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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Realistic Disassociation

I am continually troubled when discussing social scenarios with other people.  It is not because we have differing opinions on certain issues, details, or processes within which our lives function, but rather because almost resoundingly to a person there is a relative inability among people to disassociate themselves from the 'reality' that they both see and have come to believe as fact.  It is as if people simply can not grasp that the reality that they see is completely subjective, undefinable, and constructed by social interactions.  When thinking of political mechanisms, is it not evident that other such mechanisms can/do exist?  When thinking about social motivations, is it not obvious that simply by providing alternative social rewards people would be motivated to do things differently?

From Academics to random individuals, there is very little divergence.  The world, as 'seen', tends to be the world that is readily accepted and taken as 'fact'.  I struggle with this word fact.  A fact is simply a generally accepted 'truth' of the time.  This is not to say that this 'fact' was seen as true 100 years ago, or will be 100 years from now.  200 years ago the field of sociology didn't exist, 100 years ago it was something completely different from today, and most likely in another 100 years our conceptions of society and its study will be wholly different than they are today.  With every invention, our previous 'facts' are disproved, expanded upon, added too, or in some other way disputed and/or reputed.  Yet we all want to believe that what we see today are 'facts', almost as if existing in a time vacuum.  Why is it that we can not just see 'reality' and its 'facts' as they are: the present day best or most educated 'guesses' given present information.

This is an issue for me in current society and its discussions.  Just because we see or experience something as 'real', or 'fact', does not mean that it is this absolute truth.  It is as if the world is being taught to think simply of the present and not of the possibilities.  Obviously this helps maintain the status quo and provides an impetus for unimaginative thinking.  This is not at all levels though as thinking outside the materialistic box to come up with new technological inventions is rewarded, while thinking outside the social box we live in is not (think Georgia state legislators attempting to cut funding to social science classes teaching about homosexuality in favor of maths, sciences, and business).  Think about the world we live in.  We get up in the morning and do what?  But why?  No really, why?  All we need is food shelter, social interaction, etc, yet we get up and go to jobs and do things that don't necessarily make us happy, but simply because that is what is needed to survive given our current world's 'reality'.  But throughout time, and in other places, different methods of survival have existed.  Why is it that we as individuals can not isolate out some of the fundamental and individual motivations of society and think of them under differing conditions and circumstances?

We think like we are taught to think.  If we grow up in a society that focuses on the individual then we will be individualistic.  We we grow up in a society based on communal living with and for others, our focus can be more communal.  Just as if we grow up in a family that is politically conservative our tendency is to be conservative.  And if we grow up thinking America is the greatest country in the world, we believe this, even without going anywhere else or dissecting our teachings.  We are what we see and learn.

This is not all innate, but rather socially learned upon a foundation of individual physical and biological tenets.  Just like a computer; our bodies are the hardware, our physical capabilities (mentally, musculoskeletally, etc) are things such as the random access memory (RAM) that allows for the number of things a computer can run and have open at one time.  Then the software is our social existence.  The operating system, such as windows on a PC, is the social and educational foundation of our childhood and then in present day we download and/or install any other 'software' or 'experiences' that we want – education, travel, daily interactions, etc.  We choose what new software to install based upon our previous installs.  If I want to install a game, I have to have find either the PC or Mac version or it will not work properly on my system, just as if I have learned social norms or 'facts' are a certain way, and then go to another country and see them different I would find it perplexing, intriguing, and even uncomfortable, and discombobulating at how things work (think The Matrix and 'freeing a mind').  And then if I want to install an update, upgrade, or the like, I have to already have downloaded the previous software – there is no expansion pack without the original game.  Our lives are based upon our previous social software and then expanded upon.

Life mirrors this analogy.  But the important thing to take from it is that the 'software' of our lives is added and controllable.  Think of it like PC and Mac, and then Linux.  Linux is open source, while PC and Mac are proprietary.  Our society is thus-far running proprietary socialization software.  We are learning the same things from the same books and sources, and while claiming to be working to expand upon this, we are at the same time limited by its foundations and principle tenets.  There is no open source version of life.  You can not simply grow up learning without being taught, or without basing that learning on information previously interpreted by others (parents, teachers, friends, etc.).  We are to young and too heavily unaware of the information we are receiving in our most impressionable years.  Thus it needs to become a responsibility of everyone to reevaluate this socialization and information once they have become aware and able – question it and think about it in different lights.  But this is not where our societies focus is.  We are socialized to work within the system, not to try to make a new one or critique our present one.  (by this I do not mean critiquing current details such as specific political policy on health care, etc, but rather the very foundations that those policies are based upon – such as social motivation, cultural rewards, and why that policy is deemed worthwhile or necessary, let alone if under alternative motivational scenarios we may not even need to institute such policies as there would be no need.  Why would you need to invent a band-aid if there where no objects sharp enough to cut skin?).

It needs to be our general disposition as social individuals to view society sceptically, and to foundationally question our 'reality'.  Other realities are/were possible.  One slip here, one different calculation there, and there are different outcomes.  You ever think, “hey, what if I was never in that one place at that one time – if I turned the corner just one minute later – would I ever have met my spouse?  Made that connection and gotten that job?  What if I took the flight on September 11th instead of the 10th?  What if one policy decision was different and had caught the hijackers?  We second guess those decisions all the time – especially in our political discussions – so what if they where different in regards to major courses in history and subsequently history itself differed?  What if Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Ghandi, Hitler, Adam Smith, or Karl Marx were never born?   If Lenin slipped in the bathtub and died in Zurich without ever fomenting the Russian revolution, where would the world be now?  Would communism have come to play anyway, or would the world be a much different place?

The bottom line is different realities are wholly possible.  Yet no one seems to be able to recognize this in relation to their daily existence.  Humanity needs to see 'fact' as fiction, and 'reality' as constructed and changeable.  This inability of people to exponentially dissect society through disassociating themselves from what they have come to see as 'reality' is strongly hampering our society and its progress.  Be bigger than now, bigger than here, and grander than then.

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