29 April 2012

The Mindless Gap

"There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families."
- Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister

Riding the underground subway here in London, one is continually instructed to "mind the gap," a caution about the gap between the train and the platform as one enters and exits the train. 

This, it seems to me, is a useful injunction that describes the importance of awareness even on a social level. British PM David Cameron is pushing to lower the taxes on the rich at the same time that he raises them on the less affluent. And yet a persistent gap is getting wider. 

This week, the UK reported that the economy shrunk in the first quarter of 2012. It is officially a double-dip recession and the British continue to struggle out of the worst recession in decades.  In today's Sunday Times, we learn that in spite of this, last year the rich gained wealth, becoming the wealthiest they've ever become. 

One of the reasons that people prefer cities is for the anonymity. In a small town, your neighbors notice if you come in late or wear eyeliner but in a city you're much more liberated to do as you please. The good - and the bad - is that you feel less obligated to worry about your neighbors. 

I wonder if this urbanization of the mind - this freedom from worry about others - isn't making it easier for the rich to be conspicuous about their wealth in ways that show little regard for the poor around them. Not only can they make record money as the people across town struggle, they can petition for lower taxes and a cut in services at the same town. 

A society of individuals is still a society, whether the individuals within it care to call it that or not. But maybe its easier to ignore the gap if we don't think that we're all in this together. 

No comments: