Monday, July 19, 2010

Exactly how much bigger should society be?

Please imagine that question being asked by Chris Morris on The Day Today.

Because whatever you might think of the general principle, or the motivations behind it, or the policies that may be produced in its pursuit, “big society” is a bloody stupid phrase.

Before Cameron coined it, had you ever heard anybody discussing the size of society? Sure, you’d hear about a strong society, a vibrant society, an active society, a good society, a flourishing society, an open society and so on. But had you ever heard anyone complain that society was too small, or argue that society ought to be made bigger?

Yes, I understand why he went for it: “big society not big state” sounds less nasty-old-Tory than “small state not big state”, so it was an effort to change the terms of the debate. But given that “big society” also makes it sound as though English is his second language, couldn’t he have done better? I gather that many on the Tory right thought that the idea was a very hard sell during the election campaign, and that doesn’t surprise me at all: “big society” is a category mistake.

Oh no. I was going to leave it there but then I made the mistake of looking for the Big Society website. It says: “The Big Society is a society in which we as individuals don’t feel small.”

Think about that for a moment. Surely, the bigger society is, the smaller I as an individual am going to feel by comparison.


Liam Murray said...

Not going into bat for such a sh*t phrase - agree completely on that.

Just a quick observation based on your last point.

"Surely, the bigger society is, the smaller I as an individual am going to feel by comparison"

Without coming over all Phillip Blond on you that kind of illustrates the misunderstanding this 'Big Society' nonsense is trying to combat. You're assuming the big society is some literal huge organisation, one that would make individual citizens feel small by comparison. And that's in fact sort of where we are at the moment with a huge beauracratic machine (the state) in the way of anyone that wants to do anything remotely community-minded.

Tom Freeman said...

Relax, I'm just jabbing at the size concept a bit more. Completely agree that individuals and society aren't mutually exclusive categories in a zero-sum game.

Suddenly having visions of 'Attack of the 50 Foot Society'...

tim f said...

If everyone took growth hormones & shot up an extra couple of feet, the aggregate result would be for society to be bigger, surely? That could be achieved while keeping each individual the size relatively to the rest of society.

Such a policy could even be described as "levelling up, not levelling down", and respected political philosophers could be misquoted to make it sound as if the idea had substance.

Anonymous said...

I spend most of my time volunteering already and I've watched, sometimes in horror, how easy it is for community activists to become unaccountable megalomaniacs! And how genuine attempts to set up services etc by local people, who lack organisational skills, can go disastrously wrong without paid staff (often from local authorities) propping them up. This is all a load of c**p. A cynically cunning attempt by the Tories, backed by an-even-more-naive-than-usual bunch of Lib Dems to shove responsibilty for the miseries, that their cuts will bring, onto local authorites and the voluntary sector - and us poor suckers!

Paul Sagar said...

definitely worth a giggle.