Thursday, June 9, 2016

On keeping up with the Joneses (1958)

From the April 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

  "Dr. Wintle, Medical Officer of Health for South Oxfordshire, offers advice in hit annual report on how to avoid coronary thrombosis. ‘Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses,’ he says.
   "The doctor gives bad advice.
   "It is competition which provides life, with the most health-giving dement of all—zest Britain would indeed be in a sad state to-day if her captains of industry, her scientists and inventors, had never had the urge to get ahead of the Joneses.
   "Besides, there are far greater dangers to human happiness than those which come from coronary thrombosis.
   "Worrying about an illness which may never happen is one of them.
   "Becoming a vegetable is another."
The above is taken from the Editorial Column, Sunday Express (29/12/57).

The writer does not feel qualified to comment on the merits or demerits of the doctor’s medical opinions. It would appear, however, the Sunday Express is of the opinion a desire to get ahead of the Joneses is the driving force of scientists and inventors. Yet if we read the lives of many famous scientists and inventors, we find many of them spent their lives pursuing their aims regardless of reward. A British inventor died in poverty; yet he revolutionised the cotton industry by his invention of the spinning jenny. For though a great inventor he was no business man and was in fact swindled out of the patent rights of his invention. No desire to outdo the “Joneses” here. If we turn to France we find an even better example of devotion to science for its own sake without thought of gain; Pierre and Marie Curie discoverers of radium, steadfastly refused to make money out of their discovery. To use the words of Marie Curie in a conversation with her husband Pierre: “If our discovery has a commercial future, that is, an accident by which we must not profit. And radium is going to be of use in treating disease. It seems to me impossible to take advantage of that” So much then for the comments of the Sunday Express on the driving force, with its avowed belief in the health-giving qualities of competition. There is, however, nothing healthy about present-day competition, since it breeds resentment, jealousy and frustration.

It brings out all the worst in man. Co-operation on the other hand fosters goodwill and friendship.

The Sunday Express, just like the Dally Worker, is most concerned that people should not give up the ghost, but go on striving for success within the framework of capitalism.

The Daily Worker encourages workers in Britain but not in Russia, of course, to strike for more pay, but they never mention the abolition of the wages system, while the Sunday Express talks about a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage (whatever that is supposed to mean). As for “becoming vegetables” -the writer is of the opinion the workers are behaving like cabbages in allowing the capitalist system to continue a day longer.

Instead, they should behave like mature adults organising to introduce a Socialist society, where all inventions will be used for the good of all mankind, and where the necessity for “getting ahead of the Joneses,” imagined or otherwise, will have taken its place in the limbo of capitalist society along with "healthy competition” and all the rest, including the Sunday Express, Daily Express, Daily Worker, Tribune, and all the other "tripe."
Phil Mellor

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