THE SOCIAL SYSTEM
By Roland Watson
I want to move on and start to discuss modern society. Our society is sometimes referred to as The System. What, precisely, is this system?
It's not a conspiracy
We should begin by recognizing that the system is not a planned conspiracy, at least not in an overall sense with some individual or group pulling the strings. Most people, even institutional leaders, are in the dark about what is happening. They contribute to it, often directly, but also often with a great degree of ignorance. They are motivated - and blinded - by their personal selfishness, not by their contribution to some overriding authoritarian end.
The rise of institutions
The system is simply the network of social institutions that has developed: the many different types of institutions which have been established, and which have grown to such great size and power. Also, it is worth noting that this explosion of institutional power is a very recent phenomenon.
In the United States, the great increase in the size of the government began with President Roosevelt's New Deal in 1933, which was implemented as a means to escape the Great Depression. And, this increase was never reversed. Instead, it was compounded by the growth in government that occurred to meet the demands of World War II.
These types of trends were common around the world, and they continued after the war. It was the post-war period that saw the rise of the corporation; the mass media; the formation of many if not most nations; and the foundation of supranational government, including the Bretton Woods Agreement, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations.
We saw that humans have a blind spot to the suffering of others. We are also for the most part oblivious to this new system of social order and control, even though we stare it in the face every day.
Who is in The System?
Of course, this raises a question: What are the links between the institutions and us, the general public, as individuals? Are we part of the system, too?
Those people who own or exert control over social institutions are, perforce, part of it. Those people who are employed by it are also part of it, even if their inclusion is unwitting and further even if the system is "systematically" crushing them, unless they actively use the proceeds of their employment, and their residual will, to rebel against it.
This leaves everyone else, although this is really only a few people - those people who are able to live outside the system, in other words, independently.
However, in the current day and age this is becoming harder and harder to do. It is extremely difficult not to be affected by the system in a small way, both directly and indirectly. For example, most people pay taxes. They actually help fund it. And, most people consume its products, if only a little bit, which is another form of funding as well.
Our changing relationships
Another perspective on the system has to do with interpersonal relationships. In a traditional society, people interact with people. In modern society, this still occurs, but people also have many interactions with social institutions, and the institutions themselves have many interactions with each other.
The reason why we fail to recognize the scale and significance of the latter two additions is that they also occur person-to-person, with and between representatives of the institutions.
Further, the sheer existence of such a network, even when the institutions mean well, when they attempt to help us satisfy our needs, is oppressive. They are not part of our traditional terms of existence, which shaped our evolution: our nature. Therefore, it is not surprising that we find their presence difficult to bear, if not intolerable - which, by the way, we feel, even though we may not "see" it - and that we rebel against their authority over us, and even their guidance.
Unfortunately, it gets even worse than this. As the institutions grew, they evolved as well. They are now for the most part concerned with their needs, and they have also taken the form of pyramids. Power is centralized and concentrated at the top. In such a structure the people at the bottom are crushed, and everyone is repressed - controlled - to some extent.
All of this is inimical to human freedom, and human equality. If our society is to have a future, a future in equilibrium, with peace and common happiness, these structures and effects will have to be modified, if not eliminated.
The social contract
Society is supposed to help us satisfy our needs. Indeed, we have actually made a deal with society, what some writers have called the social contract.
In this contract, we willingly give up some of our freedoms, some of our liberty, in return for society's assistance. In the process, we try to strike a balance, between our needs, and those of the community.
This is a noble thought, and in the traditional context it was not without merit. But, in the modern world, the balance has been skewed. Now, it is society's needs that are important, far more important than our needs as individuals. The social contract is no longer such a good deal.
Some people reject it completely. They say: "I do not accept this. I was born a wild animal, and I know that I will die. I do not accept society's 'right' to impose its rules on me, nor the servitude that this implies. I do not accept 'my place.' I reject all impositions of authority. I reject the burden of my nationality, and its debts. I reject all forms and manipulations. I am totally free."
We are approaching a pure expression of rebellion here.
Society has needs, but whose needs are those? They are the needs of the institutions of society, of the government, military, religions, schools, producers and employers, and the media.
I will now describe, briefly, their needs relative to yours as an individual, in other words, the ways in which the social contract has been distorted.
For government and the military, we want protection from threats and the provision of ancillary services. They, on the other hand, want to stay and if possible increase in power; to get you to subscribe to their agenda; and to have adequate funding.
From religions, we want advice and sympathy regarding the difficulties and mysteries of life. They want to get you to believe what they say; to increase their number of true believers; and to reduce the number of true believers of other religions.
From schools, we seek education about all aspects of life, and preparation for employment. They want you to learn and believe what they teach, including their social ideology and agenda; to get you to be a "productive" member of society; and to have many students, including by attracting them from other schools.
From producers and employers, notably companies, we want good dependable jobs, career growth prospects, income sufficient for our support, and affordable, functional, safe products. They want to make money, as much as possible; to defeat - to destroy - rivals; and to have pliable customers and employees.
Finally, for the media, we want accurate, objective reporting, creative entertainment, and additional education. They want to make money, as much as possible; to defeat - to destroy - rivals; and to further their social and political ideology.
Institutions want to survive, to protect and if possible increase their power, and to bring more people under their control. But, they must compete for this power, and this competition occurs both within institutional categories, such as between different religions, or different media outlets, and also among institutions.
For instance, an important characteristic of the modern world is the decline in the power of certain institutions relative to others. Religions, governments and militaries are in general losing power, and they are losing it to corporations.
In the next and final article in this series, I will consider the role of social leaders.
© Roland Watson 2014