Category Archives: social cohesion

Fair work

I’ve started thinking that there must be a way to use our habits of today to fill the gaps of failure in governments to provide lives of dignity to all. Why wait for inadequate governments to get better when as a people we may be able to just do it ourselves? As governments become increasingly powerless and people intrinsically connected through globalisation and its tools, we have it in ourselves to provide for each other more completely than governments ever have.

Does anyone genuinely argue with the idea that any individual’s life should be nurtured? What are we as people if we don’t try to ensure everyone can make a living regardless of their circumstances? Yet, in the very extreme cases people simply cannot offer any service in the market economy and are therefore considered worthless. What if we flipped this paradigm and suggested that anyone that creates meaning to someone else’s life is worthy of a decent living? Respective roles are therefore equally recognised and merit being sustained. We don’t question that life should be sustained. It follows therefore that all life and lives should be provided for. Let’s crowdfund basic income: it seems inconceivable, but then again all the tools to do so are out there aren’t they?


“Ignorance is bliss”: celebrity and game shows, Farage and the Mirror

In all society there is a numerically superior group of people that appear to follow leaders and trends without rational, critical thinking either through lack of interest incapacity or sheer laziness. I do not categorise myself or you, the reader, as belonging to this group, but to what extent is this inbuilt elitist prejudice? Do we underestimate ourselves i.e. the ‘non-masses group as a large social group? Populist sentiment suggests not. Mass media, populist politics, soap operas, celebrity, distinctly resemble what Marx would define as ‘opium’, in the sense of religion distracting people from questioning authority and oppressors: Society risks indecency and indignity at best, and human abuse and social destruction at worst in the majority of cases where we allow populist sentiment to reign unchallenged: clichés are the common tongue, human interaction is reduced to sexual titillation, immigrant ‘others’ breed hatred, and violence is the most effective solution! The masses evidently operate in superficial assumptions, sexual objectification of fellow human beings, hating innocent bystanders, and allowing anger to govern behaviour.

We can however identify ‘mass’ values, and we ought to, to determine the democratic direction of society. We cannot ignore the feelings and beliefs of masses because that would only lead us to elitist manipulation. I would suggest acknowledging the beliefs and values and looking for ways to include masses in deeper, more meaningful discussions of politics, the arts, society, and culture. History shows us that not to do so is to require solutions of state control that amount to abuse and oppression: Orwell would argue that mass culture is an instrument of state control. How do you enforce social good behaviour without the commitmentand agreement of the masses? Where does the downward spiral of sink estates, petty crime, overenthusiastic penal justice and prison derive from, if not from denial of denying their engagement, participation and ultimately well-being?

To aim to do this through the short period of an education cycle is clearly over-ambitious. Society should reiterate and reinforce the need for critical thinking, shared thinking, and democratic contribution at every stage of life. Participation is necessary to avoid these populist risks and ‘opium’ addiction. The mass media, populist politics, soap operas and celebrity all have a role to play because they are appreciated by the masses. Our struggle should be against ignorance, not entertainment and gratification. For the sincere democrat, which means a true believer in the sense of well-being and social progress, we should aim for connection and enlightenment through participatory processes. These sentiments highlight the great value and potential of social media: cartoon strips educating about political messages (12m views), viral messages against sexism and discrimination:; and outweigh by far the social media‘opium’ of internet pornography and “Farage” xenophobia (128k views), because these simply reflect what’s available in mass media while revealing the numerically insignificant minority support of hatred.

Interaction, dialogue and communication enable participation and thus progress. If we are to treat each other with humanity then we must respect and recognise each other. To quote David Held, “it (the principle of reciprocal recognition) requires the active engagement of all individuals without exception.” We can judge the extent that people (the elite, politicians, leaders) wish to live in dignity with others, i.e. the masses, by the degree to which they attempt to actively engage them.

Top-down/Bottom-up: Top-up politics keeps the bottom down

Does anyone else get the impression that current top-down and bottom-up political processes tend to achieve the reverse of what is intended? I was thinking about the consultation processes for the ward I’m registered in in Leeds, and the big society consultations advocated by David Cameron. Having participated in the consultation on the West Leeds Gateway Area Action Plan, I don’t get the impression it served any purpose other than legitimising the policy decisions already taken at top-level. Opinions were duly gathered and archived, but apparently had no impact on proceedings beyond that. Do most consultations end up like this? Not only is it a betrayal of the very intention of more direct democracy, but it actually also reinforces power at the top, defends principles of representative democracy despite all indications of failure in that area (election turnouts for example), and dilutes efforts to modernise politics.

At the other end of the scale, I would venture with regret that the nature of civil society organisations, which rarely coordinate, co-operate, or communicate shared goals, principles, or values, creates a very damaging dispersal of social power and energy. The age-old cliché of ‘stronger together’ is in fact borne out in the relative weakness of civil society faced with the power cravings of the ruling groups. It is too easy to dismiss as illegitimate, single-cause or interest groups because they are unrepresentative of the general population. This is particularly the case in France, where “community” is a word with negative connotations and evokes sects and cults. Places with more open social conflict such as Northern Ireland, Turkey, or the Basque Country, can very quickly interpret such group ethos/activity as terrorism, in spite of the comparatively similar characteristics of the ruling groups to those of the “terrorist” organisations. The potential tyranny of the majority is reinforced by the disparate groupings of civil society, demoting the bottom to an under-society.

I’d be very curious to know of any more successful sustained civil society co-operation. It seems to me that the “Stop the War” campaign and the recent “Indignados” and “Occupy” movements have achieved shared responsibility for common goals across multiple social groups. Aren’t they just momentary, single cause movements though? The development of civil society is very much on the agenda for development action and democratisation programmes, as demonstrated by the amount of EU funding in accession countries targeting it. In the UK, however, there appears to be a lot of rhetoric about enhancing civil society – Cameron’s Big Society – and yet very little concrete action. Indeed, Duncan Smith’s Centre of Social Justice promotes top-level reinforcement by consulting local authorities, NGOs, government agencies etc. without seeming to comprehend big society perhaps needs to include citizens too.

I think it’s all about instilling a sense of and desire for common shared responsibility across the general population. This calls for new approaches that incorporate greater dialogue and communication within communities, better understanding of shared goals and objectives, and, finally, legitimisation by top-level political representatives. The major challenge is to listen to each other, think collectively and work together – none of which, unfortunately, seem to be skills that are particularly nurtured in our cut-throat world.

Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning

“Around the world, multination states are in trouble. Many have proven unable to create or sustain any strong sense of solidarity across ethnonational lines[i].” (Will Kymlicka, 2001).

Investigating the Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning Division of the Council of Europe, it is natural to question the meaning of social cohesion. Social cohesion is an outcome of the Council of Europe’s main objectives: Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, but, to some extent, I would also argue that it is a necessary ingredient of these same concepts. Without social cohesion, human rights are compromised, the unity required for democracy is missing, and there is no incentive to apply the rule of law. I would go further and say that the terrorism-security debate is fundamentally a consequence of failed social cohesion, and in its absence human rights are inevitably abused, democracy is ineffective and the rule of law is applied in accordance with the largest force wielded (c.f. UK police ‘stop and search’ powers under the ‘sus’ law, extraordinary rendition in EU states, UK parliamentary debate on the 42-day terror limit.) Continue reading Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning

Itinerant member

I’m an itinerant member of society… living in France for three years now has become the longest time I have spent continuously in one city since leaving home nearly 20 years ago and the longest time overall in a city since leaving university. I obviously don’t like staying in one place for very long. In those 13 postgraduate years I have lived in five different countries with only 5 of those years back in the UK. I also obviously don’t like living in my country of origin very much. I hardly feel to belong to my hometown any more, never mind ‘my’ country. Even though I have very little doubt that both shape my identities considerably, I don’t consciously accept any relationship between who I am and where I am from. The only irritating exception to this is my support for national teams in sport. Continue reading Itinerant member

A pounding head for social justice…

When my head pounds I know I’m onto something: I’ll have either carefully navigated my thoughts and feelings to find what I genuinely care about, or I’ll have stumbled upon phenomena I truly value. These headpounding moments have been like epiphanies and generally relate to what I perceive as social injustices: poverty and inequality; exclusion and discrimination; or unfair and disrespectful treatment of “vulnerable” people. They have been positively triggered too: training on diversity as a tool of inclusion; encouragement; maximisation of potential; and pluralistic participation.

Given that I care about these themes to such an extent as to make my head pound, it is only appropriate that I dedicate some of my time tackling the injustices and promoting diversity. On a personal level I’ve never been particularly fond of in-group behaviour, finding the consequent and inevitable exclusion unpleasant. That is not to say that group behaviour should be discouraged, but that perhaps it should not be idealised as the essential glue that holds societies together. It seems particularly distasteful to establish advanced, privileged and indulgent groups that function in a cohesive way, and even democratically within their own boundaries, before inclusive co-operation has been guaranteed for those marginalised beyond those boundaries. Perhaps we might consider this as conflict theory, but I would argue that inequalities and social injustice are themselves innately derived from and therefore indicate conflict regardless of the theoretical prism we decide to apply. The far more relevant question for me is how diversity and intercultural tools and methodologies can help to resolve the conflict through reduction of social inequalities and injustice.