Thursday, 22 July 2010

Big Society Is A Two Way Street

It's easy to be cynical about abstract ideas. Concepts are not always obvious in their practical application. Because they are the stuff of thought rather than substance they are often dismissed or belittled. In an ironic sense the concept of the Big Society models exactly what the issue is. Instead of people being handed everything on a plate they have to put some effort into thinking how the the idea might be brought into reality, and they have to make it happen. How easy it is to sit behind your newspaper, to mutter behind your pint, to whinge on your commute about what's wrong with society. To spout off about 'what needs to be done', to pontificate on 'what I'd do if I was in charge'. This is the luxurious position taken by people who never originate, people who say and never do, people who prefer one way rather than two way streets.

Seeing notions such as 'volunteering' as a 'public services on the cheap' is a small minded, self interested interpretation of the concept. If we live in a society where abstract concepts are avoided because people only respond to things that are given to them on a plate then something profound in the idea is being missed. The Big Society is a systemic notion. There are benefits for the people doing it as well as the people served. The idea of doing something unconditionally to help other people re-balances the 'what's in it for me' mentality that is under girded by materialism, consumerism, and bully boy corporate world views.

The mere fact that someone has a tilt at the concept implies they are likely to be the very people that should reflect on what it truly means for themselves and what they could do, right now, without permission, without payment to make someone else's life easier and happier. There are plenty of people who 'get' the Big Society and plenty of people who are doing something to make it more of a reality.


  1. People are cynical because many of them already volunteer because there has never been anything to stop them from helping in their community.

    People are cynical because the big society already exists. We chose to elect officials to govern it and train professionals to run it. If you want to get involved you can lobby or join those that govern it or volunteer to help those that run it.

    People are cynical because it is an insult to those people who already work very hard in this BIG SOCIETY to beleive otherwise.

    The idea that volunteerism is better able to fill needed gaps than structured governance. This is a free market fantasy. I work in wildlife conservation which is almost wholely run by charity and volunteers. The money is only ever directed in the most efficient manner through government. Charities rely on stories of work with charismatic animals for money whereas the money is needed for basic infrastructure and protection of far less exciting habitats and critters.

    Worse still competition amongst charities has the opposite affect to that in markets. It is damaging both to the concentration and use of money and in terms of direct co-operation necessary.

    The Big Society is a ridiculous farce and is rightly derided

  2. Yes. I find it hard to disagree with your experiences and feelings. I suppose the key issue is that it is exactly the points you make that could be put right if a benign version of The Big Society is to work. I think a good a thing is that the discussion is opened and that people unlike you who have never volunteered might have their eyes opened to it. I have recently volunteered for national conservation charity and was dismayed to see the adverse consequences of so called 'corporate' mentality and approach being introduced in a very clumsy way. I can't agree that concept should be derided although I can see how versions of its mis-implementation might be.