The Careless Society – thought provoking read




Recently got a suggestion to read this book from @anniecoops on Twitter. So always interested in reading something new I toddled off to Amazon and bought it. This is the link to its Amazon Page.  Came in the post about ten days ago and since then I’ve been reading it. Finally finished it this morning.

The basic premise of the author is that the move to provided services has led to an erosion of community and thence to a disempowerment of the individual to make positive change in their own lives and those of others. In particular he mentions the institutionalization of the disabled as a case in point. They maybe in the community but are not seen as part of the community due to the provision of services for them that effectively keep them dependent on service agencies for support.  The book, even towards the end, provides few answers to the problem that he identifies in the first chapter.  Although in his defense there is a ‘sequel’ which I have not read yet which details his full response to the problem as he sees it.

The book is soley based in a USA context and was written in the 1990’s.  He steers away from politics, although it appears as though the logical end of his theories would be a smaller state with money being ploughed back to individuals to use in a local context. Although he doesn’t go as far as Thatcher in declaring ‘there is no such thing as society’ (because of course this would completely negate his central point). 

One of the issues I have with the book is that he constantly harks back to a supposed ‘golden age’ of community where everyone helped each other and all was peaceful.  There is no examination about how true to life this ideal was and what implications this all encompassing community had for the development of society. If communities were so tight knit and stable – did this have the effect of preventing change and development?

There are other disturbing issues with the book – particularly in the chapters regarding the criminal justice system, the unremarked upon justification for execution – its a method of dealing with unrepentant criminality is chilling as is description of the holocaust as a ‘sacrifice’. 

He is dismissive of any and all public services, social work, medicine (in particular) , the criminal justice system, grief counselors seem to be targeted for especial treatment .  McKnight compares these services with the glowing all good community.  There is no real investigation of why if community was working so well of the reason and ability of state services to come and take over so easily.  

Hmmm – thought provoking read indeed. 





5 responses »

  1. This is a really interesting topic. There are so many sides to it.

    Some people will say passing over caring for our neighbours to the state disempowers the community, and makes people feel they needn’t bother, or even that they are interfering. State provision can be a bit “lowest common denominator” and not cater for individuals, but without it the safety net is a lot more leaky. On the side of state provision is that making it a right means people with disabilities do not feel they are relying on “charity” and that can increase their dignity.

    I also get a bit uncomfortable when people say family & friends caring for people are “saving the government millions”. I know what they mean but it suggests the primary responsibility for people’s well being lies with the state and I’m not sure that’s right.

    Then there’s the means testing dilemma. Don’t means test and you get millionaire pensioners getting winter fuel allowance. Means test and you get people who have saved hard for their retirement being “just not quite poor enough” while people who haven’t made any effort get help.

    No easy answers!

  2. I agree, Karin. This book is like a itch you can’t quite locate or scratch enough. Its very thought provoking and not too long but in the end unsatisfying. I think my main problem with it is that it is full of sweeping statements / assumptions and short of practical solutions – but there is a follow up so that might be where that lies. It also (but again this was written in 1995 ) seems to equate community as being soley one of locality rather than taking a more flexible view – ie one individual can be a member of several communities at once.

    I’ll get Rich to put it in your pigeonhole at work – no rush in getting it back!

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