Saturday, 27 March 2021

Speaking Truth to Power?

 Something a bit different this time.

It's often quoted "Everyone is born equal."  A more modern phrase keeps cropping up recently. "Speaking truth to power."

I was watching four TV programmes recently on very diverse subjects yet, to my mind at least, they appeared to be linked and had a common thread running through them. First was the Nez Perce tribe of native Americans which I didn't know much about with territory spread over Oregon, Idaho and Montana in scattered groups. As they didn't fight the early Europeans and actually helped those who crossed through their land, heading west,( always a bad move, historically.)  they were considered friendly and eventually, under pressure from more European invaders and the government, signed a treaty marking out and protecting their ancestral lands. Then gold was discovered on the land they owned and the treaty proved worthless. Most were moved to a much smaller reservation ( presumably land without any gold under it) but around 800 of them, men, women, and children together as a group decided to flee and fight rather than be corralled which they did with great courage and skill, making eventually for the Canadian border in a zig zag defensive retreat over 1000 miles away. It was 200 plus native American braves that fought each battle/ skirmish against around two thousand well armed army soldiers and recruits yet they won most of these encounters and disappeared again until they were trapped just 40 miles from the Canadian border. Many of the N.A. leaders, braves, women and children had been killed already or died on the journey north yet not one European family (i.e. women and children) had been attacked on the retreat by the tribe although they did encounter them occasionally. Promised, on surrendering, that they would be transported back to the reservation in Idaho to reconnect with their own people again they were force marched and shipped to Kansas instead then confined in various unhealthy places, to teach them a lesson, until most of them died. 1870s to 1890s era.

The second programme was one I had heard about. - the violent blood feud between the Hatfield's and McCoys in the Appalachian mountains. True, there was bad feeling between both groups and deaths on both sides had occurred, with one side, The McCoys, dirt poor farmers working the land with scant reward and the other, near neighbours, The Hatfield's, borrowing money to start a lumber business and doing quite well. As it was the mid to late 1880s the Industrial Revolution was kicking in and just starting to reach the remote valleys of Virginia and Kentucky. Railroads and big business moved in to extract even larger amounts of lumber and coal, buying up the land of poor farmers for peanuts, letting the residents stay on the farms/ shacks they lived in but stripping the ground of trees and coal all around them, leaving bare slopes and polluted ground with little or nothing left to farm. Local banks and investors decided they would make even more money going with these heavy hitters instead of small fry local guys made good, like the Hatfield's, with their much smaller but still profitable lumber business and called in the loans forcing The Hatfield's to sell their land as well to pay off the debt. National newspapers by this time eventually got wind of the story of the feud ( which had rumbled on in fits and starts since the civil war that may have started it all, but ended by now) and blew it up into a major headline across the entire USA ( it was the same era as the Jack The Ripper murders in London so the public had a fascination and appetite for anything different or scandalous ) but in the interests of a good story neglected to mention anything about the Industrial Revolution causing problems and sweeping away an entire culture and way of life in that area, the big investors, the land grab, etc and focused entirely on two sides of rural nutters killing each other down to the last man then expanded it to include the entire Appalachian lifestyle in general, which was put on trial and under the microscope to be lapped up in various publications. (Much like an entire range of modern reality TV poverty programmes that can be viewed today- none of which seem to ask- how can we fix this?) Not only was it stretching and slanting the truth somewhat it went a long way towards cementing that image of violent, ignorant hillbillies living in the mountains, killing each other off for no good reason, which is still with us today in so many books and films yet far worse violent events occur in cities every single day. People always like a lurid tale though. It sticks in the memory. The Hatfield's and McCoys apparently did have survivors and are still around today.

Number three was Channel 4 Dispatches. The High Street Cash Crisis. looking at how many of the recently collapsed  UK firms like  Debenhams, Poundworld etc had been bought over previously by international big hitters ( private equity funds supplied by billionaires) keen to make big bonus rewards by stepping in (yet the firms would remain in debt)  which, according to this programme, left them in very poor shape to incur further losses and unable to complete once Covid 19 hit. Although online shopping and dropping footfall didn't help they were still making profits. Billions in fact, over the entire UK portfolio, which went to the investors. The tax payer ultimately picks up the bill for all this and any job losses while the billionaires walk away. Probably why they are billionaires in the first place.  As a certain ex President allegedly said. "I don't pay tax- that makes me smart." Very true.

Which brings us to Darren McGarvey's four part programme Class Wars in which he found the rich do not really believe there is any such thing as a class system anymore in the UK and that anyone can travel freely upwards if they have sufficient ambition, drive and opportunity. Poor folk in the main felt it was very much still there... just not as obvious and blatant as before.  It was an unexpectedly enlightening programme but I'll just pick one point out of many. Apparently large companies, multinational or otherwise, and individual big hitters, have a long proud history of helping out the government by parachuting in people that work for them to give specialized advice sorting out these complex and often tiresome tax laws- which may explain why there are so many loopholes in them to jump through, clutching vast wads of money. It was also pointed out that while the Government always spends a huge chunk of cash and resources each year hunting down benefit cheats and fraudsters that amount is a single pea on a very large plate compared to the massively thick steak spilling out all over the edges called corporate tax evasion which rarely gets mentioned either by governments, or the poverty bashing media ( in an echo of the Hatfield -McCoys saga poor people on low incomes are always portrayed the same way by certain sections of  the media who seem to turn/slant it towards the most feckless, easily led, easily conned, not very savvy individuals - as if anyone who is poor and struggling ( usually a blatant crime and obviously caused by themselves in some way, even among the more adept at handling it ) can easily rectify this temporary situation by getting a better job and more money...simple... like most deserving people do. Another interesting thing highlighted in that programme was the power of accents at a subliminal level. A posh, obviously intelligent and educated voice will be far more likely to be believed by most classes ( even though they may be lying with every word) than an ordinary person in the street telling the truth but speaking with a distinct heavy local or regional accent. i. e. Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, etc even by a percentage of fellow locals listening to it with the same accent. 

And these almost instinctive, largely unconscious judgements about class and any social advancements... or 'opportunities', often happen in an instant, depending on that initial impression and handshake. In other words having a posh or upwardly modified accent definitely improves your chances to open doors in certain circles. If you don't have one and you want to get ahead in life in particular areas it may help to cultivate one but then you risk falling into that in-between ground where you are not fully accepted by the class you find yourself in or want to associate with but have advanced too far along that path to still feel comfortably attached to the class group, and even the extended family, you left behind. A tricky dilemma not everyone can negotiate successfully although a few individuals manage it. I found it an articulate and interesting programme about subjects rarely tackled in that manner and coming from my background in the council estates most of it rang true. To me at least. Luckily, I've never been interested in 'getting ahead' and being 'upwardly mobile' as my main ambition in life, as I don't think in my own mind I was ever fully a complete part of the human district I grew up in anyway and any friends I had shared similar interests away from the norm. From a very early age it was all dairy cows, horses, fields, woods, dams, and nature surrounding the estate that attracted me, and them, the most .


So every time I stepped out the front door I had a choice... being a resident of two separate and very different  worlds. The urban and the rural... side by side.

 I might live in an estate and go to school there but never be totally immersed by it and any subsequent upward mobility I encountered was always part of a natural progression of life, drifting away at times, into other areas of interest, not deliberately engineered as a calculated and carefully planned ascent or improvement as I didn't need to ascend anywhere... I already had it all, close by. Believe it or not, for me personally, any future heaven or hell might well be a disappointment after a childhood spent here. Can't improve on that.

  Nitshill council estate back court. Greater Pollok. Early 1980s. Many parts of Glasgow looked like this back then. The Thatcher years of mass unemployment in heavy industry, hitting industrial and manufacturing dependent towns and cities throughout the UK the hardest. Children and dogs tour the rubbish bins looking for toys or anything else of interest. On the plus side far less pressure here to gain a good university place, have a 40 year career, a weighty mortgage, conventional marriage and family. So with 'the romance of the slums', comes a certain kind of freedom. Expectations are usually far lower here.... and I was happy with that... as a 50 year long millstone of continuous employment stretching ahead into the far distance didn't appeal much at 16 years of age, leaving school. Growing up in the heady optimism of the game changing 1960s a different path beckoned for me.

Class Wars?

One thing I do know is that the base of the pyramid ( the lower rungs) will always and continuously be subject to forces beyond their control. Get shafted, in other words, whenever it's favourable to do so, by the apex, the one percent, or numbers thereabouts- from the dawn of humanity until the last grain of rice falls from the heavens. Because they do not have a voice. Or voices, delivered in an accent people making up the rules ever listen to... or place any credence in. Speaking truth to power? I don't think so somehow. Not for our lot. And there's not much you can do about it. No doubt the trillions of debt we have racked up during this current pandemic will have to be paid back at some point. Better get my piggy bank out as a member of the base.

 Just need to look at three headlines today, 6.4.2021, to see it's still going on.  Apparently most billionaires and one percenters have done very well during the current pandemic, as they do out of most recessions, government contracts to 'old chums in the city'. or periods of human upheaval when others, in desperation, are selling things cheaper than normal. Also the furlough scheme, it seems, applies to very wealthy landowners as well as ordinary folk losing jobs and many of them, the elite, have claimed millions during the past year which the humble tax payer, no doubt, will end up paying for as well. In other news the NHS, in all probability, may still be underfunded and stealthily privatized, as it has been for ages now so it's back to business as usual. So I'll clap for that as I didn't before... cos I knew it was all a cynical con...and a PR stunt.... as usual....

On another topic entirely I always try to pick videos, if I put one on here, that are unusual, stunning, or exciting in some way and this is no exception. Norway has a one thousand mile long western coastline, frequently riven by deep fjords and high mountains for most of it making twisting roads, long travel times, and numerous ferry crossings inevitable. But this extraordinary plan to straighten out half of it may be the future. Definitely worth a watch. Not only a very scenic short travel guide but using open world 3D game technology in a stunning blend of visual art and cutting edge ideas it shows the new proposed high speed route to shorten journey times. Beautiful to look at.


Carol said...

My Dad and I were always going to go walking in Norway but I said we had to wait for them to stop whaling (like I'm waiting for Iceland to as well) - I'm still waiting so I'm still not going! I'm sure it's really beautiful though...

I never felt terribly hard done-by as a working class gal... well, until Covid and the lack of vaccinations for us lower orders who are, nonetheless, key workers! :-(

I used to drop my Yorkshire accent for interviews but, in the end, decided it was just false so now I don't. I haven't noticed any difference in job offers or the frequency of them.

I have to say I hate posh accents and am getting so fed up of them invading placed like the Yorkshire Dales to live. I've got to the stage where, when I hear them, I just want to slap them. Also, I make my Yorkshire accent much broader to show them how they should speak! Bring back regional accents I say - they're dying out!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I've not felt hard done by either and I've been lucky to have had a wide range of different jobs over the years, most of them travelling around, outdoors, on the road, or in people's houses. I prefer that to being indoors in an office somewhere or being tied to one location I'm just mentioning, in that programme,that certain things were highlighted I'd never thought about much before, like accents and how people perceive you through them- although I did try to modify my own accent as a teenager briefly as I taped myself talking and realized I sounded nothing like the presenters on TV. I fancied being a DJ or presenter for a short time but that didn't last long as I don't like nightclubs or being in the spotlight :o)

Anabel Marsh said...

Interesting connections. The word that ran through my head reading each of those stories was exploitation.

blueskyscotland said...

Yep, history of the world. Having said that some of the jobs I've most enjoyed personally have been the low paid ones. Less stress and pressure, shorter hours, more exciting and fun- at least in my case whereas jobs with higher rates of pay usually came with more responsibility, longer hours, less free time and problem solving ability. I voted to go back down the snake rather than up the ladder at times.

Kay G. said...

As the daughter of someone who was Appalachian, it is something that I know my Dad had to put up with his whole life, being looked down on, being called a "hillbilly". One of his ancestors...and mine too of course...was killed in Virginia for stealing a horse. Different accounts I have read of it, seems the man owed him money, man wouldn't pay, he took the horse in payment. His son, who became preacher went back later to try to clear his father's name. The man who owned the horse was very rich and his family name was well known. Sad to say, money comes into it almost every time. Still, my ancestor was killed but I'm glad he was not the killer! Would live to sit and talk about things with you! Native Americans...on my Mom's side, my great, great, great grandmother was a Cherokee. Look up The Trail of Tears, so very sad.

Carol said...

Hi Bob, your 'Snakes & Ladders' analogy is spot on in my view. I always preferred being one of the 'Indians' rather than one of the 'Chiefs'. I used to get told off for not having more ambition (apparently employers hate that) but I just didn't want all the cr*p which went with going up the ladder - I just wanted to do the work (which I enjoyed). It's very like that in IT though - which is pretty much what I did most of my life.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Scotland, Ireland, and the Appalachian Mountain chain were all connected in the distant past on one continent before dividing. Same height and general look to them which might explain why many Scots and Irish immigrants felt a connection and settled there. Many Scandinavians preferred the middle of America, (as seen in the film Fargo) as they were used to cold winters and winter sports. Noticed that landscape and original country scenery matching up in Australia as well in where folk settled, to a lesser extent.

blueskyscotland said...

Yeah Carol,
I'm so glad I'm almost out of it. Although I always tried to give 100 percent in any job bosses always want highly motivated staff, willing to work long hours, have a love of overtime, adaptable, happy out of their comfort zone, available anywhere- anytime,and an ability to work weekends and nights. My wish list was usually the reverse of that :o)