As a Baby Boomer (Leading Edge) I have never had to make the sort of problematic choices that the previous generation to my own had to make. I have not been involved in a World War, I have not had to do Military Service, I have been able to find work without problems, I have been looked after through my educational life and in terms of medical help in a way in which I have not had to think too hard about the financial consequences. I have, in short, been fortunate in choosing the time to be born!
Central of course to that opening paragraph of gloating, though not actually stated, is the reality of my pension. I now have three pensions from two countries: which sounds a damn sight more impressive than the reality! I have a professional pension from my job, I have a much smaller state pension and I have a truly tiny (but welcome) pension from Spain. The generations that have come after my own look at my experiences and feel envy and resentment. This is an attitude that I can easily understand, especially as the retirement age seems to be getting more and more distant for some folk. But this piece is not about finance and comfortable old age, it is more about responsibility.
I was far too young to have an opinion about Suez and the criminal behavior of my government: I was too young to understand the trauma of moving from an imperial past to an uncertain future – and very badly managed at that; too young to understand the full import of the Cold War, though old enough to appreciate the danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I suppose that the first real moral challenge that I felt fully engaged with was the Apartheid system in South Africa and the United Kingdom’s culpability in the continuation of the regime.
What did I do? Looking back on it, the answer would have to be, not very much. I supported Anti-Apartheid; I refused to buy or eat South African fruit; I didn’t drink South African wine; I sent money to organizations against Apartheid; I put up posters; I marched; I spoke against it. But could I have done more, could I have been more pro-active? And what about Viet Nam? How much, or how little did I do to show my abhorrence about that grubby conflict? When I look back, I think that I was more worked up about the Conservative government’s imposition of museum charges for our national galleries than I ever was about a war which claimed the lives of thousands and threatened the stability of the world!
In other words, I feel a nagging sense that I could have done more, and should have done more, but I was protected by a fairly comfortable sense that, in spite of a few local and international difficulties, things would probably work themselves out with, or without, my active help. And my involvement was my choice.
In today’s world, with the rise of the extreme right, the self-inflicted wound of Brexit, the reality of President Trump, the growing obscenity of inequality in the world, the banking crisis, corruption and on and on – it is much more difficult to remain as a vaguely involved spectator. To do nothing, is actively to encourage the situation to worsen: disengagement is denial.
What I am saying is that life in 2017 is the equivalent of life in the 1940s: there is an international crisis and everyone has a part to play in attempting to ameliorate what is turning into a national and international disaster. You have to make a choice, in which not making a choice is a choice in itself. It’s the same as it was living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles: the situation was dangerous, and if you had knowledge that might help the authorities then you would have to accept that your duty would put you in danger. In just the same way involvement in the Word Wars that my parents and grandparents had to endure, put them in danger too. Dangerous times, and god knows we are living in dangerous times now, call for positive action.
We can see that the growing opposition to Trump and so-called policies in the United States and around the world is an active statement that many people have accepted their responsibilities to hold power to account. This is one of those times when inaction is the deadliest action of them all.
So, what am I doing, this time round? Well, it basically comes down to reading the Guardian, shouting at the television, watching American late night political comedy on YouTube and typing futile screeds against the fading of the light!
Stuck (by my own choice) in a wealthy, sunny corner of Spain it is easy to forget that the rest of the world is going through a crisis and, in some ways, this period of time is a little like the so-called Phony-War before the actual war of 1939-45. My Dad was in London when war was declared and remembered the sirens sounding soon after the announcement and . . . nothing happened: no enemy planes, no bombs, nothing! Obviously that quiescence was soon to develop into the bloodiest conflict that the world had ever seen, but the immediate result of the challenge to German Nazi power was nothing.
You might say that quite a lot has happened over the last few years. The banking crisis has weakened economies, and the paucity of cells filled by the perpetrators of one of the greatest pieces of financial fraud and duplicity ever has weakened the very concept of democratic accountability. Governments have poured public money into the banking sector with the result that the very bankers who caused the crisis are now even more secure in their inflated pensions and high lifestyle. Bonuses are back, the stock exchanges are booming and people are getting poorer. This should be a time when implementing the ideals of socialism is seen as something that can take people out of poverty and make a fairer society – instead of which we see the politics of inequality and prejudice trumping any humanistic ideal.
You might think that, as a retired person with a secure pension, I am one of those people ‘sitting pretty’, but I am most certainly not. As a British national living abroad in an EU country, I have seen the relative value of my pension fall by some 20% as the reality of Brexit gets closer and starts having a real effect. I have the threat of punitive action by the government in which I reside when Article 50 is finally invoked and I find myself as a foreign citizen, living in a state which can, at a moment’s notice cancel my healthcare, and revoke my right to stay in the country that I now call home. And that is just the local, Spanish situation. Let us not consider the full ramifications of the Oaf in the White House!
We are all (including the country of origin) living in what the Chinese curse calls “interesting times” and what we do in response to those interesting times will define the conditions of development for the next generation, or indeed the next generations. We all have to step up to the plate and ‘do’ something.