18 August 2007

Social and Individual Control

This is a bit rambling. Expect that from some of my posts.

I don't like the fact that society insists on controlling the individual. So, in my life, I've tried to discover how societal control works, and how to steer myself away from it. Of course, all societies must exert some influence over the individual or else the society cannot function. And I'm not "a rebel for rebellion's sake" like many teenagers; I just have viewpoints which differ from the surrounding society.

I see two types of responses to societal control: voluntary and involuntary. A voluntary response is an agreement with the ideas, goals, and methods of the society, and one acting upon those items via one's own will. Yet, I don't believe one can often do that in a complex society such as that in the United States. Instead, we are driven down a path like cattle, into the involuntary response. "Go to school, work, have kids, buy a house, die" is the path, and it is expected that one will follow it without argument. Well, I won't.

There are many studies and sociologists who say that the maximum effective size of a coherent human community is less than 200 people. Two hundred people! Can you imagine living in such a small town? No, most of us cannot, as we've lived in cities filled with tens and hundreds of thousands of people. A town of a couple hundred folks seems quaint and out of touch. Western societal models don't function well in such small groups, either. Yet, our brains have developed to work in a small tribal environment like that, not in a seething mass of humanity like our cities.

How does one fix this situation, then? Well, I guess it depends on the society and the individual. The United States isn't known for being too heavy-handed compared to the Soviet Union, Albania, North Korea, or China; we don't regularly grab people off the streets for disagreeing with the party line and toss them into prison. Yet, in the U.S. there is massive peer pressure to conform, and that can sometimes be worse than prison. Families insist that children go to college, or follow a certain career, and ostracize them when they don't comply. Employers expect that the worker's entire life revolves around their job, and they react when it doesn't, often by sanctions such as firing the employee (hence, removing their livelihood).

There are multiple kinds of sanctions that can be used. The strongest ones work on the most basic parts of the human psyche: fear, food, reproduction, housing, and community. When an employer threatens to fire someone, what they are really doing is threatening their ability to eat, clothe themselves, and house themselves; they may also be threatening the employee's family by extension. The fears concerning the loss of life are deep in the human brain, and they are mostly unconscious, hence they are extremely effective in controlling a person. Frankly, I believe that such manipulation should be illegal, but it is not.

My approach is to realize that I have ultimate control over my own survival. For example, if I am fired from a job, I can still find food (hunting, fishing, gathering, dumpster diving, begging, eating with friends, etc.). In this manner, I take power away from society and reclaim it for myself. I may still decide to work with society towards various goals, but I always remember that they cannot force me to change my approach.