Putting other people first

We engage at a community level less and less, and yet community, working more with, and for, others, with less focus for ourselves, could be where our futures lie.

Could be, or rather, should be?

Community… how to set up the structures to make it possible, to make it work? It exists already of course in countless ways, from pro bono roles such as magistrate and school governor, to charity work, to simple acts of kindness to neighbours. But it’s not embedded.

And do we build community within the existing system, a more mature capitalism, or do we look to national economies based, for example, on cooperatives?

In the former case, the system is still predicated on expansion. In the latter, it’s about worker engagement and it’s non-profit, and economies would exist in a vibrant steady state. Our skills and imagination would be focused less on milking profit out of products old and new, more on maximising community benefit. We’d engage in a different kind of globalization, where we seek to advantage everyone by advantaging ourselves, and spreading the word, and we’d trust other countries to reciprocate.

Steve Hilton, former adviser to David Cameron, argues powerfully for a world in which people comes first. Matthew Taylor in a RSA Journal interview asks him about the political realities – hostile press, public accountability, building coalitions of support – simply getting from A-Z when you have to get from B to Y first. On schools Hilton argues that a simple structural change will set the ball rolling – let school operators make a profit, and let alternative and progressive forms of education flourish at the grass roots. (In some ways I love this. Profit? Surely no-one should profit? But we won’t get innovation from a state-funded system.) Setting up formal arrangements whereby cooperatives supply goods and services to local hospitals would be another example, as has happened in the USA (quoted by Gar Alperovitz, also in the RSA Journal…).

And as Alperovitz also argues, if community-based structures are to succeed, we all have to work less. Co-operatives could become the norm in working life, but many activities are pro bono, charitable, running clubs or teams, simple acts of kindness. We need time, and we need energy, more than we have than when, returning home after a long day and commute, we collapse in front of the TV.

Now TV of course endlessly reinforces the status quo. But that’s another story.

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