What is the Real World?
I ponder this question in the context of that increasingly popular put-down, “You should spend some time in the real world, mate.”
It is the argumental resort of people who resent, justifiably or otherwise, that they are getting the rough end of the stick in life at the expense of those who actually deserve it. You hear the phrase quite often these days. Politicians, judges and public administrators are among the most popular, that is unpopular, recipients.
So where or what is this real world?
I certainly don’t live in it. I can say that with confidence because most of what I read about in the newspapers every morning, or watch on television news in the evenings, bears not the remotest resemblance to the life that I lead. I’m not starving. Far from it, I’m overfed, with a figure to prove it. I have enough money in the bank on which to live out my days. I can read and write to an acceptable standard, and enjoy the benefits of that privilege. I live in a lovely, antique-filled home with a large verdant garden. I am retired now, but in all my working years I never found myself unable to earn a decent living. I was never involved in a war (other than being born in the middle of a very big one).
This is the world in which that most of us in Britain, admittedly in varying degrees, have the good fortune to exist. Outraged readers are we, of the Daily Mail, if we’re on the political right, and the Guardian, if we lean to the left. We are outraged because we are fearful of the danger to our society from people who live in far different worlds that we neither understand, nor care to.
Some of these other worlds are all around us in these islands, many more abroad in countries that we would have trouble locating on at atlas. Close to home, they are represented by the grungy areas of the cities and large towns – our cities and towns – where, in August, rioters killed, looted and burned, reminding us that we were no longer safe. Places where education stops, if it ever started, after primary school. Places where, apparently, drug peddlers and feral knife-wielding gangs roam the streets without respect for life or fear of retribution.
We call these places, if they are in Britain, blighted neighbourhoods, though we haven’t quite figured out exactly who, or what, was responsible for the blighting. We end up blaming the blighted.
Elsewhere on the planet, deprived people can be comfortably dismissed as the unfortunate, and inevitable, victims of a terrible climate, or of corrupt or tyrannical governments of the kind our own leaders usually choose to ignore but occasionally decide to overthrow by force of arms.
What we find most unnerving is that our comfortable middle-class world, an oasis of affluence in a vast desert of deprivation, seems under growing threat from such places. The politicians don’t have any answers any more than we do, and even if we think we have the answers, the politicians are not listening.
So instead we become angry, as angry as the mobs that roamed our streets in August.
It’s time for a re-think.