Champagne Socialism

And why I am concerned

Here’s a definition of a champagne socialist someone presented to me earlier: “A rich person who says he or she supports a fair society in which everyone has equal rights and the rich help the poor, but who may not behave this way.”

There is so much wrong with the term ‘champagne socialist’ that it’s kind of hard to know where to start. It is founded on the bizarre idea that you must conform to whatever conditions you were born into, otherwise you are a hypocrite. For me, for example, as someone who was born into a wealthy family, it is apparently hypocritical to think that we should live in a more equal society because it would make everyone happier. Instead I should be focussed on keeping our society class-based and exclusive based on what you inherit at birth.

If you don’t already spot the problem then I don’t know what you’re looking at. The idea that you must champion the ideals of your class even if they are horrible ideals is ludicrous! That’s like saying you should support slavery if your father ran a slave plantation, even if you can see the suffering it causes.

I don’t think I need to explain this too much, because it’s pretty obvious. At some point in your life you grow up enough to look at other people around you and wonder why they don’t all look and live like each other. In Britain this is particularly inevitable because we live in the most class-ridden society under the sun, and for me it was perhaps more inevitable than most because I went to a public school (or an ‘academy for the rich’ to use a less flattering phrase) and every morning had to walk past the children going to the local community college. If in that situation you don’t at some point wonder why they are going to one school and you are going to another then I think there’s probably something wrong with you. All I want is for people to understand that they were not the first to think there is something wrong with this, and that it is not wrong to think it. And I am by no means exceptional, because I know that really rather a large number of people I was at school with feel the same way as I do, but I just happen to be talking about it out loud.

So don’t think this is some kind of ego-trip just because I’m criticising stuff. Having a social conscience is exactly the opposite of being selfish, and it just so happens that I feel a need to talk about it. If people don’t say they don’t like something then it’s never going to end is it?

My philosophy is pretty simple, which is that we should try as hard as we can to make the happiest conditions for people to live in. To make people unhappy, you have to take away their sense of self-worth, and a class-based society does that by making lower classes feel intrinsically inferior. So when you say that I should be a Conservative simply because of my birth-right, you are saying that I should accept the belittling of others and for my own benefit. What a horrible, cynical way to see the world. Excuse me for thinking that love is more important than selfishness!

And the accusation that you should ‘practice what you preach’ is nonsensical. The point is that you cannot be what you want to be if the system stops you from doing it: you are essentially saying that I should become the most ascetic monk possible, and live in a mud hut and grow my own potatoes. As lovely as that sounds, it’s rather difficult to get people to listen to you if they can’t relate to you. (On the score of the system controlling how people live, read Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell. It features two characters, one living in poverty, one living in relative luxury, who can’t get anywhere with their socialist convictions because it is impossible to bend the system by yourself).

You also don’t need experience of what it’s like to be poor or undermined to be critical of the system, but you do need eyes – or at least an imagination. The idea that you can only believe something if you’ve experienced it is clearly bizarre. That’s like saying you can’t think World War Two was bad just because you’ve read a book about it and you weren’t actually there. Although I did spend three months of my life living with some of the poorest people in the world and seeing first-hand how community works, I needn’t use that as a reason for the way I feel.

Let’s take the idea of sympathising with other people and put it into basic problems. Women? I sympathise with them because they are undermined by a sexualised media that broadcasts unhealthy images of female bodies (men get this as well but not as much), and they suffer under a sexist language and underlying sexist attitudes. LGBTIQ people? I sympathise with them because they are an often misunderstood minority. Poor people? I sympathise with them because they struggle to have enough money to achieve basic happiness and are undermined by unhelpful media representations of ‘benefit scroungers’ and of being lazy. Rich people? Surprisingly for some I do sympathise with them (to an extent), because we are all complicit in an economic system that divides people, and social division is never healthy. Don’t call me a hypocrite for sympathising with people, because if you don’t do that then you are complicit in undermining them, and that means you’re not a very nice person.

And the idea that being nice is silly idealism is horrific. Most people like to tell people like me to ‘grow up’; actually, I’m going to tell people like them to grow up, because for me growing up is accepting responsibility for other people. How bizarre that people think growing up is about becoming more selfish, the very thing that children are renowned for.

As for this election, I’ll sum up exactly why I’m worried. The Tories’ rhetoric is very far from what they are actually doing. Most people voted for them because they think they are economically responsible. Here are some stats and facts for you:

  • The national debt has risen to £1.457 trillion, up £89.7 billion in 2014 alone.
  • The deficit is nowhere near being cleared and still stands at £80bn.
  • They borrowed more money in 3 years than Labour borrowed in 13.
  • They have overspent by £200bn.
  • They have cut 5000 nurses from the NHS.
  • Poverty is at a 30 year high.
  • They have plans to cut the NHS by 19%.
  • 24 MPs and peers who backed the NHS reforms have direct financial links to the 15 private healthcare companies who benefited from them.
  • 13,000 millionaires were given a tax break worth on average £107k a year.
  • The majority of the population are £1600 a year worse off.
  • Most people now earn less than they did 5 years ago.
  • The richest 1% have seen a 112% increase in their wealth in 5 years.
  • VAT went up 20%, resulting in most of the population being poorer.
  • 900,000 people used food banks in 2014.
  • Two-thirds of all jobs created are part time.
  • 700,000 people are currently on a zero-hours contract, which is a 300% increase in 5 years.
  • 60 people died in 4 years from unnecessary disability benefit cuts.
  • They are employing more extreme versions of the same policies that led to the 2008 financial crash, and if we do not have another crash within the next decade I will be stunned.
  • The reason we don’t hear about this more is because the media is overwhelmingly right-wing and backs the Tories. The only slightly left-wing national newspaper is The Guardian, which is not especially left-wing at all.
  • Rupert Murdoch, who owns, among other things, The Sun (Britain’s most read newspaper) and The Times, has billions of dollars in offshore tax havens and has a direct financial interest in fracking, oil in Syria and war in the Middle East. Among other things he denies climate change and uses his newspapers to promote ignorance, misogyny and scapegoating (primarily of immigrants).

The point is that, despite what the Tories say and what the media tells you, this country is becoming a much, much worse place in which to live. The Tories will strip you of your rights as a worker and make you poorer in a vastly more unequal society. And inequality is quite literally bad for people on a personal level: inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planet’s resources. Inequality is very, very bad for people, and the UK is one of the most unequal societies in the world, often considered second only to the USA.

I don’t think I need to go on. It is a symptom of a sick society that people accuse you of idiocy for caring for other people, and if you fit into a sick society, then you are sick yourself. It’s this assumption that I’m ‘pretending’ to believe in what I say, like I’m really just doing it for attention, that I can’t stand. It’s as if people think at some point I’m going to ‘grow up’ and return to what I should  rightfully and logically think. What an absurd way to see what I’m saying. Call me whatever you like, but I did not decide into what kind of world I was born, and neither did you. You can promote selfishness if you like, but I will promote love, and you can make of that what you want.

Check out my other articles to get a clearer idea of what I’m saying:

https://benjamintunwell.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/the-modern-sadness/

https://benjamintunwell.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/neo-liberalism-and-the-new-social-darwinism/

https://benjamintunwell.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/what-is-wrong/

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