I.3: CONVIVIAL SOCIETY

Who doesn’t want to live in convivial company, where “convivial” implies fellow feeling, generosity, a sense of belonging, a desire to keep everyone in good spirits, and a true concern for people who aren’t? Well, some don’t – although they are generally felt to be psychopaths. Either that or, like Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, they have been psychologically damaged: wanting, deep down, to be nice, but not quite able to manage it. So why don’t we do what most people would prefer? Why don’t we create convivial societies?

There seem to be three main reasons:

The proximal reason is the all-pervasive neoliberal economy (IV.2). The point is not that it is capitalist, but that it is a particular, extreme form of market-led capitalism in which the only recognized value is that of material gain, and everything is for sale; and ruthless, to-the-death competitiveness is the queen of all virtues.

Secondly, we are ruled by an oligarchy of governments, corporates, banks, and their chosen intellectual and expert advisers, who are intent, primarily, not on conviviality but on wealth and power. Unfortunately, those most obsessed with wealth and power are most likely to achieve it; and having achieved it, they set the tone. It’s a matter of game theory.

Thirdly, what with one thing and another, human beings tend to mistrust each other. Trust is a risk. But many a moral leader – and some game theory – has shown that it’s a risk worth taking.

So what do we need to put things right? Again, three things:

The first is compassion. As discussed in VI.1, compassion is the principal moral requirement of all the world’s great religions. Their differences are minor compared to this common thread. With compassion, almost any political/economic structure can be made to work for the public good. Even feudalism has at times been benign. We should stress the “almost” though. The ruthlessness of neoliberalism is the antithesis of compassion.

Secondly, we need cooperation. Compassion leads to cooperativeness; cooperativeness fosters compassion. Nothing is more important or more positive in the modern world than the many cooperative ventures, worldwide, in food and farming (to be discussed in IV.1 and IV.2).

Thirdly, we need to emphasis community. Communities can achieve what individuals cannot. Communities can stand up to the oligarchs. Specifically, we need a tripartite mixed economy, with heavy emphasis on community ownership (IV.2). All in all, communities are our main cause of hope.

But are human beings able to act compassionately, as communities, in the long haul? If so, why don’t we just get on and do the things that so obviously need doing?

The answers (insofar as answers are possible) will unfold over the following pages.