Monday, 5 March 2012

Guest Post by Steve Lytton: A Social Contract - A time to reconsider?

With it now increasingly clear - to those willing to see - that capitalism is incapable of providing the kind of society that can afford its members any kind of secure and stable future, and with the political elite seemingly currently incapable of providing an alternative vision that can motivate the youth and the vast majority of the adult population, it is perhaps time to start examining what structures could be worked towards that might lead towards a more cohesive and progressive future for all.

The current situation (leaving aside global warming, which needs to be tacked differently) is as follows:
  • An army of unemployed youth with little chance of worthwhile, viable job prospects leading to the kind of life style currently envisioned as “acceptable and socially desirable”.
  • High unemployment, with little likelihood of there being enough adequately paid jobs in the future.
  • An existing infrastructure that requires significant renewal.
  • A range of existing problems requiring urgent solutions, among which:

o   Moving excess water from some areas to areas of water shortage.
o   Energy resource and waste recycling problems.
o   Travel and transport problems that just won’t be solvable by the conversion to electric cars, however desirable. Such could be auto-drive, underground-cable-driven, circulating vehicles.
o   The alienation of people from the political process.
o   The depopulation of and loss of facilities and transport links from rural villages in many regions.
o   The shortage of accommodation in areas where work is available, while considerable existing and potential housing stock remains empty and decaying.
o   The insulation of houses of many elderly and less-advantaged people’s accommodation.
o   The need for confidence-building and appropriate skills development and education for the young.
o   The increasing need for facilities and support for the elderly and infirm.
o   Increasing racial and group tensions.
o   There are many others
The failure of the current political elite to offer solutions or any vision of an alternative direction other than more of the same bankrupt policies will undoubtedly result in an increase in the indebtedness of the populace at large, in an ever-growing gap between the rich and poor, and will certainly act as a catalyst for more riots, a growth in prison numbers, etc.

All these will put growing strains on the already dramatically-deficit-hit national budgets, and whether or not all this leads us towards more wars (real, imaginary, trade or Cold) we shall just have to wait and see.

No wonder that many young people feel estranged from a society that they haven’t helped create and for whose ills they are paying and are going to continue to pay, perhaps for the rest of their lives? Nor is it strange that all too many people consider that having virtual friends (and avatars and apparent real activity) is more fruitful than voting for all-to-often false promises and more of the same. This is all the sadder when one considers the energy and enthusiasm that the young can manifest when suitably motivated.

However, perhaps an alternative more optimistic approach can be advanced – one that brings the power and imagination of the youth to bear in the creation of the society that they are going to live in. 

The power of IT and video games, media programmes, etc., together with the lowering of the voting age to 16 – all these and other mechanisms could be used as means for gaining the acceptance, over time, for the creation of a two-year youth social service aimed at all young people, no matter from what social class, religion, gender, etc., nor at what age they leave school. Such a service would provide the human power and imagination to tackle these social challenges, as well as helping individuals develop to their full potential and strengthening inter-group relations.

It is fundamental that such a scheme be aimed at tackling some of the major problems facing us all, while simultaneously developing those skills required for living in the kind of progressive society that is urgently needed for the health of our and other species. It must NOT be a means of massaging the unemployment figures, of providing cheap labour for employers nor as a social control mechanism. Participation should involve individual training and development plans; choice of and joint elaboration of project activities; motivational and support programmes, etc. It could also help break the pernicious unemployment cultural cycle in families or areas in which work has not featured for generations.

The scheme could also open up possibilities for those over 50 or other skilled and experienced persons for whom the current job market no longer seems to offer opportunities, as well as creating a “working window” of two years – a “breathing space” - opening up jobs that would normally be picked up by graduates and school leavers.

It is clear that certain aspects of these ideas will hardly meet with universal, if any, approval; the cost might appear prohibitive, but would be amortised in all sorts of ways. However, money seems always to be found when necessary and the magnitude of the challenges ahead need extraordinary investment and that the members of society become increasingly involved in creating a society of their own. Such a society will not come about spontaneously. There needs to be a strategic approach and the political will. The degree of wastage of people’s potential is nothing short of a scandal, and works against the creation of the kind of decent society that most people would wish to live in.

There must be another way forward – a socialised solution to problems that face us all. This kind of thinking will need much further elaboration, but should not just be rejected out of hand. What other credible alternatives have surfaced? None, I would suggest.

Steve Lytton, 
Arcy sur Cure, 


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