Government and Politics and Social Issues27 Dec 2009 05:54 pm

In the last two posts I discussed the fact that our society is neither oriented nor structured in a way to support a highly educated work force. In this post I want to expand upon the importance and flexibility we have regarding how we design the structure and functioning of society.

We have long been aware of the effects the structure of society has on individuals. Many books, movies and social experiments have demonstrated how a society’s values are both reflected in and created by its structure.

In the movie Trading Places this theme was played out in comic excellence. In the movie two wealthy white men attempt to settle an argument whether genetic good breeding or the opportunities offered by one’s environment are more important to success. They decide to take a black street criminal (Eddie Murphy) and give him a Wall Street job and other perks and fire an up and coming white Ivy League graduate (Dan Aykroyd) to see who will win in the long run.

The bulk of the movie focuses on how both adapt to their new positions in life.  The ex-convict becomes an extremely resourceful successful businessman, and the ex-Ivy Leaguer becomes a petty thief in his struggle to survive and in response to his anger at how society is treating him.

In stories such as Black Like Me we follow the descent of a successful educated white man when he chemically alters the color of his skin so as to appear to be a black man in pre-civil rights America. Though not really black he could not help but feel the despair and internalize the hatred and prejudice lobbed his way.

Many social experiments regarding social status and power document what the above movies and books portrayed, and that is that individuals are highly influenced by the way they are viewed and treated by a society. And that a society creates personalities and stereotypes by the way the society functions and is designed.

If people are put in a roles of master and slave they will quickly adapt to these roles both externally and internally, even if they know they are play acting. The masters will soon become aggressive, righteous and ambitious while the slaves will become submissive, conniving, self-doubting and self-hating.  Yet, once taken back out of this situation and placed back into their normal lives they generally revert back to their old ways and perceptions of self, society and life.

We know that no matter what you do to a society there will be a small percentage of people who will think, act and behave in ways contrary to the society. Yet, what this also says is that we know that a vast majority of people will adapt to and live the dominant values of the culture. This is evident not only in historical instances such as Nazi Germany, but also in the long term social structure of caste systems, tribes and relatively isolated groups such as the Amish.

The point of this discussion is that people’s actions, morals and goals are highly influenced by the structure of their society. People generally are the moral and behavioral products of the culture. The larger portion of the populace is the incarnation of the basic values of the culture. Ambitious competitive cultures create ambitious competitive people, where reflective and kind cultures create cautious and introspective individuals.

A recent study on testosterone puts an interesting spin on the above point.  The standard belief was to equate testosterone with male aggression, raise testosterone levels and you will increase aggression and violence. Yet, the results of raising testosterone levels in various organisms proved otherwise.

What was found was that in animals with simple physiologies and social structures there was the expected rise in aggression. Yet, in complex organisms in complex societies raised levels of testosterone caused raised levels in which the animal sought social status. How the animal expressed his testosterone varied according to the values and activities which resulted in social status. High levels of testosterone could result in anything from increased desire to dance, build, create, invent, parent or teach as well as win, battle or control. The deciding factor was in the status goal of the society and not indigenous to and specific personality type.

If these studies do indeed to prove true it just shows another way in which people are inherently geared towards adapting to the values of the culture they are living in. Yet, even without such biochemical validation it is easy to see how people’s character types, values and vocations are highly influenced by the culture they live in.

In many American Indian cultures men strove to be wise and always sought better ways to adapt to and show respect to nature. They desired to consensus build and live life according to the cycles of nature. Their animistic beliefs stimulated them to emulate the positive qualities of many animals, birds and even the spirits contained in mountains and trees.

A society structured in a way which rewarded and recognized health and kindness would create many healthy and kind individuals. Sure, no matter how healthy one’s diet and lifestyle, there will always be sickly people who die young. Improvements, in a culture’s diet, health care and lifestyle are customarily reflected in a rise in the average life expectancy.

The US is a competitive, economically driven empire where one attains status and success though ambition, guile and determination. Aggression, power and control are often the quickest and surest means of acquiring social status and success.

When people point to the high ideals of the US they are speaking of words and not so much of how the US behaves or functions. We may speak of the importance of honesty and tell our children to share. Yet, status and success in the US is more often accomplished through guile, spin, deception, manipulation and salesmanship than truth and honesty. Likewise hoarding, taking, bilking and exploiting are the tools of the successful rather than sharing and empathy.

It is absurd to think that our society could not be run and designed in a different manner. Anyone who thinks that industrial capitalism is the only or best social system is definitely blind to history and cultural anthropology. There were many empires before the US and most of them were not capitalistic in nature or function.

It is more accurate to say that the design of our society creates our morals and values, rather than the other way around. It is very difficult for individuals to maintain and live their morals and values which are in opposition to the society in which they live. In most cases people will either adapt their actions to the morals of the society at large, even if internally they wish otherwise. This is evident in the number of US citizens who support the war policies of our government despite the fact the majority of US citizens are opposed to war in general and our current wars in particular.

A great exercise is to try and view our society from the perspective of an anthropologist. What according to our laws, actions and daily habits are our most dominant values and mores? What do we train our children to become, and how do we treat our contemporaries? What do we reward, recognize and foster in our culture? Is this what you would foster if you had a choice?

The fact is we have great flexibility in choosing our society’s design and function? Saying otherwise, is escaping responsibility and selling ourselves short. Of course, those in power want the status quo, and want us to believe that this is the best option currently available.

Many relationships and marriages have found through therapy that small changes in the structure and habits of a relationship can have profound positive effects on the health and happiness of a family. Subtle changes in habit, attitude and structure can replace anxiety, pain and even depression with appreciation, contentment and joy.

The changes in our social structure need not be that dramatic. Subtle changes in how we do things and what we reward could result in incredible growth in personal satisfaction. Statistics indicate that our society fosters depression, anxiety, fear and apathy more than joy, personal satisfaction, and connection to others.

Many of my posts have and will deal with issues of social design and personal satisfaction.  My songs and books, which can be found by clicking onto the music and words tabs, are also geared towards these social concepts. They are offered here for free, because that is my value. Many, of course, will think their quality poor due to their being offered for free. That is their value.

I invite you to decide for yourself. I would love to hear your reactions.

United in Compassion

Jim Guido

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