PP/IH/01/17

 

STANDARDS OF LIVING

             A month or so ago a great controversy began – a controversy which has not yet ended – about the future of several square miles of Essex coast near the village of Bradwell.  On the marshland near this village,  beside the estuary of the river Blackwater, the Government propose to build an atomic power-station of huge extent, one of a series which is obviously going to bring to Britain great reserves of power and energy, beneficial to industry and to the standard of lives of us all.  Why should such a scheme be opposed?  The opposition is very mixed.  Some of it comes from oyster-gatherers whose livelihood will be destroyed; an annual income of £50,000 will be swept away by the new scheme, as will all the oysters it represents.  Other opposition comes from yachtsmen who know and love the river Blackwater as one of the xx places where they can sail peacefully and uninterruptedly.  More opposition comes from people who know and love this piece of country as the abode of peace, somewhere where they can at times go and leave behind the swirl bustle and noise of modern life.   Others oppose the scheme because the new buildings will dwarf, possibly destroy, and certainly deprive of its atmosphere, the little church of St Peter on the Wall (on the sea-wall that is) founded and built by Saint Cedd in the seventh century – one of the oldest and lonliest churches in England, founded by one of the important people who was responsible for our being here tonight in a school organised by Xtns

             I have never been to Bradwell, and never seen the church of St Peter on the Wall, and I am not now saying whether I agree with the Government’s proposal for an atomic power station there, or with those                                                                       

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who regard such an idea as barbaric, soul-destroying, and a wilful interference with the lives of the few inhabitants of a peaceful area.  In spite of what I am going to say the Government may be right in building this power station near Bradwell.  What interests me is the arguments used in the quarrel, and what moves those who regard the opponents of the scheme as sentimental fools trying to hinder progress, and those who regard the Government as barbarians.

            I am reminded that some weeks ago a firm of cement manufacturers got very hot and angry because the Derbyshire County Council refused to allow them to start a quarry in xxxxxx a beautiful valley in the Peak District.  I remember that on the borders of Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire you will find mile upon mile of landscape made hideous and intolerable by the action of industrialists, who found iron there, and couldn’t be bothered to extract it from the ground without making the land completely useless [????] for centuries; it would have cost too much.  It would have been uneconomic.  I think of what one may see between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, in the valley of the Worcestershire Stour, once a dale worthy of Yorkshire, [????] in industrial Lancashire and  Yorkshire, and all those places where the urge in the 19th century to make money, to make power, to raise the standard of living, has produced a land in which it is almost impossible to live without some warping of the personality and destruction of the beauty of life.  It is memories like this that stir the anger and fear of those who oppose schemes which others regard as the triumphant advance of progress.

            Every weekend you will see an exodus from these areas.  Fleets of motor-cars, buses, coaches, cyclists set out, sometimes

                                                                                                                                 

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in an [????] unending line, carrying people in search of beauty, in search of peace, in search of something different – so many of them that they at times seem to destroy what they are seeking.  At times our civillisatin seems to have created for our inhabitants homes and towns which are solely places to be got out of as often and for as long as possible.  And there are some who, without motorcars, without bicycles, cannot ever get out of them, and live doomed in the dirt and stink.

            What is called our standard of living is, because of all this, immeasurably higher than it was before the 19th century.  We have, because of all this, xxxxxxxxxxxxxx great resources of power that makes our lives easier.  We can press a switch and light a room, and heat it.  We can keep our food in refrigerators.  Odd though it may seem, we probably have a purer water supply; in spite of the terrible diseases tha the very existence of cities brings, we xxx can expect to live longer.  We have motor-cars in which we can drive in search of beauty, and airplanes that will carry us rapidly, and I am assured safely, to all parts of the world.  We have opportunities for living such as earlier man never dreamed of, and could not possibly imagine.

            Are we happier?  Are we better – that is, do we behave more reasonably and kindly?  Do we live a more full, joyous, thoughtful, and effective a life than did those who existed before this awful cost was paid for raising our standard of living?

            Many of you will know of, and some of you be thrilled by the achievements in thought art and the enjoyment of life of ancient Athens.  At its height, Athens was about the size of Stockport.  What we should nowadays call its standard of living was infitinitely

                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                    4          inferior to that of Stockport.  One feels that one ought to hear more from the people of Stockport.  Why aren’t there great poets there?  Where is ancient architecture of Stockport?

            In a lesson I read an extract from a book by Laurie Lee describing his travels in Spain.  The standard of living of those people among whom he went was pitifully low.  The Children lived in conditions which even the poorest of us, and the poorest of English children can hardly imagine; yet they were full of joy.  Spain is a country whose Govt many of us demcrats deplore, and which we imagine to be in perpetual misery; apparently it isn’t.  It can dance in its rags; and even under the terrible eye of totalitarians.  Primitive tribes, that we shd regard as lost in the awful conditions of the stone and bronze ages, can live lives full of joy; what travellers notice is the joy on the faces of these people – who live in conditions which we cd not contemplate staying in for a week.  And, by the way, empassant, the stone and bronze ages are distinguished for more than primitive conditions.  [   ??????????]

            Do you think that a traveller in modern Britain would write home about the joy seen in our faces, seen in the faces of those in the streets of London and Leeds?  He [???????????????/??] And York where I tried to shop yesterday?

            Now I am not talking like this because I oppose progress, or the advance man has made in raising his so-called standard of living.  The advance made by us on Britain in the last 2,000 years is far greater than that made in the previous 50,000 years.  What I am concerned about, and what is the concern of those writers who inspired this address, is something different from my desire to go backwards.  It is an intense desire to go forwards, but in the right direction.  We live in what is probably the richest and most joyless, the most comfortable and most cruel age in the history of man.                                                                                                                 5         Why should we not make it into the richest and most joyful, the most comfortable and most kind, the most artistically creative and fully enjoyable age in the history of man?  It may be within our power to do so.  Indeed, it may even be necessary for us to do so if we are to survive at all.

            What we call Western civilisation is at this moment threatened, and it is obvious to everyone except possibly the British Foreign Office, that what we may proudly call the British way of life makes very little appeal to the xxxxxxxxxxxxxx people of the East in whose hands it is possible that the future of the world lies.  Until recently it had not occurred to us & to the Americans that all other people would not wish to be like us, and to live life as we do.  We discover that an increasing number of the people of the world do not want our way, or the American way of life and frankly regard it both as horrid.  What may quite easily determine the future of the world is not power and violence but ideas about living and ways of life, a manner of living, which is satisfying, full of joy; and not – as is true at present – unsatisfying, wearing, and highly productive of nervous breakdowns, and twisted personalities.  Our survival may depend on this.

            What is wrong?  I suggest, that along with a number of those who have studied the histry of mankind and the developments of society through the ages, that what is wrong may be summed up in the phrase so often used today –“standard of living.”  More and more we have come to judge people, to judge ourselves, to judge life itself and the quality of life, by what we call “standard of living”.                                    6

We think that we are doing well if our standard of living rises; it will be disastrous           if our standard of living falls.  Because the USA has the highest standard of living in the world, we think that the Americans are the best off, and because we have a higher standard of living than, say, the people of New Guinea, the people of New Guinea will want to be like us.

            We could not be more mistaken; this is the tragic error of our whole civilisatn and outlook.  The people of New Guinea do not want to be like us; they want to be happy.

            The phrase “standard of living” as we now use it is an economic and commercial term.  We say that a standard of living is high if the people have many material possessions, great resources of material power, like coal and electricity; that a person’s standard of living is higher if he has a large income than if he has a small one.  It is just as though we said that we believed that xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  xxx a man with an income of 2 thousand a year, who worked all the time and never had a holiday, was miserable, always bickering with his wife and family, always on the edge of collapse, was living a fuller life than a man with only 500 a year really enjoying his life.  The absurdity is, I hope, obvious.  The man with £2000 a year shd have greater opportunities for joy than the man with500; but if he is solely concerned with earning a living, and never with how he is living, with how he, his wife and his family are living to the full, he is wasting his opportunities and advantages.

            And that is just what our British civilisation has been doing for the last two centuries.  Provided that a thing made money, we have been willing to sacrifice to it anything, the beauty of our land, the happiness of our children, [???????????] the whole heritage of art, music, and literature that is ours, and the whole enjoyment of life.                                                                                                                     7

That is why there are so many people in the world with a lower standard of living, who are full of joy when we are full of anxiety.  It is not the progress, it is not the science, it is not radios, motorcars, refrigerators, that I am criticising; it is that for three generations the British judgement of the value of anything has been a commercial judgement.  Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

            You will all know what is meant by the expression “throwing away the baby with the bath water”.  We are in the position now of a mother who having her baby in dirty water, went out to find pure water, and was so eager to have pure water that she filled every vessel in the house with it, and threw away the baby because it took up too much room in the bath;xxxxxx having got rid of the child she cd have an extra gallon or so of water to not wash it in.

            The aim of a country shd be the happiness, well-being and joy of its people, living a full life surrounded by beauty and love.  Compared with this economic considerations shd have no weight at all.  Xxx We are the authors and designers of our future, as man has always been; the escape from this horrible situation lies with us.  Let us when we think about standard of living think about something other than material things, value above all the quality of the life of man.

            I want to give very briefly one example of what I mean.  At the moment there are strikes about automation.  New machines will be more efficient, and fewer men will be employed.  The spectre of unemployment is appearing again, and men who know what it was are using against it the strike weapon, which

*Life should have a natural rhythm, & each day bring its own struggles and satisfaction, its action, and rest [undecipherable handwriting]                             

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seems to them the only one they have.  To any sane man there is no problem at all.  If machines will lessen labour, let us all work less and  use the wealth produced for joyous living get the same money as before.   The only reason against this is that someone somewhere wants to use machines, not to improve man’s life, but as a means of making more money.  To distribute the profit to all wd be uneconomic.

            Instead we go on wrangling, till the minds of all men, rich and poor, are thinking of only one thing – how to earn a living, how to make more money; and while they think this, all our heritage of life, beauty and joy – what we are supposed to be working for – we lose.    If machines are going to give poor goods, let us not have them.  We want  [?????] goods..

seems to them the only one they have.  To any sane man there is no problem at all.  If machines are going to mean having poor men, let us have no machines.  But do they?  Having discovered the spade it seems silly to try to dig a trench with saltspoons.  If machines will lessen labour, let us all work less, and let the wealth be used to produce more joyous living for all.  The only reason against this is that someone somewhere will say it is uneconomic because he wants to use the machines to make more money for himself, and idea which he will connect with Britain’s standard of living.

            So instead, we go on wrangling, till the minds of all men, rich and poor, are thinking of one thing only – how to earn a living, how to make more money; and while they are thinking of this, all our heritage of life, beauty and joy, what we are supposed to be working for – we lose.  The real standard of our life, its value to persons, is lost. 

Let us wake up and save it before it is too late.   Let us [????] not about our standard of living but about the quality of our life.        

 

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