The real world is not for sale
Every day we are told what the real world is, and it is always the same thing: some world where every human interaction is capable of being turned to profit, where the laws of competition have replaced the laws of hospitality, where friendship and love are available at a bargain. We learn of this reality at school, in the newspapers, on the television and the radio, and in public pronouncements by important and powerful people.
But we live in a different, parallel universe where hospitality is still our first instinct, where we seek and hope to find true love and true friendship, where we cannot imagine exploiting our friends, colleagues or neighbours and where, in fact, we give money to complete strangers without any hope of reward. It would be interesting but ultimately pointless to quantify the relationship between the two universes. How much time do we spend relating to the world of profit? In a long day I believe it is quite a small part, despite the fact that most of us work for a living. It is human to create, even of a workplace, a small community of friendships and affections in order to make the frustrations and grievances bearable.
Now I do not want to talk about ‘voluntarism’, whatever that means, or a ‘big society’ where the state simply offloads its responsibilities onto those shoulders that are willing to bear them for nothing. What I’m suggesting instead is that the values that pertain in the real real world – cooperation, love, friendship, kindness, hospitality – are the natural antidote to power, profit and poverty. Our only hope in a world driven by fear is that we should remember our common humanity.
The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci gave us two phrases with which to consider this question of the two realities. The ‘reality’ that is forced upon us he calls ‘common sense’; the reality we know and inhabit is ‘good sense’. Common sense, according to Gramsci, is automatic thinking, it’s swallowing what you’re told, it’s the easy way. Good sense is the way we actually lead our lives. Common sense is imposed from above. Good sense starts with our sense of belonging in a community – in other words, it starts with respect. We need to apply our good sense to politics, to how the state organises itself, to how we see strangers. Good sense tells us that we must welcome strangers because one day they may welcome us in turn, we must organise the state along fair lines because one day we may need its fairness, we need to make politics take note of fairness and justice.
The strange thing is that talk makes things happen, even though, as Gramsci rightly thought, it’s very difficult to defend against common sense (because it’s common sense!). But we can arm ourselves by understanding our own values, by thinking about how we relate to our family, friends and neighbours not just as a personal thing but as a social value system.
These are the values by which we live our daily lives, and we must stand up and say, to hell with common sense, this is good sense and good sense is better. Whenever they tell us that profit and exploitation and crooked politics are reality, say ‘not my reality buddy’, say ‘the real world is not for sale’. Most of all we must reject the idea that the real world involves brutal competition, ruthlessness, playing games with the working lives of other people, and the endless pursuit of accumulation.