Out of the Wreckage

I’d like to begin by wishing everyone a happy new year! I hope you all managed to have a lovely holiday period despite the impacts 2020 has had on all of us.

I’ve definitely had a dry patch with ideas for posts. I kept coming up with ideas that felt easy or boring and I realised that I didn’t start this website to aimlessly post without any real intention. It was to allow me to learn and to share what I’d learnt with all of you. I love to read, learn new things, and to write, that’s why I made this blog. Getting back to that root motivation has been important to me. I would rather post quality over quantity and share something truly interesting and beneficial with you all. Something I’ve put real work into learning about and producing. That is what brings on today’s post and future posts to come.

Reading is a huge factor to inspiring me and allowing me to learn new things, it triggers thoughts and usually is what motivates me to learn more. I got a lot of books for Christmas so I’m excited to learn from them and share what I learn with all of you. That being said, let’s get into today’s post.

Neoliberalism

I recently finished the book ‘Out of the Wreckage: a new politics for an age of crisis’ by George Monbiot. Within the book he discusses ways to improve governance in order to lead us to a better future. The book is politically and economically focused, introducing effective solutions to the key issues we face in society. Monbiot highlights issues and areas of corruption and how they are causing a strain on democracy and society. He begins the book by talking about how neoliberalism has essentially doomed us from the outset.

Neoliberalism is characterized by free market trade, deregulation of financial markets, and the shift away from state welfare provision. Simply, neoliberalism favours the market and aims for a restriction in the welfare of the people. It desires less government spending. Neoliberalism has warped itself into our political and economic systems, even our daily lives. Monbiot explains that we are so used to it’s presence it’s hard to even step back far enough to see it.

We are all cogs in a machine going around scrambling individually to get to the top, a point that an overwhelming majority won’t reach. We need community, we need empathy. These two factors are key in Monbiot’s rethinking of politics. It is sad to say that without these factors society will continue on it’s path of self-destruction. The rich only get richer and the poor sink even further, struggling to survive and unsupported by their government. A neoliberalist world would view the rich of society wealthy because of their own merit, ignoring any aspects of society that gave them a foot in the door such as education, inheritance, and class. These unequal boosters would be classed as the natural order of society.

Neoliberalism’s definitions have evolved over time but it is essentially solidified in competition. We are all trying to get ahead of eachother, and that is part of the problem. Humans are essentially capital. Society rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. Neoliberalism views effort to create an equal society as morally corrosive. Limiting competition and enforcements of tax to support a welfare state are viewed as inadequate and hostile. Neoliberalism believes in the full privatisation of services, everything is a transaction. Ideals of welfare prevent the natural winners and losers of society from being discovered. Neoliberalism is cold and unkind to anyone who slips below the line, but sadly in a neoliberal society, most of us would be classed as below the line already.

We certainly have not gone to the far extremes of neoliberalism yet, but world leaders have tried, such as Margert Thatcher in 1979. Huge tax cuts for the wealthy, abolishing trade unions, privatisation, and even attempting to remove universal healthcare. Thatcher was stopped of course as we know but, these cold methods of neoliberalism live under the fabric of society and affect so much more than we realise.

Biased Perceptions of the Poor

Have you ever wondered why there is such an increase in mental health issues, self-harm, eating disorders, and depression in our generation? It’s because of comparison and competition. In a world where we are constantly told to do more, be more, and get ahead, even when our own circumstances restrict that from happening, psychiatric impact is bound to weave it’s way into our lives.

In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind come to be defined and self-defined as losers. The rich are the new righteous, while the poor are the new deviants, who have failed both economically and morally, and are now classed as social parasites.

George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage

Our society tells the poor that they are a loser and it is purely all their fault, not the system, and that lack of empathy needs to change, in a neoliberal society, it won’t. Deprivation happens because of soaring housing prices and unstructured employment systems, not because someone mindlessly threw it away like a disposable income. People are struggling to make ends meet, unemployment is rising. Perceiving the poor as losers or the failing flock of society is unfair. People need help and in a society woven with neoliberal ideology, help won’t always be there.

In the last five years the need for food banks has increased by 74% in the UK according to the Trussell Trust. The total number of people using a food bank this year was 1,900,122. The Trussell Trust put out a statement to say that food banks were already experiencing record levels of need before the pandemic and this need has only risen since the impact of the pandemic planted it’s roots. The Trussell Trust and it’s partners are urging governments to use their power more to ensure everyone has the essentials they need in this financial crisis.

There is an estimated 14.4 million people in the UK living in poverty, 23% of the population. 4.5 million of those people are children. These figures were recorded before the impact of the pandemic, which means people’s lives will only get more deprived. In a neoliberal society, those people don’t matter, they simply failed at the game of life. They were not born a natural winner. This kind of ideology is wrong and leads to staggering levels of inequality and social deprivation.

Neoliberalism is already here

In the UK, we don’t live in a fully neoliberal world of course, privatisation does not fully exist, if it did it would be detrimental to the welfare of society. The rich would become so overwhelming rich that society would simply fall to pieces. When privatisation is at it’s peak it would mean we would have to pay for services. When people can’t afford services, they don’t get them, that’s it. Whilst this is happening the rich are investing into these privatised services, earning from the essential needs of the people. These elements of neoliberalism linger in the fabric of our society today.

Investment in essential service

If we go over to the US and look at Kelly Loeffler and other US senators, we see a similar issue taking place right now that really shows the impact neoliberalism has on society. In January, Loeffler invested millions into PPE stock whilst simultaneously stating that the hysteria building around coronavirus was just democratic nonsense that was misleading the American people. She knew, like many other senators, what was coming, so she benefited from it whilst still downplaying the impact coronavirus would really have on the US. She would earn money, whilst people died from the pandemic. To phrase this another way, whilst 350,000 people died from coronavirus in the US, whilst people lost their jobs, families and businesses, Loeffler was earning money off of their pain. If this doesn’t horrify you then I’m not sure what else to say. In a neoliberal society, Loeffler is simply a winner because she manipulated the market to earn money. The people struggling are the losers, and that is a cruel way to live.

This is what happens when services become privatised, the rich gain even more money from essential services we all require. Neoliberalism benefits the rich of society, after all, neoliberalism years ago was endorsed by millionaires which started it’s long political narrative and history.

Political influence from the rich

The rich already have an overwhelming influence on politics, particularly in the US. It’s well known that the large corporations and business heads give money to the parties that offer the polices they want. “Corporations and the very rich spend their money almost exclusively on politics that favours their interests; less taxation of the rich, less redistribution, less protection for people and the planet.” Monbiot refers to this as the pollution paradox. Large companies need to pay their way into politics and they do this by paying for grassroot and thinktank organisations to speak on their behalf. They buy up political space and capture the system.

In other words, this is not democracy, but plutocracy.

George Monbiot, Out of the Wreckage

Don’t be fooled though, in the UK donations to parties still takes place here. While there are limits on campaign spending, there are no limits on how much a donor can make. This means the rich can buy their way into parliament to speak. British MP’s will deny this but an Oxford University research study showed that the probability of this denial being true is ‘approximately equivalent to entering the National Lottery and winning the jackpot five times in a row’. Do what you will with that information.

Concluding thoughts

Neoliberal ideology overtime leads to the disempowerment of democracy. Neoliberalism is essentially a market world, without money, you can’t speak, you can’t make change. Voting without money would essentially mean nothing. We can’t continue on a path that puts all the power in the elite’s hands, it is purely unequal. George Monbiot’s book explains how we can change this path and steer towards a politics that navigates us out of the wreckage. We as humans have the capacity of altruism but neoliberalism supresses this, instead pushing for alienation, competition, and individualism, strongly turning away from community. Monbiot states that, “by confronting the politics of alienation with a politics of belonging, we rekindle our imagination and discover our power to act.” The reason neoliberalism has such a strong hold is because we haven’t reimagined a way out of it, created a new direction for society. Once we do this a new politics can grow at the heart of community.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

A disclaimer before I begin. I will be discussing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as suicide. If this is something you are sensitive to or triggered by, then this is a warning. There will be links at the bottom of this page to resources that can help support you. You are not alone.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are hundreds of writers paving the way in various fields and raising awareness about important topics.

One of which is Matt Haig, a best selling writer based in England. Matt writes in various styles as a journalist, children’s and non-fiction writer. Matt is active on his social media accounts working towards breaking the stigma around mental health.

Some of my favourite books by Matt are ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘Thoughts on a Nervous Planet’. Both of these books are non-fiction and tackle the issues and stigma around mental health, as well as Matt recalling his own personal battles with depression and anxiety. Today I’m going to talk about ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. This is one of my favourite books and I urge anyone and everyone to read it, whether you are going through your own personal journey with mental health or are seeking ways to support a loved one, even for just general awareness! Mental health is becoming a pandemic in itself, breaking the stigma and shutting down stereotypes is extremely essential in tackling this issue. It is an enlightening and informative read.

Matt’s writing style is so engaging and his ability to explain such complex mental health struggles in such simplistic ways is truly inspiring. He uses various metaphors and explanations that allow people to really understand the way depression and anxiety can affect a persons life. Matt also includes scripted conversations with himself, portraying the inward struggle and turmoil he felt when his illness spoke to him.

Mental health is such a vast and complex topic, being able to explain its influence is something many struggle to put into words, but Matt Haig does this in a wonderful and effortless way. It allows people to really understand how mental illness can consume a person and the mental and physical symptoms that come with it.

But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.

Albert Camus, A Happy Death

Matt discusses the invisibility and ability depression has to creep up on a person and consume them. Whoever that person may be; a billionaire, an alcoholic, a mother, a teenager, or a businesswoman. Depression can affect anyone and whilst some mental illness are related to past trauma, some may feel they do not have a reason to feel the way they do. This only leaves those people feeling guilty and confused for the way they are feeling. When those around them try to belittle their emotions or behaviour this guilt can intensify. Ending this stigma is SO important, Matt seeks to do this in a number of effective and informative ways within his book.

Another key statement Matt raises in his book is that mental illnesses impact and appear differently on everyone. This means that there is no set way to overcome it, get around it or deal with it. Understanding this is so important! Mental health is a journey of good and bad days. There is no one size fits all solution. There is trial and error, Matt retells how he began to cope with his mental illness within ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.

The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person. You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

In an effort to break the stigma around depression and mental health, Matt compares physical and mental health issues. He uses a variety of scenarios to explain this idea but as an example, you wouldn’t say to someone who had just broken their arm, ‘Oh, just get on with it, stop thinking about it!’ So why would you say to someone with depression, ‘Mind over matter, just get over it!’. Mental health issues are just as much issues as physical health issues. There is an obsession to separate the body and mind, when we should take time to care and nurture both. As much as we can have issues with our physical health, we can also have issues with out mental health. Matt pushes this idea throughout his book.

Matt fluctuates between retelling his own personal battles and experiences with depression and anxiety to more statistically informative facts surrounding mental illness. According to the World Health Organisation, “1 in 5 people will experience depression in their life”, and “A million people a year kill themselves. Between ten and twenty million people a year try to. Worldwide, men are over 3x more likely to kill themselves than women.” These figures clearly suggest to us that there is a mental health pandemic amongst us, which is why breaking the stigma is important now more than ever.

When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through. You are so scared of appearing in any way mad you internalise everything, and you are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don’t speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

These are just a few topics Matt touches on in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. He also explores the benefits and drawbacks surrounding medication, exercise and therapies. What coping mechanisms work for him, including some discussion on what he has learnt from Buddhist thought in controlling his anxiety.

Matt also discusses how the modern world has set us up for failure due to the feeling that we will always need more, stating that: “The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”

Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.

Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Matt’s story is truly inspiring and a message to anyone who feels suicidal that things really will get better again. Matt found a way to live and enjoy life, something he never thought he would ever be able to do again. Mental health is an ongoing journey, doubts can fill your mind and depression can creep up on you, but learning to control those thoughts and to know that you are more than what your depression and anxiety is telling you, is the present theme throughout ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.

If these topics interest you then I’d recommend you grab this book! It’s a great starting place for anyone wanting to grasp more of an understanding on depression and anxiety. Matt honestly and authentically captures the experiences of mental illness. After facing his own struggles he is not hesitant in stating that life is really hard. However, we can learn to see the beauty of it again within the simple moments, not everyday is promised to be amazing, but it will get better.

Links to mental health support

  1. https://www.samaritans.org/
  2. https://www.mind.org.uk/
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

Reasons to Stay Alive: https://www.waterstones.com/book/reasons-to-stay-alive/matt-haig/9781782116820