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Six degrees of caring: Can we have a caring capitalism?

Can caring fix capitalism?

Maybe it’s far-fetched to believe we can be connected to everyone in the world by six people, but there may be method in the madness.

It could well have been the hand of destiny that had me sitting on a houseboat with a friend watching Law Abiding Citizen.

Without ruining the plot I will simply say they Gerard Butler decides to take the law into his own hands over the murder of his wife and daughter. This stems from the decision of the district attorney to give the killer a plea bargain, on the face of it to help with another case, but in actuality it is to keep his prosecution rate high.

The film highlights that the justice system in the US has little regard for the people involved. It is an assembly line, with judges sitting over hundreds of cases a week, lawyers representing multiple individuals as both defendants and plaintiffs, and barristers using their theatrical oration skills to help both help the innocent and guilty alike.

The reason the film struck a chord with is that the justice system is an arena where there is a growing disconnection with the people that they are meant to protect and serve.

On one level there has to be. In order that everyone should get a fair trial, lawyers and barristers have to put aside their own prejudices, and represent their client to the best of their abilities.

However, the initial disconnection that allows these individuals to do their jobs effectively can sometimes turn into a deeper a disconnection. This may not stop them performing the the service required of them, but it takes away the essence of the service. In this case, although the judge and DA convict the murderer, the plea bargain means that it is questionable whether justice has actually been satisfied.

This disconnection manifests itself in the shift from clients to statistics. The DA in LAC doesn’t see the people involved in the case as humans, but as statistics he can manipulate to make himself look better. But it is not just in the legal system that this disconnection is apparent.

Managers that fire hundreds of people in efficacy savings are trained to not see them as men and women, but faulty parts of a machine. The head of Ofqual, at the centre of the current GCSE debacle, must have tried very hard to believe that in moving the grade scale she was not ruining the futures of thousands of children, but simply balancing the books.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe many professionals are good people and don’t see their staff or clients as numbers on a spreadsheet. But, the system is geared so that the movers and the shakers above the glass ceiling can disconnect from the people they are meant to support and not treat them as people. Or at least when it suits them.

We are all guilty of it. That annoying customer who walks in and kicks up a fuss. That person on the phone trying to sell you insurance. That homeless person asking you for money. Our society has developed to the point where we can comfortably dehumanise the people who we don’t like or don’t want to interact with. It is only more apparent in the upper echelons of power because their actions effect more people.

But every time you send someone to Coventry, or whisper behind someone’s back, or tell a homeless beggar to “f*** off,” you are dealing with a person, who has people they care about and hopefully people who care about them.

The theory of sis degrees of separate implies that we are all connected to everyone on the planet through six people. Unlikely as it is, we should not dismiss the theory out of hand.

We all have our circle of friends and our circle of family. They all have their own circles and as you pan out from individual to individual is it so hard to recognise that we are all connected by interlocking circles? You may not like some of the people in your circle, but to not like someone implies that you care about them in some way – you care that their opinions differ from yours, or you care how their actions impinge on yours.

It would be a tall order to care about everyone in the world. But we can choose who to make statistics out of and who to respect. We have the choice, and the more people we turn into stats the further away from compassionate capitalism we get.

As Andreas Whittam Smith observes today, part of the problem with the banks at the moment is that they regard their customers as people to sell to, not people to serve. It is this attitude that has led to people becoming stats, and our capitalist model being on the verge of meltdown. It is an US and THEM attitude that favours the individual at the expense of others.

In order to do business with each other on a level playing field we first have to live on one. Not in terms of all having the same wealth or social status, but in terms of giving each other same respect. We have to stop hero worshipping celebrities with no talents, start respecting people with disabilities who go through more strife on a daily basis than some people live through in a lifetime.

Respect should not depend on your age, how intelligent you are, or how talented you are, or how much of something you have. It stems from what you do with those things, and as soon as we realise this we will be able to call ourselves a developed, nay, an enlightened society.

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