Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The demise of "Society"?

I have been extraordinarily busy, and therefore finding even a few minutes to comment on things that catch my eye has been difficult, and though the next two days give the prospect of a bit of relief for Easter, it may still be that my blogging remains a bit sparse.

I spent the last two days in Slovenia, meeting people in Ljubljana and on the coast in Koper. Driving through the majestic scenery of this mountain enclave is always a pleasant experience, and although Slovenia's political and economic environment is, well, slow, the country remains for the moment the richest in Central Europe. The process of change is slower than the Baltic, but the fact is that life is pretty good here.

Like many small countries, you are struck by the very human scale of the way things are done- in the business community, there are virtually no strangers- everyone knows everyone else, or at least knows of them. Thus It is hard to keep any secrets- many were speculating as to the reasons for my own visit, and doubtless some guessed right.

The social capital in smaller countries does seem stronger than the more anonymous society of the UK. Although sometimes such anonymity is a relief, I fear that Britain is become an entire society of strangers. The drastic plunge in the numbers of people who take part in communal activity is shocking. Whether it is political parties, the churches, or even the the Scouts- there are fewer and fewer people who are prepared to volunteer. Our culture of long hours has much to do with this of course, but we also seem to be becoming more alienated from each other, in a way that the Smaller countries, such as Slovenia, would quite literally find unthinkable.

It seems ironic to me that the gimmick of the day from too many politicians is to propose a greater role for voluntary sector, at the very time when it seems that many areas of volunteership are disappearing. Scouters are regarded with the suspicion that they are latent paedophiles. The Church (of whatever denomination) is ridiculed. Politicians are vilified.

This is dangerous- the relentless barrage from an unrestrained media seems finally to be weakening part of the social foundations of our country. I am nervous for a country that relies on CCTV to "police" hooligans but will not adequately punish those who attack good citizens who intervene to prevent hooliganism personally.

To turn policing into a kind of play station game will not work.


David said...

Interesting post. We are at work here in the US trying to build up our social capital. re: your comment about government trying to tap the shrinking voluntary sector for it's problems, I think sometimes it's seen as a quick and cheap/free solution, but civil society does require investment to flourish.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm your last comment makes you sound like a Tory Cicero...........................


Tristan said...

I've been wondering if the demise of 'Society' is largely a result of increase of the state and more state intervention.

The state has taken on many of the functions of society, but cannot fulfill them.

A great example is adult education - here in Chingford a community association used to run many adult education classes, until the local council took them over and marginalised voluntary groups, then adult education became subservient to the whims of politicians and now the latest fads from whitehall.
The community association is now treated as an irritation by the council, mainly because it does not control it. The clubs and societies associated with the association are put at risk, contributing to the decline of any sense of community.

The ideas of using voluntary groups more leads to this, the groups will get even more dependent upon state funding and they will do what the state wants them to do rather than what the prefer to do. They will simply become another arm of government.

Add to this the consequences of more state intervention in child rearing and the problems hilighted by Jonathan Calder.

The use of fear as a political tool furthers these problems. Especially combined with more distant policing and the decline of public spaces.

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