Intimate Strangers – mutual support

By Ben;

Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society. I can’t help but think that was just for the rubes, because she was smart enough to know better. Who made her clothes? Who grew the food she ate to survive? Who did her hair and make-up? Who made the microphone she said that into, and who recorded it? Perhaps most importantly, why does what she say matter any more than what you or I say? All of those questions can only be answered if you admit that Thatcher was part of and dependent on a vast, intricate web of people far beyond her family and friends, even if she denied it. We are all in that web, we cannot live without it, and I believe, contrary to Thatcher, that we all have a responsibility towards it. Pretending it doesn’t exist is only a ruse that is employed to justify antisocial behavior on a grand scale.

We are surrounded by a sea of strangers, people we don’t know and never talk to. Since the seventies we have been taught that we shouldn’t care about them. I think you should, not only because they are human beings, but because we need strangers to survive. There are people we don’t know, who we will never see, that provide for our most basic needs. The shortages we are now experiencing are what happens when those people aren’t on the job. From this alone we can see that we have a vested interest in their well-being. Yes, the more these people are exploited the cheaper the products you buy, but now we are seeing what happens when the pay is no longer worth it.

Self interest aside, you have a connection to these people who keep you clothed and fed. These strangers are responsible for keeping you alive. We live in a world where, outside of our family and friends, the vast majority of our interactions are transactional. As a result, we tend to not think of someone if they are of no use to us. You go into a 7- Eleven to buy milk, the cashier rings you up, you leave, and then never think of the cashier again. You certainly don’t think of the farmworkers who milked the cows in the first place. You don’t have to. But these people we don’t think about supply our most basic needs. There is an unacknowledged intimacy between you and people whose names you will never know.

If the farmworker who produced your milk gets their door kicked down and is dragged off to some detention center to be deported, this intimacy should lead you to want to help. The same for the garment worker thrown in jail for union organizing, or the child mining rare earth minerals for your electronic toys. We are deeply connected to all of them, and that connection makes us responsible for each other. Logically and morally we have no choice.

I say logically, because society functions best when people have the ability to develop themselves. How much art, music, and science did we miss out on because people were denied a chance to learn or create, and instead were subjected to a life of drudgery and oppression? But it is much more fundamental than that. If you deport the guy who harvests your food, how do you expect to eat? If people don’t want to barely survive working a job that pays them dick, you stand to lose both luxuries and necessities. None of this works unless it works for everyone. It doesn’t, and things are falling apart because of it.

25 Oct, 2021


Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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