“Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ‘society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”
― Stephen King, The Stand
We humans are animalia socialis—social animals. We live with fellow humans in a community. We interact among ourselves in that community. We forge alliances with other community members on the basis of certain particular interests deemed to sustain specific concerns that we think would give more meaningfulness to our individual existences. As much as possible, we members of society want our lives to be in harmony with each other. There could be some varieties in views and opinions that we express as well as differences in some activities we do. Nevertheless, we try as much as possible to avoid serious conflicts that could lead to relational damages and at worst violent hostilities. We try to extend our patience and tolerance up to a certain point where the consequences would only get to the level of a multiplicity of states of affairs reckoned to increase the vibrancy of social life. Under normal circumstances, we do not want to rock the boat. Within the framework of rationality, sober thinking and level-headed deliberation, we don´t want to create trouble in society. The more responsible inhabitants of a social community would always tend to immediately find viable alternative solutions to level-off or neutralize a conflict that could be anticipated to loom into a bitter clash of physical proportion. Mutual agreement is always the ideal in social interaction.
But reality is evidently on the contrary. Conflicts among community members seem to be commonplace. There are disagreements and differences of varied proportions and magnitudes here and there; disintegration of alliances and infringement of conventions; breach of contracts and broken promises. At worst, we have witnessed the geographical partition of societies; the secession of a sub-community from a larger social arrangement; the collapse of a previously stable union; the dissolution of a coalition; the ¨balkanization¨ of a regional community due to long-brewing cultural divergences. In the final analysis, it could come out to be a strong theory to assume that what is generally normal in society is the fundamentality not only of divergences among individuals and sub-groups within it but more intensely discords, conflicts and clashes. In other words, the animalia socialis are basically not creatures of harmony and agreement but of hostility and antagonism.
Yes, we have seen how alliances are formed and pacts signed; how cooperation is generated and collaborations developed. But none of them are certainly considered permanent. Even an apparently long-running status of agreement is always threatened by—if not often at the brink of—ultimate termination. On the one hand, societies are transitory at best and precarious at worst, whereas on the other hand, new societies are spontaneously and continually formed from the constituents of ones that previously dissolved. With this, another strong theory could be formulated: Societies come and go but humanity cannot continue to live meaningful lives in this world without society. In other words, societies cannot die nor fade away; they are simply reformulated and in a radical sense, transformulated to suit the interests of their ¨transformers¨ which as a political matter could be more sensibly described in terms of the location of power concentration and hence could technically be either democratic or autocratic.
Now, the question, ¨Do we have the society we want?,¨ comes into being. The key factor lies in initially considering who the so-called ¨transformers¨ of society are and this matter is actually of a political nature. Individual members of a particular society who belong to the ¨transformer¨ class are endowed with the power to generate social changes and are therefore active participants in the reformation and transformation of a society that they want. In an ideally democratic political landscape, the majority of the populace are theoretically the ones who call the shots and hence constitute the ¨transformer¨ class. Even as we think of the varieties of democratic rule (direct or participatory, etc.), the focal point always boils down to the people who are supposed to be the ruling power in a democratically governed state of affairs—the power-brokers, so to speak. A society is shaped and re-shaped, formed and transformed on the basis of the power-brokers´ collective interests. In the context of this theoretical implication, it is therefore assumed that the society these people have is the very society they essentially want.
But is this the case in reality? The volume of the preceding discussion is, as we have emphasized, ideal and theoretical. The same question—and we don´t even have to reformulate it—becomes particularly focused and directed to us at this point in time: Do we have the society that we want? To be honest with ourselves, there are aspects of our present society that suit our interests on the one hand and there are those that we abhor and wish to get rid of, on the other hand. We are naturally inclined to applaud and speak well of certain social conventions and procedures, customs and practices that we don´t only observe on a regular and routine basis but actually do ourselves as we live normal lives in such a society wherein we are bona fide members.
However, we are likewise caught in the current of social life characterized by the actuality of despicable circumstances that if we only have the power to do away with, we will automatically wipe them out right here and now. At this point, a very crucial question arises: Why, in the first place, are we presently impotent to effect what we want to immediately do? The reality is we are not able by a sheer reliance on our limited individual competence. But the most glaring fact we have to acknowledge is we basically don´t have the IDEAL society we desire and dream of. We consistently deal with social circumstances that challenge in different magnitudes of complexity our emotional endurance and mental limitations and along the way, we have committed ourselves to constantly preserve our most esteemed sanity. At the end of the day, we tell ourselves that we are in fact living in a crazy society—a human organization that we want to make better if we only have the opportunity and the power to do so. And another important question crops up: Why are we not instantly endowed with such a capacity to transform a society that suits our idealism?
We are not born in this world to start a society. The incontrovertible fact is we are born into a society. Under normal circumstances, we are nurtured in the most basic unit of society we call family. Then after some years, we are exposed to a wider realm of more human interactions in more expansive social institutions and in the process enlarge the scope of our social connections. We get used to the cultural life of the society and we are in certain ways required to toe the fundamental norms cherished in that particular social setting since time immemorial. We are therefore caught in the vortex of a socio-cultural reality where we at the beginning have no power at all to defy and resist. But as time goes on, we gradually get into conflict with the very society that has raised us and has given us the qualities of the persons we are now. We increasingly get impatient with some occurrences that run contrary to what we perceive are necessary steps to take to make the present condition better and more liveable. We start to see defects and flaws in certain social structures about which we even tend to expand to the point of vehemence our criticism toward those who have long been around before our advent. And we tell ourselves, what we have is a society we do not want.
Social change is technically encompassed by a complexity of mechanics and dynamics generally reckoned in political terms. In this consideration, we get rid of the ideal and we face the reality that even in the most so-called democratic state of affairs, the power of the people is an abstract matter. Reality dictates that there is always a power block in any political circumstance regardless of whether such is democratic or autocratic. The issue of whether we want or not the society we have remains a personal matter about which nothing can be done unless we get to the point of mustering a substantial number of convinced and hence principle-driven people to constitute a strong alliance to seriously inaugurate a committed endeavour. Without the opportunity to concretely achieve the possibility of such precondition, the ideal changes we wish to happen in a society we have conceived to be a better one will just be a figment of our imagination.
© Ruel F. Pepa, 28 MAY 2013