Every Thursday for the past weeks up and down this country, we have clapped for the people saving lives and working around the clock to keep society running amidst one of the biggest crises this country has ever faced. This clapping hasn’t just recognised those working tirelessly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has revived our local communities again. The action of clapping has brought back a shared sense of belonging and identity which has been long lost in our individualistic society.
On the Lissenden Gardens estate in north London, resident Andrea Dawson said this about the clapping: “Even though I have lived here for 17 years I have got to know people I never would have met,”. This does say something about the society we live in today. Isn’t it a shame that we no longer know our neighbours? The clapping hasn’t just been a nod to our carers, it’s shown us something: the need to revive the common good.
The common good doesn’t have to be a return to draconian collectivism, but it can be used to alleviate the burden of the state and more importantly, a concern for others. Former IMF economist Raghuram Rajan argues that the human web of connections, the relations, values, and norms that bind us to one another, are being torn apart by technological innovation. The result, as we are seeing, is aggressive individualism, populism, and violence.
Furthermore, Harvard sociology professor Robert Putnam has also documented the loss of social capital (the bonds that join us to one another in relationships of mutual responsibility and trust) in the contemporary western world. He noted that more people than ever were going ten pin bowling, but fewer were joining teams; he called it ‘Bowling Alone’. This became a metaphor for the decline in membership of clubs, movements, and voluntary associations and the attenuation of community life.
In essence, the many areas of life which people used to do together are now done alone. The clapping for our carers may be coming to an end, but let’s not allow the idea of communitarianism to die. For any society to be effective there needs to be a balancing of both strands — a synthesis of individual liberty and the common good. The power of the common good has been squeezed out by an increasingly intrusive, authoritarian state and invasive crony capitalism. The concern for the community is needed more than ever, and one-act for two minutes every Thursday at 8 pm has reminded us of that. Thank goodness for our carers.