Friday, November 9, 2012

On Society and Authority

Today, I watched as a young child, perhaps three of four, took a stick, which he had found, and began beating a bush with it. This made me think: if many would think this action wrong due to the unnecessary effects to the bush and owner's property, or if others would call this unnecessary violence, then how can any say we are born naturally peaceful or innocent? Furthermore, how do we know the child is wrong in what he is doing and we are correct in our assessment, and furthermore in correcting him? Finally, what does the act of the child (and therefore other acts which are deemed wrong or immoral) mean concerning the many beliefs of the afterlife and judgment if his actions are not learned, but natural?

Surely the child was only “having fun” and he was also driven to improve his motor skills, and likely he had no intentions of harm, but how can we know? If he did or did not have intentions of harm, would this mean that intentions and not actions are the fulcrum of judgment, or is it that our actions have consequences regardless of our intents and these consequences teach us right from wrong? And if proper actions must be learned through consequence or taught, then how can any say that humans (or any living thing) are inherently good? And if some would say we are born inherently bad or sinful, then from where does our goodness and morality emerge, for “from nothing, nothing comes”, and goodness and morality cannot come from badness, immorality, or indifference.

When I was a small child I got into a lot of trouble one day because some friends and I decided to build a fort in a neighbor's tree without their permission. We cut many branches in the tree and damaged it badly for the sake of fun. I learned this was wrong, and I even got to be a very scared five year old being interviewed by the state police. This happened because our society said it was wrong, but where did our society get this idea from? Was it learned through consequence? Did it emerge from a deep recess? Was it inherent, yet denied? Or was it created by the wrong, for the wrong, for all the wrong reasons?

I did not get into trouble for what I did to the tree, but I got into trouble that day because that tree was the neighbor's property. As a child I had no concept of anything like owning a tree. I had learned one can own a house, a toy, a car, furniture, a bed, and even a pet, but "owning a tree" or the very earth everyone walks on had never crossed my radar. The key phrase here, I think, is "I had learned".

There was nothing "naturally" wrong with what my friends and I did to the tree that day, in fact, any animal or natural force could have done the same and no police would have been called. Had an animal built a nest in the tree, insects come and devoured the tree, or a lightning strike or whirlwind come and destroyed the tree, no police would have been called despite the owner's belief that they "owned" the tree. So what is the difference between natural forces and the actions of a few small boys? The answer, I believe, is simply that small boys are humans, who are a part of a human society which invented the idea of "ownership", and thus, as small boys we were expected to learn the necessary and entirely created moral concept of recognizing and respecting "ownership". What we did was not inherently wrong, it was socially wrong.

This revelation, if true, leads to many other questions: Do social wrongs trump natural actions? Is there such a thing as a natural right or wrong? Can a social system be considered natural, since for instance, humans are a part of nature and humans are inherently social creatures? Is human society natural to the whole, or is it only natural to humans and, if so, are its moral guidelines and boundaries only applicable to humans? How can invented social standards justifiably override natural human actions, and where does this authority come from? Who decided that artificial social standards trump the concrete and natural? By what natural element is the idea of social law and acceptable behavior derived which allows for the artificial and often varying social standard to be elevated above the natural standard and still be rationed from out of the natural standard which is the only concrete point of origin from which one can begin to reason?

The problem here is very simple, yet not entirely obvious as to how it can be resolved, if it can even be resolved. Simply put, the social arises from the natural, yet it appears to turn the philosophical concept of superiors and inferiors or greater and lesser things on its head. How can the child come from their parent and justifiably claim to have a superior origin? What sort of reasoning is being used to assert the power of social law over what is otherwise deemed to be natural?

Is it that human social standards are not claiming to have a superior origin, but rather these various "systems" are claiming to have a superior future? If this is so, by what rational basis is this assertion being made? By what measure can one claim they are better, superior, or more pleasantly evolved other than by pure arrogance?

Society is a very complex structure, but the justification, and therefore necessity and purpose for it, lies in the answer to this problem: From where does it come; from where does it derive its authority; and can it justifiably claim both superiority and authority over its origin?

Finally, if social law is derived from the consent of those it governs, how can the governed be expected to consent to unnatural standards such as not stealing when hungry, the institution of marriage, peacefully accepting one's own offspring being taken by State institutions, consenting to the restriction of movement, the honoring of borders, and other social laws and customs which are nowhere to be found in nature? How can humans be expected to do what is not found in any nature, let alone human nature? What sort of madness is this unless the idea is to "change" human nature?

In my mind, most social laws and customs are entirely artificial, derived from nothing but human imagination, and therefore have no moral imperitive outside of human society. Some social laws and customs may indeed be based upon a sort of natural law which presides as an undercurrent in all things, but a very large portion of social laws and customs are as unnatural as a fetus in the womb of a male mammalian – they are insanely derived with highly unreasonable expectations, and it is quite probable that all social ills and problems can be traced to such unreasonable and unnatural expectations.

The only reasonable conclusion I am able to come to concerning the creation and implementation of seemingly unreasonable and unnatural social laws and customs is that they are intended to change human nature, but for whom or what, for what end, by what authority, and in accordance with what manner of reason? The answer may be pleasant or it may be too scary to face, for the only time humans try to change nature is when they intend to control it.

The purpose behind all social law and custom is control, this is obvious to anyone and agreed to be necessary by most; however, actually altering human nature rather than merely managing and containing it is an altogether different and potentially dangerous or disasterous undertaking. As individuals we owe it to ourselves, our environment, and our neighbors to question the wisdom of such an undertaking and to postulate not only the end result, but the "who", "what", "where", "when", "how", and "why" which lies beneath the surface of this undertaking. Altering human nature, if even possible, is something which should not be taken lightly, and we need to have an open discussion about it.


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