All that glitters is not gold

I heard something on the radio yesterday. The average age of a first time buyer, not supported by the bank of mum and dad, is thirty-seven. Thirty-seven years old before you have enough financial history to leap the hurdle of deposit and get a mortgage. Mid-life before you can start to buy a house of your own. And things are only going to get worse.

As the ramifications of the recent financial collapse continue to unfold. It is not inconceivable that the average age of a first time buyer will push beyond forty. This delayed ability to join the fraternity of home owners will have a devastating effect on any buyer’s ability to repay a mortgage before retirement. That’s a lot of people who will never be able to get a mortgage. Never be able to buy a house.

Some might look at the current situation and argue we are going through a “natural” period of correction. Reduced numbers of first time buyers will force down the inflated price of housing. Thus allowing more first time buyer’s to enter the market. Perhaps that is true. What is more likely is that those who already have equity will be able buy up cheap property and build their portfolio. Fuelling the ever increasing rise in prices. Pushing the average age of first time buyer’s up even higher. The truth is. A lot of people will never be able to buy. And will be forced to rent for their entire life.

The usual argument against renting is that it is a waste of money. You give away all that money. And have nothing to show for it. But renting is only an issue if you look at your life as the accumulation of wealth. If you look at rent as the cost of living. It becomes less of an issue.

So why are we so obsessed with owning property in this country? Margaret Thatcher made it the cornerstone of her monetarist agenda by selling off our stock of council housing in the eighties. She sold the family silver to socially engineer the reduction of the welfare state. She made property a pension. Ask yourself. What happens to all this house wealth in the end? It is rarely passed on to the next generation. More often than not. It is levied to pay for the home owner’s retirement. Or worse still. Sold to pay the cost of residential care.

So what’s going to happen to the increasing number of people who will never be able to buy? They won’t have the cash-cow of a property to fund their retirement. What does the future hold for them? Will they have to continue working well beyond the statutory age of retirement? Or will they be abandoned, forced to live in abject poverty? That won’t happen. The state will step in and help. What state? The current government stated aim is the reduction of the state. Less state. Less help. So private companies will come to the rescue and fill the gap. What sort of care will those who don’t have property to levy actually get? The answer. Not very good care. The state will pay them? I don’t think so. Charity then? Charity will step in to help the venerable. How very progressive. It’s that kind of thinking that consolidated the need for the labour movement in the nineteenth century.

Perhaps that’s where the future lies. The rise of a genuine labour movement in this country. Will people’s inability to buy actually change people’s understanding of the world? Perhaps the coming privations will galvanise enough of us to finally force real and lasting social change for the better. Perhaps it will reawaken left-wing politics in this country.

The sceptic in me doubts it. I would love to be wrong. But I think the vast majority of us have been blinded by the glitter of wealth for it’s own sake. We’re in love with the big screen televisions that stream advertisement for the cult of celebrity like “The X Factor” and the soon to be gone “Big Brother”. We’ve had these bright lights for too long. Perhaps so long. The glare has blinded us. Made it hard to see. All that glitters is not gold.

Accusations of cynicism

Yesterday someone accuses me of being cynical. I don’t think of myself as a cynic. I think of myself as someone who has a very clear understanding of the world I live in. And a willingness to share that insight. Does my inability to wear rose tinted spectacles make me a cynic?

The Cynics as I understand it were an ancient school of Greek philosophers. They believed that the purpose of life is to live a life of virtue in agreement with nature. They rejected all conventional desire for wealth, power and fame by living a simple life free from all possessions. They believed that the world belonged equally to everyone. That suffering was caused by false judgments of what was valuable. And by the worthless customs which surrounded society.

None of that really explains the negative connotation the word cynical currently has. Half a second on the internet and Dictionary.com will tell you”cynical” is…

  • Believing or showing the belief that people are motivated chiefly by base or selfish concerns; sceptical of the motives of others: a cynical dismissal of the politician’s promise to reform the campaign finance system.
  • Selfishly or callously calculating: showed a cynical disregard for the safety of his troops in his efforts to advance his reputation.
  • Negative or pessimistic, as from world-weariness: a cynical view of the average voter’s intelligence.
  • Expressing jaded or scornful scepticism or negativity: cynical laughter.

Could the negative emphasis the word cynic now has be a response the Cynics themselves? The ideal Cynic would evangelize. They saw themselves as the watchdog of humanity? It was their job to hound people about the error of their ways. They would dig-up and expose the pretensions which lay at the root of everyday conventions. Those who were unable to answer the Cynics criticisms simply shot the messenger? But that explanation presupposes the criticism is delivered by a true Cynic; someone who lives a life of virtue in agreement with nature. The negative connotation that hangs with the word hints that the criticisms were in fact delivered by the less virtuous. It could be the negative connotation is actually an accusation of hypocrisy.

I’m no hairshirt wearing evangelist. But neither do I think of myself as a hypocrite. I do think the world we have created is too materialistic. Then again I have no real desire to shed the material comforts. I like electricity as much as the next person. I think relatively cheap, readily available food is a good thing. I like being able to get in the car and drive wherever I want. But I can also see untold amounts of suffering caused by the worthless customs and conventions which surround society. I see marriage as a mechanism designed to enslave women. I look at our obsession with celebrity as an anesthetic. And I have a real problem with the way in which the progeny of rich are routinely given the opportunity to do their ten thousand hours before anyone else.

As I say in my profile “I am by nature a deconstructor.” So I naturally find myself trying to dig-up and expose the pretensions which lay at the root of everyday conventions. I don’t see such endeavors as hypocritical. But the irony of living in a materialist world and being a deconstructor is not lost on me. I must therefore accept that an inability to wear rose tinted spectacles does in fact make me a cynic.

Class on my shoulder

I bumped into someone yesterday who damaged me both personally and professionally. I hadn’t seen him in almost ten years. And met him quite by chance in a confined situation. My gut reaction was to vent. Punch him in the face. Make him pay for the things he’d done. But I didn’t. I put my hands in my pockets. Bit my tongue. And let him walk.

My father. In his youth. Would’ve punched his lights out. At least one of my cousins would’ve taken a baseball bat to his shins. But I put my hands in my pockets. Bit my tongue. And let him walk away. My lack of visceral action no doubt leaves me on the moral high ground. But there is still a part of me that thinks. I should have taken him outside. And damaged him. Physically. That’s what you’re supposed to do where I come from. Stand up for yourself. Physically.

This kind of behaviour is portrayed in the media as a symptom of social decline. A disease with no cure. The subtext to all that hyperbole is fear. Fear of the countless people who fall out of the pub on a Friday night. And respond to an insult with physical action. Put simply it is fear of the working class.

It is the working class who respond to insults with physical action. It’s all they have. The thing of it is. The thing I have come to realise. The person I am talking about. His behaviour was no less violent. No less damaging than the fist thrown in a street brawl. But he did it in the name of a profit. With a smile. And a sense of entitlement I only ever come across in the middle class. The thing I’m struggling to articulate is this. The middle class façade of polite behaviour. Is just that. A façade.

I have had something of an education. Not as much as I would like. But enough to move in middle class circles. And survive. Almost. I say almost because no amount of education will ever make me one of them. I will always be on the outside looking in. I lack the ruthless sensibility that is innate in these people. The cold selfishness that is their birth right. I come from, dare I say it, more honest stock. They might punch you in the face when you cross them. But they would never betray you for thirty pieces of silver.

Fortunately there will always be a part of me that remains working class. A part of me that still lives on a council estate in the North East of England. A part of me that wants to take duplicitous scum outside. And damage them. Physically. A part that keeps me honest. I suppose that’s why they say. You can take the boy out of the council estate. But you can’t take the council estate out of the boy.