I’m a little puzzled; have been for a while. Why is austerity so good at keeping a sharing culture at bay?
One thing’s for certain – we all love sharing. And even where we don’t love it, we’ve simply had to get used to it. Whether it’s biometric passports or fingerprinted schoolchildren or monetised NHS patients … it’s all kicking off.
So sharing has become the default mode in the 21st century. You’d expect, then, it’d be far easier for those political parties and movements in favour of a post-austerity world to gain traction for their ideas. But it doesn’t seem to be. Why is that? One reason may be the chilling effect of a continually adjusting and self-applied censorship, as described in the Democratic Audit UK article linked to above:
Surveillance can create an environment which teaches young people to self-regulate constantly, instead of having freedom of expression or the space to test out new ideas and opinions. It’s eroding the freedom to get things wrong as well, that it’s OK to make mistakes, that you can be a child, that you can mess about and have jokes and all these types of things. The disciplinary power within these surveillance technologies is so strong. Are we really allowing the kids the space just to be kids?
But if it were just the kids, we’d be talking about a future some years down the line. What’s astonishing about the last six years – since the banking crises and scandals which gathered speed and impact from 2008 onwards – is that whilst the Occupy and Los Indignados movements have made a very particular noise, and have certainly brought together like-minded souls in common protest, mainstream politics – that which occupies our TVs, radios and newspapers, and which speaks, even now, to the vast majority of UK citizens – has circumvented our otherwise profound and developing instincts to compart ideas, resources and voices. It’s almost as if democracy’s basic instincts have slewed off into the online corporatised software which marshals our occurrences these days, and in so participating, we care very little about applying the same lessons, instincts or behaviours to a real democratic experience.
This sharing culture is pervasive for a wider societal and narrower one-to-one discourse, it’s true – but not all that available for political communication and policymaking. And most attempts to shoehorn enabling and facilitating impulses into and onto the current structures of our body politic sound mainly, and largely, laughable.
So then. If most of our day is spent sharing stuff so freely with our friends, families and strangers we may shortly meet out there, why aren’t we doing the same with our economic policy? Why isn’t sharing becoming a fundamental part of that economy? How has economic policy managed so successfully to keep that sharingness at a distance?
A clever conspiracy?
A flocking and coinciding self-interest on many interested sides?
The question I ask is, essentially, whether this must continue to be inevitable. Must sharing continue to be kept at bay in our economic structures? After all, Cameron’s Big Idea, right at the beginning, was the piebald Big Society. This may or may not have been a ruse – I no longer know very clearly how to tell. It fell by the wayside, that’s for sure. It had to, of course – after several attempts at resurrection, Cameron failed to flesh it out convincingly on any occasion.
Which brings me back to conspiracy. Maybe the Big Society didn’t fail because we, the people, didn’t warm to it. Maybe the Big Society failed because people far more powerful and in the know than ourselves just didn’t like the implications or consequences of truly implementing its potential philosophies. Where would the TTIP be now, for example, in an economy where the sharing and supportive behaviours which the Big Society seemed to promise finally ended up firmly being put in place and practised? Imagine a groundswell of public opinion, led over the last four years by leaders like Cameron and Miliband both, where the sharing cultures and instincts of Facebook, Twitter et al infiltrated the very essence and fundamentals of economic infrastructures and institutions.
Seen in this way, we lost a lot when we lost the alternative of the Big Society – far far more than we ever imagined. We lost the freedom and option of transmuting selfish capitalism into something quite different, quite challenging and quite disruptive. Disruptive in a positive way I would argue, but disruptive all the same.
Conspiracy, then? Conspiracy is for potheads, surely. Well. Maybe so. But in a post-Snowden world, perhaps we all have a right to think and act like potheads.
Certainly it’s some considerable and communal madness that in a world where ninety percent of most people’s free time is spent on sharing the minutiae of every waking moment, what really runs society should be evermore tight-fisted, closed off, ring-fenced and anti-democratic.