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Society is not real

June 12, 2020

That’s kind of a bold statement to make, is it not? After all, many people often refer to what society does, or thinks. I’ve done it, myself. When we consider how often we hear, or refer to, what society does, thinks, functions, or when we refer to its institutions, are we not referring to a real thing?

The answer is no, we are not. Society, I submit, has no existence of its own. It is not a thing to which one can point and say “see, that’s society over there.” It has no beliefs. It has no institutions. It owns no property.

Well, then, what is it?

Society is an intellectual construct and a sort of shorthand by which we refer to all the many ways people interact, cooperate, relate, and compete. By “people” I do not refer to simply the vast array of unnamed others out there, the overwhelming majority of whom are unknown to me. Instead, I mean individuals. Individual people, each with his or her own life, thoughts, beliefs, values, desires, needs and circumstances. How each and every one of those individuals do what they do, as well as what they do, constitute the construct we call society. Because individuals share a few or many characteristics with other individuals, sometimes with a great number of other individuals, and because some of them are more influential than others, we are inclined to say that society does something, or behaves in a certain way, or thinks a certain way. It’s convenient to be able to do so. It is also inaccurate because it ignores reality.

The reality is that society does nothing. People, individuals, do things. Society does not feel anything. Individual people experience feelings and emotions. Society has no values. Individuals have values. Sometimes, a large number of people will have certain values, feelings or beliefs in common. Make no mistake, though, it is individuals who have, hold or experience those things.

This denial of reality is the problem with collectivism. The collectivist would have you believe that there exists such things as collective belief, values, thoughts or existence (or rights). The collectivist would have you believe that your demographic descriptors define who and what you are. Some collectivists are merely idiots. Sadly, there are others who are simply evil. Not mistaken, “goofy,” or unaware, but evil. These are the folks who will attempt to not only pigeonhole you, but to insist that if you share certain demographic traits with others then you must, of necessity, share their beliefs and values. Otherwise, you are a traitor to your gender, race, religion, socioeconomic group, or some other demographic with whom you happen to something in common. If you allow them to persuade you that such a thing is true, they will manipulate and use you for their own ends. Because, you see, for the collectivist you don’t matter beyond your utility as a member of some group. Your individuality? Meaningless. Your wants, needs and desires? Of no value unless they can be used to further the collectivist cause. Your very personhood? An inconvenience to be ignored or denied.

Way back in the early 1970’s, we lived in a small city of about 45,000 people in southeastern North Carolina. The nearest interstate was about 120 miles away. With no major highways connecting our city to, well, anywhere, it was amazing that one of our commercial printing plants was routinely grossing over $1,000,000.00 per year. My dad was hired as the production manager, with the goal in mind of his eventually becoming the general manager for the company. His stress level, he later told me, was unreal. Eventually, the owner asked why he seemed so unhappy. My dad told the owner that he had never before been responsible for so much money. He (my dad) said the owner told him something that made his job far easier. “Kenneth,” he said. “Don’t worry about the dollars. Instead, worry about the pennies. If you will watch the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.” From then on, according to my dad, the job was much easier and far more fulfilling.

What on earth does that have to do with society? Simply this, if we think there is a problem with society, that problem, assuming it exists, is best addressed in terms of how individuals are treated. I have seen that borne out in the military, businesses across the country, families and religious groups – all those things some people like to refer to  as “microcosms of society.” If my goal is to “fix” a church, business, family, what have you by focusing on that unit as a whole, I will quite likely fail because I will have ignored the simple truth that it is made up of individuals. I must, absolutely must, focus on individuals and treat each of them as such. The same is true of our enormous intellectual construct, society. We improve society by changing the way each of us treats each and every other one of us with whom we have contact.



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  1. OldNFO permalink

    It ALWAYS comes down to the individual. What we don’t see in the younger ones is any kind of accountability or personal responsibility for their actions.

    • I remember being young and stupid. Responsibility was an expectation from my depression era parents, but it still took me a while to actually like being both responsible and accountable.

  2. asm826 permalink

    It is always individuals. Great post. You just added to my blogroll.

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