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From ‘Old Folks’ to ‘The Gods’ – a particularly random stream of consciousness

June 17, 2011

I just saw the ‘Dartford Age Concern’ minibus disappear around the corner… after a brief thought about re-branding versus tradition – the whole ‘Age UK’ thing, I flipped back to that word ‘Concern’.

I wonder if by creating organisations we have, at least in years gone by, emphasised the notion of a problem. There are old folks to be concerned about, addicts to rehabilitate, criminals to reform and generally people to be worried about. I wonder if this can even be traced back to often shared roots in a Christian notion of ‘salvation’, or restoration to a normal state.

At the same time this tendency would populate those problem categories with stereotypical people – I come back to ‘old folks’, in the language of my youth, or to ‘disabled people’. I’ve got a tickly feeling that each of those groups has been put in an annex, however benevolent in intention, and thus distinguished from ‘ordinary life’ and ‘ordinary people’. There are all sorts of echoes of this in some articulations of The Big Society, and many challenges that result.

If I had to say where I thought this came from it would be a paternalistic, top down, hierarchical society… from an original paternalism which still persists within the culture of ‘help’, because it created the infrastructure, even though many of the responses themselves are now more democratised and grass-roots. Personally, and with the luxury of not having to mobilise a response myself, I don’t think there are groups that need help – I think that there are just people who need more or less help, or even just contact and a good listener, for combinations of reasons, and at some times in their lives more than others. I wonder if we are capable of expressing our desire to help others in ways that don’t create sectors, groups and corresponding organisations and brands… or if this could even work, what the new infrastructure would be… if any? Again – this is where transformative thinking about The Big Society has to start, and not presume anything about pre-existing institutions, channels or even habits. [Maybe especially habits!]

Catching my thought about this persisting hierarchical culture, I also wondered if this was why there were many people out there who define themselves as being ‘other’ to this; outsiders, non-participants and wielders of ‘alternative’. My initial worry was that, in doing so, they just create another group and a convenient stereotype for other people to put them in, another annex… for dreadlocks and skinny dogs, or for balaclavas and bricks. Surely that old hierarchical thing is dying – from a wound it copped some time during WWI? If so, giving it a form in order to oppose it just helps it live a little longer… The System, The Establishment,… Capitalism?

Hang on!

That last one worries me. Has an oligarchy just discarded some of the old institutions and trappings, and taken up more blatant residence in financial institutions, and holding companies, private equity firms etc. Am I naive to think that there’s a natural decentralisation doing its slow good work… because of things like literacy and, now, new communications and networks? I’ve always found ‘cock-up’ much more plausible than ‘conspiracy’ if only because of entropy. If I’m mostly right in that, then maybe the less scary conclusion is that the anti-Capitalists are just succumbing to human nature – a tendency to see intention and dark forces behind otherwise random or emergent activity… a kind of hard-wired paranoia. [Though, on reflection, not unlike the tendency which, when funneled towards Jewish people, lead to The Holocaust.]

Even if anti-Capitalists are right – and the old paternalism still holds sway through a massive conscious aggregation of commercial interests, it would be too big to tackle… by definition.

People often cope these days by not trying to tackle things that we know are overwhelmingly large. Hence the popularity of notions such as Ghandi’s “Be the change you want to see”. One such overwhelmingly large phenomenon is ‘nature’ itself. We accept it as an environment – and we deal with the bits that are most immediate to us. If it were truly human nature to be paranoid, to see intention where there is none, we would, instead, all go round thinking that there is a conspiracy behind ‘nature’ that works against. And we don’t do that do we?


We do.

A long time ago we gave that paranoia a name. ‘The Gods’.

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