Garbage

Every year humans in the West get treated more and more like garbage. Our rights erode, our funds erode, the commonwealth is diminished. Oligarchs siphon off people's wealth via healthcare, technology and travel. I am sitting in the hottest bus because the train from Edinburgh back to Cambridge was cancelled.  I paid for a train. I have absolutely no recourse. The issue with the train tracks causing the cancellation happened more than 24 hours ago. What can be wrong with train tracks that can't be fixed in 24 hours?

And in keeping with the British psyche, people just take this. Not a word of protest, not a murmur.  In silence we sacrifice hours of our lives on the altar of inefficiency and officiousness that is British rail travel. And utilities. And airlines. And [fill in the blank from your own life]

So we get sicker and work harder and feel more isolated and feel less happy.

Yesterday the Guardian profiled a number of plays in this year's Fringe about mental health, how people suffer. There are plays about pain, anxiety, depression. I saw a couple. Not a single one hinted or even considered the possibility that this epidemic of mental illness is somehow related to the world - to our experience of being in a world that serves shareholder return.

It is increasingly apparent to me that the epidemic of unhappiness or unease or despair is directly related to the profitability of big companies. Human contact is diminished in favour of screens. I feel like my entire summer is devoted to finding ways to get my kids to put down their screens. I find it difficult to have conversations with friends that don't hinge on property prices.  I hate how I can shop for a friend's new baby present on the train, and transfer money, and check a contract. I hate that the efficiencies of technology do not result in any increased leisure time. I hate that I spend more time looking at a screen than I do into human eyes. Ack. I hate the whole thing.

I left the line of a comedy show at the @Underbelly on Cowgate on Sunday night. We were told to queue and we were in line right in front of a men's room. I complained that this throughway was not a good space to queue but it was shrugged off. After about fifty knocked shoulders we gave up and went back to the hotel. Sorry Zach & Viggo, I got nothing to say about your show.

We had the same experience queueing for a virtual reality exhibit. Someone misread our tickets and had us wait 20 minutes in the wrong line until my multiple challenges were finally headed. The people herding the punters in at Edfringe used to be on the side of the punters. Now we are garbage.

Our room at the hotel was a sauna - the front desk just shrugged. Night, morning, night, morning, night, morning. Six opportunities to fix it.  Six shrugs. And then you wonder why people get depressed.

I have been seriously taken for a ride by both my bank and by Virgin Media in the recent years. Having practiced consumer protection law in the US I was eager, nay fanatical about exercising my consumer rights against them. But they beat me in the end. They both use private ombudsmans with arcane procedures and burdensome recordkeeping obligations on the part of the consumer. In the end, I had absolutely no consumer rights against the bank and Virgin Media, because I had no meaningful recourse against them.  And I am educated and in control of my time.

I have a back garden and a yoga studio and most days I only commute by cycle. When I emerge from this privileged zone, I am yelled out by train announcements and told to report suspicious activity and all in all, I pay companies to treat me badly. Airlines, train companies, the gas company . . . I'm not saying that the human shield customer service person on the phone to me isn't nice. Sure, she's nice. But take a step back and we are simply being treated like garbage.


Comments

  1. Quite the post. Firstly the issue with the train tracks was caused by the derailment of multiple cargo carriages, which in turn have caused significant damage to the tracks. Given the size of the cargo train, the incredibly rural location, and the repairs needed to the line it will likely be out of action for weeks. Am I anxious or depressed by this? No. Instead I have peace of mind that when the line is reopened I will be safe on my passenger train.

    Secondly, interesting lines around mental health and links to the profitability of big business but I have to disagree. To me its quite apparent that the rise in mental health issues is due to a governmental lack of understanding of what provisions need to be in place to treat such illnesses. Yes you could argue that this links back to a siphoning off of wealth/public resources but even with the funding available its the lack of understanding around these conditions that has led to the rise in mental health conditions.

    Finally, I for one love and am proud of the British psyche. When I set off yesterday afternoon did I want to be sat on a replacement bus service? No not really. But did it brighten up my day a little when someone asked when the guided tour starts? Yes. And was I able to have a wonderfully fulfilling conversation, without a screen I might add, with the person sitting next to me? Of course.

    Im all for people spending more time away from screens and enjoying the world and the people around them. I would argue that spending a 90 minute bus journey aggressively typing away to manufacture this blog post was an opportunity missed to engage in meaningful conversation with people who are from all four corners of the country and even the world, and who all have excellent stories to tell. And funnily enough I didnt hear one conversation about property prices.

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    1. Thanks for this. It's good to read other perspectives and much is fair comment. And maybe I should have protected my own serenity by making conversation and trying to enjoy the journey. But the thing is, I have kids and if all I do is protect my own happiness while corporations through the state erode the quality of life for people, then I feel like I am not doing my job as a mom. That's why this blog is named after my kids.

      I also need to take issue with this: "To me its quite apparent that the rise in mental health issues is due to a governmental lack of understanding of what provisions need to be in place to treat such illnesses." - That's like saying that the rise in obesity is due to a governmental lack of understanding about what causes obesity. It's not a valid causation - Obesity and mental illness (and a host of autoimmune disorders which are also catastrophically on the rise) are due to complicated environmental factors, including our relationship with capitalism and the state. Your position assumes that once the government understands mental health, it will all clear up. See how that is working out for poverty and perhaps examine the nanny state assumption.

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