A few weeks ago, my train was delayed. A hundred or so passengers stood upon Leicester Station’s platform for a few minutes past their expected departure time before our transportation rolled in to greet us.
And yet, despite this only being construable as the most minor of inconveniences, the tutting began in earnest mere moments after the clock wound around to 17:33.
“Bloody trains,” said some, whilst others muttered, “Absolute disgrace.” Some even ventured to utter: “How pathetic; can’t even organise a train on time. It’s like a third-world country.”
At the time, I was irked. Not by the trains, but by my fellow passengers. Why? I was unsure. Perhaps I had been irked beyond reckoning, for at the time I couldn’t place it. I thought of it for some time on the way home and during the weeks since, and eventually I managed to tease out some nuggets of reason from the surrounding clouds of blustering impatience and vague anger.
I came to realise that it was the very gall of assuming anything at all about the nature of a train service–besides it being train-shaped and travelling on rails–that angered me so. It seemed that those people had forgotten to marvel at the fact that such a thing existed to convey them to their destination in the first place; to get down on their knees and gasp at the very mastery that man now commands over the natural world, such that he can craft a contraption capable of transporting many thousands of people directly to their destinations, all day, every day. They seemed to have forgotten that instead of having to walk, to drag themselves on their hands and knees with a tent on their back and a few cold nights ahead of them, they could have been in Brighton, London, Kent or Edinburgh–anywhere they so desired, in fact–within the day, without having to do any more than step aboard one of these magical carriages.
They had–or, rather, we have–forgotten the very nature of what it is to have; to own; to benefit from. We no longer think anything of the manner in which we live our lives.
Forget abject poverty, or third-world industrial slavery, or famine; that’s all too OTHER for us to ever truly relate to. And besides, the western world is fixing all that: Red-Nose Day and its ilk are fixing the world’s ills for us, and so it’s just fine to go on with our horrific degrees of waste and unnecessary expenditure. Surely, our charitable contributions absolve us of our raging fits when confronted with unsatisfactory (and yet unwavering, constant, all-pervading, astonishingly efficient) public transport, or ques in our (FREE) A+E wards, or lack of spare cash (despite even the poorest of us having everything that a person could ever want lying strewn around us in every direction).
Rather than being forever treated as the result of fortuitous circumstance, a great many individuals–and indeed, perhaps society as a whole–treat our way of life as something owed. And anything which could bring about an end to such unblemished lives of expendable income, affordable housing, mesmerising night-life, low taxes and a plethora of cheap gadgets is seen as a nigh-apocalyptic threat.
In fact, it almost seems that the status-quo has been shifted entirely towards that of absolute contentment; anything short of constant satisfaction, constant entertainment and constant riches is seen as being a step towards poverty.
Nigh-forgotten has been the very core truth that is the inevitability of economic downturn–the inescapable fact that economies are unstable by nature, and that no measure of policy or regulation can ever serve to maintain a constant state of growth and prosperity.
This especially pervades British culture; or rather, it is more evident and unmarred by any smothering sense of optimism, as can be found throughout places like the United States (but whilst such places certainly insist upon seeing things sunny-side up, the values beneath the surface are ultimately identical; anything which may spell an end to an easy life must be bludgeoned into obscurity at all costs). Gone are the days of contentment at being fed, watered and housed. We live in times where such things are a given even to those upon the very bottom of the social ladder–nay, even those who have no place on the ladder at all; to those who lay strewn at the foot of that ladder. Even the homeless and utterly bankrupt can now make some kind of living without the constant threat of starvation or death due to exposure.
Survival is no longer survival. Being alive is no longer the same as living.
We think ourselves entitled to everything, all the time, by mere virtue of existing.
And should this not be delivered to our doorsteps for even one second of a single day, it is surely the fault of somebody who should have known better. It’s the fault of somebody who should have seen that our dire needs were met; who should have been thinking of our absolute NEED for nice views and quiet roads when they were ‘messing around’ trying to organise that housing development to appease the enormous housing deficit; our absolute NEED for 5 A*-C GCSE grades for ALL students at ALL schools, despite the fact that examinations are–or at least should be–designed to conform to the bell curve of natural ability (such that the average possible level of attainment is a C grade, or thereabouts); and our absolute NEED for immediate, free treatment for any ailment, irrespective of whether such blights to our health are our own fault–the result of lifetimes of personal negligence such as bad diet, smoking, sedentary weekends and heavy drinking.
Indeed, I am guilty of this myself. I challenge even those living the most frugal of livelihoods to say that the concept of not having constant access to such luxuries (now ABSOLUTE staples) such as sweet treats, high-street coffee-houses, the internet, video games and HD television doesn’t fill them with trepidation and a distant sense of horror–whatever would we do without such things? What could a person possible do to occupy and fulfill themselves in the absence of such necessities?
Alas, this is no transitive process. The bar has already been moved. The cost of living is no longer such a thing; rather, it is a list of demands to satisfy our hunger for complete contentment. Surely, anything less than that would result in our immediate descent into wilted, media-starved urchins.
Surely, we are above such woeful, contemptible ideals as merely having to satisfy our physical needs?
Now, where is my latte? I’m feeling light-headed.