Changing society without changing people, Part 2

Discourse, futuretalk.co11 Comments

I was confused for a long time by the notion that the character of society did not reflect the characters of the people I had met in my life. I assumed that I was lucky to be surrounded by mostly virtuous folk and that, as I journeyed beyond my hometown, I would come to find these bad seeds who were staining the fabric of society with their spilled over greed and corruption.

I never did. Sure, I’ve met a few sociopaths who don’t understand how selfish they are. But I have never met anyone intent on simply destroying the splendor of human community. So how is it that society is so treacherous yet individuals are generally good?

There is a disconnect. There is a point at which the average person does not concretely conceive the consequences of his or her actions, and therefore his or her basic goodness is not expressed. I do not know precisely where this point is, but it lies somewhere between lending your neighbor a stick of butter and the BP oil disaster.

If we can find that point and organize our activities around it, then we should see our communities beginning to more directly reflect the basic goodness of the average person. And that is our task: not to change individuals, but to rearrange society so that their basic goodness can be more easily expressed.

SorenChanging society without changing people, Part 2

11 Comments on “Changing society without changing people, Part 2”

  1. Megan

    Interesting…I’ve always thought that many of our latent activities lend themselves to negative results…which won’t be rectified without sacrifice on the part of the individual…but I think you may be saying the same thing.

    I do think though, that many of us have opportunities to find and organize around that “point”, but choose not to on a regular basis because the cost to us is just too high. I forget who said it, but it was something to the effect of “If people could stop global warming by giving up the use of a remote control, they wouldn’t do it.”

  2. futuretalk

    I agree, and so the task then is to figure out how to lower the cost on the individual. In other words, the “good” choice must also be the practical choice. I will discuss this more in my next post.

    Funny you should mention global warming, I literally just read an article in the Times that suggested top-down carbon control policies would be ineffective and that developing new greenhouse gas limiting technologies/practices can be effective (to the tune of decreasing global warming by 1/3 in thee next 40 years) IF they render a direct, practical benefit to those who would use them.

    That is the direction I believe we need to go when considering how to fix things. People are not motivated by far off consequences, they are motivated by immediate benefit. It is not useful to judge others for what sometimes appears as selfishness. It IS useful to develop strategies informed by that so-called selfishness. Again, the “good” choice must be the easy choice.

  3. Megan

    But then who develops the technologies or funds the education for development? I think we were in a better position when most research institutions were funded by private donors and organizations.

  4. futuretalk

    Well I guess in theory those technologies save money for the farmers and whoever is using, so a private company could research the development and still turn a profit.

  5. Justin

    Is the good choice ever the easy choice? Will we always be able to provide a situation wherein that will always be true? Sure, maybe it’s easy to not beat your kids. But that’s a micro level issue while we have macro level issues.

    As a side note, so many technological advancements were the results of government programs. The entire space program, for example. Without getting into a massive ideological clash, privatization is not the solution to everything.

    As a side note, great video re: “shit white girls say to black girls.”

    1. Megan

      I agree re: privatization. I probably phrased it badly, but I was trying to say things were possibly better when organizations (foundations, churches, etc.) who at least pretended to have the greater good at the heart of their motivations (contrasted with businesses) funded research. I would include the government in that group since technically, in democratic societies, they serve the people.

  6. N'Ut

    I love the way you think…it is so hopeful. I, on the the other hand, am a bit of a skeptic. I believe that the hard road is always the best yet will always be the one less traveled. I believe all disconnection is intentional. I think that the average person is aware of the carnage left behind in their trail of corruption but simply are accepting because they consider it a small price to pay to ‘win’, be a winner or whatever. I am unsure of where you live, but in my hometown it is grotesque to watch how desperately people want to be seen, heard and feel envied or worshiped. The lengths they will go just for a moment in any spotlight, good or bad, is crazy. I will continue to read your blog because I am so interested in what you will do next. I guess skepticism and all, it is always good to see someone else on the road.

  7. Joanna

    I like what you’re saying here. It’s important to recognize that in many ways, people don’t want to change, or try new things, if it’s going to mean feeling inconvenienced. And so to continue on that train of thought, I would argue that many people would be willing to change or try new things or look around an new corner if the projected result was *feeling happy.* About six months ago, salon.com posted an article which essentially said that on some level, practically every decision we make is rooted in the belief that we will receive pleasure from it. On a very basic level, we are always seeking pleasure and happiness and good feelings.

    But I think that in order to really create widespread change, TRUE happiness must be the projected result. So this would mean feelings of being valued, wanted, loved, as opposed to the notions of “happiness” our society would have us beleive are of primary (even primal) importance, i.e., gratuitous spending (“retail therapy”), etc. Pretending to offer real happiness but only having more of the same “empty happiness calories” to offer…that couldn’t possibly change anything. More of the same = more of the same.

    People need to feel valued. It’s not a need derived from low self-worth; it’s a basic and a real human need. When we feel valued, we also feel happy. When we feel happy, the world feels good.

    1. futuretalk

      Yeah, I feel you on all that. I think that sense of feeling valued comes from being part of a community. One of the themes I’ll be exploring in greater depth on this blog is this idea that society has become this huge and fragmented thing where individuals are super disconnected form each other (and this makes it easier for us to act selfish because we have no concrete grasp on the actual consequences of our actions). Along with that vastness and fragmentation comes isolation, and addressing that is very much a part of addressing the question of why we aren’t better toward one another.

  8. Tasha

    I’ve found that once I stepped outside of the community in which I grew up in, my perception of what I assumed was ‘reality’ changed along with the people I would meet. I also learned that one’s perception is based upon his/her individual experience life, their current situation, their teachings and life philosophies, as well as their social status. And to be honest, it has very little to do with their ethnicity as much as it does their gender and how they process information (which is heavily influenced by the factors mentioned).

    As a Navy veteran, I’ve travled to some of the most farthest reaches in the world, and I’ve seen the ‘richest’ of people in other countries live poorer than the poorest of people here in America. Yet these people tend to posses a more optimistic outlook on life than those of us here in the U.S. that literally has everything. Proving that money can not buy happiness.

    I love…love this blog my brother. Check mine out when you get the chance

    http://dietynyota.wordpress.com/

  9. Pingback: Don’t hate the player, hate the game: moral separation and government regulation « Future Talk

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