I want to talk about Formula One, disability, older people and social care today. Not a common coupling or choice of subject, but one that I think is way overdue consideration and offers us a lot of insights about our age and its values. Perhaps rather too many insights in some senses.
So first I must declare an interest. I cannot stand Formula One. I think it brings boredom to new levels. It should only be a global sport insofar as it is recognized as being able to bore world class. What it actually and too frequently is, is a procession of weird vehicles that bear no relation to anything else going round on four wheels, over large barren bits of perfectly surfaced blacktop, till the required number of ‘laps’ has been completed. It is also mind numbingly futile because you know that who wins is almost entirely a matter of which massive multi-national motor company at the moment happens to have developed the ‘best’ technology. Also it works according to ever changing rules in regard to engine size and other technicalities which again bear no relation to individual human ability etc.
I have to admit to another interest here. I love motorcycles, particularly older motorcycles. But when I watch motorcycle racing what I see are people rather than machines, doing the most amazing things, often truly dangerous things (if that is what you are after, which I am not) where the individual’s skill does still take precedence and where in all kinds of senses fans and racers are still a lot closer to each other.
But my point is this. Disability, older age and social care are all treated politically as though they are the lowest of priorities; the lowest of the low. They are presented as wealth consuming. Too often the people associated with them we know are offered as if they were dependent, inadequate and a drain on the rest of us. Thus the desperate desire to cut welfare benefits and social care spending. Formula One on the other hand is celebrated as if at the cutting edge; breaking new boundaries of technology; a real wealth creator on a global scale. Certainly it is something which seems to command the interest of men all over the world and have close associations one can only imagine with prevailing ideas of masculinity and machismo.
It also commands the interests of some of the biggest free market players, the massive oil companies; tobacco companies – still – and of course, financial institutions. And it is here we can begin to discern some truths about it. It is linked with those global free market interests most closely associated with some of the biggest problems and costs the world faces; environmental, social and political. Watching formula one is now largely a matter of watching a TV screen constantly covered at least 50 per cent with advertising – and that is ignoring the adverts all over the cars and the drivers’ helmets – all you mostly see of these generally rather boring figures.
And as for technological advancement. The future of cars lies in electricity – as far as there has to be a mass future for cars at all, which probably sadly there will be. And what does Formula One offer here? Not a lot, nor indeed in many other technological areas given that it has gone off in such an abstruse direction to drive these strange machines round pointless corners, chicanes and straights. Each team though, each car and driver has its own group of amazingly skilled engineers and others. This really is where no expense is spared and this ‘sport’ is associated with billions of money globally.
Meanwhile social care, disability and older people – that is to say the domain of many, many millions, is starved of resources, treated like a dustbin of human activity and endlessly marginalized and stigmatized. The expertise of the workers isn’t even recognized, let along rewarded. Well into the twenty first century many people still inappropriately in institutions, still die of bed sores (which we know only too well how to avoid and contain) because of the inadequacy of their support. Many more are restricted to their homes unnecessarily by their impairments. Many more face negative stigma and stereotyping which overshadows their lives and their families.
And how does Formula One by contrast really generate wealth? Of course it doesn’t. The interests associated with it are undermining the wealth of the planet and its sustainability. Every race we watch must create the equivalent of the pollution of billions of the plastic carrier bags we have been told not to use and to pay for instead.
Mindsets have got to change. Formula One is not an island – it is a demonstration project of the destructive effects of unrestricted ‘petrolism’ and the free market and the globalized big business associated with it. And disability, older age and social care should instead stop being talked down, us alienated from them and instead given the value that all of us have a right to expect of our lives and selves. That should be the mark of an advanced twenty first century not figures like Jeremy Clarkson, Chris Evans and other sad, date expired petrol heads.