If, like me, your main mode of travel is public transport, you may have noticed an increasing number of angry and damn-right ignorant people inhabiting our streets. I live in London so add a dash of impatience and an extreme lack of manners to the average Londoner’s existing sense of self-importance and you have a recipe for disaster.
I’m no therapist but I don’t have to be to know that behind the torrent of abuse over one seemingly innocent slight is something much bigger.
Perhaps as often as once a week I increase the volume of my iPod so as not to hear some woman shouting obscenities, accompanied by ‘chicken head’ style neck movements, because someone accidentally knocked her bag off her shoulder on a packed bus. Suddenly a Podcast about the history of straws or whatever, becomes the most interesting thing I have ever heard because it diverts my attention away from a man, who has a very limited grasp of the English language but, has mastered the use of ‘Fuck’ and ‘Nigger’ perfectly to express his feelings at having been asked to move his bag off the seat so someone can sit down.
The woman couldn’t care less about the bag, the man isn’t that bothered the request. In truth they both probably feel powerless so choose incidences such as these to prove – to themselves as much as others – that they still have some clout.
Teenagers do this all the time. Yes, sometimes hoards of screaming teenagers alight a bus and suddenly there is an eruption of noise and abuse aimed at innocent members of the public which can be intimidating, but in reality they are just exercising a sense of power that they don’t have. They are essentially children with questionable body odour, deep feelings of insecurity and a bedtime.
The difference is though, that we hope teenagers will eventually grow out of it, but given the numbers of adults behaving in a similar way in their late 20s, 30s and even in their 60s and 70s, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Perhaps this is because today feelings of powerlessness do not end with our teenage years. Teenagers and young people believe that adulthood affords a sense of freedom, choice and power but in reality – especially in recent years – this is far from the truth.
Employment, the economy, affordable housing, good healthcare, good education… these all have a very real effect on our lives. Being employed determines our ability to survive economically; affordable housing has a direct effect on our mental and physical health; good healthcare means longer, happier and more productive lives and a good education will determine our ability to obtain employment, and so the cycle continues. Given that each of the above is of vital importance to all of us if we are to lead healthy and happy lives it seems almost nonsensical that we have very little – if any – power over them at all.
Energy companies have recently announced as much as a ten per cent increase in energy bills despite the growing concerns of many who are continuously explaining to the government and energy companies that they simply cannot afford this. Television, radio and newspapers are full of interviews with families and the elderly who are unable to heat their homes in the winter, yet the people who have the power to intervene appear not to be listening. As a result, we will somehow continue to pay our ridiculously high bills because we are powerless to do anything else.
People who are clearly unfit for work are being told the complete opposite by ATOS despite tests and medical evidence to the contrary. Refusal to do as these incompetent, unqualified sadists say will result in a loss of benefits for the people concerned, yet the people with the power to do something about this, again, appear not to be listening. The result being that severely disabled people are either forced back in to work, which could have a detrimental effect on their health, or are struggling to survive since they can no-longer receive some of their state benefits. These are their choices because they are powerless to do anything else.
The majority of us lack the power to create jobs, fix the economy, lower house prices and lower energy bills yet these things effect us on a daily basis so we become angry – very angry – because what else can we do? Some people say ‘well, you can vote’ but given that there is very little difference between the parties, this solution seems about as effective as putting a plaster over a bullet wound.
We can’t make politicians and business people listen to our concerns and take them seriously; we can’t warm our houses as often as we would like, we can’t afford to get on to the property ladder and we can’t stop severely disabled people from being blackmailed in to inappropriate jobs.
We can however, scream at people on public transport, blame people in receipt of state benefits for all of society’s ills and hold ridiculously extremist views about everything from obesity to Shariah Law in the mistaken belief that doing this makes us powerful and gives us a voice.
It doesn’t. All it does is create tension, misinformation and absolve government, business people and the rich of their responsibilities to us, the people who – sometimes inadvertently – put them in positions of power.