Brian Cox and Big Society Stuff

“The ‘big society”, said Rock Star Physicist Professor Brian Cox OBE, “is an educated society, where people can participate and understand cultural achievements.”

Much in the news in Britain Professor Brian Cox has been attacking a policy about university fees that he sees as “penalising poor people…fees may well discourage people if they haven’t got a load of family money behind them.” Continuing the conversation Professor Cox says. “You need to cast the net as wide as possible. It’s obvious. Not all Einsteins are rich.” and continues: “I think that universities are such an important part of society that general taxation should fund them because it is better for everybody”. Be that as it may surely he has a long road ahead of him in endeavouring to change entrenched systems and political policies. Is it realistic in terms of cost? And, if not should that stop him from trying?

A quote by one of the most influential people in the business of book publishing ever, Michael Korda comes to mind. He said “Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility…in the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have…is the ability to take on responsibility”. Professor Cox is certainly doing that. Success is only but a new beginning, because if and when you take on responsibility you also need persistence. In spite of everything it is the power to endure, which is the successful person’s real quality. It means pushing on in the face of difficulty, taking on pain to overcome an obstacle and more than often facing defeat again and again without giving up. The heyday of my generation was the hippie and New Age movements of the 60’s and 70’s. This was when everyone seemed to rebel against everything and only looked forward to ‘ the dawning of the Age of Aquarius’….made popular by the hit musical “Hair”.  Professor Cox in his Wonders of the Universe explained how that on earth we are always, in physics terms at least, moving forward. Although in stellar terms, it seems we are actually in retrograde mode… because astrological ages proceed in the opposite direction or order*.

My generation was very confused. They did not know, surely, they were symbolically setting out to go backwards. No wonder they have ended up today becoming the new ‘establishment’. Good heavens, but I digress…

…Professor Brian Cox won the 2010 Kelvin Medal and Prize from the IOP (Institute of Physicists) at The University of Manchester ‘for communicating the appeal and excitement of physics to the general public through the broadcast media’. In his early 40’s, Cox is cool as a cucumber and one of the most successful men of science in our world today. While he may use his charm to encourage younger members of the community to aim towards success in the future,  he is however an active scientist at the forefront of his research in particle physics.

He has good credentials and can communicate well and at a level most people understand. He is widely respected as a commentator and his views are sought by the media and Government. He combines scientific credibility with a charismatic and engaging public image, which is a great benefit to physics in particular and science in general. As an X generation happy man about town he appeals to a very wide demographic and certainly deserves our respect.

We have talked about Britain’s vision for a Big Society before. As an argument for hope.

Described by The Times as “an impressive attempt to reframe the role of government and unleash entrepreneurial spirit“. The Big Society, not big government, was an integral aspect of the policy ideas of the UK Conservative party’s 2010 election platform. And it seems Brian Cox and his celebrity status will certainly contribute toward helping to build better connected communities there.

Britain's David Cameron and the Boys and Girls of the Big Society

While we understand that the British Government is about expounding its views for its own country there is much that is good about the concept others should embrace as well. In any progressive country or society where people are in control driving social action giving of time, money, assets, skills and knowledge is the only way forward. It ensures a better quality of life for everyone. It is about common sense.

We need to be empowered ourselves and in turn empower others to pursue collective and individual goals that mean we are less reliant on the state. When the communist experiment in Russia failed virtually millions died having been brought up state reliant. This should prove the point we need to be as self reliant as we can.

An important aspect of the Big Society is that it proposes a new role for government, for that as a facilitator of giving. Wow. This part of the plan aims to make it easier for corporations, philanthropists, volunteers and social profit organizations to come together and form partnerships for the greater good.

This is important. This is good.

Main Quadrangle, Sydney University

Governments need to reduce funding to the social (non) profit sector to ensure that education and health, the two biggest issues for any parent in any society, are able to be funded from general taxation as Professor Cox suggests. You will note I always prefer to use social profit, NOT the phrase non profit. Positive vs Negative – it is all about attitude – how we look at something that counts.

But we also need practical ways to proceed. We need to boost giving by those who are able to contribute by using common sense. Revising and changing social attitudes from seeing the glass half empty to seeing it half full is only a first step.  Rather than looking at giving as being self serving we should be celebrating kindness?

On the subject of education, during the 50’s in Australia huge university fees made it impossible for many to send their children to university. Then it became FREE and it went the opposite way. Many just stayed on studying for over a decade in the safety of the hallowed halls, rather than stepping up, and outside to take on responsibility.

Now it seems to have reached another impasse with regard to the Hex (you borrow from the government to pay fees and pay the loan back when you find work). It seems its so big it is crippling graduates for years and years making them put off families and progressing their careers in other ways.

Perhaps there has to be another choice. A degree, as Professor Cox suggests, paid for by government, with all post graduate work, such as a Masters and a Doctorate having to be contributed to by employers. Say 50/50 with the student so that they also value it as well. Western civilization is based on the concept that we pay for what we want.

I know that many top corporate young executive’s education is paid for by their employers already, because it helps them to gain advantage over a competitor. If this option was greatly extended to include all employees then everyone would have an equal opportunity to succeed. So many young people feel they have no chance, and with that comes a degradation of hope.

In Australia most cities are hamstrung by having copious councils within the city competing with each other rather than communicating to ensure better connected communities.

Brisbane City Council (BCC) is different. It is Australia’s biggest, and one of the largest municipal councils in the world. It is one body working with the community to guide its city’s future growth and development.Well that is what its charter says. Experience has revealed that inside its hierarchical structure self funded agencies however set up to focus on one issue, often compete against each other rather than communicating well to contribute to the well being of Brisbane and its society as a whole.

It’s no use the executives of any government, corporation, institution or council making plans if it doesn’t make a firm commitment to continuing education or to convey or communicate the importance of its message beyond management.  The buck stops at their own front door. To gain the respect and support of at least the majority of its worker team they must remain active to maintain standards and alleviate misunderstanding between their people. Realistically there will always be a minority who doesn’t comply. We are but a flawed people, but it should not really stop us from trying.

One of the BCC goals is being committed to building better-connected reading communities. This is commendable and a first step option to better communication in the future. Being able to read is fundamental to the growth of any individual or a community. Whether its in a book or on a screen. Each to his own. Like encouraging a child to read an Enid Blyton novel. It is about the ‘doing it’ as opposed to not. It is about encouraging participation and communication, than not.

Reading aloud to children is of vital importance to everyone’s future. And this must start as early as possible. But to achieve this modern social attitudes, that accepts so easily the break down of relationships and family structure, must be reversed. So many children affected have had to be taken into care. For instance in 2008 there were 7000 children just in Queensland alone in care, with over 26,000 in Australia. Many of these are also illiterate. That means they are not getting a ‘fair go’ at all. Literacy matters. And so idealism is necessary if we wish to make further improvements. To achieve our aims we need to come together with perseverance, unanimity and determination.

Anyone’s ‘big society’ must be a crucible for change, which as Professor Brian Cox would point out is inevitable. Change in a progressive country is constant. We need to work together as we continue to move forward. There is plenty to do and very little money to spend. But what we need to decide first is if we all share a great vision for a ‘big society’? Prudence demands that active men and women will take up the challenge, watch over everyone’s interests, and take us forward. In the words of that great British statesman of the 19th century Benjamin Disraeli ‘power is a trust and we are all accountable for its exercise; from the people and for the people all springs and all must exist …’

Progress always needs a beginning, one that only realism can engender.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2011, 2012

*The first sign of the Zodiac is Aries, followed by Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces….but in terms of Ages we start at Pisces and go backwards…

Enjoy the Video of the Age of Aquarius


Download the Green Paper on Giving

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