17 August 2011

Man or Superman?

In the wake of last week's riots there have been no shortage of supermen rushing forward to suggest how the rest of us might live. I have found many of the prescriptions, frankly, sickening. The focus on the failure of families is especially troubling, because it slides so easily into blaming women for their failure to be adequate parents.

I also find the use of the phrase 'underclass' troubling. Like the idea of the 'undeserving poor' that preceded it, it suggests a natural hierarchy in society that actually arises as a result of a capitalist economy. The easy way with which Duncan Smith and Cameron talk about Right and Wrong, as though these were generally agreed categories, identifies them clearly as members of the dominant class and its hegemonic ideology.

The Wrong values are, apparently, about selfishness and greed; whereas the Right values are about hard work and supporting your community. I can't be the only person who questions whether the wealthy are more likely to find themselves in the first value set or the second.

As Cameron styles himself as some sort of Nietzschean √úbermensch, the 'creator of new values' striding forth to save us mere mortal from chaos, I am reminded of the balancing word Untermensch, and the danger of defining human beings into more or less worthy categories. How much more wholesome is the Yiddish word Mensch, that comes without qualification or hiearchy and means, according to the Webster-Merriam online dictionary: a 'good person, human being, person'.

That is where most of us are at: struggling to do our best in a hostile economic system and without the advantages of wealth or elite status. We haven't broken society and, through our daily acts of mutual kindness, we make and mend it anew.

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