We know communities used to exist and we know that over the last 30/40 years they have been gradually eroded and in some cases destroyed.

Before we look at one specific tragedy resulting from this erosion… let us remember what they looked like.

According to Paris Marx

‘We built more public housing, we had more public ownership, and there was more energy to reimagine the way we work.

I think it’s important to know history and to understand that things were different, but we also can’t fall into a nostalgia that blinds us from seeing that there’s no going back to that time and also how we got from there to here. That latter point is very important.

It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about how things were better in the past. Old people, in particular, harken back to the ‘good old days.’ They remember a time when they might not have had much material wealth, but there was a communal ethos where people looked out for one another.

They talk about taking a break from work or school to go home for lunch in the middle of the day. They tell stories of helping friends and neighbours build houses. They reminisce about the big community gatherings and events they would have, and how even though they didn’t have much, the door was always open if someone needed a meal or some assistance.

When telling these stories, they contrast it with the present, where their communities have been eroded, people don’t lend a hand like they used to, things that used to be done communally now have a price tag, and, while they have more materially, on an emotional or spiritual level, life simply seems duller.

But what surprises me is how rarely these people put the blame for this social change, often spanning the course of a half century or more, on capitalism. It’s so common to hear the young — the millennials! — blamed for the problems with modern culture, as if they have much power to affect those kinds of changes. If they did, we might be acting on climate change right now.

There are certainly many factors influencing long-term social transformations, but the most fundamental one is the driving force of the economic system. In the past, we discussed how postwar changes to the design of communities and the shift to a consumer economy were driven by the need to increase corporate profits and spur GDP growth.

We live under an economic system where the core measure of progress is an increase in measurable economic activity, and that has required, over the course of many decades, commercializing more aspects of our lives and making more of the informal economic activities of the past measurable by bringing them into the formal economy.

Take the example of neighbours, friends or family members helping someone build a house. In that scenario, the purchase of the materials may be recorded as contributing to economic activity because there’s a record of the transaction, but the labour provided by all those people to turn those materials into a house is not. And, from the point of view of the capitalist system and those in charge of it, that’s a problem.

There have certainly been benefits to formalizing housing construction, most notably the higher quality of housing (at least in most cases) that has accompanied steadily improving building standards. But when a contractor is hired or a construction company builds a suburb, that’s measured, while helping out a friend is not — so the latter is discouraged.

And now that we’re all on the hamster wheel, trying to make enough to survive and to accumulate more possessions — because, after all, that’s what the deluge of advertising we encounter every day is convincing us to do — we don’t have the time that we used to have to contribute to community or help a neighbour.

In my view, it’s wrong to see this as anything to do with human nature. Rather, it’s a change that has been encouraged and cemented by an economic system that requires the continual commercialization and privatization of more aspects of our lives so it can record increases in economic activity, regardless of whether those increases correspond with better quality of life and wellbeing.

When I write about the need for public luxuries and for a renewal of that community life — which I see as a core piece of the modern socialist project — I’m surprised that more people aren’t on board, as this renewal very clearly tries to revive some of the aspects they claim to miss about the past.

But building those public luxuries will not be a return to the past. We can’t go back. Just as the changes over the past number of decades were driven by the economic system, realizing a more communal world will also require contending with and, ultimately, reorganizing the economic system that underpins it in a way that enables a new way of life to flourish. 
And I simply don’t see how that can still be one that treats perpetual economic growth as its gospel.’

Just one dreadful symbol of how our society has now become a much less caring and empathetic place to exist

The body of a 61-year-old woman was found in a Peckham flat by Metropolitan Police officers, two years after neighbours raised concerns about her welfare. 

Police forced entry to the property in St Mary’s Road on 18 February, after residents complained over a balcony door banging open and shut during Storm Eunice.

The woman’s death is not being treated as suspicious, but neighbours said they had repeatedly contacted the property’s owners, Peabody, in 2019 over a “horrendous smell” from the flat.

One woman told MyLondon that residents in the block had complained about the smell 40 to 50 times.
She said: “My son was getting headaches – he was feeling sick. When I was pregnant, I was vomiting all the time. I would ask my neighbours, ‘Can you smell that? Or is it because I am pregnant?'”

A Peabody spokesperson said in a statement that they “were saddened to learn that our resident has passed away.
“Our dedicated support teams carry out regular welfare checks with people who may be vulnerable. We did make repeated attempts to check on the resident and liaised with the police to try and make contact.
“We are offering support to neighbouring residents who are understandably upset. We are also working closely with the authorities and will investigate all of the circumstances and actions taken in this case.”

A spokesperson from the Met Police said: “A Met Police spokesperson said: “At 19:01hrs on Friday, 18 February police were called to a flat in St Mary’s Road, Peckham.

“Concerns had been raised about the welfare of a woman who lived at the address.
“Officers attended and forced entry. The body of a 61-year-old woman who was deceased was found inside.
“The woman’s death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious. A file will be prepared for the coroner.”

Laying dead for over two years and no one sought entry to see if she was alright. Not one emergency service were contacted.. And worst of all the private landlord did absolutely nothing.

How can we fight back against the despair and rupture that repeated governments and cultural shifts are imposing on local… communities?

Are we all just individuals now who care not for others?

Unless we confront questions like this it will lead to complete dislocation.

Douglas James

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