THE number of people participating in Salisbury Democracy Café was a little down on Saturday 12 May, but that was more than made up for by the quality of the deliberation, a visit from a representative of Oxford Compass, which is planning its own democracy café – oh, and Batman.
The first Oxford Democracy Café, which was inspired by the Salisbury group, will be held on 7 July in Oxford Playhouse and we wish it well.
Meanwhile, participants in the ninth Salisbury Democracy Café at Salisbury Playhouse chose two topics: 1) What lessons, if any, have we learnt from 1948? and 2) What do people mean when they say they want to put the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain?
The first question referred to a number of significant events including the launch of the NHS by the 1945 Labour Government, the Marshall Plan and nationalisation.
This generated a wide-ranging dialogue including deep questions about what is meant by ‘progress’, whether humans can improve the way they treat each other or change. While there was a general consensus about people treating each other better than they did centuries ago – after all, we no longer hang draw and quarter people in this country – there was less agreement about whether people themselves change.
Indeed, it was pointed out that in some parts of the world people are still treated abominably, reminding us that ‘progress’ can be patchy and not inevitable. Even the word ‘progress’ is problematical because it can always be asked ‘progress for whom?’
So, even if Steven Pinker in his new book Enlightenment Now is right to say that things have generally improved over the last few centuries in almost every aspect of our lives, there was a suggestion that there could be local reverses within that overarching narrative.
We also raised the possibility that there had been a shift from a more community-minded attitude in what is often called the post-war consensus to a more individualistic one; and one person suggested that one thing that had not changed was the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few people and the affect this had on society.
One problem is that even if policies may sound good in theory they often fail to match up to their promise in practice.
The second topic prompted a dialogue about what was meant by the word ‘Great’ in this context. It was thought that many people used it to suggest a time when Britain was more powerful or influential, when it actually simply referred to the union of nations.
It was suggested that the way people used it was in reference to the British Empire, which itself raised many questions about what constituted a colony in general and the nature of the British Empire in particular. One person suggested that a ‘great’ nation should look after its own citizens and do no harm abroad.
Questions also arose about the extent to which we identify ourselves, at least in part, by our nationality or other aspects of human activity like religion.
And Batman?… well he just popped his head round the corner during a break from another event.