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As things are now


The third part  of "Then and Now – how we live and how we used to live".  What life might be like after socialism has been established.

 The world has certainly changed a lot in these last few decades, to an extent that I wouldn’t have thought possible had I not lived through it all. During the final stages of capitalist society, the past was often spoken of as a golden age which people looked back to with nostalgia. Well, not any more. I speak for the vast majority in heartily wishing the past good riddance.

 Take houses. In comparison with the old wreck of a building my family and I choose to live in, with its leaky drains and crumbling brickwork, the homes that have been built or modified recently are marvels of comfort, efficiency and safety. They are earthquake-proof and built well away from flood-prone areas. The sanitary blocks and most of the kitchen appliances in the new communal living centres are virtually maintenance-free. Even so, once in a while any dwelling place needs sprucing up. Of course they are all common property, like every other major resource; so whoever is there at the time just gets out the cleaning equipment and gets on with it. Fifteen minutes and the job’s done.

 We could move into one of these new places if we wanted but actually, the house we live in is just a base. Quite a lot of the time I am elsewhere, helping on forest renewal or food growing projects in different parts of the world. My partner usually comes with me and joins in with the child mentoring activities of whatever locality we are in.

 Many different social patterns are emerging and the dwellings being built reflect them. There are still many conventional houses and flats for people who prefer the old family-style arrangement, but there has been a huge growth in communal hotel-like accommodation, some catered, some self-catering, in campsite and kibbutz-style arrangements and in staffed care homes for the infirm and disabled.

 There’s nothing to stop you from trying out any type of accommodation, subject to availability of course, but that is rarely a problem. Some people are constantly on the move and never stay in the same place for very long. Being frequent travellers, we experience all types of living styles ourselves and I must say that in the larger communities sometimes it’s very hard, if not impossible, to know whose children are whose or where one family begins and another ends. But the children all appear well-fed and well looked after.

 The more primitive tribal communities are flourishing again, now there is no threat of their lives being swamped by the economic monster – they may choose to carry on living in their traditional ways, but of course they too have access to all the food and medical care they need.

 Local infrastructure is more or less self-administering; every community has its own food stores and growing areas, transport pools, maintenance depots and medical centres, with experts always on hand to sort out emergencies or the more tricky jobs. If you want food you just take what you need and record what you’ve taken so it can be re-stocked. While they are at it, most people have a general look at what else may be running short and make sure that’s recorded too. And these places are kept tidy – nobody would dream of walking out and leaving them in a mess. They belong to us, after all.

 Today we take for granted that we use our energies for contributing to and improving the common lot and hence our own lives in the process. The very idea of being paid sums of money for what we do is absurd. We do what is necessary to keep society working as we want it to work, we do it voluntarily and mostly we enjoy it because those repetitive, unproductive tasks that have not been automated are shared amongst an abundant and self-defining group of volunteers. Indeed, the sharp distinction that existed in money-based society between work and leisure is now almost non-existent since the vast majority of tasks and projects that occupy us are intrinsically worthwhile and enjoyable. Of course, some aren’t - but when did the prospect of an unpleasant job deter anyone from rolling their sleeves up and getting on with it if it was necessary? Compared with the mind-numbingly dull and dirty jobs people had to put up with in capitalist society, they are a drop in the ocean.

 We are used to being able to enquire on a regular basis what work is needed, whether it be in our particular locality or hundreds of miles away, registering our availability and suitability in terms of experience and qualifications, then turning up if and when required and getting on with it. We can do several different jobs at once, some may be long-term, some may last only a few hours. We can register with a competence agency to train and qualify for a variety of specialised jobs and if our more expert peers deem us suitable, we can be drivers one day and teachers the next. In fact very few people choose to stick exclusively to the same type of work for any length of time. There again – I know a doctor who does a 60-hour week and loves every minute.

 There is a worldwide resources database which records such things as global stocks of food and other essential goods. Areas of temporary shortage are quickly identified and production is then geared up to meet it. Where possible this is done locally, otherwise the food and goods are moved to the areas that need them as quickly and efficiently as possible: no import duties, no demands for payment, no unnecessary delays.

 I hope it goes without saying that the potential impact on the environment of the goods and machines we produce is assessed very carefully such that pollution and wastage of energy and resources are kept to a minimum. Nothing is wrapped in redundant packaging; where possible everything is made from recyclable material, and all factories and modes of transport emit virtually no toxic exhaust fumes. The days of smelly, polluting mill chimneys and petrol and diesel engines are over. It’s still a bit too early to say but the signs are that the damage done to the environment by advanced capitalist society will almost completely be reversed in time.

 We do have “possessions”: our homes, though strictly speaking communal property, effectively belong to us as individuals or groups because there is no reason for anyone else to wish to eject us, and, of course, we have personal effects; but, unless they have personal significance for us, we see no need to take them with us when we move, since similar items for our use will be available wherever we decide to go. There is no trauma at the loss of such articles, no need to claim monetary compensation, and, since they are available to all, the notion of theft is simply absurd. Of course, if you are someone’s guest, you don’t just help yourself to their food or goods, you wait to be asked – but that’s just common courtesy.

 And because there is no pressure to change for the sake of change, or to buy to make someone else rich, things are built to last, at the highest quality, and nobody feels the need to constantly replace them for something better or different.

 The first generation to be born into a world free of money, leaders and national divisions is now grown up. They have a totally different outlook on life and could no more think of reverting to a money-based existence than our early 21st century forebears could have gone back to that even more rigidly structured period known as the middle ages…but I must say I can’t understand some of these young kids even when they talk slowly – and as for what passes for music these days, I really do give up. Some things never change.

ROD SHAW

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