Carrying over this notion of society as a project we all have a part in (see Common knowledge), I wonder at times how aware we are of the long, flowing conversation of human coexistence. We could view pretty much any civilisation or grouping since the beginning of time in terms of its variation on the basic themes, functions, propositions, responses, and outcomes it achieved or stumbled over.
We could look at ways societies were organised, how they interacted with environment or related to neighbours, and the stories they told to hold these communities together in patterns of behaviour supporting their way of life. We could look at how, over time, some more rigid hierarchical structures seem to deconstruct, handing more power and initiative over to individuals. How more responsibility ended up in our hands.
It’s interesting, because any society is essentially a way of structuring communal existence: delegating tasks, organising the flow of goods and information, laying down infrastructures, providing a sense of belonging. There’s many ways that could be arranged, many beliefs or ideals we might place at its foundations, many paths we might take to bring them to realisation (see Notes One).
And these days we seem acutely aware of the recent history and its accompanying storylines that led into our way of life. Compared with the past, all that’s happened in the last hundred years or so has often been shouted through a megaphone, thrown up on screens of various sizes, and coated in countless shades of interpretation. It’s all very much in the public consciousness and still within living memory.
Modern society is strange in that it’s so self-aware, so incredibly ‘well-informed’, yet also quite caught up in its own narrative. It’s walked its path alongside developments in communication, shaping its little human citizens in completely new, untested ways. And often – almost inevitably – we’re given those viewpoints that are deemed to serve society, reinforcing its priorities in all these subtle ways.
We’re inundated with information, opportunity, urgency, on every side: news we should know about, products we should choose between, opinions we should share. I guess that’s culture? The things we’re talking about, beliefs we have in common, realities making up our lives, and where our attention’s being drawn (Notes Two).
Yet maybe all that also risks distracting us from what’s going on at society’s core, those shifts and conversations happening that may completely change how we live together. Day by day, year by year, generation by generation, society must be drifting in new directions. Are we aware the part we play, the ways all our choices are shaping their respective markets and often shifting the balance?
Understanding the systems we live within, purposes they serve, and the thinking behind them – how all that arose over time, the result of many different conversations – must surely place us in a stronger position to make wise decisions now. Because, in every single area of our lives, our words and actions bear consequences for the realities we will share.
Notes and References:
Note 1: History as a process of changes
Note 1: Culture and the passing of time
Note 1: Patience with the pace of change
Note 2: Culture selling us meaning
Note 2: Media within democratic society
Note 2: “The Tipping Point”
Note 2: “Paradox of Choice”
What is real? also considered the importance of how we think about reality.