Elements of Society
In order to discuss the nature of a civil society, it is first necessary to discuss the nature and elements of society in general, including government. A separate paper elaborates the Elements of Government while this paper elaborates the elements of society, exclusive of those elements particular to government, although there is clearly some overlap. A third paper will build on these two papers and elaborate the elements of civil society, which will only briefly be mentioned in this paper.
The goal here is not to delve too deeply into all aspects of society, but to define a basic but sufficiently rich framework model for society, specifically modern, western or American-style society, that will facilitate a discussion of civil society.
The real goal here is not to offer an engaging and captivating narrative, a good read, but to provide a baseline reference on what a typical modern, western-style society looks like, with the real goal of defining simply the starting point for discussion of activities that occur in the context of society, as well as the starting point for discussion of how to improve society, to make it better and closer to a more ideal society.
This paper is simply attempting to catalog current best practice for a modern, western-style society, so that when someone says “society”, we can all know what that is referring to.
Also see the paper on Elements of Government for the narrower context of governance, which is indeed a large element of society, but still only one element among many within the larger context of society.
Paraphrasing the dictionary definition, society is a relatively large group of people living together in a relatively ordered community.
The intent of this paper is to consider society as encompassing the population of a single country. Society does tend to spill across national borders, with cultural and ethnic influences between countries, but at present there does still appear to be a relatively strong sense of the social order of a country as being relatively distinct from even adjacent and relatively similar countries. Maybe some day that will change, but for the indefinite future it seems to be the operative mode for how a society organizes itself.
The model of society used in this paper treats individual, local communities as relatively small units of the larger society of the full country, which is in contrast to the dictionary definition which would treat the entire country as a single community.
Purpose of society
The purpose of society is to provide people with an enhanced quality of life that is significantly superior to that which they would achieve without society.
The ideal society
This paper focuses on describing modern, western-style society as it exists today, rather than attempt to speculate on what an ideal society might look like, not that that isn’t a reasonable goal, but is simply another, separate task, while the task pursued here is to establish a baseline definition of society as the starting point before going forward.
A better society
Again, this paper focuses on describing western-style society as it exists today, rather that speculate on how to improve it, not that that isn’t a reasonable goal, but is simply another, separate task.
One last time, this paper is not attempting to advocate for a better society, but simply being descriptive, describing current best-practice for society as practiced in modern, western-style society in recent decades. The goal in this paper is to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, to describe the foundation starting point for further discussion about directions that society could head in future decades, centuries, and millennia. There may be occasional prescriptive statements in this paper, but they will only be made when they at least seem to be wholly non-controversial. An effort will also be made to highlight areas of society where controversy remains.
Requirements for society
A modern, western-style society has only a few essential requirements:
- The people have a significant set of shared values and interests.
- The members of society need to feel some sense of unity and solidarity, starting with mutual protection and aid, as well as the multitude of similarities between individuals and groups.
- People accept that they have differences and not exactly identical values, so that tolerance, inclusiveness, and appreciation of diversity are valued virtues.
- People have a common recognition of greater goods and services that they get from an organized society than if they had to fend for themselves.
- The free will inherent in human nature must be recognized and respected by society.
- People place a high value on choice and alternatives.
- People accept a significant level of authority, rules, and regularized processes, but they have a right to expect a significant level of real social value and services in exchange.
- People understand this as a social contract protecting rights and providing social value and services in exchange for acceptance of responsibilities.
- People feel that the society supports a strong sense of general and universal prosperity.
- People feel a sense of incentive and motivation to be part of the society.
- People expect a significant level of social stability and relative calm as part of the deal, the social contract.
- People feel that they can expect assistance in times of disaster and dislocation.
- People expect that authority will be respectful of the people.
- People have the right to participate in authority and sharing of power.
- People have a right to influence authority, both its direction and administration, through criticism and direct feedback.
- People have a right to expect that authority will be based on merit, fairness, and equality, with free access to opportunity and a strong sense of justice.
Every society will have elements of design that guide its structure. These may be values, priorities, needed services, or whatever it is that society needs to serve its intended purpose, coupled with what institutions and structure people believe are needed to achieve that purpose.
The fundamental design of a society will always have some foundation, upon which all of the rest of society will be constructed.
The elements of the foundations of most societies will have a lot in common.
Promise of society
Society is a deal, a contract, a social contract, between the members of society and society as a whole. The promise of society to each member of society is that the members of society will collectively deliver on the deal, the social contract, and in exchange society will respect the rights of the individual.
Persistent social interaction
A traditional definition of a society is simply a group of individuals who have persistent social interaction. They interact with each other with a reasonably high degree of frequency and intensity.
That will be true for very small, primitive societies such as tribes and villages, but for larger, modern, western-style societies the interactions are defined more as general patterns where the patterns are persistent and frequent even though not every individual participates or even knows of the existence of most other individuals in the larger society.
The overall social order of a nation has at its foundation smaller communities, neighborhoods, organizations, groups, and families where there are indeed the traditional persistent social interactions that are prerequisites for a viable social order.
Fairness is a fundamental quality and requirement for a modern, western-style society. In addition to the mere promise of equality and justice, members of society must actually feel and experience a sense of fairness and justness in their daily lives and in all of their interactions with the apparatus of governance and social order. Justice should be meted equally and without bias.
Just and equitable society
People need to feel that not only is a society just and fair for those of preferred social standing, but for all in society, even those of lower social standing, minority groups, and the disenfranchised.
A fundamental of a just society is freedom from tyranny, freedom from the arbitrary, capricious whim of a dictator or ruling elite.
Beyond basic survival, the members of a society require some significant sense of harmony to tolerate the close proximity and degree of interaction required for social behavior.
Basic respect is certainly a prerequisite for harmony, but hardly sufficient. Other qualities that work together to build a sufficient degree of harmony in society include:
- Shared values
- Common ground and common interests
Goodwill and benevolence
A key pillar of harmony and bulwark against the many negative tendencies that can occur in a complex society in a harsh world is goodwill and benevolence, the feeling of wanting to do good for others independent of whether they have any similar reciprocal feelings. Goodwill and benevolence are marked by:
- Cooperative spirit
Although social structures can be quite formidable and seemingly uncaring, ultimately society seeks to support caring. Although we form societies for larger goals, a large part of that is simply to make each of our own lives easier, which ultimately comes down to caring at a variety of levels, such as:
- Facilitating the raising of children.
- Coping with illness and health issues.
- Coping with accidents and attacks.
- Coping with natural disasters.
- Coping with misfortune.
Caring can be altruistic at some level, but ultimately the core of society is the bargain that we need to care for others because one day you may need to be cared for in a similar if not more severe situation.
Human society reached the stage of civilization when it advanced beyond tribes and small villages, forming more complex organizations, structures of government, and law, and permitting fairly large urban areas to develop and thrive. Progress has not always been forward, with extended periods of time and pockets of the world where small villages and fiefdoms were more the rule than sophisticated civilizations.
The modern world since the 18th and 19th centuries seems to have finally reached the stage where most countries can claim to be civilized and characterized as civilization should. Granted, much improvement is needed, even in the best of countries, but the basic model of civilization appears quite sound.
Civilization and society are roughly synonyms, although civilization is really the abstract concept underlying all societies while a particular society is an instance of the abstraction of civilization.
Early forms of society
Society has evolved dramatically over many centuries of time. Major leaps have occurred as recently as 250 years, 100 years, and 50 years ago, with further developments in recent decades. That said, significant aspects of human social order were developed many centuries ago in early tribes and villages, and the earliest of cities. Today we would label many, most, or even all of those earliest versions of society as barbaric, but the basic pattern was established. One can also assert that a lot of that early barbarism is still with us today in a variety of forms even if our language and fashion appears to be much more modern.
Tribes were one of the earliest forms of human society, with a variety of roles, a rudimentary sense of governance, and division of labor. Indigenous tribes actually still exist today. Extended families in some places are also reminiscent of tribal social order.
Social groups even in modern society can sometimes take on tribal qualities or even refer to themselves in a tribal manner.
The formation and integration of tribes results in a joint sense of spirit, a tribal esprit, which both binds the tribe together and helps the tribe stay united in the face of the challenges of daily life and occasional adversity.
Life and living
Life is everything in society. Death and memories of lives after death matter too, but most elements of society concern themselves with all aspects of life, including:
- Respect for life.
- Protecting life.
- Supporting life.
- Facilitating life.
- Valuing, encouraging, and facilitating reproduction.
- Making life more bearable.
- Balancing and moderating the interests of the lives of individuals with the interests of society as a whole.
Life is filled with challenges. At the simplest level, defending against physical threats, finding food, finding water, and finding shelter from storms are significant challenges. Social interactions present real challenges as well. The formation of society and more primitive social structures was likely motivated in large part as a mechanism for coping with the challenges of life.
Common challenges and cooperative action
The existence of challenges alone is not sufficient to warrant formation of a society. After all, individuals are quite capable of coping with a wide range of challenges alone. It is the recognition that individuals share common challenges and that cooperative actions can benefit individuals that leads to an attraction to social organization.
As challenging as daily life can be, occasional adverse situations or crises can make life very difficult if not outright impossible, at least when individuals are forced to act on their own. The great value of society is that collectively individuals can survive and even thrive despite significant adversity that might well overwhelm individuals acting alone.
Early villages were the next big step forward in human society, refining roles, expanding governance, and refining division of labor. Diversions made their appearance as the efficiency of the social order gave people a crude sense of free time to kill. A crude sense of culture appeared as well. Craft began to develop and even flourish.
Nomadic tribes would on occasion encounter and interact with other tribes. Some of those encounters may not have been so friendly, but clearly more than a few were seen as opportunities to take advantage of special skills and resources that different tribes had developed due to their independent development in different environments. Interacting tribes were effectively a super-tribe operating in a much larger area, with access to a much more diverse variety of resources.
Trading between tribes emerged as a way of enhancing the lives of individuals, beyond what they might have achieved alone or with their own tribe in isolation from other tribes.
As language and trading became more sophisticated and formalized, the concept of an urban area as a meeting place for diverse interests appeared. Governance became a critical issue and evolved greatly. Roles and division of labor further refined. Diversions and culture expanded and refined. Craft evolved into art.
It is fascinating to see the great progress that occurred in the early stages of the evolution of human society. Slow at times, but occasional big leaps. And it’s not as if anybody had a grand master plan and blueprint and detailed instructions for moving forward.
Progress in the development of human society has not been always linearly forward. Even after big leaps, societies would frequently get over-extended, have crises, and collapse. Eventually some new social order would spring up, but not necessarily a direct descendant of the previous peak social order. Progress indeed, but very fitful.
We live on a planet, a world. Although in some sense we are all one big society and technology makes it possible to communicate, trade, and travel anywhere in a modest amount of time at a modest cost, and people all over the world share a tremendous amount of heritage, values, and culture, we are all still fairly isolated and insular in our national cultures.
How this combination of insularity and persistent interaction will evolve in coming decades, centuries, and millennia is a matter of great speculation. At times, the integration between national cultures and social orders will increase, while at other times it will decline. The nature of individual countries will evolve over time as well.
Society of a nation
Society is generally analyzed at a national level. Despite the degree of commonality across national borders, national history and the natural history of the region within the national borders binds the citizens of a country into an integrated unit that we commonly think of as a society.
National laws, a constitution, and central, national government all reinforce the country as being the primary aggregate unit of society.
That is not to take away in any sense the values of society shared across borders, but interests at home, in one’s country, always come first.
Regional combines of countries
Despite their independence, countries in a local region of the world will generally find that they have a lot in common and occasionally engage in joint activities, pursuing shared goals or plans for access and use of resources in which they have a common interest. Treaties and pacts are the most common form of cooperation between countries in a region of the world.
Regional combines of countries do indeed lead to at least somewhat a blurring between their discrete societies, but even with the most sophisticated of joint activities, each country does seem to maintain its own distinct social order even in the presence of significant elements of a shared social order. The European Union is a great example.
Although the term humanity also refers simply to the totality of all humans, collectively, its main reference is to a sense of benevolence towards each and every individual, everywhere, but in one’s local society in particular. Humanity is mostly about compassion and caring, concern for the well-being of everyone in society, regardless of their social standing, where they are now, or where they came from. Humanity is wanting the best for everyone, no matter who they are. Society must embody humanity, otherwise it ceases to be connected to the people and would become unsustainable. The only truly sustainable society is one that embodies humanity at all levels. Granted, that is the ideal and no society is ever so ideal, but at least it is a goal and a direction for progress.
The simple model of society
The simplest model of society consists of:
- The people
- Government — governance
- Business — commerce
- Other organizations
- Groups of individuals who have similar demographic characteristics or common interests
Members of society
The people are the members of society.
More ideally, citizens are the members of society, but not all individuals have citizenship. Individuals may be naturally born as citizens, or may be naturalized immigrants.
Individuals are the members of society. Ideally, they will be citizens as well.
Although the primary purpose of a society is to serve the common interest, it is expected that individuals will continue to pursue and protect their own self-interest. The degree of social recognition of any right to self-interest must be negotiated as part of the social contract for society, but the realities of human nature dictate that self-interest will always have a role in any society.
Self-interest dictates self-preservation, although a large part of the bargain to create any society is mutual protection, so that self-preservation is much less onerous than without the benefit of society. National defense, law enforcement, and a strong sense of community help to supplant the need for personal efforts for self-preservation. Crime, disease, and accidents are still issues, but even the risks from them are moderated and mitigated as a result of the mutual protection and services of a modern, western-style society.
Organization membership in society
Government agencies, businesses, and organizations participate in society as well, so they have an organization membership in society. Any discussion, decision, or action that affects individuals affects government, business, and other organizations as well.
Public has two distinct but related meanings:
- When discussing government, the public is all individuals, groups, and organizations which are not formally chartered as part of the government, which includes businesses as well.
- When discussing organizations, whether businesses, nonprofits, or units of government, the public are individuals and groups who interact with those organizations and utilize their goods and services.
The people are generally the public as well, except as they may be acting in some official capacity.
Individuals and groups can be part of both depending on circumstances. An elected official is clearly not just another member of the public, but has to pay taxes and shop in stores as any other member of the public would.
Society focuses on the needs and interests of the people. All aspects of attending to the needs and interests of the people falls under the umbrella of civil, as in:
- Civil law
- Civil society
- Civil rights
Civil is derived from the Latin civis, which means citizen.
Civic tends to refer mostly to engagement of the individual with matters at the community level, other than matters of only personal interest, such as the household, family, job, use of services, but the concept does apply at the regional, national, and international levels of society as well, again emphasizing the involvement of the individual but not focused on their own personal and family interests. Local matters include:
- Civic events
- Civic affairs
- Civic leaders
- Civic centers
- Civic services
- Civic pride
- Civic duty
- Civic responsibility
- Civic energy
- Civic engagement
- Civic role
- Government meetings open to the public
Elected and appointed officials participate in their official roles, but it is the presence and participation of non-officials, members of the public, that make a matter a civic matter.
An organization is any group of individuals or other organizations who have agreed to cooperate in pursuit of some common purpose. That cooperation may involve simply communication and sharing of information, sharing of goals, joint activity, or joint acquisition of goods and services.
Various forms of organization may have specific legal status, such as a business or a church or a nonprofit philanthropy, or may be strictly informal.
Organizational categories include:
- Government itself
- Government agencies
- Media outlets
- Organized labor, unions, guilds, cooperatives
- Sports leagues and teams
- Affinity groups
Organizations can generally be categorized as:
- Businesses or for-profit organizations
- Nonprofit organizations
Organizations can also be categorized by their specific purpose or function:
- Disaster relief
- Health and well-being
- Social services
- Diversion (e.g., entertainment, recreation, arts)
Nonprofit organizations tend to focus on some social or political purpose rather than earning a financial profit on investment as a business.
Some nonprofits, such as trade associations, may be loosely affiliated or thought of as linked to businesses, but technically remain nonprofit organizations
Charitable organizations or charities are nonprofit organizations which focus on a voluntary redistribution of income or wealth from individuals who consider themselves more fortunate than others and seek to provide assistance and aid to those who are less fortunate.
Some forms of organizations and groups of people are outright antithetical to a decent human society, such as:
- Crime rings
- Organized crime
Not every group of people who have a common interest formally organize themselves into chartered, structured, legally recognized organizations. They may continue to operate informally, supporting each other and collaborating with one another.
A group may also simply be an identity of all individuals in society or a region who share some set of demographic characteristics. Or, the group may be those individuals with certain demographic characteristics who happen to be socially or politically active.
Groups within society can be further subdivided based on additional demographic characteristics or regional differences.
Founding of organizations
Organizations come into existence because a few individuals have a vision of an unmet need in society. The founders create a charter for the mission of the organization, arrange for initial financing of the operations of the organization, and proceed to sign up members for the organization who share in that vision.
Organizations thrive when significant numbers of individuals and groups join as members. Members do not have the same burdens for operating the organization or making decisions about its charter, but they provide the moral support, enthusiasm, and energy needed to help the organization thrive. Membership may include regular financial dues or some significant donation, in addition to financing through grants from philanthropic organizations or even from government itself.
Individuals or groups may also support or endorse the vision, mission, policies, and activities of an organization regardless of whether they are actual members or actual donors.
Associating with an organization
Organizations may associate, affiliate, or otherwise cooperate or collaborate with other organizations when there is an overlap of their interests.
People and groups are expected to pursue their own interests, as well as the interests of society as a whole. At times the interest of an individual or group are too complex or difficult for a single individual or group to pursue on their own. Allies, other individuals or groups which have similar or related interests, can then be enlisted to provide support and greater numbers to increase the chances of achieving success.
Allies may provide significant moral support for a subset of common interests, as opposed to associated organizations which have more of a formal, official relationship.
Competition between organizations
Two or more organizations may on occasion have visions, missions, policies, or activities which conflict with those of other organizations. The conflict may range from a friendly disagreement, to an outright antagonistic opposition. This is all good in a healthy and open society.
An institution is the formalization of a custom or practice that society finds to be of significant value, that should be preserved, protected, enhanced, and promoted. An institution may be an organization, a law or collection of laws, or simply a recognized collection of beliefs, customs, or practices.
Organizations which are institutions include:
- Government bodies and agencies
- Organized religions
- Long-established companies which are widely respected
Laws which are institutions include:
- Freedoms and rights
- Property rights
- Contract law
Beliefs, customs, and practices which are institutions include:
- The rule of law
- The 5-day workweek and weekends
- Holiday practices such as picnics, barbecues, and fireworks
- Shaking hands
- Respect for authority
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- Coupons and discounts, and sales
- Graduating from high school
- Going to college
Individuals with a common interest may periodically or occasionally gather, either formally or informally, to pursue that shared interest. Religions have formal congregations or services, but congregation is not limited to religion or spiritual pursuits. Modern-day meetups and flash mobs are congregations as well, as are events such as concerts and fairs.
Sometimes a large number of people get together rather spontaneously and without any formal organization. A crowd is such a group. They typically are not a formal group per se either, only being in the same location due to some common activity or event of interest.
Crowds tend to be reasonably innocuous and well-behaved, but if too many people are in too confined a space and tension is high for any reason, problems can occur. Maybe not the stampedes seen in South Asia, but people can get jostled, knocked down, shoved, and generally have a discomforting experience.
Crowds can also be reasonably pleasant experiences, such as concerts, cultural festivals, tourist hot spots, etc.
Peaceful protests and political and social rallies can be energetic and spirited, but still positive, although they can sometimes devolve into mob-like behavior.
The individuals in a given crowd may have decided to come to the same location independently and possibly for different reasons, they may have coordinated their decisions, or maybe they came to the same location for the same event but still independently. Either way, their reasons for deciding to come to that location are likely to have been strictly positive or at least neutral — they are all there to either have a good time or to at least not have a bad time.
If negative and angry intentions were their motivation for coming together at that venue at that time, then they would constitute a mob rather than merely a crowd.
Public squares, plazas, atriums, malls, and parks are commonly designed both to accommodate and encourage crowds, in a positive sense.
Society, government, business, organizations, and communities need to give attention to the design of public spaces to assure that crowds can be accommodated for a comfortable and pleasurable experience.
A mob is a crowd of people, but one in which the intentions of many or most of the participants is strictly negative in nature, based on anger and maybe intent on causing harm and/or damage or at least some degree of trouble.
Mobs are generally discouraged by society. They are not illegal per se, but they tend to quickly devolve into violent or at least disruptive behavior, maybe even rioting, looting, arson, and even murder, all of which definitely are illegal.
It is not unusual for law enforcement to discourage and attempt to dispel mob-like behavior, initially simply encouraging the mob to disperse, and only intervening with physical action, possibly including tear gas, smoke grenades, batons, dogs, horses, and other methods of enforcing dispersal of the mob.
It is sometimes quite problematic to distinguish a crowd from a mob. Sporting events, or events in which alcohol is consumed can quickly devolve from being seemingly pleasant crowds into riotous mobs.
Political and social rallies and protests can also be problematic. They may start as crowds with a reasonably positive tone, with speech, assembly, and association that is fully protected by the Constitution, but even just a few individuals with malevolent intentions can turn the positive crowd into a very angry mob on the verge of violence.
Simpler model of society
No matter what the structure or complexity or sophistication of a society, the whole point of any society is to serve the people, to enable the people to live healthy, happy, and productive lives. That’s the theory. The reality is more complicated.
Basic elements of society
Regardless of the exact model used for society, a number of elements will tend to be present in any society:
- Local government
- Local business
- Trades and crafts
- Local organizations
- Regional government
- Regional business
- Regional organizations
- National government
- National organizations
- National business
- Indigenous tribes
Religions would tend to fall under organizations.
Media are a somewhat special case, combining the feel of organizations but typically being organized as for-profit businesses.
More sophisticated model of society
Although society is all about the people, the people don’t exist in a vacuum and are not uniform robots. Society includes:
- The people.
- A wide range of groupings of people into organizations for many purposes.
- The natural environment, including the land, water, waterways, air, sunlight, airwaves, space, flora, fauna, and mineral resources.
- A wide range of phenomena that can occur in the natural environment, including attacks from animals, poisonous plants, falling trees, severe whether, floods, earthquakes, fires, insect swarms, spread of disease.
- Man-made infrastructure and conveyances such as roads, railroads, bridges, cars and trucks, buildings, sewers, water and electric service.
- A wide range of motives, interests, values, qualities, and characteristics of both individuals and their various groupings.
- A wide range of demographic characteristics of the people and their groupings.
- Various arrangements for governance of society, whether a formal governmental structure or informal, voluntary governance.
- Interaction with other societies and other countries.
- Interactions with animals, plants, and the natural environment.
- Dealing with issues that transcend national borders and aren’t specific to other societies or other countries.
- Dealing with global issues for the entire planet.
Whether to consider the environment and natural world as part of society or simply the context in which society operates is an interesting question. For the purposes of this paper the main point is that society has to cope with all aspects of its context, so it is the coping aspect related to the environment and natural world that is an integral part of society.
Society must ultimately persuade people that they are part of some greater good, some purpose that they find compelling and irresistible, that is bigger and much more worthwhile than living on their own.
Another model of society
Discussion of society can be broken down into several dimensions:
The sociopolitical and socioeconomic axes are also useful dimensions to examine society.
To which can also be added the dimensions of:
Well-being is a state of mind and body for the members of society.
Goods and services are merely tools to enable and support the ongoing well-being of the members of society.
Quality of life
Well-being and quality of life are approximately synonyms, although well-being may be interpreted as more of a minimum or average or norm for quality of life, while quality of life may be a more qualitative or quantitative judgment of the level of quality of one’s life.
Quality of life is roughly correlated with the degree of material and mental comfort that individuals and their families experience.
Granted, movement out of one’s comfort zone is frequently a good thing, but extended periods of time deprived of comfort tend to correlate with a low quality of life.
Satisfaction and fulfillment
Raw creature comfort needs to be coupled with a sense of satisfaction, that one has a sense of fulfillment at having accomplished good in life.
How exactly to quantify or even qualify satisfaction and fulfillment is a matter of debate and highly subjective.
Although the term welfare is commonly applied specifically to financial social support programs for those in need, the general concept of the general welfare of society refers to three main qualities of life for the members of society:
- Fortunes or success
Society must allow, enable, and encourage people to be prosperous. Prosperity means that people can have a reasonable expectation that hard work will enable them to achieve a satisfying level of material, financial, and psychic success, and happiness.
Well-being is the more abstract goal for a social order, but happiness is the more tangible, noticeable, and immediately sensible element of well-being at the personal level. Society as a whole should have happiness as one of its main qualities, but the only real way to measure or sense that is to drill down and observe each individual person in society.
Happiness is most recognizable as some combination of:
- Absence of significant anxiety, fear, sorrow, suffering, or pain
- Absence of want
- Access to opportunity
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a happy person would have achieved the upper levels of love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
All of these qualities together would tend to result in a person who feel’s happy and whom others would recognize as happy.
Happiness can also be divided into the two main areas of life beyond basic needs:
- Productive pursuits — work, family, and participation in community that is satisfying and fills the individual with joy, fulfillment, contentment.
- Diversions — personal life and personal time that is entertaining, relaxing, and satisfying, re-energizing the individual for fresh efforts at productive pursuits.
Provisioning of welfare
No single element, level, or segment of society has exclusive responsibility for providing all aspects of the general welfare of society — it’s a distributed responsibility:
- The individual
- The family
- The community
Each element of society has its respective role in the general welfare of society.
Provisioning of welfare includes providing the full variety of goods and services that people need to thrive in their daily lives and to prepare for the future. That also includes providing the goods and services that organizations, businesses, and government need so that they in turn can provide the goods and services needed by the people. It’s all one big feedback loop, or actually a large number of nested feedback loops.
Social safety net
Regardless of the society, at least some degree of social safety net is expected, certainly during and after disasters and significant social dislocations.
The great debate is what level of social safety net is to be provided for distress that is focused on the individual, family, community, or other subsets of society as a whole. Some level of individual safety net is provided with insurance and savings.
Government subsidies are also a form of social safety net.
At present, there is no magic, agreed upon, consensus formula for calculating or characterizing what the social safety net should really look like. The debate continues.
Government funds a variety of social safety net programs, such as social security, veterans benefits, and various welfare programs. The money that the government distributes to the participants in these programs is known as a government transfer
The members of society possess a wide range of beliefs and values, some shared and some which vary between groups and even between individuals.
The special place of values in society is that they are the special beliefs that people hold especially dear and that define and drive them and the institutions of society.
Values in society are mostly human values, the values that exist between individuals and in small groups, but values in society also include values that relate to the larger social structures of society.
Values that are shared either universally or at least across fairly wide segments of a society are the shared values that bind society together.
It is imperative that there be a critical mass of shared values in order that society have a strong sense of integrity and unity.
Tolerance of the values of others
It is equally important that society as a whole be tolerant and respectful of a wide range of values in addition to those that are shared.
Broadly speaking, morality and values are synonyms. More narrowly, morality pertains to the aspirations and ideals for values of a society, while values pertain to reasonable expectations for how people should behave in daily life, and norms are the actual behavior, regardless of expectations or ideals.
In reality, morality in a modern society is very subjective, even though large elements of morality are indeed shared across society as a whole.
Morality is promoted, propagated, and reinforced through a variety of mechanisms:
- Peer pressure
People speak of an individual having a moral compass and an organization or society as a whole as having a moral center.
Government has a role in promoting morality, but precisely what that role is is a matter of great debate as a result of the subjectivity of much of morality in a modern society. The bottom line is that government promotes the abstract concept of morality, but leaves the specifics to nongovernmental institutions, particularly, religions and the family.
Likewise, schools also have a role in promoting morality, but their role is also problematic and debatable due to the subjectivity issue.
Schools and government tend to focus more on norms of acceptable behavior and tolerance of the differences in subjective morality between segments of society.
Traditionally, morality is by definition above and beyond the individual, applying equally to every individual in an objective manner. That works well for relatively homogeneous societies, such as where there is a single, dominant religion, but with complex, modern societies that are evolving rapidly, the sense of objectivity crumbles away and morality becomes a bit more subjective, with different groups each having their own form or variations of morality.
The evolving complexities of modern society are so dramatic that even groups are splintering and dissolving to the point where individuals may have their own personal morality.
Personal morality works only to the extent that individuals, groups, and organizations are respectful of the morality of other individuals, groups, and organizations in society.
Good and evil
Morality attempts to provide a framework for empowering people to make decisions between a good or right path and a bad or wrong path. Decisions in real life are frequently not strictly black and white, but there is usually some sense of what is better or beneficial and good for society as a whole as opposed to a lesser path that harms society.
Morality of public policy
Society tends to be ambivalent or of mixed mind as to whether public policy should convey a strict sense of morality. Some people, elected leaders, and elected representatives seem to imbue public policy with a strong sense of morality, while other take a more libertarian view that the morality of individuals and groups in society is none of the government’s business. The middle view is that public policy should have a moral character, but it is only the subset of morality that is most widely shared throughout all of society. The balance between these three views is constantly shifting and evolving.
Truth has three distinct forms:
- The truth of existence — does something exist or not.
- The truth of propositions — is a statement true or not.
- The purity and rightness of something.
Truth and good can be hard to distinguish, mostly because there is significant overlap.
Objective and subjective truth
Objective truth is a belief that is true independent of the individual observer or group to which the individual belongs, that which is true for every member of society. The simple fact that all humans share DNA is an objective truth. The existence of the world is an objective truth.
But not everything in human society is objective. Subjectivity is quite common. Not everyone can agree on everything. Individuals, groups, and subgroups may have common beliefs which are subjective truths, although to them the beliefs may feel quite objective.
Modern, western-style societies are idealistic at their cores, valuing freedom and equality in particular. Idealism inspires people and enables them to sustain their efforts in the face of incredible challenges.
Pragmatism and practicality
Morality definitely has its place in society, but pragmatism tends to rule the roost. Idealism is certainly highly valued, but raw practicality has a very definite appeal.
Reinforcement of values
Simply stating values once or even engraving them in stone tablets is not enough to get people to live them in their daily lives. Reinforcement is needed, such as:
- Codify values as laws.
- Punishment or admonition for egregious violations of values.
- Religion and religious observation.
- Civic events.
- Awards and rewards for achievements and accomplishments that exemplify values.
- Architectural representations in public buildings and structures.
- Artistic representations, including statues, paintings, and music.
- Symbols such as a flags.
The culture of a society provides a fairly visible definition of the society, including:
- Shared values
- Conventions of behavior
- Norms of behavior
- Common habits
- Range of beliefs
- Customs and traditions
- Manner of dress
- Characteristic practices
Not all aspects of culture will be shared by all members of society. There may be one or more subcultures in addition to any dominant culture.
Each individual makes their own decisions as to what aspects of culture and subcultures they will adopt, adapt, and have an affinity for. The dominant culture is simply the largest set of cultural features that are shared by the largest majority of members of society.
Most modern, western-style societies have either a single dominant language or possibly two. There may be a wide variety of other languages spoken and written in niche settings or on a regional basis, but one or two will tend to be most common for the vast bulk of transactions as well as official business, both with and within government and for commercial transactions.
A common language greatly facilitates both business transactions and everyday cultural interactions.
A relatively small number of languages will be used for international business and political communications, not to mention for travel, tourism, and educational and cultural exchange.
Levels of culture
Culture exists at a variety of levels:
- Basic values, customs, and traditions shared by all.
- High or sophisticated culture, such as the arts, that endures over time.
- Popular culture that evolves rapidly every year.
Popular culture is the more lively and vibrant aspect of culture that evolves most rapidly, literally from year to year, consisting of categories such as:
- Names for children
- Trendy foods and eating establishments
- Idioms of language
- Movie characters and television shows
- Diversions in general
- Fringes of norms and acceptable behavior
There may be a definite trend in the changes in popular culture, or the trend may simply be that change is rapid.
Society needs to have a sense of vibrancy to be compelling and sustainable.
A dull, dreary, boring, and monotonous society will not last for long, or will lose its more dynamic members to emmigration to other countries which have more vibrant societies.
Society needs to offer people some sense of opportunity to aspire to a better future.
People need to have a strong sense that society is going somewhere and that they are on a compelling journey.
Free will, choice, and alternatives
People get excited about choice, having alternatives to choose from, and the freedom to make the choice for themselves and their own interest rather than being forced to accept only a single option that some authority might force on them.
Free will is an essential element of human nature. Society must accept, acknowledge, respect, encourage, and support free will.
Free and open markets help to assure that people have ready access to a wide variety of alternatives. Government may on occasion be forced to intervene when markets failure for some reason, which does happen all to often, unfortunately.
Midway between absolute freedom and strict laws are social conventions shared by the vast majority of members of society. Conventions are simply shared expectations of behavior that is expected in the absence of strict laws.
Formal laws can be kept to a minimum to the extent that conventions are the norm for a society.
Conventions may include:
- Mutual respect
- Benefit of the doubt
- Common courtesy
- Live and let live attitude
Conventions are never mandatory. The simple fact that they are followed even in the absence of strict law is a testament to the quality of a society.
Norms are typical and expected patterns of behavior in a society. There are two ways to look at norms for a society:
- Beyond mere, casual conventions, norms are true expectations of behavior.
- Norms are the general, actual behavior, regardless of general expectations.
Failure to follow the norms of a society is considered bad behavior even though not formally and officially punishable as would be a violation of law.
Violations of norms may cause an informal, unofficial response, such as:
- Calling out
Although following norms is not mandatory, failure to do so is a cause of friction and can lead to a breakdown of harmony in society.
Occasionally norms may be violated for good cause, but that is the exception rather than… the norm.
Part of the social contract for a society is the setting of expectations:
- What is expected of individuals by society and other individuals.
- What individuals expect of society.
Customs, traditions, conventions, laws, and norms all help to convey and reinforce expectations in society.
Live and let live
A key value in a modern, western-style society is the simple admonition to live and let live, the simple social contract that we each give each other space to pursue our own lives, and that by giving others their space, they will in turn respect our space. That is the theory and the ideal, and generally it does hold, but it is not uncommon to encounter violations.
Habits and patterns
Along with general social customs, traditions, and conventions, individuals develop and practice their own idiosyncratic patterns of behavior, their habits. Although each individual has their own specific patterns, there are general patterns that a nontrivial number of others share as well. Nonetheless, society must respect and support the fact that each individual has the freedom to pursue their own habits, provided that they do not infringe upon the rights of others.
Much of the proper and smooth operation of society relies on the dependability of the actions of individuals and organizations, including government. People have expectations of who will do what. Failure to meet expectations can result from simple mistakes, incompetence, malevolent action or inaction, confusion, or misunderstanding. Lack of reliability can lead to people feeling betrayed. People want the trains to run on time.
Ethics provides a framework for standards of conduct in society.
Ethical standards of conduct are derived from:
- Norms for society
Ethical standards of conduct are taught and reinforced by:
- Religious institutions
- Professional organizations
- Civil society
Law is a special case in that all other ethical standards are prescriptions for what you should or ought to do, with a sense of choice and free will, while the law is an absolute, mandatory command as to what you must or must not do. Still, law does have the effect of establishing a standard of conduct.
Social mores is is the traditional term for referring to tradition, values, and acceptable forms of behavior in society.
Generosity and charity
Although the majority of needs for goods and services are covered by business transactions and transfers from government, there are always gaps, either due to market failures, limited budgets, or lack of income. Charity helps to fill the gap, with people and groups donating goods, services, money, and time to provide goods and services to those in need, whether it be due to natural or man-made disaster or economic difficulties. Generosity is the virtue that leads people to want to offer charity to others.
Gifts and presents
A close cousin to generosity, gifts or presents are things or money or services that are voluntarily given to others as an act of generosity or goodwill, with nothing expected in return.
Beyond the nominal value of the gift, the purpose of the gift is to spread goodwill. The giver of the gift experiences the satisfaction of increasing the amount of goodwill in society. The recipient of the gift similarly helps to increase the goodwill in society by graciously accepting the gift, expressing a positive sentiment towards the giver of the gift. Society benefits from the net sum of all of the generated goodwill.
Although the giving of a gift is nominally voluntary, there are times when individuals or groups give gifts out of a sense of obligation, which is still voluntary in a strict technical sense, but is also technically less generous than gifts given solely out of true generosity with no sense of obligation or intent that some sort of reciprocal gift or return of services is expected.
Exchange of gifts is also a common practice, within families, or between colleagues or neighbors.
Businesses may also give promotional gifts, not requiring a gift in return, but as a way of encouraging business to flow their direction.
Official gifts of a ceremonial nature may be exchanged between government officials, such as between heads of state.
Individuals may also give gifts as an explicit expression to the recipient, including:
- A thank-you in gratitude for something already received by the gift giver.
- A token of love, affection, or friendship.
- An expression of solidarity.
- A condolence for a loss.
The term gift may also refer to a natural talent or ability, which may be intellectual, physical, or emotional.
In theory, everybody in a modern society should be happy, but that is not commonly the case. Sentiment is an aspect of society that requires constant attention. Euphoria can be just as dysfunctional as despair. The leaders of society and organizations, communities, and even families must assure that basic needs are met and that everyone has a strong sense of belonging and comfort that a bright future is ahead of them.
Sentiment constantly rises and falls throughout all segments and corners of society, commonly at uneven and inconsistent rates, so that one group’s happiness is commonly rising just as another’s is falling.
There will be times when overall sentiment seems especially buoyant or especially depressed, but a healthy modern society has enough complexity that these excesses and deficits tend to balance out over time.
Not everyone in a society will share the same views on any given issue. Public opinion and sentiment are rough measures of how diverse or unified people are on any given issue. They may be measured using a variety of techniques:
- Judgment of consultants
- Talking to a small, selected sample of individuals
- Analyzing mail and email messages
- Analyzing social media
Alas, public opinion measurement can be quite problematic for reasons such as:
- Opinions are notoriously fickle
- Opinions are very sensitive to the specific phrasing and context of questions
- Media can impact opinion
- Subject to dramatic change as new information becomes available
The natural environment is the backdrop context in which society resides. Elements of the environment include:
- Mineral resources
Some elements of the environment are readily shared universally while other elements are either treated as property or otherwise have their access and usage controlled by various forms of agreement.
Although humans and society depend on all aspects of the environment, some aspects are treated as resources to be extracted or harvested and used as feed stock for the production of goods, such as:
- Minerals to be mined and refined into metals and chemicals.
- Extraction of oil, gas, and coal for energy and chemical production.
- Trees to be harvested and milled into lumber and paper.
- Water to be distributed into communities and farms or for generation of electricity.
- Capturing sunlight to generate electricity and heat water or to grows crops.
The natural environment is fairly robust, capable of coping with all manner of natural forces and disasters, but human incursions can be particularly disruptive. Environmentalism aims to protect and preserve the natural environment and to moderate human incursions.
Conservation aims to preserve relatively significant portions of the natural environment when human development does impinge on an area. Conservation may also include restoration of damaged areas, including soil, plants, and animal life.
Similar to conservation of the natural environment, preservation seeks to preserve, protect, and restore cultural aspects of an area, such as buildings and other facilities.
People and goods need a wide range of infrastructure for a wide range of purposes such as:
- Access to resources
- Roads, streets, and highways
- Bridges and tunnels
- Power grids
- Water pumping, distribution, and storage
- Communications networks
- Data and media networks
Ownership and operation of infrastructure can be public or private. There is ongoing and unresolved debate about public vs. private ownership and operation of infrastructure, but experience shows that a mix of some sort is viable.
People and goods (and animals) move through a variety of methods of conveyance, including:
- Ships and barges
- By foot
Ownership and operation of conveyances can be public or private, mostly private with niche exceptions, notably when and where markets have broken down or are unable to take root due to unsustainable economics.
Buildings serve a wide range of functions in society:
- Shelter from the elements
- Offices and administrative services
- Processing of goods and materials
- Storage and warehouses for goods and materials
- Entertainment, such as theaters, stadiums, and arenas
- Jails and prisons
Beyond buildings, which are structures with walls, doors, floors, and roofs, suitable for interior use by people, animals, and machinery, structures are important for many functions in society:
- Water towers
- Power lines
- Water lines
- Communications towers
- Statues and monuments
Life would be difficult if not outright impossible if we had to deal with every situation with no sense of having dealt with similar situations in the past. Knowledge is essential for even basic survival of any creature more complex than a simple organism that merely absorbs nutrients from its environment.
Knowledge consists of:
- Observed facts.
- Collected samples, impressions, images, and media, including photographs, audio recordings, and video.
- Deduced conclusions and inferred principles.
- Natural abilities, passed via genes.
- Developed skills, expertise, and know-how.
- Dogmatic beliefs established by some authority.
- Knowledge learned from teachers and teaching material such as books.
- Knowledge communicated from others.
Justified true belief
There is no universally acknowledged definition of knowledge, but justified true belief comes close — that knowledge is a belief that is actually true and for which we have a solid, rational justification of its truth. Philosophers will dispute even this definition, but from a practical perspective it works for most situations in our daily lives.
Language and knowledge
Language and knowledge go hand in hand — it is one thing to have an idea in your head, but to express it to another person or to record it on paper requires language. If we can’t share language then we can’t share knowledge.
Language needs to be powerful enough to express all of the concepts, relationships, and processes in our knowledge.
In short, language is the representation of knowledge. And knowledge is the point of language.
Knowledge can also be expressed in visual, graphic, diagrammatic, and tabular form, but that is an adjunct to language rather than supplanting language for representation of knowledge.
Knowledge is power
Knowledge has special power, especially in a complex modern society. Knowing how things work, where things are, how to do things, and knowing who knows the things you don’t know is quite empowering in society. Lack of knowledge leaves one at a distinct disadvantage.
Although much knowledge can come from simple observation of the world and people around us, science and the scientific method allow us to attain deeper, broader, and more reliable knowledge.
Acquisition of knowledge is an essential priority for society. There is never an end in sight for knowledge.
Discussion about society hinges on a wide variety of propositions, each being a statement or assertion based on some careful thinking and measured judgment on some matter. Some propositions may be firmly or fervently held beliefs while others are more speculative or mere questions about possibility and potential.
A belief is a proposition that we hold in our heads and maintain as being truth, regardless of whether we have a full and thorough justification for its veracity. It might be true, but it might not be true. Whether a belief constitutes knowledge is a conceptually problematic matter and source of endless disputes in any society, even among philosophers.
Science and reason can help resolve disputes about beliefs and knowledge, but even matters of science can be disputed, and reason is only as good as its premises, which may in turn be disputed.
Religious and spiritual beliefs tends to be matters of faith and not subject to the same rules of examination and debate as matters of science and reason.
All beliefs can be disputed and debated, but resolution of such disputes are not so common and not commonly expected.
People tend to ally themselves with groups of people who share their beliefs or whose beliefs they find compelling.
Principles are fundamental beliefs that provide the foundation upon which any belief system is based, whether it is a science, morality, or ideology. Principles are not mere facts, but strongly held beliefs. Principles help to guide both thought and action.
A belief system is a collection of related and reinforcing beliefs. Religion, social, economic, and political theories constitute belief systems. Science is a belief system. Not all belief systems are created equal, equivalent, or necessarily even comparable in any way.
A belief system enables its believers to think and act more rapidly and consistently than a group of non-believers who would otherwise spend inordinate amounts of time arguing about what to believe and what to do.
A belief system enables a group to act as one, in unison, with mutually agreed expectations and without the need for lengthy discussion.
At least that’s the theory, but in practice most belief systems are not as complete and robust as might be desired, so that individual believers may still not agree on all aspects of the belief system since individual beliefs may be ambiguous or subjective. There may also be factions, subgroups that have a closer view on the larger belief system than the group as a whole.
Fact is information, knowledge, or belief that is indisputably true. It may be a direct observation, direct measurement, impression, image, media, obvious, or commonly known.
There can be disputes over facts. Different groups may have their own views on the truth of a given fact.
Although the artifact of the fact, such as an image or video may be readily viewed by all, different observers may not share the same interpretation of the same artifact.
Some facts are actually conclusions, the result some form of analysis or logic or other reasoning, a belief of what must be true given some premise or factual starting point.
Conclusions can frequently be used as if they were facts, but there is a risk of dispute about the validity of the analysis or reasoning that arrived at the conclusion.
Opinion is a conclusion that requires a more subjective, intuitive, or biased form of reasoning. It may or may not be true, depending on whether one agrees with the premise and reasoning behind it.
Opinions will frequently be used as if they were valid conclusions, as if they were facts. This may work in some contexts, but may cause disputes in other contexts or with other groups.
Meaning has several rather distinct senses (or meanings), including:
- As with a dictionary, a word or phrase can simply reference some concept, person, place, thing, or phenomenon. The word or phrase is a sign pointing to the underlying concept.
- As with an encyclopedia in contrast to a dictionary, a relatively full elaboration and discussion of a term or concept, beyond simply defining its referential quality as the dictionary does. There are books and articles as well for even deeper and broader treatment.
- Coupled with the conceptual meaning of a term, there are implications or consequences that derive from that concept, such as where there is smoke there is fire, or that a flood or earthquake means that daily life will be disrupted for some extended period of time, or that a very loud noise likely means that something bad just happened.
- The meaning to an expert or scholar as opposed to an average person, both at the dictionary and encyclopedia levels. And scholarly and expert-level books, journals, and articles as well.
- The human attachment to a term or concept — how do we feel about something, what thoughts or emotions does something trigger. This is subjective meaning — what does something mean to us personally.
- Human attachment, but at a social level — how does a group, a community, a nation, or every individual relate to something as a result of what we have in common at a group level or through our common genetic and cultural heritage.
- The purpose of something.
- The meaning and purpose of one’s life.
- The meaning and purpose of life for some group, collectively.
- The meaning and purpose of all human life.
- An expression or performance that conveys a strong sense of personal meaning.
- The opposite sides or parties in a situation, such as parents and children, husbands and wives, opposing counsel in a trial, scientists espousing competing theories, where each side or party may have a diametrically opposed or at least somewhat distinct view on the meaning of any given aspect of the situation.
- Specific groups such as religions, political parties, and schools of thought or ideologies can assign meaning to something.
- Religious doctrines may hold that all meaning flows from and is defined by a deity which created all that exists, including all meaning.
Some meaning may be relatively objective and shared universally or near-universally, or shared by groups, shared between two individuals, or even personally subjective at the individual level.
Meaning and knowledge are somewhat distinct but overlap as well. We can have knowledge about meaning, as well as associate meaning with knowledge. Some meaning may double as knowledge, as well as some knowledge doubling as meaning.
The intent with much of knowledge is to attain a level of objectivity that eliminates much of the subjective and human elements, while the intent with much of meaning is to access the subjective and human aspects of otherwise impersonal knowledge. These are not absolute and pure distinctions, simply generalities.
Science is a combination of a body of knowledge, a method of validating and growing that body of knowledge, the scientific method, and a collection of individuals who practice that method and share that knowledge, which involves:
- Careful discipline.
- Careful attention to avoidance of bias.
- Careful attention to detail.
- Careful observation, sampling, and measurement.
- Careful reporting of observations, samples, and measurements.
- Statistical control of repeated observations, samples, and measurements.
- Thoughtful construction of experiments to obtain further observations, samples, and measurements.
- Careful observation, sampling, and measurement of the effects of the experiments.
- Careful analysis of observations, samples, and measurements to deduce patterns and infer principles from those patterns.
- Careful communication of conclusions and justifications for conclusions.
- Peer review by fellow scientists working in the same field.
- Reproducibility of experiments both by the original scientist and close colleagues as well as by fellow scientists working in the same field.
Speculation in science
Speculation is a key tool of science, but does not directly produce science per se. Speculation can guide the construction of experiments, but it is only with the results of the experiment that the speculated principle can be proven to be true. Absent such experimental results, the speculation is mere opinion. Scientists are people too and entitled to their opinions, but it only after they have run the full gauntlet of the scientific method that they can lay claim to the mantle of science rather than mere opinion.
Speculation can lead to theories. The important aspect of a valid theory is that it is formulated in such a way that it can be tested. Without testing, a theory cannot be fully validated. An untested theory remains speculation rather than first-class scientific knowledge. A theory may be believed to be true, but belief is not necessarily truth.
The concept of a theory or conjecture or proposition can be used in non-scientific settings, such as a courtroom or general speculation, but the same rule applies, that without testing the theory is not first-class knowledge.
A goal when developing theories is to identify experiments which can quickly confirm that a theory may be false, allowing the proposed theory to be quickly discarded rather than lingering and cluttering discourse and our minds. Falsification cannot be used to prove a theory, but can be used to quickly disprove an invalid theory.
Beyond simply the body of knowledge that scientists have produced, the process of conducting scientific research to discover, test, and expand that body of knowledge is an essential priority for any society.
Much of science would be impossible without mathematics. In truth, just as much mathematics is based on science and observation of the real world as science being based on results and conclusions being derived from mathematical calculation and reasoning.
Mathematics is primarily concerned with abstract numbers, operations on numbers, and methods of organizing numbers.
Mathematics is all about abstraction and modeling. Numbers may be the result of real-world observations and measurements, but once they are placed in a mathematical model or equation they have only a loose and abstract connection to the world that they came from.
An equation or mathematical model is an abstraction that attempts to create an analog to some aspect of a phenomena in the real-world. This can work, but only to the extent that the actual phenomena is driven by law-like forces and that the numbers are both accurate and correctly associated with the specific aspects of the phenomena being observed.
Beyond basic numbers, complex mathematical systems can be created, some of which model real-world phenomena, and others which are speculative models which may or may not model perceived or imagined real-world phenomena. The latter are of special interest to advanced theoretical scientists who are theorizing about the real world, but beyond the realm of direct observation and measurement.
Statistics and probability move beyond the realm of specific numeric values, looking to compute and analyze larger-scale properties of large collections of numbers, such as their distribution and various aspects of their distribution.
Mathematics can be applied to business and engineering as well as science.
Mathematics can be applied to social science as well, although the results must be carefully and cautiously interpreted, especially since they are highly dependent on the interpretation and measurement of data that is fed into the models, as well as the assumptions upon which those models are based.
Traditional science is concerned with the study of the natural world, which includes biological systems and creatures, but stops short of the social aspects of both animals and people. Social science is the study of social systems and social behavior. Social science is generally focused on human beings and human society, but there is some overlap with the social aspects of the non-human animal world.
The goal of social science is similar to that of traditional science, to take as much of the opinion, subjectivity, bias, and fallibility of our senses out of the equation as possible, to allow us to describe and discuss social systems and social behavior on as objective and rational a basis as possible.
As with traditional science, social science has both experimental and data-driven analysis as well as a speculative component. Studies are common in social science, performing an experiment or measurement with a large number of individuals and analyzing the resulting data. Based on analysis of the data, speculative theories can be constructed and evaluated.
Social science is equally concerned with the behavior of individuals as well as how individuals interact and the relationships they form and rely on, on the full spectrum from one-on-one to small groups to large groups and even society as a whole, as well as across societies. The behavior within groups and behavior and relationships between groups are also of interest.
As with traditional science, studies, experiments, and analysis is heavily dependent on assumptions, many or most of which are frequently a matter of even extreme debate. This makes acceptance of the results of social science experiments, studies, or analyses dependent on the degree to which one agrees with and accepts the assumptions.
An especially difficult issue in social science is establishing causality. Correlation does not necessarily establish causality. Two factors may both have been caused by other factors rather than one factor necessarily causing the other merely because a correlation has been identified. Statistical linkage is only the starting point in exploring where causality may ultimately reside.
Over time, some aspects of social science may stand the tests of time and become generally accepted wisdom, while other disputes persist with strong debate on all sides.
Social science is frequently used as the basis for social policy and development of services, helping to make the policy-making process more analytic and rational, but again this depends critically on the validity and acceptance of assumptions.
Between verifiable science and mere opinion and uncertain belief lies the domain of practical know-how, the knowledge that even relatively unsophisticated individuals possess about how the world and society work, which they have learned from actual experience.
Technology is the marshaling of scientific knowledge, engineering knowledge and skill, and practical know-how to invent and produce devices and services that can be used to perform tasks, hopefully valuable and productive to society.
Technology is not an infrastructure itself, but is used to take raw materials and create infrastructure.
Science is a necessary precursor to both engineering and technology.
Pursuit of the development and advancement of science, engineering, and technology is an important priority in any society.
The profession of engineering is the knowledge, skill, and expertise to marshal and harness scientific knowledge and raw technology capabilities to produce products and infrastructure.
Technology is both the input into the engineering process and the output as well. The technological products of engineering can be daisy-chained to produce a sequence of ever more sophisticated technological products, ultimately culminating in products for consumers and to implement infrastructure projects.
Not too many decades ago computers were more of a novelty than a common occurrence, but today they are everywhere and many or most people carry one around in their hands (a smart phone) and maybe one or more in their bags (laptop, tablet, or both.)
People have an ambivalent and ambiguous attitude towards computers. Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, but while that is frequently true, a lot of times they only make our lives more complicated, and there are still plenty of tasks in our lives that remain unassisted by computers.
Computer technology continues to advance quite rapidly, frequently outpacing society’s ability to fully and adequately adjust to these technological developments on a timely basis. Ultimately, society will adjust, but many individuals may find these adjustments disconcerting, even as many people find them exhilarating.
The important concept is that advances in computer technology are actually impacting society itself, individuals, families, communities, and even government. Grasping and coping with the evolving impacts is an unresolved and ongoing challenge for society and source of endless and unresolved debate.
Internet and web
The Internet was a huge, monumental technological leap, combining computers and communications, and on a global basis as well.
Internet and web technologies are advancing and evolving very rapidly, so that we don’t even have a clue what the technological landscape for computing and communications will likely look like even ten years from now, let alone twenty years or a century from now. Simple breathtaking.
There were quite a few people who thought and hoped that the Internet would erase national boundaries, but clearly that has not happened, nor does it look likely any time soon.
The Internet has proven to be a double-edged sword, enabling a wealth of activities that make a positive contribution to society, but also enabling a host of dubious activities that have only negative value to society, such as facilitating transactions and payments for drug trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, pedophilia, terrorism, and just about every other imaginable illegal activity. Granted, that’s to be expected since every technology in the history of humanity has been usable for bad as well as good.
Clearly the Internet and web are changing society, presenting major, ongoing challenges to society, with evolving and unresolved impacts, and a source of endless and unresolved debate.
Phones and smart phones
Communication is a massively important function in society. The telephone was a major technological advance. Cell phones were a huge leap. Smart phones, combining the mobility of a cell phone with the power of a computer, were yet another huge leap.
As with computers, our phones are supposed to be making our lives easier, but it just seems that quite a few people are overwhelmed by all the activity that is enabled by their smart phones.
As with computers themselves, smart phones are changing society, presenting major, ongoing challenges to society, with evolving and unresolved impacts, and a source of endless and unresolved debate.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
Not too long ago, artificial intelligence was a real novelty and the stuff of science fiction and movies, but now it is literally everywhere. Granted, much of it is still fairly primitive, with a very long way to go to match much of the features of science fiction from a few decades ago, but progress has been quite rapid.
- Image and pattern recognition
- Text scanning
- Text mining
- Natural language processing
- Machine learning
- Problem solving
- Planning and optimization
- Synthetic speech
- Interactive agents
- Autonomous systems
As with computers and smart phones, artificial intelligence is changing society, presenting major, ongoing challenges to society, with evolving and unresolved impacts, and a source of endless and unresolved debate.
As important as telephone and computers are, traditional mail is still an important communication function in society.
Junk mail is an ongoing issue in society.
As pervasive as computers, email, and smart phones are, mail is still the communications method of record for a lot of official and government functions, but that is evolving.
Traditional, so-called snail mail is also unmatched for physically sending small objects where the real object has much greater value than a digital image.
Electronic mail (email) is roughly the electronic equivalent of traditional mail, and in fact has supplanted many of the traditional uses of traditional, “snail” mail.
Email has also supplanted many of the traditional uses of the traditional telephone as well.
Email has also supplanted a fair amount of traditional junk mail and marketing flyers.
As with computer technology, email technology is changing society, presenting major, ongoing challenges to society, with evolving and unresolved impacts, and a source of endless and unresolved debate.
Text messaging is a hybrid of cell phone calls and email. Its simplicity and brevity give it advantages over both phone calls and email.
As with smart phones and email, text messaging is changing society, presenting major, ongoing challenges to society, with evolving and unresolved impacts, and a source of endless and unresolved debate.
An ideology is simply a belief system, a relatively organized collection of ideas that are arranged to form a model of some significant aspect of society, social, political, or economic.
Taken to the extreme, an ideology may constitute a dogma, where beliefs are accepted as a matter of faith without question or concern for their status as knowledge or objective truth.
Everyone holds one or more ideologies, models of how they view the world.
It is critical to the integrity and unity of society that at least some ideology is shared by all members of society, but equally critical to assure that society as a whole is tolerant and respectful of a wide diversity of ideologies as well.
Taken to the extreme, an individual who holds an ideology as absolute, unquestionable, dogmatic truth that cannot be compromised is referred to as an ideologue, generally not a good characterization.
Ideologues can be successful at capturing attention and exploiting bias, anxiety, and fear, but at the risk of hijacking society and taking it in a direction that many people find viscerally satisfying or comforting in the short run but that is not beneficial to the whole of society in the log run.
The concept of an idea is deceptively simple, or at least seems to be. An idea can be very simple, at its essence, but the simple fact that relatively large portions of human life can be distilled into a simple, conceptual, abstract idea is a testament to the power of an idea.
An idea is not merely a passing thought, an odd belief, or a scientifically verifiable or legally recognized fact, but a seed that can be planted and grown into a great tree of great value to society.
Ideas can indeed be very simple, but are also very concentrated and pack great power.
Virtues are such ideas. Other ideas include:
- Good and evil
Whether an idea is seemingly simple or seemingly complex, it is usually helpful to discern the true, core essence of the idea, what is essential versus what is variable or optional. Understanding of the essence can provide insight that helps to understand how the idea can be expanded upon and combined with other ideas to provide solutions to even complex real world problems.
Virtues are ideas representing human qualities and forms of behavior that are especially valued by society, such as:
- Respect, self-respect, and dignity
- The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance
Telling the truth, the whole truth, and refraining from being misleading are valuable commodities in modern western-style society, but unfortunately their value does not mean than they are as common as one would hope.
Individuals, organizations, businesses, and government have a wide variety of rationales for why they can’t or won’t always tell the truth, such as:
- Protect privacy
- Evade punishment
- Desire to gain a competitive advantage — knowledge is power
- Negotiating tactic
- Time management — the truth would require an extended explanation
- Disinformation to distract and divert attention
- Lack of confidence
- Desire to manipulate
- Desire to cheat
- Desire to harm
- Joking, jest, teasing, and needling
Honor is the quality of acting in a manner that invites respect and esteem, to act honorably. Each member of society is expected and encouraged to act in an honorable and virtuous manner, encouraging the respect and esteem of others.
Although honor is expected of all, society must have in place mechanisms which encourage, acknowledge, and reward honorable behavior.
Not everything in life is safe and comfortable. Courage is required to accomplish tasks where the risks are daunting, fear is intense, and the certainty of a positive outcome is unclear. Courage is the virtue that allows one to continue forward in the face of unsafe or discomforting obstacles.
Although it is important for society to progress smoothly, difficulties and crises occur with some frequency. It simply isn’t possible for society to prepare itself to smoothly handle all unforeseen circumstances. In extreme circumstances it takes people with courage to engage in acts of heroism. Without heroes to save the day, society would falter and crumble a little bit more on each unwelcome event. Over time, that would lead to a gradual decline and ultimate demise of society. Heroes are an essential element of society.
Anyone can be a hero. There are no physical or mental requirements, simply the willingness to rise to the challenges of the occasion and a willingness to sacrifice one’s own safety and well-being for the benefit of the community and society as a whole.
Sacrifice occurs in society in various forms:
- Personal sacrifice of something held dear to benefit others.
- Willingness to put one’s life on the line to save or protect others.
- Willingness to set aside pursuit of one’s own personal desires in order to attend to the needs of others.
- Willingness to give up one’s own time, energy, and resources to benefit others.
Society must have mechanisms in place to encourage, acknowledge, and reward sacrifice.
The ability to act to help alleviate pain and suffering in others is of great value to society. Society must take great pains to encourage, acknowledge, and reward compassion. Government policies and programs can assist with widespread or patterns of pain or suffering, but it is individuals acting on their own that brings a true sense of humanity to society.
Mechanically following rules and obeying the law is okay, if not great, but law and rules do not cover all aspects of life. Many situations require subjective judgment as to what course of action is best. On occasion even great wisdom may be called for, but more commonly individuals simply need good, solid, common sense judgment to do the right thing.
Wisdom combines knowledge, principles, experience, virtue, and judgment into the capacity for understanding what is best in situations, especially those of great stress.
Society places great value on decisiveness. Prompt action can prevent problems from escalating and accelerate relief.
Decisiveness is especially valued in leaders.
Indecisiveness is an ongoing problem throughout society. Some people just can’t make up their minds. This saps a lot of the energy and enthusiasm from society. It can cause problems to escalate. It can cause problems to appear which could have been avoided with more prompt, decisive action.
Sometimes indecisiveness is unavoidable, as aspects of a problem or situation continue to unfold or are inconsistent, ambiguous, or confused. Nonetheless, society suffers in the face of indecisiveness.
Completely curing indecisiveness is probably a lost cause, but providing better mechanisms for people to get the information they need to make a timely decision would be of great benefit to both individuals and society as a whole.
Vices are ideas that are the opposite of virtues, forms of behavior that are especially discouraged by society, such as:
- Excessively boastful pride
- The seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride
Respect, self-respect, and dignity
Society would not last for long without a strong sense of respect between individuals. Respect and tolerance go hand in hand.
Self-respect is essential as well. even absent society, individuals need a strong sense of self-respect in order to maintain their own integrity in the face of the many challenges of life.
Dignity is a synonym for self-respect. Having a strong sense of dignity makes it easier for others to respect you. There is never any guarantee that one will be respected, but one can remain dignified nonetheless.
Whether respect needs to be earned is a subjective matter. Technically, every human being deserves respect merely due to their existence, but in most societies there are a wide variety of standards of behavior and achievement which tend to be considered as factors to be considered when deciding what level of respect is to be accorded to each individual.
One is expected to act with dignity, not that there is necessarily a robust correlation between how one feels inside and how one acts on the outside and the presence that one projects towards others. Generally, someone who feels a strong sense of dignity or self-respect will act in a dignified manner, but one can also act dignified even if feeling only a weak or muted sense of self-respect and dignity.
Worth and self-worth
Society must have mechanisms in place to acknowledge, encourage, and reward the worth of all members of society to society as a whole. Each member of society also needs to recognize, develop, and acknowledge their own sense of worth, their self-worth.
Esteem and self-esteem
Esteem is the degree of respect and admiration that people have for an individual.
Self-esteem is self-respect and approval for oneself, a synonym for self-worth.
Esteem typically requires building up a reputation with others.
Self-esteem comes from a combination of esteem expressed or felt by others and a sense as to whether one meets their own personal expectations.
Esteem and self-esteem are both important in society and need to be encouraged, reinforced, and rewarded by a variety of social mechanisms.
Chronic lack of self-esteem is a real social problem throughout society. It’s exact causes and exact cures are frequently indeterminate. Nonetheless, society must provide a variety of social mechanisms to alleviate, moderate, mitigate, and cure low self-esteem. Ultimately, only the individual can cure low self-esteem, but society can play a role, encouraging and aiding in the individual’s search for a cure.
Confidence has three distinct meanings:
- Synonym for self-esteem, confidence in oneself, esteem for oneself.
- Feeling of certainty about the truth of a proposition or data.
- Synonym for esteem and trust in the intentions of another.
In all cases, confidence is essential for a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable society. Uncertainty, confusion, and mistrust — lack of confidence — will undermine the sustainability and health of a society.
As confidence is essential for a healthy society, building confidence needs to be a priority and robust mechanisms are needed to encourage the building of confidence, both confidence in oneself and confidence in others.
Encouraging and pursuing social interactions can help with both. Poor social interactions can harm both.
There are two distinct forms of ignorance:
- The simple lack of knowledge, through unawareness, lack of education or training, or inability to comprehend the matter at hand.
- An intentional, willful refusal to acknowledge or at least be curious about and diligently attempt to learn about some socially or politically disputed matter.
Education and communication can address the former, but the latter may require a more determined effort and the passage of time to give hardened social and political views an opportunity to moderate.
Society grows through enlightenment, the willingness to look past the conventional and traditional, to see opportunities for improvement, for society as a whole as well as to increase the opportunities available to individuals, their families, and communities.
Basic goods and services
People depend on a variety of basic goods and services in any complex modern society, including:
- Personal hygiene products
- Household cleaning products
- Basic household items such as furniture, lighting, and food storage and preparation equipment
- Basic education
- Vocational training
- Professional education
- Advanced education
- Health care
- Respect and preservation of rights
- Protection from unsafe equipment and behavior
- Protection of person and property from crime
- Protection from weather
- Protection from natural disaster
- Protection from man-made disaster
- Diversion — entertainment, recreation, relaxation, arts, sports
Beyond basic goods needed for biological subsistence and hygiene, individuals in a modern society are eager to acquire and utilize a very range range of more sophisticated goods, such as:
- Gourmet foods
- Dessert foods
- Snack foods
- Junk food
- Luxury appliances
- Luxury furniture
- Luxury floor, wall, and window treatments
- Fashionable clothing
- Electronic entertainment devices
- Musical instruments
- Media recording and player devices
- Art materials
- Recreation and sporting equipment
- Household communications equipment such as phones
Goods are also known as products, particularly when they are purchased.
Access to goods and services
Exactly how the members of a society obtain goods and services can vary. The essential element is that people have access to goods and services.
Role of government in society
A separate paper, Elements of Government, delves into the role of government in society. Only a few elements will be mentioned here briefly.
It takes a fair amount of organization to arrange for the delivery of goods and services in a society. The management of this logistics is known as administration. It may involve a lot of paperwork, bookkeeping, and review processes. Computers facilitate a lot of it, but also help to increase its complexity. The important things are that society needs to allocate sufficient money in the budget and attract the necessary level of talent to enable administration to operate in a smooth manner so that people have timely and cost effective access to the goods and services of society.
Administration is split between the public and private sectors and between the various levels of government.
Public vs. private sector services
With few exceptions, there is little clarity as to whether any given service would be best provided by the public sector (government) or private sector (business or nonprofit.) In most cases, a given service may be provided by either or both sectors in any particular region of the country or social strata.
In many cases, a service may shift back and forth over time between the sectors.
Some services are more naturally provided by government, such as:
- Law enforcement
- National defense
Even so, private sector vendors continue to provide many aspects of services that are nominally government services.
Government’s ultimate role is simply to assure that both private interests and the interests of society as a whole are met on a continuous and sustainable manner. Regulation is a primary mechanism for government intervention when the private sector is unable or unwilling to meet the needs and requirements of society as a whole.
Economist Adam Smith wrote of the unintended social benefits from the actions of individuals, referring to this mechanism as the invisible hand or the markets.
Nimble fingers, powerful thumb
With the advent in the early decades of the 20th century of clear recognition that government regulation is occasionally needed to compensate for deficiencies or excesses in the markets, economist Charles Lindstrom revised Adam Smith’s invisible hand model to be a hand with the nimble fingers of the market regulated by the powerful thumb of government.
In contrast with a purely market-driven economy and centralized planning, a mixed economy is a hybrid, with elements of both. All modern economies are mixed to some degree, with both markets and regulation. In practice, the term is used primarily when the intervention in the markets is fairly strong and pervasive, where there is a palpable fear that markets with greater power will lead to highly undesirable outcomes.
Concentration of power
Power is recognized by society to be a double-edged sword, useful for bringing people together for building communities and productive pursuits, but power can be abused as well. There are plenty of checks and balances in our social systems to moderate the impact of individuals from gaining and abusing too much power, but preventing the abuse of power by groups of individuals or organizations that collude is an ongoing problem in all societies.
Regulation, including antitrust laws, with reviews of mergers and acquisitions can prevent, moderate, or at least regulate the impact of individual companies gaining too much power.
There are laws against price fixing, bid rigging, market allocation schemes, or other efforts at collusion between companies, or at least against formal and detectable efforts to do so, but casual, informal, secret, nod and wink arrangements can sometimes escape scrutiny by the law.
The most exaggerated form of concentration of power is the monopoly, where a single company has dominant market power in a given market — consumers have no significant choice or at least feel they have no choice, just that one company. There may technically be other companies in that market, but a variety of technical, logistical, and economic factors may lead most consumers feeling that they have no choice.
Technically, a monopoly is not strictly illegal per se, provided that it broke no laws in order to achieve its monopoly market position. The real question is whether it abuses that monopoly market power once it has it, such as hiking prices for consumers who have no alternative but to stay with the monopoly.
Functions in society
Members of society perform a wide range of functions, including:
- Maintaining households
- Raising children
- Producing, processing, and preparing food
- Producing goods and services
- Trades and crafts — construction, building, maintenance, and repair
- Educating people
- Being educated
- Transporting people
- Transporting and storing goods
- Providing medical care and health services
- Providing security
Participation in society
Members of society participate in a wide range of roles, including:
- As individuals
- As members and leaders of families
- As members and leaders of communities
- As citizens, staff, officials, and leaders in government
- As workers
- As managers, executives, and leaders in business
- As members, officials, and leaders in organizations, including religious organizations
- Founders of businesses
- Founders of organizations
- As teachers
- As students
- As researchers
- As technicians
- Maintaining sanitation
- Law enforcement, courts, and the justice system
A complex modern society needs a wide variety of leaders at all levels. No individual is the overall leader per se since responsibility is so distributed. Even the president or prime minister of a country has only limited powers. People commonly look to their nearest leader for direction and confidence, whether it be the leader of an organization, business, community, or family.
Leaders serve two very valuable roles, to provide direction and to be a source of confidence, permitting those below them to proceed and progress in their daily lives with their own confidence.
Plato envisioned that an ideal society would need kings with the wisdom of philosophers. Nobody will accuse most of our modern political leaders of great philosophical brilliance, but the simple fact is that so much of what was considered as philosophy 2,500 years ago has been thoroughly assimilated into the intellectual basis for much of modern society, so that many people are better philosophers than a few hundred years ago. The enlightenment really was a great watershed for humanity.
Most of traditional philosophy has been incorporated into our modern fields of:
Most people will have been exposed to a fair dose of what would have been traditional philosophy as part of a typical college education, and in high school as well.
If anything, many individual members of society now possess a fair amount of the wisdom that Plato expected of a philosopher king.
Leaders at the national level can lead the country or society as a whole, but much of society transpires at the community level. Services and policing at the community level are best led by local community leaders who understand the local culture and local values.
Peace of mind
Achievements in life are difficult enough without constant nagging worries and fears about safety and health. Mental well-being requires peace of mind.
Peace of mind comes from a variety of sources, including:
- Confidence in one’s ability to cope with all manner of challenges.
- Confidence in society and government.
- Confidence in one’s family.
- Confidence in one’s community and neighbors.
- Belief in some form of spirituality or organized religion.
- Shared knowledge from past experiences that can be applied to current situations.
Being a part of something larger than oneself is a major source for peace of mind.
Society can only survive and thrive to the degree that people have confidence in society, confidence that society will serve their interests and respect their rights. This confidence extends to the family, the community, organizations in the community, businesses in the community, and government.
Any breakdown in confidence will weaken society and limit the degree to which it and its members can realize their true potential.
An ongoing and pervasive breakdown in confidence will lead to a crumbling and disintegration of the fabric of society.
Breakdowns in confidence tend to be temporary, with people and government officials coming to their senses and correcting the issues that led to the breakdown.
So far, we have not seen a breakdown of confidence in a modern, western-style society that went unchecked and resulted in the complete breakdown and complete destruction of society.
Spirituality is the sense that one is part of something larger than oneself and that there is more meaning to life than the day to day biological functions of life. It is a primary source for peace of mind in any society. It simultaneously lifts up the individual and society as a whole.
There is no single form for spirituality and it can vary between groups and communities, and between individuals as well. As such, it is important that society tolerate a wide range of spiritual beliefs.
Although commonly found within an organized religion, that is not a requirement.
Individuals with a shared sense of spirituality will commonly tend to flock together or gravitate to an organized form of religion.
A religious organization may be informal, such as simply people who share spiritual beliefs, or formal as an organized institution such as a church.
Elements of religion include:
- Shared spiritual beliefs, doctrine, or dogma, a creed
- A deity or other focus for the spiritual beliefs
- A sense of morality, ethics, and code of behavior
- An organizational structure
- Rituals, ceremony, and forms of worship
- Rules and practices
- Possibly a theology or formal theory of the religion
- Places of worship
- Places of special historical, spiritual, and religious significance
Although a given country or region may have a dominant or state religion, the general consensus in modern, western-style countries and their societies is that freedom of religion is a good thing and that individuals and their families should be able to believe in and practice whatever form of spirituality and religion they see fit.
Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of modern, western-style countries, recognized by government as a right.
In some cases there may be a state religion, and that is acceptable if the people accept it, but there is nothing in a modern or even ideal society that would either require or encourage it.
Values of the dominant religion may find their way into the culture and values of society as a whole and government itself, or possibly simply overlap to some degree.
Freedom and liberty
Freedom and liberty have a special place in modern, western-style countries. The belief is that even the best government has limits to how well it can address all of the needs of every member of society, and that rather than expecting government to do everything for everybody all of the time, better results can be achieved for both individuals and all of society with a more limited role for government that relies on empowering the individual, their families, and their communities to maximize their own well-being and peace of mind by maximizing their freedom to do so. Government can step in when and where and how needed, but normally should stay out of the way.
The fundamental basis for freedom and liberty is the natural state of man before government and other social structures were introduced.
Freedom and liberty are effectively synonyms. Individual writers or groups may attach additional qualifications to one or the other.
Independence and dependence
Society faces a continuous tension and balancing between the independence and freedom that individuals seek to go their own way and the dependence that exists between individuals, families groups, communities, and governments in a complex, modern, western-style society.
Neither independence nor dependence reigns supreme in society.
Risk and consequences
Risk is simply all of the things that can possibly go wrong in life, coupled with the probability that the bad thing will occur and the consequences to society if the bad event does occur. There are several approaches to risk:
- Defend and protect against it
- Buy insurance to cover it
- Plan for mitigation should it occur
- Hope that it doesn’t occur — for unlikely risks or risks that are impossible to defend against
Protection is simply the various methods and tools used to achieve security in the face of the risks in life, which is needed for peace of mind, which is the real goal.
To achieve peace of mind, members of society need to feel safe from:
- Invasion and military attack
- Insurrection and other domestic unrest
- Threats while traveling abroad
- Threats to vital interests abroad
- Natural disaster
- Severe weather
- Wild animals
- Poisonous plants
- Toxic chemical release
- Unsafe buildings
- Unsafe equipment
- Unsafe water
- Unsafe air
- Erosion of land
- Unsafe food
- Unsafe drugs
- Dangerous or illegal drugs
- Unsafe medical treatment
- Abuse of power
- Infringement of rights
Each threat to security must be met with a variety of forms of protection and responses in order to achieve security and peace of mind.
Security from a given threat involves:
- Monitoring and intelligence gathering to detect early warning signals
- Regulation, control, and handling of dangerous substances and devices, including explosives and hazardous chemicals
- Preventing, deterring, or avoiding the threat
- Minimizing the threat
- Moderating the threat
- Combating the threat
- Curing the threat
- Mitigating the threat
- Otherwise responding to the threat
- Recovery from the threat
- Analyze for lessons learned — improve security for future occurrences of the threat
The threats can be place in six categories:
- National security
The latter three are usually combined and treated together in many organizations as Environment, Safety, and Health, abbreviated as ESH, EHS, or HSE.
Mutual defense is one of the primary benefits and motivations of society, based on:
- Safety in numbers, especially as a deterrent.
- Specialization of roles in defense.
- Accumulation of resources to fund significant defenses.
- Resources to research, develop, and deploy novel defenses.
Protection of subordinates
One key principle in any social order is that an individual has responsibility to protect those beneath them in the social order. The leader of a community protects the entire community. The leader of a country protects the entire country. A parent protects everyone in the family.
A primary goal of any social order is to optimize the productive capacity of the group as a whole. In other words, assuring that the vast majority in society are engaged in productive pursuits that maximize the net well-being and peace of mind of the group both as a whole and as individual members of society.
A productive pursuit is any activity that adds value to society, such as:
- Maintaining a household
- Raising children
- Growing, processing, distributing, and preparing food
- Creating goods
- Providing services
- Creating and building new businesses and organizations that enable the creation of new jobs, new goods, and new services in society
- Educating and training members of society
- Administering government
- Running for elected office and serving as a leader, representative, or government official
- Providing national defense and law enforcement
- Contributing to the community, such as volunteering
- Providing diversions that enhance or facilitate productive pursuits
Productive contribution is a primary goal in any society, but human well-being also requires that the human mind and body have a chance to relax on occasion, with the intent that such relaxation will have a rejuvenating effect, leaving the individual ready to resume productive contribution with renewed energy. Diversion from productive pursuits can take many forms:
- Rest and sleep
- Dining, drinking, partying (within moderation)
- Entertainment in general
- Meetups and discussion groups
- Book talks and readings
- Lectures, talks, and panel discussions
- Walking and hiking
- Hunting and fishing
- Other outdoor activities
- Arts — music, art, sculpture, theater, film, literature, dance
- Movies and television
- Humor, comedy, joking, satire, parody, laughter, irony
- Internet and social media
- Travel and tourism
- Festivals and festivities
- Public events
Diversions can overlap productive pursuits, such as:
- Playing or reading with children
- Sex — sometimes unclear whether socially-beneficial procreation was the intent or an unintended consequence
- Cultural exchange — can be satisfying in addition to directly benefiting society
Diversion can have dysfunctional forms as well:
- Excessive drinking and alcoholism
- Drug use and addiction
- Wild parties
- Illicit relationships
- Criminal acts
One of the tasks for maintaining the cohesion of society is to bring people together in a manner that lets them experience an integrated society in a positive manner. Public events that can accomplish this task include:
- Holiday celebrations
- Theater performances
- Public lectures
Travel and tourism
Travel and tourism are a special form of diversion which provide educational and cultural assimilation opportunities in addition to simply pleasure and relaxation. Increased exposure to the diversity within society and between societies of different regions and different countries helps to increase the degree of tolerance, affinity, and integration of society overall. Sharing of culture increases the vibrancy and energy of society.
Life can be difficult and requires a lot of serious effort. Diversions help to moderate the burden of that serious effort. Humor is an especially powerful antidote for the sometimes-crushing burdens of life. It comes in a variety of forms, such as:
- Political humor — cartoons, parody, skits
Humor can be misused and used as a tool for disharmony as well as to lighten the burdens of life, such as:
- Defamation of character
- Destructive pranks
Games are an interesting case of diversion, simultaneously providing:
- A sense of escape from the pressures of daily life.
- An opportunity to socialize.
- A competitive release.
- An opportunity for cooperative activity.
- An opportunity to hone physical, mental, and social skills.
- An opportunity to cope with challenge without the hazards of real-life challenges.
Games can take a variety of forms, including:
- Physical activities such as sports.
- Card games such as poker and bridge.
- Jigsaw puzzles.
- Puzzles such as crossword and Sudoku.
- Math puzzles.
- Traditional board games, such as chess, checkers, Go, Monopoly, and Scrabble.
- More modern board games such as Dungeons & Dragons and war-gaming and role playing.
- Traditional video games such as Pong and Pac-Man.
- Gaming consoles.
- PC-based video games.
- Web-based games
- Mobile phone-based games.
- Online, multi-player games.
- Computer, online, and mobile phone-based versions of traditional games.
Clearly computers, the Internet, and mobile phones have had a major impact on games, but non-computer games remain popular.
Games may focus on or combine elements of:
- Individual achievement.
Pressures in life can feel overwhelming at times. Healthy individuals are expected to have a variety of socially acceptable means for coping with these pressures of both daily life and occasional exceptional circumstances. Normal diversions usually accomplish this task. Unfortunately, far too often individuals are simply unable to cope. Instead, they seek to escape, at least temporarily. Method of escape include:
- Substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol
- Obsessive and compulsive or addictive behavior
- Illicit romantic and sexual relationships
- Dropping off the grid
- Neglect and evasion of responsibilities
- Shirking of duties
- Dysfunctional behavior in general
- Outright criminal behavior
Addiction is only one specific manifestation of escape. The individual engages in some behavior not because of an appeal of the behavior itself, but because of the final outcome, the reward of relief from mental and possibly physical pain. Society must have robust mechanisms for coping with addiction. Granted, addiction is primarily the responsibility of the individual, and addiction can rarely be cured until the individual takes the steps to cure themselves, but society has a role as well, even though the precise nature of that role is a matter of great debate that is ongoing and likely to continue indefinitely.
Obsession can be just as powerful a disruptor of normal, sane, sensible social behavior as addiction, and the two can frequently be confused for each other, treated as the same, or work hand in hand. Obsession is a compulsion to repeat the same behavior regardless of the outcome, while addiction is the desire to achieve the outcome without regard to what behavior leads to it. Consistently repeating the same pattern of behavior or pursuing the same object of desire is the hallmark of obsession. It is the hunt rather than the kill that drives it.
An endeavor or object is utilitarian if it focuses on productive pursuits and utility or usefulness in the daily lives of members of society, as opposed to an artistic endeavor which focuses on aesthetic appeal more than practical need, as well as diversions in general, although one could argue that the human needs addressed by diversions facilitate utilitarian efforts.
Artistic endeavors, which are creative and expressive efforts focused more on aesthetic value than simply purely practical, utilitarian value, serve multiple, valuable purposes in society, including:
- Diversion and escape from the bland and coarse tedium of daily life.
- Personal expression.
- Political expression.
- Advocacy for social change
- Transmission of culture, throughout society, and between generations.
- Sharing of values.
- Bringing individuals together.
- Facilitating interaction between societies, countries, and social groups.
- Therapy for a host of physical and mental problems — for artist or audience or both.
- Outlet for unsatisfied human drives.
The arts include:
- Painting, drawing, and collage — possibly using computer tools
- Crafts — including pottery and other ceramic works
- Performance art
- Children’s art
- Folk art
- Speeches, rhetoric, and oratory
- Literature — books, poetry, short stories, essays
- Culinary arts
- Cartoons, Doodling, caricatures, and comic strips and comic books
- Makeup and hair styling
- Body arts — tattoos, piercing, cosmetic surgery
- Fashion, jewelry, and accessories
- Furniture, furnishings, and fixtures
- Textiles and tapestries
- Interior decorating
- Decorative arts
- Industrial design, graphic arts, and web design
- Typography and calligraphy
- Copies, scans, photos, art books, and forgeries — make have same affect on viewer but simply not be from the authentic source
- Computer-generated art
The arts can be categorized as to whether they are intended for primarily:
- Utilitarian value, albeit with a significant aesthetic component.
- Purely expressive value, solely for aesthetic value, without the intent for utility or commercial value.
- A hybrid of expressive and utilitarian value.
Performing arts place emphasis not on a static object created by the artist, but on the ability of the performer to recreate an expressive experience that was designed by the artist, which includes:
- Performance art
The fine arts place a strong emphasis on purely expressive, aesthetic value.
Factors in the arts include:
- Artist vs. viewer/audience
- Artist’s intent
- Commercial value
- Intended purpose or message vs. purely expressive of feelings
The written word has a variety of categorical functions in society:
- Formal communications
- Official communications
- Personal communications
- Formal records
- Media and mass communications
- Entertainment, diversion
The written word in the form of literature has a variety of functions in society:
- Diversion, entertainment
- Transmission of culture
- Sharing of values
- Social, political, and economic advocacy
Songs, ballads, and anthems
Music, songs, and ballads have their normal expressive and cultural role in the arts, but may also be employed in a stronger role for advocating for or supporting a social or political stance through their lyrics. They can serve as anthems, symbols for a social or political message. The melody, vocal, and instrumental aspects can serve to enhance the emotional component of the advocacy message that is embodied in the lyrics of the song or ballad.
Symbolism is a way to convey and reinforce values, identity, and solidarity in a society. A simple, graphic image can convey a host of messages and elicit a variety of emotional responses.
The most prominent symbol in any society is the national flag. The imagery and colors may have specific historical significance, but it is the overall image to packs the big punch. Although some individuals may harbor a negative perception of a country or its government, the national flag will still evince an intense emotional response. In some cases it may indeed be a more neutral, disinterested or indifferent response, but that is more likely to be the exception than the rule.
Flags are used at all levels of government, with states and cities having their flags as well. Organizations and companies may employ flags as well.
The formal, structural apparatus of society, including government, organizations sympathetic to government, and social norms compatible with government and those organizations is commonly known as The System. To some or even the majority that is a positive reference, while to others who feel disenfranchised in some manner the reference instead has distinctly negative connotations.
Those who respect and follow the rules of the system know how to work the system to their advantage, while those who feel disenfranchised feel that the system is rigged and biased against them and that no amount of respect for or cooperation with the system will do them any good. For some, many, and even most, the system is the solution, but for a nontrivial minority or even a majority in some situations, the system itself is the problem.
Those who feel disenfranchised in some manner may externalize The System, referring to The Establishment as the dominant elite controlling The System.
Sometimes The Establishment is used simply as a synonym for The System, but usually it is more a reference to those controlling The System than to The System itself. For example, individuals or groups may seek simply to seize the reins of power for themselves but otherwise keep the apparatus of The System relatively intact. They probably seek changes to The System as well, but typically want a modestly improved system rather than a wholesale elimination and replacement of the entire system.
Institutional authority or institutions of authority are the institutions, governmental or the private sector, that provide the goods and services that individuals and their families depend on in their daily lives and are needed to live a good life with a minimum of disruption and anxiety. Generally, people take them for granted, as they should. People must either obey or otherwise defer to these authorities or have only a limited choice of alternatives. In essence, people feel that they have little choice but to deal with these institutions — that’s what gives them a sense of authority.
Government is the primary institution of authority, but many of the organizational institutions outside of government, including the business sector, can be felt effectively as authority by individuals and their families.
There may indeed be choice when it comes to a lot of commercially-available goods and services, but to the degree that many of them have the same sense of authority and limited differences, they take on the feel of authority in the daily lives of individuals and their families.
The various forms of institutional authority in society include:
- National government.
- Regional or state government.
- Local or community government.
- Laws, law enforcement, and courts.
- The military and other national security departments, agencies, and organizations.
- Political parties.
- Business in general.
- The banking and financial system.
- The business and commercial sector which provides goods, services, and jobs.
- The food supply sector, from farms to stores.
- Religious institutions which provide for the spiritual health of individuals and their families.
- The health care system.
- The education system.
- Media and the press which facilitate the communication of ideas and information.
- The energy sector which supplies electricity and fuel.
- The communications sector.
- The Internet for communications, services, commerce, and social media.
- The transportation sector.
- Businesses and other organizations providing diversions to help relieve the tedium and stress of daily life (movies, television, books, tourism, etc.)
Collectively, these institutions constitute a level of authority that people take for granted and enjoy, but people may also chafe if the authority is exercised in too heavy-handed or insensitive a manner.
Collectively these institutions constitute The Establishment, The System.
Those who hold leadership positions in these institutions constitute the elite of society. They control the reins of power in society. The people may hold the ultimate power in that they can elect new leaders and representatives, but there is a certain institutional inertia that tends to bias The System against any dramatic change.
Each generation tends to have its own take on how exactly to achieve accepted social goals or how exactly to even formulate social goals. As the young of a generation mature, they proceed through stages:
- Blind acceptance of the social policies of the two generations ahead of them — parents and grandparents.
- Reluctant acceptance of policies they find themselves powerless to address.
- Growing rebellion and speaking out.
- Incremental seizing of the reins of power.
- Eventual seizing control of society from the generation immediately ahead of them.
- Sudden realization that their kids’ generation somehow doesn’t see eye to eye with them.
- Gradual realization that their kids’ generation is taking over the reins of power.
- Rinse and repeat.
As robust, complex, and sophisticated as a society might be imagined, it must still reflect the human nature of the members of society. Characteristics of human nature include:
- Free will
- Respect and esteem
- Self-respect and self-esteem
- Envy and jealousy
- Familial affinity
- Regret, penitence, repentance, remorse, contrition
- Sadness and sorrow
- Zeal and enthusiasm
- Incitement and fighting words
- Pride and ego
- Abilities — natural
- Skills — learned, developed, practiced
All forms of social organization must take all aspects of human nature into account. Frequently this is not the case, which frequently results in all manner of dysfunctional behavior.
Brain and mind
Human society tends to both the physical and mental aspects of human life. The physical aspects are not so different from the animal world, focusing on food, water, air, shelter, care, health issues, and reproduction. The mental aspects are quite distinct from the animal world, although quite a few of the basic social aspects are quite similar. It is the higher-order mental aspects where human beings are distinct from the animal world. The human brain and mind are amazing evolutionary developments.
Brain and mind are commonly treated as synonymous, but the distinction is that the brain is the purely physical apparatus that supports the mental processes associated with mind. It is fairly analogous to the distinction between computer hardware and computer software.
Society must assure that there are mechanisms in place to assure both the physical health of the brain and the mental health of the mind. Much of the direct responsibility for both rests with the individual, or the parents or guardians of children, but society must assure that individuals have access to the resources, including health care professionals, needed to assure health of brain and mind.
By their nature, human beings are intelligent creatures. Granted, the exact level of higher order intelligence can vary a lot between individuals, but some basic level of intelligence is expected of all individuals in a society.
Intelligent behavior is a basic expectation in human society. Unfortunately, raw intelligence does not always translate into effective use of that intelligence. One constant and eternal question in human society is how smart people can do such stupid things.
Emotions and feelings
Reason and knowledge are essential components of intelligence, but human nature is so much more. Emotions or feelings provide the drive for much of human behavior.
Individuals in society are capable of many things, but the question is what they will focus their time, energy, and resources on. Passion is the key, providing a very elevated level of desire, interest, and attention that enables individuals, groups, and organizations to accomplish truly amazing things that would otherwise seem either impossible or requiring a lot more people, resources, and time. Passion also allows individuals and groups to overcome obstacles and other challenges which would cripple or slow down efforts by groups or organizations lacking that same level of passion.
Short of zealous passion, individuals have a wide variety of desires or personal preferences. Beyond biological and logistical needs, desires provide individuals with direction and pique their interests. Society needs to provide a variety of outlets for the full range of human desires, and also take care to discourage excessive zeal, obsession, and lack of self control that can take desire to the level of dysfunction that can harm both the individual and others in society.
Short of intense passion and desire, each individual has their own preferences, likes, dislikes, and favorites. Society and social systems such as government and government services should support a wide variety of preferences. The one size fits all model works sometimes for some people, but life in modern society is so much more bearable when personal preference can be accommodated.
Faith is commonly associated with religious belief and spirituality, but can also apply to social beliefs and faith in the many elements of society, especially its institutions, including government.
The key benefit of faith is that it simplifies one’s life, reducing the number of things one worries about, allowing one to focus more energy and attention on things where one can make a bigger difference.
Laws and rules and their enforcement are necessary elements of society, but even they would not be sufficient to sustain a thriving society were it not for the conscience of individuals, which provides the inner guide that points people in the direction of right and reasonable action. Laws and rules are only the backstop for conscience.
Human nature being what it is, not all members of society have a well-developed conscience, which is why we need laws and rules.
Even with conscience, we still need laws and rules, since they also embody technical and logistical requirements which may be beyond the ability or knowledge of the individual.
A fair amount of human nature and behavior is a matter of instinct, common to all, inherited from our genetic heritage, and to some degree shared with animals as well. Society must accept and acknowledge this reality, and assure that the institutions of society accommodate this fundamental truth about human nature.
Will and volition
Behind all human thought and action is some driving force or combination or forces, called will or volition. Whether through conscious choice and free will or in response to some drive or emotion, will is the nature of why someone is acting as they are.
Personal choice and drive may be moderated by social forces such as community values and peer pressure, but ultimately the individual decides how to balance competing and reinforcing pressures to produce their own personalized response.
Individuals are usually very resilient, able to cope with a wide variety of challenges and able bounce back from most setbacks, but occasionally this is not the case. Either due to the severity of the circumstances or shortcomings of the individual, they sometimes see their outlook as hopeless and desperation sets in. Even then, most individuals may experience such desperation as temporary and eventually get through it, but for some the desperation begins to seem unsolvable and they resort to seriously dysfunctional behavior, such as withdrawal from normal social interaction, substance abuse, criminal behavior, joining cults or dubious fringe groups, or even suicide.
Coping with the onset of desperation remains the task of the individual, and possibly their families, but the community and society as a whole must have reasonable mechanisms in place to deal at least with the most extreme dysfunctional aspects. Intervention by law enforcement should be a last resort, but will become inevitable if society does not have a spectrum of social, economic, and mental health services and resources to help desperate individuals find their way back to some semblance of normalcy.
Individuals in distress or on the verge of desperation need to have positive outlets for their distress. Social withdrawal, substance abuse, and anti-social behavior simply aren’t viable and acceptable in modern society. Intervention by law enforcement is a last resort backstop and should not be viewed as the expected or desired outcome.
Family, friends, and religion have traditionally been primary sources of solace in times of distress. Modern society has gotten more complex so that these traditional institutions are not always sufficient. Help lines and online and offline support communities have helped to fill the gaps, but finding solace remains a challenge for modern society.
The human nature of each particular individual is more than simply the common heritage of human nature that we all share. It is shaped by several categories of factors:
- Genetics — human genes in the form of DNA
- Nurture — infancy, childhood, and family
- Culture — school, religion, government, media, and general culture
- Environment — specific incidents in daily life
Character and personality
As much as all humans have in common, it is frequently that which distinguishes each individual that makes all the difference in the world. Each individual has their own personality. Beyond the superficial quirks of their personality, each individual has a character which informs their thoughts and actions.
Each individual in society has an identity, consisting of various elements:
- Nick name(s)
- Maiden name
- Government identification number
- Details of birth
- Distinguishing physical characteristics
- Distinguishing mental characteristics
- Distinguishing personality traits
- Distinguishing language traits
- Demographic characteristics
- Organizational affiliations
- Group associations
- Personal nature
Identifying characteristics may be categorized by:
- Accidents of birth
- Family choices
- Government assignment
- Natural development
- Social development
- Nutritional influence
- Environmental influence
- Personal choice
- Personal reflection on personal nature
A majority of our individual human nature comes from the common genes that all human share. We are over 99% the same at the genetic level.
Even when genes are identical, there are variations in how a given gene is expressed as a specific human trait.
Human evolution continues, but at so uneven a pace that it can be difficult to detect. Half of evolution is random mutations, which occur all of the time. The other half is the fitness function, or degree to which a given mutation has a significant survival value, causing more subsequent generations to have that mutation rather than not have it.
Evolution has had a huge role in who we are now as a species and society.
Exactly what role evolution will play in human society in coming generations is a matter of speculation.
Technological intervention in the the genes of the offspring of coming generations may result in human adaptations not yet fully imagined and at a pace far greater than in normal human evolution. Genetic engineering has great potential, but great opportunity for ethical issues and other risks that are matters of speculation.
Society and social systems must go to great pains to preserve, protect, and enhance the process of nurturing children, both within the family and in the education system.
Regardless of one’s spirituality or religion, there is a general recognition by society of a spiritual or non-physical component to life, well-being, and peace of mind. Although generally part of human nature overall, it is the part that focuses on reaching to more than simply day to day biological function, including:
- Unwillingness to give in to defeat or hardship
- Relishing challenges, even the allegedly impossible, reaching for the stars
Soul may have more of a religious spiritual connotation or may merely be a synonym for human spirit. In either case, soul is less concerned with the mere physicality of life and more concerned with the mental and psychic aspects.
Beyond individuals, one can speak of the soul of a community, organization, place, or even society of a whole, again referring to the non-material aspects. This can include values and culture and norms of behavior.
Purpose and meaning
Beyond basic survival, people seek purpose and meaning in life. Society itself only provides the health, comfort, vibrancy, and sustainability of the basic social structure as its purpose and meaning. Individuals and groups are on their own to discover, explore, pursue, and revel in their own sense of purpose and meaning. Society cannot provide people with their purpose and meaning, but can encourage, acknowledge, support, and reward efforts on the parts of individuals and groups to do so.
Purposeful and meaningful lives
Discovering purpose and meaning in their own lives permits individual members of society to participate and thrive in society in ways well beyond the mere biological and functional roles of participation. Society cannot require or force people to live purposeful and meaningful lives, but can encourage, acknowledge, support, and reward efforts on the parts of individuals and groups to do so.
Work can be tedious and sap one’s energy and spirit, but meaningful work that reinforces the purpose and meaning in one’s life can relieve the tedium and dramatically boost one’s energy and spirit. Society cannot require or force people to find meaningful work, but can encourage, acknowledge, support, and reward efforts on the parts of individuals and groups to do so.
Finding work that is meaningful to the individual is an important task in society, but it is doubly valuable when the effect of that work provides exceptional benefit to society, either addressing or solving important social problems or opening fresh opportunities for the growth of society and personal growth as well.
Beyond simply being biological machines physically capable of a certain amount of physical labor, people have a human energy from their spirit that can drive them to amazing accomplishments. The human mind can envision many possible courses of action that can be far more productive than the simple, obvious action. The human spirit can add a tremendous push from passion and enthusiasm. Emotion can sometimes get in the way of productive pursuits, but when channeled and properly reinforced can lead to amazing accomplishments.
Focus and channeling
Undirected human energy is not always very productive, frequently leading to people working at cross purposes, but a sense of focus and channeling can lead to great accomplishments. Leadership is frequently, but not always, the key factor providing the focus and channeling. A strong sense of meaning and purpose is a major factor as well.
Human attitude and posture
People will tend to have an attitude or posture towards every aspect of society and to society as a whole, either, positive, negative, or neutral or indifferent. Their level of intensity in their attitude will vary greatly, from neutral indifference to mild, to intense, or even extremely passionate. People will tend to be optimistic, pessimistic, cynical, neutral, or indifferent.
Attitude and posture can have a significant impact on productivity and creativity. A positive attitude can help overcome significant obstacles. A negative attitude can retard even normal daily function.
People with a positive attitude of optimism will either feel satisfied with the current state of affairs or have an expectation for progress and improvement.
Optimism is essential for a healthy, vibrant, productive, and sustainable society. Not everybody can or will be optimistic about everything all of the time, but on balance society will thrive only if most people are mostly optimistic about most aspects of society most of the time.
Optimists tend to be generally optimistic, even in situations where a dose of realism would suggest that the outlook for a specific issue is negative.
People with a negative attitude of pessimism will feel dissatisfied with the current state of affairs or have a poor, weak, or negative expectation for progress and expect the situation to not improve or to deteriorate further.
Individuals may be pessimists in general, of merely pessimistic about a specific issue or a specific situation.
Pessimists tend to very down and negative about life, society, government, and people in general.
Pessimists can also be insular, believing that their preferred subgroup of society has a greater value than other portions of society.
Cynicism is used in different ways:
- A synonym for pessimism.
- An extreme version of pessimism.
- A more neutral version of pessimism, not so much expecting that things will be bad all of the time, but simply skeptical about everything and believing that self-interest will bias outcomes more to the negative than the positive.
Either way, cynicism tends to be a net drag on society, interfering with productive pursuits and retarding progress.
Human social nature
A large portion of human nature is the desire to engage in social behavior, a fair portion of which is inherited from animal social behavior. Determining where exactly to draw the line for distinctly human social behavior is a difficult task, left as an exercise for the reader.
Some differences include:
- Language and communications skills of humans.
- Higher-level cognitive skills.
- Tolerance and skill with more complex social structures.
- Ability to plan social structures.
- Enhanced sense of responsibility for others, whom one may never even have met.
Individuals in a social setting require at least some degree of social qualities and skills, including:
- Mutual respect
- Willing to communicate
- Willing to listen
- Tolerance of differences
- Openness to new ideas and differences
- Willing to grant others the benefit of the doubt
- Acceptance of strangers, welcoming them
- Responsibility to others
- Generosity and sharing
- Loyalty within groups
- Esprit de corps
- Sense of civic responsibility
- Sense of community
Animal social nature
Humans are also animals and have inherited many of the traits of animals, including most if not all aspects of animal social nature, even if the specific manifestations in human behavior may be somewhat evolved.
Just as humans have organized into bands, tribes, villages, and communities, animals have also organized collectively into herds, flocks, companies, and colonies, albeit with a lesser degree of social complexity.
Beyond animal social nature, an analysis of human nature must also take into account the animal nature that humans inherit as well. Regardless of social behavior exhibited by humans, individual humans may exhibit animal-like behavior as well, some of which may appear as sub-human, but a fair amount is positive and productive as well, just as in the animal world.
At least some aspects of animal-like behavior may commonly be treated as being sub-human, but that simply makes analysis more difficult rather than drawing a bright line between the human world and the animal world.
It is not uncommon for humans to behave in a more cruel manner than we would expect from animals.
And some of the wildness seen in animals can frequently be seen in humans, including predatory behavior.
One trait shared by the human and animal worlds is the use of collective groups to enhance the survival prospects for the group, such as:
- Strength in numbers to deter and thwart predators.
- Raw numbers of individuals to overwhelm predators.
- Specialization for defense and security.
- Diversity to cope with a variety of threats.
Diversity is simply the recognition that differences exist between individuals and groups and throughout society and that it is natural for them to exist, and that society benefits greatly from differences.
Regardless of differences within society, no society exists for long if there are not significant similarities that bind individuals and groups together.
Diversity is a general goodness in society that has multiple advantages, such as:
- Enhanced survival of society in the face of evolving and unknown threats.
- Inclusiveness to empower individuals to feel more invested in society and more welcome in communities.
- Stronger sense of community that enables the community to be richer, stronger, and more durable.
- Enhanced potential for specialization.
- Greater opportunity for participation.
- Greater market for goods and services.
- Wider variety of goods and services.
- Greater opportunity for use of goods and services.
- Greater opportunity for growth and expansion of society.
Diversity requires tolerance, with people willing to accept significant differences between individuals, groups, and segments of society.
Tolerance presents difficulties when feelings, opinions, and values are strong but in opposition. One model is the accept/expect model, where one accepts that people are different even as one also expects that people should support or at least tolerate those who are different.
Unity and solidarity
Members of a society will only stay together in a society to the degree that they feel united with a sense of common ground and unity of purpose. They must feel at least some sense of solidarity with their fellow members of society.
Commonality and Common ground
As much as diversity is recognized and valued in a complex, modern, western-style society, finding common ground is essential. Common ground helps to bind society together. It helps to bridge gaps and differences. It helps to avoid and resolve misunderstandings. Common ground is not an end but the starting point for building a more integrated society.
Members of society have a lot in common. This commonality is what originally brought society together and nominally is what holds it together.
People, groups, and organizations need to feel that there is a sense of predictability to most of the common aspects of life over extended periods of time. Not that things can never change, but simply that a sense of continuity is maintained in society. To the extent that this is not the case, society will have to cope with the impacts of any significant disruptions.
Inclusion refers to the extent to which various groups feel included in mainstream society and that mainstream society is indeed welcoming them, as opposed to being marginalized or otherwise excluded. Inclusion comes from focusing on similarities more than differences, and accepting differences.
The goal in a society is that every individual and every group should feel that they are being treated as first-class citizens, free from discrimination.
Sense of belonging
Every member of society needs to feel a sense of belonging, to feel comfortable participating in all aspects of society. Inclusiveness helps to provide this, but this needs to be the end result, regardless of whether or the extent to which there are any explicit efforts to effect inclusion.
Marginalized and disenfranchised
It is not at all unusual or unreasonable to have smaller groups in a society that are very distinct from the dominant culture, but it is unacceptable for the members of such groups to suffer discrimination, which marginalizes or disenfranchises them, preventing them from fully participating in society.
Nonetheless, the complexity of modern society can result in various groups or segments of society experiencing or feeling that they are marginalized and disenfranchised. Over time, society must evolve to minimize this effect.
Groups that are distinguished by demographic characteristics such as ethnicity that is distinct from the majority or dominant culture are commonly known as minorities. There is nothing wrong with being a member of a minority group, provided that they are not discriminated against or otherwise marginalized or disenfranchised.
Modern, western-style society is so complex and diverse that attempting to define a single culture is impossible. Instead, society must recognize that a variety of cultural elements are present in society. Some cultural elements will be shared and dominate, while others will be limited to specific groups, segments of society, or regions of the country.
The culture of society is continually evolving, so that at any one moment one can attempt to summarize the variety of cultural elements that are dominant, but such a summary of culture will quickly evolve. Major elements will tend to be relatively stable for extended periods of time and for an extended fraction of society, but even then evolution is the rule.
Counter to efforts to include and tolerate diversity, some segments of society may strongly disagree or merely be slow to come over to accepting individuals, groups, or physical or cultural characteristics that the rest of society is ready to consider acceptable and part of the norm.
Some aspects of exclusion may be intentional, such as intolerance of criminal behavior, abuse or exploitation of children, the elderly, and the disabled, and extremism.
Exactly how society should deal with exclusion is a matter of great debate and continual evolution.
A key goal of society is to assure that everyone has a voice in the affairs of society, especially government, programs, policies, and services. Not just that they have a voice per se, such as freedom of speech, a vote, and the ability for advocate for change, but that somebody in power is listening to them. This is especially true for minorities and those groups that may feel that they are disenfranchised.
Exactly how society should assure that everyone feels that somebody somewhere will listen to their voice is an open matter of ongoing debate.
The traditional answer is that our selected representatives are our voice in government. That works if you are aligned with the dominant party, but not for minorities and the disenfranchised.
Public discussion forums, alliances with major political parties, and media coverage are some of the ways that the disenfranchised can gain a voice.
No society will last for long or be very vibrant without trust. Laws and rules are essential and must be obeyed, but trust is needed to permit people to feel that they will be treated fairly and reasonably by other members of society and by society as a whole.
Generally, trust must be earned. A pattern of good intentions and good behavior over time is the best way to earn trust.
Distrust of those who have violated trust in the past and mistrust of strangers due to cynicism are very corrosive to society. Assuming the worst of everyone is a recipe for social decay and retarding of progress.
A willingness to give strangers the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise is a valuable trait for any society.
Although truly healthy and self-sufficient individuals and groups need no encouragement to confirm that they are doing well and making productive contributions to society, all too often there is confusion, conflict, and resentment that clouds the issue. At times it may be necessary for individuals, groups, or organizations with greater standing in society to publicly and privately make gestures of affirmation to encourage people and groups that may not have such a clear sense of self-worth.
The unity and solidarity of a society are measures of its social cohesion. It is important to understand the extent to which people feel that they are all part of the same society and not distinct societies that just happen to reside in the same geography.
Society needs to have a coherent, explainable, and understandable vision about the aims and purposes of society and where it is headed.
People need to feel that they all share approximately the same vision of what society is all about and where it is going. That’s the ideal, although in reality there will be continual dissension over the details.
In addition to sharing the vision, members of society and groups need to feel that they are welcome to participate in the formulation and evolution of the shared vision. Granted, that is not really practical on a daily and personal basis, but people at least need to feel that their feedback is welcome and that elected representatives are enthusiastic and supportive of active discussion of the vision.
Leaders and members of society need to focus broadly and keep all aspects of society in mind at all times, but that’s a tall order. More commonly, individuals and groups may find themselves obsessing over some narrow and specific aspect of society. This tunnel vision can sometimes be good in the fact that it helps to focus limited attention, resources, and energy on a specific issue, increasing the likelihood that the issue will be addressed and resolved in a satisfactory manner, but it can also result in too-narrow a solution that may cause difficulties elsewhere in society, as well as distract attention from other urgent matters. Balance is needed.
Few things in life are all or nothing propositions. A balancing between competing propositions is commonly needed. There is commonly no clear and definitive balance, with a continual rebalancing needed as time passes and circumstances and sentiment evolve.
Incentive and motivation
Something has to motivate people to want to form, join, and remain a part of a society. They need some incentive, which can come from some combination of:
- Enhanced survival.
- Greater, better, and easier options for obtaining goods and services.
- Work and entrepreneurial opportunities for disposable income.
- Greater opportunities for social interaction.
- Greater opportunity for specialization of labor and ability to focus on interests.
Growth and expansion
Growth and expansion in a society can occur in many dimensions, including:
- Raw numbers, population
- Greater diversity
- More goods and services
- More communities
- More varied and diverse communities
- More government services
- More businesses
- More organizations
- More types of organizations
Growth and expansion in society is generally a good thing, but within limits, such as:
- Limited physical resources, including land, food, water, energy, housing.
- Limited capacity of communities to provide both services and an enduring sense of community.
- Degree to which social systems and governance can keep pace with the rate of growth and expansion.
Responsibility for growth and expansion is shared across all levels of society, from individuals to communities to business to organizations and to government.
In parallel with the growth of society as a whole, each individual needs the opportunity to grow as an individual, including:
- Development of talents
- Realize potential
- Pursue hopes and dreams
- Pursue aspirations
- Acquisition of new skills
- Spiritual growth
- Greater self-awareness
- Enhance quality of life
- Greater peace of mind
- Greater well-being
Abilities, talents, and potential
Each individual has their own innate abilities and possibly significant talent. It is the joint responsibility of the individual, the community, and society as a whole to develop and exploit the potential of the individual’s abilities and talents. Opportunities and encouragement can occur in a variety of forums, such as:
- The family
- School and education
- Community programs
- Higher education
- Entrepreneurial market opportunities
- Government grants
Abilities and talents are capabilities that an individual is born with. They will typically require significant development and practice to fully exploit their potential, but no degree of development or practice will help if the raw ability or raw talent is not already there at birth. This is in contrast with skills, which any normal person can develop, regardless of what special abilities or talents they were or weren’t born with.
Regardless of any special abilities or talents that some individuals are born with, skills are the capabilities that can be developed by all normal people.
Some skills may require above-average intellectual or physical qualities, but are otherwise achievable by normal individuals who commit themselves and work diligently to develop those skills.
Skill development has a number of components, including:
- Selection for any above-average level of intellectual or physical qualities that may be required.
- Specialized training.
- Testing for required knowledge and skills.
- On-the-job training.
- Certification of achievement of the particular skills.
- Periodic additional training as technology and techniques advance.
- Mentoring more junior individuals.
The term human potential is simply the umbrella concept for all of the potential of each individual member of society.
The basic idea is that each individual has tremendous potential which can be realized or achieved if:
- All basic needs are met.
- Access to the full spectrum of educational opportunities is provided.
- A very wide range of vocational opportunities are available.
- Free and open markets are available, both for employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
- General support and encouragement is provided by society as a whole.
- Members of communities support and assist each other.
Aspiration, hopes, and dreams
Most people have grand ideas about what they would like to be when they grow up and where they would like to go in life. These aspirations, hopes, and dreams fuel and provide the energy for productive pursuits, whether it be study in school, reading, or attacking their work in a passionate manner.
Society must encourage aspirations, hopes, and dreams as well as provide a wide variety of opportunities for pursuing them.
Ambition is a double-edged sword, fueling the laudable pursuit of aspirations, hopes, and dreams, but sometimes crossing the line and leading to dysfunctional behavior such as cheating, lying, and sabotage, or ultimately to pursuit of objectives without regard to the consequences.
Either way, society needs to play both sides, encouraging the positive aspects of ambition and discouraging and protecting against the negative aspects.
People are resilient and fully capable of coping with the wide range of pressures that arise in daily life, but at times their coping mechanisms become overloaded and dysfunction sets in. Individuals have primary responsibility for addressing stress, but organizations, friends, and family can play a positive role as well.
Unfortunately, extreme stress or an ongoing pattern of stress can lead to extreme dysfunction, including aberrant behavior, social withdrawal, substance abuse, violence, criminal behavior, or even suicide. Health problems can also occur, exacerbated by poor nutrition, poor exercise and mental unrest.
Those who are under severe stress are are also vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation and exploitation, such as capture by cults or extreme political movements.
A thriving society depends on individuals seeking to contribute to the overall well-being of society as well as themselves. Unfortunately, great stress can break that link between self and society, resulting in individuals going into survival mode where all they can think about is addressing their own immediate survival needs. The result is that they may survive but they and society won’t thrive.
Healthy and active individuals are subject to a constant stream of impulses, many useful and productive, but some not so useful and maybe even destructive or merely disruptive. Poor impulse control can lead to a wide range of dysfunctional behavior. Managing impulses is a primary responsibility of the individual, but social reinforcement is appropriate as well.
A key emphasis of a modern, western-style society is that there is no single center of all power, no traditional king or dictator. Pluralism is the rule, with power distributed in a variety of ways, with ultimate power retained by the people in the form of voting rights.
Modern, western-style societies also have a federated system of power distributed to regional political subdivisions, such as states in the United States.
Non-governmental organizations, including businesses, media outlets, religious institutions, political parties, and civil society organizations retain a level of influence and direct or indirect power in society as well, so that any central government is not the final word in society.
Individuals engage in a wide range of activities throughout their lives, some of which are natural or intuitive, but many of which require thought, planning, and careful attention to perform them. Human thought is required for:
- Performing nontrivial tasks
- Solving problems
- Identifying problems
- Carrying out a plan of action
- Responding to events as they occur
- Forming opinions
- Formulating arguments
- Formulating beliefs
- Evaluating knowledge
- Creating and working with ideas
Thought can have a variety of forms:
- Focused observation
- Intuitive leaps
- Asking what-if questions
Social discourse is a fundamental element of human society. The spoken and written word can be used for a number of purposes:
- Casual conversation
- Inquiries, such as directions, locations, and processes
- Education and training
- Expression of feelings
Communications can be problematic even in the best of situations due to the difficulty of interpretation. Literals words can have different interpretations in different contexts, to different groups, and to different individuals. Some may view seemingly simple words as code words for socially or politically significant issues.
Even completely innocent intentions can come across as cynical and manipulative in the wrong context.
Society must do its best to encourage open and clear communications, but ultimately the burden is on the individual to exercise diligence and caution to minimize the opportunity for misinterpretation, and to accept that misinterpretation is simply a fact of life in complex modern societies.
Speeches are a powerful form of communication, designed to deliver an important message to a broad audience. In addition to communicating raw information, speeches help to set the tone on some matter, and to motivate individuals to improve their engagement and performance.
Although many people are perfectly comfortable as they are currently situated, in their communities, organizations, and career, many people seek to broaden their options and experience by networking with other individuals who have the potential of providing them with information and contacts which have the potential to advance their careers or offer them new paths through life.
Many organizations offer specific opportunities for networking. Meetings and conferences frequently have explicit time and space allocated for networking. And even if no explicit time or space is allocated, informal networking can occur at any time in any place.
Networking comes nature to many people, while to others it is more problematic and takes a more conscious effort.
Reflection and contemplation
Not all conclusions are immediately obvious, nor are the solutions to all problems readily apparent, nor are initial thoughts always our best thoughts. Careful thought, reflection, and contemplation are frequently needed whenever:
- A problem has significant complexity.
- The consequences of a problem or its solutions may not be clear.
- Maybe the consequences of a problem or solution are clear, but are not considered acceptable, so better solutions are needed.
- Moral conundrums are involved.
- Dilemmas are involved.
- The problem superficially seems obvious, but also appears to be deceptive in some way.
- No acceptable solution is readily apparent.
- A solution is known, but there may be resistance or feelings may be hurt.
- The path forward may not be clear or seems blocked in some way.
Deduction, inference, and induction, when combined with careful observation, measurement, and scientific testing, can help to address and possibly even solve many real world problems. Mathematics, science, and computer systems depend on logic. Law, engineering, and medicine depend on logic as well. Business and even government benefit greatly from logic.
Limitations of logic
Many problems in life can be solved directly using a variety of the tools of formal logic, but not all. Basic deduction and inference are quite helpful. Unfortunately, induction is quite appealing but also problematic for real world situations, even though it works quite well for problems in theoretical mathematics.
Computer systems and software employ the basics of logic on a much grander scale, but the many publicized difficulties with computer systems and services only highlight the limitations of logic.
When logic fails or it is not readily apparent how to employ it, intuition frequently comes to the rescue. The human mind excelled at solving problems in life long before man developed sophisticated language skills and specialized language and techniques of formal logic.
The subconscious human mind has its own techniques for reasoning that may use some variants of logic, just not the superficial techniques of formal logic.
Intuition exists at the boundary between the conscious and subconscious portions of the mind, not fully a conscious process and not fully unconscious as well.
Reflection and contemplation are useful for tapping into intuition, but intuition is also capable of making snap judgments so that people can instantly proceed without the need for tedious conscious reasoning that might otherwise allow an immediate opportunity to slip away.
Meditation can be synonymous with reflection and contemplation, but may also be used for:
- Clearing the mind
- Personal awareness
- Spiritual awareness connection
Exchange of ideas
Evolution and progress of modern society depends on the evolution and communication of ideas. A modern society must have ample mechanisms, opportunities, encouragement, and reward for the free an enthusiastic exchange of ideas.
Individuals and groups at all levels of society evaluate alternative ideas and make decisions and take positions on which of competing ideas they find acceptable and which they find unacceptable. Their posture or position on a given idea is their mindset.
Different individuals and groups may adopt different positions on a given issue. This establishes competing mindsets, which sometimes can cause significant conflict, but not always.
Mindsets can be changed, but sometimes only with great difficulty and with great patience.
Sometimes tolerance is the more advisable path when mindsets conflict.
The evolution and progress of society frequently requires that mindsets be changed. Thoughtful reasoning and reasonable arguments can go a long way towards assisting the conversion of one mindset into another. Sometimes persuasion can be calm and orderly, while other times it can be passionate and maybe even disruptive.
Persuasion can be quite difficult, but is aided when the speaker has a position of some authority, giving their words a greater sense of urgency and making them more compelling. Some of the most effective bully pulpits are:
- High elected offices, especially leaders of countries.
- Senior business executives.
- Leaders of nonprofit organizations.
- Senior religious figures, such as clerics, bishops, and the pope.
Hearts and minds
Persuasion can be thought of as two parts, an emotional appeal, to the heart, and an intellectual appeal, to the mind. The general idea is that both are needed, and that appealing to only one will fail to persuasively convince many people.
A valuable first step in persuasion is to simply raise awareness of the facts on some matter. Sometimes awareness alone is sufficient to persuade.
In addition to informal discussion and formal negotiation, debate is an important part of public discourse. Debate can be formal or informal, and public or private. Court trials are effectively debates as well. Each side presents its points and arguments in their favor, and each side argues against the other side and defends its own points and arguments.
A successful debate does not necessary answer the question as to which side is right, but does give the audience an opportunity to decide for themselves whose points and arguments seem most valid. Even if held in private, with no audience, a debate gives the debaters an opportunity to explore the validity of their own points and arguments and whether the points and arguments of the other side might have some value or even overwhelm their own.
Nothing in a debate presumes that the debaters actually believe their own points and arguments. Sometimes playing the devil’s advocate is a good way to test the validity of an argument.
Dysfunctional human nature
For all of their good qualities, people, groups, and organizations can also act in ways that are counter to a sense of goodness and the common good of society as a whole. Such social animus manifests itself in many forms, such as:
- Spiteful, envious, jealous, resentful
- Incitement, baiting, fighting words
- Group-centric thinking and behavior
- Criminal behavior that has social animus rather than economics as its primary motivation
Social animus dysfunction can range from mere annoyance to outright harm that can come at a number of levels:
- To specific individuals
- Self-harm to the dysfunctional individual or group themselves
- To a specific group of individuals
- To entire organizations
- To entire segments of society
- To entire strata of society
- To government and its ability to provide various services
- To all of society
Government will be forced to respond when any negative effects become pervasive or a threat to government itself.
Local communities and law enforcement may be sufficient to cope with localized dysfunction.
Action by the federal government may be required in more extreme situations.
Useful and correct information is essential in a modern, western-style society, but idle and malicious gossip works in opposition to harmony and reason.
Gossip tends to ambiguously be both tolerated and discouraged, on the presumption that much of it is relatively harmless, but care must be exercised by all members of society to assure that mere gossip does not gain currency and replace useful and correct information, fairness, and justice.
Speculation can be a great tool to pursue advances in science, but can easily be abused as well. Without a clear method for proving or disproving a speculative proposition, people are at risk of presuming it to be true, which can be misleading or even harmful or destructive.
Imagination fuels creativity, which is an essential capability for any modern society, but an overactive imagination can have negative consequences for society. Finding balance is essential. Channeling imagination into productive pursuits is a valuable skill that society needs to encourage.
Beyond simple imagination, fantasy permits us to create and experience scenarios that may not be practical, desirable, or acceptable in the real world. Fantasy can be a satisfying diversion from the pressures of life, but if taken too far can have negative consequences for society, either because the individual begins to live in their artificial fantasy world and detaches themselves from reality or attempts to misguidedly create their fantasy in the real world. Finding balance is essential.
Government may on occasion find the need or at least be tempted to engage in the communication of misleading information to the public, nominally for some perceived public good, such as during times of great distress. Generally, it should be avoided.
Lacking a strong sense of harmony, disharmony takes root and can rapidly undermine a society. Manifestations of disharmony include:
- Lack of respect
- Lack of shared values
- Conspiracy theories
At a minimum, disharmony saps the efficiency and productivity of a society. At the extreme, it can disrupt and even split or destroy a society.
Feelings of disharmony are not uncommon, but usually are transient and dissipate with the passage of a little time.
Pain can have physical, mental, and social aspects. Not all pain can always be avoided, although many forms of pain can be prevented through careful attention and diligence, or at least alleviated when it does occur. In any case, society must be prepared for the fact that pain will be an all too common occurrence, and provide a wide variety of mechanisms to prevent, alleviate, moderate, and mitigate pain when it does occur. Much of the burden does fall on the individual or parents of children, but society must assure that services to cope with pain are readily available to individuals.
Suffering can have many causes, all of which result in some significant degree of pain, distress, or hardship. As with pain in general, much of the burden falls on individuals and families, but society should assure that a variety of services are available to aid people with preventing and coping with suffering, either from the private sector, direct government services, or nonprofit organizations.
Struggle may or may not involve great pain or great suffering, but can still be quite stressful and even debilitating. Sometimes struggle can be self-inflicted, but commonly is a result of difficulty with external issues which present a difficult challenge or obstacle.
Health issues, money issues, relationship issues, and social unrest are common causes for personal struggle.
Generally, struggle is a personal matter for the individual to resolve, although some cases involve larger social, economic, or political issues so that society and government may be called upon to help out.
Disabilities are also a cause for struggle, one which society is expected to provide assistance with.
People can become disoriented in a number of ways:
- Their identity
- Where they are
- When it is
- What the situation is
- Why they are here
- Where they are supposed to be
- What is expected of them
Disorientation can occur at the social level as well, such as:
- Group and organization orientation
- What to do next
- What to defend and what to let go
- What to change and when to change it
Society needs a wide variety of mechanisms for coping with disorientation.
The first step is to identify and analyze the cause of the disorientation. It may be a transient factor, or it may be the onset of a permanent change.
Anxiety and distress
Anxiety and feelings of distress are early warning signals that disharmony may be about to start setting in. These are not uncommon feelings, but normally they get resolved in a fairly prompt manner, restoring harmony in short order. It is the responsibility of both individuals and community leaders to assure that this process occurs as expeditiously as possible.
Criticism and legitimate complaint
Opportunity and the right to criticize all aspects of society is essential, both for individual freedom as well as for the health and growth of society itself.
Criticism and complaints are welcome in society, provided that they are legitimate and seek redress of legitimate grievances or to improve society as a whole rather than merely being vindictive and self-serving.
Criticism and complaint need to be focused and directly in a manner that both offers a redress of legitimate grievance and advances society as a whole. Mere whining is very common, but not very productive.
Individuals and groups may perceive what they consider problems with society or with some organization or some group, or possibly a business or even the government itself. Those problems may or may not be real. Even if real, the exact nature and exact cause of the problem may not be clearly discerned. Even if nature and cause are clearly known, the precise identity of the persons or groups responsible for the problem may not be clear. Even if the culpable party is clear, their precise motives may not be clear. Despite all of the potential for uncertainty, individuals or groups may fabricate elaborate narratives and stories that fill in all the gaps or at least speculate and raise suspicions about who, what, when, where, and why the alleged problems occurred. The alleged facts, narrative, or stories may or may not be accurate or true, but may at least seem compelling. A conspiracy theory is born. Once it takes root, it snowballs as individuals and organizations sharing the same fears and bias breathe new and increased life into the narrative and stories at each telling.
Conspiracy theories can sometimes be merely sideshows and more entertaining than harmful, but some can be quite harmful to individuals, groups, and society as a whole if allowed to take root and thrive. There is no substitute for the truth, but conspiracy theories continue to have their appeal.
Sometimes conspiracies actually do arise. Two or more individuals or a group may make an agreement to pursue some criminal or civil or political harm.
Law enforcement pursues such matters on behalf of society, at least once they are detected. Undetected conspiracies are a real problem for society.
Although the number of undetected conspiracies is unknown, there are probably many more conspiracy theories than actual conspiracies, or at least a lot more references and retellings of conspiracy theories.
Every individual and group is entitled to their own views on any matter.
No permission is required to hold any view.
Individuals and groups will with some frequency come to agreement with their views, either because they literally share identical views, they accept views from others, they accept arguments in favor of views, or some authority persuades them to accept views. Acceptance of the views of others allows individuals or groups to come to agreement, which in turn permits the individuals or groups to act in concert or at least coexist in a reasonable degree of harmony.
Agreement is not required of all individuals and all groups on all issues in a modern, western-style society. Dissent is actually welcomed and encouraged, leading to greater diversity and a healthier society.
Dissent can indeed be very healthy, but can easily degenerate into divisiveness if not carefully handled.
Serious disharmony can result in subgroups within a society that are at odds with each other in a non-productive manner.
Extreme divisiveness results when two distinct subgroups within society take positions on some issue that are as polar opposite as could be imagined. There is no problem with people having divergent views, provided that they can remain civil in their disagreement, but all to often the divergence becomes irreconcilable and conflict erupts into open hostility.
A goal of society is to encourage a convergence of interests, but society must also cope with the fact that sometimes the interests of different individuals and different groups diverge, sometimes dramatically, and sometimes in an apparently irreconcilable manner.
Sometimes the divergence is temporary and reverts back to a convergence, eventually, but oftentimes the divergence can persist for an extended period.
Sometimes society can intervene and cure or moderate the divergence, but sometimes it must be left to the individuals and groups to resolve matters on their own, at their own pace, in their own manner.
Polarization and divergence can bloom into outright culture wars, with two or more sides that view society in two very different ways, based on a variety of social, economic, and political views. The net result is a constant tug of war between the two camps, one dominating over the other for short periods, with the dominance constantly switching, or devolving into stalemate and gridlock for extended periods as well.
Time and evolution of views will eventually resolve culture wars, although there is no way to prevent the emergence of a new culture war based on similar or other factors in the future.
The other and us vs. them
Social harmony comes in large part as a result of each member of society identifying with all that we each have in common. We accept differences, but focus on what is in common. The concept of The Other instead focuses on differences rather than what individuals or groups may have in common. Society gets divided into Us and Them. Disharmony sets in.
With or without society, life is a competition for limited resources or at least preferred resources, or simply advantage over another. Society addresses competition in three ways:
- Acknowledging it as an essential part of human nature.
- Encouraging it as a way to encourage improvement and growth in society.
- Moderating it when it becomes excessive and harmful.
Competition may occur at any of the levels of society:
- Between individuals
- Between siblings
- Between neighbors
- Between groups
- Between organizations
- Between countries
Competition manifests itself as rivalry, which may be friendly, benevolent, and beneficial to society, but can also be detrimental if taken to extremes.
Protection of interests
Every level of society seeks to protect its own interests. The common good does encourage sharing and respect for the interests of others, but competition and rivalry, as well as outright criminal intentions, can at times put interests at risk. Society has a variety of mechanisms to ensure that interests are protected from any unfair assault, such as:
- Law enforcement.
- Processes for pursuing claims for conflicts between interests.
- Moral suasion and sense of decency.
- Physical protection, such as locks, walls, and fences.
All levels of society have the potential for acting in a defensive manner if they feel that their interests are threatened. Such reactions may be perfectly legitimate, legal, and socially acceptable, or not.
At times defensive reactions may be technically acceptable, but nonetheless harmful to harmony in society in some way. Sometimes defensive reactions are needed to repel unacceptable change, while at other times needed change may be blocked or unnecessarily delayed by excessive defensive reactions.
It is a very difficult call to make as to whether existing interests truly are socially defensible in terms of the overall progress of society and the protection of the rights of the individual, or whether otherwise defensible interests must be infringed in some socially acceptable manner to accommodate needed change and progress, for society as a whole.
Politics is covered in greater breadth and depth in the paper on Elements of Government, with only a few key elements introduced here which focus on the context of society.
Politics is not limited strictly to the seeking of public office. It occurs at all levels of society. Politics has two aspects:
- The pursuit of power.
- The protection of interests.
Politics can occur:
- Internationally, between countries
- Nationally, between political parties and national candidates
- Nationally, over laws and policies, such as in Congress
- Regionally, within state governments
- Locally, between political parties and candidates
- Within organizations
- Within units of organizations
- Within an office — office politics
- Between groups in a community
- Within a community group
- Within a neighborhood
All politics is local
As lofty, abstract, and national or global as politics may seem, ultimately politicians have to face the music of how their decisions will play back home with their constituents or the constituents of colleagues and allies whom they depend upon for political support.
The party garnering the most votes in a given election cycle will achieve a majority which entitles it to call the shots in government, or at least a part of government.
Political spectrum, left, and right
Although political parties can be based on any ideology, the tendency is that they lie somewhere on a spectrum, ranging from far right to far left.
Conservatives are on the right, seeking to preserve the status quo or to roll back any liberal elements of government, and to keep government limited. More extreme conservatives occupy the far right wing of the political spectrum.
Liberals are on the left, seeking to maintain and pursue an expansive, progressive role for government in all aspects of society. More extreme liberals occupy the far left wing of the political spectrum.
Moderates and centrists lie in the middle, but tending to lean a little more to the center-right or the center-left.
Dominant political party
A healthy society will have more than one political party. The existence of multiple parties is effectively a check on excess by a single party. The major parties will tend to exchange power, one being dominant for some stretch of time, until the people decide that they have a greater need for whatever the other party has to offer and give them a majority in an election cycle.
The dominant party will have the opportunity to refashion government to more closely align it with their own ideology. Over time, as the various parties jockey for and switch control, the alternation of ideologies will tend to average between the ideologies, producing a more moderate government than if only a single party dominated.
When one party dominates, the other party or parties function as the opposition. They may seek to thwart the policy changes of the dominant party, but they may also have the effect of simply moderating the policies of the dominant party.
At a minimum, the opposition party will keep the flame of their party and its ideology alive, pending the inevitable transition to switch from the current dominant party to the current opposition party becoming the new dominant party.
Society generally concerns itself with affairs within the national boundaries of a country, but there can be social impacts and interactions across national boundaries in a variety of ways:
- Diplomatic and other inter-governmental relations between countries.
- International treaty organizations.
- Commerce between countries,
- Multinational businesses.
- International organizations.
- Travel and tourism by individuals, groups, and organizations.
- Educational opportunities, especially at the post-secondary level.
- Cultural exchange.
- Media coverage.
- Armed conflict.
- Threat of armed conflict.
- Outright war and invasion.
Desperation over government
Government and the people can on occasion get out of sync. One may see the other as being out of touch with the other. Sometimes the feeling can be pervasive throughout society, or maybe isolated to only some groups or strata of society.
Sometimes government must change or be changed to bring it back in sync with the will of the people. Sometimes even revolution is needed, but sometimes it is merely a few policy changes that are needed. Or maybe an election to change the leadership or even the balance of power in government.
Sometimes government is actually on the right track but ahead of the curve relative to the people. Sometimes simply time needs to pass so that the people can gradually come around to a reality that was not so readily apparent to them.
Sometimes the difficulty is with a specific group and only some of the groups or demographic sectors of society. Maybe they simply need time or encouragement to come around, or maybe policy changes are needed to facilitate an adjustment process on either side.
In any case, communication, discussion, and debate are frequently needed to resolve feelings of desperation that involve government.
Accountability of government
Government needs to be held accountable to the will of the people. Accountability comes from many sources:
- Actions of elected representatives.
- Elections to confirm or replace current elected officials.
- Transparency so that people can see what is actually transpiring in government.
- Media scrutiny.
- Activist scrutiny
- Oversight and checks and balances between the branches of government.
- Civil law suits.
Extreme disharmony and extreme divisiveness and polarization can result in outright conflict.
At the simplest level, parties in conflict may simply refuse to interact any further or only in a superficial, perfunctory manner if required by contract or higher authority.
Conflict is by its nature dysfunctional and to be avoided or resolved.
Conflict can occur at many levels, from individual citizens to entire countries and even between countries or groups of countries.
Unless resolved, conflict can lead to hostilities.
Societies have a wide range of mechanisms for resolution of conflicts.
At worst, force can be used to suppress or repress the conflicting parties.
At the simplest level, individuals can resolves their inter-personal conflicts on their own.
Friends, colleagues, neighbors, or even strangers can intervene and assist in achieving a resolution.
Law enforcement officers can occasionally talk parties down in disputes.
Courts can resolve suits between aggrieved parties, including individuals, businesses, organizations, and even governments.
Respected or authoritative members of society can advise the aggrieved parties to help them peacefully resolve their grievances.
Disputes between different agencies of government or different levels of government can frequently be resolved simply with discussions, but may also require intercession of the courts.
Countries can use direct talks and diplomatic procedures to work through disputes.
Third party countries can work back channels to help the disputing countries achieve a satisfactory resolution.
International tribunals are sometimes needed to resolve disputes between countries.
Disputes between countries can take many years or even decades to resolve.
And sometimes disputes between countries can lead to armed conflict and even invasion, where military victory is the resolution to the conflict.
Disputes and conflicts can frequently be resolved through formal adjudication, such as:
- Civil law suit
- Mediation with an arbiter
- Formal administrative appeal process
Beyond mere disagreement, unresolved conflict can result in dysfunctional behavior, such as:
- Refusal to interact
- Quarreling and argument
- Refusal to comply with prior agreements
- Outright fighting
- Physical harm and destruction of property
Disharmony and conflict can occur at the personal level of particular individuals, small groups, larger groups, or whole segments of society.
At a larger scale, conflict can be manifested as a wide range of hostile manners of behavior:
- Expressions of indignation and outrage
- Protests, demonstrations, marches, and rallies
- Civil disobedience
- Civil war
The more disruptive forms of hostility are discussed in more detail in the paper on Elements of Government.
Agitation, indignation and outrage
People on occasion experience something in society that that they feel just isn’t right. They feel agitated, even indignant. They may or may not attempt to have the issue corrected, and may or may not have succeeded in getting a correction. Either way, there may still be a lingering feeling of indignation at the unfairness of the situation. That indignation may boil over and fuel full-blown outrage. That outrage may find an outlet with strong words alone, or may take a turn towards outright hostile action and even destructive violence.
Society needs a variety of mechanisms for coping with indignation and outrage, to avoid it, to moderate it, to mitigate it, or simply to deal with the aftermath. Involvement of law enforcement may be required, but is certainly not desired.
A strongly preferred outcome in any conflict is reconciliation, where all parties accept the outcome and have had an opportunity to air their grievances and feel that the other parties acknowledge them.
Apology, forgive, and forget
Conflict and dispute are inevitable. The important thing is to reach a sense of reconciliation as quickly as possible. Only when the offending party apologizes for the offense and the offended party forgives the offense can the parties move on from the dispute. Restitution may be required as well. A commitment to improve the relationship may be necessary as well.
That said, true, heartfelt apologies and forgiveness are unfortunately quite rare. People tend not to forget most grievances. Still, the ideal exists and society should exert significant energy to promote it and to acknowledge it, and is the better for doing so.
An act of forgiveness is considered an act of grace, an undeserved gift to the transgressor by the transgressed. The motivation for such an act may simply be to end the grief that the transgressed party is experiencing and would otherwise continue to experience should they harbor a grudge rather than experience the relief from performing an act of grace.
Grief is a feeling of deep sorrow or sadness that results from some traumatic loss. Grieving is a burden that an individual carries around with them long after the initial traumatic event.
The passage of time can relieve all or at least some of the grief.
If the traumatic event was the direct result of the actions of another person, forgiveness may be the only avenue for relief. An apology by the transgressor may help.
The grieving process is mostly a personal responsibility, with the primary responsibility of families and communities being to give people time and space to grieve in their own way.
On occasion individuals may become overwhelmed by grief and need professional or spiritual counseling.
It is also possible that grief could trigger underlying mental health issues.
Even a most civilized society may have occasion to get pulled into a war, possibly due to invasion or threat to interests abroad. War can be very disruptive to society, but can also have a very unifying effect on society.
The main problem with war, besides the death and destruction, is the redirection and consumption of valuable resources, including the talent and energy of the people.
Peace is a laudable goal and can sometimes even be achieved, but more commonly it is more an aspiration than a practical reality. A nominal sense of peace can sometimes be achieved, but that can be more of a temporary cessation of active hostilities while the underlying conflict remains intact and simmers under the surface, ready to blossom into a renewed status of war at any time.
A workable formula for lasting peace remains elusive.
Occasionally conflicts settle into a stasis where they do not get resolved and consume a small enough amount of resources where the parties feel that they can continue without resolution indefinitely, maybe predicated on the presumption that each party believes that it can outlast the other.
This is a significant social problem that does not have a solution at the present time and deserves a lot more attention and research.
Although a free and open society is the desired goal, there are occasions or circumstances in which a variety of restrictions might be instituted and enforced, beyond bans on outright criminal activity, not all of which are necessarily strictly legal or desirable, such as:
- Prohibition of libel.
- Prohibition of slander.
- Prohibition of incitement and fighting words.
- Public decency restrictions for speech, dress, and behavior.
- Prohibition of sexual relations with minors.
- Prohibition of disclosure of confidential, trade secret, or classified information.
- Outright censorship based on content.
- Access restrictions for security or to avoid unrest.
- Curfews in circumstances of unrest.
- Marshal law in circumstances of outright chaos.
Some individuals and groups occasionally get it in their heads that society itself, the system, is causing more problems than it’s worth. They reason that we would be better off without such a complex social order and with a powerful government. Anarchy has its adherents, and has for quite some time. They pine for a simpler form of governance, but they are a very distinct minority.
Some anarchists are quite peaceful and seek only peaceful governance, but others seek to eliminate the current social order at all costs, including extreme violence and terrorism.
Terrorism is an extreme form of influencing government and society. It is primarily a psychological weapon, seeking to dramatically disrupt government and society, but more through mental terror, angst, and anxiety than any actual physical harm and destruction that they may use as a tool to cause psychological distress. Raw physical harm and destruction are a key aspect of terrorism, but that’s the starting point or opening act rather than the main show. Fear of what might follow an act of terrorism is as much a part of the impact as the initial harm and damage.
Although society can seek to deter and prevent terrorism, the ultimate best defense is for all members of society to resolve that they will not allow any act of terrorism to distract them from continuing their daily lives and productive pursuits. Sure, one can’t help from noticing an act of terror, but one can indeed refrain from focusing and obsessing over it, which only inadvertently propagates the precise psychological harm that the terrorists intended as their primary objective.
Elements of basic social order
Before a people can get to the point of constructing a government and having a robust economy, some basic social order is needed, not unlike the animal world or early man before the advent of what we would call civilization or cities. The elements of basic social order are:
- Communities and neighborhoods
Collectively, individuals, families, and communities and neighborhoods are what we mean when we describe The People, as distinct from formal government as would be found in the large-scale civilization of cities, states, and countries.
Families are more of a biological construct than a formal organization per se, but nonetheless provide a foundation for organizing society. The family provides a venue for:
- Raising children.
- Early education of children.
- Teaching manners, courtesy, generosity, tolerance, compassion, empathy, patience, and personal hygiene to children.
- Teaching children the basics of money management and personal responsibility.
- Imparting a moral compass to children.
The traditional nuclear family consisting of a household with two parents and children is the common norm in a modern, western-style society.
Individuals in a modern, western-style society tend to reside in a household, with the norm being a single nuclear family, individual, couple, or roommates per household. Technically, a single physical household may contain more than one actual household due to unrelated individuals residing in the same home.
A residence will typically be a house, a complete, detached dwelling, an apartment, or some hybrid dwelling.
The traditional nuclear family is the cornerstone of modern, western-style society, but the extended family is emphasized as well. In some cases, relatives may live under the same roof, but the common arrangement is more informal, with occasional visits and assistance.
Kinship or blood relationship, such as with extended families, is still a significant factor in relations within even a modern society, but not nearly as strong as in older societies.
Formation of families
Despite their basic biological simplicity, families should not be taken for granted. Formation and evolution of families is a difficult and complex process. Formation of a family requires thoughtful consideration of:
- Life goals — where one intends to go in life.
- Choosing a mate — what qualities is one looking for in the person they intend to spend the rest of their life with.
- Having sufficient income and career potential to afford to support a family.
- Having access to suitable housing for a family.
- Readiness to make a commitment to decades of commitment to a family.
- Deciding when to make the leap and form a family, possibly or typically by marrying.
Most of these considerations are the responsibility of the individuals seeking to form a family, but society must provide sufficient resources, systems, policies, and encouragement for the formation of families.
For most purposes, household and family will be treated as synonyms, so that household formation is treated the same as formation of families. Unrelated individuals living under the same roof may legally consider themselves as separate households, each with its own head of household.
Evolution of families
Even after formed, families will evolve over time, including aspects such as:
- Deciding what one wants to do with their life.
- Deciding to form a family.
- Selecting a mate.
- Assuring adequate income to support the household.
- Deciding where to live and work.
- Deciding how to live, lifestyle, and type of home.
- Deciding how to relate and be involved with neighbors and community.
- Deciding whether and when to have children, and how many.
- Actually having children.
- Raising children.
- Deciding on pets.
- Possibly having relatives stay for extended periods.
- Moving as household size, employment opportunities, and lifestyle considerations evolve.
- Adjusting budget and employment based on evolving family circumstances.
- Dealing with children going away to school and college.
- Decision to break up a family (divorce.)
- How to adjust to children leaving the nest.
Members of society interact with each other for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Collaboration and cooperation to achieve some end that they cannot achieve alone
- Criminal intent such as theft and killing
Interactions may involve:
- Use of language
- Simple physical contact
- More intense physical contact
Society has a wide variety of conventions and norms for interactions. Groups and subgroups may have their own variations and norms.
Individuals interact with each other as they have since the earliest days of humanity. Basic human relations have evolved, language is much more advanced, etiquette and convention have evolved, but many of the common interactions between individuals are basically unchanged over the eons.
The most basic relationship between individuals is friendship. Acquaintance is really the most basic, a recognition that someone is not a threatening stranger and may occasionally be of assistance and present opportunity for collaboration.
Residential neighbors can form casual friendships, as can colleagues at places of employment.
Beyond friendship, people form a range of more intensive relationships, from close friends to intimate partners.
Social relations or social interactions
Each relationship will exhibit a pattern of social interactions. Who does what for whom, when, why, and what do they get in return, who wields more power, and who yields to whom, when, why, and how. These social relations define the relationship.
Patterns of relationships
Although each pair or small group of individuals can decide for themselves what relationship they wish to have, a large enough society will begin to exhibit a relatively small number of patterns of relationships. In other words, any given relationship will have a lot in common with many other relationships that follow the same pattern.
Bonding is the process by which relationships are formed, including:
- Between mother and child
- Close friendships
- Between individuals who work very closely together
- Romantic partners
- Team members
Bonding results from a combination of emotional attachment and trust.
Relationships can be quite informal and relatively noncommittal, but some degree of commitment tends to evolve.
Commitments can be ina variety of forms:
- Personal relationship
- Family obligations
- Military service
A commitment may have an actual, legally-binding contract, or may simply be a promise or an understanding.
A promise is a verbal commitment that carries a sense of moral commitment even if not a legally binding contractual commitment. Many promises are made, but not all are kept.
Short of a morally binding promise, individuals, groups, and organizations can also commit to informal understandings, that the parties agree to behave or treat each other in a certain manner, provided that the parties find the understanding to be mutually beneficial.
Marriage provides a formal recognition of a fairly intense level of commitment. Marriage is commonly used as the foundation for forming a family, typically with the intention of having and raising children.
Reproduction of offspring is an essential activity for the survival of a society. Although marriage is the primary context for mating, it is not an absolute requirement.
Children have a very special place in society as the beginnings of the next generation for the future of society. The essential context for raising children includes:
- Religious and spiritual development
- Recreational activities
Raising of children
Although the primary responsibility for raising children lies with parents and family, society as a whole bears responsibility for providing an overall social context that is friendly to the raising of children and assures that parents and families have adequate access to all of the resources needed to raise children.
Communities may take on the appearance of simple forms of government, but those who participate in governance of a community are still more members of the community participating in the day to day activities of the community than a separate status class that focuses primarily on governance.
Communities are little more than the modern equivalent of the tribes and primitive villages of early man, at least in terms of overall structure and roles.
Larger communities will be comprised of some number of relatively discrete neighborhoods, so that each neighborhood is more like the simpler form of community described above. These larger communities begin to take on the structure of a more formal government, with individuals and groups who can begin to be designated as formal government officials rather than merely individuals participating in governance of the community.
People are willing to tolerate some amount of social structure because they feel that the get a benefit from the arrangement that feels like a fair deal. Fairness is everything in a just society.
Exactly how to measure fairness can be subjective and even problematic. Of particular difficulty is the tension between equality and merit. There are two competing and conflicting philosophies of what is to be considered fair:
- As you sow, so shall you reap
- From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs
The latter focuses on each member of society getting an equal benefit from the bounty of society, while the former focuses on encouraging members of society to build a greater and better society from which all will benefit even if those who invest the greater effort reap a greater reward, as long as everybody gets at least a little more than without that incentive.
There is no ultimate resolution to the tension, other than to tolerate a continual balancing between the two philosophies so that if overall fairness gets too out of whack then the balancing bias will tend to shift in the opposite direction.
The individual members of society are rarely equal in their abilities, motivations, skills, experience, and expertise. Rather, equality in a society is more about:
- Equality before the law (governance, justice)
- Equal access to opportunity
- Equal access to goods and services
Absolute equality is an impossible goal. Approximating equality within some threshold is the best people can hope for. There will be continual tension about what that threshold should be, and it will need to be rebalanced as feedback from the members of society dictates.
The degree of lack of equality will be the source of an ongoing debate in society and government. Exactly what to measure and how to measure it will be a matter of ongoing dispute as well. How to address inequality is an issue that will engender great debate, and on occasion actual progress will be made.
The only thing that people can agree on is that inequality is not a positive force in society. Even then, some will argue that inequality experienced by an individual is the very incentive that society needs to force individuals to pursue productive pursuits and maximize their own potential.
Having the right to do something is not the same as having opportunity or access to opportunity. Opportunities include:
- Where to live
- Jobs to consider
- Education choices
- Relationship and mating choices
- Association choices
- Organization choices
- Religion and spiritual choices
- Leadership roles and public offices to seek
People need to feel that society is providing them with opportunities and choices, and sufficient access to those opportunitis and choices.
Like the seeds of plants, it can be beneficial to society and organizations within society to offer special access to opportunity as a way of encouraging personal and organizational growth, such as:
- A small amount of money, a subsidy, or a loan
- A special introduction
- Access to experts
- Access to a mentor
- A special program
- A fast track
- Special advice
Seeds or seed opportunities or seed investments can be of special value to members of disenfranchised groups.
There is a constant struggle within society as to how much weight to give to merit as opposed to absolute equality in reaping the bounty of society.
Each society will give merit a different weight, and even within a single society its weight will evolve over time, sometimes slowly and incrementally, and by leaps and lurches at others.
The basic conflict is how to allow and encourage individuals to grow and reach their true potential while assuring basic fairness at the same time.
Ultimately, some degree of emphasis on merit tends to be tolerated in order to both assure the survival of society and to enhance the net benefit to most of the members of society.
In a truly fair and just society there would be no sense of status, of one person being above or below another, even when merit is accepted and rewarded, but the reality in modern society is that not only is status still rampant, but it is even worse in many ways. The good news is that status is no longer permanent and fixed at birth but can be changed merely by the merit of one’s actions.
People are judged more in modern society, sometimes even more harshly, but there are so many opportunities for overcoming status.
In traditional, medieval society one’s position in society was synonymous with one’s status and was independent of the merit of one’s life.
In modern society, achievement and merit determine position.
Yes, who you know, money, and politics can impact position as well, but can be overcome with achievement and merit.
Social standing or social rank
In traditional, medieval society social standing or social rank was about status and position that one was born into and had little to do with merit or achievement.
In modern society, everyone nominally has the same social standing, with no sense of a distinct social rank, although informally some may be accorded higher or lower standing based on merit and achievement, as well as some overall sense of their goodness and value to society.
Yes, who you know, money, and politics can impact social standing or rank as well, but can be overcome with achievement and merit.
Social status and social position
Social standing, social rank, social status, and social position are all roughly synonyms. Again, in modern society, achievement and merit can always overcome birth and inherited wealth in terms of establishing an individual’s social status or social position.
Sure, who you know and being connected still matter, but the hallmark of modern, western-style society is the complete awe and reverence people have for raw achievement and merit. Celebrities, stars, and entrepreneurs are the real kings and princes, not because of birth and inherited privilege, but simply because of what they are able to do with resources that are available to everyone.
That said, those with lesser or no significant achievements, accomplishments, or merit will tend to be accorded a lower social status, position, rank, and standing. Even that said, neither success nor failure is a permanent state of affairs for anybody in a modern, western-style society. Reversals of fortune are quite common.
Some degree of social recognition and special treatment does indeed tend to come with achievement, but again this is less a matter of birth and inherited wealth or privilege than the nature of one’s achievements.
In traditional, medieval society one’s status and position or social standing determined one’s title.
In modern society, titles are more about function and employment than social standing. Elected and appointed officials have titles, but they also relate more to function and merit than social position.
Prestige and social acclaim
The achievements and accomplishments of an individual or team can give them a level of prestige and social acclaim that is given informally, collectively by the members of society rather than as a traditional, formal social status.
The true social status of an individual in modern society is their reputation. Even if their achievements and accomplishments do not rise to the level of prestige, other members of society in their community, family, and whatever organizations and social groups they are a member of will informally assess and assign them a reputation.
Reputation is a valuable commodity in modern society, as valuable or even more valuable than title, class, or social rank in traditional, medieval society.
There are a wide variety of customs, conventions, traditions, norms, rules, and laws governing behavior by the members of society. Impropriety is behavior that goes too far outside the norms in a way that arouses attention and suspicion. There may not be an actual technical violation of rules and laws, but the sense of violation of social norms can be a source of distress in society and damages one’s reputation.
Even the appearance of impropriety can raise alarm in society. The common wisdom is that where there is smoke there is fire. The recommended conduct for all is to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
People trust individuals and organizations, as well as government itself, to the degree that they feel they have credibility. Credibility comes in large part from reputation, but mostly it comes from a history and track record of delivering quality service over an extended period of time.
Class really has two distinct meanings:
- Traditionally, the social standing or status of the group one was born into, which cannot be changed, regardless of merit or achievement.
- In modern, western-style society, the socioeconomic status of an individual, which may have been an accident of birth, but tends to correlate with achievement and merit-based economic performance and motivation.
So, yes, you can still be born into an elevated or denigrated social and economic status, but transitioning to an improved social and economic status is readily or at least supposed to be readily available to all individuals in a modern, western-style society.
Granted, economic transitions can be quite problematic, but are also quite common, even though there may be prolonged periods of social and economic distress when upwards economic transitions are not only less common but overwhelmed by economic transitions in the opposite direction. The good news is that such periods eventually end and are followed by extended periods of economic rejuvenation.
Resentment based on economic status is still a real and persistent phenomenon, rising and falling as the economy and economic opportunity rise and fall. Politicians and social activists will frequently seek to exploit such resentment, but over time adjustment within the economy tends to attenuate such exploitation.
Modern, western-style societies are by definition classless, not because there is not even a vestige of the traditional heritage and birth-based model of class, but because the very social contract of a modern democracy gives primacy to the concept of equality.
Individuals can claim membership to a segment of society, such as gender, race, national origin, or economic status, but no such membership carries any weight as a class in modern society, especially one which rewards achievement and merit. Changing your economic status is a very real prospect for every individual in society. You can’t change your race or national origin, but discrimination on such status is banned, at least in theory, although in practice it can frequently be problematic. But the point is that demographic characteristics are not permanent barriers as they were before modern times.
No elected office is available only to a prescribed class. Even the lowliest economic status can aspire to the loftiest of offices.
Social leveling and leveling mechanisms
Elimination of class distinction in a modern society requires social leveling, using a variety of leveling mechanisms to at least approximate the appearance and feeling of a classless society, such as:
- One man, one vote.
- Equality as a core value.
- Rights that assure equality.
- Elimination of traditional classes, titles, and social distinctions.
- Free elementary and secondary education.
- Much greater access to education in general.
- Much greater access to economic opportunity.
- Voluntary contributions to charitable organizations.
- Government welfare programs.
Modern, western-style societies do not use strict leveling mechanisms in the sense of the traditional socialist model of to each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities.
Economic and social stratification
Despite the classless nature of modern, western-style society, some degree of stratification does tend to occur, sometimes due to social factors, but mostly due to income factors. There is the upper class, middle class, lower class, professional class, and working class, but these are strata more than class in that they are not necessarily permanent for life and can change over time, both as economic conditions evolve and education and skills evolve.
Status and social order remain present and active in society despite their violation of the emphasis on equality, fairness, and a classless society. Maybe it is simply inherent from our animal heritage, but an old-fashioned pecking order seems wholly inappropriate for a modern society.
The flip side is that a strict, command and control hierarchy is an organizational tool that has withstood the tests of time.
The real issue is not the benefit of a hierarchy to an organization, but the need to be wary of abuse of that hierarchical status for personal gain and perceived punitive retribution for perceived slights.
Despite the classless, meritocratic nature of modern societies, it is still quite possible for individual families to exert an outsize influence on society, either from the social, political, or economic perspectives. Sometimes it is simply money that keeps the dynasty going, but just as commonly there is some enduring social quality that the rest of society finds appealing and gives the family a dynastic quality rather than being simply another family with money.
At least superficial respectful treatment is a requirement for complex modern societies. That is not to say that people don’t harbor significant anger or resentment and feelings of hostility towards others, but simply that they acknowledge that society cannot survive if everyone acted out every negative thought they had towards others.
Some amount of incivility is tolerated even in the best of societies since human nature is not flawlessly perfect at all times. The only requirement is that such flashes of incivility be severely limited and are not permitted to grow and fester and turn into hardened hearts or even transition to acts of violence. Granted, that does still happen with too great a frequency, but the goal is to minimize and discourage it.
Criticism, even relatively harsh criticism, is to be welcomed and tolerated in modern society, provided that it does not cross the line into an ongoing personal animosity.
Leaders, officials, and all members of society must keep a constant vigil to protect and preserve the civility of society, and to take prompt action to address any persistent or pervasive rise in incivility.
Not everyone needs to love everyone else or even think kind thoughts about them in a complex, diverse modern society, but care needs to be taken to prevent dislike from crossing the line into active hostility. Civility needs to reign supreme.
Everyone hates something or someone to some extent in a complex, diverse society. That’s just human nature. What is not acceptable in a civil society is to fuel, inflame, cherish, and obsess over hate so that it overwhelms civility.
Individuals or groups of individuals may not see eye to eye on particular issues and while that is not at all unusual in a complex modern society, what is not socially acceptable is for that disagreement to cross the line into a prolonged and elevated level of hostility, which results in a significant degree of social dysfunction.
Conflicts are inevitable in a complex modern society, but care needs to be taken to resolve them in a timely manner.
Taking a position or having a point of view on an issue or about a person or group is perfectly reasonable, but crossing the line and hardening a view into an outright bias can be harmful to society and is to be avoided.
Bias can be the first step towards discrimination.
Bias may be an intentional belief, or could also be an unintentional, culturally-influenced belief. A large portion of the bias in society is unintentional, but still very real.
Every effort should be made to transform bias into fairness.
Bias can also work in the opposite direction, as favoritism, an unreasonably favorable preference for a policy or individual or group.
Perception can be a more powerful force in society than reality. Bias can be perceived or presumed even if there is no actual bias.
It is beneficial to avoid the perception of bias. This may require an unusual degree of effort that normally would not seem warranted, but restoring confidence in the fairness of society has great value.
Persuasion is an important social skill, provided that one does not cross the line and exert undue pressure and outright intimidation towards an individual or a group.
Harassment may be directed towards a single individual to pressure them into some unintended action, or may be directed towards a group or an individual as a member of the group as a form of discrimination.
Harassment can also be used as an initial stage of directing outright hostility towards an individual or group, clearly something to be avoided. De-escalation and conflict resolution are clearly called for whenever harassment rears its ugly head.
Bullying is a form of harassment which attempts to exert power over an individual, largely to intimidate or abuse them in an extreme manner.
Bullying is an ongoing social problem that requires more attention and has been resistant to cure.
Part of the problem is that society has an ambiguous and ambivalent attitude towards bullying, recognizing that extreme bullying is very bad, but that mild hazing is considered a rite of passage and considered needed to toughen up individuals to help them cope with the challenges of life. Having a thin skin is considered a weakness and character flaw, so social techniques to counter it are considered accepted. But, bullying is going too far.
An intimidated individual will perform some action or refrain from performing come action out of fear of the consequences as a result of a prior threat, such as received or implied from harassment or bullying.
The threat may have been expressed or implied. It may also have been inferred from a hostile social environment.
Society has an ambiguous and ambivalent attitude towards intimidation. In some contexts it is strictly taboo, while in other contexts it is left up to the individual to explicitly push back at mild forms of intimidation.
Some forms of intimidation have grown to be socially accepted even though the underlying behavior really is rather antisocial by nature.
Society has an ambivalent and ambiguous attitude towards taunting. On the negative side, taunting is effectively a form of incitement, which is not normally socially acceptable. On the neutral side, taunting is rather mild compared to intimidation, outright incitement, and bullying. And on the positive side, taunting can be playful, teasing, and even sometimes designed to provoke a reluctant individual into actually engaging in a positive activity. But generally, mean-spirited taunting must be strongly discouraged by society.
Delay of needed work, decision, or change can come in a variety of forms:
- Lack of will or resolve.
- Disagreement over exact action required.
- Disagreement over whether there really is an issue to be addressed.
- Unwillingness to commit the needed resources.
- Unwillingness to be held responsible for a difficult decision.
- Unwillingness to face up to the consequences of a decision or action.
- Desire to embarrass one side by obstructing and preventing a priority from being addressed.
- Lack of resources to address the issue.
- Hope that the problem will resolve without action being taken.
- Wishful thinking.
In most cases procrastination is more of a negative side effect of indecisiveness, but in some cases it can be a conscious and intentional act, either because immediate action might be too unpleasant or because it really is desired to act at a more favorable later date. The latter being an instance of decisiveness rather than indecisiveness.
Kicking the can down the road
Kicking the can down the road is either an intentional effort to avoid an issue or simply disappointment that an important issue is not being addressed. It is a form of procrastination, but focusing more on the collective lack of will.
Regardless of origin, every human advances through a series of stages of maturation:
- Intellectual conception, desire
- Embryo and early fetal development
- Middle fetal development
- Late fetal development
- Young child
- Mature child
- Early adolescent
- Middle adolescent
- Late adolescent
- Young adult
- Early mature adult
- Reproduction to begin the next generation
- Middle mature adult
- Late mature adult
- Early elderly adult
- Middle elderly adult
- Late elderly adult
Society has to support the variations of goods and services that are needed for each distinct stage.
Participation in society will vary based on the maturation stage of the individual.
Even primitive tribes and even animal groups have methods of governance, even if it is nothing more than a leader, the close allies of the leader, and a hierarchical pecking order.
The point of governance is to hold the social group together, to give each member of the group more incentive to stay than to leave.
Any social group exists only to the degree that members get some added value from the group than they would not get if living alone.
The presence of a governing structure frees individuals to focus more attention on specific tasks.
Governance facilitates collaboration rather than individuals constantly competing with each other.
Once a social group gets past the tribal or early village stage, governance starts to become a full-time job for more than one person. Governance becomes a social group itself.
As human society evolved from purely tribal and small villages to actual cities, more formalized government become necessary.
As nations of many villages and multiple cities gradually came into existence, government evolved as well. Lacking modern communications, it was distributed by necessity, with each local community having its own governance, and only occasionally depending on some more centralized governing authority.
Millennia of social and political development and evolution have brought us to modern society with our modern form of government. A separate paper explores the Elements of Government.
Direct democracy is great, in theory, but only really practical in relatively small societies. Traditional New England town meetings are an example of direct democracy, with each resident getting a vote in every policy decision at the town meeting. That’s great, but doesn’t scale to thousands and millions of citizens, let alone the complexity and frequency of decisions at the city, state, and national level. Representative democracy, with elected representatives, combined with staffs of professionals, does a much better job, balancing centralized power with citizen participation.
Sure, many individuals and groups do indeed feel disenfranchised, but that tends to be primarily because the decisions of the duly-elected representatives don’t happen to be exactly what they themselves personally desire.
The main benefit of a representative democracy is that it permits individuals to focus their full energy on their daily lives, leaving the less-interesting details of governance to their elected representatives. If they don’t approve of the work of their representatives — or leaders — every two, four, or six years they get a fresh chance to vote them out of office and vote in new representatives and leaders more to their liking.
Minorities and other disenfranchised groups may indeed be not wholly satisfied with this arrangement, but nobody has come up with a better system, yet. In fact, minorities and other disenfranchised groups frequently have enough votes that they can help swing an election, so that the more established parties actually do seek them as allies and adjust decisions, policies, and programs to take their needs and interests into account.
Submission to authority
The cornerstone of any social order is the submission to authority by all members of society. In exchange, authority agrees to recognize the rights of the individual members of society and provide some level of services, including security and protection from external threats.
Without a solid agreement to submit to authority, there can be no durable social order. The flip side is that there can be no durable social order without a palpable recognition and respect for the rights of all individuals.
Every society has to establish some sense of balance between security and freedom, between society as a whole and freedom of the individual. Both need deep recognition and deep respect, on all sides.
Code of conduct
Every society, group, or organization requires a code of conduct, regardless of whether it is formalized or not, and regardless of whether it necessarily has the weight of law. The code is simply the shared expectations for how members of society should behave — what they are required to do and what they may not do, what they should do and what they should not do.
Families, religions, and schools are the primary means of promulgating the code of conduct for a society, as well as law itself, which may formalize some aspects of the code of conduct.
Law and regulation
In practice, codes of conduct are too discretionary to provide the level of protection, security, and social welfare that people expect. Laws are needed to enforce the codes of conduct, and enforcement of those laws is required, or at least the threat of enforcement. Government is the vehicle for establishing and enforcing law.
See the paper on Elements of Government for more on law and regulation.
Not all conduct in society is prescribed and proscribed by strict laws and regulations. Rules are needed as well. Although not as strict as law, rules are needed to provide a sense of order, especially when not everyone agrees on what conduct is fair and reasonable.
Rules govern operations of organizations and businesses. Rules also apply to specific government facilities and services.
Common forms of rules include:
- Hours of service
- Fees and pricing
- Permitted activities
- Proscribed activities
- Age restrictions
- Customer service procedures
- Appeals processes
Quality of government
Government may be the law and have absolute authority, but that says nothing about the quality of that government. What matters is how the members of society feel about their own government.
Government can be changed, but that requires a significant consensus. That’s fine, unless the situation in society is that there is significant division over exactly what the proper roles of government should be. Unhappiness with government can persist as long as social division remain.
But if people are willing to tolerate government as it is and can’t or are unwilling to compromise to reach a consensus, then they have the government they deserve. Ultimately, the quality of government can’t be too out of sync with the quality of the underlying society.
Bans and prohibitions
Member of society should generally be free to engage in whatever conduct them deem appropriate, but if a sufficient fraction of society finds the conduct unacceptable, laws and regulations may be put in place to ban the undesirable conduct.
Censorship is a ban that applies to speech and other forms of communication, including publication, media, and broadcast, for content, messages, or expression that is deemed socially harmful.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press generally guarantee a lot of leeway in expression and content, but no rights are absolute in all situations. Generally censorship is to be avoided or minimized, with a fairly high bar for banning dissemination or problematic expression.
Allegiance, rights, and responsibilities
In exchange for entrusting government with power and authority over the daily lives of the people, rights are recognized and conferred on the people. Absent any government, people would depend on either good will or superior force. Their ability to depend on the benevolence of their government recognizes and grants them rights but this is an exchange that requires them to accept responsibilities as well.
Rights granted or respected and protected by government include:
- Unalienable or natural rights presumed to exist for all people, completely independent of government.
- Constitutional rights — specifically enumerated by the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights.
- Civil rights — specifically enumerated by statutory law.
Human rights are a broader recognition of rights that is international and independent of any particular national government.
Besides the aspects of rights discussed here, additional detail is contained in the paper on Elements of Government.
Regardless of whether government explicitly confers legally-recognized rights, people have natural rights, including:
- Move around
- Seek shelter
- Exchange labor for goods and services (whether money is involved or not)
- Engage in diversions
- Personal growth
- Challenge — respectfully
- Participate in discussions and decisions of society
- Seek friendship
- Engage in relationships
- Associate with others
- Engage in joint action with others — peacefully
- Defend self, family, and community
Even before the U.S. Constitution was written, the U.S. Declaration of Independence acknowledged and recognized that people have natural rights, so-called “unalienable rights”, and acknowledged that these rights are possessed by people even before government comes into the picture:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights simultaneously reaffirms some aspects of natural rights as well as to specifically emphasize rights which had been problematic in the years, decades, and centuries before the founding of he U.S. as a country, especially relating to speech, association, assembly, the press, and religion.
Privacy is an odd sort of right. For example, it is not formally recognized by the U.S. Constitution or even the Bill of Rights, but is considered inferred, in part, by the 4th Amendment prohibition of searches of person and property without a warrant. But the true scope and bounds of this right is rather murky.
- Right to privacy of one’s thoughts, beliefs, desires, and intentions.
- Right to speak and communicate privately.
- Right to privacy in papers and belongings.
- Right to privacy in one’s residence.
- Right to privacy in one’s body.
- Right to freedom of movement and action without permission or notification of any authority.
- Right to confidentiality of medical services.
- Right to confidentiality of legal discussions.
- Right to confidentiality of religious and spiritual counseling.
Privacy becomes murky and problematic in various situations, such as:
- Metal detectors for legitimate secure environments.
- Use of banned drugs or devices in one’s body.
- Breath and blood tests when law enforcement questions alcohol or drug influence.
- Actions taken in public in plain sight — issue of public surveillance.
- Actions in a private establishment that provides a public accommodation such as a store or restaurant.
- Actions in a private setting of a private establishment that provides a public accommodation, such as a hotel, motel, or spa.
- Eavesdropping of conversations or phone calls held in a public setting.
- Eavesdropping of computer communications held in a public setting, such as a coffee shop or public plaza or privately-owned atrium or hotel lobby.
- What information a business or other organization can disclose about an individual, or share with affiliate organizations.
- What information the government can disclose about an individual.
- Degree of latitude courts have for criteria for issuing warrants.
- Degree of latitude law enforcement and school staff have for invading privacy.
Privacy entitles one or more individuals to keep secrets, even from the government, unless the government can show a compelling state interest.
Secrecy in government is covered in the paper on Elements of Government.
There is an ongoing debate in society as to whether individuals are permitted to use data encryption methods which cannot be cracked by the government. There is no clear answer at this time. On the one hand, people have a right to privacy, but on the other hand the government has an obligation to protect the rights and interests of all members of society. Courts traditionally performed the balancing of the two, but modern technology has the ability to prevent courts from intervening.
Confidences come in two forms, both made under the commitment to not share information with others:
- Information shared between individuals.
- Information made available to organizations or professionals.
When information is made available to government, some of it will be maintained as confidential, while some of it will be made public as a matter of public record. Where the dividing line is is a matter of ongoing debate.
Debate and discussion of confidentiality continues, both for government and business access to personal and organizational data, with no clear end in sight.
Technically, a civil right is simply any right granted or emphasized by the civil authority, the government, and could include both statutory law and the U.S. Constitution, but the term now generally refers to rights that should have been presumed, but instead had been problematic over the decades and centuries.
Civil rights in the U.S. commonly refers to the voting and nondiscrimination statutes passed in the 1960’s, notably by the Civil Rights Acts of that period.
Additional discussion of civil rights can be found in the paper on Elements of Government.
America is supposed to be a classless society, but a variety of forms of discrimination have dogged the country from the beginning, and unfortunately, people are not always treated fairly in society, suffering from a variety of categories of discrimination, such as:
- National origin
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Religious beliefs
- Political beliefs
- Childbearing status
Most of these categories of discrimination are illegal in most situations, but not all and not all of the time in all places, and many can be difficult to prove in a court of law. It is an ongoing struggle for society to ban discrimination and in fact effectively enforce such bans.
This task is made doubly difficult by the fact that conflicts can occur, such as religious or political beliefs that conflict with particular discrimination categories.
To some extent, discrimination is a value judgment about what constitute valid criteria for a given activity — or at least perceptions of what constitute valid criteria or how those criteria can legitimately be applied, and perceptions vary between regions of the country and segments of society, and evolve over the passage of time.
The goal is to eliminate all forms of discrimination, eventually, but that task depends on progress in the evolution of perceptions.
International organizations and international law recognize rights possessed by all individuals simply as a matter of them being human beings, regardless of what local or national governments they may be subject to or what rights those governments may grant or acknowledge.
The United Nations has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to recognize the human rights possessed by everyone due simply to their birth as human beings.
Generally speaking, western democracies are in comport with the UN concept of human rights. It is only when speaking of dysfunctional, totalitarian, repressive regimes that one needs to resort to the UN model of human rights. Normally, it is sufficient to refer simply to rights, constitutional rights, and civil rights for western-style democracies.
That is the case in theory, but in practice a whole host of infringements of human rights occurs on a frequent basis even in the the most modern of western democracies, certainly not to the level of occurrence in repressive regimes, but enough to be noteworthy, problematic, an in need of attention and additional progress.
Most societies recognize the rights of individuals to acquire and possess property. The main forms of property being:
- Real estate — land, buildings
- Personal possessions
- Securities — stocks and bonds
- Intellectual property
Property rights are generally considered a natural or human right, rather than a right that must be conferred by a government. The U.S. Declaration of Independence reference to the pursuit of Happiness is generally considered a reference to property rights.
Intellectual property rights are a bit more fluid and in a state of flux.
Legal contracts can also be considered property rights in the sense that they entitle the holder to specified rights in return for specified inducements.
Government assures protection of intellectual property rights, including:
- Trade secret
Slavery is also a form of property right.
Chattel slavery, the legal right of ownership of humans as slaves is now illegal in all countries, but lingering effects of its impact continue to reverberate throughout society and are likely to do so for some time to come.
Non-chattel slavery, with no legal right of ownership of humans as slaves as property per se, but with individuals held under threat of force or other involuntary inducement, effectively as slaves, remains around the world, most commonly as human trafficking and various forms of servitude which effectively treat human beings as if they were property even thought there is no legal recognition of property rights per se.
Individuals who are in economic distress are frequently placed in work environments, such as homes, where they are theoretically simply workers, but are effectively treated as slaves, property, with essentially no rights.
The legality of such situations is dubious but gray enough that it frequently skirts the law.
Individuals are sometimes kidnapped, bought, or tricked into situations where they are removed from the environment that they know and feel comfortable and involuntarily transported (or tricked into voluntary compliance for transport) to another environment where they are completely dependent on the trafficker for all basic human needs.
Most commonly, they are forced into prostitution.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression in general, including symbolic speech and written communication, including publication and the press are fundamental rights in a modern, western-style society.
Freedom of expression has two distinct aims:
- Freedom and liberty in general, to live life as one chooses, free from government intervention.
- Ability to question, criticize, challenge, influence, and change government policies, leaders, and officials.
Any individual or organization subjected to a legal process has constitutionally-protected rights to due process, including a speedy trial.
Infringement of rights
Regardless of rights that people possess, it is always possible that individuals, groups, or government itself might fail to respect those rights. Processes are in place to prevent and compensate for any such infringement, but even those processes are subject to failure.
Institutional infringement of rights can occur during times of war or other great national, regional, or local stress, especially as authorities seek to maintain and restore order. These tend to be temporary in nature, but some stressors, such as rampant terrorism, can result in various infringements of rights that are more than merely temporary.
Conflict of rights
Although a malevolent infringement of the rights of others is unacceptable and typically illegal, it is very possible for a completely benevolent exercise of rights to conflict with the rights of others. Society must have robust protection and enforcement mechanisms for such conflicts to avoid disharmony. But, there may be situations where the benevolent exercise of a right cannot be achieved without a conflict, which requires that the members of society exercise some degree of care and understanding to resolve the conflict amicably. In some cases, law enforcement may be required or parties may resort to the civil courts.
Limits of rights
Except for basic biological rights such as water, food, breathing, shelter, and sleep, no right is absolute. There are practical and social limits to rights. The two main limits to rights are to refrain from infringing on the rights of others and to preserve order in society, as well as to preserve society itself.
There is the practical problem that the limits to rights are not bright lines that are always easy to readily discern. Limits tend to be gray areas requiring judgment and discretion, not all of which will be respected by all members of society.
Society must provide education and information to help people, groups, and organizations to understand the basis for any limits to rights, so that these limits can be respected and without resentment that one’s rights are not being infringed by these limits.
The term rights is usually refers to rights possessed by all members of society, but there is another, narrower form of right, contractual rights, which are usually commercial in nature. By entering into a legal agreement, a contract, one or both parties are granted specified rights in exchange for reciprocal compensation for granting those rights.
For example, one party, the customer, is granted the right to a product or service while the other party is entitled to payment, either upfront or over time. If either party fails to live up to their side of the agreement, corrective action is required, another right.
The ultimate recourse for a violation of contractual rights is to pursue a lawsuit in civil court. Violation of contractual rights is not a crime to be prosecuted in a criminal court, but does entitle the aggrieved party to relief granted by a civil court.
Organizing and association
Modern, western-style societies recognize a right to associate. As important, powerful, and omnipresent as government is, people still have such a wide range and variety of interests that the integrity and health of society requires that people self-organize in a wide variety of ways to pursue their personal and group interests completely outside of the control or influence of government, either at the national or community (or any other) level.
Organizing groups is a fundamental human social function. It is what brought hunting parties, tribes, villages, guilds, and all manner of human society together even before the advent of more formal civilization. Even in a perfect society with perfect government, people would still feel compelled to find an outlet for their desire to organize groups. Even within an ideal group, people will tend to form subgroups.
There is no end to or definitive list of the types of groups that people will organize. It is in our genes — literally.
To some extent, the will to organize may simply be a rejection of some aspects of the larger organization in which individuals operate, either because they feel that the larger organizational social strictures are too confining, too loose, too narrow, or too broad. Too something, whatever that something might be.
In any case, association and organization provide people with productive outlets for their interests, hopes, fears, dreams, and desires.
A dysfunctional government in a dysfunctional society is likely to be faced with significant unrest which leads to disorder and disruption, or worse. Government has an obligation to maintain order, but there is a very real risk that efforts to quell unrest, disorder, and disruption may be too extreme and disproportional, and have the effect of repressing normal dissent and rights to speech, press, assembly, and association.
Even the best of modern governments are occasionally faced with unruly dissent that needs to be suppressed. A thrown rock or an outright riot now and then is to be expected even in the healthiest of societies since passions can sometimes run high. Repression results when there is a repeated pattern of extreme and unrelenting suppression of rights over time.
In contrast to rights which are available to everyone merely due to their citizenship, presence in the country, or simply being a human being, privilege is a special status which confers access to opportunities not otherwise available to someone.
Modern, western-style government does not grant privileges.
Organizations and businesses can sell memberships which provide privileges and other benefits. Clubs, societies, and associations, among others offer such privileges. They may have requirements that have to be met in addition to a fee.
Through the accident of birth and the many varied demographic qualities of life that may be preferred or denigrated by individuals, groups, or organizations, it may at times seem that society or segments of society are conferring a sense of privilege, or lack thereof, to particular demographic groups. This may be perceived and practical privilege even if not actual and legal privilege.
Generally, the concept of privilege in a modern, western-style society is used to refer to a fee or membership-based contractual right or some benefit granted based on merit or achievement rather than a more traditional birthright.
Either way, the debate over perceptions of privilege is ongoing and shows no end in sight.
Entitlement has several distinct meanings in modern society:
- An inherited right, such as a title or position, property, or wealth.
- A basic right to which everyone is entitled merely by being born as a human and a member of society.
- A government benefit, subsidy, or privilege granted based on demographic factors, such as income, disability, or circumstance.
- A belief that one is entitled to some privilege based on demographics factors or circumstance.
Government in a modern society provides a wide variety of entitlement programs to benefit individuals and groups.
Wealth and property and even family name may be inherited, but the traditional concept of hereditary titles does not exist in most modern, western-style societies. There are exceptions, such as peerage in the United Kingdom.
An individual or group in society can be considered deserving of certain privileges or benefits based on specified selection criteria. This may or may not be a true entitlement.
Merit and achievement are a special case, where an individual or group deserves some privilege or benefit based on achievement or merit rather than some broad demographic factors or circumstance that does not depend on achievement or merit.
Obligation, responsibility, and duty
Society abounds with responsibilities. Many are obligations based on the roles played by each member of society. Duty is a stronger, more moral sense of commitment to do what is right and best for society, regardless of whether there is some explicit obligation.
Some obligations, responsibilities, and duties are positive in that they dictate what actions must be taken, while others are negative in that they dictate what actions are prohibited.
Society must continue to grapple with the collective task of defining what obligations, responsibilities, and duties are essential and required, and which are merely encouraged, and which are completely optional.
Rewarding of the execution of obligations, responsibilities, and duties is an important function in society.
Many responsibilities are shared, between individuals, across communities, within organizations, and even across all of society, such as:
- Mutual defense
- Harmony and community spirit
Most shared responsibilities fall under governance. One could say that governance is the embodiment of shared responsibilities.
Other responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the individual alone, such as:
- Choosing a career
- Studying and homework
- Being a good citizen
- Personal hygiene and attire
- Maintaining a clean abode
- Healthy eating habits
- Mental calm
- Respecting privacy of others
- Making responsible personal choices
Government may require certain individual responsibilities, such as:
- Jury duty
- Vehicle insurance
- Health insurance
- Primary and secondary school attendance
- Obedience to laws
- Adherence to laws when utilizing government facilities and services
- Paying taxes
- Military service (whenever the draft is in effect)
Taking things for granted and humility
With all the rights and services supported by society, it becomes easy to take for granted that one is entitled to many things. True, there are many entitlements, many of them distinctly guaranteed, but a sense of entitlement separated from a sense of responsibility to society as a whole in exchange for those entitlements can lead to serious social dysfunction. A sense of humility helps to maintain the balance needed for society to thrive.
Assumption and presumption of entitlements can also be corrosive to society. Education and information about rights and entitlements should be readily available to all members of society so that nobody need guess or run the risk of having a mistaken impression of their rights or the services to which they are entitled.
Social agreement on governance
There is not necessarily an ideal form of government for all societies. Many forms have been tried throughout human history. The current form of government used in modern, western-style societies evolved dramatically over the past 250 years, but based in part on elements developed 2,500 years ago and earlier.
Assent on the form of governance is a two-step process, first with the people as individuals assenting to local leaders they can trust, who then come together at a regional or national level to agree upon a form of government that they can trust.
Assent remains ultimately with the people, but mindful that some form of elite leadership is needed to implement the will of the people.
Formal agreement on governance
Discussions and debate result in informal agreement on the governance to be used by a country. Once settled informally, a formal recognition of the agreed form of governance is needed. A constitution is the normal method for doing this.
The U.S. Constitution is the formal document that is essentially the contract controlling and guiding the overall national government of the United States, in terms of principles, structures, and processes. Many details are left to the officials who are chosen to perform the functions designated in the Constitution.
The Elements of Government are elaborated in a separate paper.
Beyond the specifics, the constitution for a country becomes its touchstone, the bedrock that people can feel comfortable about leaning on whenever times get tough.
The social contract for the United States, at least at the government level, is essentially defined by the U.S. Constitution, although many details are left to those officials chosen to participate in government, as well as to the states and local communities. Many groups, organizations, and elite individuals participate in elaborating the details of the full social contract for all levels of society.
Although a relatively few essential roles and services are mandated by the U.S. Constitution, there is no explicit intention that government should mandate all aspects of society, or that even the Constitution should mandate all roles of government in society.
There is an explicit notion of enumerated powers in the U.S. Constitution, which effectively limits the involvement of the U.S. federal government in society, although the three branches of government have seen fit to expand the roles of government in many ways over the years, decades, and centuries.
The reality is that all elements of society participate in formulating the social contract for the United States, as a living and not formalized document.
Beyond basic natural, human, constitutional, and civil rights, a variety of social rights are asserted, claimed, sometimes promised, and sometimes delivered, such as:
- Health care
- Social security
- Decent living or minimum wage
- Minimum and maximum working hours
- Holidays, weekends, and vacation time
- Sick leave
- Parental leave
There is an open and ongoing debate about what degree of right and commitment is or should be made by society in each of these areas.
Roles of government
Some roles of government are simple and clear:
- National security
- Foreign policy
- Border control
- Immigration and customs
- Protection of rights
- Manage government itself
Beyond those minimal essentials, the exact roles of government in society are subjective, under debate, and in a constant state of flux and include:
- Health care
- Weather reporting and forecasting
- Illegal drug use and trafficking
- Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms
- Medical drug development and safety
- Medical and health care safety
- Food production and safety
- Social welfare, including Social Security and various welfare programs
- Scientific research
- Social research
- Vehicle and transportation safety
- Environmental protection
- Wilderness preservation
- Urban redevelopment
- Workplace and worker safety
- Labor relations
- Civil rights protection
- Equal opportunity, countering discrimination
- Support for the arts
- Historical preservation
- Economic and technology development
- Economic statistics
- Money and monetary policy — defining unit of money, currency, coins, and monetary policy for controlling the supply of money, and inflation
- Credit — supplement the private sector banking system, such as the SBA and mortgage loans, plus Federal Reserve regulation of credit and lending rules
Government involvement can take a variety of forms:
- Direct responsibility for the good or service
- Financial incentive or direct subsidy
- Information dissemination
Food is a special category of good since it is such an essential requirement for human life with little room for discretion. The private sector generally does a reasonable job of producing food. Government gets involved in a variety of ways, such as:
- Aid during droughts
- Water management
- Price subsidy, when needed
- Paying farmers not to grow when there is a glut
- Promotion of better techniques and technologies
- Food safety regulation
- Nutrition recommendations
Water is another special category of good and service since it is an absolute essential requirement for life, both for people and for the plant and animal life needed by society.
Water is everywhere, but not always exactly where you need it at any given moment. Some areas may be in drought while others are in flood conditions. Some areas may be desert or near-desert conditions while others have excess rainfall. Capture, treatment, and distribution of water is a key function of society.
Energy is another special category of good or service since it is such an essential requirement for modern life. The private sector does a reasonable job of producing energy, primarily electric energy and fuels used to produce energy. Government gets involved in a variety of ways, such as:
- Research and development of new energy sources.
- Advocacy for energy conservation.
- Promotion of better techniques and technologies.
- Regulation, especially for consumer pricing.
- Actual production in special situations, such as TVA and Bonneville Power Administration.
Housing is another of the special categories of goods and services that are an essential requirement for modern life. Once again, the private sector does a reasonable job of producing homes for people, whether houses or apartments or other group settings. Government gets involved in various ways, such as:
- Regulation and setting standards for building construction.
- Subsidy for low-income families.
- Public housing for low-income families.
- Mortgage financing to supplement the private sector.
Redistribution refers to social programs of government taking a fraction of income or wealth from individuals and distributing that money to more needy individuals, either as cash, credit, or free services available only to those in their category of need.
Although redistribution has the effect of reducing inequality in society, the real, intended effect is simply to assure that basic goods and services are available to everyone.
Both the general concept and specific policies are a matter of ongoing debate within society. Some don’t believe in it at all. Some seek a lot more of it. Some simply wish to adjust the balance modestly to moderately.
Insurance can be thought of as a redistribution as well.
In contrast with private life where privacy has primacy, transparency has primacy in governance. Government without transparency invites suspicion and mistrust.
Transparency of government comes primarily through:
- Public notice of all pending proceedings of governance.
- Open access to all proceedings of governance.
- Open access to records of all proceedings of governance.
Transparency is the ideal, even though it is not always completely practical or necessarily advisable.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) can be used to obtain information that is not readily available in publicly accessible documents.
Transparency in government is covered in more detail in the paper on Elements of Government.
In contrast with private life where privacy has primacy and secrecy is to be respected, secrecy in governance must be treated with great care. Generally, transparency must be the rule in government, but secrecy comes into play with:
- Sensitive discussions over personnel matters, where the individuals retain their privacy rights.
- Negotiations, where posturing is a key requirement to maintain an advantage.
- Matters of national security.
- Law enforcement activity where criminal behavior is suspected or under investigation.
- Internal records and communications, including memorandums and email messages, reflecting sensitive internal discussions or deliberations within a department or agency, with foreign governments, or with state and local governments.
- Protection of trade secrets when that protected information might become known to the government as part of an investigation, inspection, or other inquiry or activity.
- Protection of the privacy of individuals when private information becomes known to government officials or staff as a side effect of some government activity.
Secrecy is used inappropriately on occasion. This may range from a mere indiscretion to a serious violation of law.
Secrecy will continue to be a matter of vigorous debate, both within and outside of government, with evolution of positions and policies as time progresses and attitudes and sentiment of people, society, and government itself evolve.
Many and maybe even most documents and information within government is readily available to members of the public. Official internal records, documents, and communications and deliberations are not normally accessible to the public. Information, documents, or other materials that are not intended to be made available to the public will be marked or otherwise categorized as classified material.
Over time, it is normally expected that the value of particular information, documents, and materials will decline as the world changes, leading to the eventual declassification of such materials so that eventually many of them will be made available to the public.
There has traditionally been a tendency within government to over-classify documents. Reforms occur occasionally, but government itself changes so often that new problems crop up that demand fresh reforms. Constant oversight and review of classification policies is required.
Sensitive, confidential, and even classified materials and information may at times be prematurely made available to the public, for one or more of several reasons:
- Whistle-blower innocently seeking to correct a mistake or failure of government policy or decision-making.
- Traitor deliberately seeking to harm society.
- Intentional and official leaks of information to influence public perception and opinion.
Judging the intent and impact of leaks can be quite problematic, with the distinction between a whistle-blower and traitor being very vague and a gray spectrum. Sometimes an individual believes that they are protecting society from an overreaching government rather than trying to harm society itself, but others may disagree. Attitudes on the matter are constantly evolving.
The topic of espionage is covered in the paper on Elements of Government.
Intentionally misleading people commonly has a very negative and corrosive impact on society. Individuals and organizations may use it to gain advantage or to avoid liability, but there is no general benefit to society as a whole for deceit. It harms society as a whole and individuals and organizations to the extent that lack of timely information can prevent timely action to either avoid harm or to gain the benefit of an opportunity.
Rule of law
In opposition to tyranny, the rule of law requires that government act in accordance with laws approved by elected representatives of the people rather than by officials and bureaucrats acting on whim.
Government may seem at times to be a relatively smoothly running machine, but that is only a testament to the efficiency of the political process which continually refreshes the pool of officials and staff in government.
The political process is discussed in detail in the paper on Elements of Government.
The political process is the main mechanism that gives the people a voice in their own governance, both by voting and running for office. Beyond the immediacy of participation in elections, the elected leaders and representatives of the people are an indirect but representative participation of the people in the ongoing administration of government.
Civil society is the other main organized mechanism for influencing government.
Every level of society has the ability and right to petition the government for redress of grievances, or to lobby for or against a particular government policy, decision, or action.
Businesses do a fair amount of direct and sophisticated lobbying since they are significantly impacted by government regulation, law that affects their business practices, and government contracts.
Citizens can write letters to or call or email their elected representatives.
Petitions, referendums, and initiatives
People can sign petitions and vote for referendums and initiatives.
Suing the government
People and groups can sue the government and businesses as well, as a primary method for redress of grievances.
Capitalism and democracy
Modern, western-style society is characterized by the adoption of capitalism for management of economic matters and democracy for political matters. The two are distinct, but they tend to work well together. At times they may seem to conflict, but usually they complement each other.
Is business and profit inherently evil?
Not everyone is thrilled by the presence of business and the profit motive in society. Some would prefer communism or socialism or a more decentralized communal structure over capitalism. To these folks business, especially big business, and the profit motive are indeed inherently evil, and not what they would consider a necessary evil.
To others, the invisible hand of the markets, with profit as a guiding light is a keystone for modern society with its much greater wealth of services for all.
Specialization and division of labor
Division of labor and specialization is a main benefit of a social group. Even if all member have equal abilities and skills, benefit can accrue from each member focusing on a particular group need, whether it be searching for food or water, security, housing, storage of food and water, preparation of food, or whatever else the group needs. Each member may be capable of each of these skills, but the opportunity to focus allows the time and energy needed to develop and sharpen each skill to a degree not possible if each member has to perform all tasks all of the time.
One of the fundamental building blocks for society or any large organization is the team, a relatively small group of individuals who are brought together to pursue a relatively narrowly-defined common goal.
Specialization and division of labor are common on teams.
Deciding on the exact formulation of a team is a difficult process, involving careful elaboration of the goal, careful delineation of the roles for each team member, and recruiting individuals for the team based both on their skills and how well they will fit in with other team members. Team building does have a method to it, but is more of an art than a science. Mechanical, mindless assembly of a team frequently results in a dysfunctional team. They may each be great at their respective skills, but the fit between team members or analysis of requirements might be more than a little off base.
Exchange of goods and services
The ability to focus on a particular skill or task depends on the ability to depend on other elements of society to deliver all other goods and services on which the individual or their family depends. The opposite is true as well — others are willing to supply goods and services because they know that the recipient will deliver other goods and services in return.
Barter and money
In the simplest societies it is possible for individuals to exchange goods and services directly, known as barter. As societies become more complex and the varieties of goods and services become more complex, barter is no longer sufficient.
Money is simply a way to store the value associated with a given amount of goods or services so that it can be used in a future transaction to acquire other goods and services.
As societies become more complex, individuals alone, or even entire families, are insufficient to deal with either the complexity of specific goods or services or the volume of demand for such goods and services.
Specialized organizations, called businesses, develop which permit individuals to combine efforts and resources to collaborate on joint ventures or enterprises.
Technically, a family can form and run a business, and this is not uncommon, but it doesn’t take long before the demands for staffing and skills exceeds even the largest and most capable of families.
The individuals who create and finance a business are its owners.
Owners share in the profits of a business.
Employees and contract workers
A business may be completely run by the creators and owners of the business, or in conjunctions with non-owners, called employees or contract workers.
A business may be organized as a sole-proprietorship, where a single individual is the owner and all other participants are simply employees, a partnership, where there are multiple owners, or a corporation, where there there are additional owners who do not participate in the day to day operations of the business, known as shareholders.
Individuals and organizations who want to participate in the profit potential of a business but not actually roll up their sleeves and work in the business can invest money in exchange for a share of the profits.
Stock and shares
The share of a business owned by a shareholder is known as stock. Typically the ownership of a business is divided into a large number of units, each unit called a share, so that any particular shareholder will own some number of shares or units of the full business.
Public vs. private businesses
Businesses are initially private organizations, but a business may elect to go public, which means they can offer shares of stock to any individual regardless of whether they are a sophisticated and skilled investor.
The government regulates public businesses and the stock of those businesses, requiring disclosures of significant and relevant information about the business to shareholders.
Shares of stock in public businesses can be traded, bought and sold, in a marketplace known as a stock market.
Business executives and managers
The individuals who run a business are executives or managers of the business. They may or may not be owners as well. They may or may not be shareholders, although typically they will be.
Investment and return
Investment is a fundamental process in society for gathering and applying financial resources to fund an enterprise, whether it be a business or development of a social good, either by a private organization or a government agency. The return is the benefit that is achieved by the enterprise, whether it be a financial return for a business or a social good or service.
Businesses are expected to achieve a financial return on invested capital.
Society expects to gain a benefit for society as a whole from an investment in a social project, whether the project is run by a private organization or a government agency.
Some see financial investment returns as more of an evil than a benefit to society, while others see it as a a valuable and key incentive that encourages investment that produces a greater wealth of goods and services than would otherwise be available in society.
The transaction of exchanges of goods and services and money is known as commerce.
Commerce can occur between individuals, but most commonly occurs between businesses or between businesses and individuals, also known as consumers.
Modern commerce is usually in the form of an exchange of money for goods and services.
The sum total of all commerce in some locality, region, country, or internationally is known as an economy.
An economy can be measured both by its size and its diversity.
The term business is used to ambiguously and contextually refer to:
- Individual businesses
- Commerce or transactions
- The overall economy, or at least the non-consumer, non-government, for-profit side of the economy
Consumers and consumption
Individuals, families, government, and organizations consume a wide range of goods and services. An important aspect of society is the recognition of the wide range of needs and desires for a wealth of goods and services.
The individuals and families who consume goods and services are known as consumers. Technically businesses, organizations, and government consume goods and services and are consumers in a purely economic sense, but from a regulatory perspective it is individuals and their families who are considered consumers.
Society must provide a wide range of mechanisms to facilitate the identification, selection, purchase, storage, and delivery of goods and services.
The utilization of goods and services is known as consumption. Technically, the transactions to purchase and take delivery of goods and services constitute consumption. The action, true consumption (e.g., eating the food that you bought yesterday) is not seen by economists.
Producers and production
Although the producers of most goods and services are doing so in search of profit or return on investment, society tolerates and encourages production as a means to satisfy the needs and desires of members of society to consume a wide range of goods and services.
The primary function of businesses is to act as producers of goods and services, otherwise known as engaging in production.
Distributors and distribution
A wide variety of intermediaries may exist between the producer of a good or service and the actual consumer, known as distributors. Goods may be produced or manufactured in one region of the country and need to be transported to another region. Goods may need to be stored in warehouses. Wholesalers may purchase goods in large bulk quantities and store and transport them before reselling them in smaller quantities.
Individuals and their families purchase goods in retail stores, through catalog orders or using online web sites. Retail sales focus on the needs and desires of consumers, earning a markup or profit by taking care of the logistical details of working with producers and distributors.
Payment form and terms
Goods and services are not always paid for using cash on the proverbial barrelhead. Credit and debit cards, gift cards, checks, coupons and other forms of payment may be used.
Payment might also be deferred from the time of purchase to some future time, such when the product is delivered or picked up. Payment might be due 30 or 45 or more days after purchase.
Payment may be in a series of term payments, such as monthly payments.
Services may be paid for using a subscription, such as a monthly or annual payment.
Marketing involves the communication to the public about the nature of goods and services, such as:
- Basic capabilities
Marketing is also responsible for delivering a message about the overall nature of the product or service, and for creating an aura of desirability of the product or service.
Marketing can involve:
- Press releases
- Promotional materials
- Promotional campaigns
- Promotional pricing
- Trial packaging and pricing
- Product displays
- Product demonstrations
- Web sites
- Email campaigns
- Web advertising
- Social media announcements and campaigns
In addition to basic retail sales, where the customer walks in the door of their own volition, selling is the process of interacting with the prospective customer to:
- Assess their needs.
- Inform them of what the product or service can do.
- Persuade them of the benefits of the product or service.
- Demonstrate or provide a test drive of the product or service.
- Arrange for a trial use of the product or service.
- Ascertain and address any objections or obstacles to a sale.
- Negotiate pricing and terms for a sale.
- Close the sale.
- Follow up and assure that the customer is happy.
- Seek follow-on business to build on the initial sale.
Sales, selling, and salesmen have mixed reputation in modern society. People love to hate salesmen, but they also are very dependent on them. Some of them can be very charming… be careful!
Aggressive and abusive sales practices are an ongoing problem in society, but many sales people are respectful, honorable, and helpful. Weeding out the bad apples is an ongoing process.
Most products and services in a modern society require a significant amount of interaction between the customer and the business, or even the government. People have questions and problems, and sometimes the product or service has problems that need to be fixed. Providing quality customer service is an ongoing problem in society. Sometimes the customer service experience is stellar, sometimes the opposite, and usually somewhere in the middle, either marginal, barely okay, or simply a relief that the experience is over.
Government has customer service issues as well since so many services are provided by government. Not surprisingly, government has as much difficulty providing quality customer service as the private sector.
Primitive societies can get by with simple barter to exchange goods and services, but modern, complex societies require money as a store of value and medium for transactions.
Individuals, businesses, and organizations pay for goods and services using money that they earn or borrow (or is invested in them), or that they receive in return for delivering goods or services to other individuals, businesses, or organizations, as well as government.
Government also has he ability to acquire money through taxation and fees.
Government may also borrow money by auctioning government debt securities.
Contrary to popular belief, government can’t print money per se. Technically, the government does in fact print money, at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is part of the Department of Treasury, but all that cash is printed on behalf of the Federal Reserve System which in turn loans the cash to banks. Treasury can’t directly use that cash itself, although tourists can buy some at the BEP store, for a premium price though.
Generally, and more correctly, government prints money by Treasury borrowing money and the Federal Reserve loaning money to banks.
Banks and lending
Individuals, businesses, and organizations can borrow money from financial institutions such as banks.
In some situations the government itself can loan money as well, although government guarantees for private sector loans may be more common.
Bad things happen in life. In many cases, individuals, businesses, and organizations simply accept that reality and pay for the cost of bad things out of their own pockets, but one important innovation in modern society is the concept of insurance. For a modest regular payment over time, the insurer will agree to pay all or part of the cost of the designated bad event. The basic theory is that bad events only happen to some people some of the time (e.g., car accidents) or maybe all of the people very rarely (e.g., life insurance), so that the modest payments collected from a large number of insured individuals and organizations will more than cover the cost of the actual bad events that do occur.
Insurance policies can be purchased to cover a wide variety of bad events of losses, including:
- Home loss and damage
- Car and other vehicles
- Personal property
- Security default
Insurance enhances peace of mind and provides comfort and security, both essential for well-being of members of society.
Since finance is so critical to modern society, it is equally critical to comprehensively and accurately track, analyze, summarize, and report transactions and balances. Accounting performs this function.
Embarking on any new project, venture, or endeavor, whether in the private sector or in government, requires planning for the financial resources that will be required.
Mistakes get made and fraud occurs, so it is important to have analysis, summaries, and reports that help identify discrepancies so that they may be corrected, regardless of whether the expenditures are by individuals, families, businesses, nonprofit organizations, or governments.
Independent auditing is just as important as accounting itself. Whether due to outright fraud, dumb mistakes, incompetence, or simple misunderstandings, an independent review can uncover issues that insiders may not be aware of or may be attempting to hide. This is equally true for both the private sector and government.
Transportation is an interesting hybrid at all levels of society, not being strictly public or private, not being strictly a business in the private sector, and operating over a variety of scales and a wide range of technologies.
Modes of transportation include:
- Shuttle buses
- Rockets and spacecraft
Transportation ownership and operation includes:
- Federal government
- Communities and regional government agencies
- Private companies transporting for hire
- Private companies transporting their own goods and people
Developing and maintaining a transportation infrastructure is a complex undertaking, including:
- Tracks for trains
- Roads, streets, and highways for cars and trucks
- Fueling facilities
- Exploration, production, refining, and distribution of fuel for vehicles
- Sidewalks and pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists
Fuels for vehicles include:
- Fossil fuels
Personal ownership and operation of transportation vehicles presents a distinct challenge to society. Personal control is very appealing to individuals, giving them greater convenience, autonomy, and privacy, but may increase the costs to society with extra infrastructure needed to support personal vehicles compared to public transportation.
Society may seek to encourage giving a priority for the use of public transportation, but public backing for this priority is mixed, unsettled, and evolving in an uncertain trend.
Traditional businesses are quite clear, such as manufacturing companies, transportation companies, stores, shops, restaurants, theaters, janitorial services, and dealers of all sorts, but technically any entity that exists to turn a profit is a business, including:
- Radio and television stations
- Sports teams and leagues
Some for-profit organizations are effectively run as if they were businesses except that they cannot be legally run as businesses since their activities are outright illegal, such as:
- Producing and distributing illegal drugs
- Drug dealers
- Hit men
- Con men
Marijuana is an interesting case, since some states have legalized it to some degree, while it remains illegal in others.
Most industries have one or more standards bodies, independent, non-profit organizations which seek to develop and promote standards or specifications for the design and operation of components or services that are commonly used by a variety of businesses. This enables a high degree of efficiency that can help to hold costs and prices down, as well as greatly facilitate the integration of products and services of different businesses.
Uniformity and variety
Uniformity is a very powerful method of simplifying and streamlining products and services. Granted, one size does not always fit all consumers all of the time, but when appropriate, uniformity has tremendous benefits to society. Uniformity can lead to tremendous economies of scale that can greatly increase availability and present significant opportunities for reduced costs and prices.
Variety has equally tremendous benefits to society, since the needs, desires, and requirements of diverse individuals, groups, and organizations frequently are not met by one product in one size.
Balancing uniformity and variety is an ongoing challenge for businesses and society.
Businesses may be small, midsize, or large, complex organizations, consisting of:
- Board of directors
- Boards of advisers
- Contract workers
Large businesses are organized as corporations, with a board of directors, management, investors, and shareholders.
Most businesses are quite small, the proverbial mom and pop shop, focused primarily on serving their local communities. Some may be a bit larger, with a handful of employees, serving multiple communities or a small region.
Small businesses may be organized as sole-proprietorships, partnerships, or as corporations but with much smaller administrative staffs than large corporations.
Policymakers must be careful with any policies and regulations on business that may make perfect sense for large corporations with significant resources, but may not make as much sense for small businesses with limited staffs and resources and generally operate on a shoestring budget.
The executives and managers who are the key individuals who plan and run the operation of a business are collectively known as management. Individual executives and managers have responsibility for specific aspects of the business.
Contracts are the heart of many business relationships and transactions, consisting of a commitment to deliver specified goods or services for a specified price and with specified terms and conditions. A contract is a significant commitment, binding on the parties, and recognized in civil court proceedings.
Basic ethics apply across all aspects of society, including business. Some aspects of ethics are stronger in business since formal contracts are involved, while some aspects are weaker since the profit motive and competition can be intensely fierce. Of course, competition and rivalry between individuals in daily life can be quite fierce as well. The difference is that business issues tend to have a broader scope and impact than matters between individuals.
One aspect of business ethics causing ongoing concern is the matter of caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, which allows the seller, typically a business with a profit motive, to withhold and refrain from disclosing defects and issues with a product or service, on the presumption that it is the responsibility of the buyer to fully inspect the good or service and ask about all possible contingencies. Warranties and return policies moderate this difficulty to a significant degree, but even then, the problem remains.
In many areas of business it is technically illegal to sell products with known defects and issues, but frequently there is a very broad gray area as to how exactly to define a defect, allowing businesses to skirt laws, leaving it up to customers and consumers to resort to caveat emptor diligence to avoid running into undisclosed defects and issues.
Workers, labor, and labor force
All organizations, including government, businesses, and nonprofits need workers to actually do the work of the organization. Workers are collectively known as labor. The totality of workers in a society is the labor of the society, or the labor force.
Workers may be employees, and typically are, but they may also be contract workers or consultants.
Workforce and labor force are synonyms for the collective labor of an organization or society as a whole, or some portion thereof, such as the workforce of a state, region, or community.
Collectives and cooperatives
Workers may organize into collectives and cooperatives, the former merely representing that they have a common interest, the latter recognizing that they seek to profit financially or economically from their joint activity.
Unions and organized labor
Workers may organize into collectives, such as labor unions, which can then collectively negotiate pay, hours, and working conditions with their employing organization.
Artisans may organize into guilds as well.
Strikes and work stoppages
Relations between workers and their employers can sometimes break down. This is not uncommon. A variety of mechanisms are in place to facilitate the restoration of harmony between labor and management, but sometimes even these efforts fail. Direct actions such as work stoppages or even strikes can result. The goal remains the restoration of harmony. Arbitration and various techniques for negotiation address this process.
Strikes can be prolonged and can have a severe negative impact on the community and business, but the goal remains a negotiation to adjust the balance between the interests of the business and the interests of workers.
Variations on strikes include walkouts, wildcat strikes, work slowdowns, and sickouts. Police officers sometimes come down with the so-called blue flu, a variation of a sickout.
Professions and professionals
Workers who require an intensive, formal, and specialized educational and training background, specialized knowledge and possibly some formal certification are known as professionals since they are practitioners of a profession, such as:
The smooth flow of society depends on the technical competence of those who have a job to do. Lack of competence, incompetence, may merely be an annoyance or minor inconvenience, a major disruption, a loss of productive capacity, or even result in major accidents, loss of human life, or even large-scale disasters.
Competence can never be absolutely guaranteed and not all incompetence can always be cured, but people and organizations must be constantly vigilant to both catch and cure incompetence when it does occur and reward or at least be grateful for and acknowledge competence when it does occur.
Quality education and training need to be emphasized in society as a path to obtaining competence and avoiding incompetence.
Social processes must be designed with careful attention given to the inevitable presence of incompetence. No social process can presume absolute competence without running a significant risk of failure.
Bridging business and the public
In addition to merely consuming the goods and services offered by businesses, members of the public also have broader interests in the business sector:
- Customer service after delivery of products and services.
- Feedback on products and services — positive and negative.
- Questionable business practices.
- Reputation of the business.
- Role of business in the community.
- Impact of business on the community.
- Lack of competition.
- Employment in the business.
- Employment impact of the business on the community.
These broader interests are addressed by:
- Government regulation.
- Direct action by the public.
- Pressure from local officials.
- Activist groups and individual activists.
- Media coverage and advocacy.
- Outreach efforts by businesses themselves.
- Outreach efforts by industry trade associations.
- Expressions by the public on social media, especially when they go viral.
Formalized learning is necessary for a complex society with high expectations for all members of society.
Private education is available as a service.
The market of private education has proven incapable of delivering an economical and quality education to all segments of society. Government has been forced to subsidize and provide education to some degree at all levels, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary. Government is beginning to subsidize and provide pre-kindergarten education (and day-care) as well.
Education includes both practical skills such as the traditional reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as cultural background and civic training.
Education also includes professional and vocational skills.
Some education may be provided at no charge, based on tax revenue, while more advanced, specialized, or private education may come at a significant cost. Government financial support for education may come in several forms:
- Local and state-run schools, colleges, and universities
- Outright grants
- Low-cost loans
- Subsidized loans
- Guaranteed loans
Individuals and families may also borrow money for education from a bank or other financial institution.
Beyond the concept of education, the physical facilities of schools are culturally significant. For many they provide a haven from the pressures and dangers of the outside world, an opportunity for young people to escape from a limited background and start a fresh life of their own. That’s the theory, and in many cases this is true, but frequently schools fail their students, either being operated in a prison-like manner, lacking in necessary safety, and possibly being outright dangerous or merely hostile to their primary mission of lifting people up and putting them and society on a path to progress.
Teachers may not be financially rewarded for all the good that they do for society, but educating children is one of the most essential tasks needed for a society to prosper and sustain itself.
Beyond secondary education and basic post-secondary technical, vocational, and professional education, universities serve additional roles for research, scholarship, and advanced study. Professors take part in research, discussion, collaboration, and publication of scholarly material at schools, research centers, institutes, and laboratories housed at universities or allied with them.
Government laboratories and research facilities serve similar functions and are commonly allied with their academic brethren.
Although a fair amount of education is about producing well-rounded, good citizens, knowledgeable about the world and culture and able to discuss a wide range of topics in both speech and written communication, a primary focus of most education is to prepare youth for entry to the workforce, to provide them with the knowledge and skills to be productive in jobs so that they can support themselves and their families.
Vocational training can occur at several levels:
- Basic skills needed by everybody, including basic mathematics, reading, and writing.
- Craft and trade skills, such as woodworking, metalworking, automotive, construction, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and masonry.
- Technician skills, such as operating sophisticated machinery and health care equipment and laboratory work.
- Business skills, such as preparing and presenting reports and proposals, business communications, negotiations, and organizing large teams of people.
- Technical professions, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, economists, and accountants.
- Advanced specialization, requiring post-graduate education and even certification.
No matter how educated or trained an individual may be, a fair amount of their training to reach a significant level of productivity comes from so-called on-the-job training or OJT. This can include domain-specific knowledge, company-specific knowledge, and acquiring tacit knowledge which can only be learned by doing and experience rather than read in a textbook or taught in a classroom or a laboratory.
Scholars and scholarship
Academic institutions provide a home for scholarship, a collegial environment where scholars can feel encouraged, supported, and unimpeded in their pursuit of scholarly research. Teaching is part of the deal, but research and development of new lines of thinking are the primary goals of scholarship.
As important as formal education and training are, mentors are a key to great success, providing young people with a fast track to wisdom and valuable, personalized insight to boost their careers.
Formal education and training provides a basic level of knowledge, but only extensive actual experience and an extended period of time to reflect and gain insight provide an individual with the comprehensive and authoritative background and confidence to be considered an expert. Society needs experts in all areas of life to provide the guidance and expertise needed to cope with the complexity of technology, systems, and organizations in a modern society.
Experts can give advice to leaders, officials, and managers, as well as to help explain complex phenomena to the public.
The distinction between thought leaders and experts is tenuous, but while the expert is known for their knowledge and expertise, as someone to go to for advise on matters of their expertise, the thought leader is more of a leader, not passively waiting for people to come to them for advice, but being proactive and advocating for application of their expertise to real world problems. People may not have even known of the potential for the subject matter, while the thought leader is out in the spotlight highlighting that potential.
Media is the collective term for any effort to communicate information to the public on a broad basis, including:
- Television stations and channels
- Cable TV shows
- Other publications
- Web sites
- Email newsletters
- Social media
Media outlets perform a number of useful functions for society, such as:
- Conveying timely information.
- Countering false gossip.
- Trafficking in gossip and titillating and scandalous details.
- Promoting government policies.
- Criticizing government policies.
- Highlighting government operations, good and bad.
- Uncovering corruption.
- Endorsing candidates for office.
- Shining a spotlight on corruption, dysfunction, and inefficiency in government.
- Highlighting social problems.
- Diversion and entertainment.
- Educating the public in a general manner.
A media outlet is any organization that operates a channel of distribution of information to the public, such as a newspaper or television station.
Technically, most media outlets are for-profit businesses, but their value to society is far greater than the mere consumption of a good or service.
The term media generally refers to traditional media such as newspapers and TV, but these days includes social media as well. Social media still constitutes its own special category of communication, but has reached a critical mass where it is now right up there at the level of traditional media, if not ahead of traditional media, in terms of being a channel for accessing the public.
The most prominent social media outlets at present include:
- Twitter — a rapid stream of tidbits of news and opinion.
- Facebook — gives people a recognizable presence in front of a global audience.
- LinkedIn — allows everybody to know who you are at a professional level.
- YouTube — now just as important or even more important than TV for distribution of video content.
There are many other specific social media outlets, either more personal, for groups, or more for professionals. Many or most web sites now integrate various elements of social media.
Social media has reached the stage where businesses, organizations, and government agencies are now highly dependent on social media. Even corporate executives, celebrities, heads of state, and major political candidates now recognize the amazing power and reach of social media.
Media should nominally be strictly unbiased and objective, but in practice each outlet is a hybrid, with some split between:
- Raw, objective fact
- Balance of points of view
- Commercial interest
Traditionally, there is supposed to be a proverbial Chinese Wall between the editorial, news, and commercial sides of the house in an objective media outlet. For example, a newspaper has an editorial page, news pages, and advertisements, each operated under its own control, independent of the others. How effective the Chinese Wall is is a matter of ongoing dispute.
Beyond and separately from simply reporting and analyzing the raw news, most media outlets also have an editorial side of the house, where admittedly subjective opinion rather than objectivity rules the roost.
In fact, a large part of the reason that freedom of the press is so hallowed is not because of the neutral, objective reporting of factual news, but because of the generally critical nature of the newspaper’s editorial page. Well-written editorials are a key and even essential check and balance on both society and government.
Sure, everybody and anybody can express an opinion, but what makes editorials so special is that while it is easy to make off the cuff remarks to friends in a bar, it takes a very strong dose of gumption and real commitment to clearly state the same opinion in writing for the whole world to see. This assures that people writing editorials really are saying something worth listening to and not just babbling nonsense.
Editorials frequently are decided by an editorial board, assuring that they are a bit more than just one guy’s random opinion.
Editorials advocate for:
- The need to give priority to an issue for the community, society, organizations, or government that needs to be addressed.
- Specific positions on issues.
- Specific policies.
- Choice of candidates in an election.
The editorial page typically has several elements:
- Editorials — opinions and positions expressed on behalf of the overall media outlet.
- Letters to the editor — reader opinions and positions that individual readers feel strongly about and are willing to expose themselves to the whole world.
- Op-Ed’s — third-party editorials, by experts, celebrities, and other notable individuals whom readers are likely to have a high opinion of.
There are many forms of advocacy, advocating for specific policies or positions or candidates, but editorials are one of the most notable and revered in society. In fact, advocacy is the primary function of an editorial.
One ongoing issue for the media is advertising. Media outlets are generally for-profit businesses, so generation of revenue is a top priority and advertising is the primary source of revenue (or maybe a close second to subscription revenue if that is applicable.) That’s fine by itself, but there is a very real concern that advertisers may have some degree of influence over decisions about content distributed in the media.
Media outlets insist that there is a Chinese Wall between the revenue side of the house and the content side of the house. The twin difficulties are assuring that the integrity of that wall is maintained and convincing the public of that fact.
Some people find advertisements very annoying or even outright offensive while others find them informative, helpful, and sometimes even entertaining (or maybe merely titillating.)
There are a variety of media outlets which are not chartered as for-profit businesses. Their whole reason for existence is as a public service. Some are strictly neutral, while others have a distinctly partisan sociopolitical stance and even verge on outright advocacy of particular social and political positions. Some examples include:
- Wide range of web sites and blogs
Media outlets are characterized primarily by their final product, such as the printed copy of newspapers and magazines or the audio and video of radio and television shows, but the underlying essence of media is the art, craft, and profession of journalism.
Journalism can include any combination of:
- Simply reporting facts and quotes.
- Analysis and research.
- Expression of opinion.
- Advocacy of particular sociopolitical positions and policies.
- Advocacy for political interests.
Unbiased objectivity is the ideal goal for journalism, but the reality is a wide spectrum of subjectivity, with some journalists being strict reporters and some being outright advocates, and everybody else being somewhere along the spectrum but clustered in the middle.
A key role for journalists is to provide the public with an unvarnished view into what is really happening in the world and in government in particular, rather than the burnished, official view from formal officials.
Advocating for particular social and political positions, policies, and persons is a natural part of any society. Advocacy can occur everywhere and at all levels of society, but is most visible with:
- Political parties
- Major campaign donors
People have a reasonable expectation that government and the markets will generally produce a healthy and vibrant society and enable everyone to achieve a reasonable level of well-being and peace of mind, but all too often the system fails to do so in a complete and equitable manner. That’s where civil society and activism come into play, to strongly advocate for adjustments and possibly radical change to get the system back on a track that does indeed succeed at permitting everyone to achieve the desired level of well-being and peace of mind in as complete and equitable manner as possible.
Activists may be individuals, small groups, and large groups. At the extreme, they may form a movement.
The focus of activism may simply be to apply pressure to government or business to change a particular policy, pass a law, or provide a needed service, or may be broader and deeper to institute major change in society.
Activism is a key part of civil society. More details will be provided in the paper on Elements of Civil Society.
As powerful and sophisticated as the government, authorities, and leadership of society and organizations may be, there will always be quite a few individuals who are not in such positions of authority who have some combination of intelligence, skill, knowledge, expertise, and interest that can be applied to influencing and assisting with the process of formulating, deciding, and implementing policy and operational matters.
Individuals may act alone, form informal groups, or formal organizations. In any case, their actions are from the bottom up, from the grass roots, rather than directed by authority. That gives them a fresh perspective, which helps to minimize risks from policy errors caused by defective mindsets, which are all to common in positions of authority in government and the private sector.
New organizations, efforts, and movements may rise up from the grass roots at any time. They may only exist as long as the energizing issues persist, or they may evolve as issues evolve.
A movement is a broad, generally diffused effort to effect change in society. There are clear goals as to what effects people expect to see. Movements tend to be distributed, focused on local action, rather than strong, centralized command and control. Traditional political parties, politicians, and government officials may or may not support a movement in its early stages.
Civic action such as a protest, march, or letter writing campaign is preceded by a call to mobilize. Mobilization both provides information about what the proposed action is about, as well as encouragement to elicit an enthusiastic and energetic response for the action.
An ideal society would by definition be a civil society, but since no people or government have yet developed anything remotely close to an ideal society, the term civil society is currently reserved to refer to nongovernmental organizations or NGOs or civil society organizations (CSOs) which have as their primary focus the improvement of society through progress towards a more ideal form of society.
Even in a traditional, modern, western-style society there are a variety of types of organizations which seek to pursue progress towards a more ideal society, including:
- Nonprofit organizations
- Philanthropies and foundations
- Religious institutions
- Religious service organizations
- Business philanthropic efforts
- Labor unions
It is also useful to draw a distinction between simple, service-oriented organizations which help people cope with situations in their daily lives and organizations which are more directly focused on changing the system itself.
Strictly humanitarian organizations are a valuable component of a civil society, but may not be directly advocating for change, such as:
- Red Cross
- Doctors Without Borders
- Charity organizations in general
Quite a few organizations are in the gray area, a hybrid between providing services to those in need while advocating vigorously for change in government policies.
Amnesty International is on the border in the gray area between directly helping people in their current situations and advocating against repressive government practices.
Organizations such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) are further across the line, focusing more exclusively on advocacy for pursuit of democracy around the world. But even they are more umbrella service organizations who in turn work with the true, grass roots civil society organizations that work at the local level within the particular countries where democracy is problematic at best.
A separate paper will delve into more detail on all aspects of civil society.
All members of society are expected to contribute to society, but some individuals go way out of their way to add value to their communities and society as a whole. Community stewards can render a purely functional contribution or add a level of enthusiasm and energy that makes society and the community more livable, vibrant, and human.
The elite are influential individuals, sometimes of wealth or social position, who are positioned to influence both government and the rest of society independent of whether they have specific experience relevant to the matter at hand. They may rely on selected experts or their own opinion and life experience.
Some individuals are a hybrid of elite and experts, able to lend significant expertise in addition to their social standing.
Elites will generally seek to influence decisions and policy of both government and business. They may also seek to control decisions and policy, but their success on that front is spotty at best and far from assured, especially since it is strongly discouraged by society as a whole.
An aristocracy is a society and government primarily controlled by those with wealth and social position, aristocrats. Modern, western-style societies and governments are a hybrid, with a significant number of elite aristocrats, people from influential families, but also individuals with business, academic, and professional experience.
A pure aristocracy is not the preferred system for a society focused on the will of the people, but completely eliminating the elite, aristocratic element is not yet practical.
The flip side of aristocracy and elites is populism, government by the people themselves, with minimal elite, aristocratic influence influence and no elite or aristocratic control.
Populism can be good, throwing off the limiting, oppressive, and exploitative shackles of the aristocracy and elites, but the risk is that too many people lack the technical expertise, patience, wisdom, and self control to assure that they can rule wisely rather than a self-indulgent mob. It’s quite a balancing act, one that rarely works out well.
The best we can hope for is to have significant populist influences in society and government even if the formal reins of power still remain in the hands of an enlightened elite.
How the constant struggle between aristocrats and populists will play out remains to be seen. It will likely be a constant see-saw tug of war, which is maybe a great sign of a truly healthy society.
Individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses have a wide variety of ways to influence society, including government, such as:
- Writing letters, making phone calls, and sending emails to elected representatives and leaders.
- Writing letters to the editor of media for publication.
- Communicating and campaigning on social media.
- Running for office.
- Speaking, writing, and appearing in public.
- Public performances and publications designed to influence or at least criticize (or ridicule) government and policy, such as plays, films, books, magazines, including satire and parody.
- Donation of money, land, goods, and services.
- Conversation, debate, and argument between individuals, groups, and organizations.
- Forming, joining, or supporting civil society organizations seeking to influence society and government.
Satire and parody
Satire and parody have a special place in modern society, serving multiple purposes:
- To critique government, social, and business programs, policies, and personalities.
- To attempt to influence same.
- To ridicule same as an act of desperation.
- To blow off steam as a coping mechanism.
- To at least get some pleasure and enjoyment out of an otherwise unpleasant situation.
- To mess with leaders, officials, authority figures, and organizations that one could not ordinarily touch or come near.
- To personally and commercially profit from the foibles of those in power and with authority.
Individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses have a wide variety of ways to influence government, such as:
- The electorate — the citizens, the voters, constituents, who influence government by their ability to grant or withhold their votes based on issues, policy choices, confidence, and personalities of candidates and elected officials running for reelection.
- Running for office — candidates have a bully pulpit.
- Holding office — government officials have a lot of direct influence and even outright control, but frequently they have only a say or a vote and must resort to persuasion.
- Direct feedback from citizens — letters, phone calls, emails, social media expressions directed from citizens to any of the elements of government, with congressional representatives as a traditional favored target, since they tend to be the most responsive and closest to their constituents.
- The elite — influential individuals, typically of wealth or social position who are positioned to influence both government and the rest of society independent of whether they have specific experience relevant to the matter at hand. They may rely of selected experts or their own opinion and life experience.
- Experts — professionals and academics who have specific expertise in matters of interest to government. Government officials and elected representatives are dependent on them in a society filled with such complex laws, rules, systems, and technologies.
- Celebrities — individuals whose celebrity appeal enables them to influence popular opinion and enables them to gain access to government forums such as congressional hearings, as well as spokesperson opportunities.
- The media — through editorials, opinion pieces, and their general ability to influence the electorate and other elements of influence.
- Commentators — individuals with strong opinions that may carry weight either with government officials, staff, or the public.
- Lobbyists — anyone who directly appeals to government officials and staff, although only a small fraction of them are specially designated as registered lobbyists as their primary function when interacting with government.
- Money — outright bribery is illegal, but money has many ways to indirectly influence government decisions and operations.
- Think tanks — write papers and hold public forums to analyze and advocate for issues, positions, and alternatives.
- Interest groups — express opinions on issues of interest to specific constituent groups.
- Civil society — a general reference to any nongovernmental organization (NGO) seeking to influence government policy decisions and operations.
- Activists — individuals or members of groups whose primary focus is advocating for matters that tend to be considered contrary to the interests of the establishment.
- Protesters — activists or other individuals who engage in public protest to draw attention to matters which they feel are not being given sufficient attention by the government.
- Counter-protesters — individuals who are supportive of government or the establishment on matters for which protesters are in opposition.
- Trade groups — organizations representing the interests of specific industries, economic sectors, or groups of businesses.
- Polls — an indirect and approximate measure of sentiment on issues. Officials frequently act in response to shifts in polls.
- Facts — statistics, observations, and scientific measurements that can weigh on decisions and operations.
- Arguments — specific lines of reasoning presented as if fact to sway opinion of either those inside government or those seeking to influence government.
- Petitions, referendums, and initiatives — can sway or direct government decisions and allocation of resources, primarily at the state and local level.
Individuals, groups, organizations, and businesses have every right to influence government and society in general, but some ways are excessive and inappropriate if not outright illegal, such as:
- Bribery of government officials.
- Lying, libel, and slander.
- Quid pro quo agreements.
Corruption of government officials or government operations is especially problematic for society to the extent that it saps or even destroys public confidence in government and society as a whole. That makes it especially urgent for society to have robust mechanisms in place to root out and eliminate corruption. The media and activists can be helpful with this task.
Outright bribery is illegal and quid pro quo arrangements may or may not be illegal depending on the circumstances, but there is a wide spectrum of perception of conflict of interest that can be viewed as a corruption of the system even if it doesn’t rise to the level of outright illegality.
Most decisions in a modern western-style society are made with at least a semblance of consensus. Frequently there is a lack of consensus and a strict majority rule is necessary to move forward. Even then, there may be significant disagreements between the various areas and levels of society, notably government, which require a leader to veto a majority decision. Mechanisms are in place to override vetoes as well. Vetoes are not especially common, but society must be prepared for occasional log jams.
Citizens also wield veto power in the sense of voting officials out of office, recall petitions, and initiatives or referendums to reverse policies. They can also veto business decisions by taking their business elsewhere, or resorting to petitions, protests, and social media campaigns. Shareholders can also vote for or against questions and board of director nominees for publicly-held companies.
The most important measure of the size of a society is its population, which is the total count of individuals residing in a country, region, or community. People are counted periodically via a process known as a census.
The population of a society can be characterized across a wide variety of dimensions or factors:
- Sex — birth gender, current gender, gender identity
- Place of residence
- Hair color
- Eye color
- Facial hair
- Birth defects
- Missing limbs
- Other distinguishing characteristics
- National origin
- Marital status
- Employment status
- Educational status
- Level of education completed and specific degrees
- Family size
- Household role
- Career or profession
- Intelligence and test scores
- Grade point average
- Social status
- Criminal status
- Citizenship status
- Role in community
- Role in government
The challenge with demographics is to determine which factors to focus on and which factors to discount. Some correlations can be very meaningful, while others can be very distracting or outright misleading.
Correlation and causality
It can be relatively easy to establish correlation between various demographic factors, but establishing causality is typically very problematic at best and requires very careful thought, deep insight, and a willingness to dig a lot deeper than the superficial statistics.
All too frequently, causality simply cannot be definitively established at all.
Even when we think we have clearly established causality, we need to think long and hard about whether we are simply fooling ourselves, especially in today’s world with all of its complexity and dynamic and evolving relationships.
Income and wealth
Employment, income, and wealth or savings are important measures of success in a modern society. They don’t indicate that someone is a better person, but simply that they have proven adept at productive and financial pursuits.
Whether running a household, a business, or a government, expenses are the sum of all of the costs associated with maintaining an establishment, including rent, taxes, utilities, and maintenance, as well as the costs associated with the people in that establishment, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education. Granted, an organization pays employees a salary or wages to cover many costs themselves, but indirectly those costs must be taken into account when computing their salary or wages, which are expenses of the establishment.
Income is commonly not very flexible on a short-term basis. As a result, one must take great care to assure that expenses are kept below income. This is accomplished using a budget, which lists all forms of income and all expenses. Having both detailed in one place increases the odds that they can be balanced in any given period of time.
The seesaw transitioning between feast and famine dictate that one should save as much as possible on sunny days to be prepared for rainy days. Savings is simply the surplus of income after expenditures, which is money that can be stored in a bank savings account or invested in some financial instrument, including stocks and bonds.
A deficit is when expenses exceed income during a given period of time. The shortfall must be met either by borrowing money, dipping into savings, or delaying payment of some expenses. Occasional deficits are to be expected, but an ongoing pattern of deficits is unsustainable and a recipe for financial disaster.
Financial instruments are anything that holds, maintains, or enhances the value of money. This would include bank accounts, stocks and bonds, and reasonably liquid investment funds, such as mutual funds.
Insurance policies are also considered financial instruments.
Contracts are also financial instruments, either entitling or obligating one to a future payment stream.
Cash would not normally be considered a financial instrument per se.
Usually people do not keep too much cash on hand, placing most of their money in a bank or investments.
Money sitting in a bank account could be considered either cash or a financial instrument since it is equivalent to either in most circumstances, especially since these days many people make a lot of small, everyday purchases using a bank debit card.
Liquidity is simply the ease with which a financial instrument can be turned into hard cash or transferred as money. It also factors in the prospect for a discount on the value if liquidation is attempted at a time of financial distress.
Real estate is notoriously illiquid — it may take months or even years to sell a property.
Assets are the property or financial instruments that an individual, family, business, or organization has accumulated over time as a result of savings. Although the value of the assets can be estimated, assets themselves are simply a catalog of the individual assets, independent of their perceived value, which may change over time.
Wealth is generally used as a synonym for assets, but wealth is the sum total of the value of the assets, the property and financial instruments.
Estate and inheritance
An individual who accumulates wealth during their lifetime has the right to direct who should receive their assets upon their death. The estate of a person consists of their accumulated assets. Their directions are codified in their will and last testament. They may direct that their assets go to specific individuals or even named organizations. They may or may not direct that family members receive an inheritance of the assets, or which family members or unrelated individuals should receive which assets.
Unemployment or unskilled employment, lack of income or very low income, and negligible savings are measures associated with poverty, which is considered the opposite of success in modern society.
In rare cases, such as individuals who choose to live off grid, unemployment, lack of income, and negligible savings are a choice and not the result of failure, but generally poverty is considered a failure in society, either a failure of the individuals, their communities, or society as a whole.
A variety of anti-poverty programs and initiatives exist in society, with a mixed record of performance, but debate about the best approaches to eliminating poverty remains unresolved at the present time and will likely continue to be unresolved for the indefinite future.
People may be out of work for a variety of reasons:
- Laid off.
- Voluntarily quit, for any number of reasons.
- Voluntarily taking time off for personal reasons.
- Unable to find work.
Technically, finding work is the responsibility of the individual, but society, especially government and business, can and should provide a wide range of services to assist individuals in finding gainful and satisfying employment.
Unemployment insurance and benefits are available, sometimes, but spotty at best. How to best deal with unemployment is an ongoing debate within society.
Not everyone who is not employed is necessarily counted as unemployed, such as:
- Young people in school.
- Adults returning to school.
- Mentally incompetent.
- Unpaid caregiver.
- Voluntarily taking time off for personal pursuits.
- Abandoned hope of finding work.
- Voluntarily off the grid.
Society should have programs to help those not employed find gainful and satisfying employment, if they so choose.
Some people have jobs but are not satisfied with them, such as:
- Part-time — desire full-time employment but it is not available.
- Have a job that they are over-qualified for, but jobs for which they are qualified are not available.
- Desire training for a higher position for which they are otherwise qualified, but training is not available.
- Temporary work while waiting for some unrelated life event, such as artists, actors, students, parents with older children.
Many or even most countries have an overwhelming dominant ethnicity. Other countries have a mixed ethnicity. America is somewhat unique as the epitome of a country built by immigrants, with representation for all manner of ethnicities.
Assimilation, represented by the metaphor of America as a melting pot, is of course encouraged, but not mandatory. Even with assimilation, ethnic differences will still abound and are to be encouraged in addition to merely tolerated.
Still, there does need to be a critical mass of assimilation for society to exist in a harmony of disparate interests.
In an ideal society everyone is a citizen, but most modern societies are far from being so ideally homogenized. Residency is a convenient way to categorize the nature of each individual’s legal status relative to being an ideal citizen:
- Natural born citizen
- Naturalized citizen
- Indigenous people
- Visitors, such as tourists
- Work visas
- Permanent resident visa
- Illegal or undocumented presence
Citizens have a range of responsibilities and possible roles in civic affairs, including:
- Jury duty
- Military service
- Run for office
- Serve in elected office
- Seek appointment to office
- Serve in appointed office
- Seek employment as government staff
- Work in employment on government staff
- Consumer of government services
- Speak out on issues, policies, and events
- Join or organize groups advocating on issues, policies, and events
- Join or organize a political party
A willingness to contribute one’s time and energy on a voluntary basis to pursue some laudable social goal is a highly valued trait in any modern society. Volunteers are a major part of what makes any society great.
Short of being a good citizen, an individual may suffer from some mental or social dysfunction:
- Alleged criminal
- Convicted criminal
- Undetected criminal
- Mental incompetence
- Drug addiction and alcoholism
- Antisocial behavior
- Infants — unaware of citizenship and civic roles.
- Children — introduction to civic roles.
- Youth near voting age — accelerated learning about civic roles.
- Adults — vote and participate in governance.
- Felons — lose voting right.
- Mentally incompetent — lose voting rights.
- Homeless — still permitted to vote.
- Native Americans — have all of the rights as any other American citizen.
- Elderly — still entitled to vote, but dwindling ability to actively participate in governance.
Society is critically dependent on participation by its citizens. In fact, one can judge the health and sustainability of a society by the degree of citizen participation.
Although private ownership of property and government-owned facilities are quite common, there is a social need for public spaces that are readily available to all members of society, such as:
- Local parks
- State parks
- National parks
- Local squares and plazas
There is also the concept of privately-owned publicly-accessible spaces, such as:
- Shopping malls
- Designated space around buildings
- Some office building lobbies
Exactly which activities can be pursued in a given space varies and may be a matter of dispute or regulated in some way, such as:
- Organized sporting events
- Active recreation
- Passive recreation
- Casual socializing
- Protests, demonstrations, rallies, marches
- Commercial vendors
- Political campaigning
- Use of amplified sound
- Time of day or day of week
- Security concerns
To complement the social qualities of public spaces, society needs to offer private spaces where individuals and groups can engage in private pursuits with the certain knowledge that their right to privacy will be respected.
An individual’s home is the only place that has a virtual guarantee of privacy. Other locations may offer some semblance of privacy, but with various caveats. A hotel room, an office, a restroom, a private room in a restaurant, a vehicle, a safe-deposit box, a lawyer’s office, a doctor’s office, a church confessional, a secluded area, and a park bench all offer some degree of privacy, but each has its own exceptions.
One’s pockets and bags also offer some degree of privacy.
Granted, a court-ordered warrant or the mere discretion of a law enforcement officer can overcome virtually all forms of private space.
About the only private space that cannot be penetrated are your thoughts that you keep in your head. Even then, authority can request or demand that you provide access to those thoughts, but they can still be kept private short of chemical intervention or outright torture.
Human nature and larger populations conspire to thwart the values of even the best of societies, resulting in a significant incidence of criminal activity. Efforts can be made to reduce crime, but it will inevitably persist to some degree.
Social systems, particularly government, need to have a wide variety of mechanisms for coping with crime, including:
- Reasonable social services and opportunities for productive pursuits that eliminate a lot of the economic drivers of crime.
- Satisfying diversions that offer an alternative to criminal temptations.
- Deterrents to crime.
- Policing as a backstop to deterrents.
- Policing to detect crimes at an early stage before too much damage is done.
- Policing to catch crimes in progress.
- Investigation to catch perpetrators of crimes.
- Prosecution for crimes.
- Fines, penalties, incarceration, and other costs as punishment and deterrent for crimes.
- Restitution to compensate for loss, punish for the crime, and deter future crime.
- Rehabilitation to reduce potential for future crime.
- Education to deter crime.
- Media coverage to deter crime.
Cheating may or may not constitute a crime. It can range from a very innocent act that harms no one, to a moral outrage which offends but is not a crime, to outright fraud which is a crime. People accept that some amount of seemingly innocent or benign cheating is inevitable and must be tolerated, but serious cheating needs to be socially if not criminally sanctioned.
Fraud is intentional deceit in pursuit of personal or financial gain. More specifically, fraud is the act of making fraudulent statements. There are a variety of laws governing fraud. Fraud is a fairly serious crime, but there is also a sliding scale of seriousness.
A scam is a scheme to achieve a gain through the use of fraud. Technically, a scam is fraud, but there are a wide variety of specific scams, each tending to have a name and involve some sort of more complicated activity other than the simple act of making a false statement.
A hoax may or may not be a scam or fraud, depending on whether it is merely intended to embarrass people or if there is actually some tangible personal or financial gain to be gotten. A hoax tends to be an elaborate story, which when finally discovered is more of an intellectual embarrassment that the individual believed it in the first place, the only harm being to one’s ego and possibly reputation.
A Scam or simple fraud is more of a simple falsehood which would otherwise be quite believable and credible if it wasn’t actually false. Scams tend to be relatively simple and otherwise not very noteworthy, while hoaxes tend to be complex or bordering on the incredible.
Sin is more a matter of religion or morality, but has a role in society. Even if an allegedly sinful act is not technically a crime, dispute over its morality can cause dispute and even outright conflict in society. Society needs mechanisms for coping with moral conflicts in society, either encouraging and enforcing tolerance or encouraging discussion and debate so that an airing of grievances can improve understanding. The differences may not be reconcilable, but an agreement to disagree should be a reasonable middle ground.
The status of criminals in a society is quite problematic. The continue to have rights, but they are severely constrained in a variety of ways.
The status of criminals evolves as they work their way through the many stages of the criminal justice system:
- Identified as a person of interest, appear on the radar of law enforcement.
- Possibly exonerated.
- Possibly merely found technically not guilty but with lingering uncertainly or outright certainly they committed the alleged acts even though a guilty verdict was avoided due to technical considerations.
- Possible restitution.
- Possible rehabilitation.
- Possibly executed.
- Possibly killed or prematurely died while incarcerated.
- Possibly died a natural death while incarcerated.
- Felony status.
- Possibly pardoned.
Their rights to vote and hold office will vary according to statutory law at the state level.
Criminal justice system
Although nominally part of government, the criminal justice system has a more special place in society since it is a force for deterrence of criminal behavior and enforcement of laws that can directly impact all members of society in their daily lives in their local communities and even their families in their homes.
The major components of the criminal justice system are:
- Statutory laws
- Law enforcement personnel, the police
- Citizens as jurors and witnesses, and as defendants
- Bail bonds and bondsmen
- Law firms
More on the criminal justice system can be found in the paper on Elements of Government.
Punishment is the imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense, both to impose a burden to reinforce in society the unacceptable nature of the offense, and also to serve as a deterrent to future instances of the offense.
Unfortunately, the deterrent effect is fairly weak, weakened by the not unreasonable belief by potential offenders that they stand a good chance of evading apprehension. Nonetheless,even a weak deterrent is much better than no deterrent.
Common penalties include:
- Community service
- Loss of rights and privileges
Punishment is a form of retributive justice. An alternative is restorative justice. Efforts to shift current criminal justice systems to include more elements of restorative justice are underway, but in an uneven manner, on an uncertain trend, and with uncertain outcome.
Rehabilitation is not technically part of punishment, but is part of restoration.
Rehabilitation is the process of restoring an individual to a healthy mental attitude towards society and eliminating any disposition towards criminal behavior. Although rehabilitation of criminal offenders is a nominal goal of modern society, it has a spotty record, even when the justice system is actively encouraging and supporting it, which it commonly isn’t other than on a superficial basis. That said, rehabilitation is an essential goal for the criminal justice system.
Nominally, rehabilitation should include:
- Vocational and occupational training and skills development
- Anger management
- Social skill development
- Substance abuse treatment
- Mental health treatment
Technically, rehabilitation means to restore an individual to their previous state of fitness, but in many cases individuals never had an initial state of fitness.
Society needs to expend more resources on rehabilitation programs as well as researching better alternatives to current programs. Resources also need to be expended researching how to best cope with individuals who never had a baseline stable life to restore them to.
The term rehabiliation also is applied to health care, including physical therapy and cognitive therapy, as well as recovery from substance abuse.
Detention is the holding of an individual in a facility or manner such that they no longer possess the opportunity to move about as they see fit. They have lost their liberty, their freedom of movement, at least temporarily. They may be:
- Stopped by police, possibly in a vehicle or on the street, or in a building.
- Being transported in a law enforcement vehicle after arrest.
- In a holding cell or an interrogation room for law enforcement questioning.
- In jail awaiting trial or arraignment.
- Incarcerated as a result of a criminal conviction.
- Being transported to or from a court facility.
- Held for questioning by other law enforcement forces such as immigration, customs, airline security, drug enforcement, homeland security, FBI.
The status of an individual’s rights will vary depending on the stage of detention.
Society has an obligation to make detention as least intrusive as possible, but also has an obligation to protect the rest of society from the risk of harm.
The specific meaning of detention in law may relate to the short period of time before an arrest, where custody following arrest is not technically detention per se, but for purposes here, detention is any loss of liberty and freedom of movement.
Execution is the most extreme for of punishment for criminal offenses.
It is believed to have a significant deterrent effect, but that is a matter of ongoing debate.
Most modern, western-style societies have banned the death penalty. The U.S. is the most glaring exception, although more than one in three states in the U.S. have abolished the death penalty.
The trend is clearly towards a reduction in the use of the death penalty, but whether or when that leads to a complete ban in modern, western-style societies is unclear at this time.
The justice system includes both the criminal justice system and the civil justice system.
Beyond the cursory material in this paper, more detail on the justice system can be found in the paper on the Elements of Government.
Civil justice system
Private disputes that do not involve a crime can be addressed using the civil justice system, by filing a civil lawsuit. Judgments and settlements can provide the plaintiff with significant relief to compensate for the alleged harm or loss.
More on lawsuits and civil courts can be found in the paper on Elements of Government.
Beyond basic crime, a variety of scandalous behavior can occur in a society, actions that may be technically legal but offend the moral and ethical values of many people.
At the government level, one can encounter of scandals involving government officials, government programs, and government money:
- Witch hunts
- Marital infidelity
- Inappropriate relationships
The paper on Elements of Government describes scandals at the government level in more detail.
Scandals outside of government can include:
- Shady business practices
- Marital infidelity
- Inappropriate relationships
- Morally and ethical dubious behavior by notable members of society, other than those involved in government
Conflict of interest
An ongoing social problem is officials and staff acting with conflicts of interest, meaning that they, relatives, friends, or entities that they may seek favors from in the future have something to gain if they decide or act in a certain way, as opposed to simply deciding and acting solely on the merits of the matter before them.
There are an escalating series of stages in conflict of interest:
- Perceived conflict of interest
- Potential conflict of interest
- Possible conflict of interest
- Actual conflict of interest
- Action in self-interest
Torture is generally not as much of a problem in modern, western-style societies since it is banned, but it can still occur, either among individuals or groups, such as gangs and criminal organizations. Whether nominally legal extreme interrogation and punishment techniques constitute torture is an ongoing matter of debate and dispute.
Even if torture is banned in a given society, it may still be practiced in other societies with which the society has interactions or even close relations. How best to cope with that knowledge of torture elsewhere is a matter of ongoing debate.
If conflict gets too out of hand, government may be forced to send in military troops or the national guard to stop or deter conflict.
Troops can also be sent to other countries to perform that same role as peacekeepers.
A country may also seek to arrange for troops from other countries to perform the role of peacekeepers. This requires that they not be directly involved with the combatant forces.
The goals of peacekeeping troops are to act as a buffer between combatants and to instill a sense of calm to replace the sense of hostility.
Society is rarely in a static, final form, but tends to undergo continual change. Improvement in society is known as progress.
Progress is rarely linear, smooth, and necessarily forward at all stages. Sometimes society will be relatively stagnant for extended periods or even experience extended periods of significant decline. Other times positive changes can occur in great leaps.
Usually change comes in the form of fits and starts that can only be seen as significant forward progress if one steps back and observes society from a distance over an extended period of time.
Some change may seem very positive, but end up not being very durable and sustainable, and quickly be reversed.
Some regressions may seem very negative and hopeless, but with a little patience and dissipation of passion result in quick reversal to get society back on track for forward progress.
Sometimes progress requires intense struggle, while sometimes it simply requires modest to moderate effort coupled with dogged persistence and moderate patience.
Sometimes progress comes in the form of setting goals and working towards them, while other times progress is unexpected and comes as a natural course of evolution within the many elements of society, without any preset goals or fixed plan.
Making a better world
Although the primary objective of society is to sustain itself and its members, making the world a better place to live is widely accepted as an important if not primary role and goal for society. That said, achieving that goal or even detailing the goal and the methods to achieve it are an ongoing, open matter of debate in society, although common objectives include:
- Eliminating poverty.
- Eliminating disease.
- Eliminating inequality.
- Eliminating injustice, discrimination, and unequal treatment.
- Eliminating intolerance.
- Assuring and expanding human rights.
- Eliminating torture, abuse, and inhumanity.
- Ensuring access to health care.
- Ensuring access to education.
- Ensuring decent housing for all.
- Expanding economic opportunity for all.
- Fully funding infrastructure development.
- Ensuring access to clean water.
- Ensuring air quality.
- Protecting the environment.
- Eliminating tyranny.
- Ensuring that government is responsive to the needs of the people.
Perfect as enemy of the good
Society tends to have an ongoing tension between those for whom nothing short of perfection and the ideal is acceptable and those who subscribe to the traditional aphorism that we shouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, that we should accept some progress even if it has flaws rather than make no progress while sticking to our ideals.
Consensus is generally a good thing, but not always easily reachable or even reachable with great effort. Nonetheless, it is a great goal to always have.
Sometimes difficult decisions are needed even when no consensus can be reached. That is always a tool available in society, but it should also generally be used only as a last resort.
An absolute consensus for all members of a group may be needed in some situations, for reasonably small groups, but merely an overwhelming majority is more realistic for larger groups or society as a whole.
A simply majority or even a super-majority may be sufficient for ordinary decisions, but major decisions should be agreeable to more like 80% of the group.
How to deal with decisions in a divided society where even a simple super-majority (two out of three) is unachievable is an ongoing problem. Progress is stymied or compromised, but progress does need to be by consensus anyway, so the lack of progress in a divided society is what should be expected, at least until the membership of society evolves over time, eventually seeing a shifting of demographics and sentiment that reduces divisions.
Some degree of compromise is commonly needed in order to achieve at least an approximation of consensus.
Compromise is certainly not the first and best preference, but is a wise path when consensus is otherwise out of the question.
An alternative to compromise is to defer action and simply accept and endure the status quo until either a true consensus or an acceptable compromise can be reached.
Accepting the current state of affairs in society, the status quo, can be a double-edged sword, sometimes allowing a stable society to thrive, while delaying needed change at other times which sometimes leading to social decline or unrest. Society, its leaders, and its members are constantly walking a tightrope, always agonizing over whether the status quo is currently a good thing or a bad thing.
The track of progress over time constitutes the history of a country and a people.
History is recorded, reviewed, and studied, both to learn from it and to be reminded of the lessons learned as progress was made, to guide us both in the here and now and on the path into the future as well.
Sometimes elements of history repeat themselves, or at least appear to repeat, although any repetition is rarely exact and accurate, and frequently can merely be an illusion as subtle factors may be in play that are no always readily apparent.
Some factors and aspects of history may indeed repeat or at least crop up repeatedly since so much of what happens in society is driven by basic human nature, which doesn’t change that much over decades and even centuries.
Some aspects of history are so compelling that we feel compelled to repeat them or at least pay homage to them, whether through special holidays, events, programs, education, or other ways of ingraining them in national values.
Beyond formal history of a society there are the informal shared memories of times past which are handed down from generation to generation as part of popular culture. Folklore may be preserved in a variety of forms:
- Written, such as personal letters
- Songs and ballads
- Apocryphal tales
- Notable figures
- Places they lived or engaged in notable activities
- Famous sayings, aphorisms, and quotes
- Human or even super-human qualities that they epitomized
- Legends and myths of dubious veracity but compelling appeal
One important function of history is to remind people of important historic events, people, and values that hold some special significance to society. The memories of those past events and people can have a powerful effect on reinforcing shared values of society. Remembrance adds an emotional component to the intellectual component of raw, dry, factual historical record.
Memorials may be physical monuments, structures, or annual days of remembrance, celebration, and festivities, all intended to evoke the memory of events, people, and values important to society.
People tend to be more successful and content to the degree that there is a reasonable degree of order in their communities. Government is a primary vehicle for achieving and maintaining order. Social and peer pressure also maintain order. But ultimate responsibility for order rests with individuals and their own personal behavior.
A reasonable degree of predictability is very beneficial in society, allowing people to plan ahead as well as focus more on the tasks in front of them. Without order, predictability is impossible.
Change is a good thing too, and absolutely required for the health of society, but there needs to be a reasonable balance between order and change.
As important as order is, people need justice to feel that they have a secure place in society. Justice tends to respect order, but occasionally the two do get out of sync, possibly because times change and the preferred model of justice has moved faster than the underlying social order.
At those times, change may be needed, although the nature, timing, and pace of change is frequently a matter of debate and dispute.
Conflict between order and justice
Although society needs both order and justice, at times they can become out of balance, such as:
- A disenfranchised or disaffected group seeks justice that may disturb order.
- A community seeks to restore order even though the disorder may have its roots in at least a perception of injustice.
- A community restricts rights during a crisis, including natural disasters, wars, acts of terrorism, disruptions of infrastructure, or outbreak of disease, seeking to preserve or restore at least a modicum of order, but with justice only a distant second in priority.
There is a strain of belief that says that true change can only occur by shaking up the system with disruption that may have a significant component of force if not outright violence.
There is a competing strain of belief that says that the only durable change comes from working through the system and through methodical changes to the system.
The tension between the two strains of thought remains unresolved and is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
Social justice and equity
It is important for all segments of society to have equal access to all elements of society, including government.
Inequalities may be due to historical factors.
As society evolves, new segments may appear, either due to immigration or to division of existing segments, in which case inequalities may arise in the new segments which may need to be addressed by government policies and actions.
Not all aspects of social justice can be addressed or fully addressed by government or by government alone.
Nor can all aspects of all inequalities be addressed overnight. Priorities need to be set. Persistence and patience are needed in equal doses.
Injustice occurs when individuals, groups, or organizations feel that they are not being treated fairly by society as a whole or government and the justice system in particular. Most commonly injustice involves minorities, marginalized groups, or instances of outright corruption in government or the justice system.
Efforts are ongoing to cure injustice, to make society more just for all, but progress is erratic and uneven at best. Society must give a high priority to the goal of curing all forms of injustice.
Government role in justice
Government has the primary role in providing and enforcing justice in a modern, western-style society. Laws, civil actions, and courts are the primary mechanisms for seeking and achieving justice.
Court of public opinion
People, groups, and organizations may also seek to pursue justice in the court of public opinion. People try to convince others about grievances that need redress that is not available under law, via civil action, or in the courts. If enough people are persuaded, they can apply pressure on government officials, or maybe the weight of public sentiment will be sufficient to nudge officials into action. The action may merely be a policy change or could require the passage or repeal of a law. In any case, government still retains the primary role of moderating justice in society.
Theories of justice
There are a variety of proposals for alternative models of justice, but there does not appear to be much of an appetite to actually experiment with them using real people as human guinea pigs.
Restorative justice, discussed elsewhere in this paper, gets at least a little attention.
Diversion programs are also getting a little attention, to give young offenders a second chance but without giving them a completely free pass.
The public depends on the stability of society and government in their daily lives. People need to know where they stand and what role society and government will have in their lives. People want the trains to run on time.
Stability is a key metric for society and government.
That said, society and government must change with the times, so there is a constant need for revision at some level. That said as well, any impulse to change must be moderated to make it palatable, economic, and sustainable so that people can maintain their confidence that society and government is stable.
People will tend to feel indignant if treated unfairly in some persistent or pervasive manner. This is simply human nature. The question is how individuals and groups channel the anger of that indignation, either to simply rebel and lash out, or to use the energy of that anger to implement change that addresses the persistent or pervasive unfairness that fueled it.
As with nature, society and government can evolve slowly with minor changes or on rare occasions with big, radical leaps. Radical change is not out of the question, but must be considered carefully since the consequences could be far-reaching and unlikely to be readily apparent in advance.
Even very minor revisions amount to change, but it is not uncommon to reserve the term change for large changes, sea changes — Change with a capital C rather than a little c.
Some change will occur as officials, government staff, elected representatives, and leaders in society respond to events, technological advances, and market forces, while some change occurs only as a result of pressure from lobbyists, constituent sentiment, and influence from interest groups and so-called civil society.
Form of change
Change can come in many ways:
- Naturally, as the situation and environment change, barely even noticeable or even noteworthy.
- Gradually, in an orderly manner, noticeable but not terribly noteworthy.
- Incrementally, with clear, significant steps.
- Deliberate reform based on consensus.
- Urgently, in response to some significant event or circumstance but with a general consensus.
- The result of technological or social innovation.
- Disruptively, in an unplanned and even undesired manner.
Pace of change
Change can occur at a variety of paces:
- Small, one-time changes.
- Slow, gradual, and incremental.
- Rapidly, but in a planned, intentional, and compatible manner.
- Sudden but one-time changes in response to a specific, urgent event.
- Revolutionary, overnight, in an incompatible manner, but with lasting effects.
Change occurs continually at all levels of society. Change may be social, political, economic, or technological. Reform is carefully considered and packaged change approved by a consensus. It may consist of policy changes, rule changes, or enactment or repeal of changes to law.
The system has many processes in place to effect real change, but sometimes that is not enough for some people, who don’t feel the system is being responsive, and even that the system itself is the problem rather than enabling solutions and change. Various forms of disruption may then be pursued in pursuit of change, such as:
- Civil unrest
- Direct action — protests, demonstrations, rallies, marches
- Civil disobedience
- Civil war
Revolution is the ultimate change in government, through violent force, but of course should only be even contemplated if circumstances are truly drastic.
Support for revolution must be widespread through all regions, segments, and strata of society for it to succeed.
A coup is a partial revolution, seeking to maintain most of the existing social order, but quickly seizing the reins of power through distinctly non-democratic means, commonly but not necessarily violent.
Coups may be claimed to be revolutions, but that is a misleading label when the vast bulk of the social and governmental order is kept intact, with only key leadership positions usurped.
Short of outright revolution, rebellion is the use of force to force changes in the established governmental order or to simply refuse to comply with demands of the government.
A rebellion may be limited to one segment of society.
A rebellion typically will not change government itself, but merely establish that some aspects of government will not be enforced in the area of rebellion.
Whether rebellion is successful and expands and actually does succeed in forcing change in government is problematic at best. It does happen on occasion, but usually the rebellion either fails quickly or eventually dissipates.
In rare cases, government leadership will see that the rebels have a point and implement change in order to limit the rebellion and to deter future rebellion.
Insurrection is the traditional term for what we call rebellion today. The U.S. Constitution refers to both, as if synonyms.
An uprising is generally the same as insurrection and rebellion, but more extreme than mere unrest.
Short of outright rebellion, coup, or revolution, civil unrest is an option for change as well. To be clear, government has an obligation to put down insurrection, rebellion, and violent or disruptive unrest, so civil unrest is usually an unwise choice, especially since the color of violence has a very good chance of severely muting any actual message of request for change.
The simplest form of civil unrest is people grumbling and milling around. Very little interesting and useful change will result from simple unrest.
It lets people blow off a little steam, but that’s about all.
Yes, unrest can lead to change, but commonly won’t and is not a preferred first choice — or even second or third choice. Working through the system will always be a wise choice.
The real risk is that simple unrest spirals out of control and devolves into angry mobs and outright rioting, also not so likely to result is substantial, desirable change.
Rioting is the most common form of civil unrest, but with little chance of resulting in substantial reform.
Protest, demonstration, rallies, and marches
Unrest may be simply a generally negative sentiment concerning some aspect of society or policy of government. It may simply be all talk, grumbling, milling around, even angry shouting, or may evolve into peaceful protests, demonstrations, rallies, and marches or other so-called actions.
Such peaceful actions remain legal as long as they respect the law and allow government to continue to function and fellow citizens to go about their daily lives.
These peaceful actions are also in contrast with civil disobedience, which is by definition illegal.
Protests, demonstrations, rallies, and marches are collectively known as direct actions, in contrast with talks, speeches, and publications which advocate for change, but don’t immediately include people actually taking action in public.
Civil disobedience would also constitute direct action.
Not all direct action will be strictly legal. Civil disobedience is by definition illegal, but not normally in a violent sense.
Direct actions can include significant elements of disruption, force, and even violence, such as:
- Blocking entrances to buildings.
- Shouting at public meetings to prevent normal proceedings.
- Blocking streets.
- Blocking highways or entrance ramps.
- Throwing paint.
- Defacing property.
- Destroying property.
- Throwing rocks, bottles, and debris.
- Throwing Molotov cocktails.
- Lighting fires.
- Burning buildings.
- Putting up barricades.
- Interfering with traffic.
- Interfering with the activities of government employees.
- Taunting law enforcement officers, government officials, and business leaders.
Whether a given direct action is illegal will vary and can depend on the context, extent, and tone of the action.
Civic action is any activity undertaken by individuals or groups to have an impact on the community and society as a whole, as distinct from productive pursuits, diversions, and official government business. Civic action may include the protests, demonstrations, rallies, and marches of direct action, but also includes community service projects, advocacy efforts, and lobbying, such as calling officials and representatives, and letter writing campaigns.
Generally, civic action would be limited to strictly legal activities. Most direct action would be legitimate civic action. Technically, illegal activities, including civil disobedience would not fall into the category of civic action, but some people would include it as a gray area, provided that the disobedience is strictly peaceful in nature.
Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in modern, western-style societies, but is still a violation of law, distinguishing it from protest, demonstration, rallies, marches and other forms of direct action and civic action which can be accomplished fully within the law.
In fact, being in violation of the law is the explicit point of an act of civil disobedience — to make the sociopolitical statement that the nature of the grievance is such a burden that the participants are willing to risk the consequences of breaking the law in order to draw attention to the grievance.
The cultural norm for civil disobedience is that it remain civil, with no violence and no aggressive action towards the officers who inevitably enforce the law. Officers may be required to physically remove individuals, but normally with little if any force required. Individuals usually either calmly go with officers when they are grabbed by the arm or don’t resist when one or more officers are forced to carry them away.
Superficially the act of civil disobedience may constitute an actual disruption, but the cultural norm is that the disruption is so minor and temporary that most people are fully able to go about their lives and access government, business, and private facilities and services with little to no real disruption.
Forceful resistance to the efforts of officers would result in more forceful enforcement by the officers and a greater charge, and also cross the line from the traditional norm of peaceful civil disobedience to outright disruption.
As a general proposition, civil disobedience has a rather passive character, drawing attention to the greivance, but maintaining a true sense of calm.
Actions become illegal when they cross the line and devolve into some level of force, either disruptive of the daily lives of people or interfere with operation of government or outright violence.
Any kind of disruption has the potential to result in disorder that risks social stability.
Many disruptions are relatively minor and temporary so that the risk of significant disorder is very minimal.
Nonetheless, law enforcement must remain vigilant to both respect civil rights and the right to speak, associate, and assemble, as well as to be on the alert for any truly destabilizing disruption that has the potential to cause harm and damage or even simply to disrupt the daily lives of members of the public.
Passion and anger can quickly take over in situations of disorder, resulting in an escalation into violence, such as throwing of objects, fighting, beatings, breaking of windows, looting, fires, and general destruction of property.
Riots tend to be short-lived and dissipate almost as quickly as they came about, as opposed to a true uprising which might use riot as a tool, much the way fire can be used as a tool, but with some political goal clearly in focus, whereas a riot is ultimately simply an acting out of anger.
Disorder does occur on occasion, maybe more commonly as a result of natural disaster, but usually local government is able to relatively quickly restore order. This is not necessarily always the case. All levels of government must be prepared for the possibility that disorder will quickly spin out of control and devolve into uncontrollable chaos.
Revolution and rebellion are conflicts between the people and the government. Civil war is a conflict between distinct groups of people in the same country, at a national level.
Regime change is a change in political power within a country. Although the term can be used for any change in power leadership, it is generally used when there has been some abnormal change, typically by non-democratic means.
It can mean a change in power instigated by one or more foreign countries either by direct invasion or through indirect, even democratic means, possibly by influencing and aiding groups using resources and support from outside the country, as well as support for and coordination of nongovernmental organizations.
A common strategy is to incite domestic unrest with the expectation that it will lead to favorable elections, a political compromise, or outright rebellion or even revolution.
Technically, a normal, democratic election can be considered regime change, especially if a party or leader had been entrenched for some extended period of time, or maybe a fresh, new leader had only been in power for a short period of time but managed to be extremely unpopular. Normally a peaceful and calm transition of power would not be termed a regime change.
Technically a coup is a form of regime change, but coups tend to be internal affairs as opposed to foreign-inspired affairs. Still, there is plenty of room for vagueness and fuzzy, contextual usage of these terms.
To summarize, the common forms of regime change are:
- Democratic election.
- Foreign intervention.
Sometimes even revolution is not a viable solution to the difficulties experienced by an individual, family, group, or entire segment of society. For them, emigration may be their only viable option — leaving their country and seeking to become a citizen of another country.
Emigration has in fact been the key driving force behind the dramatic growth of the U.S., a nation of immigrants.
Off the grid
Individuals, families, and groups can also reject society by simply going off the grid, separating themselves physically from the goods, services, structure, and governance of society, and living off the land.
Communes, cults, and hermits have in common this desire to completely separate themselves from society.
In many cases, the separation from society may only be temporary and be used as a way to gain perspective so that when they return to society they have new coping mechanisms that enable them to feel less disenfranchised.
Homelessness can be a variation that provides a partial separation from society.
Indigenous people may also be considered to be living at least partially off the grid, maybe not so much by choice or rejection of society, but simply as it being their natural state, even before the currently dominant society came into existence.
Refuge and sanctuary
Individuals and groups occasionally need to seek isolation from the full brunt of daily social life. The home is the simplest and most effective form of refuge and sanctuary. Religious buildings can act as sanctuary as well.
Political refuge or asylum can be offered to individuals from other countries.
Vacations, resorts, hideaways, and wilderness can also offer temporary refuge and sanctuary from the pressures of normal daily life.
Modern, western-style society makes a determined effort to support a diverse population, with freedom of religion, nondiscrimination based on race, ethnicity, and national origin, so that sectarian struggle is not an issue. In theory.
Individual groups may at times feel a sense of inequity, which requires some form of accommodation to remove the inequity. This may not occur promptly, leading to unrest, but usually not to the degree of division and strife seen in many non-western societies.
Any severe disruption of daily life in society is a crisis, such as:
- Natural disaster
- Extreme weather event
- Terrorist attack
- Major strike
- Extreme economic distress
- Extreme political disruption or scandal
- Death or disability of key leaders
- Extreme social unrest
Societies and governments have a variety of mechanisms and contingency plans for the wide variety of critical situations that have been known to occur in the past and are expected to occur in the future. These plans may or may not be sufficient for a new crisis, and the execution of those plans may or may not be carried out in a fully professional and competent manner, triggering an added crisis of its own.
Each crisis tests society twice, once to see if the contingency plans are effective, and a second time to see how the members of society respond, whether they are resilient and bounce right back, and whether they learn and grow from the crisis.
Part of the response to the crisis is to perform an evaluation of the technical response to determine if the contingency plans were valid, and to attempt to determine if there are any lessons learned from the whole experience.
There is no strict definition about what constitutes an indigenous people, but the general concept is that for a country that has a dominant culture born of colonization and immigration, any existing peoples before colonization and immigration or their descendants would constitute indigenous peoples.
Australia has its aboriginal peoples and the U.S. has its American Indians or Native Americans.
Indigenous peoples are generally accorded the same rights as individuals and citizens of the non-indigenous, dominant culture, but also retain the rights of their traditional, indigenous cultures.
This results in societies within a large society, which can be problematic and requires special attention in governance and perception of cultural norms.
Productive members of society are expected to maintain a residence, a home, but individuals and even families may be homeless for various reasons, such as:
- Economic factors — lack of income, or insufficient income.
- Natural disaster — physical destruction of their homes.
- Mental health — they may have been thrown out or voluntarily run away from a legitimate residence.
- Drug and alcohol dependence — making it difficult to maintain income and stable relationships.
It is up to society, at the individual, community, and national government level to devise philosophies, strategies, policies, and programs for coping with homeless individuals and families.
Citizenship status is not contingent upon a traditional residence.
The homeless generally retain all of the rights of individuals who have a residence.
Cults are informal organizations that have a shared set of beliefs and practices, a leader, and system of governance that is a significant departure from the norms of society.
A cult may or may not have an underlying religious basis.
A cult may or may not be forcing members to remain within the cult, but may exert significant social pressure that maintains the integrity of the cult.
Cults can be problematic for society in that while on the one hand individuals are free to join them, society must be vigilant to detect when participation in the cult becomes involuntary, a form of enslavement or imprisonment.
Individuals or groups may be treated as less than fully welcome in their families and communities based on a wide variety of factors, such as:
- Rumors and gossip
Modern society is diverse enough that outcasts from one group or community can frequently find a home in another group or community.
In extreme cases social outcasts may:
- Become homeless and drifters.
- Drop off the grid.
- Commit suicide.
- Lash out violently and need to be institutionalized or even incarcerated.
An outlier is an individual or group that is significantly distinct from the other members of their group, community, or society as a whole, but not necessarily in a bad way. Outliers tend to be at the extreme. They may be:
- Much smarter (or less intelligent) than everyone else.
- Much stronger (or weaker) than everyone else.
- Much faster (or slower) than everyone else.
- Much more resilient (or weaker, fragile, or inflexible) than everyone else.
- Much more effective (or ineffective) than everyone else.
- Much more tolerate (or intolerant) than everyone else.
- Much more patient (or impatient) than everyone else.
- Much more generous (or stingy) than everyone else.
- Much more empathetic (or indifferent) than everyone else.
Outliers sometimes continue to fit right into groups, organizations, and societies that respects their special abilities and limitations. Other times, they don’t.
Outliers can be extreme in a negative sense as well as positive, in which case they are at risk of becoming outcasts unless their group, organization, or society as a whole has built up a support system that respects their special condition.
The health of members of society is essential to their well-being. Generally, each member of society and their families are responsible for maintaining their own health, but access to health care services and facilities and personnel is essential as well.
The main components of health are:
- Good nutrition
- Exercise and physical fitness
- Mental health
The primary responsibility for health lies with the individual and their families, but when health conditions arise that cannot be handled at that level, the health care system comes into play. The main components of the health care system include:
- Health education and nutritional guidance.
- Health insurance to cover the cost of care when it is needed.
- Periodic checkups.
- The family doctor or local health clinic.
- Drugs and medication.
- The emergency room.
- Medical procedures.
- Home health care.
- Education and training of health care professionals.
Dental and eye care are part of health care, but are not always considered integral to health care, particularly in terms of health insurance.
Society must assure that sufficient resources are available to fund the health care needed by the members of society. Sufficient resources are also needed for research into new treatments and drugs, as well as better education and better prevention.
Health care insurance
Some modern, western-style societies treat health care as an essential right that is fully covered simply as a matter of being a productive member of society, while some societies, notably the U.S., see health care as more of a personal responsibility, typically financed through health insurance, although a variety of government subsidies and special health care programs may be available as well.
Physical fitness is essential to the health and well-being of members of society. Generally, this is a responsibility of individual members of society and their families, but access to facilities, services, and personnel for assisting with personal efforts is essential as well.
Concern with mental health can be broken down into:
- Recognition of what constitutes good mental health.
- Techniques and practices for maintaining good mental health.
- Techniques and practices for improving mental health.
- Identifying and diagnosing mental health issues.
- Techniques for coping with mental health issues.
- Techniques for treating mental health issues.
- Techniques for coping with severe and extreme mental health dysfunction.
Society needs to reinforce mental health efforts at all levels, including the individual and family, the community, schools, and government.
Mental health at the dysfunctional extreme may be outright mental illness, but a fair fraction of mental health concerns in society are simply coping with the anxiety and stress of daily life, as well as extreme events such as loss of friends and family and trauma due to accidents, medical conditions, and criminal actions.
Individuals suffering from mental illness or mental disorder experience distress or inappropriate behavior of a persistent nature, not uncommonly for their entire lives, even when there are none of the stressors that cause mental distress to normal individuals in their daily lives and during extreme, traumatic events. Mental illness afflicts fair fraction of the population of any society, about 18% of the U.S. population in recent years.
Mental illness is a general separation from reality, with the individual experiencing distress or inappropriate behavior that is inconsistent with the actual reality.
The exact cause or causes of mental illness in a particular individual may not be completely determinate, but the factors may include:
- Extreme environmental conditions
- Nutritional and metabolic imbalance, including drugs
- Abusive treatment
Some individuals may be born with a predisposition for mental illness, while others may have been perfectly healthy and normal, but had mental illness induced by some combination of stressors.
Mental illness can range from mild to extreme. Treatment can range from modest medication and therapy to intensive medication to commitment to a psychiatric facility. With appropriate treatment, a fair fraction of individuals suffering from mental illness can lead relatively happy and relatively productive lives. Unfortunately, a fair fraction of the mentally ill are not able to get the treatment they need and live their lives in at least some degree of misery, for themselves, for their families, for their communities, and for society as a whole.
At the extreme, untreated individuals may commit acts which would be considered criminal if committed by a normal person, possibly resulting in an encounter with law enforcement that results in their death, or behavior which puts their health and even their life at risk.
Extreme levels of distress due to mental illness can also result in suicide.
For a fair fraction of individuals suffering from mental illness the illness is an outright disability.
As with health in general, society must provide a substantial level of services and resources to cope with mental illness.
In addition, society needs to commit substantial resources to conduct extensive further research into causes and treatments for mental illness.
There is a gray area between normal mental health and outright mental illness of feelings, perceptions, thoughts, intentions, and behaviors that are not completely functional and helpful in society, but do not quite rise to the level of a clinically diagnosable mental illness. Individuals may at times experience varying degrees of mental dysfunction, such as:
- Anger and even rage
- Engage in frequent or frivolous disputes
- Excessive shyness
- Easily upset
- Easily engaged on conspiracy theories
- Lacking in confidence
- Low self-esteem
- Resentful of authority
- Have difficulty following through on commitments
- Have difficulty making commitments
- Difficult to get along with
- Difficulty making friends
- Difficulty with relationships
- Sex addiction
- Addiction in general
- Dangerous or risky behavior
Such individuals may be able to get by and be reasonably productive and reasonably good citizens, but the fact remains that they are not as happy, productive, and responsible as one would expect from an average, normal, member of society.
They may or probably do need some level of counseling and therapy. In fact, they may not even recognize that they could benefit from counseling and therapy. Their friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors may not realize that need either, simply writing off the symptoms as merely within a wide range of acceptable behavior in a complex modern society.
As with outright mental illness, society needs to allocate resources to helping people cope with mental dysfunction. The goal being to facilitate people with living happier and more productive lives.
The precise boundary between mental dysfunction and mental illness is very unclear. Society needs to expend resources on researching and understanding this vague boundary so that those who are indeed mentally ill get the medical treatment they need, while those who can get by with much more modest counseling and therapy are not overwhelmed with medical intervention.
On the other side of the gray area, society needs to expend resources on researching and understanding the vague boundary between what really is completely socially acceptable feeling, thinking, intention, and behavior so that those needing counseling and therapy do get the attention they need while those who are merely a modest distance from the fully-functional norm are not overwhelmed with theraputic intervention.
Anger is so common and problematic in complex, modern society that specialized techniques and programs have been developed and widely used to help individuals cope with a propensity to act out anger in a socially unacceptable manner, road rage being one example.
Individuals are expected to find their own way in life even in complex modern societies, but seeking support from others who are in similar circumstances is a recognized coping mechanism in modern society. Support groups may be informal gatherings or formal meetings. They may be independent groups or sponsored by an organization.
Communities of support
Communities of support recognize that support for individuals experiencing difficulties needs to come from a number of different directions, each addressing different aspects of the same underlying issues.
Physical and mental disability are very thorny problems in even the most advanced of societies. A host of techniques, programs, and services are needed to help disabled individuals both cope with or compensate for their disabilities and to transcend them to participate more fully in normal society.
Stigma is commonly attached to various disabilities. All levels of society must make efforts to dispel or moderate perceptions of stigma.
Effort is needed to focus on the abilities that individuals do have rather than what merely on what disabilities they may have.
Society is mostly about people and the social and physical infrastructure to support them, but animals are part of the picture as well:
- Livestock, for food and furs and leather goods.
- Guard dogs.
- Explosives and illicit drug detection.
- Service animals, such as guide dogs.
- Research, such as testing of drugs and medical procedures.
- Wild animals, as part of the natural environment.
- Vermin, such as rodents infesting buildings and food preparation and storage facilities.
Animal rights are an unsettled matter of debate in even the most advanced of modern, western-style societies.
With or without society, life presents many great challenges. Resilience is the ability to confront and respond to all manner of challenge and to bounce back. Society needs to value resilience, encourage it, recognize it, and provide social support for it.
Complex projects in a modern society require a very sophisticated level of planning to take them from conception to fruition. Planning can be simple and straightforward for simple projects, but for many projects strategic planning is needed, which is an approach to management comprised of a set of levels or organized activity:
- Vision — the grand view of what is to be produced.
- Mission — a more functional description of the desired result.
- Strategic objectives — the major elements of the project.
- Strategy — the plan for each of the major elements or objectives.
- Tactics — the specific details for implementing each element of the project.
There are many alternative approaches and variations of this basic strategic planning model.
Strategic planning can be used for both public and private projects.
Public participation in the planning process is essential in a modern, participative society. Project planners should expect to brief the public on each stage of the project, requesting and incorporating feedback before proceeding to the next stage.
Limits of people
Of course people have limits, but society is big enough and diverse enough that any limits of individuals don’t rise to the level of limiting society as a whole. That said, society must recognize and be tolerant of the specific limitations of specific individuals.
Limits of society
Does society have limits? To date, we don’t have any evidence of limits for modern, western-style societies.
Are our imaginations, individually and collectively, limits of society? Again, there is not evidence to date.
Resources may ultimately constitute real limits to society, but our ability to find additional or alternative resources, as well as our ability to more efficiently use the resources we have have so far permitted to exceed apparent limits.
Will our resourcefulness eventually hit a wall? Maybe, but again we have no evidence to indicate that as the case, either now or in the future.
Not everything in life is known or necessarily knowable. Mysteries abound. Society has an ambivalent attitude towards mysteries, simultaneously seeking to resolve or dispel them, as well as acknowledging or even valuing them.
Research is funded to expand knowledge, to resolve mysteries.
Speculation abounds as well. In fact, the more unanswerable or unknowable a mystery, the more intently people will speculate about it.
On rare occasion a society can be severely disrupted and its members dispersed to other countries. A diaspora of a people or society retains at least some of the qualities of the original society even if the individuals and their descendants are reasonably well assimilated into their new host societies.
Although a reasonably strong central government is a requirement for a modern, western-style society, the severely limited political freedoms characteristic of authoritarianism are distinctly unacceptable.
There will always be dispute as to how much power the central government should have and exactly what limits can be placed on political freedoms, but a strong sense of freedom and protection of rights is a hallmark of modern, western-style society.
Guilt by association
Modern, western-style societies should measure the guilt of an individual on the merits of the case against that individual, not based on their demographic characteristics or social group or organizations that the individual belongs to. Traditional guilt by association is simply inappropriate. Nonetheless, individuals or groups within society may informally discriminate against individuals as a result of their associations. Such informal discrimination may or may not rise to the level of a violation of law, but nonetheless are strongly discouraged in a modern, western-style society.
Collective punishment is prohibited in modern, western-style society. Punishment must be based on the merits of the case against the individual, not any group, organizational, or demographic association to which the individual may belong.
A sanction is the penalty that is threatened for a violation of a law, regulation or rule. The purpose of the sanction or penalty is both to punish the offender for the offense and as a deterrent to discourage others from violating the law, regulation, or rule.
Sanctions may also be imposed at the international level to retaliate against a country for actions it has taken that disturb order in the world.
Although society must first cope with the here and now, preparation for the future is a key function of society.
A lot of the functions in society are in fact geared towards the future, such as:
- Raising of children
- Starting new businesses
- Starting new projects
- Scientific investigation
- Thoughtful consideration of future generations
Much of the future of society revolves around sustainability, the degree to which society can continue to survive and thrive with minimal adjustment and inconvenience.
Crises are always a challenge for society, but a truly sustainable society will be more readily able to weather crises with minimal adjustment.
Adjustments will always be needed for society, to evolve as circumstances change and opportunities for progress appear, but sustainability assures that such adjustments can occur with less disruption.
Children are the starting point of future generations for a society. Their care, well-being, education, and development are essential to the future of society.
Other aspects of future generations of concern to society include:
- Assuring adequate physical resources.
- Focus on sustainability.
- Be mindful of creating a legacy of debts and liabilities.
- Focus on creativity and continual innovation.
Much of what will happen in the future, at least the near future is simply the continuation of a wide variety of trends. For each area of society one can chart the progress over time to see the trend.
Many trends can be reliably extrapolated into the future, at least the near future, but there is no real certainty about which trends will continue at pace and which are on the verge of suddenly changing. Forecasts of the future are sometimes quite accurate, but just as commonly they can be about as inaccurate as one could imagine.
Uncertainty and chance
Many things in life are reasonably certain. Time. Day and Night. Seasons. Stages of life. Climate. Geology. The list goes on. But specific details can vary greatly and sudden disruptions are possible without warning. Natural disasters. Weather. Crime. War. Technological innovation. Human behavior. Human evolution. The list goes on there as well.
The difficulty is that as much of life revolves around certainty, society must also have coping mechanisms for dealing with the degree of uncertainty in all of the phenomena that impinge on society and life in general.
The ultimate analysis is that society must be prepared for all of the things for which society cannot know that it needs to prepare. That’s a contradiction in terms, but that’s why we have human creativity rather than simply turning all of society over to a computer program.
Mysteries and the unknown
Mysteries come in two forms, unexplained phenomena where an explanation is believed possible but simply hasn’t been found yet, and unsolvable or inscrutable unknowns for which we are willing to accept that we will never know the answer.
Science and other forms of investigation are adept at pursuing many of the physical mysteries of the world and universe.
Human behavior and social phenomena can sometimes be explained or at least excused, but frequently not in a satisfying and definitive manner.
In all cases, our interest, willingness, and even passion for pondering mysteries and imagining or speculating about possible explanations is both a source of progress and a source of diversion even if we aren’t likely to solve any given mystery.
The many mysteries in life conspire to make prediction of the future problematic at best.
Contingencies are events that are possible but not expected to happen. They may indeed happen, but they are not the preferred outcome. There are two distinct forms of contingencies:
- Factors known to occur from experience, but not with any regular consistency.
- The knowledge that unexpected events occur and that although one cannot know what will happen or when it will happen, one can prepare for the unknown by reserving extra resources.
The former is foreseeable even if not fully predictable, while the latter is unforeseeable. Society can prepare specific contingency plans and reserve specific resources for the possible but unexpected contingencies. For the unknowable unknowns, society can simply reserve resources, hoping that they will be sufficient to at least somewhat moderate or mitigate the unforeseen consequences of the unforeseen events.
Making the wrong choice at a critical moment can result in severely negative consequences for the individual, organization, business, or government making that decision. Prudence is required, being a combination of:
- Good judgment
Prudence is a cardinal virtue and society must go to great lengths to encourage, acknowledge, and reward it. Of course, the consequences of prudence are its primary reward.
Unfortunately, prudence is no guarantee of success since there may be other factors beyond the knowledge of the individual making the decision, and the performance of the contemplated action may not be successful or as successful as desired even if the original decision was in fact the right, best, and most sound choice.
Society must take care not to punish individuals who chose in prudence simply because some negative consequences occurred. Outcomes do matter, but every attempt should be made to fully and properly evaluate whether prudence was observed.
Of course, part of prudence is acknowledging the potential for and many ways that the situation can go south, and diligently preparing for the more plausible negative scenarios.
The complexities and unexpected events of life frequently present us with situations where there is no absolutely clear and obvious prudent choice. That’s when true prudence, wisdom, caution, and good judgment are most valuable. It is not the fact that the choice is clear, but that the individual is taking great care to choose wisely that really matters.
Sometimes caution must be thrown to the wind, when expeditious action is required, but that is all part of the wisdom and judgment behind prudence.
Timing is everything as well. Sometimes the path to success is clear, but maybe various factors conspire to prevent progress to success at the desired time.
Some individuals or groups within society may feel or espouse a sense of destiny, that they have a certain type of future that is preordained or predestined, their destiny. This is often part of a religious doctrine, but can also be part of the agenda for a particular political party, or any group that has adopted an ideology that holds particular beliefs about the future.
As a general proposition, society as a whole has no destiny per se, other than simply to perpetuate itself.
That said, at times there may be ideological elements shared between major political parties, religions, or other social groups which amount to a de facto destiny, but what is de facto today may evolve significantly over the years, decades, and centuries, while destiny per se never changes.
Nonetheless, a fervant passion for some specified sense of destiny remains a powerful rhetorical device, a form of hope that reality will eventually evolve towards the desired destiny.
From a practical perspective the believed destiny can be used as a roadmap and goals to be persued by society, regardless of whether the ends really are preordained or predestined.
Individuals and society as a whole have a very ambivalent attitude towards power. Everyone recognizes the value of power to help bind society together and provide leadership and direction in times of great stress, and everybody wants the trains to run on time, but everyone wants their personal freedom as well, and nobody wants somebody telling them what to do all of the time. Balancing all of these conflicting needs and attitudes towards power is a Herculean task to say the least. The mere fact that society doesn’t completely fail on a daily basis is a testament to the degree to which the balancing is rather successful. It may not be to everyone’s greatest desire, and there may be a lot of grumbling, but the system does seem to work reasonably well.
Even if the system does work to large degree, that is not to say that there is not plenty of room for improvement.
Checks on power
Part of the reason that the system works as well as it does is because there are a whole host of checks and balances on power built into the system, such as:
- Multiple political parties
- Levels of government
- Formal, constitutional checks and balances in government
- Competition for power
- Media attention and investigation
- Competition in business
Leaders and leadership
Leadership is essential in all societies. Individuals are capable of great things, but leaders are needed as well, for:
- Bringing people together to form a team.
- Planning and bringing resources together.
- Making difficult decisions.
- Executing decisions and adapting as progress is made or not made.
- Focusing attention on issues that should have priority.
- Bridging and overcoming disagreement between individuals and groups.
- Providing guidance.
- Setting a direction.
- Addressing crises.
Charisma and charismatic leaders
Leadership can be quite a challenge. Persuading people that one person is capable of providing all of the skills needed to lead a group is always problematic. Raw ability, raw talent, education, experience, expertise, and developed skills are needed, but assessing all of those factors can be problematic and a matter of dispute. Charisma is a great shortcut, focusing on emotional appeal rather than raw technical competence.
A charismatic leader is one whom people want and feel compelled to follow, at a visceral and emotional level, rather than one they intellectually deduce is the one they should follow. People may then fabricate a narrative to justify their visceral choice, but that narrative was not their true motivation for the choice they made. Others may then buy into the intellectual appeal of the narrative, but determining whether it was the visceral appeal or the narrative driving the choice will be problematic.
Charismatic leaders can do a great job of bringing people together in times of great stress, but they can also lead people unwittingly down a path to a bad outcome as people focus on the visceral appeal rather than the technical and intellectual merit of the path. Charisma is like fire, sometimes a great tool, but sometimes it can get out of control and cause much destruction.
The media craves charisma and can’t get enough of it, which is part of the danger of charismatic leadership, pushing people in the direction of passion rather than reason.
All politicians pander to particular segments of society or particular interests, and all of them ultimately pander to the people themselves. That is a given. But when they cross the line and focus on arousing passions, fears, and biases without regard to fact and reason, demagoguery sets in. Demagogues have a lot of appeal as strong leaders, but are unlikely to rule rationally, with reason, and in a just manner.
Society has an ambiguous attitude towards death. Nobody lives forever. Death is a natural part of life. Nobody disputes that, but people nonetheless have great difficulty accepting and coping with that reality. Social mechanisms for coping with death include:
- Accepting death as a natural part of life.
- Refusing to accept death as part of life, trying very hard to avoid it.
- Honoring people upon their death.
- Honoring the memories of those who have died.
- Respecting those who have suffered a loss.
- Trying very hard to avert and delay death.
- Trying too hard to avert or delay a certain death.
- Lamenting unnecessary deaths.
- Prosecuting murder as a very serious charge.
- Legally justifying some deaths as a practical matter.
- Prescribing the death penalty for very egregious or aggravated crimes.
- Prohibiting euthanasia, formally, but sometimes looking the other way.
- Using death as a justification for some action, either to improve society or to retaliate.
Attitudes towards death and how people cope with death are continuously under debate and continually evolving, with no fixed resolution in sight.
Society has an ambiguous attitude towards quality. Low quality is certainly not tolerable, but mere good-enough quality is too commonly the norm rather than the exception. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of society, low quality is too common, but the time, energy, expense, and resources to eliminate all instance of low quality in society are quite overwhelming. Nonetheless, high quality and increasing quality are highly valued in society, as they should be.
Quality manifests itself in:
- Manufactured products
- Food products
- Prepared foods
- Government services
- Extent to which people feel that government is responsive to their needs
- Quality of life in communities
- Cleanliness and upkeep of streets and landscape
- Satisfying relations between members of communities
- Relationships, including marriage and parenting
- Employment opportunities
- National pride
Leaders and officials at all levels of society seek to communicate with the members of society for a variety of purposes, such as:
- Provide information about services.
- Make announcements of changes.
- Persuade people on recommended changes.
- Dispel irrational fears.
- Address legitimate concerns.
- Pursue self-serving interests, such as re-election and seeking higher office.
Public communication can occur in a variety of media, all manner of media, including:
- Voice messages
- Radio ads
- Television ads
The content of public communication can be presented in a variety of forms:
- Dry recitation of facts, directions, and instructions.
- Emotional appeals.
- Stories and narrative.
- Photographs and video to convey and elicit an emotional or visceral response.
- Rhetoric intended to appeal to emotion, fear, and bias, and may border on incitement.
Businesses and nonprofit organizations have a lot in common when it comes to communications with the public.
A dry recitation of facts is generally boring and unappealing to most people — they would much rather hear an interesting and compelling story that is built based on those same dry facts.
A little color helps. Personalizing facts helps. Adding human interest helps.
Anything that frames the facts in a way that people can relate to in their own lives helps.
Stories can be used for a variety of purposes, such as:
- Persuade people of the value of a policy.
- Convince people of the existence of a significant opportunity.
- Persuade people to participate in an opportunity.
- Give examples of problems that should be addressed.
- Persuade people that society or the government is addressing an issue.
- Persuade people of a danger.
- Persuade people of an opportunity.
- Calm people worried about a threat.
- Dispel irrational fear.
Narrative is one or more levels of abstraction removed from both dry facts and compelling stories.
A narrative attempts to connect dry facts in some politically or socially meaningful manner.
A narrative is a model for a variety of more specific stories. For example, a narrative might attempt to relate policy to its effects on individuals, families, and communities, while various stories may each relate that narrative in terms of very specific individuals, families, and communities, complete with names, faces, and biographical details, while the underlying narrative is nameless and faceless and lacks personal detail.
Leaders and officials at all levels of society have many reasons for wanting to communicate with the members of society, but not always merely to perform a direct public service. Rhetoric is an especially problematic form of public communication, seeking to appeal to emotion, fear, and bias, and unfortunately frequently bordering on incitement.
The goal in society is to encourage, acknowledge, and reward people for using reason and appealing to reason.
Politicians in particular may use an excess of inflammatory rhetoric to gain attention and support. Reasonable people will discount and not be swayed by mere rhetoric.
Integration and common ground are hallmarks of modern, western-style society, while tribalism is a throwback to more primitive societies. Communities and families are important in modern society, but the basic idea is that all communities and families are equals, not that one is better than another or that one’s own community or family is all that matters.
Individual social groups, possibly particular demographics or ideologies, may exhibit aspects of tribalism even in the most advanced and sophisticated of modern, western-style societies, but taken to the extreme that is evidence of dysfunction rather than a positive norm value in modern society.
As with tribalism, extreme nationalism is evidence of dysfunction rather than a positive norm in modern society. Each country has its own particular society and sense of pride, and some may be better than others in various ways, but the global order is based on all countries, peoples, and societies being treated and treating each other as equals rather than individual countries or societies believing and acting as though they are superior to all the rest.
Human nature leads people to be simultaneously hospitable to and wary of strangers, people who are different, from a different culture, country, or society. Some amount of wariness is frequently warranted, but taken to the extreme, intense or irrational fear, dislike, and loathing of people from other countries — xenophobia — are dysfunctional and certainly not a positive norm in modern, western-style society.
Time is a curious phenomenon. Sometimes it works against the interests of society, while often it works to the significant advantage of society. Ultimately, time is like fire and sunlight, capable of both good and harm. In any case, society must pay careful attention to the effects of time when conceiving, planning, implementing, and operating many services.
In truth, time itself is rather neutral. It is usually the energy and resources required for a project that have the most impact, not time itself. And the materials, manner of construction, and budgeting of maintenance and repair can have a larger impact on the length of time that a facility is usable.
If a project takes too long, it is usually poor planning, mismanagement, or insufficient budget for the required resources that resulted in delay.
Time can heal wounds. Sometimes the only cost for curing a problem is the patience required to wait for natural processes to proceed at a pace that our technology and resources are unable to accelerate or even improve. Human nature works both for and against us, and both must be taken into account.
Social problems such as disputes can be problematic, but even there the mere passage of time can give misguided passions a chance to cool.
As much as projects and even human life are critically dependent on and even limited by the ticking of the clock, many aspects of society are literally timeless. Fashion and popular culture may lose their appeal, but values, virtues, symbols, and human nature keep on ticking no matter how much time passes. They truly are timeless. They may evolve and progress incrementally over time, but in such a slow, imperceptible manner that they at least feel timeless.
Society seems at time the antithesis of love, a system for depersonalizing individuals into an impersonal aggregate, but even then it does this in an attempt to buttress and reinforce everything about the individual. There are some anti-social urges of individuals that do need to be suppressed to achieve a viable social order, but for the most part the goal is to leave the individual to their own devices and desires. Love is simultaneously a robust and fragile thing. Society must endeavor to respect and encourage love at all levels of society.
Love can be both personal and brotherly. It can be within the family and across the entire community.
A society that is merely mechanically and clinically connected will not be as robust, vibrant, thriving, or ultimately sustainable as one with a strong sense of love at all levels.
The heart is metaphorically viewed as the seat of emotions, compassion being one of the most important emotions, especially in terms of its potential for positive impact on others and society as a whole. Individuals are expected to have a heart, to act with a sense of compassion. The degree to which society as a whole and government in particular should have or express a sense of having a heart is a matter of ongoing debate.
It is said that a modern, western-style society is a country of laws, not of men, implying that following the letter of the law is paramount, and that considerations of the circumstances of the individual is immaterial. In practice, individual leaders, officials, and court judges use their own individual discretion as to how much to allow their hearts and compassion to enter into the equation of their decisions and practices. In short, it is an open, ongoing debate for all societies.
In any case, the heart and compassion figure prominently in society. A society with no sense of compassion would be a rather brutal, cold, and stark place indeed. Maybe a compassion-free society might be possible, but the evidence suggests otherwise, that sustaining a society without a sense of compassion for the people is not likely to be practical.
Brotherly love and the brotherhood of man
Maintaining a reasonable sense of cohesion in a large, complex society requires at least some degree of affection for others, even strangers, beyond immediate friendship and family ties, a connection between all members of society, that we are all brothers (and sisters.)
Much of society, relations, organizations, and government is strictly functional in nature, with form and aesthetics relegated to the background at best, but beauty and aesthetics play a significant role in society. Certainly in diversions, beauty and aesthetics come to the foreground. Even in functional government, aesthetics play a role, with dramatic architecture of buildings, monuments, and memorials, and art works and statuary to add an emotional impact to the stark functional aspects of government.
Beauty can be quite subjective, although there do seem to be a fair number of timeless forms that evoke emotional reactions even in the most modern of settings.
Beauty has a distinct role in making even the less appealing aspects of society and government at least a little more acceptable or at least more palatable.
Few things in life and society are absolute. Context is everything. Beliefs, words, and actions which may be acceptable in one setting may be much less acceptable in other settings. Each element of society must be considered in its particular context. Care must be taken not to too cavalierly attempt to transfer knowledge about one part of society to another area. As the philosophers warn, induction can be very problematic. That is not to say that learnings and experience from one part of society cannot or should not be applied elsewhere, but simply that good judgment and care should be exercised when attempting to do so and to be mindful of any and all objections raised when doing so.
The desire for a positive outcome is a fundamental element of society. Few great things are accomplished in life without hope. Being hopeful is an attitude that is highly valued in a healthy, vibrant, and sustainable society.
A difficulty with hope is that realism is both necessary and an impediment. Unrealistic hopes can cause more harm than good, but allowing the daunting appearance of challenges and obstacles to overwhelm hope can be equally damaging to society. Balance is needed. Recognition of when hope is not enough is needed. Recognition of the power of hope to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles is also needed.
One of the great challenges for society is how to exploit the full potential of all members of society. Generally, it is the responsibility of the individual to exploit their own potential, and that works fine for many individuals, but for some groups that is problematic, with various social obstacles, including bias, limited economic resources, limit access to critical services, and disabilities, that frustrate personal efforts at unlocking potential. Society needs a wide variety of mechanisms for empowering individuals and groups, to encourage, educate, and assist them in making progress with unlocking their own potential.
Although grace has specific meaning in the context of religion, the general sense is that each individual is granted a gift, the capacity to start fresh in every moment regardless of what may have happened in the past. In the context of religion this grace is a gift from the supreme being and commonly amounts to forgiving of past sins, of salvation and a bright future no matter how gloomy the past and without depending on the merit of past achievements.
In a more secular sense, grace is the right to a fresh start in every moment, an entitlement to a free pass, regardless of the merit or lack of merit of one’s past actions. That is not to say that there won’t ever be consequences to be paid for past transgressions, and in some cases such as the death penalty or life in prison there is no second chance, no grace, but as a general proposition, one is guaranteed a fresh start once they have paid their debt to society. This is somewhat more stringent and different from the religious concept that even the most heinous acts will always be forgiven.
Obligations can sometimes be delayed without any requirement for merit, such as a grace period for paying bills late. One is not entitled to such grace, but it may nonetheless be granted despite the lack of any merit being required.
Government can also grant relief for penalties on occasion, such as amnesty programs and pardoning of crimes.
Bankruptcy is a form of grace, a recognition that although the debtor does not deserve relief, it is in the best interest of society to grant at least limited, undeserved relief, as a way to facilitate forward movement in society.
Individuals may sometimes act graciously and forgive transgressions that have been committed against them. This is not something that is required, although some religions may strongly encourage it, but is a free, voluntary act that is a gift to the recipient, an act of grace. It also frees the giver from having to continue to carry around the grief incurred by the transgression.
The essence of grace is that relief is granted even if it is not deserved.
Grace is an essential element of society since requiring merit for all situations at all times would quickly lead to a situation where too large a fraction of society would be unable to move forward due to the accumulated burdens of the past.
Discussions seeking to reach agreement on some matter are common in society. Negotiation is a bit of an art, with no fixed rules, but some general principles. It occurs at all levels of society, between individuals, between businesses, between individuals and companies, and even between countries or governments.
Everyone needs to be skilled at negotiation to some extent, but society has an ambivalent attitude towards educating and training people in the necessary skills. Individuals are basically left to fend for themselves, picking up skills on their own, from their parents and family, or from friends or colleagues.
Society must seek improvements in this area. Education and training are needed. All members of society need to feel that they are on a level playing field when it comes to negotiation.
Remaking, renewal, and reinvention
As with all human endeavors, sometimes society gets things wrong and they need to be redone. Or maybe things worked fine at one time, but times have changed. Or maybe needs, desires, and interests have changed. In any case, remaking and renewal are valuable tools for all levels and areas of society.
Institutions, organizations, and businesses, and even government agencies and services themselves can sometimes become so problematic that complete reinvention is needed. And certainly incremental improvements and refinements are needed on an ongoing basis for virtually all elements of society.
The intentional taking of a life, even nominally in the name of ending pain and suffering is not yet widely accepted in modern, western-style society. Some countries do permit it to a limited degree. Withholding of medical treatment is permitted in end-of-life situations. So-called do not resuscitate (DNR) orders are fairly common now.
Whether or when explicit euthanasia will be permitted is unclear. It is an open issue for society that is subject to a great deal of ongoing debate.
Disintegration of society
If at any moment a majority or near-majority of individuals feel that they are disenfranchised from their own society, society begins to disintegrate and begin a slow, downward path or spiral towards total collapse. Things can change, innovations can occur, and the guard can be changed, reorienting the path back upwards, but the risk of that not happening or not being successful would be significant.
No modern, western-style society has reached that stage of disintegration. Some have wobbled fairly dramatically, but the very nature of modern, western-style society is a sense of extreme resilience that can self-correct for even extremely serious natural and man-made challenges.
Death of society
On occasion a society does completely disintegrate and totally collapse. That hasn’t happened in modern society, in large part because modern society is so dynamic and capable of rapid evolution and adaptive change, but it is still technically possible. There is still the very real possibility that natural resource exhaustion, drought, potable water shortage, flooding, other natural disasters, extreme epidemics, or other unforeseen natural or man-made events might lead to the absolute death of a society. Some of those threats may be foreseeable and avoidable, others may not.
The model of society presented in this paper is that each country is essentially an independent society even though all modern countries are interconnected, so it could indeed transpire that the social order of one or more individual countries may collapse, but it seems highly unlikely that there would be any domino theory that led to the collapse of all modern societies. Still, quite a few of the threats which could extinguish the social order of a single country might cross national borders and effect adjacent countries or even all countries. A global pandemic facilitated by modern transportation and food distribution, or a sociopolitical movement could, in theory, bring about the complete collapse of all modern society as we know it. It is even remotely possible that the human species could also be extinguished or maybe simply revert to a more primitive, tribal level of survival.
But at this stage, nobody is predicting the end of human society as we know it. Sure, we have the Terminator movies, Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity, and other visions of a future in which the machines take over and leave humanity in the dust, and although we will always have these speculative renditions of dark or apocalyptic visions of the future of humanity and human society (don’t forget the Book of Revelation and the End Times), there is no evidence at this time that such a future is a realistic prospect in our own future. Of course, the Romans probably thought the same thing.
Future of society
There is no clear consensus about the future of society. Some see maintaining and restoring the status quo as a priority, others see progress and dramatic change and expansion of government as a priority, others see incremental improvement as the priority, and many are simply struggling to keep up with the pressures of daily life rather than worrying too much about the future beyond the near future or maybe even beyond today.