Monday, September 19, 2005

Social Pollution, Politics, and Culture III

Last time I wrote about the social origins and the consequences of social pollution. This post continues with that emphasis on the broad, sociological view of social pollution. Next time I'll bring things down to a personal level.

Last time I mentioned some values that seem central to human life, at least in the sense of being widely shared by people across diverse cultures. These values include freedom, tolerance for diversity, health, economic justice, social justice, ecological protection, relationships, the welfare of future generations, honesty, and compassion.

(I used "Humanity's Common Values: Seeking a Positive Future" by Wendell Bell, in the September-Otober, 2004 issue of the Futurist for most of the items on the list.)

So, a broad question is this: Do the ideas you encounter in everyday life tend to support or undermine these values? Consider not just the ideas themselves, but behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. Is belief in palm reading harmless? How about belief in stuff like astrology, crystal power, and homosexuality being an unnatural behavior?

What about messages we get about what it means to be a "real" man or a "real" woman, or a succesful person? These subjects have been beaten to death by other culture critics, so I'll only add one observation, for now. The extent that those images of manliness, wommanhood and success prevent us, as a society, from uphol;ding those global values that I just mentioned, then they are damaging to society. If it damages society then it must be social pollution.

Think of things like horoscopes and anti-gay activism as being signals of social pollution. We measure the levels of ozone and nitrogen oxides in urban air to determine how dirty the air is. There is a sociological equivalent of air pollution. The rates of respiratory distress in a city can indicate that the air quality is poor. The popularity of horoscopes, lottery lucky number books, and belief in the "badness" may suggest a certain undesirable level of pollution in society.


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