Saturday, September 09, 2006

How Does Society Work?

Money, office politics, biology, sex, genetics, greed, and powerful organizations are the reasons that things happen in society. Hmmm...

How does society really work? I'm hoping you've wondered about this as much as I have. The answers are all around us, on TV, in conversations with friends, on talk radio, in the newspapers. Stick with me for a few minutes and I'll show you how all of those "explanations" come up short.

We can easily be sold an overly simplified explanation of how things work. People are busy. People are focused on day-to-day concerns and are ready to accept any seemingly reasonable explanation. Money and special interest groups drive politics. Greed and selfishness explain why environmental problems persist.

Those short answers contain elements of truth. Money, interest groups (not just political interest groups), and psychology all contribute to our society being one way and not another. Oh, and so does the natural environment. Geography is also be involved.

What else? Well, blind chance plays a part in things. The culture - beliefs, values, technologies, symbolism, laws, unwritten rules - also influences the way a society works. Relationships between people and groups also shape a society. History is also involved; nothing just happens in a historical vacuum. Biology, not just genetics, is also involved in making a society work the way it does. There are interaction effects between biology, geography, natural environment, psychology, culture, relationships, and chance.

Yeah, that's pretty abstract. In future posts, I'll bring things down to earth using real-world events. This being election season I may feel compelled to comment on the politicians' ideas - do they pass my social pollution test?  Finally, I'll try to explain what you can really do with all of this knowledge.

Question: Does anyone really do anything for money? (My answer is "no" but I'll save the explanation for a future post.)

A closing question: Why are people in the United States not like people in Pakistan? If you can answer that question in a rigorous way you deserve a Ph.D. in Sociology. Or, at least you can be a guest columnist.

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Blogger midcan5 said...

Hello Chet,

Hmm, I would say that they aren't very different. Today I work with Indians on almost a daily basis. Culturally we act a little different, e.g. they are more polite, quicker to thank you, but those are superficial differences. You could probably do a google search on quotations about life and after you complied them and picked the best, you would have all there is to know. But that is high level, low level explanations are tougher. Core behaviors (very broadly speaking) are probably genetically formed but people never cease to confuse me. Good luck in your effort.


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and debate politics and other things at:

2:41 PM  
Blogger ornithosaurus_rex said...

I've found how society really works... expressed it as a dichotomy resulting from the variance in the neurological spectrum that characterizes humanity -- see the first chapter of my book here:

3:54 AM  

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