Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to combine diversity with social solidarity?

This is the first decade in the history of mankind when it is estimated that more people are living in urban rather than rural and village environments. By 2050 it is estimated that 75% of humans will be urbanites. However, our discourse about community – how people can live together well – is hundreds of years behind this development. Notions of community are still completely dominated by rural and often deeply conservative and even feudal narratives that bear no resemblance to the reality that we need to understand and the futures we need to construct if we are to live successfully in highly diverse and increasingly globalised world cities. Nostalgia and outdated religious views usually characterise the traditional notion of community. A pre-Lapsarian idealised era is almost always conjured up so as to conclude that everything was better before “they” arrived. This desperation for Merrie England (a time that has not only passed but never actually existed) is now a characteristic of English identity and increasingly Tory visions of English history and its teaching. Modern urban living should make us realise that that society needs to be looked at as an unpredictable and complex organism rather than a rational and planned machine. Discourse about “community” is frequently designed to make the real contradictions and discontinuities that characterise modern life dissolve into a mush of nostalgia on the one hand or a teleological narrative of necessary progress on the other. As Giles Fraser says (Guardian 9/6/2012) “Community is premised on sameness. And sameness excludes, however subtly… Sameness creates community and community looks after its own” As he goes on to say: “the great political question of the age is how one manages to combine diversity with social solidarity”.