logomancer: Xerxes from System Shock 2 (Default)
logomancer ([personal profile] logomancer) wrote2013-04-11 12:40 am

Our relationship to society, or why I hate Margaret Thatcher

Like a lot of people, I was glad when I heard of Margaret Thatcher's death. Indeed, I would say that I've never been more celebratory of someone's demise than in any point in my life. On my third Thatcher meme for the day, a friend pulled out the old and tired phrase "De mortuis nil nisi bonum", and I decided that my point had been made. In retrospect, had I any sense, I would have kept going.

Why do I hate Thatcher? I'm not a UK citizen, and I was 7 when she was forced out of No 10. But what she did do was midwife the paradigm shift of thinking that transformed society and government from bodies which existed for the good of all to bodies which existed to further the interests of the obscenely rich, together with Ronald Reagan&emdash;who wasn't scorned at his passing in 2004, and is now a saint in America's civil religion&emdash;and Brian Mulroney.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, we took care of each other, and we elected governments that did the same. Clement Atlee passed the NHS, Tommy Douglas passed Canadian universal healthcare, LBJ passed the Great Society. When a corporation did something wrong, there was at least the expectation that the government would investigate. Nixon established the EPA. None of these things were controversial at the time because we helped people that needed it. The John Birch Society, the Cato Institute, and other Koch mouthpieces were not taken seriously, and Milton Friedman was laughed at.

And now, 30 years after Thatcher et al started us on this path of greed, we have privatized virtually all government infrastructure, and drastically downsized all the rest. Right now, the US Postal Service, perhaps the most efficient logistics operation in modern history, is planning to cut Saturday service after being hamstrung by Congress at the behest of private couriers. Exxon can spill tons of oil in the Arkansas backcountry and nobody hears about it because the few journalists who try to report on it are threatened with arrest. Documenting factory farm abuses will soon be a crime, thanks to industry lobbyists. NASA has ceded future Moon landings to Elon Musk and Richard Branson. The Attorney General has declared the large banks which singlehandedly destroyed the most productive economy in decades are too big to jail.

The list goes on and on. We have gone from a society which mulls over the cost of war to those less fortunate, and cares enough about others to make sure they do not go hungry, to literally taking the food out of the hands of poor children and their parents.

That last article has an excellent paragraph on the nature of value. Here it is:

In a capitalist society, the motive behind the production of food is not to feed people, housing is not made to give them shelter, clothing is not made to keep them warm, and health care is not offered primarily to keep people healthy. All of these things, which are and should be viewed as basic rights, are nothing other than commodities—to be bought and sold—from which to make a profit. If a profit cannot be made, usually due to overproduction in relation to the market, the commodity is considered useless by the capitalist and destroyed.

And that is our society today in a nutshell. It doesn't matter if the house outgasses formaldehyde fumes, or if the clothes are made with child slave labor, or if the batteries will overheat and explode; the products have done their job if they've made the maximum return on their investment. It's the same with services; these words I'm typing, the words you're reading, will be making money for some corporation, either through ad dollars or analytics information or keeping someone here long enough to consider subscribing; the minute my words fail to make a profit is the minute I am no longer welcome on their web space. The service is window dressing for the process of getting your money into the provider's hands. The soap opera was never about the opera; it was about selling the soap.

Most of us, even the ones that consider themselves liberals, have become convinced that this is the way of things, and it is right and just. And Thatcher and her ilk were the ones doing the convincing. They played on our fears, our dreams, and mostly our prejudices in order to change us from a community of people working toward a common good to a pack of wolves snarling over the crumbs on the table left to us by the plutocracy. And it worked.

And that...is why I hate her. And Reagan. And Mulroney.