” I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me. “
An extremely intelligent man appeared in my living room last night, sadly not in the flesh but on the screen of the television, he conveyed enthusiasm and excitement about how your brain and my brain actually works. The question he asked is what makes me, me? The word consciousness cropped up and Freud cropped up and Freud’s discovery of the unconscious and the technique of psychoanalysis. Sorry I can’t explain but something new has been discovered about how the brain works. One thing I do remember, those parents and music teachers who insisted you practise every day were absolutely right. Regular practise of a foreign language, riding a bike, knitting whatever you’re interested in actually changes the way the brain works, it goes onto auto-pilot. Professor David Eagleman showed us a small boy moving around dozens of plastic mugs. the child could do this with amazing speed. The boy made up his mind to practise every day, it was hard for my eyes to follow the speed at which he did this.
In the programme Eagleton had a brilliant mix of visual explanations and verbal clarity at explaining what was going on. If I understood correctly the idea that specific parts of the brain were involved in actions like seeing is not in fact true. The brain impulses occur in many different areas and make sense of what we are actually looking at. Forgive the non scientific language , my science education is very minimal. At my advanced age I’m happy to say I’m still learning new things. It sometimes crosses my mind, how did I get to be in my seventies and know so little, perhaps Pooh bear would have the answer.
On Tuesday I had a check -up at the hospital, it takes only ten minutes to get there and a further fifteen minutes until my appointment time. As is usual in the Out Patients I saw people who made me feel very lucky indeed. You know those long crutches which rest under the elbow, two women had those resting beside them as they sat in the waiting room and one old man was in a wheel chair. I had my trusty stick and my husband beside me. This was an NHS hospital so no money was required, treatment was ‘ free at the point of need ‘ as Aneurin Bevan stipulated in 1948. Of course the doctors, nurses, all the staff and the building have to be paid for . Bevan who grew up in a mining family in Wales knew from experience how difficult it was for most families to obtain treatment in the case of illness or injuries in the 1930s. A visit from the doctor had to be paid for and although miners (when they were in work) were covered by their employment insurance scheme, their wives and children were not. And serious illness and appalling injuries were much more an everyday occurrence in mining families. Many miners suffered a long and debilitating illness called pneumoconiosis which they developed by breathing in the dust as they worked to dig out the coal. My dad was a coal miner when I was born, he was called up in 1942 and never went back to the mines.
Of course the NHS and all the medical services have to be paid for, Bevan asked himself what was the fairest way of raising this money so that everyone in the population could have medical care when they needed it and it was not limited to the wealthy few. He decided that general taxation was the best way to cover; mothers and babies, sick children, and all those suffering from tuberculosis, heart complaints, arthritis and many other life limiting serious illnesses. So a percentage of the income tax 99% of us pay goes to pay for the staff, the hospitals and the treatment that we all of us need from time to time. So when you read about Google, Amazon or any other international company refusing to pay their taxes on money they make in the UK think of all the medical services which will not be funded because of the greed of a very few corporate CEOs who prefer to stash their money in a secret bank account. How will you feel if you have to wait three months in a queue for treatment?
According to my long ago schooling the word democracy comes from two Greek words; demos, the people and kratia, power, rule, therefore the rule of the people. The Classical Age of Greece, two thousand five hundred years ago, regarded as the foundation of European civilisation. Greece along with most of Europe is again facing turbulent times. What are the dangers that face democratic systems in the twenty-first century? Do the people we vote for actually rule as our representatives or is there some powerful force hidden behind closed doors?
Democracy is not something which arrived fully formed like an eighteen year old walking into the polling station. No it was born after an extremely protracted struggle lasting in the United Kingdom some eight hundred years, Magna Carta and all that. The one who was ruling, King John had every intention of keeping it like that, even after he put his seal on the Great Charter. Like most rulers he needed money, taxes, if you give me the money I’ll give you some of the power. The nobles agreed and another Magna Carta was sealed. Its home is in Durham Cathedral, home of the Prince Bishops. The Barons were of course all men. The people were not consulted nor did anything change for them.
Women were excluded from any form of public life with three remarkable exceptions; Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth 11. The first two were very interested in power, Victoria became Empress of India. There were moves towards democracy in Victoria’s reign in the Great Reform Act of 1832 although most working men were excluded and all women. Then the suffragettes decided to challenge the accepted orthodoxy and in 1928 women were granted the vote on the same terms as men. Almost a hundred years of organised activity, time spent in prison, hunger strikes and the horrors of forced feeding. A horrible history indeed.
Don’t relax in front of the TV, the story is not over. Behind closed doors there is a power waiting to overturn democracy, the men with the money, the power behind the politicians, you know who I mean. The word begins with B——. they overwhelm us with triviality and misinformation and as one young woman interviewed on TV said ‘I’m not really interested!!! I almost exploded, politics is everyones business or we are on the road to tyranny.
The word ideology is viewed with a degree of suspicion your first thought is probably that’s communism or Marxism some scary idea that the state controls everything: the jobs we do and what we are paid, newspapers, television, radio even the books we read. But ideology is defined much more neutrally in the Oxford English dictionary:
” a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy. A set of beliefs characteristic of a social group: a critique of bourgeois ideology. —-”
As we see today right-wing ideology can be just as rigid and ruthless as any left wing view. There is a simplicity about our ruling elite, those Bullingdon Oxbridge pals, any institution which has the word public attached to it; the education system, public health care aka the NHS, public housing ( council or housing association), standards of health and safety, a public railway system and many more. These must by definition be wasteful and inefficient and worst of all none of our friends is making a profit out of them. And what do you known ever increasing percentage of the population is retired and many need Adult Social Health Care,( don’t tell them we are making huge cut backs and when they need someone to help them get dressed and have a hot meal, a carer will rush in for ten minutes)
What is needed is PRIVATISATION, OF COURSE WE WILL STILL USE TAX-PAYER’S MONEY BUT SOME OF OUR FRIENDS WILL MAKE A BIG FAT PROFIT. They will be consultants, and directors of health care companies, governors of schools and trade unions will be abolished. What a great idea! Of course some people will suffer, ordinary working people, families who can’t find a permanent home, people who have no jobs or a zero hours contract. But most of them don’t vote so we will be sitting pretty for another five years.
I’ve just read an amazing book by a writer I only heard of a few days ago:
W E B Du Bois 1868- 1963, ‘ The Souls of Black Folk ‘ . This is truly original, it is more like a collection of books in very different styles. Some parts are a straight factual historical account of slavery as it was in the Southern states two hundred years ago and the working and living conditions after the Civil War until 1903 when the book was published. His term for the complete segregation of black people was “the veil”.
Other parts of his book are written in wonderful poetic language describing his own personal life and the lives of other black men and the conditions under which they lived and died. This is the way men and women suffer when they have no representation in the political system and the police and the courts defend the dominant race entirely. His aim is to make you feel the daily horror of their lives and this he does with great skill.
He was a graduate of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and was one of the first black students to be awarded a doctorate from Harvard, although he was not allowed to live in the university halls of residence. He later studied in Germany and on his return to the USA became a teacher and a highly esteemed writer. He was one of the founding members of the National Association For the Advancement of Coloured People. He makes the point that segregation in the common place activities of life, like buying a cup of coffee, going to school, standing in line at the post office is damaging for both the white and the black races.
I’m very grateful I was able to read this book on my kindle.