There is such thing as society. It’s official.
Looking weary and disheveled, speaking from his isolation in Number 10, actually he lives in Number 11, BoJo, currently CoroJo, has told us.
It’s hard to tell how ill he is, he always looks dishevelled and weary. I guess it’ll be another week before he’s back at the podium and we might find out.
Why did he say it? It was intended for the political cognoscenti.
In 1987, in a Woman’s Own interview, former Tory PM and blue icon, Mrs Thatcher said; ‘There is no such thing as society’.
Like most people who quote this, CoroJo got it wrong. The quote is often repeated, mostly out of context and never the whole quote.
Thatcher offered us an explanation in her memoirs, published in 1993;
There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves, first.
It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour.
My meaning, clear at the time but subsequently distorted beyond recognition, was that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations.
In simple terms, we are the sum of the parts.
Margaret Thatcher was a great fan of Friedrich Hayek. Much of his work focussed on social institutions. He told us the enduring institutions ‘are shaped by spontaneous evolution’… rather than by ‘intellectual design‘.
Fathoming human behaviour has taken on a special significance now. How do we explain simple truths to people and get them to respond…. remember Mrs T; ‘no government can do anything except through people‘…
… C-19 is spread person to person, so keep away from people, stay at home.
That way, fewer people will become Corona’d, fewer will need hospital care and more of us will survive.
Just do it…
Persuading individuals… each of us, doing something for all of us, that’s good for them. Atavistic, ancient instincts.
Or is it?
Is it the heavy hand of the state? The Old Bill will chase you up the high street, to ask; why are you out and about.
The shape of ‘the curve’, on a graph, will decide when we can next have a party. An algorithm, machine learning, data will decide when we can take the kids to the park. Mathematics will decide when we are on the mend. Modelling will tells us when we can stop coddling.
That’s not the state. That’s science. Much more mysterious, perhaps sinister. Speaks without emotion, with a ruthless efficiency.
It comes without cant, not sanctimonious, not hypocritical, no motive, no political dissembling.
In the mean time something extraordinary is happening. People are doing heroic things.
There is a lot of Hayek’s ‘spontaneous-evolution‘ occurring, right now. Beyond intellectual design.
Crowd funding to pay for food for the front-line of care. On-line games, education for kids, Apps for everything, remote this and that. Life lived on line. Care through a keyboard.
Neighbours shopping, sharing, talking, working-around-rationing, advising, supporting, checking, calling, reassuring.
More than half a million volunteers and retired staff returning to the family of care. Cabin-crew volunteering to work at the London Nightingale.
Morrisons keeping food banks going and even E-Bay suspending its fees.
As the PPE row rumbles on... manufacturers making, 3D printers printing. Nail bars handing over their face masks. F1, designing ventilators, as quick a a pitstop.
A huge national effort that somehow isn’t defined by society, it’s not just community. Citizenry is too formal. All-in-this gets closer. A huge national effort to do good. A wave of compassion and selflessness. Neighbourliness. People looking out for each other.
This is a huge test for the nation and when the virus has fizzled out, it will go with a whimper, rather than a bang… what then?
The economy will be in ruins and we will all have another job to do. What can’t be kick started will need a shove.
Buying local, supporting the high street, buying British, helping small businesses. It’ll be the right thing to do.
We need a new word for this collective effort, this us-ness. You know what they say, the Greeks have a word for it… and they do… Henosis.
Let’s get happy about Henosis…
News and Comment from Roy Lilley