WHERE TO BEGIN
By Roland Watson
In the third part of the website, I will consider each of our modern social institutions in turn, including their current roles and prominence, the form that they impose on us, and the specific tactics that they use in this regard. Furthermore, and as I have described, many people are frustrated by these institutions, and the conditions that they create. These people want change, and the question is: how can we bring it about? I therefore want to make some preliminary remarks, before reviewing the institutions, regarding the possibilities of, and the necessary preconditions for, accomplishing such change.
It's all about behavior
The only way to solve social problems is to recognize that they derive from human behavior, in other words, from human nature. Behavior equals nature. Put another way, our society can only be as good as ourselves. The first precondition, then, is that whatever solutions we propose, they must be consistent with this nature. They must be consistent with human nature as it really is, and not based on a false, an unrealistically positive, appraisal.
Also, we must remember that human nature is highly complex. Indeed, it is much more complex than is immediately apparent. As in a game of chess, there are greater and greater levels of complexity.
To develop workable solutions, it will be necessary to look deep inside this complexity; specifically, to distinguish between symptoms and their underlying causes. This is because it is not possible to solve a symptom. Only by confronting the underlying problems, can we make the symptoms go away.
For example, one serious problem in modern society, and which I referred to in the last series, is the high rate of crime. Many politicians, journalists and other social commentators say that this is due to the large population of criminals on the street. Hence, we need to hire more police, and build more prisons, and put them all behind bars. However, the large number of criminals on the street is actually a symptom of a deeper problem.
Other, more enlightened commentators say that the real problem is social discrimination, as evidenced by limited education and employment opportunities for particular classes of people, which provides the motivation, in the form of poverty, frustration and rage, for some individuals from these classes to choose lives of crime. But, while this may be true, it is still not the deepest level, the real underlying problem.
The real problem relates to the issue of why we perpetually have an underclass. And, as we are starting to understand, this is because it in some way helps meet the needs of the overclass. It helps keep these people - the elite - and the institutions that they control, in power.
Of course, as we also have seen, it goes even deeper than this. Some factors created the elite, and caused the institutions to evolve into their current state.
These factors include the basic conditions of life, meaning chaos and chance; the unfathomability of the universe and the certainty of death; our planetary environment; the fact that actions have consequences; the struggle between free will and determinism; our human selfishness and chauvinism; and the systemic limitations on knowledge that make it impossible for us to understand completely both ourselves and other people.
It's really not that hard
Another way to look at this complexity is to consider that on the face of it, the solutions are in fact readily apparent. We can solve many of our, and the planet's, worst problems simply by:
- Reducing our breeding
- Reducing our consumption
- Limiting our use of technology
The first two steps would take the stress off planetary and social resources. The third would minimize our dependence on technology, and the problems this creates, as well as enable us to avoid, or at least give us more time to anticipate and prepare for, its worst consequences.
But, as we have seen, achieving these solutions depends on our ability to understand and resolve deeper problems. For instance, to reduce our breeding, we must confront the problems that create it, including worldwide gender inequality and the just mentioned trait of selfishness.
Also, another aspect of the issue of complexity is the prevalence of paradox. Life is full of paradoxes. To understand it well, we must find a level of complexity, find a way of looking at it, such that the paradoxes, the inconsistencies and the contradictions that they represent, disappear.
It needs to be voluntary
The second precondition to our solutions is that whatever we decide to do, it must be voluntary. Many problems in society are caused by form, by people telling us what to do. Our solutions themselves cannot be the same. They cannot consist of more form, of more and new ways of telling people what to do.
One aspect of human nature is that we are independent. We do not like to be told what to do, and we will resist it, even rebel against it. However, it's worth noting that our independence streak is also a paradox, given our attribute of being a social animal. It is further a paradox that given our innate inclination to rebel, that we are so easily shaped.
Nonetheless, humans must choose their solutions voluntarily. We can present people with, and educate them about, the options, the different solutions that exist or approaches which might be used, but they - and we - must be the ones who choose how to act.
It begins with education
The third precondition, which this suggests, is that whatever options we choose, the specific steps that we take to resolve our extremely wide range of problems, they must be based on education. Education is in fact the core solution. It is the medicine for ignorance, and the anti-venom for form. To change the world for the better, we must defeat ignorance and form, and for this we need education.
The University of Life, for example, is intended to give a general education about form. But, we will need much more than it. Education must cover all of the basic areas of existence, and it must be extended to every individual in every culture. And, it must also confront, directly address, the issue of form, the behavioral form that exists in all societies, and in every possible situation and human interaction.
Ends and means
Education must further cover ethics, which is the fourth precondition. Whatever solutions we choose, they must be ethical. In another series, I will discuss ethical behavior in great detail, but I want to introduce one idea here, which is the issue of ends and means. Most people would agree that we want to achieve an ethical social end, such as a culture where everyone is equal. On this basis, then, we can eliminate the Nazi ideal, which was intended to guarantee one group a superior position.
Given that we are able to agree, voluntarily and without being persuaded by form, on the end that we want to achieve, and also that it is ethical, we must then decide on the means by which we will try to bring it about. And, these means must also be ethical, in and of themselves.
Most people have heard the axiom that the end does not justify the means. In modern society, though, this is often not followed. Social institutions regularly pursue ends, which they persuade us are ethical, using unethical means.
If you set a goal, if it is not possible to achieve it using ethical means, you must change your goal. The goal, the end, is dependent on the means. Its ethical justification actually derives from them.
In addition, and viewed another way, the issue of ends and means has much deeper implications. In consideration of an earlier framework, the means are our actions, and the ends their consequences. And, considering time, the means are the present, and the ends the future.
Also, the means are the risk, and the ends the rewards. Given these perspectives, one can say that the means are actually more important than the ends. What is important in life is the living, moment by moment, not the death at its end.
Whenever you consider your own behavior, or the plans of social institutions, you must pay the closest attention to the means. Do not be deluded or swayed by some great expectation, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Be realistic. Focus on what it is going to take to get you there, because if you do not do that, you never will get there.
And, don't forget the implications of chance. You have to factor in the probability that the means you choose will actually achieve their desired end. What is the likelihood that some other end will be reached, and what is the ethical status of the worst possible consequence? Then, having done this analysis, and enhanced your plans where possible to avoid such negative consequences, you should make the leap. Confront the unknown, take the chance, and act.
These are the most important preconditions for our solutions. Any steps that we take must be:
- consistent with human nature
- based on education
- and ethical.
A final precondition, of course, is that we cannot eliminate the institutions. There are too many humans. Modern life is too complex. We need some institutional assistance, to help manage this complexity.
What we are seeking is not their elimination, only their modification. We want to reduce the size of our institutions, particularly the government and the economic institutions, meaning corporations and financial institutions.
However, this still requires change and, as we have seen, real change is difficult to accomplish. For instance, the ending, or destruction, of a prevailing social order has been achieved many times in the past through revolution, but when the dust settled in almost all cases nothing in fact had changed. The old system simply, and quickly, reasserted itself.
The only real social change has come about over very long periods of time, in the evolution from one age or epoch to another.
In the next article, I will examine the different challenges of human social change.
© Roland Watson 2014