“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Pondering the strange period we are living through, I have several times been reminded of these memorable words by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. Despite the many horrors, some of the ‘best’ features of these unsettling times have been the way that the pandemic has stimulated forms of neighbourliness and mutual help that had lain dormant for far too long in many communities, as well as awakening some big discussions about what sort of post-COVID society we want to live in.
Thanks to the valiant efforts of left publishers, this unique set of circumstances has created an opportunity – and an appetite among readers – for books that, instead of focusing on the minutiae of social developments and policies, start to address some of the big political questions that confront us in the search for alternative ways of managing our society and economy. Into this category I would place Ann Pettifor’s clear and compelling The Case for the Green New Deal and my own Reinventing the Welfare State as well as the marvellous Care Manifesto: the Politics of Interdependence, also published this week.
The authors of this concise, beautifully-written book have put their finger precisely on our collective pulse. In one word, they have identified what is both the key deficit in our current society and the key component in any alternative future: care. What has been so deeply troubling in the way that our government has treated the most vulnerable members of society during the pandemic and in the years of austerity leading up to it has been, in a nutshell, it’s failure to care. The realisation that ‘they really don’t care’ has been a painful shock to many, especially those who grew up believing that Britain had a welfare state that would look after them ‘from cradle to grave’, but there it is. We live in a world that the Care Collective characterise as ‘careless’ and this book is an idealistic call to design an alternative future that puts universal care at the heart of its vision.
The authors define the word broadly as ‘our individual and common ability to provide the political, social, material, and emotional conditions that allow the vast majority of people and living creatures on this planet to thrive – along with the planet itself’ and discuss the ways that this goal has been thwarted at every level starting with interpersonal relationships and building up via kinship networks, neighbourhoods, communities and nations to the world itself. They draw on a wide range of research from the fields of psychology, sociology, political economy and environmental science to build their argument but, more importantly, illustrate their points with inspirational examples from around the world of social experiments that have shown how it is possible to do things differently.
I particularly like their emphasis on developing pilot schemes at a local level that can then be scaled up, perhaps because it is the approach I favour in my own new book where I suggest developing publicly-managed local platforms for delivering care services and organising local food distribution strategies. This has several advantages. It is something that can be done straight away, into which people can put their energies without waiting for a change of government. It builds on neighbourly initiatives that are already there, which have sprung into life during the pandemic. It demonstrates that alternative futures really are possible. And it can give us hope in these bleak times.
If only to lift your spirits, I urge you to read this book.
As to our government and its manifest failure to care, I am put in mind of that gruesome nursery rhyme:
Don’t care didn’t care,
Don’t care was wild:
Don’t care stole plum and pear
Like any beggar’s child.
Don’t care was made to care,
Don’t care was hung:
Don’t care was put in a pot
And boiled till he was done.
PS Just after I finished writing this blog, I looked out of the window beside my desk and this is the shocking sight that confronted me. How desperately we need the lessons from The Care Manifesto!