Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Month: June 2013

Can Citizenship be a Gift?

Central to my work over the last 23 years has been the idea of citizenship. One central idea has been that the organisation of the social care system (and many other public services) operates in a way that is hostile to citizenship: support is a gift coming from, and defined by, the professionals funded by the state.

It struck me, way back then, that it would be more consistent with our dignity and rights if such support was self-directed and based upon our right to support and clear entitlements. This perception led to both the development of Inclusion Glasgow and to the creation of self-directed support.
Over those 23 years I tried in many ways to convert service gifts into public entitlements. This was fruitful and had many positive consequences. But, on reflection, it remains an unfulfilled and problematic objective:
Can citizenship be a gift?
At a moral level I think that, in conditions of injustice, the effort to re-imagine relationships more respectfully – through the lens of citizenship – is possible. Weil makes a similar point as follows:

In order to feel true gratitude (the case of friendship being set aside), I have to think that it is not out of pity, sympathy or caprice that I am being treated well, it is not as a favour or privilege, nor as a natural result of temperament, but a desire to do what justice demands. Accordingly he who treats me thus wishes that all in my situation may be treated in the same way by all who are in his own.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Whatever our circumstances we can choose to see each other as equals – as citizens.

But the fly in the ointment is obvious if we think about this politically. Citizens were never granted citizenship by their kings or oligarchic rulers. Citizenship had to be fought for. In this sense citizenship cannot be a gift.

Over the past few years I have watched ideas I helped realise and the concepts which I helped define lose their way. I know this is partly just the effect of reality. You can imagine things – but reality will always be different. You can build small things and control them – but large things will have their own logic, way beyond your control. And that is as it should be. Life will not be controlled.

But there is also a sense in which my own ideas are failing because they require a different kind of political support – and that support is missing. It is okay to work ‘under the radar’ but in the end it is the political process within which ideas will be developed, defined and instituted.

How the idea of citizenship can become the reality of citizenship must, I think, be a task of citizenship. That is, it must be a political happening.

Cause, Effect and Human Freedom

Behind the man with the knife is the man who sold him the knife, the man who did not give him a job, the man who decided that his school did not need funding, the man who closed down the branch plant where he could have worked, the man who decided to reduce benefit levels so that a black economy grew, all the way back to the woman who only noticed ‘those inner cities’ some six years after the summer of 1981, and the people who voted to keep her in office… Those who perpetrated the social violence that was done to the lives of young men starting some 20 years ago are the prime suspects for most of the murders in Britain.

Danny Dorling from Criminal Obsessions

At the level of immediate political rhetoric Dorling’s point is strong and hard to contest. The relationship between crime and social inequality is strong and income inequality and other forms of social injustice are shaped by our political leaders.

As a statement of cause and effect of course there are too many other factors involved to bring anyone, other than the man with the knife, to trial. And the man with the knife was free not to use it. To believe otherwise is to perpetuate the disrespectful view that our leaders take of us – we’re all too stupid to be trusted with freedoms and resources. We must leave power to the powerful.

We must somehow find a way of exploring two dimensions of our society. On the one hand we must acknowledge the existence of social conditions that are ‘better for us’ – which promote better behaviour, well-being and moral development. [Noting of course that we don’t all share the same view about what ‘better’ means or how ‘better’ should be distributed.] We must therefore work to bring about a fairer society, a decent society, which reduces the risk of such criminality.

On the other hand we must not collapse our discussions of politics into a simplistic cause and effect narrative, nor forget that we can always be the difference.

So, alongside Dorling’s narrative one might imagine all the opportunities missed:

  • The small business man who refused to sell knives.
  • The entrepreneur who focused on helping recruit from that community.
  • The community leader who helped develop new educational opportunities.
  • The cooperative buy-out that saved the failing business.
  • The social policy expert who led the charge for a decent minimum income.
  • The politician who helped reform the welfare system without reducing rights.
  • The society that stayed true to its ideal.

Dorling is right, but the charges won’t stick, because we’re all involved and we’re all complicit. But that also means we can all help change things. We are not the creatures of the politicians who should be there to serve us.

The Duty to Restore People to Their Duties

Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj or self-rule for the hungry and also spiritually starved millions of our countrymen? then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.

Gandhi

Notice how Gandhi understands the importance of freedom or self-rule in his account of the experience of justice. Meeting the basic need is important, but meeting the need in a way that is absorbed into respect for the innate dignity and integrity of the other human being is central to a proper understanding of justice. Otherwise people become the mere means by which we fulfil our obligations – our real duty is to restore to people to their full role and to put people in a position to meet their own obligations.

Equality With or Without Degree

For there is no other heaven – the hierarchy admitted, there is, it seems, no hierarchy at all; no higher or lower; all is here, in the first. “Only,” and as if (lover-like) Beatrice exerted herself to explain to her lover, she seems to use an intense metaphor – “only – they have a sweet life differently, by feeling more or less the eternal breath” (per sentir piu e men l’eterno spiro (IV, 36)). The swifter ardour of that sweet immingled life is all the difference any can know; passion is their law, not place. Anything else is democracy intoxicated with itself, the moon-lunacy of equality without degree, as without equality degree is sun-madness. Even in this world, even outside love, one does not envy Caesar or Shakespeare or the God-bearer; existence is equal, function hierarchical; at every moment the hierarchy alters, and the functions re-ladder themselves upward. To know both – to experience and to observe both is perfect freedom.

From Charles Williams, The Figure of Beatrice

Understanding how to take equality is one of the most important challenges of both political philosophy and morality.

As Arendt observed there is a grave danger that the ideal of equality will be corrupted into some kind of enforced normality – what I think Williams might call “equality without degree.” If we say equal, but think normal, then all those of us who are ‘too different to be equal’ will be at risk.

The challenge is to combine equality and degree.

Williams is exploring Dante’s picture of heaven – which is (whether or not you believe in heaven) a useful intellectual exercise. In heaven there must be a fundamental equality – can you imagine yourself as somehow envious, proud or demeaned in heaven. There can be no pretence that we are ‘better’ in heaven. But we cannot all be the same – that would be hell.

Dante imagines heaven as a hierarchy of multiple perfections – the hierarchy seemed problematic, even to Dante himself; but it is then revealed as a way of understanding the beauty of our diversity.

It Is Not a Good Thing To Be a ‘Do-It-All.’

We often want to do everything ourselves, but that is a mark of false pride. Even what we owe to others belongs to ourselves, and that is part of our own lives. And when we calculate just how much we owe to others, it is not only un-Christian, but useless. What we are in ourselves, and what we owe to others makes us a complete whole.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The idea of independence is good but is often confused.

We value learning skills and we can often advance our independence by learning something that we didn’t know before. But this is an inevitably finite goal. I cannot learn everything – just because I am finite and human. And if I did know everything what would that mean?

It is not a good thing to be a ‘know-it-all.’

It is essential to our humanity that we need other people. To learn from them. To get their assistance. Of course this is essential to ourselves – to our well-being. Without love and assistance from others our lives would be empty. But it is also important because our needs create opportunities for others to contribute – needs give meaning to all our lives.

It is not a good thing to be a ‘do-it-all.’

What we value is having control over our lives – freedom. Even this is not an unconstrained freedom. Freedom is an expression of self within the context of our community – it is a form of creativity which requires a medium for expression – things which we can control, but also things which are outside our control, but which provide the fabric of self-expression.

As Bonhoeffer observes the goal of independence, understood in a shallow way – me doing everything for myself – is not only false it is a sin. As Bonhoeffer also sees the sin is a failure to acknowledge that what we owe others is part of ourselves – and to deny the reality of this debt is a kind of ingratitude.

Understood in a deep way – me being myself, expressing who I am, with support from others is true and is how we become a “complete whole.” It is also a way of valuing each other, it is at the heart of mutual respect and community life.

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