Sunday, 27 May 2012

Wales of the 21st century

If we can think of a country of a society as being analogous to a human being, then is it possible to make comparisons between the recovery of a person and the recovery of a nation? The individual who has stopped drinking or taking drugs or engaging in other harmful behaviours often experiences a rebirth, a renaissance, in fact in most instances this rebirth is the strongest chance of a lasting recovery. They must learn, or re-learn authentic and open ways of articulating themselves, a language of recovery that makes them independent, not co dependent. In much the same way, Wales has begun the long process of the reclamation of her identity, and the Renaissance of the Welsh language is gradually becoming her people's way of articulating themselves and their world. Language itself is our most important means of making sense of experience, and Wales quite literally, must find her own way of speaking and feeling in Welsh and also in English, for her society to be at ease with itself. The fact that she is not at ease, not in a state of acceptance, or of harmony, can be seen in every large town and small village, not just in Cardiff, on Saturday night, but also increasingly, all week round. Addiction, once confined to the living room or bedroom, behind the lace curtains, is now spilling on to our streets, the old Wales of community, chapel, proud and not a little puritanical, has been swept away, helped in no small part by alcohol, the drunken displays of violence and illness we see (and, amazingly, featured in the Wall Street Journal in 2010) have made cities like Cardiff renown for this appalling social problem. The curious irony here, and it is one that is once again linked to language and our inability to properly articulate what we mean, is that in the same breath as referring to public alcoholic drinking as a social problem, politicians and commentators to a man put the problem down to individual weakness. The idea that social problems might have social causes, and that they might be the result of anything more than a lack of moral fibre or self restraint on the part of the drinker raises questions that are too incendiary, too deadly for our modern political and cultural discourse to deal with. Questions of exclusion, alienation, boredom, hopelessness, meaninglessness, let alone poverty, fairness or consumerism or egotism are conveniently ignored by mainstream discourse, which is why Wales urgently needs a new language of recovery, a people's language if you will, one that speaks in a multiplicity of tongues but that holds honesty to be its constant. If our society can be thought of as a people making machine, crafting all types of individual consciousnesses, based on whatever settings are programmed in, we must direct our words, and thoughts to ask simply how we have programmed it to produce so many alcoholics, addicts and people who feel addictive substances or behaviours can do for them what they cannot do for themselves. If we are courageous in addressing this question in Welsh, English, Polish and Urdu, in every language where addiction cuts a bloody swathe through communities, then the Wales of the 21st Century will be able to clearly articulate itself as distinct from the rest of the UK, and will be able to show the way to the rest of the peoples of these islands, tormented, as so many of them are, by addiction and fear.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A spiritual dilemma?

Today I was asked my opinion on charities partnering with the alcohol industry, whether through sponsorships, partnerships or accepting funding. Here’s my reply: “It's the Lottery dilemma magnified. Can't using drinks industry money be justified, however, as a means to an end? I think we should take the money from the government and the drinks industry if it helps people recover. We wish to continue and develop our relationship with the drinks industry and the government in promoting responsible drinking. However, there are people in our communities, like those with a nut allergy, who cannot take alcohol in any form. We should welcome what support we can get from whatever source in dealing with this chronic condition and offering first class, on-going support and after-care. However, our goal is to be properly funded. And it goes without saying that we should always operate within the law. What would the Master have done? From my knowledge of Him, he'd have put saving lives as a priority and broken the "rules". He’s my role-model.”