Many Societies – Some Good, Some Bad, and Some Ugly

By Brian Sahd

Let us be clear, there is no one definition of Society. Furthermore, societies are in constant states of change and evolution.  Certainly, change can be abrupt – war, of course, and revolution as well as natural disaster can instantly change a society. However, generally speaking societal change is gradual and constant. The question that Harry DeRienzo posits in a recent blog is two-fold: first, can a Good Society be created? And, second, can our (or any county’s) politicians create that Good Society?  The answer to both questions is a  no.  There is a reason why philosophers have a lot to say on this topic —  The creation of a society (good or bad) is a philosophical issue.  There are no recipes for a society; there are no formulas. And it gives false hope to suggest that politicians and elected officials, regardless of whether they are come from the right or left, are able to legislate a good society, any more than they can legislate morality.

So what is a “society”? For some sociologists a society is characterized by cooperation, community in action and a division of labor (Ludwig von Mises noted philosopher and prolific author).  Mises notes,

That society is possible at all is due to the fact that the will of one person and the will of another find themselves linked in a joint endeavor. Community of work springs from community of will. Because I can get what I want only if my fellow citizen gets what he wants, his will and action become the means by which I can attain my own end. Because my willing necessarily includes his willing, my intention cannot be to frustrate his will. On this fundamental fact all social life is built up… Society exists only where willing becomes a co-willing and action co-action. To strive jointly towards aims which alone individuals could not reach at all, or not with equal effectiveness — that is society. [12]

A society is formed when “something which did not exist before is created through a collection of individuals” connecting with each other in a totally new manner.  This new manner of connection happens rapidly in times of war, revolution or catastrophic event, but it is much more likely that new manners of connections described above happens gradually, over time.

The current polarization in this country is not the cause of the latest changing nature of our society, but its logical progression.  Society is not an end, but a means, the means through which we as individuals relate vis a vis other individuals.  The radical left and the far right are not causing the latest societal shift.  Our global society is influenced by events that began decades ago, just after WWII, with a more radical change occurring in the 60s, that ruptured not only the economic systems, but also the societal, cultural and political systems as well.  Today’s society, then, is a culmination of these cumulative events.

What is a good society? I have no idea. I will leave that conceptualization to the philosophers. What I do know is that I would prefer to live in a world that celebrates the inherent dignity of everyone. It is a world where compassion and kindness to our fellow men and women prevail over intolerance and ignorance.  It is a world that realizes the interdependence of humanity and facilitate interrelated relationships. This is what separates us from the ant society (referred to by DeRienzo). While societies are formed within the animal kingdom, these are threadbare examples of a society.  What make human society different (superior?) is that it is based on several ideals chief among them is the idea of interconnectedness of all men and women and the sanctity of life.  Other ideals include the equality of all members of society regardless of age, class, race, religion or gender.  Finally a society involves a contribution to art, culture, education and social welfare.

Clearly, we are far from a ‘good’ society. In fact, we might be heading into the territory of an ‘ugly society’. We are living in a world that not only ignores this interconnectedness – Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, ISIS, Boko Karam are examples that quickly come to mind; but we are also living in a country that shows contempt for interrelated relationships. We have many elected officials across the country showing an increased hostility to the idea of interconnectedness and the sanctity of life.  What is needed, short of war and revolution, is a collective sense of the need for change and the strong and unflinching will for action.

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