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I received an interesting email this morning from Max Hogg about some of my recent posts on cognitive capacity - here is an extract:

Somewhat ambitiously, I would suggest that the framework within which this research can best be viewed is nothing less than a new definition of freedom.

It's become a dirty word recently, I think largely because it has been defined in purely negative terms as the freedom of the individual from overt outside influences on her/his action.

Yet increasingly we are seeing that neurological and psychological influences on our actions are rampant and in many cases destroying our freedom (Tim Kasser's work detailing the impact of materialist psychological influences on our children is a good example.)

Neurological reflexivity, or learning how to think, offers an escape from this.

If we can better understand how external (or indeed internal) neurological and psychological influences impact on the way in which we think, we can better understand some of the reasons why, for example, as a society we are currently unable to take concerted collective action on issues such as climate change.

And if we can understand and mitigate against these psychological barriers, we would then be free to decide whether or not to take individual and collective decisions that will benefit us as individuals and society as a whole.

That would be true freedom, and true progress for society. Our lack of neurological flexibility is at present severely hampering our ability to make free choices, individually or collectively.

I think Max makes a really powerful point and one which I may shamelessly purloin for my speech on 30 June.

I wrote yesterday about the problems facing the Conservatives as they explored the problems of increasing civic engagement and community capacity without expanding the state.  At a meeting this morning of Government ministers and officials, the same issue was discussed in the context of the Government White Paper on community empowerment.

Listening to representatives of the third sector, it was clear that there is real tension between the commissioning model in which the delivery of local public services is handed over to 3rd sector organisations and a participative focus.

The unavoidable bureaucracy of the commissioning process (involving as it does substantial public money) makes it especially hard for small community based organisations to compete.  It appears that many of these small 3rd sector providers - particularly in the care sector - may go to the wall as a consequence.

On the other hand, an emphasis on community participation points towards a more traditional grant-giving form of funding in which it is recognised that the good the organisation does extends beyond quantifiable service outputs.

Central and local government, facing a long period of public sector belt-tightening, find themselves caught on the horns of this dilemma.

There is cross party commitment to third sector, community and volunteering, but it still seems to me that aspiration and exhortation too often drive out realism and policy coherence.  The Government's White Paper will tell us whether current ministers have found a credible way of addressing the hard issues.


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