Friday, 6 August 2010

the big anxiety

I went to a fascinating day last week organised by the Big Society Network, set up by networking supremo Steve Moore, and Unltd, the supporters of all kinds of community enterprise. It was a chance to meet some hugely committed and inventive people working on community projects of all kinds, like Mind Apples, the mental health initiative from (some of) the people who brought you School of Everything. It was Mind Apples' founder who asked the big question about the Big Society: why should any of these initiatives want to speak to Government when there's so little support coming from them, and no clear plan to build a coherent strategy for how a plethora of volunteer projects might mesh to create sustainable, trustworthy services? (Well, that's my version of what he said).

Last month I attended the memorial of Colin Ward, writer and anarchist, reminded me how anarchism was my ideology of choice as a student and beyond. the hippy notion of an Alternative Society made up of cool people self organising, getting together their own free schools and crash pads and credit unions in the face of a heartless establishment is very exciting. SO the libertarian side of the new Government's fondness for cutting red tape, encouraging unthinkable thinking has a curious allure.

But if the State fails us by cutting services, surely it can't get away with then branding the peoples' attempts to get by without them as part of their grand national vision?

My kind have moaned for ages that we're too privileged and consumerist as a society so can't complain too much when national fortunes are shown to go down as well as up. And having argued that digital culture has transformed what we can do for free and what we need from libraries and education, we have to bite the bullet and look at the potential to make more with less. But is anyone in Government listening to any arguments about the measurable value of any kind of state funding of culture and community?

So far I don't see a vision of a Big Society, more a tactic of generating Big Anxiety so that the socially enterprising rush in to do whatever they can with not much.

The literature sector will need (as ever) to be inventive and resourceful and radical and honest and ethical as it tries to find new ways to sustain the communities and ideas it cares about. Freed from red tape... and funding, empowered by digital means to amplify their words, writers will also be free to bite the hand that doesn't feed them.

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