Nurturing the Emotional and Spiritual Base of our Communities.

Bluebell,

Common (or English) Bluebell,  Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

Another day, another grim story.  One of the biggest waste disposal firms in the U.K is fitting cameras to its trucks because so many rough sleepers are sheltering in refuse bins.  They found 93 people sleeping amongst the rubbish last year.  Since their machinery couldn’t differentiate between cardboard, wood, and human flesh, this is an extremely dangerous place to seek refuge.

Who knows how many people have taken their own lives because of an ever more mean and abusive disability and unemployment benefits system?  Thousands end up in police cells because there are no crisis services where they live.  Women’s aid refuges are being closed (see here).   Over a million people are reliant on food banks. Some 50,000 social housing tennants were evicted and moved out of their London Borough over the past three years because of welfare cuts and the bedroom tax (see here).  Nearly 700,000 people are now on a zero-hours contract in their main job.

If you care about social justice, these (and many other equally pressing) issues will be all too familiar.  We’re still reeling from a General Election on May 7th that gave the Tories another five years.  Labour failed to make the case that austerity has been bad for the economy as well as for those impoverished, harrassed, and traumatised, by punitive social policies.  They even exploited a groundswell of xenophobia by producing a red souvenir “Controls on Immigration” mug -at a time when more than 1,700 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to reach Europe in the months up to April 2015 (see here).

Global concerns, and ecological issues barely registered.  I don’t want to re-run a party political discussion here, but its not just the Labour Party that needs to reflect on what has just happened.

Blubells and Ransomes (Wild Garlic) in a Pennine Wood, May 2015.

Blubells and Ramsons (Wild Garlic) in a Pennine Wood, May 2015.

The spring flowers seem to have been unusually vibrant this year.  Perhaps my ageing heart is more open to them, but the need to protect other-than-human nature from those who see the world in terms of economic resources, private property, and status symbols, feels ever more urgent.  As does the need to nurture what we might think of as the emotional and/or spiritual base of our communities, without which alternative green/left politics will surely succumb to the pandemic of alienation generated by whatever we call the toxic mix of patriarchal culture, modernist technoscience, corporate capitalism, and transcendent religion.

As I walked through the woods I couldn’t help thinking about the threat posed to the ‘English’ bluebell, hyacinthoides non-scripta, from hybridisation (with both the much paler, more fleshy leaved and upright, Spanish Bluebell, hyacinthoides hispanica, and the resulting fertile hybrid, hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta). The species is also threatened by illegal picking and trampling, and by climate change (it will lose the ‘early advantage’ from storing energy in bulb form as temperature dependent species grow earlier in the year).

There have been patriotic appropriations of this wonderful plant.  A late Victorian source claimed that bluebells blossomed on St George’s Day and that their flowers were as blue as the ocean over which Britannia ruled.(1)  But since perhaps as much as a half the global population of the species is found in the U.K there’s a reasonable case to protect its integrity, hopefully without resorting to xenophobic language about alien invaders.

According to Plant Life the bluebell (a.k.a Fairy Flower or Wood Bell) was once thought to ring out to summon fairies to their gatherings.  Anyone who heard a bluebell ring would soon die.  I’m not sure about that, but its not hard to see why carpets of bluebells were associated with enchantment.

B.T 19/5/15.

Source:

Margaret Baker, Discovering the Folklore of Plants, Shire Classics, 1969/2013.

Alternatives to Austerity

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Given that animist ethics focus on respectful relationship and ecological sustainability, animists may have a distinctive contribution towards envisioning a world beyond rampant inequality and overconsumption.

With a General Election looming here in the U.K, every day brings further news of the consequences of ‘austerity’ -prison overcrowding, increased suicide rates, homelessness, food banks, zero hours contracts, punitive welfare sanctions, chronic poverty and insecurity – washed down by a daily diet of political disinformation (‘spin’), as the super rich continue to amass absurd levels of wealth, to the point of jeapordising the rest of the economy.

In many parts of the world, things have been much worse.  A recent Channel 4 News report from Greece paused by a colourful piece of graffiti that read: “Why don’t we sweetly fall into non-existence”.

In this context Syriza’s victory in the recent Greek elections feels like a much needed breath of fresh air.  They define themselves broadly as a party of the radical democratic left, encompassing ecological, feminist, and new social movements, a spectrum of concerns reflected in the red, green, and purple flags of their party’s logo.  According to their website they intend to ‘promote a programme of social and economic reconstruction, aiming at development that promotes human need and respects nature’, and to pursue ‘friendly relations with all countries, especially our neighbours’.  The task they face is immense, but as aspirations go, this sounds quite sensible to me.

One of their first challenges has been to confront a barrage of hostility, from some sections of the left (!) -for not planning to leave the capitalist E.U. and expropriating the wealth of the rich- and from mainstream media portraying them as ‘far’ left zealots, as well as political doublespeak in their dealings with Europe.  Many ‘developing’ countries have faced similar situations in the past, where banks lent irresponsibly to corrupt elites, and then the I.M.F. enforced structural ‘reforms’ that imposed punitive burdens on those least able to pay.

The situation in Greece has been portrayed as a story of feckless irresponsible Mediterraneans living beyond their means, but as Yannis Varoufakis, the new Syriza government’s finance minister, makes clear, Syriza opposed the loans negotiated by the previous government, and have been campaigning against corruption and tax immunity.  They are unlikely to get everything right, and won’t be able to do everything they’d like to, but I wish them well.

As our own general election looms, I read with some dismay, following Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement that he plans to reduce the benefits cap (a recently introduced limit to the amount of welfare benefts a family can receive) from £26,000 to £23,000, in the interests of ‘fairness’ to those who work hard for a living, that this was our government’s most popular policy (with 70% support).

Like all good propaganda the benefits cap sounds superficially reasonable, but, of course, the only reason families need so much financial assistance is because rents, driven by soaring house prices (due to the soaring incomes of the aforementioned global super-rich who are currently investing hand over fist in London property), are so high.  Most of these benefits go straight into the pockets of landlords, or in the case of social housing, back into the public purse.

A housing association with properties across the South East of England said that Cameron’s announcement would put three bed houses out of the reach of social housing tennants across the entire region, and in a couple year’s time two bed accomodation would also become unaffordable (see here).  Large families would have to join the exodus of tennants unable to stay in London because of inadequate housing benefit.  Cameron also plans to remove housing benefit from 18 to 21 year olds on Jobseekers’ Allowance, a move described by Shelter’s chief executive as ‘a disaster’ (here).  The solution to spiralling benefits for landlords, of course, lies in measures such as re-introducing a system of regulated fair rents.

I mention this as an example of the doublethink/spin/deception/lies we are continually bombarded with. (for more on Cameron’s justification of the policy, a fallacious claim that the cap forces people back to work, see this by Patrick Butler in The Grauniad).  As the earth around us gradually awakens from slumber of the Northern Hemisphere winter, may we, individually and collectively, see the world around us clearly, and do what we can to create a culture of respectful relationship and ecological sustainability …

B.T. 3/1/15.

 

Sources:

Yannis Varoufakis’s blog

Marina Prentoulis, From Protest to Power, the Transformation of Syriza, Red Pepper, Jan 2015.

Nick Dearden, Greece Lights up Europe, Global Justice Now, 27th January 2015.