A packed hall of 105 people listened to a fascinating talk entitled "Affluenza - Did Thatcherism Drive Us Bonkers?" on March 19th by Oliver James, the psychologist and author. He examined the theory that people in general are much wealthier than 50 years ago, but the pressures to "keep up with the Joneses" has led to record levels of stress in the UK
- the highest in western Europe.
A new emphasis on materialism, he said, had begun in the 1950s and was well established in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher came to power. But Oliver claimed that her brand of economics and attitude to wealth creation had intensified the concept of "Affluenza" - where people suffer mental illness through the drive to have more possessions.
Oliver was equally critical of the record of New Labour over the past 13 years which, he said, had failed to the alter this attitude and forge a more cohesive and caring country, as an antidote to selfish acquisition.
Those countries, such as the United States and Australia, which had adopted a similar emphasis on "wanting" a new item in naked consumersim (like the latest mobile phone. plasma TV or a new car) as opposed to "needing" one have also experienced similar health issues, he claimed.
He pointed out that many European countries have far lower levels of stress-induced illness and was particularly impressed with the better work-life balance in Denmark, where there is also a greater focus on the care of children and the elderly.
Property prices, he said, are now so high (stemming from the Thatcherite model) that women here must go out to work in order to pay the mortgage or rent, with more of the relatively poor being paid to look after other people's children. At a tangent, he felt that, in the main, the main achievement of feminism had been for women to copy the nastier habits of men, rather than extolling the many positive and laudable female characteristics.
The Q&A session was one of the most robust of our fifteen talks so far and many powerful points were made. Some suggested that the French, for instance, were no more happy than people in the UK, with a prevailing self-interest and industrial unrest. One retired audience member, living there full-time, said he found the common refrain was that France could have done "with a Churchill or Thatcher" to get the country into shape.
Total proceeds from the evening were £707, including a share of the
£178 worth of Oliver's books, which were sold, including Britain On The Couch and Affliuenza. This now gives a total raised of £8,309 to help upgrade the village hall.
What could be a more stimulating way of spending an evening than sitting in a charming village hall, listening to a speaker of the calibre of Oliver James expound his theories on mental illness? His ideas resonated deeply and the free food was delicious, too! - Fiona Bacon, Oxford
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