The Decline of Risk

The Decline of Risk

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings,

And risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about the loss…”

(Rudyard Kipling, “If”.)

Risk has always been big business. Risk drove the housing market into the stratosphere. Risk is what fuels consumer credit. Risk built an entire sector – the financial sector. Risk is what makes sports exciting, why we play the lottery, why kids love arcade games.

Risk is what keeps us alive, and, ultimately, what kills us. We live because we take risks – the risk of being excluded from a group we want to join, the risk of being turned down for our dream job, the risk of being mocked by the person we fancy, the risk of a pregnancy not working out, the risk of going bankrupt buying a house or starting a business, the risk of regretting the decision to jack in our job a few years early and go travelling – and we die when the “turn of pitch and toss” doesn’t go our way. When risk bites back.

We will die because of risk, but we will also die if we don’t take risks.

Society has been slaughtered by risk run amok, risk that was released from any kind of supervision or control. Risk made without judgement.

But now, we stand in real danger of society dying because of an increasing unwillingness to take any kind of risk.

High Street book shops are stagnating because mainstream publishers refuse to take risks on unknown, exciting, genre-free authors, and haven’t caught up with the fact that the book buying public isn’t going to buy another 400 pages of the same story in a different place, with different people.

The arts are dying because governments aren’t funding them, and artists have become too used to being funded by the Establishment, and won’t risk trying something new, trying other ways to get the show on the road.

The economy is dying, because employers are unwilling to risk accepting the paradigm shift that’s needed, to embrace ways of working that don’t involve expensive offices and close supervision.

Intelligence is dying, because teachers daren’t risk standing up against a rising tide of government meddling, and actually exposing children and young people to the lessons they need to learn, the sources that will light the individual sparks in all those children, and set a blazing love of learning, and of knowledge.

Manners and compassion are dying, because no one will risk disciplining people when they fall short.

Society is dying, because no one will risk a “Hello” to a stranger.

People are dying, because no one will risk radical care, medicine that is more than medication, support that is more than just keeping difficult people out of sight.

The decline in risk is a fear-fuelled response to the death toll of ungoverned risk, which came in the form of mortgage defaults and corporate collapse, evictions and dismissals.

But the thing is, that risk was only culling the old and the sick. Those institutions, lifestyles, and people were already dying.

The reaction to it, the decline in risk taking across the board, is attacking the healthy, the vital, the necessary. It is killing everything that keeps us alive.

The world needs you to take a risk – now, today, forever.

What will your risk be?

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Isolating Stereotypes

The image that springs to mind when you talk about “social isolation” is someone living in a rural village, without transport, unable to get to the bright lights and social whirl of the big city.  Perhaps they are also elderly, and not skilled in the use of the internet for social media purposes. Perhaps their broadband is “too slow” for such things, or they have sporadic network coverage.

But social isolation exists just as much – perhaps more so – in cities as it does in rural areas. Those without a lot of spare cash often find themselves isolated, because city prices for food, entertainment, etc, are often quite high – and people in cities tend to be more insistent on “going out somewhere” than on “just being.”  Those with chronic health issues, especially mental health issues, but any health condition that means that individual isn’t always well enough to manage lots of people, lots of noise, and being out and about for long periods, can also become isolated.

And, where social isolation exists in rural communities, it is often less a facet of rurality, and more to do with the attitudes of people.

I have lived in rural villages, and I live now in an urban coastal town. I have spent time in a city – when I was working, I worked in the city.   I was least isolated when I lived in villages, even though, being unable to drive, I was often unable to see people, or get to events, etc.

Here are a few of the complaints about rural areas from those who exercise themselves around the idea that “better links to cities will solve everything!”

.People in rural areas are so judgemental and stuck in their ways – No. They’re concerned that things that have been generations-long livelihoods, and which involve vital skills – the skills you’ll actually NEED if all technology one day fails – are being lost. They’re sick of seeing their villages become ghost towns, either dormitories for city workers, or second-home holiday havens.  They’re fed up of being the butt of everyone’s jokes, of having their accents and mannerisms and way of life mocked, as though they’re merely caricature cut-outs, rather than people with feelings.

.They don’t care about social justice! – They do. In a quiet way. A way that says “if everyone does, and gives, what they’re able, and people who have a bit more help those with less, everyone’ll be taken care of eventually.”

.It’s all about “how we’ve always done it” – Usually because individuals in rural areas know how best to do something. They know there’s no point building houses if you don’t first bring employers in – and they know that technology companies are far more vulnerable than the “boring, old-fashioned” industries, because what people expect technology to be, and what they expect it to do, moves on so quickly.  They look at the chaotic-seeming lives of young people, and see people without a sense of place, rootless people trying to grow into something enduring and eternal. And they know that’s not possible.

.But casual racism and “little England” mentality! – I’ve found that to be the case in urban areas far more than rural, to be fair.  Because, in rural areas, people from the next village are considered “strange”, someone with a different ethnicity really isn’t that shocking, in the grand scheme of things.

The issue isn’t “OMG, rural areas!” it’s the fact that the intelligent, fashionably socially aware individuals will run, headlong, from rural areas as soon as they can, arriving, breathless, in the city, falling (whether they can genuinely afford it or not) into its whirlpool of activity – ensuring that, yes, on the whole, the people left in the villages are those who are considered a bit “old fashioned” and “not quite nice.”  But, when you step back and watch, you see that a lot of the “compassion and concern” in city circles is only on the surface – it’s a tiny ripple in  an ocean of thoughtlessness, rudeness, and self-obsession: things which have no place in rural areas.

People in villages are often considered “rude”simply because they’re used to not wasting words – to city dwellers, words are tossed around like confetti at a wedding, usually to cover a lack of action. Discuss “issues” to death, and you won’t actually have to get off your backside and do anything about them – because you’re aware! You’re talking about these things! You’re having the conversations! Meanwhile, the villagers you mock and disdain are quietly, and without show, getting on and addressing the problems they see, and can do something about.  They don’t set up soup kitchens and run crowdfunding campaigns – they take vegetables from their garden to the house of the family they know are struggling. They don’t set up MeetUps for unemployed Millennials (or any other age group) – if they hear of a job going, they tell the people they know who’re unemployed. If they know a person well, they’ll “put a word in.”  They don’t feel the need to constantly host events – they chat to you when they see you in the pub.

No, people in rural areas don’t like people who seem superior, who “put on airs”, and who act like they know everything – rural villages have a genetic memory that goes back centuries, because, historically, they’ve always been very settled populations.  They’ve seen all the fads come and go, seen all the fine speakers come undone. They’ve seen the eternal return of the same, the coming round, in a cycle, of the old ways.

In focusing on “how to make cities more accessible”, you miss the fact that not everyone wants to be in a city. If someone has mental health issues which mean they find crowds and noise stressful, why should they “have to” go to support services, events, and “social initiatives” in places that deplete them of energy?  Why should people have to travel over an hour, in many cases, to get to a place of employment?

The focus shouldn’t be on “making cities more accessible” – it should be on remembering that cities aren’t the only part of a country. It should be on addressing the historical shoddy treatment of rural dwellers as a somewhat stupid breed, more like cattle than human beings, that can just be ordered, en masse, to wherever the factories or offices or tech hubs are, because “it’s a better life for them than their poxy villages.”

In the 1700s,. this attitude,and forced migration from villages to industrial centres caused a mass episode of alcoholism – the “Gin Craze.”  What form will its impact take in modern times?

Lazy Self-Worth

Sometimes, I swear I’m only on LinkedIn (Ashley Ford-McAllister, picture shows me in a red waistcoat at my wedding, if you’re interested) to find things to be annoyed about.

Other times, I treat it as the balance to Facebook (you can follow Negative Is Also A Charge over there, too.)

I’ve somehow ended up following mostly left-wing folk on FB, and mostly right-wing on LI – maybe it’s just the nature of the kind of people who are drawn to each site.

My problem is…I’m a social capitalist. Capitalism works, it allows a society to make a profit, which allows that society to invest in its people and its infrastructure…but it needs to be tempered with a non-judgmental concern for all others, which can only arise from a stable, secure, sustainable sense of self-worth.

I have worked in school holidays, during college, and as much of the time as I was able to find someone to employ me once I left formal education. I have walked dogs (and picked up their crap) for £5 an hour when there was nothing else. I’ve set up, run, and lost a business, and I’ve started again. I’ve offered free advice to others, in the hope that they’ll engage me for pay in the future – and seen my ideas allow them to take off, while they don’t even mention me in dispatches.  I’ve been homeless and destitute, too, and considered both sex work and suicide. (As a not-particularly attractive Asexual male, the sex work considerations never really got out of the starting blocks.)

I see so many people, working their arses off, living lives of quiet desperation – and then getting accused of being “lazy” and “entitled” by people whose self-worth depends utterly on others being “lesser” – and the world knowing those people are “lesser” by the very visible marker of their being paid less.

If a burger flipper is getting $15 an hour, then the office manager DESERVES at least $30 an hour…if the office manager is getting $30 an hour, the CEO DESERVES at least $90 an hour…if the CEO is getting $90 an hour, the surgeon who saved another CEO’s life following a heart attack DESERVES at least $200…. And, meanwhile, the burger flipper is “lazy” because “they could have chosen to work harder at school, and get a better job.”

I left school with high grades across the board. I took A-Levels,and only didn’t go to University because mental health issues got in the way. My A-Levels were all at strong grades, too.  I have vocational qualifications which I passed with merit or distinction. I did work hard – and, in everyone’s eyes, including my own, sometimes, I’m still “worthless.”

I remember one job, in corporate insolvency – my salary worked out to £7.20 an hour. Clients were billed £25 an hour for my time. Which is it that I’m worth? £7..20 an hour, or £25 an hour?

This – spiraling wage costs because people can’t get a grip and develop a genuine sense of self-worth, and instead take the “lazy self-worth” option of going “but I earn more money than those people, so I’m a better person than them” – is going to be the spark that sets the next recession off.  Businesses can’t afford to keep placating your insecurities with more and more money – because they’ll have to put up their prices, not to cover a “living wage” that doesn’t really allow you to live in most capitalist economies, but to cover the “But if they’re getting X, I  deserve Y, because my job is more valuable than theirs!” shrieks and demands. Once they’ve put up prices, fewer people will be able to buy their products – but they’re still having to placate their workforce’s insecurities, still having to buy people the sense of self-worth they were too lazy to develop for themselves.

Where does my self-worth come from? It comes from knowing that, even if they won’t pay for it, people want my advice. It comes from knowing – as I proved within 15mins of waking up, at 7.15am this morning – that I can turn around a solid 500 word piece in half an hour (I’d been away without internet for the past couple of days, during which time I’d had an email asking me to submit for a vacancy screening that was taking place TODAY). I may well never get paid for that, either. It comes from knowing that I can survive with literally nothing, because I’ve done so before.

It doesn’t come – doesn’t need to come – from the pathetic merry-go-round of being paid more than someone else.

And that corporate insolvency job I mentioned? I’d say my work was worth about £10 an hour – a little more than I was being paid, especially since I was the only person in that office happy to do “forensic accounting”, and the most capable at it – but not as much as the clients were being billed.

Negative Is Also A Charge

Ever wondered why batteries have both positive and negative (+/-) polarity? It’s because negative is also a charge – it has a purpose, a use, and a function, even if we don’t fully understand why.

Negative emotions have, for a long time, been the victim of an intensive, and, to date, very successful, smear campaign – positive thinking has been the darling of just about every camp; if you’re a positive person, you’ll have success, wealth, friendship, happiness, health – positivity cures cancer, brings dream jobs, draws lovers and friends – any minute now, I’m sure, we’ll hear that utilities providers and retailers are accepting positivity as a valid form of payment.

Positive emotions don’t have miraculous powers.  Negative ones just might.

We don’t get better because we “believe” we will – we get better because we pay attention to the things that are wrong, to the behaviours we indulge in that harm us. Negativity can, quite literally, be a lifesaver.

When we notice physical pain, we don’t gloss over it, we don’t deny it, we don’t say that “it’s here for a lesson, something good will come from it” – we stop whatever we were doing when the pain hit, if we were not engaged in any unusual activity, we review our diet, our resting patterns, our exercise regime – we look for things that could be dis-easing us. And, usually, we find them, or, if we do not, we go to a medical professional whom, we hope, can tell us what is wrong.

They can tell us what is wrong. They are negative – “wrong” is a negation. It speaks of absence. And, once we know what is absent, we know what ails us – and how to become well.

But we need to know of the absence – the negation – first.