A civilised society takes care of citizens
The difference between decency and indecency is luck. In a decent society, you don’t have to be lucky. In an indecent one, luck is all you’ve got.
One way of seeing the Irish story of the last five years is through the prism of luck. Or rather Irish stories, for there are two starkly different narratives. One is the tale of those who pushed their luck, the reckless high-rollers at the roulette tables of casino capitalism.
They won and won and won – until they lost. It was every gambler’s familiar story. Except that, just as they were slinking away from the casino with sore heads and empty pockets, the management came running after them to say that, after all, it was only a game and they could have all their money back. In fact, for them, the rules of luck had been cancelled – there was no longer such a thing as bad fortune. No bondholder would be left behind.
But there’s another story about luck and it’s the story of civilisation. Civilisation is, at heart, an attitude to luck. For most of human history, the dominant attitude was that all luck is tough luck. If you’re unlucky to be born dirt poor, or female or disabled; if you get sick or your house burns down or the floods wash away your crops – that’s tough. It’s God’s will, perhaps even God’s punishment for some unworthiness on your part. All you can do is endure the suffering and hope for better luck in the next life.
Civilisation is a gradual process of refusing to accept the results of the lotteries of birth or health or chance. It replaces luck with morality. Why, it asks, should the accident of birth entitle one child to a golden future and another to nothing at all? Why should we be mere prisoners of biology so that bad health or bodily or mental ailments condemn people to poverty and misery?
At the heart of a civilised society is the idea that bad luck needs a good state – one whose policies and institutions do everything possible to ensure that the cost of bad luck is reduced. This idea is now under attack as never before in the history of the State.
The cut in the respite grant for carers is uncivilised in exactly this sense. It’s about leaving people with the consequences of sheer bloody misfortune. If you have the bad luck to have a child with autism or a parent with dementia, it’s no longer the will of God. But it is the will of an even more implacable set of deities: the markets, the troika, the crisis.