WORDS: SOCIETY

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Indy Lifestyle Online
PETER MANDELSON has told the Daily Telegraph that he hopes the Millennium Dome will make people "reflect on who we are and what sort of society we live in". They could start by reflecting on what Mr Mandelson thinks he means by society. Margaret Thatcher told Woman's Own about ten years ago that it didn't exist, but no one took much notice, and people still go on talking about it; but they usually feel the need to attach some adjective to it, such as acquisitive or affluent, or even high. I'm not sure what the Mandelson adjective would be. Multicultural probably.

The word on its own is certainly too vague to be of much use to anyone. In its early days there was no problem with it. The Latin socius meant a partner, companion or chum, so societas was an alliance, or friendship, perhaps involving a good old gossip over a meal or a glass, after which people said how much they'd enjoyed each other's society. The point here was that the people concerned knew each other. Even when they didn't, it was reasonable to talk about "society" as a group of people, even a whole nation, who shared the same views on life, as they were more or less supposed to do when the word was thus used in the 17th century. Of course we are still a society in the sense that we're all bound by the same laws, a point neglected by Margaret Thatcher, but this won't help Mr Mandelson now that the Dome looks like being partly sponsored by the Japanese.

The wider its application the less it means. One can understand, while not necessarily applauding, attempts to narrow it down, as carriage folk did when they decided that society consisted only of themselves, and you could enter it, be shunned by it or take it by storm.

But I somehow can't see Greenwich becoming a society venue.

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