Yesterday I found my elderly near-neighbour wandering around his garden in a state of high agitation. Two cars stood in the driveway of his large garden, and when he saw me he pointed at them in anger. "They're all talking about me in there, and I can't stand it. They want to put me away, so I've come out." They want me to leave all this!" he exclaimed, pointing at the terraced garden with fruit tress, green houses, neat lawns, hedges and flowerbeds. "I'll be locked up, behind screens, I won't have it. I'll kill myself first". His wife died just before the first Lockdown, and he has suffered from loneliness ever since.
We have known him for forty years. When he taught at the local middle school he introduced vegetable and fruit growing long before it became fashionable, and he planted a small woodland (which thrives to this day) on land surrounding the playing fields. He had four children, kept a flock of Jacob sheep, with sheep dogs beautifully trained, and he also bred orchids. Later in life he taught art at a private school. Although he continues to take long walks out into the woods, his mind is going. His family are at their wits' end. They love him dearly, and somebody is round at the house every day. But they can't provide adequately for him to stay in his familiar surroundings as his mental facilities continue to deteriorate. Their prior commitment is to maintain their income streams from the full-time employment to which they are committed. This raises the fundamental question of our times. What exactly is the employment system? Why is it necessary to prioritise working for a money wage or salary above all other considerations in planning our daily lives? Virtually every family I know faces this problem in one form or another, as they struggle to provide adequate and appropriate care for the very young, the elderly and the mentally and physically sick members of their families. During the late 20th century 'socialism' came to mean nothing more than getting better pay and conditions of work under capitalist conditions of employment. In effect, the availability of finance came to dominate institutional and personal policy formation.
It was not always so. During the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, 'socialism' came in a great number of varieties, all raising the importance of voluntary cooperation in work and community building, all opposed to the imposition of waged and salaried labour. Communism and the Welfare State were later imposed upon the working populations of the world, forcing them to prioritise working for a wage or salary above home making, housekeeping, gardening, care of the natural world and farming in all its many forms. But, until the time of World War II, a lively debate was conducted by and through a host of individuals and organisations. These included the work of Edward Carpenter, A.R. Orage, John Ruskin, William Morris, the Guild Socialists, Fabians, Arts and Crafts Movement, Douglas Social Credit, the Alberta (farming) Experiment, Henry George and the Land Question (see the origins of Monopoly), the Distributism of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, the Catholic Worker movement of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, the cooperative and adult education movements as a whole, Thorstein Veblen and so many more. This debate is being revisited by a host of individuals and groups in the light of current events. (see https://www.douglassocialcredit.com/ for some relevant links, references and articles).
The title of this edition of my blog is taken from Wendy Teall's article in New View (Issue 102, Winter 21-22) in which she raises many of the issues faced by carers and the cared-for alike as they faced impossible choices imposed by an archaic employment system that is founded upon an archaic financial system. These matters urgently require informed discussion at local level by all involved in providing care of all kinds.