Monday, 1 January 2018

Paradigm Lost

Students of political theory or people sampling rival media commentaries may well get the impression that there are countless incompatible ways to organise how we live in society, and there is no end to arguing which may serve us better than any other.

But actually since the 17th century there has been a growing recognition that communities structured for maximum cooperation amongst their members provide a preferable model of social and political planning. The Royal Society advanced it for scientific investigation; the Levellers pushed the idea of universal suffrage to reflect the fact every citizen has an equal right to take part in deciding the fate of the commonwealth; and the Quakers demonstrated that petty religious disputes could be put aside for the sake of caring for one another.

From 1700 to 1900, through the Enlightenment and the Age of Reform, what may be termed the Cooperative Community paradigm came to the fore as the guiding approach to social and organisational development at every level. By early 20th century, there was a clear consensus that political and educational support for facilitating cooperation within and across communities is superior to the anti-cooperative stance of colonial expansionists, aggressive fascists, racist ideologues, plutocratic exploiters, financial manipulators, Bolshevik totalitarians, or oppressive theocrats. The post-war consensus embraces this paradigm in favouring welfare standards for all citizens, a regulated market to provide a level-playing field, the democratic rule of law against blind hatred and corrupt behaviour, and sustained investment in independent research and universal education.

Unfortunately, since the 1980s, the New Right has, with backing from the most irresponsible businesses (gambling, smoking, polluting, arms manufacturing, financially disruptive speculation, etc.), bought more propaganda powers to win political control to help those businesses, and deflect public dissatisfaction towards scapegoats such as immigrants, benefit claimants, and any politician prepared to take a stance against businesses that pursue their short-term profit at the expense of everyone else. A by-product of the New Right’s penchant for muddying the water is that an increasing number of people buy into arbitrary beliefs or a misguided acceptance of anything-goes relativism.

By now, the Cooperative Community paradigm has become obscured from view. Instead of learning from its historical impact, and applying it to current challenges, social reformists and democratic activists find they don’t even have a common language to rally public support for an end to New Right hegemony. There is an urgent need to recover the paradigm that has been an invaluable guide for us.

By drawing on the ideas of thinkers and leaders such as Tom Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Jefferson, the Owenites, J.S. Mill, Abraham Lincoln, John Dewey, F.D. Roosevelt, Clement Attlee, Karl Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, and many others, we can reconfigure the paradigmatic model for displacing prejudiced and exploitative interactions by informed and inclusive cooperation. We should not be deflected by divisions over small differences, intellectually or organisationally, but should focus on our shared need to join forces in protecting and enhancing cooperative arrangements in the face of the relentless onslaught from the enemies of mutuality.


Woodman59 said...

I do take every opportunity to raise the cooperative factor in whatever contexts I can - Facebook and WhatsApp discussions, etc.

I have to be honest that these usually get minimal or no response. There is very little understanding of how this factor alone could reshape our entire life experiences in every respect for the better - it's such a shame.

For the time being I do have a small public platform to use...but I will still have to be very careful about introducing such ideas so as not to alienate people. It's not possible to give up - because once you've realised this is the best way to live, you can hardly undo that awareness!

However, at some time or other I trust it will be understood that the individualistic approach which currently dominates the cultural climate is never ultimately going to allow for either true societal or personal happiness, so any small step towards that point - is going to be very worthwhile.

At some time it would be interesting to learn about your own personal journey into the "cooperative awareness" perhaps. When we want to help people embrace this change from their current position, perhaps it's worthwhile looking at the journeys that some people have made - perhaps even from very different starting points?

Henry Benedict Tam said...

People do have different starting points. I think having to deal with policy conflicts, not just from an academic perspective, but as a pubic official, played a part in developing my thoughts on the need for cooperative problem-solving. Other people may come to such a conclusion via quite distinct routes. I should add that, while for most people, it is a question of coming to realise that a better life experience can be attained through reciprocity and cooperation, there are those whose exploitative disposition plus their embrace of risk-maximisation would lead them to seek out ways to take unfair advantage of others as their preferred way to live. So we need at least two strategies: to bring on board those who would potentially welcome the chance to live in cooperative communities; and guard against those who would undermine such communities because they have no sense of the common good.

Woodman59 said...

Your point is actually immediately relevant. There are various people of all different persuasions, who would readily attempt to use this small public platform I refer to promote their own personal agendas - rather than consider the common good...or rather, they will want to assume that their own private agenda - is the common good!

So while encouraging people to enter this small but unique public space, I'm also having to gently but firmly explain to those, who - whether realising or not, would tend to abuse it - that this will not be allowed.