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What is Society, and how definitions of Society can become a Prison for our Minds.

July 21, 2020

How does one describe the kind of society we live in today? What words best capture it?

There have been a few attempts in different directions, and the way you choose to start by defining society, tends to greatly influence how you end up seeing the reality of society.

1) SECULAR SOCIETY

In some circles there may be talk of us living in a secular society. I have done a lot of analysis of this notion of a secular society, and I have read some lengthy studies on the subject, such as Charles Taylor: A Secular Age. It is a great effort on his part, and he does capture well a sense of disenchantment that followed on the heels of enlightenment and how this is all tied in with secularisation. However, if one sees reality through this lens, one has to ignore counter trends and outliers, such as time and again we see small pockets of religious movements arising against aspects of western society. We call them cults as we are seeing them relative to the assumption that we are becoming ever more secular. But this assumption of perpetual progress towards secularisation is largely a belief itself, rather than a long term established fact in history. Its success relies on an attendant notion of democracy being well worked out and supported. For it is a version of democracy and equality that secularisation is supposed to take us towards by flattening out certain religious, cultural and ethnic hierarchies in society. But, what happens when democracy fails or it is seen to be clearly failing like now? When there is a clear push towards imposing the authority of experts on people in more and more aspects of their lives, rather then letting the people decide for themselves? The result is that the secular is lost sight of in favor of what is called progressivism. A perpetual push to flatten out perceived inequalities in society, not with the goal of democracy, but with the goal of appeasing whatever group feels a bit unhappy about current society. It becomes a placeholder for activism, rather than a real description of society. And so falls down the notion of this being a secular society.

2) CAPITALIST SOCIETY

Another common description is to call our society a Capitalist one. Or to place it somewhere on a shifting spectrum between capitalism and communism. Many people on the right and left see society solely through this lens. And so on one side they will bemoan the evils of selfish capitalism ruthlessly exploiting all with no sense of human values, and on the other side they will bemoan the evil authoritarian and collectivist communists imposing their own values on people against their will. I don’t think this is an adequate way to demarcate our society at all. When you look into this historical development of capitalism, you won’t find a clear point where it suddenly becomes selfish and based on greed and profit motive. Because it has always been partly motivated by this, while also it has always been partly motivated by other factors. This view is guided by a fallacious materialistic interpretation of human “Being”. The reality is that market capitalism was traditionally and still in some areas is as much about the promotion of the community as it is about feeding selfish individuals desires. The view that it is about selfishness only is an example of historical revisionism we have been living with ever since Karl Marx and his book Capital. Which, still for many, defines what they think of capitalism as, His faulty analysis revolves around his interpretation of the surplus value, and his presumption that all that surplus value was unjustly expropriated from the workers by selfish capitalists just looking to make profit and personal gain. He imagines that only workers produce and that the business owners merely came in to scrape the surplus value off of them. But this is a terrible over simplification of the reality. The workers produce because they are directed into a profitable direction of production by the business leaders. They can’t just blindly produce profit, working away in blissful ignorance. It requires to be directed into specific profitable avenues of production. It is not to say workers cannot choose to direct this process themselves, but then, there is a good reason why traditionally some people work, and some others direct the workers, and that is the efficiency of this division of labour.

Centuries of this fallacious notion of capitalism has created a deep resentment among more and more people about working to earn a living. I don’t say it is all wrong and misguided. But, it is very much a case that when you start seeing society through this lens you limit yourself quite drastically in what you are able to see in society. You have committed yourself to a materialistic view of human motivations and incentives. A view that now we are seeing backfire as it becomes ever more alienated from human reality. We are realising that giving materialistic motivations to people, consumerism, economic growth etc does not satisfy a lot of core human needs. I suppose the 1980’s was the height of that particular failure. Only, since then, we have reacted not by trying to view society in a different way, but instead just embracing anti-capitalist practices out of an absence of alternative guide posts. The anti-capitalist left of today, still does not have a clue what it wants in society. It has some vague ideas of secular flattening, equal outcomes for all, etc.. which are no more than feel good ideas, and never implementable in a real environment, only in “safe spaces”.

3) TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY

And this is where they turn to another way of viewing our society, which is to raise the idea of technology and talk of a technological era. Much of this is a combination of two motives. On the one side there are people who see technology as providing some sort of salvation to a faltering process of human progress. The right sees technology as allowing more economic gains, while the left sees it as primarily a means to enforce aspects of its progressivism on to the world. On the other side technology is seen as a means to control people and to control the world, by making every body into more passive and compliant consumers who can be tracked and predicted in more and more of their actions. A bit like the matrix style dystopian vision.

Once again, I don’t think the notion of a technological era is adequate to describe the reality of our society. Technology is a relative term. Really it amounts to instruments that give us more power and control. Allowing us to do things quicker, more conveniently, at longer distances etc. It is a means of overcoming certain spatial and time based boundaries between people. But it is only a relative over comer of these boundaries. There are still and always going to be boundaries between people. The idea that there won’t be is where it moves from being about technology to something else altogether. which is where the idea of globalist control is trojan horsed in, under the guise of technology. Now, this is a real threat in society. But, we would misunderstand it and be gullible fools to this particular trojan horse, if we just complacently sat back on a notion of our society as a technological one, and of course, that is part of the trick and the game that is being played with people.

All these concepts of what are society is, they may seem to be freeing and fascinating and to give us an understanding of something we did not understand before, but they are also prisons for our minds and for our ability to connect with the deeper reality of human Being. Once you are committed to seeing this as a technological era, you are going to be trojan horsed with control measures disguised as technology, as the manipulators know that you are one step behind the game and unable to filter and distinguish from this concept properly. Likewise with seeing this as a capitalist or communist era. You are then easily infiltrated by people who are not so simplistic in their view of human reality, who will exploit your view to play off your sense of injustice or resentment or envy of others wealth and success. And with the secular view of society. If you really think that is where we are at, then you will be unable to comprehend powerful influences of particular people in society. You will be looking for some general law of where society is going, totally unaware of specific individuals who are directing us in where society will go.

4) INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY

This finally brings me to a fourth notion of society: Industrial society. This is an older notion that was largely applied to the times of the industrial revolution. It was reading about this notion in the Unabomber manifesto that made me think of writing this piece, as I felt originally that this was quite an archaic term for him to be using to describe our society. But, in one sense I can see now what he was doing, which was to avoid some of the pitfalls of describing society in the other ways I considered above. One can see Industrial society as capturing the facts of increased mechanisation of the production process, of the inertia this process now has, of the push and need for relentless progress and growth in to avenues that includes technology etc. It can draw on features of all the above definitions of our society without being overly and singularly committed to any of them.

These are just some thoughts on the subject. I have not gone on to analyse in more detail this notion of society. I guess, there is with the focus on Industrial society the danger of falling into the trap of an old fashioned dichotomy between mechanisation and luddites. And some attendant romanticisation of human life in a natural setting, when the reality of such a way of life is much more cruel, torturous and forbidding. Regardless the purpose here, was to highlight the dangers of committing too soon to a particular conceptual diagnosis of what our society is or has become, because then you are committed to viewing society through that particular lens. Once you are committed to that kind of blinkered view, you will be cannon fodder for the manipulators out there who are more willing to hedge their bets and to use the more predictable among us to unwittingly further their plans.

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