I often hear it said that society is in rough shape. Loss of public faith in government, failing standards of education, a quickly vanishing middle class…it can hardly be denied that times are turbulent.
Of course, there are two sides to every coin, and for everyone bemoaning the ever increasing corporate dominion over society, there are others waving the flags of liberty and personal responsibility—claiming those who do without have only themselves to blame. They’ll tell you that the soaring corporate profit margins are a true testament to the success of the free market and inevitable payoff of personal initiative. The rest? Just rabble-rousers—lazy people clamoring for more than they deserve.
It’s a complex issue, to be sure. It seems that everyone agrees there are problems with modern society, but no one can quite agree on what those problems are. As for myself, I don’t recall ever hearing it said that the true wealth of a nation is measured in corporate dividends—but that’s just me.
To focus the issue, I’ve always been of the point of view that the first step in a debate—the only step if meaningful progress is to be made—is to define our terms.
A society, in simplest terms, is a collection of people. This collection may be organized in a number of ways, based on such grounds as spiritual belief, cultural, political, or scientific concerns.
This doesn’t help a lot, but it gives us a good place to start. At the least, we know what a society is made of: People. Now, what exactly is a person?
Notwithstanding the clear albeit dubious exception of ‘Corporate Personhood’ (Source), there is a clear and undeniable case to be made that humans, at the root of it, are nothing more than animals.
A single person, at any rate, cannot be anything more than a shuffling, confused and naked creature without dependence on his peers. Unless a man (or woman) can be dropped naked and alone into a natural environment and survive, he cannot claim to be wholly independent. This at least is beyond refute.
In order for humanity to achieve anything beyond the most base of animal lives, there is a clear need for people to work together, to build on the knowledge of previous generations and combine their efforts into a greater whole; a society.
Consider it in terms of the basic things we own and take for granted. What would it take for a single, unsupported human being to make themselves even the simplest of modern homes?
Well, they would at any rate need to chop down a significant number of trees—a gargantuan task, considering they would have only the biggest, sharpest rocks they could find to accomplish the task. The metal in the house? Good luck mining for that.
For a more practical example, refer to this interesting site breaking down the international efforts in the creation of a single I-Pod: (Link).
The important take-away here is that everything we benefit from as a society is the direct result of that society itself; the cumulative effort of countless people over thousands of years, slowly building towards the smorgasbord of goods we all benefit from today. There’s no question—people need each other.
The reverse is true as well of course; a society needs its people.
Because humanity as a whole is an organism which must work together perforce, it is certainly unreasonable to exclude some, or design any society to favor some while excluding others. If this is done, then we cannot blame the lone, cast aside people who lash out and act in animal-like ways. For by facilitating their isolation, we have ourselves reduced them to this state.
If we wish to avoid this unpleasant turn of events, then society must be designed in a way to include all people in meaningful relationships and allow them to engage in mutual, non-zero sum exchanges (Link).
And yet this is where we find ourselves; in a world where the pay-cheques of the few are inherently valued over the welfare, even the basic human rights, of the many.
This unfortunate situation is illustrated at the moment nowhere as clearly as in Detroit, where the bankruptcy of the city by ineffective governance has led to the potential cut-off of public water supplies for upwards of 150,000 people (Source).
It’s convenient to claim these people should simply pay their bills if they want water, but the situation is far more nuanced than all that. The poverty of the people is the partial result of a litany of complex changes in the city, including the moving of former jobs out of the country—an effort by corporations to take advantage of lower overseas pay grades and increase their own profits, leaving countless formerly contributing citizens out of work.
The issue is further muddled by the consideration of society outlined above: the owners of the water companies certainly did not build their facilities alone, nor do they have any defensible rights to the natural and public sources of water that are the Great Lakes.
The pumps, purification plants, and pipelines are the results of the cumulative efforts of countless generations of people—many of whom are now being denied access to that very water.
Human beings which are naturally and inevitably a part of a society are now being excluded, or pressured to buy their way in. In a situation such as this, it is natural and even ethically justified for these isolated people to take in any way possible that which they have been denied.
And this is happening, sort of. All over the city, groups such as the ‘Detroit Water Brigade’ are working collectively to defend (and at times actively protect) their communal rights to safe drinking water in spite of the protests of officials.
Stockpiling of water, collection of rainwater, distribution hubs and countless other methods of support are being offered to the maligned citizens of Detroit as people pull together to survive these austere times.
Of course, this trend isn’t limited to Detroit. All over the world, we are seeing an increase in social movements as people come together to subvert the actions of corporate plutocrats, slowly raising awareness while taking direct action to protect their basic human rights.
This brings us back around to our initial quandary—the one about society. Society is by definition a series of interconnections and mutual help. It is imperative therefore that society fight to maintain individual liberties regarding independence, while also learning to consider itself as a whole. It must gain a form of self-awareness if it is to survive, just as men once did in ancestral times.
And we are seeing this. The Detroit Water Brigade, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sandy, and myriad community gardening programs are just some examples of the valiant efforts which are ongoing. With all these examples in evidence, maybe society is not in such bad shape after all. It seems to thrive in fact, in defiance of a corporate state which would endeavour to suppress it.
In the end, it may be the corporate idealists who are left out. But it’s assuring to know that society in its truest sense is doing just fine… You’ve just got to know where to look for it.
Note: As part of the society discussed in today’s article, it’s important to help out in any way you’re able. To help in Detroit, visit the homepage of the Detroit Water Brigade: http://detroitwaterbrigade.org/
-Brad OH Inc.