engagement, community and the individual

A couple of days ago I posted on the conflict between writing what people are identified, through the crunching of online stats, as wanting in their newspapers, and writing what we – as grandly hierarchical authorial voices – believe people need to read.  I concluded in the following way:

Perhaps, in a sense, it is wrong of me to bemoan latterday newspapers’ statistical approach to writing stories.  Structures and restrictions have always faced our artists: the shock of the new, the art of the old, the genius of the wise, the resilience of the one-day-to-be-famous creators of future generations … all these issues and more may help us to understand better that whilst the moneymen and women do substantially affect our ability to do good, equally the Utopia we would desire is inevitably beyond our reach.

It may or may not be democracy to only write what people want.

But similarly, mightn’t it be a kind of fascism to only write what we think they need?

Last night, meanwhile, I finally let go – in the face of a resounding lack of interest – of a hyperlocal journalism project which has had grand virtue but zero engagement in the community where I live.

In response to this piece, a very nice man I met a few weeks ago in person very kindly tweeted this:

This post you are reading now is my short and concise reply.

Engagement is the buzz-concept of the second decade of this 21st century.  Without take-up, without a wider acceptance, utility for any virtual and/or community project does not exist.  And there is little point – in the case of the hyperlocal experiences under discussion today, for example – in my continuing another seven months, bravely plugging away as an individual who is peculiarly, maybe fruitlessly, in the outfield of irrelevant process – with what’s evidently been, at a personal level anyway, a limited capacity to engage that wider community.

In any case, from the beginning, the project was about sustainability: about re-engineering existing business models in tandem with the new hyperlocal, for the benefit of all and sundry.  And it’s here, perhaps, where my sticking-point has lain all along.  I’ve been a blogger since 2003 (maybe earlier; can’t remember for sure): part of that army of virtual ants which has clambered altruistically, collaboratively, ultimately (I’m afraid to say) grossly too, over its tiring companions and colleagues, as the years have passed by in generally unpaid and uncompensated labour.

If I am clear about anything, it’s that I don’t want such volunteer weariness to repeat itself for hyperlocal – for yet another possibly foolish and certainly unknowing generation of hopefuls.

We don’t want to make of significant journalism a permanent internship of promises, never fulfilled.

If I give up on being a one-man band, this is mainly, primarily, why.

For starters, out of a kind of déjà vu.  Out of seeing how excited individuals are exploited systemically through their own laudable belief in their communities and the future.

Also, then, because I do seriously wonder the following: in democracy, what right does any individual (like myself, I mean) have to hierarchically define what an unwilling community rejects – whether outright and explicitly or with an (un)fairly cloaked sense of ownership?

And so it is, by way of final observation, I express – in the strongest terms –  my desire to create models and dynamics of collaboration which attribute and remunerate justly.

As in our emotional lives, so in our business relationships.

Isn’t that right?  Isn’t that how – always – it should be?

capitalism is good for communities – discuss!

Last night’s debate at discuss.org.uk’s event, held at the magnificently 21st century Manchester Central Library (its remodelled insides, I mean – outside, it remains grand old Manchester), argued for and against the motion: “Capitalism is good for communities.”

For the motion: Breffni Walsh, Founder, Brands Are Best; and Penny Haslam, of PHEW

In the UK, enlightened capitalism helps us all. Right now, big business understands and delivers against its obligations to deliver corporate good and there is an unprecedented – and growing – recognition that satisfied and engaged employees and receptive local communities are good for business. Not least because everyone has seen the increased risk – and often spectacular fallout – from businesses that lose the public’s faith. Also, imaginative ways to respond to economic pressures have resulted in new public/private partnerships whereby our biggest businesses can get involved in helping to deliver fresh, new and effective approaches to education, health and other public services.

Against the motion: Paul Kennedy, Sociologist, MMU; and Georgia Rigg, Leadership lead, RECLAIM

On the other hand, it could be argued that big business has inveigled its way into society in ever more insidious ways. That we are all consumers first and citizens second; victims of increasingly sophisticated ways to embed marketing into our everyday lives. And with zero hours contracts and ever ingenious ways to protect profits and bosses’ windfalls at the expense of the workers, you could argue that as both consumers or employees we have never been more victimised by rampant capitalist forces.

The debate was chaired by Michael Taylor, Founder of Discuss – as even-handed and efficient a chair as one could hope for.  The evening flowed well as a result, with plenty of vocal audience participation – both during the presentations as well as after in the Q&A sessions.  Interestingly, Michael encouraged people to state points of view, not only to ask questions.  This hasn’t happened on previous Guardian Live-sponsored events I’ve been to.  I don’t know if it’s because northern folk know how long to expound a pet theme (maybe more societally conscious of others’ rights of expression!), but offering explicitly a pulpit up to the floor caused zero problems of any kind.  No one attempted to hijack the meeting, as had been the case a couple of uncomfortable times in London events.

I was undecided at the beginning, and prepared to listen.

As the debate developed, some of the key points got lost in the passions on both sides.  There were actually three groups of participants: the “for” and “against” presenters being two; the audience, a participative and necessary third set of voices.  It was refreshing to see that people were open to having their minds changed.

Personal anecdote combined with more technical and general overviews provided for a good mix of approaches.  This Storify gives my impression of what happened.

Yes.  As you can see, quite despite myself I think, I voted “against”.  I think this was more to do with the measured forcefulness of the floor than the cogent preparedness of the panel.

But as I say in my tweets during and afterwards, if we want to fix capitalism – and I still think it’s possible – I think imposing a massive and fundamental change on corporate law by making all corporations into equivalents of US “benefit corporations” would serve much better – than, for example, a harsher regulatory framework – to provide the level playing-field which the good people who work in corporate capitalism everywhere need, in order to be able to consistently follow up their manifestly good instincts:

In the United States, a benefit corporation or B-corporation is a type of for-profit corporate entity, legislated in 28 U.S. states, that includes positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals. B corps differ from traditional corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.

The purpose of a benefit corporation includes creating general public benefit, which is defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment. A benefit corporation’s directors and officers operate the business with the same authority as in a traditional corporation but are required to consider the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders but also on society and the environment. In a traditional corporation, shareholders judge the company’s financial performance; with a B-corporation, shareholders judge performance based on how a corporation’s goals benefit society and the environment. Shareholders determine whether the corporation has made a material positive impact. Transparency provisions require benefit corporations to publish annual benefit reports of their social and environmental performance using a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third-party standard. In some states, the corporation must also submit the reports to the Secretary of State, although the Secretary of State has no governance over the report’s content. Shareholders have a private right of action, called a benefit enforcement proceeding, to enforce the company’s mission when the business has failed to pursue or create general public benefit. Disputes about the material positive impact are decided by the courts.

It’d be a long haul, of course; there’d be many vested interests of the bad sorts out there who’d fight tooth and nail to prevent any such changes.  But for others, others we need to reach out to, eschewing greater regulation in favour of the innovation good capitalism has always been characterised by would surely get more than a few dyed-in-the-wool capitalists onboard.

And it would allow them (us!) all to deal with goals such as social justice within the framework of capitalism: at its very centre and core as well; not just tagged on as lame corporate social responsibilities.

No?

does government now want to punish you for being intelligent?

This, from Huffington Post yesterday, disconcerts me a tad:

Young people with highly technical computer skills could become targets — or instigators — of organised crime, the government has warned.

[…]

A new Home Office “prevent” guide to identifying those “at risk” of falling into crime, spotted by Techno Guido, says that “specialist knowledge and skills in IT and communications” could be a gateway to potential criminality.

And:

“Early behaviours could include modifications to games or software and sharing online. Recent evidence suggests that the number of frauds committed by young adults are increasing.”

The report also notes that “online networks and communities” could provide a “pathway into serious and organised crime”.

So people who only have menial skills are out of the frame, whereas people who want to get actively involved in adding value to their communities and economies – precisely by using their brains, learning and self-learning to do this – are at risk of being typed and followed by the state as subversive individuals.

There is almost a double-whammy approach here: on the one hand, we create and propagate the conditions of job-market insecurity which allow those with wealth to continue pressuring those without – and what’s more, we then justify the process by blaming the so-called scrounging poor for the parlous state of the wider economy; whilst, on the other, we argue that anyone who does want to be ambitious enough to raise themselves from poverty via an intelligent self-learning – or even through institutional training – is potentially ambitious enough to want to commit crime.

No matter that most of the truly heinous crimes I’ve got the feeling have been committed prior to and after the credit crunch of 2008 appear to have far more to do with middle-aged males, carrying out loosely controlled executive functions, than the down-at-heel young now apparently under the microscope of the security establishment.

I can only sigh at all the above.

I prefer to believe it’s unintentional – maybe just another manifestation of a broader inability to carry out proper analyses, end-to-end.

But it does, also, seem hard to resist the impression they’re deliberately looking to punish intelligent people – exactly for exhibiting even their constructive intelligences – somewhere down the shabby and shoddy line.

We don’t need this.  We really don’t.  We don’t need a state which perceives the condition-at-birth of every future citizen as being a potential criminal within the people.

That it now appears to be happening can only be symptomatic of the following circumstance: the state knows something so terrible about the relationship between itself and its citizens that, once revealed, if ever revealed, would lead to shocked reaction.

Honestly.  The psychology of it all seems that: the psychology of the abuser – maybe the abused too (who knows?) – who, hidden all these years, can only see the bad in others.

How can an intelligent government like ours want to track, follow and permanently pursue precisely those people and citizens who, given half a chance, would be able to make our communities, societies, economies and politics work so much better than the current levels of dysfunctionality allow?

Almost as if those in charge don’t want things to improve.

And taken to its logical conclusion, anyone who didn’t wilfully choose to be a poor, put-upon, skiving, scrounging, illiterately TV-dinner-consuming commoner would offer quite enough reasons to be put on the ever-increasing watchlist which – I’m pretty sure – already exists.

Really sad stuff going down here.

With this definition of austerity’s purpose, you’re neither allowed to get the end of the month on the back of the state nor aspire to getting there out of your own volition and clevernesses.

So what the hell is this all about?  Anyone any idea?

Does no one trust us any more?  Is that what we must conclude?