What is a social construct? A rather arbitrary intangible concept created by society. Therefore, under the assumption that X is a social construct, one interpretation of X is not more truthful than another. For example, if gender is a social construct, by definition, the idea that there are 50+ genders is neither more or less truthful than the idea that there are two.
The concept of social constructs is itself very much a social construct – as is any sociological theory. Therefore, calling X a social construct to show that X is irrelevant is… irrelevant.
Those who claim to be at war with a given social construct, on the basis of it being a social construct, need to do more than highlight its arbitrary nature, because their proposed views are equally arbitrary, or offer an alternative that is qualitatively different than just a new set of social constructs.
If you substitute the word culture for social construct above, it’s easier to understand. Of course, if you feel that the concept of social construct is qualitatively different to the concept of culture, please convince me, so that I can stop worry about theory and just join the cool kids.
Looking at the broader picture of social constructionism, I don’t really buy into its fundamentals because I don’t think that perception changes reality, just like I don’t think that Photoshop takes the cellulite off Kim Kardashian’s behind.
“Alexander to Aristotle greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.”
And Aristotle, soothing this passion for preeminence, speaks, in his excuse for himself, of these doctrines, as in fact both published and not published: as indeed, to say the truth, his books on metaphysics are written in a style which makes them useless for ordinary teaching, and instructive only, in the way of memoranda, for those who have been already conversant in that sort of learning.
– The Life of Alexander the Great By Plutarch
Besides the fact that Alexander was a paranoid megalomaniac, this occurred to me:
Learning begets more learning.
As well as:
Fitness begets more fitness.
Money begets more money.
Friendship begets more friendship.
Even children – traditionally people tended to either have none at all or a good few.
There is positive feedback (all up to a point of course and then returns diminish).
Why are societal things positive feedback loops whereas biological things are generally negative feedback loops? There are exceptions of course, notably the use it or lose it principle in anything neurological/behavioural as well as in exceptional situations like labour.
Can we think of any examples where there is a negative feedback loop in a sociological context?
It doesn’t have to be limited to humans by the way.
I can think of the following examples of negative feedback in society:
Election fatigue or the general situation of chasing after someone who isn’t interested be it in marketing or in interpersonal situations (for clarity, we can phrase it as the more attention they receive, the less attention they return).
Obviously, there are lots of theories about how markets self-regulate, but they are filled with problems.
Prices vs demand and prices vs supply is another tempting one. However, here the relationship is more genuinely between supply and demand rather than between either of those and price – and that’s not a negative loop.
And if there aren’t very many examples of negative feedback, this explains that so many things in society follow the 80/20 rule rather than the normal distribution.
In fact, you can extrapolate the 80/20 rule. Then you get:
64% of outcomes come from 4% of causes,
51.2% of outcomes come from 0.8% of causes.
I have about 20 GB worth of songs on my phone and I listen to the same 10 tracks. In other words, because there is no negative feedback (up to a pretty high threshold), these 10 songs monopolise my listening “choices”. I have a whole wardrobe of stuff but I wear the same things all the time. Same with pots and pans. Apps on my phone.
Income inequality doesn’t quite as devilish when you think about it this way.
My thinking is that if we find more examples of macro scale negative feedback loops, we may be able to understand whether there is another way.
Or are we just always going to be in a use it or lose it situation? Are we just one giant self-similar network of walking talking neurons?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But this time it is really different:
What an uncomfortable graph. Sometimes when things scale, they are just a bigger version of the small thing. However, at times, they also develop new properties. A population of cells becomes an organ – and has new properties. A large teddy bear can be used as a pillow, while a small one cannot.
What can a large human population do that a small one couldn’t? What does it mean for the individual?
The above graph of world population vs time scares me because we’re going into the unknown. In a sense, each one of us is less important. It takes much more to compete. If you are “one in a thousand”, in 1800 that would have got you places. Today, not so much.
What does that mean for individuals? Can such a demand for food, water and energy be met, never mind sustainably? How do we find a place in such a competitive imminently expanding world? Albeit we’re no longer accelerating the growth, the sheer numbers are a little bit unnerving.
Not to fall into conspiracy theories or 1984/Brave New World despair, but for the sake of an analogy, consider cows, or minks, or any other farmed animal. I’ve always felt that breeding animals to kill them is a kind of (?necessary) evil, but it is somehow made better by the fact that they are bred. They don’t have to worry about food and get to have lots of babies. In a roundabout way, they have won in the Darwinian casino.
But then I wondered: if cows and minks are bred for their meat and their fur, are we kind of… bred for economic growth?
Each one of us has to comply with the assertion that success comes from having lots and lots of things in order for this to be perpetuated. Few people look for fame and fortune to exercise some kind of power (if you prefer “change the world”) – and to be fair I have respect for such people.
I get the sense though that to most people, fame and fortune is an end in itself. Furthermore, I suspect it is a product of our culture rather than just hedonism. For a proper first principles hedonist, it would never make sense to work so hard to have things they will never get time to enjoy.
I’ve always found it fascinating that the very people I know from school that were so rebellious that they just wouldn’t comply with the simplest of instruction become exemplars of compliance and obedience when there is a paycheck involved.
It’s someone’s birthday?
“I’ve work tomorrow.”
Can’t stand the sight of the boss?
“I have to go to work.”
Wife giving birth?
“I better get to work, so.”
It seems that no amount of personal problems can stand in the way of being at work. And when it does happen, the rest of the working tribe treats it as some kind of weakness and/or deceit to get out of doing work.
Buckminster Fuller comes to mind:
“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
“Inspectors of inspectors”… The irony. A friend of mine, a former employee of a multinational once pointed out: we have trackers for trackers. Entire days are spent changing amber to green and red to amber.
Some also theorise that very few jobs require 9-5 x 5 days a week. A lot of time is spent being idle. Why then do the employers insist of you being there? I would argue it isn’t the employer: it’s the culture. Some people won’t take their job seriously if they are given the autonomy to manage their own time (though I always bet on the opposite when looking for people in my own ventures).
If you think about it, it’s kind of disrespectful to insist that someone is there just so that their boss has the option of coopting them into some work engagement. Another interesting (?side) effect is that predictably a person has no strength to create anything outside of work. An eight hour day of being surveyed and judged, a draining commute, an uncomfortable suit and a toilet seat you cannot sit on… As Taleb puts it:
“In short, every organization wants a certain number of people associated with it to be deprived of a certain share of their freedom. How do you own these people? First, by conditioning and psychological manipulation; second by tweaking them to have some skin in the game, forcing them to have something significant to lose if they were to disobey authority –something hard to do with gyrovague beggars who flouted they scorn of material possessions.”
I wonder if it is becoming harder, though, to be a gyrating roaming monk (these days they have a Mac and are called digital nomads) given that the population is growing. Is there room to be an individual? Nietzsche has his concerns:
“Those who commend work. – In the glorification of ‘work’, in the unwearied talk of the ‘blessing of work’, I see the same covert idea as in the praise of useful impersonal actions: that of fear of everything individual. Fundamentally, one now feels at the sight of work – one always means by work that hard industriousness from early till late – that such work is the best policeman, that it keeps everyone in bounds and can mightily hinder the development of reason, covetousness, desire for independence. For it uses up an extraordinary amount of nervous energy, which is thus denied to reflection, brooding, dreaming, worrying, loving, hating; it sets a small goal always in sight and guarantees easy and regular satisfactions. Thus a society in which there is continual hard work will have more security: and security is now worshipped as the supreme divinity. – And now! Horror! Precisely the ‘worker’ has become dangerous! The place is swarming with ‘dangerous individuals’! And behind them the danger of dangers – the individual!”
It’s pretty clear that Nietzsche’s talking about institutional employment.
This essay of mine isn’t about robbing the rich or some other way of getting out of work. It’s not promoting Zuckerberg’s universal basic income. It’s about the fact that work is indeed glorified. Much of what is called work is being trapped in purposelessness.
And it’s not even work that is glorified: nobody cares about the labour of a painter who hasn’t (yet) made their hobby into a job or a blogger, or whoever. It is the stamp of approval from some institution that people really respect. Perhaps, it is just easier to relate to.
I suppose, being Russian, I can’t help but be reminded of how easily institutions fail. Countless Russian firms have risen to unbelievable heights and quickly died in the last 20 years. Even the USSR itself: seeing such a behemoth collapse shatters one’s faith in institutions.
And it wasn’t even that weak, with real industry and gargantuan natural resources. In a completely different context, where I am now – Ireland – also has become a State and gone through a couple of different names in the XX century. That empire disappeared too.
Nietzsche above and Taleb (in multiple works) have spoken about this security that people look for. The security that people trade a portion of their freedom for. Clearly though, it is an illusion. Remember 2008?
Meanwhile, the seaside restaurant beside me boasts having been established in 1728. Chin chin, Mr Taleb, and chin chin to everyone being creative and working hard to not lose your individuality among the impending billions.