A neighbour emailed me the other day:
I’m hoping to get a bit of an understanding of where the island is at and what challenges it faces. I’m asking a few different people I know about their thoughts and reflections. I wonder if you would mind?
In particular I’m quite interested to understand the socio-economic, social and environmental challenges we face here as an island. I took a bit of a read of your website recently and you seem to be quite up to date with what’s what so I thought you’d be a good chap to ask.
You’ve set a broad topic there!
However, I believe that the biggest challenge that we face as an island (and a civilisation across the Anglo-Judeo-Christian world) is that of decaying institutions. Here in IOM, the problem is particularly acute: Across almost every facet of human life on the island, institutions are facing lower numbers of membership, attendance and participation. The Rotary Club has lost half its membership in the last decade. Attendance at the Methodist Church fell 30% over a 5 year period (and thus, likely to also halve over a decade). The women’s basketball league has reduced from multiple divisions to, barely, one team that plays in the men’s league. Pub turnover is falling. I don’t have data on the percentage of Manx children growing up in single-parent homes, but would offer very short odds that the percentage is increasing.
I fundamentally believe that community institutions of all sorts: service institutions, faith institutions, commercial institutions, sporting institutions, family institutions, are all under threat. I believe they’re struggling.
Why? I think it is because our community is increasingly fragmented, first and foremost in terms of the media we consume. We no longer share one radio station. We no longer share one TV station. We have no shared worldview. Rather, we consume a literally infinite diversity of news and entertainment: what you watch on Instagram, or TikTok, or Netflix, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Amazon Prime, is substantially unique to you (perhaps the one recent outlier: Line of Duty?) Thus, we no longer talk about Scott and Charmaine’s wedding on Neighbours, or Den and Angie getting divorced on EastEnders, we have a reduced common cultural canon to share and discuss. The result is the fragmentation of our community’s conversation, where reality is less-and-less a shared construct, and more an individually determined “lived experience”. I believe that because those building blocks of conversation are disappearing, our building blocks of community coherence are degrading.
Much of this represents broader civilisational despair – and I think the Isle of Man is a much better than other places. That’s why I live here, after all! This email itself is some evidence of that: we are neighbours, we know each other’s names, we share conversations, we share emails (!!) about the state of our world. In addition, there is some light: As an individual, I am unusually engaged with various institutions, of all sorts – from the IOM Foodbank, to the Castletown Hockey Club, to Isle of Man Netball, to the Isle of Man Woodland Trust, to the Isle of Man Business Network, and my new endeavour, the Manx TaxPayers’ Alliance. So from my own perspective, and my own life, I benefit from engagement with many different institutions. I have lonely friends, and know lonely people, who are not engaged in any institution other than their place of employment. Work is good, work is important, but work is not everything. Here in IOM, compared to most other places, our work institutions are better (but even in the economic domain, that’s like having the best petrol-station sushi in Wales: the competition is not exactly great).
Thus, as we look forward to the 2020s (after the aborted start with the abomination of 2020) I think that the greatest challenge that our island, and our community, faces is to rebuild our community institutions bigger, better, and stronger than ever before. This means we – as people, as humans, as families – need to join, build and support more institutions than the last decade. We need to support local service institutions, and local sporting institutions, and local faith institutions, and local families.
Our Government has been very supportive of “buy local” – but I believe that we need to go beyond the mere economic institutions. We need to serve local. We need to compete local. We need to pray local. We need to play local. We need to love local. We need to help local.
Place matters. The Isle of Man matters. Our community matters.
We need to do these things because humans are not merely economic actors. We benefit from being connected to each other. Our natural state is not as a solo hermit. Our natural state is to be social creatures that work together, that cooperate together, that build together, that play together and love together. If we can do that, we will enable as many people to flourish as much as possible.
Together. For all of us.
Let me know what you think! I’m a strong believer that on issues like this, search for truth benefits from many different contributions from many different perspectives: I have no monopoly on wisdom, that’s for sure.