Society

By society, we mean a group of humans enjoined in some set of persistent relationships, typically including geographic connectedness, shared language, mutual collaboration, an established order, and accepted norms of behavior. Earth is populated by a set of overlapping societies.

Society can be a positive force, enforcing the mutual good, or a negative force, as where a ruling class establishes itself to suppress a lower class. In a healthy, positive society people will unprejudicially relate to one another, provide for one other, support the infirm among them, and live harmoniously with one other and with the land (and oceans and air and the living creatures they support). Certain attributes of human nature, avarice chief amongst them, are not consistent with such a societal ideal. So all societies exist in some lesser state of compromised health.

Society evolves from less to more complexity. Primitive society can be distinguished from modern society by the degree of specialization its members provide in their personal industry. The primitive hunter-gatherers knew how to hunt and gather and defend themselves. Then perhaps tool making and cooking became the domain of specialists. Then fishing, cloth making, pot making, and so forth until we arrive at today’s sophisticated, highly specialized societies.

As specialists appeared, there was established a dependency relationship in society whereby food providers would support the specialists in return for their useful objects. A modern society is a great web of such dependency relationships. Members of a modern society are usually not aware of the extent of their dependency webs.

Whether scientist or artist, homemaker or doctor, salesman or preacher, soldier or farmer, student or teacher, our common good depends on what we as individuals contribute to it in productivity. Often, our contribution to the common good ends here. We do not attempt a healthy relationship with another part of society or with the whole. We do not see much need to look beyond ourselves and our paychecks. Such apathy puts the common good at risk.

When distinct societies come in contact, there will need to be accommodation in contested resources. Certainly, when the Europeans landed in the Americas, there was such accommodation. There was also subsequent genocide because one side was a modern society that was able to wield much more power than the indigenous society. This is an example of slowly-evolving society being out-competed by a more dynamic society.

Beyond the individual and family unit, society must have order, which necessitates laws and governance. Nation states are created and given the authority to ensure the local common good, but frequently botch it through corrupt relationships that absorb the common wealth and prey on the lesser amongst them. Traditionally, statism further leads to international conflict that not only fails to recognize or achieve the common good, but actively works against it.

Individual nations have constitutions that regulate and balance state and personal spheres of activity and influence. These constitutions may need substantial modification to induce truly effective societies. Beyond individual nations, a global constitution must also be conceived which will enable preservation of our pale blue dot for the benefit of all our future generations.

Here I share my thoughts on society, with emphasis on enlightened governance and harmonious interaction with the land. I am interested in society in the abstract. Different types and organization of society, primitive vs. advanced, communal vs. bourgeois, are the concern of academics. I am interested only in what can be said to be common to all concepts of society. And from such common attributes must spring our best hope for a global society capable of achieving our goals for the common good.

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