Will the Future Be Progress?
Have the changes in the last 60 years been good?
What will the future bring? Real progress for all, or more deceit and pretense at progress?
The year 1953 was that of the coronation of Elizabeth the second in England, I was 11 years old.
I am thinking of the advances technology has given us since then and trying to work out if life itself has been positively affected and then wondering if the next 64 years will bring real progress to everyone or just more smoke and mirror fake advantage to all except the elite few.
The coronation was, for a great many people, the was the first television “show” they ever saw. They managed this by visiting a friend or neighbour who had an early TV set. Very few working class people owned a TV set, or a car, or a telephone. Radios and record players, bicycles, and in a few cases motorcycles with side-cars, sufficed. Over the last 64 years much of this has changed. Almost everyone has access to a TV set, many to cars, and almost every one of any age has a mobile phone. In fact, many have give up a land line because the mobile (cell in USA) meets their needs. Access to infinite knowledge is available to all via the web, another thing only available in science fiction 60 years ago.
Has this enhanced life for the majority? Will the next 60 years bring similar advances?
When the printing press was invented, it was said that it will circulate knowledge faster than ever but also circulate lies and deceit at a faster rate than before. The same has been true of the World Wide Web. Everything has two sides, a plus and a minus, be very careful what you wish for.
News circulates at a much faster rate than ever before in human history, in the days of sailing ships it could take weeks to send a message from New York to old York, and get the reply. Now is can be instant. This must be a plus, a progress, an advantage. But who gets that advantage?
Living in a semi rural town, 64 years ago, everyone had a garden and grew vegetables. The town had been transformed, over a relatively short period of time, from a country market town to an industrial center. There was still a cattle and livestock market every Wednesday, there were still 52 pubs, but over approximately the previous 50 years, employment had been transformed from agriculture to industry.
By 1953 thousands of men, and despite the women at work during the war, it was mostly men, worked in the iron and steel foundry, the metal window manufacturing plant, the emerging new engineering factories. The nylon spinning mills employed most of the women.
All of this prosperity and wealth creating was built up by privately owned businesses and all managed by the families of the originators who owned the enterprises. Work was hard and hours were long, but there was full employment and the pay was better than it had been “on the land.” As they prospered, those employer families made beneficial gifts to the local community. A library, a community hall, improved sanitation and housing, public gardens, even hospitals were paid for by these families. Inside the factories, their word was law but they lived in the community and saw themselves as part of the same community as their employees.
How life has changed, work now is far less physical, even building laborers have mechanical aids to help. Then everything was real, nothing was virtual. The gap between life and death was smaller than it is now, very few people, especially those who's working life had been physical labor, lived far beyond 65 years, physical dangers were everywhere in the work place and the compensation culture did not exist. Reality was not a TV show, it was what everyone lived. Cold was real; hunger was real. Now we all live longer and I would guess the greatest increase in life expectancy is among those previously classed as manual laborers, but what have they gained? They live longer in retirement, they have less physical damage to cope with, but they have longer to reflect on a way of life far less valued than it was. Discontent is far greater than it was. What will the future bring, as more and more work tasks get taken over by artificial intelligent robotic machines; what happens to the self worth of those replaced by machines?
By 1953, education had become “universal” and was freely available no matter what your social/economic status. Discipline was far more accepted, the need for it was acknowledged by everyone; schools were meant to discipline students, conscription to the armed forces still existed, rationing was still a recent memory the pub hours were regulated. Life had a stricter timetable but somehow had less petty and intrusive rules and regulations. It was far less inhibiting than it is now. Minor infringements of the laws were dealt with in person, strictly between policeman and the offender, no paperwork, no “record” no army of social workers or lawyers. No claiming compensation because a police officer called you a rude name, no havering a mental breakdown because some one insulted you.
The loss of life, the waste of so many good young people who died in the war, was fresh in the national psyche. If you did wrong and were caught, you accepted the punishment, no one screamed about rights as everyone had been instilled with the notion of duty.
Time passed and over the next 64 years more will pass.
Councils took over ownership of the gifted municipal buildings, city investors; or unfortunately more often, speculators from the banking industry, took control of the factories. This changed the whole situation, these city owners had no involvement with the employees, they had no interest in the communities and most damaging thing of all, they took a very short term view of the business. They were interested in this year's profits and not, as the old families had been, of the long term survival of the enterprise. This destroyed the businesses and Britain's manufacturing strength. When investment is made on a less than 3 years basis, you are not not setting foundations for long term prosperity.
The local authority administration also changed, as bureaucrats took over running things. They had no (and still do not have) experience of responsible decision making; by this I mean making decisions that will affect thousands of peoples lives and being held personally responsible for those decisions. With the industrial giants gone, the bureaucrats use committees and endless meetings to enable them to deny responsibility for everything and anything. What will the next 64 years bring, greater and greater detachment between those who control and the mass of the people who are controlled? Or will we find a utopian democracy that allows all to flourish in freedom?
Technology brought changes, the national grid for electricity meant the “power house” at the foundry no longer generated the electricity used in the first ever electric blast furnace and so no longer fed locals with its surplus electricity. The national distribution of gas meant the local gas plant closed and with it, the supply of cheap coke used by the locals to warm their homes in winter. The changes in ownership and management of the factories meant that the new bosses did not have engineering inventiveness as their base but accountancy, they no longer thought in terms of 25 years in the future but only in terms of next months borrowing. Innovation and investment stopped, assets were sold off to make dividends to the new owners. One of the biggest employers had built housing, schools, even social clubs for the workers, all these now got sold off. From the boss being a man who knew how to do every job on the factory floor; things went to the boss not even knowing where the factory was.
People now often have no idea who owns the business they work for, so it is little wonder the bond between enterprise and community has disappeared. Will this be rediscovered in the next 64 years? I have my doubts but then I will be long dead.
Social life changed and sometimes in ways that seems irrational; people have greater disposable income than they did but huge numbers of pubs have closed. Far more people now own their own homes, at least they have mortgages on them, but there is a greater demand for social housing. People no longer grow their own food and yet almost all the individual greengrocers have gone out of business. Super markets rule the retail world and are open at all hours. Back in 1953, the town centre was almost the only place you could go shopping and that was a once a week walk for most people. Recycling was done naturally, without exhortation, nothing got thrown away if there was any chance it could be used again. Food wrappers were paper and even these paper bags were carefully folded and kept in a kitchen draw to be used for packed sandwich lunches. In 1953, if my very fragile memory serves, there was still a private collection of pig swill. Unused food and stuff collected by someone to feed his pigs. Since most people had vegetable patches, they used the peelings and discarded leaves in the compost. The dustbins were literally that, metal bins full of the ash from the coal or coke fires. Most of the factory workers would eat in the subsidized canteen, one of the benefits of factory work, provided that the owners were conscious of a duty towards their employees, another thing that has disappeared.
Odd that now we have rafts of employment legislation, we have lawyers and university educated union officials all to try and enforce “care for employees,” but actual real communication, actual shared life, between bosses and workers, has almost disappeared. I know not all bosses where mindful of their duty to workers and all the socialist literature would have everyone believe that all the old bosses were evil tyrants starving the workers for their own profit; but my memory of the post war years is not like that and I come form a poor waking class family. At the very least we knew who the boss was and where he lived.
We move towards today with the poor having more technology at their disposal than the rich could dream about in 1950. We have more laws enforcing equality on us but seem more divided than ever. There are laws about what we may call each other, rules about what we should think, discipline and duty have been replaced with rights and compensation, but we have less freedom. It seems that there has been a gigantic confidence trick played on the mass of the people. We are told everything is done for our benefit, all done to enhance our freedom but all actually restricting and controlling us in ways never dreamed of 70 years ago... We have gadgets that allow us to communicate instantly over huge distances but many old people are more isolated, totally separated from family connections than ever they were in the past. We have 24 hours a day 7 days a week television, with vast numbers of channels but trying to find something worthwhile to watch gets harder and harder. We have telephones but instead of bringing families close they just bring unwanted sales calls, unwanted attempts to criminally take our possessions, everything is deliberately made complex instead of being simple. What will the next 60 years bring, greater and greater intrusion and control or more individual power, actual freedom to choose how much intrusion they allow into their personal lives?
Old style criminal preyed on the rich, new style criminals target the vulnerable, the elderly, and even the poor. Old politicians were probably just as untrustworthy as modern ones but if they were found out they quit, withdrew and went out of sight, now they glory in their wrongdoing and become rich on their media presence. Exposing stupidity or even actual misappropriation of funds is ignored, they seek even higher office. What is worse, the democratic elections do not reject the known liars and unworthy. It seems that now a person's sexual behavior is far more liable to result in rejection than their financial manipulations and even criminal wrongdoing. What of the future? Write your own wish list, since I am now 75 years old mine is irrelevant. But be VERY careful what you wish for.
We have moved on since 1953 but not all that movement has been positive progress. Some has been, but not all.
What will the future bring? Real progress for all or more deceit and pretense at progress?