Many commentators, journalists and elderly relatives have noted that Britain has lost its sense of community, and that on average, people are getting meaner. This may be true, but I believe people are merely falling in line with the economic system of capitalism.
There are many suggested reasons for why people are becoming ‘meaner’ and as a result traditional communities are dying. Some people blame a ”50 year rage cycle”, meaning we are in a centuries old pattern that is dictated by historical and economic grooves. This ‘rage cycle’ even goes as far to suggest that we have forgotten important chunks of history, leading to the repetition of past events.
The 50 year rage cycle is an interesting concept, however it doesn’t seem to answer the fundamental question as to why the level of day to day kindness seems to have decreased.
A psychological answer posits that:
”Mean people lack a purpose in life. When you have nothing going on for yourself, you feel the need to try to control everything that crosses your path, including real connections with people. That will only lead you to more frustration… being famous isn’t important, but feeling like you matter is.”
This ”insignificance” felt by many people is definitely integral to the building of a harsh modern society, but what is important is the driving cause of feeling insignificant.
In 2015, a YouGov poll found that an incredible 37% of British workers feel their job doesn’t make a meaningful contribution to the world. Furthering this, 33% of respondents said they find their job either not ‘very fulfilling’ or ‘not at all fulfilling’.
Frankly though, these figures are moderately unsurprising. Given that current predictions show that 54% of European jobs are at risk due to automation, it should be expected that people feel their job is unimportant and that their contribution is insignificant; when you can and will be replaced by a machine, it’s hard to feel any sense of self-worth.
The automation crisis will present its own issues for capitalism, but at present we have some large issues in a social sense for capitalist societies that have subscribed to neo-liberalism. The fact is that the free market has become so competitive that, as system, it is forcing people to drop the basic human instinct of kindness.
American sociologist Allan G Johnson has written extensively about the way in which systems impact people, using the example of monopoly to display this. Johnson argues that while playing monopoly, players become entirely self-interested and almost callous, despite the players being nothing like this in regular life. What this shows is that people’s behaviour can be manipulated by the system they are in to the point where their actions are irreconcilable with their true selves.
Neo-liberalism as a system is actually quite similar to monopoly; every player has to fight over a scarce quantity of money and objects in order to merely survive. You find out very quickly that if you spend too much time helping others you may start to need help yourself.
Over a century ago, Russian Scientist, political theorist, activist and revolutionary Peter Kropotkin wrote the hugely influential ‘‘The Conquest of Bread”. In this classic work of Anarchist literature, Kropotkin writes that human society depends heavily on non-monetary social transactions based primarily in rationality and mutual aid.
In full, Kropotkin argues ”If middle class society is decaying… it is precisely because we have given too much to counting. It is because we have let ourselves be influenced into giving only to receive.”
There is no doubt that Kropotkin’s belief is displayed in every day life, in modern Britain, it would be very rare to see truly selfless acts of aid. (Although some European anarchists buck the trend) but why is this?
With neo-liberalism came not only intense pressure on everyone to make as much money as they could to survive, but also the pressure to do anything they could to make said money. This has meant working longer hours and working in a more intense fashion. With every hour proving imperative to make ends meet, it can be hard to give up any time to helping others.
This process, leading to people viewing time in terms of monetary value over anything else, can be called the commodification of time and is a key change that has taken place in the collective psyche of all those who live in modern capitalist liberal democracies. As one of the birthplaces of neo-liberalism however, Britain looks like it has changed its view of time more than many other nations. This leads to dying communities, increasingly isolated citizens and an entire state of self-serving citizens.
It is moderately easy to see issues present in society, but finding solutions to them is another issue altogether, one which requires much more time and effort. There is no easy way to reverse the commodification of time outside of helping people to live a satisfied life that doesn’t require a 50 hour work week and trying to rebuild community spirits that have ebbed away.
One difficult remedy to a world without kindness is to go out and be kind expecting no reward. Without sounding like a Disney film, there is no easier way to make people believe in human kindness than to display it. This may be in a small way through helping a neighbour or friend in a difficult time but it can also be through larger methods.
Whether it’s starting a community-oriented gym or saving lives through mutual aid, actions that are rooted in helping others create ripples effects outwards showing the world that human kindness isn’t dead (despite capitalism’s efforts) and that with a motivated group and a little organisation, we can all do our bit in rebuilding communities and restoring trust in human nature, something that is necessary if we are ever going to form a radically different collaborative society.