It’s a bank holiday. At some time in the past the banks must have worked so much harder than the rest of us that they deserved an extra day, so since 1871, for so many days per year, the banks decided it was OK not to make money. Of course they do now, even on bank holidays, because a 24 hour global culture doesn’t require their undivided attention to keep going.
But a strike day? A day off sick? Whoa! Now that’s different. We lose money. And economists are great at calculating the cost to the country of a snowy day. Everything is costed on the basis of unstoppable money-making. The cost to the economy of only working 35 hours a week is immense. And the cost of sleeping . . .
We have no acceptable limit, only the balance of forces between increasing GDP and the limits to health. Who sets this agenda?
And today is another day of births and deaths. Like every day, people will die too soon, too young. Never too old. And that nebulous non-community called scientists will predict that we need not die below the age of 150, now we know the role epigenetics plays in DNA degradation. Once we know why cells die off without replacement, why chromosomal telomeres shorten and bodies age, why not put it right? I suppose we should be thinking ecologically too, and sorting out our pets to live as long as ourselves, breeding butterflies that live many years instead of days. Why not, if we can? Don’t get me wrong, losing a friend or loved one brings grief, but it is the way the circle of life works on planet Earth, and it does avoid exponential population growth and the ethics of deciding when people simply have to die to save cost and space.
We have no acceptable limit, only the balance of forces between love of life and the limits to endurance. Who sets this agenda?
And it isn’t a bank holiday in China or India, where today too many people are earning too little for comfort, working too hard for their health, and living shorter lives than we are, making goods at prices we can’t afford to make them for. How much advertising of FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) is based on ‘value’ (ie, price without quality being too poor)? When is cheap, cheap enough? What is the smallest margin, the least a worker can be paid, for us to have more than we need? Again, is there an agreed limit, or just a stretching out to the boundaries of tolerance and awareness?
We have no acceptable limit, only the balance of forces between greed and someone else who has no choice. Who sets this agenda?
Are we all really seeking to maximise and minimise everything? A longest and healthiest life, with as many consumer goods and individual rights as can be squeezed out? Wringing the last drop of fossil fuels from the ground, reaching as near as possible those tipping points of survival? Are we ever tall enough, ever the right size and shape, educated enough, wealthy enough, intelligent enough, busy enough, working hard enough? And who is setting these agendas? Why is this bank holiday a waste of money and lost revenue, and yet tomorrow will not be a waste of health and relaxation with others?
People in various European countries are getting very edgy about austerity. In order to live in prosperous economies, these people know some of them (not all) must actually suffer – not just do with a bit less. We can be terribly bad about managing our own expectations and even worse about sharing equally according to need. And we are not very good at calculating the cost to us of not recognising our limits. The agenda setters? We all are. We accept the guff that advertisers pour over us every day. We rise to it and demand the best and latest at the cheapest and as much as we can. Automatic greed that has become an expectation steps aside from ethical living and becomes a right.
What if. What if we stopped believing these needs. What if there was no ‘ultimate’ mobile phone, entertainment device, vehicle etc.? What if we stopped pursuing and started appreciating a phone (for example) that just makes calls and started asking directions, interacting with people, getting there more slowly, feeling safe and assisted when bits of life break down? Why is nothing ever good enough?
It was an interesting thought just over a year ago, when I took voluntary redundancy, realising that I was being offered enough money to step aside for a year and work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I earned next to nothing in all that time, I used the car less, walked more, read and learned to write creatively again. And I found out, finally, what I should have known about myself long ago, but was too busy, too embroiled with work and life, to work out. And at last I feel a lot more ready to live with what I have, travel less far, enjoy small things, and especially people and friends, and even die young. Why? Because there is more fulfilment in simply being true to myself than there was in my old 45 hour week in an office. The rest is up to me, to be useful, to be creative, and to take responsibility for the things that matter most. (Is there an app for that?)