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Juan Gallego-Calderon

PhD student, DTU Wind

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What does society means to you? And, do you think ours is working?

I have been struggling with the concept of society lately, mostly because of the political situation in the US, where both sides are pushing to their extremes with out reaching an agreement in nearly anything. I believe that a country needs to have a strong social safety net where everyone can have the same, or similar, opportunities to grow and contribute to society. But I feel that the views in this country are so polarized that made me question the concept of society that we have as a "society" today.

Topics: politics society
progress indicator
  • Mar 9 2012: It seems that we cannot over estimate the influence of society upon all and each of us. Nicholas Christakies on his TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/nicholas_christakis_the_hidden_influence_of_social_networks.html ) and on his book "Connected" expressed the idea that social networks are contagion; from back pain to suicide to sex practice to political ideology or obesity, being associated with people, even indirectly, makes us more "susceptible" to what ever they "carry". Christakies has found that if your friend's friend's friend , whom you have never met, and lives thousands of miles from you- gains weight- you are likely to gain weight too. One interesting implication of the research is that a social network behaves like a superorganism that shapes our decisions. Somewhat like a flock of birds or a colony of ants, a collective intelligence emerges so that all birds and all ants fly or move in the same direction at the same time. I believe that this basic understanding, that we are all connected, we all sail the same ship, whether we like it or not, makes a social safety net a necessity: I completely agree with you that "access to basics: education, health care, social security, etc." is a basic necessity. In addition and above to providing the bare necessities as a society we should also strive to generate a "collective intelligence" of mutual guaranty and mutual responsibility toward each other. If we fail to succeed doing so our ship might not succeed to cross the rough seas we are sailing in right now all over the globe.
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    Mar 7 2012: Bastian,

    What I mean by "a strong safety net" is that every member of society should have access to the basics: education (k-12 through college), health care, social security, etc. along with those you mentioned. This way the people that are born less fortunate can have the same opportunities than those who are born fortunate. I believe that these are the pilars of a strong society where each individual grows with different capabilities so it can help support a strong society.
    I agree with your idea of a transparent journalism, with out any kind of bias or money influence by corporations, so we can have a transparent election.
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      Mar 7 2012: Yes! I totally agree with everything you just stated.
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        Mar 7 2012: Juan, Bastian
        In principle, I agree completely with what you "want from society" in terms of a social net. The problem here is one of reification. Reification is a form of fallacy that occurs when we ascribe concreteness to something abstract. Its a very common problem that is perhaps inherent in language. "Society" can't provide any of us with anything because it is not a thing and therefore cannot have its own agency. Because society is the emergent effect of the norms, rules and conventions that we recreate and support through our actions on a daily basis. "Society" will not solve the problems of how to provide for the basic needs of everyone in a way that the planet can sustain. But as individuals we can contribute to the creation and maintenance of norms, ways of behaving, rules and create new ideas and tools that achieve the outcome of a social safety net.

        With respect to the particular example Juan cites of the US, I don't see the problem as being two extreme sides failing to meet at a sensible middle ground. The sensible ground is not in the middle, its in a whole different ballpark. Much of the political discourse is actually motivated (on both sides) by a desire not to see the game migrate to that ballpark.
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          Mar 7 2012: Political discourse? If this were true


          .., when would politics start to stop corporations?


          Media has a big influence on trends and mass media is also a form of make believe. I think that when we visit a culture wherein the people seem to respect and support each other all the time, then that they have kept something beautiful alive and are neither divided by their financial status, nor by what the media tells them how to see the world and each other. In addition I feel free and happy to live in a society that grants me free education and a social safety net and I definitely think that it should be granted everywhere on the planet. Who pays for it? Everyone equally, after we received free education we work in our professions and partly pay back the social safety net that brought us to our profession.
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          Mar 8 2012: Matthew,

          Thanks for you comment. The problem in the US is the influence of corporations into elections, as Bastian pointed out with his 2nd. clip. Here, corporations are treated as people and therefore can done unlimited amount of money to candidates without disclosure. That translate into conflict of interests, and the election of candidates that would work for the corporations instead of the people. To me, that is one of the big problems with "society" right know because we are heading (or we are already there) to a place like Bastian's 1st. clip.

  • Mar 9 2012: Our society works well for some, in some ways, at some times. It is partially successful. When each member gets to follow his or her own every positive whim, that is a completely successful society. We carry over some of the models of the past that did not necessarily work so well and were designed to keep the upper class in power and control positions so that they would continue to be upper class with many poorly paid servants. In the past (okay, and now) people were and are manipulated by provoking fear. Whole industries are based upon that, e.g., insurance, medicine, religions, law. We need to change that. We should only manipulate our own behavior and not that of others. Kick the fearmongers out of power as soon as possible. Equalize power between males and females. America was built on dreams and we have largely succeeded, but we still have a long way to go. Sometimes we have major setbacks. I will not bother to name the particular groups or individuals who have impeded our progress. I think it is pretty evident. Eventually, thanks to the powerful, positive will of WE THE PEOPLE, we will achieve all of our positive goals. I would prefer it being right now, but as long as people keep expressing their true feelings and thoughts and requiring the same of others, ultimately, we shall all live happily ever after enjoying the infinite positive treasures that exist in reality right now. We are succeeding right now. Happy Today.
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    Mar 9 2012: To me, a society in its simplest sense, is a collection of social individuals. Along with those individuals there needs to be some sort of infrastructure to govern those individuals (ie. government) and many products and services to meet the needs of those individuals.
    While I agree that everyone deserves equal opportunity, I don't think that a "country" is the optimal definition of a society. With technology, the whole world is essentially a society. We are in contact with one another at all times. So when we talk about "equal opportunity", think of children in Kenya and Uganda as opposed to children in North America. I think the difference is quite sickening and it is quite clear that our current system does not work.
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    Mar 7 2012: [..] I believe that a country needs to have a strong social safety net [..] Do you mean the freedom of speech and/or that no-one needs to be afraid to walk around at day or night?

    My perspective on your question is that more people should look for the third option. And I think that transparency of what is really going on is needed; not mass-media and I am thankful for every honest journalist who ever lived.
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    Mar 9 2012: you ask a honest question beliefs and self interest keep most people in a competitor mind set thats what should change in the world i know its complex chaotic but were all trying to talk about this governments just get in the way of are united contestations don't give up you not alone you have ted and all of us behind you, be well finish strong .
  • Mar 7 2012: Either in India or in US - ( both are democratic countries) politics are based on different kind of beliefs and ideologies. Where as the erstwhile Soviet Union's ideology was giving a strong social safety net where every one will get same payment and government was only dolling out the opportunities and contribute to the society. What is Society? In fact there is no such thing called Society. When we are in trouble, when we are in need and when we are alone - we talk about society and ethics. If we are running a good enterprise or making good money - we may not bother about it. So long we stay in our home, we live as we like, eat what we can afford and like. We have no dress code in our home, table manners and no strict rules etc., But the moment we step outside, we look around for shoes, ironed trousers, neat face, - in fact we try to compare ourselves with others and really wanted to out do others by wearing costly dress etc., We follow certain rules and codes and we insist on freedom of speech and freedom of work etc. We will not tolerate any limitations or conditions or censor.
    In a democracy - you chose the people to manage YOU. As there is a free speech and independence - we are allowed to propagate and create a following for our ideas, ( if we can).
    All the societies are working -- OR we feel they are working. Because the so called society is a myth, self generated concept, an ideal, feel-good factor and a comfort zone created for each one.
    Compare to the living conditions ( I would like to rename it instead of calling Society) what we democratic countries are enjoying - with those countries like Syria or Iran or Cuba etc., we should be tankful to our forefathers.
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    Mar 12 2012: Sharon,

    Just to clarify, I'm moving to Denmark this week but I've been living in the US for about three years.
    And I totally agree with your idea of the need of balance in the society.
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    Mar 11 2012: Are you kidding???
  • Mar 11 2012: There are some basic concepts that, to me, help frame some of the issues facing "societies" Juan asks if "ours" is working. He posts from Denmark yet oddly most of the answers refer to the US society. So let's start there. Humans are amazing creatures. We are one of the few that successfully turns abstract ideas into real things that we cannot control and frequently don't understand. This is one of our great gifts and great failing at the very same time. This is why "societies" need our outliers. We need the people who are extreme on any end of any argument in order to find the thing that helps society function: balance.

    Currently, most western societies are struggling with two significant problems. The first is cultural lag. We have invented a vast variety of new devices which have changed our world and the way we interact with it faster than we can adapt new social rules (norms) to cope. The second is the lack of balance we currently have because some aspects of society have been able to harness those changes much faster than other aspects. So, the balance of the extreme views has failed. My personal hope lies in the fact that this very balance has shifted due to the very technological changes that caused it. Slowly, very slowly, the people do seem to be moving to reassert their role.

    We are undergoing a tectonic social shift on a global scale. It remains to be seen if the outcome is good or bad.
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    Mar 10 2012: Society is a grouping of people who have things in common. Countries can have diverse societies. In the US we consider our selves a melting pot of different ethnic and cultural beliefs. Politics are a completely different animal. All of our differences are protected by our founding document, the Constitution. When we go outside of the Constitution and Bill Of Rights our "societies" will be in trouble. Many people have abandanded the political party and have become Independents stating that they have the capacity to think for themselves and not to follow party doctrine like sheeple. I think that in time the political system will change but the founding documents will remain. Yep that makes it work. All the best. Bob.
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    Mar 10 2012: In essence, society entails some kind of agreements among all inhabiting a determined territory in order to coexist as peaceful as possible. Not respecting those agreements leads sonner or later to anarchy. There we can see what is going on in some African countries where political factions are fighting against each other for decades, making human life almost impossible to prosper.