The world I grew up in was very different. Pre Reagan and Thatcher, shocked by the extremities of the 1939-45 conflict, and still remembering prewar economic depression, it seemed there was a consensus about the social duty of the State. Working, health and housing conditions were on the rise, as was disposable income. It was a time of great struggles, for race, sexuality and gender equality, and it seemed that there were great victories. Facsism had not been defeated but its greatest influence was on young football hooligans looking for a fight. Overseas travel had become much more affordable, and the world seemed to be opening out.
Fast forward to now, and all that I believed was happening seemed a falsehood. How short our memories, that we have allowed ourselves to turn against each other, that we have allowed our democracies to be highjacked by naked self-interest, and that once more we see the return to the idealogy of the bully. How thin the facade of our humanity that to be Black, Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Disabled or simply a woman places us under threat once more, that to be from a different country invites suspicion and hostility. Do we really walk blindly through the world once more ignoring that which does not directly affect us, condoning hate by our lack of censure, content to benefit from the discomfort of others, indeed to celebrate that discomfort? Were we pretending all along?
At a recent party, I suggested that we could learn a lot about now by looking at our past. The notion was scathingly dismissed, after all history is manipulated by the victorious and hence unreliable. True, but while memories may be short, our understanding of the rise of totalitarianism in the 1920s and 30s has yet to be overwritten.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
( Martin Niemoller 1946)
John Wilkinson – July 2018