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Home News Paul T Horgan: Envy, socialism and camping stoves – a modern parable

Paul T Horgan: Envy, socialism and camping stoves – a modern parable

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Sixth-form summer camp was the graduation ritual for us in the early 1980s. We were plonked on a site on the South Dorset coast, no teachers, no supervision, left to our own devices. The school provided the food, tents, and utensils. All we had to take was sleeping bags and changes of clothing.

I decided to buy a small solid-fuel stove, aluminium pans and a kettle. I got them for less than the price of a new-release vinyl album. I have tried to reconstruct my thinking behind doing this, given that I had been told that cooking facilities were provided. I can only put it down to drawing conclusions based on seven years of education in a Dagenham comprehensive mainly during the Wilson/Callaghan years. At my suggestion, my tent-buddy also purchased one of these inexpensive stoves.

I was proved right about the catering. The ‘communal stove’ provided by the school was a single grimy, rusty gas ring. The large kettle, frying pan, and saucepan showed similar levels of dilapidation.

So camp had the regular morning ritual of me and my tent-buddy sitting apart from our fellow campers, tucking into bacon sarnies floating in melted butter, washed down with steaming mugs of sweet tea. It tasted fantastic in the cool morning air.

Everyone else had to wait their turn to use the shared single gas ring. Tea or bacon, not both.

While this was very convenient for my friend and myself, it was a social disaster. Perhaps the thinking behind the limited facilities was that it would create some form of bonding due to a shared predicament. I was somehow blamed for bypassing this. The resentment was palpable, sometimes open.

My fellow campers made me feel I had to make amends somehow. Compared with me, they were deprived, but their deprivation was not my fault or my responsibility. All I had done was to equip myself properly for a camping vacation. I felt as if I was being condemned by the other campers every morning for doing something right. I tried to make up by using my stove to heat their kettle, but mine was a small stove, and theirs was a giant kettle. It didn’t work well.

What had I done wrong? Objectively, nothing. I was not a drain on the shared resources. But a social barrier had been erected. How could I have improved matters? By destroying my cheap camping gear and mucking in with everyone else? That might have been acceptable, but irrational. The allure of bacon and tea cooked up rapidly after waking was more than the need to be socially acceptable in a group that had failed to prepare themselves properly for the great outdoors.

I don’t recall cooking food for other people on my facilities. But this might have been because the others did not want my ‘charity’, or because I felt that it was their open resentment over what was their own inadequacy that was forcing me to consider it. This was a social dilemma without a good resolution.

In the end, the other campers got their revenge. On the last morning they ganged up and let down our tent while we were sleeping inside. I was punished for my foresight. They believed they had done nothing wrong.



The camp seems to me now like a microcosm of modern socialism, or indeed classic socialism. There will always be some elements of the total community who use innovation to arrange their affairs to obtain greater advantage. This advantage might pass down the generations. Others see it as unfair that some people have better life experiences. Those who gain will be accused of social larceny, being blamed for others’ loss or deprivation. This is a false equation of outcomes. All some people have done is a larger-scale version of buying cheap cooking utensils after being clearly told they were going on a camping trip.

There is considerable pressure in this country against the better-off. They are blamed for all the ills of modern society, being accused of insufficiently redistributing their wealth to ‘the many’. This is despite ‘the few’ paying nearly a third of all income taxes. Socialists tell the Big Lie about the state ‘giving away’ tax cuts to the wealthy, which gains currency through repetition that is unchallenged by our supine broadcasters. Lowering the top rate of tax has brought in more revenue. Socialists refuse to debate this inconvenient truth.

Capitalist societies are complex in their structure and economic relationships. Socialism sets out to limit some relationships and to destroy others, while making the state sit at the centre of all interactions, backed by a monopoly on the legal use of violence. Interactions regress to barter as money loses its function. A parallel unregulated economy springs up. Violence increases. People have to commit economic crimes to subsist. Life expectancy plummets.

Envy is a base motive. In Labour it is party policy. A bogus link has been forged between affluence and a deprivation that is actually not as bad as depicted. People no longer die of want in this country. In fact they die of over-consumption or plain debility. Life expectancy is increasing. Migrants are willing to risk death to travel here illegally.

Under Labour, the state’s duty seems to be to punish wealth and confiscate it as a social panacea. The objective is ‘equality’, but it is not to lift people up. Instead it is to drag others down through a policy of plunder until the state runs out of someone else’s money.

If some people can’t have their own camping stoves, the reasoning seems to go, no one should. If they have, it’s okay to gang up and collapse their tent. It’s wrong on the campsite and it’s the wrong way to run a country.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan works in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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