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Friday, 12 August 2011

Revealing a culture of contempt?

One of the things that has shocked people is the sight of looters openly laughing at  the mayhem they were causing. It has looked like contempt - contempt for authority, for their communities and for their neighbours.

In 1992 Professor Kenneth Galbraith wrote 'The Culture of Contentment'. Wikipedia describes its contents thus: 'In it he traces the growth of a stultifying contentment in the western industrial world represented by the G7 group of countries. He pays particular attention to the self serving economic comfort achieved by the fortunate and politically dominant community and contrasts this to the condition of the underclass which he sees as being for the first time in these countries stalled in poverty.'

Nowadays it feels like the culture of contentment, bad as that was, is morphing into a culture of contempt:

 - the contempt shown for our economic well-being by the bankers as they continue to pursue disastrous financial strategies which loot our economy, paying themselves massive bonuses along the way; 

- the contempt shown by this government for public services and the people that work within them, adding denigration to the insult of job losses; 

- the contempt being shown towards the most vulnerable people in the way that the social security system changes are being made and talked about;

- contempt shown by many politicians through the expenses scandal;

and now contempt being acted out on the street.

Contempt grows  in the spaces created by disconnection, dislocation and a lack of trust. We create this culture in the language we use and the manner in which we speak, which then translates into action. 

I listened to the Prime Minister talk about 'sick' people and bringing in water cannons and rubber bullets to use against looters. Keen to place responsibility everywhere else. I wondered whether that also sounded like contempt. The self serving rhetoric of the parliamentary debate gave me no confidence that our political leadership really has a clue. A clue about people's lives or a clue about what it actually takes to end the violence and thieving.

Our language and actions construct the society and the communities we live in, and the relationships we have with one another. If we don't like what we have, there are ways of re-imagining and creating positive responses at neighbourhood, town and city levels. See 'Imagine Chicago' at  for a start.

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