Friday, December 16, 2005

Ideas and Society

What do the Patriot Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, intelligent design, pension plans, and New Age beliefs have in common? They all reflect ideas that, for better or worse, shape the way society works.

(They also give me an excuse to squeeze key words into my blog!)

So, this is the end of my long series on how ideas shape our social institutions. Review my past few weeks of blog entries and you'll learn how ideas shape education, religion, families, our economic system, and our political systems. You'll also learn a few things about the origins of the ideas we have about each of those five social institutions.

This entry offers a quick summary of the good and bad ways that ideas about each of the "Big Five" social institutions can shape our lives (some are consequences for society; some for individuals):

Religion - social inaction, mental illness or health, dangerous behavior, support for ideas that undermine widely held values, wasted energy, dogmatism focusing action on harmful social action, promotion of -isms like sexism or racism, "good works" that do what's intended

Education - resources wasted on misguided "life skills" and diversity training, counterproductive policies and programs, curricula that do not match real-world needs, reinforcement of positive behaviors like teamwork and self-discipline

Family - improved outcomes for children because of childrearing practices, mental health benefits, economic gains, mental illness

Political System - ideological positions that waste resources by ignroing facts and logic, irrational policies, policies that support or undermine widely-held values, opportunity costs of bad policies and laws

Economic System - good (or bad) plans for exploiting natural resources, relationships warped by "economic" thinking, social justice can be undermined or supported, corporate misconduct.

I know this is all at pretty abstract. Take the opportunity to reflect on how some of those things I just listed relate to your own life, work, family, or religion.


Interested in exploring the subject of ideas in society at greater length? Look for my book, Ideas and Everyday Life, in April of 2006. Get more of my blog posts, with examples that apply to your daily life.


Next Time: I'll be starting a series on the social impact of specific ideas from religion, science, public policy, and other areas of social life.


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