February 23, 2011

Yesterday, I attended an event ran by the Centre for Sustainable Energy, an organisation intended to expand the use of renewable energy technology. Ostensibly, they’re on the same side as me, that side being Windmills Now! or similar. However, I left the day with something of a bitter and resentful attitude – even more so than normal.

It related to the people I’d met there that day, who all seemed to work in some sort of worthy Government-funded agency revolving around community development, community sustainability, community communising and so on. They were the producers of ‘resources’, of ‘toolkits’, of ‘guidelines’, and other ingenious ways that the Government has found to take the fun out of doing anything for yourself. They were the sorts of folk that are currently dismissing the Big Society as pointless without additional Government funding  -the sorts of folk making the same mistake as Labour.

They used the word ‘community’ a lot. This is a current vogue-word, like ‘progressive’ inasmuch as it admits of no real interpretation, but rather mutates to fit whatever its current user happens to require. The Coalition uses it extensively, ‘communities’ being the new thing that Government does. I’m all onboard with localism, powers being devolved to the local level being a great thing (although not enough people are talking about pushing responsibilities downwards for my liking). But to immediately follow that rush of powers with a rush of people whose job it is to tell people how to use those powers smacks to me of a misunderstanding of the point of localism.

Setting up local energy projects is both fun and exciting, at least until you encounter the planning system. It’s fun because it’s something that’s yours, something that’s the initiative of you and your fellows. It’s the consequences of your judgements, of your decisions, and of your actions. If you’re successful, then you’ll know it’s the result of your work.

However, if the Government – however well-meaning – decides that people need to be told how to do these things or otherwise they won’t happen, they’ll remove some of that sense of accomplishment, and some of that sense of developing one’s own judgement. They’ll be actively hampering the development of that person or peoples’ well-being. This is not something we want the Government to be doing.

Now, the obvious parallels here are with education, but that’s not quite accurate – education is broadly concerned with the principles underlying much of society – the scientific method, the structure of language, history and so on. Education shouldn’t involve being told precisely how to do something – rather, the general principles should be given to you, and the scope to work it out for yourself is where you have the opportunity to develop judgement. It is the case that in matters outwith energy projects on which the ‘Community’ people I refer to above may be working there may be ‘barriers’ to that working out which need to be surmounted – but I’m willing to bet that the extent to which to those barriers are real is less than the extent to which they have ‘Community’ people working on them.

I am concerned that this ‘Community’ attitude could infect the Big Society project. This remains to be seen, but I would hope that – quite ironically – that the cuts will help kill it.


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