What makes Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ so powerful is where the plot impacts on life. Most films and documentaries take for granted certain elements of life, like eating and shelter. Such things are assumed, a meal – at ‘home’, in a cafe or restaurant, and access to a home, cafe or restaurant which means having the wherewithal to afford and be in those places. These are assumed cultural and societal rights or norms which the ‘plot’ does not need to establish, they are taken for granted.
‘I’ Daniel Blake’ blows that right open (as much as I have as yet seen), these foundational norms can no longer be assumed. They are stripped bare, revealed as fragile and vulnerable.
The means, the wherewithal, is no longer anything that can be taken for granted, the door to that security is slammed in our faces by a DWP ‘Decision Maker’, an ‘other’, and that is terrifying, stupefying, an assault on our lives.
That loss of power over our basic securities has been weaponised against us and we get no say in the matter.
Money is the token of access, our ticket to belonging, our legitimacy, without which the door to life closes and we realise that we have been excluded. There is no handle on our side. The government, the DWP, the Decision Maker, have rendered us persona non grata, a non-person, leaving us staring into the void.
Homeless people gravitate to human habitation where all the social structure exists for modern life and scrabble for scraps from society’s table, but the right of access has been removed. We become unwelcome strangers, unwanted, shamed and humiliated. We may even be fined and criminalised for being there, the exclusion is complete. No money, no membership, no entry.
Exclusion means even scratching through litter bins is shunned, it is a misuse use of society’s system of waste and rubbish facilities, looking for a morsel in the waste of others. It may have been a burger 10 minutes ago, but once discarded it is no longer food, it’s rubbish, and picking it up and eating it is offensive, disgusting and embarrassing to those who ‘belong’. It is not because people are reminded of the fragility of life, it is that they are offended and ‘turn their noses up’ to such aberrant, distasteful, behaviour.
The ‘fragile life’ idea has a romantic appeal which is not borne out in practice, the notion of ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ is clear to some but not most people. But it is not the grace of god which arbitrarily imposes, condones and supports social exclusion, endorsing the righteous, it is a structural exclusion, the will of ‘man’.
Were it the grace of god then activism would be unnecessary, it would be merely precarious divine fate over which we have no control. And who are we to presume otherwise? Under such grace, poverty is fine, homelessness is fine, starvation of children is fine, every social injustice is divine in origin. It isn’t.
If I plead with god for the poor and do no more, then I am essentially giving in to futility, sacrificing my innate power to act to divine caprice. It’s entirely self defeating because I am self evidently equipped to act. I might just as well ask god to look after and brush my teeth for me when I am fully equipped to do it myself.
I may be less clear about what I can do about social injustice, what effective steps I can take, but it behoves me to grapple with the complexities of life, inequality, social justice, social exclusion, not abdicate my will and abilities and choice to an ‘other’.
Rising injustice has seen a rise in the use of the term ‘Karma’. This is a lot more than merely actions having consequences, which is self evidently true. This use of Karma assumes some kind of universal power of justice beyond our control. It’s god thinking in disguise without the religious overtones. But it is essentially disempowering because it is an excuse to do nothing, because something else will sort it out. It is fateful thinking which in human terms is not helpful in the slightest other than in the comfort it gives in invoking it. It’s essentially a cop out at a time of obscene human made attacks on social justice. The war on the poor is flourishing and karmic reprisals (or even just some kind of balance of power) are conspicuous by their absence.
In fact what we are experiencing is the unaccountable power of the few over the many, holding the poor to account by robbing them blind as wealth inequality is driven through the roof. And it’s brutal. As Ken Loach said, “The present system is one of conscious cruelty. It bears down on those least able to bear it. The bureaucratic inefficiency is vindictive and hunger is being used as a weapon. People are being forced to look for work that doesn’t exist.” More than that, people are being knowingly deprived of the means of survival and, as current head of the DWP, Damian Green, said, “We are building on the record of Iain Duncan Smith, who over six years poured his heart into welfare reform – as did his successor Stephen Crabb… We should be proud of that record.”
The man is a bloody monster! Proud of causing children to starve? Proud of depriving disabled people of the means to even walk let alone live an independent life? Proud of stealing the means of survival from people as a punishment. Proud of the return of Victorian poverty related diseases and others, malnutrition, gout, rickets, tuberculosis, scurvy, mumps, scarlet fever, cholera, diphtheria and typhoid? Proud of tens of thousands of deaths? Proud of the millions of emergency food parcels handed out by an ever increasing number of food banks. Perhaps we should be campaigning for the return of public floggings.
The proud record of Tory brutality since 2010 is an outrage and yet I am utterly convinced of Green’s sincerity as far as this is concerned. He is an abject failure as a human being and certainly unfit to hold office, yet in July this year the Tories had a 16 point lead over Labour. How is this possible or even credible?
The elevation of Donald Trump to president has revived the old ‘dumb Americans’ trope, I’ll just hold their beer as they laugh and point. If life was a car, millions of people in the UK, it seems, are asleep at the wheel because we’ve already driven off the cliff. Of course the Tories will fall eventually, but how many more lives will be ruined and snuffed out before they do?
To every single person speaking out and acting for change in whatever way time and ability allows, my utmost thanks, we are the light in the wilderness, no matter what they do and no matter what they throw at us. The Tories and all neoliberal right wing leaning people and apologists are a terminal wrong and a stain on the world.
Find whatever peace and souls ease that you can to give you strength to carry on fighting. You are not alone even though isolation and division are things that the Tories work hard to force upon us. Life is not a competition, yet cooperation, care and support are now revolutionary acts in Tory Britain.
KOG 10 November 2016