15 March 2007

Let's have spontaneous fun!

We live in a world of concepts, in a world of thought. We try to solve all our problems, from the most mechanical to psychological problems of the greatest depth, by means of thought. J Krishnamurti, You are the World, Harper and Row, 1972

What, then, of the [British] government's new, untried and dictatorially imposed new method of selecting junior doctors? It is part of its drive, conscious or unconscious, to destroy the independence first of the professions and then of citizens themselves. Its goal is a perfectly administered state (perfect, that is, in the sense that everything is administered and nothing is spontaneous or developed organically, not perfect in the sense that everything functions as well as possible). Theodore Dalrymple, 8 March 2007.

Just as thinking has taken over from instinct, insight, intelligence or intuition in our individual lives, so is government control taking over many of the functions that as families, communities or societies we were used to doing for ourselves. I’m pessimistic about where the logical end point of this is: perhaps one of the better destinations would be a (relatively) benign police state like Singapore, where freedoms are restricted (by western standards), energies are almost entirely devoted to raising national income, punishments for stepping out of line are severe and the crime rate is low. Not the worst society, by any means, but the famous Straits Times headline hints at some of what’s missing: “Let’s have spontaneous fun – and here’s how”.

In Krishnamurti’s view, continuous, unflinching, choiceless, self-observation is sufficient to put thought in its place. What would do the same to government? As it is, there is widespread dissatisfaction with government, but it’s either diffuse, inarticulate, and expressed as disengagement from the political process; or it’s ideologically driven, funded and beholden to corporate interests. There are well-meaning lobby groups who work through the political process but, when it comes to reinstating the societal intelligence that is being eroded by government, they are for the most part ineffectual. Perhaps we have reached the point where government is so dominant that any action to rein in government and restore societal autonomy has to work through government. Turkeys voting for Christmas?

I think that Social Policy Bonds, through their focus on outcomes, offer a way out of the predicament. Policy subordinated to outcomes – outcomes that are meaningful to natural persons, not corporations – would close the gap between people and their representatives in government. I suspect that specifying such outcomes would clarify what people think should be government’s role in our society. Social Policy Bonds would also contract out the achievement of social and environmental goals to the private sector; again serving to rein in government control, and encourage diverse, more local, less monolithic, solutions to our social problems. It’s likely that while government resources and articulation of our goals are necessary, withdrawal of governmental control over how goals shall be achieved would reinstate some of society’s own skills and problem-solving abilities, many of which are being steadily undermined by government. That would be an end in itself, but would also, in my view, mean a more resilient, more resourceful and healthier society.

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