Monday, 4 July 2011

Do You Ever Feel That the World is an Alien Place?

I mean, do you ever feel like the values it operates by, the rules it sets up, are so strange that they must have been thought up by aliens? Government regulations, for instance, that would do credit to Darth Vader. (“You Will Obey…”) Political policies towards other countries that resemble something the Daleks might have created. (“Exterminate – exterminate – exterminate…”) ‘Government-speak’ that serves to mute and dull people’s perceptions of what’s really going on. ‘Collateral damage’, for dead civilians. ‘Budget adjustments’, for slashing the incomes of the most vulnerable and poor. “Putting people in work” programs, that do nothing of the kind, but make a government look good. Refusal to join international efforts to improve the environment, because “it costs too much”. And more, and more.

And all of it lacking any kind of compassion, perception of others’ viewpoints, serious thought about the future consequences, or even simple common sense. It’s all about presenting an image, impressing others, fooling others, getting votes, staying in power, protecting your market share or your profit line, pleasing shareholders or the board or your boss or the voters or the public in general. Pleasing, placating, ‘massaging’ perceptions, thinking of short term profits often at the expense of more worthy long term goals - it’s all crazy, to the eyes of this aspie.

The last time I remember feeling this really strongly was a couple of years ago, when I applied to Work and Income (aka Social Welfare) for assistance to resume my long-neglected degree. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but in New Zealand, we have a training allowance that some beneficiaries can get to cover study costs. Most of my tertiary education has been done with the help of this allowance, including all of the papers for that unfinished degree. Well, it looks like it will stay unfinished, short of a miracle or a Lotto win, because, I was informed, the Powers That Be in their dubious wisdom have decided that this allowance can now only be used to do short-term, vocationally orientated courses up to what in NZ is known as ‘Level Three’ qualifications. This effectively cuts out all university papers, as they are Level Four or above.

Well, I didn’t have to think about it too long, before I realized that it meant people could only be trained for low-level, low-paid jobs. When I said as much to the Work and Income person, she admitted that, but said that the policy now was to get people off benefits and into any job, no matter what it was or how well it was paid. (She didn’t say that she agreed with it, mind, and I got the impression that secretly she might not have, though she did say that it was because people in the past had “spent years doing qualifications”. I thought well yeah, duh, you tend to if you’re doing a degree…)

By the time I got back to the car, I was nearly in tears. Being refused what I’d been expecting was bad enough, but I was also reeling from the sheer stupidity of the grounds for it. It didn’t take much thought to realise that those low-level, low-paid jobs The Powers That Be are so keen for us beneficiaries to do, are, firstly, the kind of jobs that are often short-term in nature, either because they’re the first to be cut in hard times, or because people leave out of frustration, boredom, childcare problems, lack of a decent wage or opportunities for further training or promotion, or because the stresses of the job have made them ill. Thus, people will tend to cycle in and then out of these jobs, and back onto a benefit. Whereas if someone can be helped to get higher qualifications, then they can get into better jobs and professions - ones that see them lifted out of the poverty cycle, and hugely less likely to end up back in that W & I office. So for lack of a longer term viewpoint, people are pretty much doomed to stay poor, and probably soon back on the Government’s books. Great thinking, Powers That Be.

And secondly, these jobs are actually getting fewer and fewer – the unskilled/semi-skilled/low wage labour market has been shrinking for decades, in the Western world at least, due to mechanisation, computerisation, and other social and economic forces. In other words, the jobs just aren’t there, and are getting even less there with each decade. The demand for more qualified workers, however, is growing. And those jobs and professions are far more secure and better paid, with good opportunities for further advancement and training. So why aren’t they trying to get as many welfare beneficiaries as possible qualified for these jobs?

Well the answer to that didn’t take much thinking either – because we currently have a right-wing government (although left-wing ones haven’t done that much better in recent decades), who wants to please their voters by being seen to ‘get tough’ on those dreadful ‘bludgers on the taxpayer’. (There have been further changes in government policies since that have confirmed this.) So, in order to please their right-wing, ‘beneficiary–bashing’ voters, they ensure the poor will stay poor, there will continue to be a shortage of skilled and well-qualified workers in New Zealand, and our economy will continue to suffer as a result. Great stuff, eh.

This is just one example of what I mean by ‘short-term’ thinking, crazy, expedient decisions that have long term effects. I sat in my car, biting back tears and rage, with a sick, swirling confusion in my heart. It was then I first consciously thought – what kind of alien world do I live in, that such decisions as these are seen as ‘good’ ones? How do people justify such stupidity, even to themselves? I even briefly wondered if I wanted to stay in such a world. I could give you lots of further examples, but anyone who looks around with a clear eye, will see plenty for themselves. Certainly I see plenty, just about every day, and being a bit of a ‘history buff’, I read about even more in the past. No wonder we aspies feel like we come from another planet, when such values as these rule on this one. Yes, I know there are some good people and organisations out there, who are trying to counter-act all this crap, who do care about the poor and the vulnerable, look to the future, etc etc. But it often seems to me that they are fighting a losing battle.

So do you ever feel that this world is an alien place?

(Oh, and in case some are thinking well there’s the Government student loan scheme, even if I qualified for it – and I doubt I do – it would be foolish in the extreme at my age and level of physical health, to take on a huge debt. If I was 20 or 30 years younger, perhaps; though it must asked, what long-term hardship is it going to cause those beneficiaries who do get those loans, and then have to try to pay them back as well as support kids and/or cope with a disability, and who have started studying later in life than most students anyway? Seems to me they’re behind the eight-ball before they even begin. And I’m not even going to get into the craziness of having a loan scheme in the first place, rather than simply making tertiary education free or near-free, like it used to be.)

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