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.

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