Shrove Tide

Between the lighting of
a candle and
the beating of
batter,
at the barren bound time
when the cold iron air
hits the hard flint
earth
a spark
is created
that will light
the spring fire
of the coming year.

This poem I published in  “Everything Looks Green From Here” a collection of prose and poetry from Broomspring Writers in 2010

Ice Ages

Sprite child on sighting snow
dances with delight
at a miracle not seen before
each precious flake hoarded
to build an eight inch
snowman

Students delight in time
out of school, vying
to build the best igloo
or using compressed handfuls
in their own power
struggles

Adult involved in balancing
complex priorities, choosing
between the demands of safety
and the necessary tasks
deciding what to let
slide

Elderly trapped within
the icy waste around
their own secure home
unable to step beyond their
front door for fear of
failing.

This poem I published in  “Everything Looks Green From Here” a collection of prose and poetry from Broomspring Writers in 2010

Deer

Seaward driven by winter’s hunger
twig thieving from a barren hedge
our headlights capture you
a frightened harbinger of snow.

I published  a different version of this poem in  “Everything Looks Green From Here” a collection of prose and poetry from Broomspring Writers in 2010

Winter in the Park

It was cold when I set out
the sort of cold
where the air feels dry
as the moisture freezes

The park fenced around by shadowed
black railings kept no one in
the remains of a forgotten hedge
did not stir to the fluster of small birds
nor children call to their parents
from the play equipment
even the students, who I’ve seen
on other nights drink wine
together on the communal swing
had not ventured out
no drunks shared cider on the empty bench
and beyond though still floodlit
the playground was deserted by
cricketer and basketball player alike.

As I passed the orange  haze of
the street light
a few flakes of snow
drifted down through the light
and I heard the rhythm
of South America drums echo
through the surrounding houses
the smell of Chinese or Italian takeaways
drifted out of hot shop doorways
mingling with the yeasty
smell of the overcrowded local
a ring of Hindi jittered from a passing taxi
the far side of the playground’s dark mesh.

This poem I published in  “Everything Looks Green From Here” a collection of prose and poetry from Broomspring Writers in 2010

First thoughts on Inclusion in the Civic Culture

Amartya Sen, somewhere in Development as  Freedom, describes a ladder of inclusion in institutions. At the lowest levels are the excluded who are outcasts from the institution and cannot access it.  The first level of inclusion is when you have access but nothing more. The second when you are informed about changes although you have no real participation in the decision process. The third is when you are consulted in the decision-making process although the consultation is non-binding. The fourth is when you representation within the decision-making process either by voting for a representative or by actually having a vote but no formulation power. The fifth is to have the ability to actually formulate and actively participate in running an institution. The sixth is an odd in that now instead of you being dispensable to the institution it is turned around and the institution is dispensable to you. The seventh is the invert of the first where you no longer participate in the institution as you have moved on elsewhere. It does not quite work for civic culture as this is not a single institution but it does point out that the problems are engaging the people at the very top and very bottom. I think civic culture spends a lot of effort into trying to keep people in the 6th rather than 7th stage and what I want to look at is how to get people into the 1st rather than 0th stage. I am broadly suggesting three stages, specialist civic groups, developmental streams and integration policies.

Specialist groups come in two overlapping forms and are normally charitable. One sort seeks to alleviate the reasons for the exclusion such as poverty, disability or lack of English. The second groups aim to provide spaces where people who are excluded can participate in civic culture in a sheltered environment. This might be by having local shared meals, writing groups for people who are excluded for a specific reason or maybe gardening schemes that help them to grow food. What this does is deliberately lower the bar to access to civic culture but it often does this at the price of limiting the access. Primarily these are charitable groups.

Developmental streams are ways that individuals get the skills that enable them to participate more fully in Civic Culture. The most obvious group of this sort is the Scottish Poverty Truth Commission, who train people to advocate for themselves to people who are unaware. My memory tells me we have had Poverty Truth Hearings in Sheffield in the past but I can find no evidence of this. The nearest group is currently in Leeds. However, that is aimed at the political economy but there are so many ways this could happen. The raising of creative writing in an ES0L class. The ability to find support from community entrepreneurs when a group wants to set up a group for themselves.  This is an activism stream aimed at changing individuals so they can participate.

Integration policies really are the flip side of developmental streams. That is if people are to be helped to be able to join in civic culture, it is also true that civic culture needs to make arrangements so that it can be open to people. The WEA which runs a number of writing classes has clear statements on this and does reduce fees for people who cannot afford full ones, plus make allowances for those with disabilities. I am not suggesting that all should go this way but all institutions in this area might like to consider how they can encourage the participation of the widest range of people in Civic Culture.

I am going to be honest now. I think these three as a minimum are essential if we are to widen participation by those who are currently excluded. It will not be easy, and with every success those that are left will be harder to reach. The option not to deliberately seek their inclusion with society is that this group will grow and eventually we will have a society divided between the stage 7 and the stage 0.

Easter Triduum – Iona Style 2017

I spent Easter as a guest at Iona Abbey.  The communal side of the Abbey is run by the Iona Community, while the Tourist side is run by Historic Scotland. Most importantly the worship that regularly happens in the Abbey is largely under the auspices of the Iona Community. Therefore if you go to the communion service on Easter Day at Iona Abbey you are attending a communion service that is run in line with the principles of the Iona Community. The Iona Community has two areas of concern that play significant roles in what goes on during Easter week. These are:

  • the building of the common life between the guests, volunteers (vollies) and resident staff.
  • the renewal of worship as the activity of the people

Therefore guests had part in the preparation of worship as well as sharing household tasks and serving at meals.

I have separated that into three the people who live and work around the Abbey under the auspices of the Iona Community. Those are the boundaries as used by the community but the boundaries are not as clearly drawn as such. The guests do work, that includes serving and washing up after meals, household tasks including cleaning toilets and participating in the preparation of worship.  The tasks are less arduous than those undertaken by the vollies and Residents but still necessary for the well functioning of the Abbey. They are not purely symbolic. Technically most resident staff are also volunteers but long term with contracts (between nine months and three years). There is a subtle and complex interplay between these three groups.

The worship team, i.e. the resident staff who have a contractual responsibility at present for worship are Rosie (Director), Deborah (Sacristan), Richard (Musician) and Callum (Musician).

I was a guest. There were around 37 guests present this week and in three chore teams. Most of the rooms were shared with twin or bunk beds. The rooms are cosy space wise and this is good because it also helps with their cosiness in other ways as the building has limited heating.

From our perspective, the preparations for the Triduum started on Monday when people start preparing for the stations of the cross on Good Friday.  The Iona Community takes overall organising responsibility with Bishops House Retreat Centre for the one at the Heritage Centre and the Parish Church doing the one at the Parish Church. The Iona Community then asks the guests for the week to prepare the other five.

The second part of preparation that was handed over to us was the sermon slot for the communion on Easter day. This, however, only started on Wednesday. Actually, you could say we divided ourselves into seven teams. The five for stations of the cross, one storying team and a movement team who eventually ended up being involved in the Easter Sunday  Evening Service.

The third part, and it is only third because I keep forgetting it was done, was the Big Sing and the not so Wee Sing. These are times when guests are taught the music for upcoming services. This is not a choir rehearsal but a chance to familiarise us with the music and teach parts. If you have ever been to Iona Abbey services and participated in the congregation singing happily in three parts, then this is how they do it. Basically, a significant proportion of the congregation has already been primed. I was spoilt as the number of musicians among the guests was large and therefore we did four part rather than the usual three part harmonies.

The first service was the foot washing which happened on the Tuesday in the Chapter House.  That might seem odd being outside the Triduum but Tuesday is the day the Iona Community runs pilgrimages around the Island.  There are two an on-road and an off-road. Therefore there are lots of tired sweaty feet in the afternoon.  In other words, the timing was chosen so it was at the point when feet needed washing. Oddly we were a fast group and three of us had already gone through the process of cleaning our boots! It was low key. Rosie explained what was going on. The song “Brother, sister Let me serve you” with resident staff and vollies making sure that water and towels were available. The process of washing feet was mutual. Anyone could sit in a chair for their feet to be washed; equally, anyone could take the place of the foot washer on the floor.

However, like all modern Protestant liturgical Triduums it really kicked off properly on Thursday Evening with a Gathering in the upper room. This is probably Protestants nearest equivalent to Corpus Christi. This was held in the refectory

A meal in the refectory

This focussed both on the foot washing from John’s Gospel but also the institution of the Lord’s Supper. There has been a large use of John this Lent, not quite sure whether that is because Matthew is difficult or just people wanting John for a change. The room was packed with the tables put up against the walls, the benches and upright chairs in front of them. The poem “Directions for using a towel” was read, the hymn “Great God your love has called us here“. That hymn is one of my favourites simply because it catches the complexity of the human condition in ways that speak to the sociologist in me. There were four stations at which communion was served: one for Judas, one for Peter, one for Thomas and one for another disciple with us being asked to go to the one that reflects where we are at.

Stripped high altar at Iona Abbey

The service closed with us leaving singing Jesu Tawa Pano  and processing to the Abbey. The Abbey was then stripped. That is any ornament that could be taken out of the Abbey was removed including the  Celtic Cross that is normally on the high altar. Anything that could not be removed was draped in black and all the candles were put out. The photo shown was taken I think the following afternoon but it gives an idea of the starkness of the stripped church. This was all done in total silence and the residents and volunteers doing the stripping were all dressed in black. We left our way lit by battery lanterns and we all went out by the main door rather than to the cloister.

Friday was the busiest day worship-wise. It started with the normal morning office in the stripped Abbey. Then it was on with tasks but pretty soon had to set out for the stations of the cross. As far as I can recall the progress was as follows:

  1. Martyrs Bay – Jesus Condemned
  2. War Memorial – Jesus is mocked
  3. Nunnery – Women Comfort Jesus
  4. Heritage Centre – Jesus Falls
  5. Parish Church – Jesus is Crucified
  6. St Martin’s Cross – Jesus Dies
  7. St Columba’s Shrine – Jesus is buried

Now I am going to have to give an impression. The day was dreich and full waterproofs were a good idea. On the other hand, it certainly attracted people and by the time we got to jetty there was a crowd following the cross including Iona Community members who were not part of the staff at the Abbey. In between each station, we moved singing a short chant quite often from Taize. I am afraid it did not really get going for me until the women at the Nunnery where we heard the interaction between Mary, Jesus’ mother and modern women’s stories. The Bishop’s house connected Jesus’s fall with all the whys we have. The cross was dropped and instead of a man picking it up a woman did. The Parish church was a meditation by Barabbus asking us whether if we could get out of suffering we would not let someone else take it for us. The crucifixion was two monologues by two soldiers taking different aspects. One took the Dorothy L Sayers idea that one might have been the centurion whose servant had been healed by Jesus. The final one involved taking the body of Jesus and laying it in St Columba’s Shrine. Then the door of the shrine was slammed shut.

From 2:00 to 3:30 pm there was a vigil kept in the church. I along with many others by this time was flagging. I dropped off a couple of times during the vigil but stayed. However, quite a few others left early precisely because they were falling asleep. The result was the Abbey which was about half full at the start of the vigil was only a scattered few mainly in the choir seats and we drifted out after the end.

That evening it was a dispersed service. This was services in small spaces around the abbey. For instance, there was one gathering in St Columba’s Shrine, one in the Abbey Library and the one I attended in the Burrows. I went to the Burrows for two reasons. Firstly it was warm and worshipping in the warmth appealed to me. Secondly, it is a utility space used for washing and drying clothing and sheets and as a short cut to the kitchen. It really was the core space for me while I was a vollie on the Abbey Housekeeping team over a decade ago. The service was short and focused on a reading of Lamentations 3. In the Burrows, there were 6-10 people present and we were full.

Easter Eve started once again with the morning office in the stripped Abbey. This was very routine. The differences from normal were slight in that there was no music playing when we came in and we sang unaccompanied. On the evening was a service of waiting. This gave time to reflect on the actual importance of paying attention to waiting. Again a very stripped down service and quite meditative. This was kept as a partial fast day as I think was Friday and no puddings were served but only fruit. Oddly enough outside of worship, an excitement was beginning to boil as the last preparations were being done for the Easter day service.

Easter day started with a 6:15 at St Oran’s Chapel. This is the chapel in the burial ground beside the Abbey. The day had a damp start and once again I could have done with waterproofs trousers as well as coat and walking boots. The acclamation was joyful and we were handed a flower (not necessarily a daffodil). There were candles representing Easter fire but in the damp, they were rather poor. A good volume of Halle, Halle, Halle as we walked from St Oran’s to the Abbey where we left our flowers at the font before progressing through the cloisters for the Wee Breakfast still singing. The Wee Breakfast consisted of Simnel Cake and Hot Chocolate (alright I was a party pooper and chose hot cross buns and tea but that was just me).

Sometime between the waiting service and 9:00 am on Easter Sunday the Abbey had been re-decorated with daffodils everywhere. The cross with the daffodils on it was actually carried down at the start of the service and the high altar had a white communion cloth on it.

The candles were lit unlike in the photos which were taken on Sunday afternoon.  I had a reserved seat for the service because I had been part of the storying group and needed to be able to get to the microphone at the main desk.

The attendance was such that people were standing outside the Abbey and therefore the doors could not be shut. Handbells were used twice during the service and we also had a group of guests doing shape-note singing. The hymns tends to be modern versions of Easter classics so we had “God given Glory” instead of “Thine be the Glory” and a new version of “Jesus Christ is risen today” both by Jan Sutch Pickard. Equally the form was actually very strongly based on the form given in the Iona Abbey Worship Book with seasonal words used. The text for the service was John 20:1-18, this got represented three times. Firstly it was read, secondly the modern form of “Jesus Christ is risen today” tells it again and finally, the storying group had interwoven this story with the stories of others told during the week and finished with an invitation to create a new story.

You would think with all that, that Easter was over but this was the final day on Iona for us guests and we would be leaving on 8:50 ferry next morning. Thus, as is customary the night before guests leave, there was a service of commitment. It was a quiet abbey in the evening where a good number of people gathered for the service. I know because I was sat in the choir stalls when we were asked to come forward for the act of commitment and for a considerable time after I returned to my seat people filed in. The movement which was based on actions symbolising community was done in silence in the space before the act of commitment. It felt the most personal service. This was odd. Commitment services usually have high guest inputs but because we had been so busy during the week we did very little apart from the movement and yet it still drew us in.

 

Meta- Institutions: Building Connection, Building Capacity

Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine

Well, one candle does not give off much light and the further away it is from other candles the less the area around it is illuminated. To actually be able to do things, even things like tying shoe laces, you need to have several candles fairly close together.

The thing is the specialised group functioning on its own may well be doing its utmost to tackle the darkness where it is but without other groups around shining on similar topics it is really not much use. I know the wisdom of doing one thing and only one thing well but it does not work like that. To be effective in civic culture the group needs to do a number of things including:

  • have a basic functioning organisation that means it can meet its legal requirements e.g. handle money, safeguarding, insurance

  • be able to recruit people to be involved with its aims. This may be for a short or long term.  Groups may well need more people involved at specific times e.g. when hosting a specific event or while conducting critical campaigning. They, however, also need people for the long haul otherwise the next time the issue comes up everyone starts again from scratch.
  • effective communication channels within the group so that those involve know what is going on at a level where they are happy.

What is more, as these are shared by all groups they lead to duplication.

Now we have some meta-institutions but they are sector based. Voluntary Action Sheffield (VAS) probably has the widest brief. It states it role as:

VAS supports voluntary and community organisations in Sheffield at all stages of development

This can cover things such a churches, tenants groups as well as charities. It aims to link volunteers to such groups. They “provide particular support with legal matters, accountancy, payroll, HR advice, IT consultancy, CRM software, fundraising, development and enterprise.

However, let’s say you wanted to join a writers group. It is no good going to VAS. Indeed there is not at the moment any organisation that has a list of groups. My suggestions would be to look for a writing class with the WEA and select the most appropriate of those or wait for Off the Shelf where a number of groups showcase their work.  Then you could look out for readings such as Writers in the Bath or the Gauntlet. The only snag with that is that you need to be part of the writing scene to find out what is happening and the best way to be part of the scene is to be in a writing group. Now, this is particularly bad at present as there used to be a group called Writing Yorkshire that had an overarching brief. It closed a year ago.

So what we have at the moment is a third sector where we have volunteer groups who do charitable work set up in their corner, interest groups setting up their corners and professional bodies such as  Med-Chi or Statistics Activity Network each in their own corner. I could add campaign groups, political parties and trades unions. There are synergies between groups. The problem is to create something similar to Sheffield Chamber of Commerce but focussed on the Civic Sector rather than the commercial and with an added brief to foster relationships across sub-sectors of the brief.

This is necessary because at present the cohesion relies on a small number of people who belong or support a wide range of groups. These individuals are capable when they want to, of pulling together a number of different groups. Far more importantly they are able to put people in contact with each other. The more such people there are the healthier and more coherent a civic culture is. If I were to play with the idea I would base it around a monthly meeting but with a four-month rotation: one month would have a purely  social event, another a talk on an area of interest, a training and the finally may be a sub-sector introduction with a speed dating element even maybe crossing over with the chamber of commerce.

 

Encouraging Engagement – Citizen’s UK


I am holding up Citizens UK as an example, not because it is exactly what is needed here but because it is an organisation that is dedicated to this task that I am exploring. It was launched in 1989 and it says its aim is to

is to locate a much stronger and better organised civil society at the heart of UK governance and public life

It has a staff of 70 of which 45 are professional community organisers.  They organise in Chapters and Projects. Amongst their projects are:

According to Wikipedia it is also behind

The one I have known about for a long time is the Living Wage Foundation. That started rising over about the time that the government brought in Living Wage legislation in 1998. The campaign basically challenges employers to pay the amount that means employees can live off it rather than the minimum permitted. It has been embarrassing how many church organisations not only do not pay a living wage but seek to circumvent the minimum wage legislation.  I accept volunteers may be paid ‘pocket money’ if they are looked after in other ways but this should not exceed a year and it certainly should not include them paying their own way. So I knew of their campaigns but not really about them.

On the whole, left of centre concerns but are aimed at developing people’s involvement with it rather than running political campaigns. As such this fits largely where I stand on left of centre radical politically.

It is interesting that they were founded in 1989. 1989 was not a great year for me but I survived. However, the years following were some of the most depressing I have experienced. I can remember after the 1990 election when John Major got in a flatmate was so dischuffed that he, despite being a bright PhD student was threatening to leave the country. I also can remember very strong concerns being raised about social exclusion and those who were not included in civic society. This is the background against which Citizens UK was formed.

My one caution is the way the campaigns seem to be run as distinct entities and the central organisation is not a central focus. This was to such an extent that when I was asked to look at them I could not recall hearing about them before. I have suspicions that the information on the central website is out of date.  I am by PhD training a social anthropologist and though I can do some mild internet stalking what I wanted to do was participant observation. So I signed up to see what would happen.  If it got similar to petition holding sites where I get bombarded by other worthy petition after signing one I was going to pull back pretty quickly.  Indeed my caution stopped me from signing up fully. I got stuck on the volunteering options:

  • I’d like to help provide homes for refugees
  • I’d like to help secure a living wage for UK workers
  • I’d like to be involved in the Citysafe Campaign
  • I’d like to assist the Social Care Campaign
  • I’d like to volunteer with the Just Money campaign
  • I’d like to help with the Good Jobs Campaign
  • I’d like to be involved with Citizens Commission on Islam, Participation & Public Life

I am not sure what I am volunteering for. If providing homes for refugees is low-level campaigning then fine. However, if it is opening my home then I am much more cautious. Now I am not sure if I have time or energy to be involved in any of those so I get stuck at the signing in stage at this point and cannot progress to becoming a member.

Then fate took a hand.  I have a friend who is involved with the Churches Refugee Network and indeed has written a book of the Bible and Refugees. I also have some back-story in that, I was born in South Africa. My mother’s family goes back four or more generations and my Dad was sent by CWM to work in   Adams College at the Federal Seminary. As such, my background is liberal white but in a situation that was politically charged under Apartheid. When my father’s five-year contract was up it was clear that the powers did not like the idea of his contract being renewed. My Dad was British, my Mum had taken British citizenship and so I had it as well. We, therefore, returned to the UK with no employment for my parents. In other circumstances, seeking asylum is not that far from my story. Friends of my parents did seek asylum here. The result is that Refugee and Asylum are topics which I am likely to engage with. That is why I participated in the University of Sheffield’s Big Walk last year. Thus, when the repeal of the Dubs Amendment happened it was something I was looking to engage with. That Citizens UK were organising a petition was a coincidence. The question is “how well did they succeed in engaging me with the campaign?”

First thing, that was notable was that they followed up on signing the petition with an immediate request for you to donate to a charity involved in Refugee and Asylum campaigning Safe Passage. It is not Citizens for Sanctuary mentioned above and is clearly linked still with Citizens UK.  This was a noted change. The communication I have had with them since has focussed on this issue. They have asked and helped me write to my MP through using Nationbuilder Platform. It is a platform used by Brexit and the Trump campaign; I am ambivalent over this. On the one hand, I am not pro Brexit or Trump’s policies; on the other hand, both these campaigns were very successful at getting ground level support out. If this is a truly politically neutral software then the left and the radical need to be using it or building as good or better tools.

The difference between them and other petition organisations is that they have consistently sought to engage me further with that that I had shown an interest in rather than sending me random other petitions. This has continued with the invite to an online meeting with Alf Dubs to discuss the way forward. So far I am on board. I will see where this leads.

What they also do it have local chapters. There are at present ones are: North London Citizens, South London Citizens, TELCO (The East London Citizens Organisation), West London Citizens, Citizens:mk (in Milton Keynes), Nottingham Citizens, Citizens UK BirminghamCardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan CitizensLeeds Citizens, Tyne & Wear Citizens and Greater Manchester Citizens. There is not one in Sheffield, that means really that Associate membership is the way forward.

My conclusion so far is that this is a good organisation for drawing people into civic engagement provided that their interests are in line with the campaigns it is running. The campaigns, on the whole, are admirable. I would like to know more about how local chapters work, especially those outside of London. For instance, whether they seek to set up local groups to support the national campaigns, whether they seek to help local civic groups grow that are already established or whether they seek to run local campaigns on issues where there are not other campaigns going.

Now I have cautions.  Firstly if you are to develop civic engagement then you really need to be building on what is there. The more groups interact the stronger the civic culture is. At present, it seems as if Citizens UK works by drawing people into the civic debate but rather than then connecting them with what already exists they set up a new organisation. However, this results in the setting up of more and more highly focussed institutions and encourages a specialisation in the interaction. Questions I would like them to ask before setting up a new campaign group are:

  • Is there a campaign organisation who are already trying to target this issue?
  • Is there ways we can work with this organisation, not just to recruit people but to make them a more effective institution?

The other big question comes from my vision of civic society as more than campaign groups with their socio-political agenda into the more broadly focused community groups. Can a group like this encourage membership of groups that are not specific campaign groups whether they are service, support, interest or broad friendship group?

Imaging a Vibrant Civic Culture

There are two levels to this. The big level is the institutional one and the small level which is the individual. We need a model that sees these not as in opposition but as complimentary,

Institutional Ecology

Firstly let me deal with the fact that we have a limited understanding of institution largely formed by work of Foucault and Goffman who worked with big or total institutions. In fairness to Foucault, his institutions were the creation of society and not the actual organisations that society had created. As a result, we tend to think as institutions as complex organisations that have legal structure and seek to control the behaviour of those who come under their care. The archetype is the Total Institution where it is possible for an individual to exist in an artificial environment that takes complete care of their needs and seeks to make them behave according to its aims. The classic example is the asylum, but you can think of Radical Reformation Churches as striving to do this.

What I want to introduce are two different concepts that together reshape the whole way we look at institutions. The first I am going to call the partial institution. It does not desire to be everything to everyone but has limited and well-defined aims. The second is the meta-institution which is an institution that seeks to do things for other institutions. This might be to provide venues for them to meet, provide legal advice, provide training or build alliances between different partial institutions.  Total and total-like institutions do not need these meta-institutions; they have the resources internally to meet these needs. However, partial institutions by their limited nature do require these sort of institutions.

Now I can get down to specific. Most of a good civic culture would not be made up of big or total institutions and civic culture itself is not a total institution.  Rather it is an ecology of partial institutions with meta-institutions existing symbiotically with the other partial institutions.  The partial-institutions would be numerous and diverse. The roles that they fulfil within the ecology would differ as their aims differ and there is no sense that one shape fits all. The legal framework in which they exist would seek to be commensurate with the purposes that they exist for and not force a conformity of organisational structure. It would be totally normal for these partial institutions to be formed and to close. A healthy ecology is marked by the creation rate being equal to or exceeding the closure rate and the mean survival time being a reasonable but not excessive time. There would be enough interconnections between partial institutions that the ecology is connected.

Let me expand that last sentence to deal with meta-institutions. There are two types of connections that partial institutions can have with each other. The first one is the connection by an individual. When an individual is active within two partial institutions they produce a connection between them. This may or may not be actualised. Some people are very good at keeping parts of their life separate, others naturally connect people to other people. The second is through meta-institutions. Where partial institutions use the same meta-institutions then there are links between them. What is important is that there are good meta-institution within the ecology. If the links are solely by individuals then the ecology is very open to rupture and breakdown. For this reason, I would argue that there needs to be redundancy and overlap between meta-institutions as if there isn’t then the failure of a meta-institution will lead to problems in the ecology.

Individual Engagement

It is possible for individuals to keep in contact with civil ecology just through friendship but it is difficult. Indeed when a friendship group goes beyond the purely spontaneous it becomes one of the smaller partial institutions. For a healthy civic culture, the aim should be that everyone is involved in at least one partial institution. I am not at present defining what involvement is and that ideally people should engage on average with two to three partial institutions. I acknowledge that many people will find they use largely the same set of partial institutions as their friends. This is not a problem. The problem with engagement with a single partial institution is that sends that institution towards becoming a total institution. What would be very good is if these partial institutions were diverse not three reading group but perhaps a church, a film club and a protest group.

Another thing is that if this is done well we should be able to link anyone within a civic culture to anyone else participating within 4 degrees of separation rather than the usual six. It might be silly but when we start to get this level of separation then it is as if the person on the edge are just friends of a friend of a friend. That changes our perspective on who other people are.

Some care needs to be taken that people are engaged at the two extremes of society. At the bottom level, this is because people often have such difficulty surviving that they do not have the resources to engage with any institution if it is not going to help them survive is. If we can connect in the friendship groups that they have already into the wider meshes so much the better. To do this the institutions that help them survive need to change their perspective and see the individuals who are engaging with them, not as clients but part of the structure. The second group are those among the very rich who wish to abrogate their belonging to society.  To counteract this firstly the institution ecology must not be seen as just that which cares for the disadvantaged. It also needs to have a focus on providing resources that can not simply be paid for. That means a move away from an economy where everything can simply be paid for.

The Social Meshes

The result of these partial institutions and individual belonging is that we create meshes that connect people.  If you want to think them as a net (or nets) where the people are strands and the partial institutions are the knots. The more separate meshes there is the more movement there is in society and the more change there is and the easier it is for someone to become dislodged from the edge of a mesh. On the other hand, a highly connected society becomes almost static. It is impossible for new partial institutions to become and the old ones tend to become moribund. Indeed in the end, if the meshes become total then any change threatens the whole and revolution becomes inevitable. So we need a balance between the need to adapt and the need to keep people in the mesh.

The job immediately at hand is to create healthy meshes

  • Build mechanism for getting people more engaged with partial institutions and wider civic society
  • The to build meta-institutions that support a healthy ecology in which partial institutions can be born, grow, fail, and die.
  • To create mechanisms that support people who are likely to become disconnected from the social meshes.

 

 

There is work to do!

I have been holding back from writing this and will probably take a while to publish. People are hurt upset and angry and nobody likes someone telling them some home truths in that situation but there are some that need to be said.

We need to become builders and, unfortunately, our house is in such a state that we are going to have to start at the foundations.

Let me tell the uncomfortable story.

The people who lived through World War II seem to have a very specific focus afterwards. They wanted to make the world a better place for all in society than it was before the war. A place where the need to go through experiences like those suffered by many during the fighting did not reoccur.  They sought to build the institutions that would make sure that this happened and those institutions would be so strong that the children would not need to build them again.

Little did they see that their children far from appreciating those institutions would see them as expensive, unnecessary baggage and set about dismantling them. Anyone Baby Boomer or member of Generation X feeling smug about this and thinking I am talking of Millenials, better do a quick rethink. It is us, the Baby Boomer and Generation X who are those children. Baby Boomers were born to those who fought in the war, Generation X are the children of those who grew up during the war. We have had the luxury where of living in a world where no major international powers fought each other. They have held proxy wars, been involved wars in attempts to control other parts of the world and there have been wars between weaker countries

We claimed this as the removal of these institutions would empower people and increase equality.  The discourse became ‘institution bad’. The irony was this undiscriminating approach to institutions is that it attacked the most vulnerable institutions first. These were not the big ones that reflected the interests of the powerful but the small ones that voiced the interests of the everyday citizen. The result is today that to control the power within the institutions you either need to have money or friends. What have disappeared or are under attack are those institutions that gave people influence because they existed.

Now I do not want to go back to flawed institutions. We need to learn from the failing of institutions in the past. They built institutions that saw the state providing the mesh that held society together. The Victorians before them built institutions that saw philanthropic paternalism of large total institutions as the solution to societies problems. I do not want to recreate the past but I do want to find a way forward to create a society that has institutions that connect us into a common whole and where people are not allowed to fall through the cracks.