hours before joyfully heaving a brick through a window. How much destruction did he think his country could bear before his own life might be affected, his own existence compromised?

Many years ago I went to art college. Upon graduating, I didn't know what to do with myself and slowly fell into despair. In the beginning, I lived off my parents for a few months before deciding to go on the dole. I wrote in my diary:

I have to go on the dole. I can't continue living off other people.

Reading those words again recently, I was astonished at the naivety. It was embarrassing, and is embarrassing to print them in public, but they are relevant. I see in my youthful stupidity an echo of that bourgeois rioter.

In my mind at the time, dole money came not from "other people" but from some omnipotent entity which not only sourced its money without the help of "people", but could continue doing so indefinitely. The state, in my mind, was absolutely strong and could provide without cost, without limit.

It would perhaps be wise to mine my childhood to find where this belief in a god-like state came from. I have tried without success. None of my family had ever been on the dole. We were middle-class and aspiring. We were Atheists and down-to-earth. We valued common sense. My grandparents were right-wing, my parents centre-left. I myself had always been left-wing, in that "default" way in which teenagers often are left-wing. I fervently believed in "the individual" rather than "the group", yet believed the state should provide everything, that a perfect womb could be created to keep everyone safe and happy, and that while such a womb was not being created it was because "those in charge" didn't want us to have it.

These views are laughably naive. I know that. Yet I find them difficult to shake off.

While I try to "grow up" and accept that life is basically hard, I see the same youthful nonsense being written in mainstream media by writers such as Laurie Penny, upon whom I will focus for the sake of brevity.

She displays that dual attitude to the state which is paradoxical, yet inevitable given a certain childish mindset:

  • the state should provide everything
  • the state is evil

That's to say, nothing can ever be enough for her.

When the students protest about tuition fees, they are essentially asking for an impossibility: a free thing. Somebody has to pay for it! Who would these young anarchists have pay for universal education? They may say "taxpayers", "businesses", "the rich" etc., but I believe deep down they are really thinking of an omnipotent, benevolent entity: the State.

It is bad enough to have an underclass but I believe this "state love" extends far up the social scale, even to the pseudo-aristocrat that is Charlie Gilmour. When he swung from the Cenotaph, he was proclaiming the same two beliefs which animate Laurie Penny's articles, and animated my diary entry:

  • the State can fix anything (hence I can vandalise war memorials)
  • the State is evil (hence I should vandalise war memorials)

You see this attitude encouraged by British politicians, no doubt because the more people are dependent upon the state for food and treats, the more powerful politicians become in an abstract sense. Gordon Brown, for example, said that every home in Britain should have super-fast broadband at taxpayer's expense.

It is not so surprising that politicians should want people to believe in a god-like state. It is more surprising that people (including myself) should do so. Perhaps the lack of religious belief in a god leaves a vacuum?
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