The Individualism of the ‘Big Society’…

David Cameron was busy relaunching his ‘big society’ initiative (flop) this weekend, for the fourth time, throwing more cash at a project that stinks of opportunism and individualised rhetoric. It may seem absurd to equate something that supposedly has the concept of society and community cohesion at its centre, with an ethos of individualism – but the construct, for David Cameron and co., is heavily indebted to ideas of individualism.

For instance, central to this attempted relaunch is the possibility of customers being able to donate money to charity through ATMs. Good idea. Maybe. But then, it comes back to the individualised acontextual belief that change happens through individualised centred values. Importantly, the wider context, social political economic conditions are overlooked, as the emphasis is upon the ordinary person on the street to fess up the cash for the ‘good society’. In a classic case of discursive reversal/power inversion, banks’ low corporation taxes, inability to lend in line with the Merlin agreement and ridiculously high bonuses are nicely skirted over, as the ‘big society’ focuses upon the individuals (and their ATMs, for instance), as their actions are atomised from the wider picture. The individualised view of what comes down to slave labour, where people perform fundamental services and provisions for free, creates an oxymoron when placed at the centre of  the ‘big society’. You can’t bind society together through a programme of division, ideological callous economic sadism.

The actual way societal relations are expressed, nationally and internationally, relates to the wider neoliberal, capitalist political economy – which promotes competitive, individualised attitudes and values. What we need is a reformulated counter message/ideology to the ‘big society’ that promotes cooperative, non-hierarchial relations – whilst illustrating the hypocrisy behind implementing destructive cuts and advocating a society of cohesion and cooperation. The government is busy architecting their feminist, gay rights backlash alongside a national and international clamp down on immigration (consider the recent border controls within Europe, for instance), and this is all shaped by strong neoliberal conditions of cutting deficits and debts whilst the actual capitalist system we live in relies upon debt and false needs/production/consumption.

Essentially, in an individualised society, such an individualised conception that is attempting to pass as collective and cohesive wont work. This is especially true given the current political economic approach of the government; the policy framework/direction is laced with hypocrisy and is unsurprisingly failing to connect with ordinary people. What we need is a real alternative promoted, so that people’s voices, hopes and aspirations aren’t shut out by status quo hegemonic constructions.

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6 thoughts on “The Individualism of the ‘Big Society’…

  1. Fantastic and scathing indictment undermining the whole “Big Society” concept. I enjoyed the digs in particular, because the whole thing is absurd – not least because Thatcher said “there’s no such thing as society” and now her spawn are talking about a “big society.” Really? That’s quite a leap there.

    As a social entrepreneur, the idea that we can bolster a third sector to make up for the slashed public sector WITHOUT start-up support is outrageous. It’s impossible for most of us.

    This, then, leaves the landscape in the hands of two groups:
    a) Those with time and money to spare (i.e., upper/middle class) to throw at the ventures
    b) Those considered “underclass” (see Jane’s recent blog entry) who are unemployed and thrown into a US-style “welfare-to-work” system that sniffs of the whiffs of slave labour

    Of course, what these both add up to are ventures in the hands of the chosen few, using (rather than helping) the great unwashed for whatever objectives are priority to those in the driving seat.

    Don’t get me wrong. Social enterprise NEEDS social entrepreneurs. Communities need them too. Sometimes all it takes is a community champion to look around their locality with familiarity and understanding and lead the way – but, of course, funnily enough, the support is not there for those types to do it.

    So, yet again, the Tories favour a certain kind of people. But it’s no surprise. This rhetoric of “big society” comes from a cabal who for years repeated the Thatcher mantra that “there’s no such thing as society, only the individual.” Yeah, and the individual will be the one with the wealth and (non-grassroots community) contacts to run the show for the “big society.”

    Of course, all this goes even further towards the point you’re making here that you can’t throw cash at a problem that will never go away. I thus leave you with this great piece from Mr Mark Steel: http://www.marksteelinfo.com/audiovideo/audio/Charity.mp3

  2. Thankyou for the comment, Jay.

    I agree re Thatcher, good point; except, you missed another ‘Really’ ;). But yes, this is what I was communicating in the blog, the whole oxymornic notion of a big society by the Tories is that it is framed in an individualised way, so the whole concept of cohesion and solidarity is undermined.

    Totally agree with your analysis of the current situation, and the frustration many people in social community activism must feel as they here the sound of a vacuous concept being promoted whilst the funding, and opportunities to take part in such projects are being pulled from underneath them. Not to mention the traditional promotion of education at schools, whilst media, art and other creative ventures are deemed as ‘thick’.

    Thanks for sharing the clip:)

  3. A brilliant critique, Jane!
    I can’t argue with anything you say, and I do admire your sureness and clarity. And I love the tone, too 🙂

    But my own thinking is, as yet, muddled. I cannot decipher what the Big Society is supposed to be, and therefore can’t decide how best to criticise it.
    Sometimes, I wonder if BS is a fake version of socialism, owned and controlled by the Tories and their friends, with the fanciful aim to placate the masses and neutralise the appeal of real socialism by offering a ‘safe’ hybrid of worthless socialism-cum-individualism.
    Othertimes, I wonder if BS is a flimsy veneer of fairness, with the cynical aim to appease the ordinary decent folk who vote Tory but wouldn’t if they thought the Tories were being nasty towards the poor. i.e. folks in Sussex won’t have a clue about the effects of cuts in social services and benefits in Middlesbrough.
    Occasionally, from the relaunches, I wonder if it’s a show of the impending arrival of a wonderful new society which never arrives, never becomes real. i.e. something the mind of George Orwell could have designed; a distraction which allows the Tories enough time to cement themselves into permanent power. And when it doesn’t come to fruition, he’ll blame the people for failing to make it work.
    And as my analysis of motive is uncertain, and I’m highly intelligent, the most likely cause for my confusion is that the thinking of the BS creator(s) is muddled in the first instance.

    One thing of which I do feel sure is that the motive(s) behind BS is unworthy. Ultimately the BS idea is doomed to fail – it’s just a matter of when.

  4. Let’s not overanalyze it too much, though.

    Big Society is another example of capitalist wankers sat in ivory towers chinking their champagne glasses together over a good guffaw; just as the Bush Administration were rumoured initially to have called the Iraq campaign “Operation Iraqi Liberation,” the Tory cabal call this “Big Society” – and the in-joke can been seen in the acronyms.

    It’s a nice spin from PR master David Cameron to sell us “slave labour” back to ourselves – hey, community spirit was alive and well before High Priestess Thatcher decimated it in the 1980s, declaring “no such thing as society.” Uttered lines like that can be, well, a bit of a downer. But telling the public “Sure you’ve got no jobs, no services, but hey you’re all in it together!” works a bit better.

  5. Aww, thankyou Phil – that’s really kind of you to say so. Glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed your interpretations of the big society,and from an intellectual point of view found it interesting to consider. I have written a new blog on the big society, with a similar take to the points you listed, and its possible raison detre.

    But as Jay says, maybe we should be prepared to simplify the concept down for mass critique, and highlight the sheer callous nature of the concept regardless of whatever analysis fits best – it is there to create and hide destruction, destruction by this government!

  6. Typical fascist, left-wing bollocks. What you have just written is one of the single, most idiotic things I have ever read. At no point, during your rambling, incoherent diatribe did you express anything close to what could be considered a rational thought. Everyone here is now dumber for having read it. I’ve probably a lost a point off my IQ which means that it’s now only 199. Damn you. No, I don’t think the so-called “Big Society” works either but you’ve shown your hand by rapaciously criticising individualism which is the basis for any moral society and yes there is such a thing as society, just not in the way the collectivists preach. I’ll give you this one compliment though, you’re more open about your totalitarian agenda than most socialists who cringe behind Orwellian labels such as “progressive” or even more laughably, “liberal.”

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