On the domestic front there’s the ‘strivers versus scroungers’ polarity. I see the Economist has now used it – I hope as a one-off, not to be repeated – in an article on the American education system. It’s become embedded in daily discourse. I’m all for strivers, but scroungers is a dreadful term, used cheaply to vilify anyone who is on benefits, as if they existed to exploit the state – a state which should be mean and lean.
We’re back with notions of the deserving and undeserving poor.
As someone who’s been unemployed, and been through various crises in his life, and won through in the end by a mix of determination and good fortune, I’m well aware of how long and difficult the path can seem when you’re down. What you need is a push – benefits are not a God-given right, the safety-net is no place for a permanent home, and also a pull, a society that is minded, instinctively minded, to help, to allow you, when you’re down, to feed yourself and family, to keep family together, not to lose hope in dark times. And to give you the encouragement and the opportunity to climb out.
If we cut benefits we must give more back in terms of what we offer to the unemployed, the low-paid and especially the disabled. This can’t be a promise for the future. It has to be now. A moral state (an interesting concept in itself) has no right to cut benefits unless it can give more to those who, usually through no fault of their own, have fallen by the wayside.
How we do that is a mighty question. For now I’m simply making the point that if we take away we must also give back. It is too convenient to justify taking away by stigmatising.
Mrs Thatcher I believe saw individual freedom as more central to the Christian message even than love. Back in the 1980s as PM she invited the bishops to Chequers and lectured them on the subject. I sympathise: a powerful sense of freedom to achieve and fulfil ourselves is key to a well-lived and happy and Christian life. But so too are love and compassion.
Freedom versus love is another crazy false polarity. Christians and Buddhists (and I hope atheists) will always be on the side of love and loving-kindness. It is by showing love that you find yourself. And that also means loving yourself.
Back to my earlier blog – you stand on two mountain tops – self and other.