One: Big Society Within
The gutsy rendition of Ian Dury’s classic ‘Spasticus Autisitcus‘ during the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony was, for me, the highlight of London 2012. Once banned by the BBC for its (apparently) offensive lyrics, this was now a boastful celebration of diversity and tolerance. Watching it on TV made me feel more proud to be British – and a Londoner – than a thousand Gold Medals ever could.
London 2012 belonged as much to the games-maker volunteers as to the elite athletes – proof that volunteerism and active citizenship not only works but can be celebrated and accelerated by regular people. Sport may have been the rallying point and Team GB the rallying cry, but this was no over-thought nor politically motivated scheme imposed by a politician in search of a Big Idea, but rather by a network of people with shared passions and shared interests. Common good suddenly flourished and momentarily took on a life of its own. Britain briefly built a new Jerusalem on its own re-generated green and pleasant land. This begat an optimism and hope that a thousand clever ads or a multi-million dollar sponsorship could never buy. A salutary lesson for those obsessed with promoting wants over needs and consumption over societal good.
Two: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle: The Missing Principle
From the Olympic Park to Potsdam, home of the eponymous conference, and a two day retreat to refresh and inspire the mind. An opening speaker, professorial in both title and content, argued that man had evolved little since emerging from the plains of Africa. He was challenging, if erroneous. I could not help but feel that this was advancing theory for the sake of theory alone – another person in search of a hallmark Big Idea – and therefore immediately contradicting his own, central tenet. Moreover, the Professor seemed to conveniently ignore some of the great inflection points of history – from the Good Spiel to the Guttenberg press; from the birth of the great monotheisms to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; from Aristotle and Plato to the World Wide Web and beyond.
I stopped to dwell on those very Platonic and Aristotelian principles that form the bedrock of a Citizen Society: Prudence, Virtue, Wisdom and Fortitude. Citizen Renaissance has always argued for the continuum from Plato and Aristotle into the Citizen Renaissance itself – but I could not help wonder if an additional principle now needs to be included: to the above, add Transparency… possibly the most reforming force of all, in modern times?
Three: Creative Destruction
Meanwhile (and still in Potsdam), Professor Guy Sorman was arguing – correctly, in my view – that the European crisis was one made of politics, not of economics, and that Europe’s own inter-dependency between nation (and city) states means that the continent is de facto integrated in all but name and currency. Our views diverge, however, on the subject of John Maynard Keynes, whose policies he dismissed as tools of political expedience and as window-dressing – short-term panaceas to gloss over real political need. Employees of the US car industry would no doubt argue otherwise.
Sorman also referenced Schumpeter’s call for ‘Creative Destruction‘, that much-needed force for the re-booting of systemic failings. Which set me thinking about Citizen Activists and Citizen Networks (see Blogs passim) – and a new, positive breed of Creative Destructionists, emboldened by Social Digital technologies, who can maybe reject and reform the sterile status quo; move away from the more histrionic cries of the end of capitalism as we know it; and use the ‘crisis’ of our times as a force for regenerative good. New rules can be established through new networks. A connected society can better understand and advance shared interests. And a crisis, whether political or economic in origin or evidence, can be supplanted by a more creative and optimisitic citizen-centricity. This is a call for Destructive Good.
Four: A New Sweetspot
Design Innovation sits at the inter-section of Technology, Business and Human Values. This is not my thinking but belongs to the Director of the Hasso-Plattner Institut.
I have posted before on the new polarities of Social Digital – the need to understand both deep maths (through algorithms and search) and deep humanity (the empathy that connects real people with real values within networks) at either end of the same axis. Real people drive technological advancement, just as technology in turn surely helps man and society evolve. Meanwhile, ‘business’ is merely an empty construct without the people and the core humanity that form the networks that populate the corporations, who drive the economics. Within this, human values – citizen values – are enduring…. which is why we are still discussing and de-constructing Aristotle and Plato, twenty-three hundred years later.
Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, there have always been those with a profound belief that mechanical advancement will one day fully de-humanise society. It is good to see the Hass-Plattner Venn diagram in action – and Human Values as the third ring.
Five: Sauce Hollandaise
Francois Hollande is enjoying a mixed reception, not least among those who decry his apparent version of ‘pip squeaking’ approaches to capitalist excesses and no doubt see him as a Karl Marxist/ pre-Schumpeter Creative Destructionist. The legendary money-maker, Bernard Arnaut, looks set to become a Belgian citizen – one of tens of thousands who every year make this choice – and is denounced by Liberation. A friend and colleague is, however, fighting the fiscal threat of Hollandaise, not by flight to Belgium, but with exciting and expansionist plans: invest into business growth and employ more people, rather than pay taxes to the state. A curious hybrid of Friedman and Keynes, maybe – but one rich in opportunity and optimism – and a contributor to an altogether better society.