Once upon a time in a blog I talked about capability. Capability is a right to be enjoyed by everyone, a right to have the opportunity and the means to be the best that we can be. It’s easy to see this as a personal right, with the only limitation that we shouldn’t trespass on the similar rights of others.
But how do we define ‘best’ – is it to earn the maximum possible, to have a fulfilling job, to be a successful member of society? Could be. But to that I’d add being a contributing member of society. True capability opens the door not just to opportunity but to compassion. The highest human attainments are those shared with others – from great advances in science to simple acts of kindness.
How do we create a society where we all contribute, where we all expect to contribute? Empowering local government, certainly. David Marquand suggests citizen assemblies: could that be a more constructive more local less vituperative version of TV’s Question Time, but with ordinary people the panellists? I’m not certain about the idea – but it’s the kind of thinking we need.
How can we develop, over time, a simple expectation that we – all of us – take on a contributing or caring role of some kind?
The trouble is that cynicism rules, motives are assumed to be impure, anything politicians espouse gets hammered, as did the Big Society as a concept. Maybe the Big Society deserved to be hammered: old-style Tory paternalism doesn’t go down too well. But a society in which we all engage – that would be a big society.
Pipe dreams? If we stay forever cynical, then indeed that’s the way it will be.
So, another challenge, how to do away with cynicism?