When you see a police officer do you feel safer, or less safe?
This is the half-serious test that the anthropologist and activist Prof. David Graeber uses as a metric of whether somebody has a middleclass ‘mind-set’ or not. It is also a distinction that threatened to expose some social divisions in Brixton, where I live, yesterday.
Channel 4 News report by Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, 6.2.2014
‘Brixton Unite’ was, depending on which side of this social divide one situates oneself, a community-outreach day coordinated by a coalition of Lambeth Council, the police, and Job Centre plus to ‘reduce the harm caused by gangs’ to the community, or a huge display of force by the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police to intimidate, harass and inconvenience as many residents as possible.
As I got off the Tube at Brixton station on my way home from work, a man was shouting a warning to everybody as they approached the escalators, ‘Loads of police upstairs! Watch out! Undercover police, filth everywhere!’
Commuters chuckled dismissively over their smartphones, shaking their heads at this noisy man who was making a scene with his paranoid ranting. One man tutted and made eye-contact with me, a white man in office clothes and – so he seemed to think – a natural ally with whom to share his amusement. But my personal experience of the police has not always been pleasant, and as I reached the top of the escalator and saw scores of officers in hi-vis jackets, a man being searched by the ticket machines, black-clad plain clothes police scanning the crowds, and sirens screeching up and down the road outside, I felt uncomfortable at seeing a place that looked under siege.
Outside the station a small group of activists waved placards protesting the heavy police presence, and tried to direct people’s attention to the front page of the Evening Standard, which coincidentally carried new allegations of police misconduct in the Stephen Lawrence case. There were raised voices and mini-clashes as accusations of disrupting or supporting police activity were traded. Elsewhere in Brixton people made their displeasure at seeing such numbers of active police officers known in various ways, as detailed in reports by Channel 4 and Vice online.
For some, Brixton Unite was conceived to intimidate and unsettle people, the latest stage in what they view as a deliberate ‘gentrification’ of Brixton amid a context of rocketing private property rates, evictions, the proposed sale of a community college and an influx of symbolically high-end business such as Champagne & Fromage and Foxtons estate agents. The perspective of those commuters I saw who seemed unconcerned by the police presence – the ‘If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about’ mentality – doesn’t wash with everybody, as the political commentator Stephen Bush (who is black) illustrates vividly:
“When I think of the police, I think of being stopped-and-searched, aged 15, on the Embankment in broad daylight with everyone looking at me, an experience as humiliating as if I had been stripped naked right there on the Strand. That’s the part of me that gets nervous when I see police officers at Highbury and Islington Station of an evening, or quickens my pace around the Palace of Westminster.”
If we take Lambeth Council at their word and accept that Brixton Unite was a well-intentioned attempt to engage with the community and reassure residents that problems with gang violence are being tackled, then the episode demonstrates some of the difficulties faced by public services when they attempt to engage with their communities proactively. Communities, perhaps especially urban communities, are not made up of people who think and experience the same things, as my colleague Jonathan Schifferes blogged yesterday. Some people are reassured by the sight of police officers proactively keeping the peace; others see an invasion of authorities attempting to ruin their day. In a place like Brixton where there is an ongoing debate about gentrification and, for some, a perceived divide between working class long-term residents and well-heeled newcomers attracted by the city transport links and trendy market, then tensions can arise such as those I observed at Brixton underground station yesterday.
‘Relational’ public services that productively engage with communities are difficult to achieve – as recent work by the IPPR has discussed and the RSA’s public services and communities action and research strand continues to explore. Yesterday’s events in Brixton demonstrated this further; the same actions by public services can alienate some and reassure others. It is a conundrum that the authorities in Lambeth will have to work out, but on yesterday’s showing it seems unlikely that the mass appearance of ‘bobbies on the beat’ is really the thing that will see Brixton unite.
I haven’t taken many sick days in my working life, but whenever I have I return to my desk to find a ‘sickness absence form’ asking for some basic administrative information including the line:
“Details of Sickness/Injury: I was unfit to attend for work for the following reason(e.g. Influenza, diarrhoea, rheumatism, etc.):”
When I see that form, I often think to myself: Do you really want to know?
As this honest and uplifting book indicates, the only ‘normal’ people in the world are the ones you don’t know very well.
The truth is that while some of those days featured garden variety ailments, others featured ‘details’ of an altogether different kind. There are days where you are physically intact, but just can’t quite face the world, and occasionally you sense that if you don’t stop pretending all is well, you might completely fall apart.
But I always put something else on the form.
I know I am not alone in not always giving full disclosure when it comes to mental health, and there seems to be a growing awareness that we need to norm-alise, in the literal sense of making an accepted social norm – mental health challenges. Our sadly departed colleague, Dr Emma Lindley, wrote with great passion and clarity about stigma relating to mental illness, but we still have some way to go to win that battle, and fresh ammunition is timely and welcome.
It is therefore a great pleasure to announce a new book “What’s Normal Anyway?” co-authored by RSA Director of Research Steve Broome and Forensic Psychologist Dr Anna Gekoski. The book features ten candid first-person accounts of mental illness from some of the UK’s most prominent names including Alastair Campbell, Bill Oddie, Trisha Goddard, Alicia Douvall (model), Tasha Danvers (former Olympic athlete), Richard Mabey, Stephanie Cole (actress), Dean Windass (former premiership footballer), Charles Walker (conservative MP) and Kevan Jones (Labour MP).
These celebrities share their experiences of a range of conditions including bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts. Their stories are also ones of recovery, positivity and acceptance – illustrations of how mental illness does not have to be a bar to achievement, happiness, and fulfillment in life. The book is also practical, detailing coping strategies, and will offer solace for anyone out there who feels they are suffering alone.
From a Social Brain perspective, the book clearly makes good use of ‘the messenger effect’ – building on a body of research that suggests who says something is often more important than what is said.
From a personal perspective I am just happy to see one more step in a positive direction of travel for people suffering from mental illness. Whether what you are facing is acute and enduring, or mild and temporary, it should be easier to talk openly about it.
As this honest and uplifting book indicates, the first thing we would discover about mental health, if we were to talk about it more often, is that the only ‘normal’ people in the world are the ones you don’t know very well.
Evan Davis brought the economic geography textbook to life on the nation’s TV screens Monday night, with Mind the Gap (available on iPlayer until March 17th), in which he “asks what the rest of the country can learn from London’s success”. Alex Salmond has recently referenced London as the “dark star of the economy, inexorably sucking in resources, people and energy”, echoing criticisms made by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, who described the city as “a great suction machine”. Mind the Gap featured sweeping shots of London’s skyline and plenty of insight into the property and infrastructure developments underway, alongside snazzy data visualisation of how London’s exceptional economic productivity and worker density, in a UK context. Oh, and some nice archive footage.
Here are five insights and five oversights from the narrative Evan presented.
At the City Growth Commission, hosted at the RSA, we’re funded by the Mayor of London, London Councils, and the Core Cities. Our role is to influence policies which will ensure that all cities (and the wider metro areas) are able to maximise their growth potential.
Cities depends on agglomeration economics: the productive benefits that come when people work closely alongside each other between organisations and between industries and sectors. Firms want to be close to other firms to collaborate and compete, stealing staff and ideas and customers and suppliers. It was great to hear about the importance of networks – social as well as digital. As Evan says, “We were told technology meant location doesn’t matter; but it matters more than ever”. The great irony, highlighted by Manuel Castells 20 years ago, is that the more ubiquitous electronic communication becomes, the greater value we recognise and ascribe to in face-to-face interaction.
Few people have been able to define if and when there are downsides of ever-greater concentration and densification start to outweigh the benefits. London is building up, more than out, due to the Green Belt, but is still only half the density of New York City. While I’m not as sure as Ed Cox that of IPPR North “all the evidence shows” that London will overheat and topple over, we didn’t hear enough about the co-dependent relationship between London and other towns and villages across the South. Another aspect of London’s economic geography was conspicuous in their absence: the relationship between migration, diversity and urban growth. As well as economic opportunities, do migrants feel especially inclined to settle in London, because of its size and capacity to host multiple communities? And what about evidence that there is an economic benefit from diversity?
Agglomeration plays a role in the economics of urban development, for example leading to infrastructure projects to expand transport capacity. Economic success feeds itself: it’s a self-fulfilling positive feedback loop. “You can’t design an ecosystem, it evolves”, said one tech investor in Shoreditch. The best government can do is shine a spotlight in order to “nudge on” these successes. This means, essentially, “there is no formula to copy” – except perhaps bigger is better?
It wasn’t clear whether these dynamics are particularly strong in London, now or historically, or common to all large cities. Urban development depends on other factors including political power (such as compulsory purchase – used very differently in China and India), and factors such as the international economic climate and currency exchange rates which make London property a particularly attractive place for those with financial wealth to invest. Furthermore, I wonder if Evan has ever been to Silicon Valley? It’s the most exciting tech community in the world, it got a turbo-charge from federal investment, and one of the least exciting suburban landscapes to explore. Economic dynamism and great urbanism don’t always go hand-in-hand.
London’s leaders want growth, and have won the national argument to invest in growth. “London is the flywheel that drives it” said Mayor Boris Johnson; “the gateway”, which “exports tax and jobs…the better London does the better the UK does”. As Transport for London added: “there are certain sectors which choose locations at an international level; if we don’t get it in London we don’t get it in the UK.”
Part of London’s success has been a projection, nationally and globally, as a place where exciting things happen;it’s a city which can represent itself well visually – with plenty of new skyscrapers crammed upona medieval street pattern. But the programme fell into the trap of assuming “London” speaks with one voice At one point Evan Davis claimed that “Londoners have an insatiable appetite to expand”. Do they? As we highlighted in our recent Metro Growth report, parts of Outer London have fallen behind the rate of recent national economic growth, and there is greater variation in economic activity within each UK region, than between them.
We’re in the middle of the greatest industrial restructuring since industrial revolution, fuelled in part by the ‘Big Bang’ of financial deregulation in 1986. London now has the greatest concentration of “producer services” in the world, and millions of workers are also millions of consumers. Their consumption in turn fuels millions of jobs, locally, in other service industries.
That restructuring was in part a political project. Heseltine’s leadership on redeveloping Docklands created space for a second office district and financial services hub in London.
Before the 1980s, things weren’t looking so bright. Evan said “London lucked out by having the right industries at the right time”. But, as the Telegraph noted, financial deregulation was a conscious effort to drive employment growth and economic activity. There was no mention of how the financial value that is captured by different types of activities is negotiated between managers, staff, shareholders and those who regulate the economy. In short, London has always been a financial hub; but finance has not always been the economic nexus of the economy, nor such an extremely lucrative profession.
There are winners and losers in the process of economic growth. Evan suggested “It’s a much more brutal process than most of us would like”, focusing on the displacement of homeowners on the Heygate Estate. If we want to save national icons like Battersea Power Station from the wrecking ball, we need global investment. But affordability is a concern: “[London] has to watch it, and make sure it is a place open to the nation. It will be tragic if someone from Staffordshire thinks they can’t get a job there because they can’t afford to live there.”
Did Evan find the right gap? According to Evan, “everywhere I go in London, I see signs that the city’s success is becoming entrenched”. But Mind the Gap did not consider the gaps between people in London: walk a mile in any direction from the Shard and you’ll see success is not distributed. Like other places, average wages have not kept up with rising prices.
Having coffee with Boris at the top of the Shard makes for great TV, but we’d learn something different if Evan had coffee with staff at one of London’s 1500 coffee shops. We saw the gold plated plates of a £39.5m Mayfair house, and Evan remarked at how rising prices for such “prime housing” had endured the recession. It would be equally eye-opening to consider the sacrifices many people are making. Those on low wages in London jobs have economised by converting living rooms in shared housing to bedrooms. The number of overcrowded homes in outer East London grew 41% in the last decade.
From pubs to think tanks – people struggling with London’s housing affordability wonder whether these two trends are related, and London’s leading academics have denounced London’s latest housing strategy as woefully inadequate. Meanwhile the deputy director of research at the IMF, writing in the pages of the FT, concludes that “measures that governments have typically taken to reduce inequality do not seem to have stunted growth.”
I am sure we could make compelling TV which considered the relative merits of important policy options for mending the gap: how to use taxes, public spending, regulations like the minimum wage, and public services like education to improve the fortunes of a broader constituency: those in London and across the country. We heard from a recent Core Cities meeting that central government policy has a long way to go be more sensitive to the differences between different places. By contrast, Evan’s cinematic homage to a booming place was perhaps insensitive to the policies which have enabled that growth. Filming the differences between places is a visually seductive way of talking about differences between people.
Before the programme heads North, next week, spend two minutes and give the last word to a Londoner: George the Poet
It has been a tough few months in the South West. The region has dominated the national headlines for the past couple of months, the ongoing wet and stormy weather conditions creating havoc for local residents, businesses and transport services. Returning back to Bristol on the train I was shocked to see the extent of the flooding all along the route from London and travelling through the South West has been badly curtailed by the severity of the conditions. Bristol (where I live) has been lucky for the most part and when the Avon tide was particularly high the flood barriers have held – the main drama seeming to be sightings of the Bristol crocodile!
Many innovative ways are cropping up with how to deal with adverse weather conditions and RSA Fellows have been involved in a number of ways –
The Somerset levels is one of the most severely hit areas of the country with over 65 square kilometres flooded and seemingly still no respite for affected farms, businesses and residents. A group of local Fellows highlighted the issue of flooding after the floods in 2012 and are currently looking for funding for an oral history project, to give local people a voice in the debate that surrounds the issue. The project originated from concerns that local people, who have lived and worked on the land for generations, have largely been ignored when research for solutions has been undertaken. The group consider it vital that these voices should be given a platform in the debate. If you are interested in being involved in this project, please contact Frank Challenger (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hugh Thomas FRSA of the Bristol Initiative Trust, received £2,000 from the RSA West Venture fund, to fund a ‘learning ship’ that operated as both transport and ‘classroom’ for young people to interact directly with local businessman while exploring the past, present and future of the River Avon and Severn Estuary. The initial voyage was led by experienced facilitators and other business volunteers representing a range of industry sectors (engineering, power, water, finance tourism, and environment) along with wildlife experts and historians. One particular emphasis of the voyage was to increase the young people’s knowledge of the river and issues around the impact of environmental changes around the area and the importance of the river for the future of Bristol and local area. This video has been put together to show how the voyage went.
Last year we were able to link a fire fighter based in Cornwall, who had received a travel fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to visit Canada and the USA to investigate community planning and response to flood events, with a Fellow who is based in a national Drainage Board company. It is hoped this introduction will lead to useful shared learnings and connections on both sides.
Bristol has long been at the forefront of green issues and last year it was announced it would host the European Green Capital in 2015, much work is now underway to bring together not only a programme for 2015 but to embed this agenda into the future of Bristol. A number of Fellows in the city are leading the way with this agenda and it is hoped the local Fellowship can get together to work on projects and initiatives during the next few years.
Hopefully, however small or large these initiatives may be they will all be beneficial for the area in the future. The RSA is also looking at the wider context in which these floods have occurred, through our work on climate change. The winter’s weather has helped to push the issue back up the political agenda, but in a recent report Jonathan Rowson argued that we need to move beyond a recognition that climate change is taking place. Instead, we need to urgently examine our own behaviour, and why people who accept the reality of man-made climate change do not take action to avoid worsening it. You can read more in A New Agenda on Climate Change.
Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter
We all have those days. The ones when we wonder why we do our jobs. Why we manage a team, take our place on a factory plant line, or decided to be a stay at home parent. Those days that are frustrating, unfulfilling and unproductive. Many of us do our jobs because we need a steady pay cheque. Some of us do our jobs because most days it’s not too bad. The lucky amongst us do our jobs because we generally enjoy it.
When I have those bad days, I tend to think about the people I work with. This tends to extend way beyond the team here at the RSA who will always pick me up when my day has been challenging, to the recovery community that I work so closely in West Kent. I have often heard people in this sector say something along the lines of ‘one person committed to their recovery can make up for ten that are not yet ready to change’.
I work with an amazing team of volunteers. The other day, one of them sent me a passage of text that he had posted on a social media website (through which he has many professional contacts including his employer). What struck me most about this was not only the amazing change he has been through, but how proud he is of the journey he has made. Using volunteers and peer mentors who are in recovery in the West Kent Recovery Service is a visible and inspiring demonstration that recovery can happen, but many people still remain anxious and concerned about the stigma placed on addiction and recovery in the wider community. For me, this was an inspiring account of change. Someone who has not only faced their problems and sought out the support they needed, but is not afraid to talk about it, to anyone.
Here is what he wrote:
“Addiction is not something you decide to do. It’s an illness and unfortunately there is NO cure. Some of us are lucky and learn to live and control the condition BUT ask any addict – it is a battle that is very difficult to fight. Many addicts relapse and when they do the addiction takes even stronger hold. It is so easy for non-addicts to judge and say it’s easy to stop. But to all you non-addicts, imagine trying to live your life, constantly swimming against the tide. Every now and then the tide is too strong and carries you back downstream. Some of us lucky ones manage to start swimming upstream again. Unfortunately far too many don’t get another chance. It doesn’t matter what the substance or thing; addiction is addiction.
In a previous part of my life I used no substances whatsoever but was going to the gym three times a day and taking a run at stupid o’clock at night. I now begin to understand; same addiction different substance. For years I kept my addictions secret thinking I was somehow at fault or had no self-control; not knowing that I was wired differently from those non-addicts around me. For me, one of anything was never enough.
I now am learning to live with a co-existence of addiction and other mental health issues. At the moment I am in remission but each day, every breath, every step is a battle to keep my head above water. Every day I can think of a good reason to use. And every day I then find a better reason NOT to.
So to you all. Get this straight. I am an addict! I am currently in a period of remission BUT know I’ll be an addict for the rest of my life. I will fight the fight not to use and take each day as it comes. I’ve accepted my fate and have no secrets from anybody”.
So that’s what will inspire me, for today at least. I hope that everyone finds the same sort of inspiration in their work. I wish you an inspiring rest of your week.
Are UKIP serious?
Is it timely to assume that a party that appears to have a reasonable chance of topping the polls in our next national election and winning seats in our next general election must have solutions for the major problems in our lives? Presumably now that UKIP are about to get more television coverage because Ofcom have reclassified them as ‘a major party’, they will they use that bigger platform to showcase a range of big ideas?
This ‘bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ as our Prime Minister once called them, just happen to be the party ‘viewed most favourably’ and ‘viewed least unfavourably’ by the electorate in a recent ComRes national poll. Surely that indicates they must have some finely honed policies that people resonate with, or at least some coherent organising principles to indicate what they would do with respect to the economy, health, education, crime, and other such sundries?
Well actually, no, not at all, and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage admitted as much on The Andrew Marr Show this weekend. Farage said that his core aim is to continue with popular campaign themes and ideas (principally on The EU and Immigration) to try to finish first in the European elections, but he also openly acknowledged the policy vacuum and wanted to reassure prospective voters that UKIP are currently working hard on a carefully budgeted manifesto in preparation for the 2015 general election.
This might sound like a good idea, but it is likely to hurt UKIP quite badly, and to understand why we need to look more deeply at UKIP’s appeal:
Research in political psychology by George Lakoff, Jonathan Haidt and Drew Weston, among others, indicates that most people don’t really vote for ‘policies’ at all.
The moral foundations of politics
Research in political psychology by George Lakoff, Jonathan Haidt and Drew Weston, among others, indicates that most people don’t really vote for ‘policies’ at all. We vote rather on the basis of unconscious moral frameworks often expressed in metaphors (e.g. Putin is ‘the strict father’) projective identification with leaders (e.g. ‘The barbecue test’ that apparently won George W Bush his elections – people could imagine enjoying his company more than Al Gore or John Kerry), and narratives (e.g. Bill Clinton’s ‘it’s the economy, stupid’; Obama’s ‘Yes we can’).
With this in mind, I believe UKIP’s meteoric rise relates to the way they are tapping into certain kinds of ‘moral’ foundations that have been relatively neglected by the (other) mainstream parties. Satirical takes on UKIP’s distinctive style of righteous indignation capture something important about their appeal, like the ‘UKIP keyboard’ designed “to remind you of the good old days before the country went to hell in a handcart”.
UKIP’s rise illustrates that the three main parties are too close together in spirit and policy, and that huge swathes of the population do not see themselves adequately reflected in this group. On this account, UKIP is not just for people who believe immigration is insufficiently controlled, or who strongly dislike Europe, but more generally for those who do not identify with Westminster, or who have been ‘left behind by the relentless mark of globalisation and glib liberalism’.
A deeper way to make this point is that UKIP, perhaps unwittingly, appear to be tapping into what some social psychologists view as ‘moral foundations’, which appear to be largely ignored by the (other) mainstream parties. To be clear, I am definitely not saying UKIP are more or less moral than anybody else, but rather that they are tapping into certain kinds of moral sentiments that a significant number of people feel and seek expression for. Indeed, while it is difficult to be precise without careful research, my reading of Values Modes suggests the values palette of UKIP supporters(principally ‘settlers’ with ‘prospector’ elements) which often finds expression in the tabloid press(The Sun and The Daily Mail are best selling newspapers) in particular, is common to between a fifth and a quarter of the population.
The thing is, most of the rest of the position may not recognise such perspectives as ‘moral’ at all…
Six Moral Foundations
Moral Foundations Theory has recently been popularised by Jonathan Haidt, who spoke at the RSA last year, and kindly stayed afterwards to speak to Social Brain about his work in more detail. While I hugely recommend Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, I also recommend the more sophisticated critiques which suggest that the gap between science and morality cannot be bridged with quite as much conviction as Haidt seems to suggest.
The book includes a detailed account of the evolutionary, psychological and anthropological case for social intuitionism, which is a particular account of cognition and morality. Crudely, it says that certain adaptive pressures in evolution gave rise to quick automatic associations that are largely emotional in nature, leading us to make evaluative judgments extremely quickly, which forms the true basis of our morality. On this account, reason only emerges after the fact, to rationalise the moral position we have already intuited.
A quick overview of Haidt’s palette of moral foundations includes:
- The Care/Harm Foundation is based on concern for others and a desire to protect them from harm.
- The Fairness/Cheating Foundation relates to a particular sense of justice, treating others in proportion to their actions, sometimes called proportionality, as in Aristotle’s famous line that ‘justice is giving each their due’
- The Liberty/Oppression Foundation is about resisting domination, and the sensitivity to people being tyrannized. Haidt says this “triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants.
- The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation is about the love of tribes and team mates, about our drive to form cohesive coalitions, whether through families or nations.
- The Authority/Subversion Foundation is tradition and legitimate authority, grounded in respect and an appreciation for the structures provided by hierarchies.
- The Sanctity/Degradation Foundation is about avoiding disgusting things, foods and actions but it extends to a broader conception of purity or disgust, and our ideas about what is sacred
The claim is that we all have these moral foundations to a greater or lesser extent, but the degree to which they matter to us varies hugely depending on our political outlook. More to the point, our political outlooks are shaped by these moral foundations much more than we typically realise. Those with what Haidt calls WEIRD morality (western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic) may struggle with this message, because we have a set notion of what moral means, but the social intuitionist perspective forces you to reconsider.
Haidt’s earlier and more controversial statement of his argument “What Makes People Vote Republican?” offers evidence to show many vote against their economic self-interest because they are motivated mostly by the extent to which candidates speak to the values above, and those on the right tend to speak to all of the moral foundations, while those on the left usually only offer a very concentrated form of the first and a little of the second and third. You might say progressives are ‘morally outnumbered’, which is not to say they are wrong, because there is no empirical way to determine how much weight we should give to each of the touchstones – that’s the value judgment that determines who we are.
Why UKIP Press Buttons others find hard to reach
***Disclaimer: What I’m about to say should not be read as an endorsement of any position, nor a justification for why it is held***
(Image via: http://thebackbencher.co.uk/tag/ukip/)
If you tune in to the tone and language of what UKIP say, rather than analyse the claims rationally, you begin to see the breadth of their appeal, because they are touching lots of these moral foundations,
- When UKIP ask for their country back from the EU they are tapping into the liberty/oppression foundation, resisting dominance of a foreign power, and relatedly activating ‘the legitimate authority foundation’.
- When UKIP speak passionately about limiting immigration they are tapping into loyalty and sanctity.
- When UKIP opposed gay marriage they were appealing to sanctity and degradation.
- When UKIP speak about red tape from Brussels they are tapping into ‘the liberty/tyranny foundation’.
- When UKIP speak about human rights law getting in the way of dealing with criminals they are tapping into fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression.
- Note that UKIP actually say very little about ‘the care foundation’, which is why people on the left, who see the world mostly through the care foundation, tend to think of UKIP as barmy, extreme, or callous.
When you think about these moral foundations, you can see that the risk of getting serious is partly that UKIP might lack the ideas, intellects and infrastructure to develop a credible and creative manifesto, and also that UKIP are popular not in spite of their lack of policies, but because the public don’t really associate them with policies at all.
UKIP are popular not in spite of their lack of policies, but because the public don’t really associate them with policies at all.
However, the most profound risk for UKIP lies deeper, because people are voting for them for ‘moral’ reasons that the other parties do not view as moral at all, and which are ‘moral’ in ways that are inherently anti-policy in spirit. The fifth or so of the electorate that are currently inclined to vote for UKIP are finding nourishment from UKIP’s manner and message, which appears to me to be a mixture of lionised ‘common sense’ and self-righteous indignation. ‘Policy’ is antithetical to both, because it requires details that are technocratic in spirit, and a position of one’s own that makes indignation more self-conscious, and vulnerable to counter-attack.
The other risk of developing policies is that the nature of the messenger changes from being a particular kind of anti-politics, anti-policy morality, to being another political party that looks less moral for fraternising with the enemy. UKIP are therefore in an interesting bind. They need policies to get serious, but getting serious about policy will dilute and diminish their ‘moral’ appeal.
Dr Jonathan Rowson is Director of the Social Brain Centre at the RSA.
You can follow him here.
This blog is by Amelia Peterson FRSA, one of the authors of RSA’s report on the future of spiritual, moral, social and cultural education, which is being published next week.
In a speech to mark National Apprenticeship week, Michael Gove yesterday asserted that to survive in business young people need “not just impressive academic qualifications but attractive personal qualities”. He listed eight or so desirable qualities, including being “responsive and respectful towards others, resourceful under pressure, tenacious and self motivating”. This list is not so far from that featured in the Roy Anderson report last month, or that has previously been produced by the CBI. Clearly, Gove realises he cannot ignore calls from our captains of industry for long.
If we want those outcomes, we have to design for them. The structures, environments and cultures of our schools need to be reshaped to promote the social and personal development of all young people, not treat them as dots in a system, acquiring points and qualifications.
In other systems and schools around the world, this transformation is already underway. At the end of his speech, Gove lists the components with which his government is creating “a long-term plan for all children”. Among them are “changes inspired by what’s happening in the nations with the highest-performing educational institutions” and “changes to make the curriculum more modern”. For anyone who follows education developments internationally, the combination of these statements is confusing. Around the world, leading education jurisdictions are indeed making their national curricula more ‘modern’, but their end products look rather different from what is coming in England in September of this year.
English-speaking jurisdictions like Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland – and even Gove favourites like Singapore – have all re-oriented their curricula in recent years to focus more on the competencies that young people need to thrive in an increasingly complex world. These countries recognize that as inter- and intra- personal skills become ever more vital for success and stability, their development cannot be left to a mish-mash of extra-curricular activities.
Gove would do well to look to British Columbia, the highest performing English-speaking jurisdiction in PISA, which achieves scores close to the Singapores of this world but with a multicultural, socioeconomically diverse population. In B.C., it is taken for granted that education in an intensely personal and emotional process; everyone speaks the language of personalisation and whole children development, and the curriculum is in the process of being comprehensively redesigned to focus on three core competencies labelled thinking, communication, and personal and social.
So what can we in England hold on to? How can we find space in our system to justify the time and resources that we so desperately need to commit to supporting young people’s social and personal development? We have a sentence, at the start of our )old and new) National Curriculum. It reads:
Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based, and which:
- promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
- prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
This isn’t much, and the second sentence in particular is too broad and vague to carry much weight. However, the lines do achieve some traction in our National Ofsted framework, where inspectors have to make a judgment as to the extent to which schools are promoting the “spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development” of their pupils. When you dig down into that phrase, it gets to the heart of what schools have always been about – and to the heart of what will really equip people to thrive in what Gove himself yesterday dubbed the “second machine age”.
Because of this, the RSA has spent the last few months investigating how schools and society could better support the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of all children. The report – following an international and historical literature review; a systematic review of Ofsted data; a series of case studies of schools; and convenings of an expert group – will be published next week.
This investigation is needed more than ever to counteract the seductive but simplistic idea that ‘SMSC’ and character development are all about behaviour. The prioritisation of behaviour in Ofsted measures has made it a key focus for schools, and Gove did nothing to remedy that yesterday when he stated the “The first step to ensuring students have … character virtues is enforcing effective discipline and behaviour policies in all our schools”.
Aligning discipline with the development of good character wipes out in a stroke fifty years of progress in research, taking us back to the ideas of behaviourists who saw correct action as the result of repeated enforcement and reinforcement. Behaviourism is now largely defunct in the field of psychology. In its place, thanks to the work of generations of Nobel Prize winners like Daniel Kahneman, is a much more complex picture of what determines our actions: how we are effected by our environment; how we develop and act on biases; and the interaction of emotion and cognition in influencing our choices.
In a connected world, where young people are faced constantly with examples of adult duplicity and contradictory behaviour, we cannot expect our schools to be enclosed islands that can set and manage behaviour according to their own rules. It is important that young people have the opportunity to develop a vocabulary and the reasoning skills to reflect on their own and others behaviour; to make sense of choices; and to develop a positive identity and strong moral self (one of the most significant factors in determining moral behaviour).
We also have to think about what personal qualities pupils are learning from the way schools are currently set up. Rather than self-responsibility and care for others, the dominant forces in our system teach children to use fear as a means of control; to focus on the end rather than the means; and that what is expected of you is based on your prior performance. Ours is not a system that really believes in self-management or the capacity for change.
Unlike Singapore, we cannot ordain a new focus on Character from the centre, but we can learn something from them – that character is worth prioritising, and that it takes real commitment from both the centre and schools, that translates into careful thought, time and resources.
We already benefit from a richer conception of character in this country held in the concepts of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. But the phrase has also been a stumbling block in that some of the terms are too opaque and seem too far from the ‘everyday’ business of schools. As we will detail in the report next week, schools need real time to think about what these terms means for their context and their pupils. For our new curriculum to approach something ‘modern’ schools must be given serious space to integrate and see through its guiding principles.
Amelia Peterson is a researcher at the Innovation Unit.
A fortnight ago, we held our first ‘Introduction to RSA Crowdfunding’ event, open to both Fellows and non-Fellows who were interested in learning more about crowdfunding. People were able to attend the evening session both in-person at the RSA House and remotely over free videoconferencing software. After nearly 6 months since the launch of the RSA curated area on Kickstarter, we have realised that the main difficulty facing project leaders is how intimidating crowdfunding can seem. Fellows often have lots of questions and reservations about it, ranging from how high a fundraising target they should set, to how much work a campaign actually is. In this session we set out to allay some of those fears. By simply going through the basics of crowdfunding, we were able to ‘totally demystify crowdfunding,’ in the words of Jane Glitre FRSA, who attended the event. Here are the answers to just a few of the worries people had about running crowdfunding campaigns.
By simply going through the basics of crowdfunding, we were able to ‘totally demystify crowdfunding.’
- I don’t think my project/social enterprise is suitable for crowdfunding. While it is true that massively, out-of-this-world successful projects tend to be things like video games or technology products, many different kinds of campaigns have the potential to be successful, and there are crowdfunding platforms for all different kinds of projects. Kickstarter, on which the RSA has a curated area, favours ‘creative’ projects. However, the term creative should be interpreted broadly, and depending on how you phrase your project, can accommodate a wide variety of projects that don’t initially seem creative. For example, Nalibeli, a project seeking to create an online wiki educating Nepalese citizens about their rights, successfully crowded for over $3,200 on our curated area. Projects that receive our support to prepare for a crowdfunding campaign can choose to go on other platforms—such as Indiegogo, which is what Sunday Assembly decided to do—but at the moment we can only offer our publicity to FRSA projects on Kickstarter.
- How much work is crowdfunding, really? Anybody who has run a crowdfunding campaign will tell you that it is a lot of work. In fact, we brought in a Fellow who had recently crowdfunded to talk about her experience, and she said that her campaign almost became a second job. However, I think the underlying fear here isn’t the amount of work, but rather the possibility of wasted effort. What we’ve found after six months is that most project leaders who are able to put in the necessary time and effort towards a crowdfunding campaign end up being successful.
Conversely, a common theme of unsuccessful campaigns was that they suffered from a lack of capacity from the start. Kickstarter cites the statistic that of the projects that reach 20% of their target, 80% are eventually successful. It is also worth mentioning that many rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns are selling a product or service directly to its potential audience in the form of rewards, which provides the project leader with valuable information on the demand for the project and experience with marketing it.
- What happens if my project doesn’t reach its target in an all-or-nothing campaign? Even if your project is unsuccessful you will be able to message your backers through Kickstarter. In many cases, some backers are still willing to donate to your project even if the campaign hasn’t been successful because they really want your project to happen. In other cases, you can use the support for your Kickstarter campaign in things like grant applications as evidence of the demand for your project. MAKLab, an FRSA project which did not reach its target on Kickstarter, used their 64 backers to convince foundations to provide the funding for the project, still housed in Somerset House, at a slightly lower budget. No matter what, you’ll have a new group of people who liked your project enough to back it and who can get involved in your work in the future.
Since crowdfunding support is a unique offer from RSA Catalyst, we plan to run several more ‘Introduction to RSA Crowdfunding’ events in the future, open to both Fellows and non-Fellows. If you are interested in crowdfunding for your project or social enterprise, or would simply like to learn more about this fast-growing source of funding register for our next session here, which will be held on Wednesday 19th March, 6:00-7:30pm, both at the RSA House and online.Interested in FRSA projects involved in crowdfunding? Check out This University is Free (IF) on the RSA curated area, a project to provide a free humanities summer school to young people priced out of higher education. You can also read Jonny Mundey FRSA’s Big Idea blog about the project. Learn how to start a crowdfunding campaign for your project with RSA Catalyst – helping to turn RSA Fellows’ ideas into action. Apply for crowdfunding support from the RSA here.
Here at the RSA, we’re getting very interested in what we call the ‘Power to Create’: the notion that by unleashing the desire of billions to turn their own, unique ideas into reality, we’ll all end up richer, solve some of our biggest problems and feel a lot more fulfilled along the way.
It occurred to me today that the fascinating saga of Bitcoin tells you a lot about the idea and, in particular, why the Power to Create notion can be so exciting, dangerous and bemusing simultaneously. So here’s a rapid fire tour of the idea by way of Bitcoin.
1. Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere.
By any measure, Bitcoin is an astonishing achievement. To create a new global currency that is engaging increasing numbers across the world every day is a mind-bogglingly original and, so far, effective idea. But it did not come from any of the titanic organisations of the financial world but from an anonymous individual or group of individuals who claim to be from Japan (but probably aren’t). It is one sign that sometimes the people you think should have the best ideas (or who claim to have the best ideas) can be outrun by those thinking in a completely different way. This is why Bitcoin is now far from alone – dozens of crypto-currencies are springing up in its wake such as Namecoin, Litecoin and Peercoin. Like most great ideas, there is soon a long queue of diverse people who can’t wait to develop and build on it all bringing their own unique perspective and added value.
2. Unleashing the Power to Create is just plain good.
Much public debate these days is what philosophers call “consequentialist”. We try to understand proposals for change in terms of whether they have beneficial or damaging consequences. A very great deal of public debate is consequentialist. But sometimes you just have to admit that something is good because it is a fundamental feature of what it is to be human. Turning an idea into reality, using your ‘power to create’ is just such a good. Bitcoin is no different in that regard to the cave paintings of Lascaux.
Once Satoshi Nakamoto had got the idea for Bitcoin, I doubt anything could have stopped her, him or them making a reality of it. The same goes for all the crypto-currency creators around the world.
3. Releasing the Power to Create will help solve our problems.
However, letting thousands or even millions have a crack at solving problems is far more likely to yield results than relying on a select group of bureaucrats, professionals or experts. The huge advances that have been made in living standards and well-being over the last 250 years derive directly from the unleashing of creativity of a much wider group of ‘low-born’ thinkers and innovators associated with the scientific and industrial revolution of the 18th century.
The immediate problem Bitcoin solves is the need to trade anonymously (admittedly not always for the best of intentions) but clearly it also provides a unique store of value for others.
But the Holy Grail that crypto-currencies might one day secure (undoubtedly some time off) is the creation of a global medium of exchange that eliminates the national currency fluctuations that obstruct and slow trade and cause so much economic volatility. In effect, in a century we may have a global Euro but one (or more) chosen voluntarily by the world’s people rather than imposed by governments. Chances are that currency won’t be Bitcoin but it could well be a descendant of it.
4. A lot of people don’t like the Power to Create
Everyone loves creativity, right? Absolutely. That is until it challenges their power, position or privileges. Bitcoin and its cousins are small fry right now but they are growing quickly. Already the supposed guardians of our money – the central banks are getting twitchy. It’s telling that the two countries that have so far proved most hostile to Bitcoin and have taken active steps to suppress it are a one-party oligarchy (China) and an increasingly authoritarian semi-autocracy (Russia).
But across the world, right and left now buy into a policy consensus that says control of a nation’s money is the best way for them to shape an economy in the way they see fit. That consensus justifies the huge power held by Central Banks (and has done no harm to the balance sheets of commercial banks either). Once crypto-currencies place real monetary power in the hands of ordinary businesses and consumers, expect a backlash.
5. The Power to Create is troubling and dangerous
No doubt such a backlash will make much of the damage that could be done by Bitcoin et al. But the problem with letting creativity out of its cage is that outcomes always are deeply unpredictable and often not benign. A few sentences ago I suggested a monetary utopia free of national currency barriers. It’s quite possible, however, that a dystopia awaits: one where poorly regulated monetary institutions ruin investors, criminals trade anonymously and where business is severely damaged because no-one really knows whether the currency they are using will still exist tomorrow. Alternatively, because of these problems, crypto-currencies will remain a marginal affair, of interest only to the risk-takers and the naïve.
6. The problems of the Power to Create can only be solved by unleashing more Power to Create
The solution, however, is not to crush nor attempt to control the power to create. As William Shipley (the RSA’s founder) recognised 250 years ago, the answer is to apply the power to create to the less happy consequences of creativity. This is, in fact, what is happening in the world of crypto-currencies. Namecoin, Litecoin etc. are not simply replicas of Bitcoin. Each one is an experiment trialling different ways to address the weaknesses of Bitcoin and crypto-currencies more generally. The same is true of the different monetary institutions that are springing up around Bitcoin. The fact that a major Bitcoin exchange, which was widely perceived as flawed by experts, collapsed a few days ago without bringing confidence in the whole crypto-currency system down with it suggests the power to create is working just as it should.
7. There has never been a better time to unleash the Power to Create
Bitcoin is not the first attempt to launch currencies free from the control of central banks and governments. But what makes it different is, of course, the internet. Innovations can be shared and used so much more easily and widely now. The web is a huge machine that has enhanced the power to create a hundred fold.
For that reason, what Bitcoin could do to the world of currency is just a hint of what can happen in every area of life as the potential of this new tool inspires billions to turn their ideas into reality across the globe.
You can follow me on Twitter here.
The ‘Power to Create‘ is the notion that by unleashing the deep desire of billions to turn their ideas into reality we will not only stand a better chance of solving our biggest problems but will become a more fulfilled and happier species in the process. It is becoming an increasingly central idea to the way the RSA sees itself, the world and the future. This is an edited version of a presentation I gave about the Power to Create at the RSA’s staff away-day. (Huge thanks to Travis Wentworth who helped with the research and look of the presentation.)
Follow me on Twitter here.