18 November 2010

Freedom in Compulsory Education?

Michael Goodwin, in discussing the freedom to fail, applies the issue of entitlement to education, in that high school, degrees are given to those who have not mastered basic skills. I agree that unearned diplomas devalue the currency of education as much as a government bailout does the economy, however, there is a much deeper issue here.

Education today equates standards, or sameness, with fairness and the myth of equality. All men are created equal in the eyes of God, but they all have unique traits, abilities, interests, and ambitions. To avoid philosophical contradiction we must clearly distinguish equality of opportunity from material, intellectual, or biological equality. What if somebody wants to be rich and somebody else does not? Shouldn’t they have the right to decide that for themselves?Should people have freedom to personally excel or to refuse “progress” dictated by others?

Brilliant, ambitious, resourceful, or talented people are born into every social strata. Education will benefit America best when those people are given an equal opportunity to excel to their potential. However, in the contemporary system, children are all expected to meet a singular standard, which does not challenge the gifted, while burdening the moderately capable in subjects which are minimally relevant to the variety of student interests and potential vocations. How different would education be if students were given the opportunity to achieve their own maximum potential?

If children are taught based on their interests and abilities they will be motivated to learn and be much less likely to fail. Should they be sheltered from the consequences of their decision to reject their maximum potential? Failure for the sake of failure is no noble principle, and public educators are right to do everything they can to help a student succeed, but the right to determine one’s own destiny is the heart of American freedom. If your pursuit leads to failure, you have the right to learn from it and try again. If you do not learn from your failures, you will never be able to achieve your greatest potential. The problem with the notion of failure in contemporary education is that it is labeled as an end result, not a means to learning. We must teach children to fail early and fail often, in the pursuit of success—according to their own conscientious desires for and definitions of success.

Education, like government, should be of the people, for the people, and by the people. The less our government reflects that philosophy, the less our public education system will mirror citizen independence, and the more compulsion will be required in compulsory education. Compulsion is the opposite of freedom. When governments hinder the flow of knowledge or proscribe demanding educational goals (such as standardized tests and consuming curriculum) to the general population, they restrict natural human liberty. We only need the freedom to fail if it is part of our freedom to determine our individual destiny as parents, students, and educators.

17 October 2010

Academic Repression

As a thirty-eight year-old woman I am still working to get a college degree. For many years I avoided getting a degree because I did not feel like I needed a formal school environment to learn or a piece of paper to prove--to myself or anyone else--that I was an educated person. My thoughts and attitudes are evident in a discussion I had with my sociology teacher after an impassioned posting I had written for assigned class discussion. (A form of the original posting assignment is the blog post titled Utopian Realism.) His comments sparked some of the repressed animosity I have toward academia and modern education and science practice and philosophy.

Thank you for your comments Janika. Please remember that the discipline of sociology is one of the social sciences, like history, psychology, or economics. Issues of social class are as fundamental to the discipline of sociology as the personality is to the discipline of psychology. All people have different views on these issues, but few examine them at the level of a college student. Our discussions in the class are academic, and the focus is on gaining a better understanding of the material, and is not aimed at influencing beliefs.

When you read your textbook, please notice that there is no discussion on what is "right" or "wrong." Various theories are discussed (conflict, symbolic interaction, functionalism) but none of the theories are "right or wrong." Theories simply represent the different ways we perceive the world, and our perceptions of the world will generally follow one of the theoretical perspectives. Our biases are generally formed by our world view, and one of the objectives of the class is to help students in recognizing their own theoretical perspectives, and the social forces that goes into shaping their perspective

My response went something like this:
Thank you for your response. The way I see it, all sciences, even biology and astrophysics (a particular favorite of mine) are filled with people who have a biased belief. We are all seeking answers to questions about life and we all have specific goals in our pursuit of understanding. I will not pretend to be unbiased.

Whatever the "objective” of the class I have my own objectives for my education. My original purpose in returning to school was to study physical sciences and be a secondary school educator because I love science. Scientific method never refers to theories as "ways we perceive the world." Theories are something we are supposed to form from conclusions based on thorough testing to deem them right or wrong. However, because academia is as dogmatic as religion, and scientists are as emotionally attached to their theories as a zealot, they revise and append where they should re-orient and abandon inconclusive or incomplete theories. Re-defining the word "theory" in sociology is the ultimate example of this.

Pre-computer age sociology could not come close to rationalizing the complex equations and computations that data-based sociology requires. Because no theories could really be proven, could not really be classed as a science. Therefore, the approach you mention was appropriate to that time, but only qualified sociology as a pseudoscience. We have moved far past that. However, our entire course never required us to even read about data gathering and statistical method.

Science is the physical means of discovering universal law. I reject moral and cultural relativism. Universal truth is to be discovered by every person of every culture, and none of them have the whole of it. Studying all of them helps us uncover the pattern of foundational truth. Observing the results of personal and social behavior verifies or discredits the validity of the beliefs that undergird cultures. Strong, productive, and lasting cultures are made so because their philosophies and practices utilize some portion of universal truth (both ideological and scientific).

This, to me, is the purpose of sociology. That is nothing like anything I have read in the textbook. But it is what motivates me and makes me able to retain the quantities of knowledge that such a pursuit requires. I am not concerned about who agrees with me or how I am graded, but by sharing my ideas, I hope to open minds to non-standard perspectives and hope to find other students who challenge my perspectives with their own well-developed thinking.

As adults with significant life experience this format is for us to learn from each other as much as from our instructors. I want my fellow students to have the best quality education possible, regardless of the ascribed status of the university. We do not have to act stupid because we are getting and online education instead of a Harvard education.

You are right. Issues of social class are fundamental to our discussion here. I do not belong to the class of elite professors from prestigious universities who elevate themselves with their "peer reviewed" pompousness like the ancient priest class of middle civilization. I am a free and independent daughter of the information age. I don't care if I have a degree, but I will get one, so that, should my husband become unemployed again, I will be able to help my family, because I belong to a society that expects certain things, and I conform where I must.

Those who don't believe in absolute truth will never find it. Those who do believe at least have a chance of finding it, should it really exist. I will keep looking

I responded further to another student's reply.

My problem is not so much what we are supposed to talk about but the hidden curriculum evident in what we are NOT supposed to talk about. We read about family this week. That is the vital and fundamental unit of society, but not a single assignment in the whole course addresses it. Sociology is nothing without a firm understanding of familial impact on the greater society. If however, the importance and impact of family is minimized in education, it elevates the status of education as the fundamental unit of society and cultural cohesion. From a conflict perspective, it is about a power struggle for dominating control over the development of young minds.

And what about religion? That is another center of influence and power. If our education does not reinforce the value of religion while pointing to its own importance, it is again reinforcing its power as the central influence in our lives and minimizing religion's importance and impact on social development. The text pointed these things out, but we are not to discuss them to reinforce that learning. It is like the pundits after the State of the Union Address. We all listen to it, but then they spend two hours telling us what we heard, reinforcing the points they want us to remember, sometimes undermining (by skipping over) some of the most important statements the President was trying to make.

Knowledge is power. Who is directing the flow of information? How can we take responsibility for our own education to retain (or gain) our free and independent status?

01 October 2010

Economic Ecosystems: Balancing Interdependant Globalization

Natural systems tend toward increasing order. I will demonstrate how human production, trade, and economy are consistent with the evolution and development of natural ecosystems and the degree of inevitability of increasing global interdependence of the human ecosystem. The dynamics of fluctuation and stabilization found in natural systems can also be applied to patterns of human economy and social developent. This is because man is a part of nature and subject to its laws.

Historically, primitive human thought, production, and economy has been viewed as fundamentally different from current motives and modes. Because of this Heath Pearson (2007) states that anthropology, psychology, and economics which were once part of the same field of study have become totally disparate fields, “creating a discursive vacuum within which Homo paleoeconomicus [the anthropological primitive man with little real sense of capitalistic awareness] has proliferated without contest.”

General System Theory (GST), on the other hand, provides the hope of a common foundation upon which all sciences can build for a more throrough understanding of the processes which lead to the evolutionary development of social and economic systems. GST was first outlined by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1969). “There are systems of equations describing the competition of animal and plant species in nature. But it appears that the same systems of equations apply in certain fields in physical chemistry and in economics as well” (p.33).

I will discuss how human economic systems limit themselves through competition while expanding through cooperation allowing for growth and increased complexity

Competing Forces and the Balance of Power
Just as ecosystems experience dynamic equilibrium in predator-prey populations, historical capitalist economy experiences fluctuations in supply and demand. However, pre-industrial theorists could not have concieved the power of human innovation in production and distribution to alter naturistic and economic eco-systems. It was not until cybernetics and information technology began to be studied that we understood the power of networks and the teleology of natrural systems; that systems could “learn” and had “purpose;” that the end was greater than the sum of its parts; that despite the appearance of randomness, systems tend to increase order (Bertalanffy).

However, the process of increasing order (meaning structure, law, and peaceful cooperation) in civilization, economic development, and politics is nothing like straight-line progression. There are cyclic paterns of accelerated growth, stasis, decline, and dormancy, or even system death which fertilizes the birth of new systems as evidenced by the rise and death of Roman, Egyptian, Mayan, and similarly once great empires and kingdoms, of which only vestiges remain. Yet the monuments of their existence inspire contemporary cultures to build on rediscovered knowledge.

One of the dynamic agents of these cultural cycles is resistance. The strength of one force in an ecosystem generates an equal and opposite reaction. In socio-political contexts the primary resistors are man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus self

Man v. Wild
The impact of humanity on naturistic ecosystems and global environments is evident even from upper-atmospheric orbit. Though much is said about the negativity of this impact. Few are bold enough to assert that man is an evolved part of nature, endowed by nature with the capacity to utilize and improve upon natural systems. There is a tendency among humans to exploit, deplete, and pollute naturistic systems in adverse ways. Plant and animal populations may even become extinct. However, we must be wise and note that nature has the power to balance these extremes. In fact nature itself has wiped out populations and caused extinctions. Even the tragedy of massive cataclysms such as tsunamis and earthquakes operate to refresh human and animal population.

Another balancing feature of Nature is the natural human endowment of observation and conscience. Humans have evolved to become aware of negative impacts and take corrective action. Buffalo populations nearly wiped out by nineteeth century hunting was recognized and limited by conscientious humans to the point that there are, again, massive herds of wild as well as domesticated bison.

But is man versus wild a zero-sum game where one's gains are another's loss? Is human use of natural resources inherently negative? Or is there a symbiotic flow of needs and fulfillment among humans and nature? I will discuss cooperation and expansion with more detail in a later section

Man v. Man
Man versus man dynamics are the focus of those with realist perspectives. It can also be defined as idea versus idea. War for the sake of war does not occur within society. Even bar room spats among individuals are not without an initiating ideological conflict. Carl von Clausewitz proposed that “war was merely one means states might employ to achieve objectives set by political authorities” (Viotti 2007 p.166). He acknowledged that military capabilities were multiplied by moral factors—a nation's motivating belief in the justice of their cause, hence their will to act upon it.

The competing interests of diverse states which realists note to be the source of power conflicts are balanced by interdependence among those same states for trade, security, and resources. The extending reach of trade and communication networks is an expanding global ecosystem which has increased that interdependence over the last century. But is there an inevitability to this expansion?

Judith Simmer-Brown (2000) asserts that even modern consumerism in a global economy is not inevitable and can be moderated by better understanding the causal relationships between government subsidy, “market demands,” and corporate prowess then understanding individual responsibility to be prudent consumers.

To say that global markets have nothing to do but expand and increase international power and influence is to reject history as a teacher. Corporate and governmental control of global markets which tend to manipulate conditions and control consumer activities (for consumer “benefit and safety” or not) face increasing consumer resistance with increased power. As seen in past revolutions, individual powerlessness gives way to collaboration among individuals who become a collective resistance movement. The cycle continues as the resistance movement becomes the dominant power, and can eventually become the oppressor to be resisted, kept in check, or overthrown.

As stated earlier, even failed systems can become the fertilizer for new systems which increase order in larger systems. For example, the expanding power and threat of Nazi Germany was the catalyst for worldwide war. It was defeated and that system failed. But Hitler's catastrophe (and immorality) increased human awareness of the need to protect against such destructive powers and philosophies. International security collaborations became standard among powerful nations. Rules of engagement were refined, and preventive measures taken for future security. Thusly, international order increased

Man v. Self
It is important to note that all systems are made up of individuals, and that there is conflict even within the singular human being. Psychosocial needs may be in conflict with physiological needs. Spiritual needs to act in good conscience conflict with physical satisfaction at the expense of others. (For further discussion on individual human needs and interests, please see the post titled Human Happiness.)

One individual may seek to subject others to his will according to the satisfaction of his ego. Another individual may motivate others to reach for a higher standard of living to improve a community. The global powers which exist are manifestations of individual actions proselyted and submitted to. If no individual chose ego over conscience; to manipulate and subject his fellow beings to his authority for selfish gains, global power structures would be quite different. Because the inner-struggle exists, however, individuals must band together to create shared standards out of self-preservation to regulate the exercise of individual self-interes

Cooperation and Expansion
The struggle for survival, power, and independence, however, is not the sum of human experience. Just as ideas are a source of conflict, they are key in maximizing the functions of our socioeconomic system. Classical idealism emphasizes natural law as binding upon and applicable to all humanity. The quest to discover those natural laws and culturally codify them has led to progress in Human rights agreement and defining standards within the international community.

Unlimited Resources
The observation of technological and informational explosion in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries lead Paul Zane Pilzer (1990) to conclude that technology controls both the definition and the supply of physical resources. Human ingenuity is the natural resource. All the materials are of little worth until we make something of them. When it becomes scarce, we find a way to transport from where it is not scarce, we find a way (or better way) to manufacture it, or we find a substitute.

In this way, humanity can become a creative partner with nature in the evolution of ecosystems or it can be a destroyer. At the very least, we are armed with the idea that whatever the human condition, we have the power to change perspectives and solve the problems that would seem to threaten our continued existence

Isolationist Utopia(s)
Now we return again to our question about the inevitability of global interdependence. We have increasing interaction, exchange of ideas and goods with people and companies who would have been out of reach just a few short years ago. But does the ability to interact imply a requirement to interact? I would say, no indeed. It is possible to have a primarily self-reliant ecosystem contained within a relatively small boundary. The diversity of human belief, preference, and social goals, in fact, lends itself to localized communities or collaborations (to include non-local internet or religious belief systems). People gravitate towards like-minded associates. Historically they are like-minded because of tribal-familial commonalities. But today we can create communities on Facebook and followings on YouTube where we can participate in or even generate a niche culture.

It is imperative to remember that the human mind cannot be forced. The only effect is resistance. Therefore, the paramount need of human society is to allow free intellectual intercourse among individuals and the right to associate with like-minded people. Within their pocket communities they can discover the ideas which lead to peace, prosperity (in whatever definition they value) and determine the actions which will help to maintain that peace within their community. As long as belonging to that community is voluntary, if there are social laws that a person subscribe to a certain set of beliefs, the laws are just. Anyone who wishes not to associate with that group has the freedom to disassociate. In our global mobility, we are free to seek a new community. Those communities allow us to establish Zion in our own image. Being banished does not carry the same weight it did in less mobile times.

Globalization, being the spread of capitalist consumerism, is marked by each generation redefining its adolescent image then carrying it through the generation as part of a new cultural standard. Just as American baby boomer youth were defined by the inception of pop culture, the trend continues today among youth in India as described by Ritty Lukose (2005) consumes traditional Indian culture. *On the other hand, I have had many associates (some of my faith, and many of other faiths) who, because of religious conviction chose to abstain from modern American culture, whether by refusing to own a television or by refusing to allow their children to be indoctrinated by secular education. Many of those people have also rejected fashions and trends that are viewed as immodest and have chosen instead to manufacture their own clothing. Others have chosen to grow and preserve significant quantities of their own food. Because it is increasingly common and easy to purchase all the necessities of life and want significantly more than necessary from all quarters of the globe, does not mean that it is the only way.

Though such a statement may seem to promote primitive lifestyles, unlike cultural anthropologists who tend to romanticize primitive cultures and wish to preserve them, I see future cultural diversity as being a result of diverging convictions solidifying group associations. We simply have more options.

Scott Shershow questioned the competing romanticism and cynicism of globalization. If “a culture is already an adaptation, won't it continue to adapt? How can these local cultures be, on the one hand, seamless, pristine, and fragile and, on the other hand, the vital product of cultural cross-pollination?” (Shershow 2001). This is the “inevitability” of ecological evolution. Cultres will simply change and adapt over time. We have no idea what those changes will be, how or when they will manifest, or what triggers will motivate those changes
. (For further discussion see the post titled Utopian Realism.)

Opposing forces of nature and human economy help to maintain a dynamic balance between predatory or powerful nations in cycles. These cycles tend toward increased order in socioeconomic systems. However, this increase in order must be taken over the long-view, understanding that particular ecosystems can fail but that the failures may contribute to the success of other systems which are better evolved.

However the most powerful force is not competition, but the power of ideas to unite groups. Localized power helps to maintain safety and protection from governments, which tend to increase in size and power without a significant system of checks and balances. If a state does not interfere with belief systems and beneficial practices and assembly, mini-cultures can create little pockets of utopia.

Globalization is a powerful force, and may seem inevitable, but it is no manifest destiny

Cultural Engineering: The Rise and Demise of Stable Governments

Living in an unavoidably global, capitalist economy, nations are having to come to terms with how to adjust their economies, cultures, and government structures in a way that will make them successful at home and competitive abroad. The success and stability of national governments in the past have been concurrent with a national, unifying, cultural identity. However, when that culture becomes over-defined and inflexible (proud), or on the opposite side, try to appeal too broadly to disparate factions it will not be able to keep up with modernization and effective governance. Thus, it will eventually decay. I will explore the historical patterns of how the world developed with the hope of finding a key to helping developing nations have a culture of successful governance.

There seem to have been many methods of governance, which have resulted in economically and socially successful nations. Is there an underlying pattern and how can that pattern be used to help developing nations become successful. While western governments are founded on liberal democracy, individual rights, and free trade, nations like Japan and China provide evidence that such are not inextricably entwined with successful economy and stable government.

Child Development Theory of Nations
There is no such thing as cultural relativism. What is wrong for one nation is wrong for another. Like successful families, there are certain ways to do it that provide a solid emotional and socioeconomic background for the citizens. Nations, like children, are profoundly influenced by the experiences of their early development. Personalities and patterns of behavior become ingrained which can become very difficult obstacles to overcome in developing into a successful nation on the world stage.

Multiple studies conclude that maltreatment of children creates deleterious long-term effects on the children, thus impacting society as they mature (e.g. Maschi et al.). I propose that individuals and families are the constituents of nations and governments. Therefore, study of the patterns and practices we see in families can be applied to governments for increased perspective on healthy and unhealthy child and national development. For the purpose of this paper, parent is equivalent to government and child is equivalent to citizen. Please note that the metaphor I am applying is not that people of a nation are children, but that developing nations follow a pattern of development much like the stages of childhood, and in most cases the pattern is of a dysfunctional family.

An infinite array of parenting styles are capable of producing successful, or at least productive adults. Styles of parenting become an integral part of a cohesive family culture. Likewise, distinctive styles of governance provide a foundation for a distinctive national culture. In my reading of Roskin’s Countries and Concepts, especially in the Patterns of Interaction sections, the lesson that stood out most to me was the distinctive and lasting the impact of the past on nations. So while there is no such thing as cultural relativism, there is a value to cultural diversity, and there is more than one right way to rule a nation.

Universal wrongs, on the other hand, parallel with child maltreatment, which refers to neglect as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. In many third world and developing nations, governmental maltreatment of citizens parallels these categories in the form of inadequate government structure, economic exploitation, civil rights abuse, and government domination of relatively helpless citizens, respectively.

Children who are victims of maltreatment spend a lifetime trying to overcome the negative effects and rarely develop their full potential. Exceptions are the result of intervention from outside the family. Germany and Japan received such intervention after World War II. American troops and civil officers occupied those nations to oversee the post-war rebuilding of defeated governments and economies. They became some of the world’s greatest success stories.

Germany was dramatically overhauled, as the previous leaders were excluded from government. They were able to synthesize the democratic principles that were being forced upon them with a proud historical culture to create a system that was uniquely their own. Japan had even more leeway to create a government in their own image because they had not committed the same level of atrocities that German leaders had. The result was an explosion of Japanese culture and progress. It was empowered to rewrite its history and create its future.

It remains to be seen how the U.S. intervention in Iraq will play, but it seems now that the people have gotten a taste of democracy they are not likely to relinquish it. However, they still lack the government structure so critical to young nations’ development and which makes democracy functional. These things take time.

Limitations and Liberties of Governments
Many questions remain. How much power should government have? What is a comfortable economic level of human subsistence? Are cultural leaders (religious, political, and economic) responsible to set baseline subsistence standards or should people have freedom to excel above others or refuse “progress” dictated by others? Are industrial and technological development even necessary? These questions must be answered by individual countries, according to the dictates of their conscience, so long as they avoid inadequate government structure, economic exploitation, civil rights abuse, and government domination of relatively helpless citizens. Tina Maschi and her colleagues drew the correlation between universal human rights established by the United Nations and their application to children. “Social work prevention and intervention strategies should actively address post-trauma emotional, behavioral, and social residue that has been consistently shown to negatively affect youths and their families and communities” (2009). Likewise, other nations have a moral responsibility to intervene on behalf of the citizens of abusive governments. I do not believe in socialized parenting or in globalized governance. We cannot simply take a child away from its parents because we think they are bad parents. There is legal procedure that must be followed and evidence that must be gathered. Then social workers must teach parents effective and loving parenting strategies. Likewise, we do not have an unequivocal right to step in and take over a failing government. Then the goal is not to control that government, but to teach it how to become a successful government with its own unique style.

Non-Western Development
In my Cultural Anthropology class I was critical of romanticizing historical cultures of indigenous peoples that prohibited them from modernizing on their own terms and creating a current culture that was still uniquely theirs. Scott Sheershow posited if “a culture is already an adaptation, won't it continue to adapt? How can these local cultures be, on the one hand, seamless, pristine, and fragile and, on the other hand, the vital product of cultural cross-pollination?” (Shershow 2001).

In my global socioeconomic perspectives class I was critical of the assumption that globalization of economy and internationalizing government was inevitable or to be aspired to. Judith Simmer-Brown (2000) asserts that even modern consumerism in a global economy is not inevitable and can be moderated by better understanding the causal relationships between government subsidy and corporate prowess then understanding individual responsibility to be prudent consumers.

So, is there a middle ground between the expansion of government in a global society and some sort of tribal pastoralism? Can Muslim nations, for example, preserve their religious and cultural identity and still be a vital and modern nation?

They must separate individualistic freedom from progress, culture from modernization, and liberalism from democracy, following the path of Japan and China in non-western modernization. In Japan, individual rights are valued in the context of the good of society and not as an entity themselves. Ann Waswo described Japanese tradition as a modern invention. “Cooperativism” was the center of that invention “in which the individual placed the welfare of the whole above his own selfish interests…would be a uniquely Asian spirit, untainted by the evils of capitalism or the insidious doctrine of individualism” (1989).

China is still has a way to go toward becoming a “good parent” but their actions in recent decades have shown that they understand that there is some advantage to allowing some freedom and responsibility to its citizens in the form of economic openness. Ken Miller expressed concern over China’s growing power in the world market, but also noted that its potential to abuse its power is tempered by its self-interest in continued economic success. At this point, Most of Chinas FDI comes from state-owned enterprises. Although individual businesses are increasingly taking the initiative, all large investments are still coordinated by government institutions…Virtually all overseas investment by Chinese companies requires some level of state approval” (July/Aug 2010).

That should be a boon to authoritarian Middle East leaders, to know that they, like Chinese leaders, can still own the bulk of their economies while allowing the people to use their wisdom to direct their own affairs and increase their personal well-being to the benefit of the national economy. And like Japanese cultures, they can use technology to invent their own traditional modern culture. Such distinctions could still allow the people of Muslim nations a level of freedom and prosperity they do not now enjoy. Of course the inhibiting factor for the leaders is an at least sub-conscious understanding that “children” who are given a little freedom and responsibility become anxious to move out from under their “parent’s” control. Hence, we see the pattern of democracy following economic prosperity.

No one has executed a perfect form of government. Those who have come close have not been able to maintain it. Because of the cyclic nature of national cultures, no success is permanent. Nonetheless, the most successful and lasting governments are those who separate, political powers as well as financial and religious powers, from the fundamental operation of the government to minimize (or at least compartmentalize) ever-present corruption

The Empire Cycle
"Western” governments are children of Greek and Roman culture. While those empires no longer exist, they laid a philosophical groundwork for succeeding nations to adopt and adapt. The process of increasing structure, law, and peaceful cooperation in civilization, economic development, and politics is nothing like straight-line progression. There are cyclic paterns of accelerated growth, stasis, decline, and dormancy, or even death. Like Roman and Greek culture, Egyptian, Mayan, Persian and other once great empires and kingdoms inspire contemporary cultures to build on knowledge lost and rediscovered.

Likewise, the human life cycle parallels the pattern of nations. Each empire represents a generation that is born, matures, reproduces, (through conquest and colonial expansion) and then withdraws and decays. The United Kingdom represents an aging empire whose nation continues to exist but whose strength and vitality is in decay. Perhaps it will be replaced by the Empire of the European Union. The United States represents an empire at the back side of its peak. As it tries to be too many things to too many people, it will begin to lose (is beginning to lose?) its cultural identity and, hence, its national vitality.

Other empires are smaller Reichs, which come and go with repeating cycles of coup and rebellion. Their instability is the model of child development and maltreatment where the abused become the abusers previously described

While there are absolute standards which all governments must be expected to uphold, Western and American style governments present only one possibility for how to govern and create a national culture. When anti-western and developing nations separate progress from westernization they will be able to overcome reluctance to embrace change and become successful in their own national homes

15 August 2010

Utopian Realism

Imagine a society in which there are no social classes- no differences in people’s wealth, income, and life chances. What would such a society be like? Would it be stable or would its social structure change over time? How could you apply Max Weber’s theory to this scenario?

The question posits the potential reality of a utopian society. Utopia has existed in pocket communities through the history of the world. Such have been primarily short-lived because of dynamic interactions among individuals and and social influence. However, there is a pattern of success that can be discerned and replicated. The fundamental principles of a successful utopian society are: 1. It must be a small, isolationist community 2. It must have a strong spiritual and philosophical motivation to promote the well-being of all of its members. 3. It must be voluntary. 4. The community must have the authority to expel members who do not adhere to its tenets. 5. It must have a power-balancing structure such as council or consensus governance.

There is a society with no difference in wealth, income, or life chances. They can be observed in pocket communities throughout the eastern United States. They are Amish communities. Every person must labor for their sustenance without the advantage of technology, minimizing the haves and the have not’s. These communities have remained mostly unchanged for over 200 years. They avoid the inevitable human conflict by remaining isolated communities who see themselves as a cohesive group separate from the “outsiders.” The conflict is between “us” and them as they ever struggle to remain aloof from the encroaching “them” of commercialism and godless technology. So the first key to utopia is isolated cohesiveness.

The only successful utopian or semi-utopian societies have been religiously based on a belief that there is a divine being who esteems mankind with no respect of persons and who requires goodly actions that promote the welfare of those divinely created beings. Those who do will be sanctioned with temporal and eternal rewards. So the second principle of utopia is that it must be founded on a strong religious belief.

There was an early American experiment called the “United Order” in early Mormon communities where everyone was given equal plots of land and freedom to choose vocation. Then all of the goods and profits were voluntarily given to the bishop who oversaw the distribution of these goods (not being allowed to take any for himself) by inspiration according to the needs of families in the community. The order was short-lived but the legacy remains in the Church Welfare Program supported by voluntary member (and non-member) contributions called fast offerings which allow distressed families to shop at the “Bishop’s Storehouse” for basic food and hygienic necessities while they get back on their feet.

So the third principle of utopia is that it must be voluntary. Anybody has the right to leave the community, and should the community fail to meet its goals it must not try to coerce its members into compliance, leading to the fourth principle that the only punitive power that community truly has to preserve itself is to expel those who refuse to comply. This is not possible or enforceable in a national government (it has a hard enough time with immigration, let alone regulating who is allowed to live here based on the consistency of their beliefs and practices.

We know that Marxist-Leninist communism, which operates under coercion and brutality “for the benefit of society,” utterly fails to equalize classes, as the ruling class uses its power to enrich itself and afflict underlings because corruption is inherent in power, creating a cycle of coups and revolutions where the brutalized become the brutalizers. Principle 5, therefore, is: a utopian community must be established and ruled by consensus to avoid the concentration of power and potential abuse.*Because utopia begins with a belief, a community of people must live in a nation where the people have freedom to proselyte their belief and hope of a better world. Those who agree must have the right to gather together, whether in non-local and internet based or a separatist commune.

In studying the various sociological perspectives I find that I relate to them only minimally. I am developing my own perspective which I will call transitionalist. The overarching principle of social studies is change over time. The interactionist perspective is about meanings and purpose among cultures. Conflict theory is about the struggle between the haves and the have not’s. Functionalists focus on institutions and structures. The transitionalist theory (I’m making this up as I go) posits that various groups give meanings and have purposes for creating institutions and structures which sub-groups try to undermine with different meanings and purposes until they become the dominant group, making society and its structures ever-changing and dynamic. From this perspective, Max Weber’s view of multidimensional stratification provides important distinctions about class, status group, and power.

Universal truth is to be discovered by every person of every culture, and none of them have the whole of it. Studying all of them helps us uncover the pattern of foundational truth. Observing the results of personal and social behavior verifies or discredits the validity of the beliefs that undergird cultures.

This, to me, is the purpose of sociology. That is nothing like anything I have read in a textbook. But it is what motivates me and makes me able to retain the quantities of knowledge that such a pursuit requires. The cultures which are not founded on true principles will fail much quicker than those have found a portion of universal truth. The decay of such societies can be traced to changing belief and deviance from the principles that were once valued and made utopia possible. This happens because the rising generation will often resist the utopia they live in.

Those who don't believe in absolute truth will never find it. Those who do believe at least have a chance of finding it, should it really exist. I prefer the comfort of absolute truth. I reject moral and cultural relativism. Create your own culture. Be true to your beliefs. Start in your own home. The success of that culture's ability to grow without conflict and self-sustaining, long-term success will help find the underlying reasons for that success and verify or refute the validity of the principles that make the society cohesive.