Who We Are
The Pathways group was set up in April 2007, and to a broad degree its development has mirrored the fortunes of the capitalist economy since then. That is to say, there was an early period of boom, when around two dozen people were enrolled in the group and funds were available for multiple activities carried out with the assistance of a full complement of NHS facilitators, which was followed by a period of contraction. Gordon Brown, it will be recalled, assured us that under his economic stewardship the “boom and bust” of the capitalist business cycle had been abolished (whether he was demonstrating his mendacity or merely his stupidity in so doing, I leave it to the reader to decide). As yet, our group is far from being as “bust” as a UK brought low by the criminal greed of finance capitalists. The group has had to transfer its base from the Bennett Centre, a mental health facility destroyed by austerity cuts, to Stoke-on-Trent’s central library in Hanley, and has been deprived of its facilitators and whittled down to a core membership, but that core remains a strong one.
The content of this site may sometimes give the impression that we are a fiercely radical left-wing groupuscule. This is due to the fact that much of it has been written by the present author, Mark Conlon. For me, issues of mental ill health cannot be disentangled from their social and political context, least of all when the context is one of deeply entrenched and ever-widening class division. Those who doubt this are advised to consult the convincing data on the varying prevalence of mental illness presented in Richard Wilkinson’s and Kate Pickett’s 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. If on occasion I seem to be handing down Marxian judgements on behalf of the group as a whole, for that I apologize to my fellow participants.
Other members of the Pathways group, even if they would not necessarily endorse Marxist orthodoxies, are nonetheless progressive in their outlook. Phil Leese would certainly classify himself as a leftist, and has been known to invoke Proudhon’s slogan of “Property is theft!” when expressing his distaste for home ownership; his passion, however, is for music, particularly that of Bob Dylan (prior to joining our group, he was a professional musician). David Sweetsur might be described as a left-liberal, though followers of his excellent blog will have noted a radicalization brought about by his revulsion at the naked class warfare waged by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which came to power in 2010. Sean, I hope he won’t mind me saying, is a rather wonderful throwback to hippy “peace and love” days; he regards 1969, the year of his birth, as the finest of the twentieth century. Dominic Orosun deplores the premiership of Margaret Thatcher for its devastation of the economic landscape of Stoke-in-Trent in the 1980s, but his great enthusiasm is for photography, of which he is a talented practitioner. Our physicist Steve, as befits the cautious rationalism of a scientist, is measured in his political pronouncements; his catholic reading encompasses Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud and Noam Chomsky. A new recruit, Frank, possesses the patience to have made it all the way through Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, but tells us he remained entirely unpersuaded by the jeremiads in that absurd tome against Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell and other eminences of the left. For insights into Sara Cooper and Dave Williams, see the entries, respectively, for 18 December 2011 and 9 June 2012 in the main body of this blog.
It has been a privilege to know the members of the Pathways group over the last six years. Now that they are no longer alive, I think especially of Matt Aitken and the humblingly courageous Cath Barker, but everyone, whatever the length of their participation, has played a valuable part. Our stimulating weekly meetings have verified for me the truth of Antonio Gramsci’s conviction that, contra the reactionary claims of the likes of Paul Johnson, all men and women are intellectuals, even when they live in a culture that confines that appellation to an elite which it attempts to suborn to its own ideological ends. They have also confirmed that decency, honesty and kindness are overwhelmingly concentrated at the bottom rather than the top of British society, and that serious mental illness, so often stigmatized and demonized by that society, need prove no bar to the flourishing of those admirable traits. I thank them all for their friendliness and generosity. The late philosopher G.A. Cohen spoke of what he called the “obstetric” motif in Karl Marx’s theory of history, the idea that societies harbour within them the embryo of a better social order that can be brought to fruition through the labour (the protraction of which is determined largely by the obduracy of its opponents) of revolution. At the risk of sounding slightly puritanical and priggish, errors I would never wish to impute to my tolerant and broad-minded comrades, perhaps it is groups like ours – antihierarchical, nonexploitative, and scorning as intolerable the tyranny of the cash nexus as societal bond – that are pregnant with the promise of a more egalitarian world.