Ever since I was very young, I noticed a strange paradox about human interactions and human society. Human society lays out a set of rules of conduct and behavior that, if followed, promises fulfillment and happiness to people. This rule of conduct and behavior ranges all the way up from the very common rules of etiquette, the Please and thank you that are important when asking the cashier to give you a paper bag and not a plastic, to the philosophical and moral concepts that bind society together. Yet even with all this conceptual work, society for some reason can't seem to work out. The code of rules is right rhere, and the ways to accomplish things are quite clear, yet people choose not to follow them.
The question was quite concrete to my elementry school self: "People like nice people. Why then doesn't everyone just try to be nice and respectful of others? It is relatively easy and has good results.". While the question in my mind is a little bit more complicated after sixteen or so years, the basic question still remains: why do people have trouble relating to each other?
I have picked out about five different answers, each one of which is the paradigm for error control in different societies and at different times.
- Technical error is the first and perhaps "most simple" paradigm for why problems occur in society. This technical error can also include the fact of physical shortages, such as the belief that societies can not live out moral paradigms for the simple reason that they don't have the scarce resources to allow everyone to live well. However, technical error is not always as simple and reductionistic as laying the blame for socities ills on physical shortages. A technical error can also be people who are not educated enough, or don't have the right ideology, to accept the goals of the society. These people themselves become technical errors to be edited out if the society must progress. This is the paradigm of Marxism, of behaviorist psychology, and in a more refined form, of modern America, where the largest reason for the inability of the nation to enjoy unlimited prosperity is the mythic "white trash" "rednecks" or "gangstas" that are too stupid to accept the all-giving paradigm of liberal capitalism.
- Revolutionary thought states that it is not merely individuals that have problems, but that the inability of society to function is the fault of society itself, and that the system itself must change if the members of the system are to get anywhere. Revolutionary thought can be political, economic or social, or can apply to any other system. When revolutionary thought succeeds in forming a new paradigm, the people who do not accept the new paradigm are often seen as technical errors that need to be corrected. The revolutionary paradigm was the ruling paradigm in many liberation movements and in many totalitarian movements this century that I choose not to go into detail on. In addition, the revolutionary paradigm is an important way of explaining the inadequacies of society in contemporary America, as many of the people who associate themselves with America's own cultural revolution that started in the 1960's blame the people who did not accept the value system of that era (such as Christians) as the wrench's in the work of a new, enlightened society.
- Manicheistic thought places the evils of society at the hands of a group of people who are somehow evil and bent on the destruction of everything good and holy. Some people choose to believe that their is an actual supernatural force at work here, some people believe that the evil group is held together by ideology, and some people think that they are held together by nothing more than evil. This way of thinking has been very popular throughout history, being the motivating force from everything from the Crusades to the Cold War to the current War on Terror. This is not always a matter of war against an external enemy, however. It can also be seen as an internal state of conflict against drug users, sexual deviants or any other group that threatens the stability of the society as a whole.
- The belief in some kind of radical wrong is a paradigm of error correction that is not really a part of American culture, although I personally have grown to use it as an understanding of the world around me, and am sometimes at a loss to explain it to other people in my culture. This is the belief that the world is broken, that behind any given set of factual errors or wrong opinions or malicious individuals, that there is something deeper, and perhaps darker wrong with the world. Although this could be seen as a radical "evil", it is seperate, for the most part, from the Manichestic worldview. The Manichestic worldview is often superficial and emotional, used to manipulate people into feelings of combined struggle against an evil empire. The view that recognizes the presence of brokeness in the world is much more personal, and much more direct. It is a fairly common worldview in different places and different times: it is the view of the Rabbi Isaac Luria, the understanding of dukha amongst Buddhists, the existential feelings of Soren Kierkegaard and the Hell on Earth of Mobb Deep.
- Cultivation is a fifth way to explain the world and our way of relating to it. Cultivation realizes that even if we had everything we needed to know layed out in front of us, or uploaded into our brain Matrix style, it wouldn't neccasarily work right away. Only through constant practice and experience can we really understand what any of the simplist of moral rules mean. I think this way makes sense, as simple as it seems. Since I was very young, I've tried to do my best to be kind, and after 20 years, I realize every day more and more practical and spiritual benefits of following the way. This is the worldview probably advocated by Confucian tradition, and by most people of common sense.
That then is my preliminary findings. I hope to find the true cause of error and unfulfillment soon, so I can spend the rest of my days in a hot tub full of chocolate pudding and beautiful busty women.