During a very interesting event organised this week for the Carnegie Foundation by Suw Charman on the subject of Civil Society, we discussed people’s willingness or otherwise to engage in social media and the new ways of organising and influencing the world that it is making possible.
One of the participants gave the example of a friend of his who he claimed didn’t really want to think too hard about things. He was content to do his job, get paid, watch television, and sleep. I found this more than slightly patronising, although it obviously wasn’t intended as such, then suggested that perhaps people were content to live a quiet life without burning ambition because they had been trained to be such by school systems designed to produce cannon fodder for a Taylorist world of work that appears to be dying.
On the other hand in my own reaction I was reminded of one of my favourite sayings – “to rescue someone is to oppress them”. In other words, taking a decision on someone else’s behalf that they need “improved”, or that their own decisions on how to lead their lives are not as good as our decisions for them, is equally unattractive. I am very sensitive to the risks of a small group of social media zealots knowing what is good for the world whether the world likes it or not.
And yet, as will be clear from my own desire for people to think more for themselves, as expressed in my previous post, I worry that what I see as an organic, complex adaptive system – i.e. the world – needs each individual or cell to operate to their full capacity and as autonomously as possible. These thoughts are captured for me in the following section, quoted in Chomsky On Anarchism, from Wilhelm Von Humboldt;
The incapacity for freedom can only arise from a want of moral and intellectual power; to heighten this power is the only way to supply this want; but to do this presupposes the exercise of the power, and this exercise presupposes the freedom which awakens spontaneous activity. Only it is clear we cannot call it giving freedom, when bonds are relaxed which are not felt as such by him who wears them. But of no man on earth – however neglected by nature, and however degraded by circumstances – is this true of all the bonds which oppress him. Let us undo them one by one, as the feeling of freedom awakens in men’s hearts, and we shall hasten progress at every step.