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Question Of The Day

Is There Such a Thing As Society?

"I'm not being funny, but the thing I disagree with is the foreigners coming in."

"There is no such thing as society." That phrase was uttered by someone who's been in the news a lot for the past week or so for being dead. And since she's been dead, a lot of people have been debating the meaning and relevance of the phrase. Is there still no such thing as society? Isn't society a synonym for community, and wasn't that thing I went to last summer a community picnic? Why are my neighbours lying to me about society? Should I even care because I've only got 50 years left tops and I might as well just enjoy myself?


I wanted to find a conclusive answer, so I had a walk around and asked some people to help me out. London, do you think there is such a thing as society?

Paul (left) and Peter, civil engineers.

Peter: The thing is, you can’t say there’s not such a thing as a society, 'cause if you’re just working as one man, how you gonna get on? You’re not gonna get on, are you? You rely on each other to work. So just being an individual doesn’t work.

VICE: So you look at your work mates as an example of society?

Do you reckon the government should be there to help people when others around them can’t?
The government ain't gonna help us no matter what. They just want to screw us over every two minutes. Whatever government is in, it’s just going to want to screw us over – don’t matter if it’s Labour or Tories. The thing I disagree with is the foreigners coming in. They’re bringing more and more in and, in the end, there won’t be no Englishmen in the job.

In your work?
If you look at Crossrail, a fifth of the workforce is foreign. I’m not being funny, but we work with some foreigners and they don’t listen to you. And it becomes a hazard.

Is that maybe a language issue?
It’s a language thing, yeah. Plus, you try to explain to them what’s going on and they go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." And then, when they’re doing the job, they do something totally different from what you asked them. Whereas two individuals like us, we know what we’re doing and we get loads more done.


Right. Cheers for that.

Mark, unemployed: I don’t have any time for Thatcher or any of the stuff she had to say – the society thing included. And how could they hold a military funeral for her and her crappy war when, at the end of the day, one of the best equipped armies in Europe were fighting a bunch of 18-year-old boys with fucking 1956 rifles from a third world country? There’s nothing glorious in that at all.

Fair point. But do you think that there’s a society beyond that? And do we even need a society?
Listen. At the end of the day, even after 40 years of neoliberalism, people still want the post-45 social democratic settlement.

Despite neoliberal culture, people still want that?
Aye, most of us still do. That’s at least what a poll in the Guardian was saying the other day. A social democratic settlement makes a better society and if you don’t want it, then go off and live in the fucking jungle. And just because there's a few tragic cunts like me, who are paying for this situation with our lives and by living on the streets, it's no reason to destroy the welfare state or take it away from those who really need it.

Oscar (left) and Nina, fundraisers.

Nina: Society is something we create. I think that you need to be the change you want to see in the world. If you want to get good from people, you’ve got to be good to people. If you go down the egotistical route, then it becomes a completely self-orientated world and there’d probably be a lot more hate than there already is.


So do you think that Thatcher was right in saying that there’s no such a thing as society?
No. I think there is a society and there needs to be one.
Oscar: I think society is about perception and what you make of it. If you believe that society is there to be good for all and to create positive change and to help people, then that’s what you get from it. If you believe that society is there to mess people and screw everyone over, then it probably will mess you over.

So it comes down to the individual?


Peter, labourer: What Thatcher said isn't true. She’s basically saying that we all need to look out for ourselves, like, for her own political reasons. We need a society to help one another.

Do you think there’s a sense of community in London?
No. It’s all anonymous, isn’t it? Nobody knows who lives next door to them.

So you think it’s different outside of the city?
Oh yes. It’s different in the countryside, especially up north and where I’m originally from – Limerick.

Previously - What Does Liverpool Think of Thatcher's Funeral?