Monday, 18 October 2010

BIG society and a global warning....

Am I sitting on an imaginary fence?
The continued expansion of market forces into non-traditional areas, like the Welfare State, is leading to a significant change in culture.  Let me take one area I probably understand most.  My family's involvement in the English education system goes back to pre universal education in 1870 when my Grandmother ran a small "dame school" in Lincoln.  The system has weathered many phases but the local authority and local democracy has played a huge part.  But our educational infrastructure (like other elements of the welfare state) is breaking up. There is now a confusing list of school designations and once local support is being atomised into a free market of providers.
In these circumstances, we are being tempted to operate as individuals and organisations in competition. We are often challenged with false polarities.  Public service good (or bad) private business bad (or good) - traditional methods versus progressive methods - left versus right etc etc.  We are maybe even creating imaginary fences and boundaries where they do not need to be.  If we enter these false debates, we might risk losing our sense of common, or communal, purpose. We are in danger of proving there is no such thing as society.  Especially so, if we look for pricks to kick against.

Do we need a fence?
I think we can achieve, coherence by working to develop, or refresh a common philosophy for education and the other elements that make up the support systems of a society.
First, we ought to do this as individuals.  Then, together in families, schools, communities and as a nation.  We need to discuss the moral purpose, the ethics and the values in why we do what we do.  We need to ask some very hard questions about what we really need - as opposed to what we want, or have become used to receiving.  We must be prepared to raise the quality of discussion and debate and beyond hectoring opposites.
I believe this will inevitably lead to a global view that interconnectedness and interdependence bind all of us together. I think there are many “common goods”.  My fear is that a selfish - look after me and my own mentality will rush in to fill the void of common sense. Maybe some others should fear but tread...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Big Society - Small minds

I am drawn to the idea of the BIG society and I am keen to develop practical ways of achieving it. After all I have been writing about interdependence for a good while now (see earlier posts and the leadership stuff on capacity and moral purpose). 

And yet.... I feel an odd mixture of naivety and anger when I hear people criticising it...  I feel naive because some say it is just a clever Tory way to make the poor take care of themselves and there are politicians who have tried both sides of that argument.  But I am angry too because I genuinely believe that sensible, caring, thoughtful, sociable people SHOULD be prepared to give and take more to build a fairer society.  So, I can't be doing with those who have go at the concept of "there is no such thing as society" (M Thatcher) and also at "Big Society" (D Cameron).  It is just too easy to sit on the fence and waffle. 

Face right and you see immoral benefit claimants.  Face left and you see fat cat bankers.  Face facts and you see a tough time ahead. 

We are at a real turning point financially but more important philosophically - the way each individual responds to the call for "more with less" will measure our national capacity for interdependence...  So, as the spending review looms... Where do you stand on the "For me!" or "For us!" or "For everyone and everything!" Tower?