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1.2 Understanding Society
- Explain the debunking motif.
- Define the sociological imagination.
- Explain what is meant by the blaming-the-victim ideology.
We have just seen that sociology regards individuals as social beings influenced in many ways by their social environment and perhaps less free to behave and think than Americans ordinarily assume. If this insight suggests to you that sociology might have some other surprising things to say about the social world, you are certainly correct. Max Weber (1864–1920), a founder of sociology, wrote long ago that a major goal of sociology was to reveal and explain “inconvenient facts” (Gerth & Mills, 1946, p. 147). These facts include the profound influence of society on the individual and also, as we shall see throughout this book, the existence and extent of social inequality.
In line with Weber’s observation, as sociologists use the sociological perspective in their theory and research, they often challenge conventional understandings of how society works and of controversial social issues. This emphasis is referred to as the debunking motif , to which we now turn.
The Debunking Motif
As Peter L. Berger (1963, pp. 23–24) noted in his classic book Invitation to Sociology , “The first wisdom of sociology is this—things are not what they seem.” Social reality, he said, has “many layers of meaning,” and a goal of sociology is to help us discover these multiple meanings. He continued, “People who like to avoid shocking discoveries…should stay away from sociology.”
As Berger was emphasizing, sociology helps us see through conventional understandings of how society works. He referred to this theme of sociology as the debunking motif . By “looking for levels of reality other than those given in the official interpretations of society” (p. 38), Berger said, sociology looks beyond on-the-surface understandings of social reality and helps us recognize the value of alternative understandings. In this manner, sociology often challenges conventional understandings about social reality and social institutions.
For example, suppose two people meet at a college dance. They are interested in getting to know each other. What would be an on-the-surface understanding and description of their interaction over the next few minutes? What do they say? If they are like a typical couple who just met, they will ask questions like, What’s your name? Where are you from? What dorm do you live in? What’s your major? Now, such a description of their interaction is OK as far as it goes, but what is really going on here? Does either of the two people really care that much about the other person’s answers to these questions? Isn’t each one more concerned about how the other person is responding, both verbally and nonverbally, during this brief interaction? For example, is the other person paying attention and smiling? Isn’t this kind of understanding a more complete analysis of these few minutes of interaction than an understanding based solely on the answers to questions like, What’s your major? For the most complete understanding of this brief encounter, then, we must look beyond the rather superficial things the two people are telling each other to uncover the true meaning of what is going on.
As another example, consider the power structure in a city or state. To know who has the power to make decisions, we would probably consult a city or state charter or constitution that spells out the powers of the branches of government. This written document would indicate who makes decisions and has power, but what would it not talk about? To put it another way, who or what else has power to influence the decisions elected officials make? Big corporations? Labor unions? The media? Lobbying groups representing all sorts of interests? The city or state charter or constitution may indicate who has the power to make decisions, but this understanding would be limited unless one looks beyond these written documents to get a deeper, more complete understanding of how power really operates in the setting being studied.
Social Structure and the Sociological Imagination
One way sociology achieves a more complete understanding of social reality is through its focus on the importance of the social forces affecting our behavior, attitudes, and life chances. This focus involves an emphasis on social structure , the social patterns through which a society is organized. Social structure can be both horizontal or vertical. Horizontal social structure refers to the social relationships and the social and physical characteristics of communities to which individuals belong. Some people belong to many networks of social relationships, including groups like the PTA and the Boy or Girl Scouts, while other people have fewer such networks. Some people grew up on streets where the houses were crowded together, while other people grew up in areas where the homes were much farther apart. These are examples of the sorts of factors constituting the horizontal social structure that forms such an important part of our social environment and backgrounds.
The other dimension of social structure is vertical. Vertical social structure , more commonly called social inequality , refers to ways in which a society or group ranks people in a hierarchy, with some more “equal” than others. In the United States and most other industrial societies, such things as wealth, power, race and ethnicity, and gender help determine one’s social ranking, or position, in the vertical social structure. Some people are at the top of society, while many more are in the middle or at the bottom. People’s positions in society’s hierarchy in turn often have profound consequences for their attitudes, behaviors, and life chances, both for themselves and for their children.
In recognizing the importance of social structure, sociology stresses that individual problems are often rooted in problems stemming from the horizontal and vertical social structures of society. This key insight informed C. Wright Mills’s (1959) classic distinction between personal troubles and public issues . Personal troubles refer to a problem affecting individuals that the affected individual, as well as other members of society, typically blame on the individual’s own failings. Examples include such different problems as eating disorders, divorce, and unemployment. Public issues , whose source lies in the social structure and culture of a society, refer to social problems affecting many individuals. Thus problems in society help account for problems that individuals experience. Mills felt that many problems ordinarily considered private troubles are best understood as public issues, and he coined the term sociological imagination to refer to the ability to appreciate the structural basis for individual problems.
To illustrate Mills’s viewpoint, let’s use our sociological imaginations to understand some important contemporary social problems. We will start with unemployment, which Mills himself discussed. If only a few people were unemployed, Mills wrote, we could reasonably explain their unemployment by saying they were lazy, lacked good work habits, and so forth. If so, their unemployment would be their own personal trouble. But when millions of people are out of work, unemployment is best understood as a public issue because, as Mills (1959, p. 9) put it, “the very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.”
The growing unemployment rate stemming from the severe economic downturn that began in 2008 provides a telling example of the point Mills was making. Millions of people lost their jobs through no fault of their own. While some individuals are undoubtedly unemployed because they are lazy or lack good work habits, a more structural explanation focusing on lack of opportunity is needed to explain why so many people were out of work as this book went to press. If so, unemployment is best understood as a public issue rather than a personal trouble.
Another contemporary problem is crime, which we explore further in Chapter 7 “Deviance, Crime, and Social Control” . If crime were only a personal trouble, then we could blame crime on the moral failings of individuals, and some explanations of crime do precisely this. But such an approach ignores the fact that crime is a public issue, because structural factors such as inequality and the physical characteristics of communities contribute to high crime rates among certain groups in American society. As an illustration, consider identical twins separated at birth. One twin grows up in a wealthy suburb or rural area, while the other twin grows up in a blighted neighborhood in a poor, urban area. Twenty years later, which twin will be more likely to have a criminal record? You probably answered the twin growing up in the poor, rundown urban neighborhood. If so, you recognize that there is something about growing up in that type of neighborhood that increases the chances of a person becoming prone to crime. That “something” is the structural factors just mentioned. Criminal behavior is a public issue, not just a personal trouble.
Although eating disorders often stem from personal problems, they also may reflect a cultural emphasis for women to have slender bodies.
Christy McKenna – grab – CC BY-SA 2.0.
A third problem is eating disorders. We usually consider a person’s eating disorder to be a personal trouble that stems from a lack of control, low self-esteem, or another personal problem. This explanation may be OK as far as it goes, but it does not help us understand why so many people have the personal problems that lead to eating disorders. Perhaps more important, this belief also neglects the larger social and cultural forces that help explain such disorders. For example, most Americans with eating disorders are women, not men. This gender difference forces us to ask what it is about being a woman in American society that makes eating disorders so much more common. To begin to answer this question, we need to look to the standard of beauty for women that emphasizes a slender body (Whitehead & Kurz, 2008). If this cultural standard did not exist, far fewer American women would suffer from eating disorders than do now. Even if every girl and woman with an eating disorder were cured, others would take their places unless we could somehow change the cultural standard of female slenderness. To the extent this explanation makes sense, eating disorders are best understood as a public issue, not just as a personal trouble.
Picking up on Mills’s insights, William Ryan (1976) pointed out that Americans typically think that social problems such as poverty and unemployment stem from personal failings of the people experiencing these problems, not from structural problems in the larger society. Using Mills’s terms, Americans tend to think of social problems as personal troubles rather than public issues. As Ryan put it, they tend to believe in blaming the victim rather than blaming the system .
To help us understand a blaming-the-victim ideology, let’s consider why poor children in urban areas often learn very little in their schools. A blaming-the-victim approach, according to Ryan, would say that the children’s parents do not care about their learning, fail to teach them good study habits, and do not encourage them to take school seriously. This type of explanation may apply to some parents, in Ryan’s opinion, but it ignores a much more important reason: the sad shape of America’s urban schools, which are decrepit structures housing old textbooks and out-of-date equipment. To improve the schooling of children in urban areas, he wrote, we must improve the schools themselves, and not just try to “improve” the parents.
As this example suggests, a blaming-the-victim approach points to solutions to social problems such as poverty and illiteracy that are very different from those suggested by a more structural approach that “blames the system.” If we blame the victim, we would spend our limited dollars to address the personal failings of individuals who suffer from poverty, illiteracy, poor health, eating disorders, and other difficulties. If instead we blame the system, we would focus our attention on the various social conditions (decrepit schools, cultural standards of female beauty, and the like) that account for these difficulties. A sociological perspective suggests that the latter approach is ultimately needed to help us deal successfully with the social problems facing us today.
Sociology and Social Reform: Public Sociology
This book’s subtitle is “understanding and changing the social world.” The last several pages were devoted to the subtitle’s first part, understanding . Our discussion of Mills’s and Ryan’s perspectives in turn points to the implications of a sociological understanding for changing the social world. This understanding suggests the need to focus on the various aspects of the social environment that help explain both social issues and private troubles, to recall Mills’s terms.
The use of sociological knowledge to achieve social reform was a key theme of sociology as it developed in the United States after emerging at the University of Chicago in the 1890s (Calhoun, 2007). The early Chicago sociologists aimed to use their research to achieve social reform and, in particular, to reduce poverty and its related effects. They worked closely with Jane Addams (1860–1935), a renowned social worker who founded Hull House (a home for the poor in Chicago) in 1899 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Addams gained much attention for her analyses of poverty and other social problems of the time, and her book Twenty Years at Hull House remains a moving account of her work with the poor and ill in Chicago (Deegan, 1990).
About the same time, W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), a sociologist and the first African American to obtain a PhD from Harvard University, wrote groundbreaking books and articles on race in American society and, more specifically, on the problems facing African Americans (Morris, 2007). One of these works was his 1899 book The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study , which attributed the problems facing Philadelphia blacks to racial prejudice among whites. Du Bois also helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A contemporary of Du Bois was Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931), a former slave who became an activist for women’s rights and worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of African Americans. She wrote several studies of lynching and joined Du Bois in helping to found the NAACP (Bay, 2009).
American sociology has never fully lost its early calling, but by the 1940s and 1950s many sociologists had developed a more scientific, professional orientation that disregarded social reform (Calhoun, 2007). In 1951, a group of sociologists who felt that sociology had abandoned the discipline’s early social reform orientation formed a new national association, the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP). SSSP’s primary aim today remains the use of sociological knowledge to achieve social justice ( http://sssp1.org ). During the 1960s, a new wave of young sociologists, influenced by the political events and social movements of that tumultuous period, took up the mantle of social reform and clashed with their older colleagues. A healthy tension has existed since then between sociologists who see social reform as a major goal of their work and those who favor sociological knowledge for its own sake.
In 2004, the president of the American Sociological Association, Michael Burawoy, called for “public sociology,” or the use of sociological insights and findings to address social issues and achieve social change (Burawoy, 2005). His call ignited much excitement and debate, as public sociology became the theme or prime topic of several national and regional sociology conferences and of special issues or sections of major sociological journals. Several sociology departments began degree programs or concentrations in public sociology, and a Google search of “public sociology” in November 2010 yielded 32,000 results. In the spirit of public sociology, the chapters that follow aim to show the relevance of sociological knowledge for social reform.
- The debunking motif involves seeing beyond taken-for-granted assumptions of social reality.
- According to C. Wright Mills, the sociological imagination involves the ability to recognize that private troubles are rooted in public issues and structural problems.
- Early U.S. sociologists emphasized the use of sociological research to achieve social reform, and today’s public sociology reflects the historical roots of sociology in this regard.
For Your Review
- Select an example of a “private trouble” and explain how and why it may reflect a structural problem in society.
- Do you think it is important to emphasize the potential use of sociological research to achieve social reform? Why or why not?
Bay, M. (2009). To tell the truth freely: The life of Ida B. Wells . New York, NY: Hill and Wang.
Berger, P. L. (1963). Invitation to sociology: A humanistic perspective . Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.
Burawoy, M. (2005). 2004 presidential address: For public sociology. American Sociological Review, 70 , 4–28.
Calhoun, C. (2007). Sociology in America: An introduction. In C. Calhoun (Ed.), Sociology in America: A history (pp. 1–38). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Deegan, M. J. (1990). Jane Addams and the men of the Chicago school, 1892–1918 . New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Gerth, H., & Mills, C. W. (Eds.). (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in sociology . New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination . London, England: Oxford University Press.
Morris, A. D. (2007). Sociology of race and W. E. B. Du Bois: The path not taken. In C. Calhoun (Ed.), Sociology in America: A history (pp. 503–534). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ryan, W. (1976). Blaming the victim . New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Whitehead, K., & Kurz, T. (2008). Saints, sinners and standards of femininity: Discursive constructions of anorexia nervosa and obesity in women’s magazines. Journal of Gender Studies, 17, 345–358.
Sociology Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Essay on society: the meaning and nature of society (803 words).
Here is your essay on society, it’s meaning and nature!
In common parlance, the word ‘society’ is used in several of meaning, for example, a group of women is called a women society. The word is also used for some specific institutions like Brahmo Samaj (society) or Arya Samaj.
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Society is neither an agglomeration of men, women and children nor their coming together to achieve an object with an eye on their eventual disagreement. In sociology, the term society refers not to a group of people but to the complex pattern of the norms of interaction that arise among them.
It is according to Maclver and Page, “a system of usage and procedures, authority and mutual aid, of many groupings and divisions, of controls of human behaviour and of liberties. Society involves the whole gamut of relations. It is structural and functional arrangement. From structural point of view it concerns role, status, norms, values, institutions.
Functionally, society may be defined as a complex of groups in reciprocal relationships interacting upon one another, enabling each person to achieve the fulfillment of life. Further society may be viewed dynamically. Society may be viewed as the process of stimulus response relationship which result in interaction, communication and consensus.
The stimulus-response relationship is at the core of organised living. In order to carry out on their life-activities, men must make successful responses not only to the nature but to fellowmen and to the culture of their group. Social interaction is that dynamic force which modifies the attitudes and behaviour of the participants.
It takes place through communication. In communication one person infers from the behaviour of another the idea or feeling of the other person. He then reacts not to the behaviour as such but to the inferred meaning of it, and the other person likewise reacts to his response.
This give rise to common understanding and common definition of the situation, in short, consensus. Society consists in mutual interaction and inters relation of individuals and of the structure formed by their relations. Therefore, society refers not to a group of people but to the complex pattern of norms of interaction that arise among them. Society is process rather than a thing, motion rather than structure. The important aspect of society is the system of relationships by which the members of the society maintain themselves.
According to Ginsberg, “A society is a collection of individuals united by certain relations or modes of behaviour which mark them off from others, who don not enter into those relations or who differ from them in behaviour”
As Giddings defines, “Society is the union itself, the organisation, the sum of formal relations in which associating individuals are bound together.” This definition of society places the emphasis upon its organisational aspect. In this way, Giddings, like Ginsberg, has accepted society as an organised group, and has professed to a unity in the relation between its members and their modes of behaviour.
Society may be defined as the total complex of human relationships in so far as they grow out of action in terms of means-end relationship, intrinsic or symbolic”, says Parsons. Maclver, Parsons, Cooley have given functional definition of society.
Hence, society is to be interpreted in a wider sense. It is both structural, functional and dynamic organisation.
Nature of Society :
(i) society is abstract:.
Society may be visualised as the behaviour of human beings and the consequent problems of relationships and adjustments that arise. According to Renter, “Society is an abstract term that connotes the complex of interrelations that exist between and among the members of the group. In this way, society exists wherever there are good or bad, proper or improper relationships between human beings. These social relationships are not evident, they do not have any concrete from, hence society is abstract.
(ii) Society is not a group of people:
Some sociologists have viewed society as a group of people. Wright writes, “Though society is real thing, it means in essence a state or condition, a relationship and is therefore necessarily an abstraction”.
(iii) Society is organisation of relationships:
Society is the total complex of human relationships. It includes whole range of human relations.
(iv) Physical element in social relationship:
According to Maclver and Giddings and some other sociologists, social relationships invariably possess a psychical element, which takes the form of awareness of another’s presence, common objective or common interest etc.
There is neither any society nor any social relationship, without this realisation. Society exists only where social beings behave towards one another in a manner determined by recognition of each other. Only those relationships which are so determined are social. Social relationship differ from relations between other objects, only by virtue of this psychic element. They have in them an element of emotion and feeling, urges, sympathy and sentiments.
- Relationship between Individual and Society (1063 Words)
- Essay on Sociology: The Meaning of Sociology (800 Words)
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What is Society? Here’s a Simple Explanation
This article dives into the questions on what society is and this particular question has been debated, fought and multiple meanings have been formed and made thus this paper tries to give an insight on it and the importance of tolerance and acceptance of differences to continue living.
We often hear from people that we have a responsibility to society or will not approve of what we have done? Who are the we in society, is it a group of people or questions such as what size is the right size to be called one? one thing is sure is that it is not a physical object that can be touched as sociologist such as Peter L. Bergers says it is a manmade idea as it is a concept of the mind, therefore, it is an abstract concept so every person will have their own version and understanding of what society is. We know this from the number of different governments, groups, communities, and tribes that show that many types and diverse forms of governments exist and that shows that there is not just one right way to live as a society.
When we talk about what does society approves of can be very different as in one monogamy is approved where a husband can marry only one wife and in another, a husband can have many wives like the tribal Gond in India who practise polygyny. Therefore it has different definitions according to different sociologists thus it is difficult for a universal definition of what society actually is to be made.
In sociology, there is the social contract theory which talks about the beginning of society, and according to this theory, all human beings are born free and equal in the world. The three famous classical representatives of this theory are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and J.J Rousseau. Therefore to provide a small insight into the theory let us take Thomas Hobbes that held that without it existing, human life would be “ solitary poor, nasty, brutish and short. ” According to Thomas Hobbes, it came to existence and was formed because people needed something (which is society) which would offer protection by binding everyone to a set of rules to avoid chaos and would benefit them. However, this theory does have its criticisms as it may not have come up from a contract that which is made up by individuals who have decided to work together for further benefit especially when they have been said to be brutish and nasty and anthropologist has found that most primitive people lived in some form of society or another however unorganized it is.
Societies are complex ever-changing and might be what glues us together as people in it can be very different from each other as they can come from various backgrounds, speak different languages have different occupations, religion or beliefs still come together and is shaped by the relationships between these individuals no matter the differences. Therefore if you look into the past and the present you will notice that societies have been evolving in order to survive. Hence it has gone through countless changes, for example, the renaissance stands for rebirth which was a movement to promote a new wave of thinking which is largely connected to social change.
Just as individuals are the ones who mold society, it shapes us too. We shape it by bringing in certain reforms, changes like the recent protest on black lives matters will hopefully change the direction of the society which aims to end systematic racism and privilege which has been the present USA for centuries. The stark realities on how corrupt, twisted humanity can be is baffling however at the same time there are positive aspects such as unity, love and the difference in it. Individuals and groups may be socially unified in some aspects and disintegrated in other ways therefore different aspects of a society and culture change at different speeds. There are thoughts on if society ends will the world go into chaos as there are many dystopian books and movies on a world with different types of living and communities and some of these books showcase the harsh realities of our world which we either refuse to acknowledge or do not realize therefore it has its negatives aspects as well as its positives aspects.
To live in a society that is free from discrimination seems too perfect and far-fetched however even this has its questions on what is right and wrong thus this idea may seem too utopian. However once a dreamer always a dreamer and just as there are many ways of being human there are many types and aspects of society that have existed, changed, and will in future change again.
Some interesting books and videos for an insight:
- Between the World and Me: written by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an easy read but has deep meanings and provides a dept insight into our society. It may also be considered timely with the current situation in the north as it gives some perspective on why it is “black lives matter”, and why that phrase is much more than just “all lives matter”.
- BRAVE NEW WORLD – written by Aldous Huxley is set in a London dystopia on its own created timeline. It shows us a different type of society we could live in. the book describes a world in which the individuals are brainwashed and mentally manipulated by a dictating which leaves you with chills as it feels similar to some situations on our planet.
- Émile Durkheim on Suicide & Society: Crash Course Sociology #5: In this YouTube series Nicole Sweeney talks about the questions whether big and small about society.
- What is society?: If you want to read a short paper instead of watching the crash course series on YouTube then “What is a society?” written by Thomas Hylland Eriksen is the paper to read as it raises basic questions on what is society and what do we mean when we say “we” in society.
Read: Types of Societies
Mayumi Oseng Apang Nongrum is currently an undergraduate student pursuing anthropology, history and international relations. She is an individual striving for a better tomorrow.
What is society?
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"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." So said legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, and his words can help us understand what a society truly is.
Society is made up of individuals who have agreed to work together for mutual benefit. It can be a very broad term, as we can make generalizations about what the whole of Western society believes, or it can be a very narrow definition, describing only a small group of people within a given community. But no matter the size, and no matter the link that binds a society together, be it religious, geographic, professional or economic, society is shaped by the relationships between individuals.
There has been much debate over what makes a society successful. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that without society, human life would be "nasty, brutish and short." Man's natural state, he argued, would be to preserve only oneself -- a man without society would steal another family's food, seduce other men's wives and kill anyone who got in his way. Of course, the same man would be in constant danger of those things happening to him, his wife and his children. What people needed, therefore, was a society, which would provide protection by subjecting everyone to a set of rules. But the number of governments, tribes and communities today demonstrate that there's no single way to form or govern a society.
Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau dubbed the set of rules that a society lives by "the social contract." In other words, people must play a part in agreeing to certain laws and in choosing a given leader. If people lose that right, then society won't function as well. To return to Coach Lombardi's area of expertise, a society without an agreed-upon code of conduct would be like football without rules or a referee. People will cooperate and commit to a society only as long as they can choose the person who mediates and voice an opinion on the rules.
It's interesting, then, to observe the effects of the Internet on society. On the Internet, there's no referee, and the rules that govern our interpersonal contact don't seem to hold much sway. With the anonymity provided by a screen name, people feel like they can say things they wouldn't otherwise say, things that may even be hurtful or dangerous. And because you can do everything from order a pizza online to pay your electric bill, some academics worry that the Internet will erode our real societies, as people opt out of participating in real life in favor of participating in cyberspace. On the other hand, some would argue that the Internet has only made our societies larger -- a person in Delaware, after all, can now converse easily with a person in China. It will be interesting to see how technology shapes society in the future.
Lots More Information
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- Hobbes, Thomas. "Leviathan." 1651. (July 1, 2010)http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3207
- "Quotes on Society." Notable Quotes. (July 1, 2010)http://www.notable-quotes.com/s/society_quotes.html
- Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. "The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right." 1762. (July 1, 2010) http://www.constitution.org/jjr/socon.htm
- "Society." Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. 2007.
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Essay on Society | Concept, Importance, Role of Students
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Society is the place where human live together with peace, established rules, culture and cooperation. Society has definite laws and well set boundaries. The Following essay I have wrote that talks about the society, its basic concept, importance and what role can students play in society.
Essay on Society: Its Importance for our Life
The society is a place where we live into. We share our life experiences with other individuals. The society helps us to interact with different types of people and learn from them. It is a platform that enhances our personality and teaches us how to live in a community.
Concept of Society
A society is not just about a group of individuals living together but it is much more than that. A society shapes the character of its members and instills values in them. It defines what is right and what is wrong for its members. It also provides them with a sense of security and belonging.
Importance of Society
The importance of society can be understood from the fact that it plays a pivotal role in our life. Our survival and development depend on the society. The society provides us with shelter, food, clothing, and education. It also protects us from danger and keeps us safe from harm.
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The society is important for our life because:
1) it provides us with basic necessities of life: The society provides us with shelter, food, clothing, and education. All these things are necessary for our survival and development. 2) it protects us from danger and harm: The society protects us from danger and harm. It keeps us safe from criminals, natural disasters, and other threats. 3) it shapes our personality and character: The society shapes our personality and character. It defines what is right and what is wrong for us. It also instills values in us. 4) it gives us a sense of security and belonging: The society gives us a sense of security and belonging. It makes us feel safe and accepted. We feel connected to others and have a sense of purpose in life.
Role of Students in a Society:
There are many ways in which students can be productive members of society. Some of them are: 1) by participating in social service activities: Students can participate in social service activities and help the needy. They can volunteer for organizations that work for the betterment of society. 2) by spreading awareness about social issues: Students can spread awareness about social issues and raise awareness about the problems faced by society. They can use social media to spread awareness about important issues. 3) by becoming involved in politics: Students can become involved in politics and work for the betterment of society. They can run for office or volunteer for political campaigns.
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The society is an important part of our life. It plays a crucial role in our survival, development, and personality. We should appreciate the importance of society and work towards its betterment.
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Why is Society Important and How Does it Bring People Together
What is the purpose of society? Why is society so important? It is precisely because we seek protection and comfort from it. It enables the formation of social groups and shapes cultures. It allows for regulation in the distribution of public facilities. And most importantly, it brings people together.
Society can be defined as a group of people who share a common economic, social, and industrial infrastructure. It is an organization of people who share a common cultural and social background. Do you know how the word, ‘society’ originated? The word is a derivation of the French word societe , which came from the Latin word societas meaning ‘a friendly association with others’.
Purpose of Society and its Importance
One of the primary purposes of society is the formation of an organized group of individuals who can support each other in various ways. It is in the difficult times that you realize the importance of being a part of society. It is the members of your social group who come forward to give you the help needed. The support given by society can be of the physical, emotional, financial, or medical form.
Formation of Social Groups
A society is characterized by social networks. They form an integral part of it. Social networks are defined as the patterns of relationships between people. Relationships give rise to social interactions between people of a society. Individuals who belong to different ethnic groups can come together, thanks to societies. Their interactions give rise to strong social bonds that result in long-lasting relationships. A society gives rise to a family system and an organization of relationships, which are at the heart of any social group.
Formation of a Culture
Culture is an important element of society. Individuals of a particular society share a common culture that shapes their way of living. Their means of subsistence and their lifestyles are derivatives of their culture. Culture defines the pattern of human activity in a society. It is represented by the art, literature, language, and religion of the individuals who form it. Individuals belonging to a society are bonded by common cultural values, traditions, and beliefs that define their culture. You may like to know why culture is important .
Public health and educational facilities, the public transport system, and infrastructure that enables us to satisfy our basic needs form an important part of society. The government or any form of a central governing authority regulates a society. It helps in the management of the natural and human resources that belong to society and regulates the distribution of public facilities to the individuals. Thus, a society gives us a central regulating authority.
The members of a society should be concerned about each other. The basic purpose of society is to be part of a collective movement and move forward, together. Being a part of society is about taking everyone along; it is about taking unanimous decisions for the achievement of a common goal.
Social inequality, racial discrimination, economic disparity, poverty, and overpopulation are some of the major concerns of society today. As an organized social group, it is our duty to address these concerns and work towards the betterment of society. One of the reasons why society is important is that it gives you a framework to work together. It provides you with a platform to take collective efforts towards improving social conditions. Most importantly, a society serves as a strong support system in life.
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Essay on Society | Meaning & Definition
January 22, 2018 by Study Mentor Leave a Comment
India is our country, we feel proud to call ourselves as Indians. Why we feel proud is because there are certain cultures and customs that come naturally to us on account of being an Indian.
Many traditions that our ancestors followed and we have been taking it across in our blood even today are part of our culture systems that come to us naturally.
We live in a set up that gives us the feeling of being part of a wholesome culture that teaches us values to do the right things, something that tells us about our own selves, the rich heritage that we are proudly part of, etc.
This feeling of oneness with our culture and traditions comes within a definite set up and this is exactly what we call as society. In a society, we are expected to live in co-operation with our fellow community members and maintain peace and harmony with one another.
There are no definite rules and regulations laid out to bring about peace and harmony, but it is a kind of mutual understanding and basis of co-existence that creates a need for peaceful loving.
If we lived in a joint family, the big family set up could be treated as a society, for example. Within the family, the elders make the rules of the house and the youngsters are expected to follow them without questioning.
There are certain principles that the family has, and is expected to be followed by all members. These may not be rules as such, but a few doctrines that every family has and respects them for their own benefit.
Going against these rules may create conflict within the house, much to the anger of the elders and things may go hay-wire and that’s when resolving issues become important. The same thing happens in a larger societal place as well.
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Respect your Society
We see lots of people who live in our country but have all the love for a totally different country that they are not part of. That’s because they find it difficult to go by the norms of the society they live in and prefer moving towards a different societal set up that has some other norms of their own.
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We find it very common from elders that, when a married woman steps out of the house without the sacred vermilion on her forehead, it’s going to be talked about by all people in their neighborhood. Why this happens, is because, the society she lives in, has pressed the fact from ages that the vermillion on the head is a must for married woman.
If it isn’t present, then that’s called a bad omen. This simply means that, society starts treating this as a norm and indirectly applies to all people living around there. Whether it is really acceptable or not is a different question, but there are certain perception that goes with societal norms.
Society is formed by people who think in a certain way, whose behavior is influenced by the people belonging to the particular society and the thinking goes in line with the general opinion formed within the common set up. Let us take up an example of festival celebrations within the community.
If it’s the time of dasara, we can see the women of the community gathering together at a community hall and taking part in the preparations and organizations of various activities for devotees. Why do such a large number of people come forward to take part in such events is the next question to think over.
That is because of their common belief about the goodness that persists in taking part in such events and also that a huge crowd puller activity is going to be based on a lot of self interest.
The common thoughts prevailing in the community regarding celebrations of such communal events marks the unity of people and their belief systems, which is further strengthened on such accounts.
Within a large society, people with like-minded ideas and belief systems share common liking for certain things and activities and they get together to create an encouraging atmosphere to spread the word to other places.
Society as a Unit
We as individuals are smaller sub units of a large unit called society. The society around us teaches us to be tolerant towards each other. When there is a happy moment for our neighbor staying beside our house, we greet them as well as a token of appreciation.
Why should we actually greet our neighbor, they may be unrelated to us and we might have no personal connection with them as well. But our cultural instincts make us create the goodwill between two individuals and that is exactly why we go ahead and shake hands with them.
Suppose a school boy has a fall while he is playing in the park and his parents are away and unaware about the fall. Immediately, people around the small child flock to him to see that the child has not suffered any big injury on account of the fall.
From where does this concern for an unknown child spring from? We find no connection with the small child as such. The answer is, we have a certain caring tendency towards the child that comes naturally to us. Our society around us teaches us to care for people around us.
Nobody in person actually comes to teach us these qualities, we learn by observing these acts from others. It comes without us having to think whether to actually do it or not.
Qualities we learn from our Society
Society teaches us to be good citizens of the country . We imbibe values of hospitality and mutual concern for each other through daily interactions with people in the society. Society enables people to think in a broader way, it teaches us to be concerned about our fellow beings.
It gives us space to show love and respect for each other. Not only humans, but we ought to be compassionate about other creatures as well. We have to learn to tolerate different kinds of mentalities and accept different opinions from various generations of people.
We have to learn to take care of the old, society allows us to be respectful and caring towards our elders. We all love little children, we have to be patient towards them.
Society consists of people from all walks of life. We have working as well as the non working community staying together in families. Men are the main bread-earners of the family and women support their income. Some women choose to be home makers to take care of their children and the aged people in their homes.
We have to treat them with dignity. We have all kinds of professionals within the society. Some may be engineers, doctors, lawyers, technicians etc. some other may prefer teaching, banking, having their own businesses etc. We have to be tolerant towards all kinds of people from all walks of life.
Society also provides various shopping centers, movie halls, malls, complexes, areas for entertainment, etc. Community halls within the society provide space for people gathering to attend functions or other important events. Playgrounds and parks provide recreation for children, elderly and other members of the society.
Banks and other financial institutions aid citizens in financial saving opportunities. Loans are provided by banks for personal uses in case people have to borrow money. Educational institutions are major part of society where in students spend maximum of their time doing their studies and excel in higher education to achieve their degrees and become professionally capable.
Jobs are provided in any large society at both the government and at the private levels and concerns. Hospitals treat sick patients and provide appropriate medication. Timely administration of right medicines is very important in any treatment.
The society should also be considered about health and hygiene concerns to be rid of any diseases and infections. Security concerns are a bigger matter in any society and they should be given priority over other factors. Law makers should ensure smooth implementation of law of the land.
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Home — Essay Samples — Sociology — Anthropology — Society
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420 words short essay on Society
The term ‘society’ is used in several sciences. Generally any organised human group is described as society. For instance, g group of women is looked upon as a society.
Similarly, there are specific associations which are wrongly regarded as society. There are many examples of such associations but it will serve our purpose of quoting a few of them. They are Harijan society, Bramho society, Labour society, Students society, Teacher’s society and the like but.
These associations do not fit into our concept of society in the strict sociological sense, They cannot be mistaken for society at best they like us close to the popular meanings of the term society and they cannot help us in a scientific study of society.
Therefore the sociologists have tried to define society in a way which distinguished it from other sociological concepts like group, association, institution, community etc. According to them the term society does not imply a group of persons or individuals.
It implies the complex pattern of the norms of interaction among people. These people are agents of social relationship. They are regarded as things.
A society is intangible. It is a process rather than a thing mention rather than structure. Society is the system of relationship the pattern of the norms of interaction. The members of society maintain themselves with the help of these relationship and norms.
Mac Iver and Page, say that “Society is a system of usages and procedures of authority and mutual aid of many groupings and divisions of controls of human behaviour and liberties.”
F. H. Giddings is of the view that “Sociology is the union itself the organisation the sum of formal relations in which associating individuals are bound together.”
M. Ginsberg defines “Society as a collection of individuals united by certain relations or modes of behaviour which mark them” off from others who do not enter into these relation or who differ from them in behaviour.”
Lapier thinks that to them “Society refers not – to group of people but to the complex pattern of the norms of interaction that arises among and between them.”
G. D.H. Cole describes “Society as the complex of organist association and institution within the community.”
Leacock says that “Society includes not only the political relations by which men are bound together but the whole range of human relations and collective activities.”
In the view of A.W. Green “A society is largest group to which any individual belongs. A society is made up of a population organisation, time, place and interest.”
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What is an Ideal Society
Controlled government/ leadership, personal respect and liberty, societal justice and equity in allocation, freedom of movement, expression, and association, free property ownership.
An ideal society is the one where all the people are working towards a common objective that revolves around survival and continuation of the society. It also involves ensuring that there is smooth flow of activities especially the basic requirements for survival of the human being. The secondary requirement to ensure comfort of utopia are also factored as depicted by Plato.
A number of philosophers have attempted to explain the different ways constituting to an ideal society. They include Thomas More, Machiavelli, Jefferson, Le Guin and Plato in the Allegory of the cave. Every society's main purpose is to create a good society that adheres to the essential rules and principles of Equality among all the members, freedom of expression and doing what is deemed right in the society and ensuring sustenance of the available resources for the society's consumption. The upright society creates a mirror to reflect and analyze the principles and political ideologies and compare their effectiveness in supporting equity. The philosophers despite having existed in different period had an almost similar thought on the characteristics of an Utopia society.
In an ideal society, the government acts as a pillar of ensuring democratic administration according to Utopia by Thomas More. It is a form of representative of the society to ensure order but not as a form of restriction to the society. Government should be elected in the fairest form in the society through a popular vote from members within. Democratic government is owned by the people in the society and represents fairness and equality to all members of the society. The leaders are to be understanding and advocate the best for their subjects as Jefferson advocated in his speech. In an ideal society according to Machiavelli, leaders are not dictators but the directors and managers of the state. A world where education is important where the system is focused to teach and develop the kids passion and purpose. A system where the students are in non competitive environment to learn and discover their own pace. Imagine that once a student discovers their passion a mentor comes in and guides them in that field they are interested in. This mentor stay with the child and helps develop the child until they feel they are ready in their specific field. With this non competitive environment and people, self esteem will be high because each child is focused and running their own race without the burden of paying for the education Then travel down to the area cost of living, where to take public transportation would be safe and minimal coast. Homes will be powered by solar power and wind!
A perfect society is the one where there is no discrimination, violence and any form of capitalism as Le Guin puts it the Thinking what Matters. The resources belong to the community hence no property wrangles. In this society peace prevails and every member in the society lives their desired life with all freedom and rights in place. Every member has a say and has enough access to the essentials of life such as food, shelter and clothing. There is fairness and comfort which encompasses conserving the surrounding for future generations and prolonged survival.
Societal justice is not a favor but a virtue. Every member in the society should be equally treated regardless of social status. The allocation of resources should be equal to all such as education rights to all the students regardless of the race as depicted by Jefferson literature . Justice ensures that people do not rebel in the society and create a peaceful Nation without crisis from various factions.
In an ideal society, there is freedom of movement and expression. One is entitled to move wherever they can unless the movement does not lead to trespass of others properties. People have the freedom to expression their problem to the government and to the various instructions in the land without fear. Plato in the allegory of the cave, people should have the right to associate with the people they feel they are like minded or have a common interest.
A society where there is freedom to own property without restriction is a Utopian society. Communal property should remain as it is while personal property should be safeguarded unless they clip the right of movement to the society.
In conclusion all the philosophers despite of being in different periods have a similar theme toward the Utopia society, that i seem to agree with. They advocate for Personal freedom, Respect, Equity in allocation, justice, controlled government and human equity.
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Example of a Great Essay | Explanations, Tips & Tricks
Published on February 9, 2015 by Shane Bryson . Revised on July 23, 2023 by Shona McCombes.
This example guides you through the structure of an essay. It shows how to build an effective introduction , focused paragraphs , clear transitions between ideas, and a strong conclusion .
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Other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about writing an essay, an appeal to the senses: the development of the braille system in nineteenth-century france.
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.
In France, debates about how to deal with disability led to the adoption of different strategies over time. While people with temporary difficulties were able to access public welfare, the most common response to people with long-term disabilities, such as hearing or vision loss, was to group them together in institutions (Tombs, 1996). At first, a joint institute for the blind and deaf was created, and although the partnership was motivated more by financial considerations than by the well-being of the residents, the institute aimed to help people develop skills valuable to society (Weygand, 2009). Eventually blind institutions were separated from deaf institutions, and the focus shifted towards education of the blind, as was the case for the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, which Louis Braille attended (Jimenez et al, 2009). The growing acknowledgement of the uniqueness of different disabilities led to more targeted education strategies, fostering an environment in which the benefits of a specifically blind education could be more widely recognized.
Several different systems of tactile reading can be seen as forerunners to the method Louis Braille developed, but these systems were all developed based on the sighted system. The Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris taught the students to read embossed roman letters, a method created by the school’s founder, Valentin Hauy (Jimenez et al., 2009). Reading this way proved to be a rather arduous task, as the letters were difficult to distinguish by touch. The embossed letter method was based on the reading system of sighted people, with minimal adaptation for those with vision loss. As a result, this method did not gain significant success among blind students.
Louis Braille was bound to be influenced by his school’s founder, but the most influential pre-Braille tactile reading system was Charles Barbier’s night writing. A soldier in Napoleon’s army, Barbier developed a system in 1819 that used 12 dots with a five line musical staff (Kersten, 1997). His intention was to develop a system that would allow the military to communicate at night without the need for light (Herron, 2009). The code developed by Barbier was phonetic (Jimenez et al., 2009); in other words, the code was designed for sighted people and was based on the sounds of words, not on an actual alphabet. Barbier discovered that variants of raised dots within a square were the easiest method of reading by touch (Jimenez et al., 2009). This system proved effective for the transmission of short messages between military personnel, but the symbols were too large for the fingertip, greatly reducing the speed at which a message could be read (Herron, 2009). For this reason, it was unsuitable for daily use and was not widely adopted in the blind community.
Nevertheless, Barbier’s military dot system was more efficient than Hauy’s embossed letters, and it provided the framework within which Louis Braille developed his method. Barbier’s system, with its dashes and dots, could form over 4000 combinations (Jimenez et al., 2009). Compared to the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, this was an absurdly high number. Braille kept the raised dot form, but developed a more manageable system that would reflect the sighted alphabet. He replaced Barbier’s dashes and dots with just six dots in a rectangular configuration (Jimenez et al., 2009). The result was that the blind population in France had a tactile reading system using dots (like Barbier’s) that was based on the structure of the sighted alphabet (like Hauy’s); crucially, this system was the first developed specifically for the purposes of the blind.
While the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France. This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources. Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted learning Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009). This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods. Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009), realizing that access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss. It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).
Although Blind people remained marginalized throughout the nineteenth century, the Braille system granted them growing opportunities for social participation. Most obviously, Braille allowed people with vision loss to read the same alphabet used by sighted people (Bullock & Galst, 2009), allowing them to participate in certain cultural experiences previously unavailable to them. Written works, such as books and poetry, had previously been inaccessible to the blind population without the aid of a reader, limiting their autonomy. As books began to be distributed in Braille, this barrier was reduced, enabling people with vision loss to access information autonomously. The closing of the gap between the abilities of blind and the sighted contributed to a gradual shift in blind people’s status, lessening the cultural perception of the blind as essentially different and facilitating greater social integration.
The Braille system also had important cultural effects beyond the sphere of written culture. Its invention later led to the development of a music notation system for the blind, although Louis Braille did not develop this system himself (Jimenez, et al., 2009). This development helped remove a cultural obstacle that had been introduced by the popularization of written musical notation in the early 1500s. While music had previously been an arena in which the blind could participate on equal footing, the transition from memory-based performance to notation-based performance meant that blind musicians were no longer able to compete with sighted musicians (Kersten, 1997). As a result, a tactile musical notation system became necessary for professional equality between blind and sighted musicians (Kersten, 1997).
Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.
Bullock, J. D., & Galst, J. M. (2009). The Story of Louis Braille. Archives of Ophthalmology , 127(11), 1532. https://doi.org/10.1001/archophthalmol.2009.286.
Herron, M. (2009, May 6). Blind visionary. Retrieved from https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2009/05/blind-visionary/.
Jiménez, J., Olea, J., Torres, J., Alonso, I., Harder, D., & Fischer, K. (2009). Biography of Louis Braille and Invention of the Braille Alphabet. Survey of Ophthalmology , 54(1), 142–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.survophthal.2008.10.006.
Kersten, F.G. (1997). The history and development of Braille music methodology. The Bulletin of Historical Research in Music Education , 18(2). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40214926.
Mellor, C.M. (2006). Louis Braille: A touch of genius . Boston: National Braille Press.
Tombs, R. (1996). France: 1814-1914 . London: Pearson Education Ltd.
Weygand, Z. (2009). The blind in French society from the Middle Ages to the century of Louis Braille . Stanford: Stanford University Press.
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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.
In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.
Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.
The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
- An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
- Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
- A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.
At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).
Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.
The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .
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What is Society
Many people think the society to be a network of relationships between different entities. Essentially, a society is a group of people with a common culture and territory (Heer, 1968). The understanding of the society revolves around interaction and the social structure of a group of people. Social structure is the behaviours and relationships between people in a society. The members of the society have the same mind and work together for a mutual benefit. These people follow their own values and norms within a prevailing society. The structure, composition, and the societal beliefs best describe the society.
Largely, a society is social, economic, or industrial infrastructure that comprises of the varied sorts of people. The members of society come from different ethical groups. The most significant element in society is the culture. Individuals from the same society share common culture, and this sharpen their way of living. Their means of lifestyle and survival define their culture. Culture elaborates the pattern of human activity (Socialist Party of Canada, 1997). The literature, art, language, and religion of individuals represent the culture of a society. The size of the ethical groups varies in terms of size. In Bhutan, a large cultural group follows the western society culture. Individuals in the society normally share the same religion, values, and traditions, hence this results in an exceptionally strong social bond.
The personal conduct in the society is crucial. In a society, honour comes upon an individual when he or she performs a desired or admired action. A unique character he or she portrays recognizes the individual. This recognition appears in the form of dressing code, financial status, title or name. Community action, scapegoating, generosity, shared risk, and reward are common phenomena to many forms of society.
There are different types of society that have different subsistence strategies. This is the technology application to fulfil their needs. Anthropologists have categorized the society according to the extent to which different groups in the society have unequal access to power, resources, or prestige. Virtually, all the societies have the inequality amongst their people regarding power, prestige, wealth, or social stratification. Sociologist categorizes the society into pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial.
In pre-industrial society, the main economic activity carried out is the food production. This involves the use of human labour or the animal labour (Knox et al, 2003). These societies can further be subdivided into gathering, hunting, horticultural, pastoral, and feudal. This is due to their method of producing food and their level of technology. In the hunter and gatherer society, there is daily hunting of wild animals and collection of wild food. They do not build permanent houses, and by the end of it, they come up with groups such as the tribes and bands. Hunters and gatherers living in areas with sufficient resources form complex hierarchical social structure such as chiefdoms due to their large numbers. The horticulturalists rotate their garden plots, and this makes them stay in an area for a long time. This leads to the development of the permanent and semi-permanent villages.
In post-industrial societies, there is domination of the services, information, and high technology, which is more than the food production. It is an advanced industrial society with advanced services. These include banking, law, health, education, government, and research. It is difficult to identify the effect industrial society will cause.
Society is paramount to individuals. It forms an organized group of individuals who support each other in many ways. It is during tough times that one recognizes the importance of a society. The members of your social group render the required support. This is through emotion, or in physical, financial or medical form.
Society unites people from different ethnic groups. Social networks have united people from different societies across the globe. The interaction leads to emergence of strong social bond that comes up in a durable relationship. The organisation creates heart of any social group involving the relationship and the family system that comes by the family system.
The resources that satisfy basic needs form a significant part of the society structure. These needs include public transport, public health, and educational facilities (Socialist Party of Canada, 1997). The government harmonizes a society. The government manages the resources, both natural and human, that belong to the society and controls the distribution of the resources to the public. Society thus provides us with the central regulatory authority that is dependable.
In conclusion, the society’s individuals need to be concerned about each other. The most significant principle of a society is to move together in life and take part in communal movement. Being a part of the society means accepting everyone and taking them along; it is about taking a common decision and achieving a common goal. Racial discrimination, economic gap, social inequality, overpopulation, and poverty are some of the major challenges in society at present. As an organized group, it is the individual’s obligation to form solution for the betterment of society. Working together is one of the reasons why society is of importance to us. This gives one a platform of taking communal efforts towards improving social conditions. Finally, society strongly supports individual’s life.
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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, family lifestyles: childless, nuclear, and their impact on society.
How it works
- 1.1 Childless Families
- 1.2 Nuclear vs. Extended Families
- 1.3.1 References
Evolving Family Dynamics
In recent years, the nature and organization of the family have evolved dramatically. The definition of family evolves in response to changes in natural and economic situations. In today’s environment, the true definition of family is even more nuanced. Most societies place great importance on family and frequently pursue the traditional path of life: degree, job, marriage, and children.
Childlessness could be the result of a medical condition such as infertility or other medical issues that prevent them from having children. “Couples who are unable to reproduce may be looked down upon due to social stigmatization” (Scagliusi, 2021). Some people choose not to have children. “While others who are childfree by choice are sometimes stereotyped as “individualistic,” “abnormal,” or people who “dislike” children” (Scagliusi, 2021). They don’t consider the absence of having a child to be in any way harmful. Some people are childless by accident, which means they haven’t made a conscious decision to never have children and aren’t suffering from any illness that prevents them from doing so. They may be childless while establishing a job or are just delaying childrearing until they are financially comfortable. They may also require children but are single or in a relationship with someone who is undecided or opposed to having children. Regardless of whether the family is childless by choice, inadvertence, or circumstance, it is always associated with shame.
Children are primarily regarded as a social commitment and an emotionally supportive network for adults. “The stigmas associated with choosing not to have children are numerous, and take form in face-to-face interactions, online, and in mainstream media” (Reining, pg.1). The general public considers childless families to be flawed and subpar. The burden of shame falls on the entire family, but especially on the woman.
People become childless for a variety of reasons, and it is essential that their voices be heard. Yet, there are some advantages to not having children. Simply put, not having any responsibilities that come with having children allows one to have more time for self-care and other relationships. Also, one can have a larger amount of disposable income plus the freedom to travel and try new things. They can pursue a variety of careers and/or educational opportunities as they please. Couples will have more time together. However, there are some disadvantages to not having children. When all of their friends and family members start having children, a couple may feel left out or isolated. If you enjoy children, you may feel as if something is missing. Parenting is never easy, and it often necessitates considerable lifestyle adjustments.
Nuclear vs. Extended Families
The nuclear family offers close family members a deep bonding experience. The smaller family size provides for more customized attention to spouses and children, which aids in the formation of lifetime ties. While the nuclear family has fewer conflicts and lowers family stress, it also disadvantages the family in the long run. They can foster similar thinking, resulting in fewer disagreements within the family. It may, however, exacerbate problems among extended family members. In a nuclear family, when both parents work and have children, it is not always possible to satisfy all expectations and demands entirely within the family. Because the traditional nuclear family is child-centered, the focus is on the immediate family, particularly children, in all aspects of life. The family prioritizes meeting its own needs over those of others. This way of view might lead to selfish habits and thinking in children. It can also lead to a restricted worldview in which the overall purpose of society is overlooked.
The Unchanging Value of Family
When everything has lost its significance, family is more important than ever, whether you have children or not. Even when the world becomes more contemporary and advanced, the concept of family and what it represents remains unchanged. The concept of family and what it represents remains intact as the world grows more modern, and its value cannot be overstated. They have a significant impact on our lives and help us become better people. Our greatest source of strength is our family, and families teach us about the importance of relationships. They assist us in forming meaningful external relationships. We carry on the affection we inherited from our families to our independent partnerships.
- Scagliusi, A. (2021). The Stigmatization of Childless and Childfree Individuals: A Sociocultural Perspective. Journal of Sociological Studies, 8(2), 41-55.
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How America Got Mean
In a culture devoid of moral education, generations are growing up in a morally inarticulate, self-referential world.
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O ver the past eight years or so, I’ve been obsessed with two questions. The first is: Why have Americans become so sad? The rising rates of depression have been well publicized, as have the rising deaths of despair from drugs, alcohol, and suicide. But other statistics are similarly troubling. The percentage of people who say they don’t have close friends has increased fourfold since 1990. The share of Americans ages 25 to 54 who weren’t married or living with a romantic partner went up to 38 percent in 2019, from 29 percent in 1990. A record-high 25 percent of 40-year-old Americans have never married . More than half of all Americans say that no one knows them well. The percentage of high-school students who report “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” shot up from 26 percent in 2009 to 44 percent in 2021.
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My second, related question is: Why have Americans become so mean? I was recently talking with a restaurant owner who said that he has to eject a customer from his restaurant for rude or cruel behavior once a week—something that never used to happen. A head nurse at a hospital told me that many on her staff are leaving the profession because patients have become so abusive. At the far extreme of meanness, hate crimes rose in 2020 to their highest level in 12 years. Murder rates have been surging, at least until recently. Same with gun sales. Social trust is plummeting. In 2000, two-thirds of American households gave to charity; in 2018, fewer than half did. The words that define our age reek of menace: conspiracy , polarization , mass shootings , trauma , safe spaces .
We’re enmeshed in some sort of emotional, relational, and spiritual crisis, and it undergirds our political dysfunction and the general crisis of our democracy. What is going on?
Over the past few years, different social observers have offered different stories to explain the rise of hatred, anxiety, and despair.
The technology story: Social media is driving us all crazy.
The sociology story: We’ve stopped participating in community organizations and are more isolated.
The demography story: America, long a white-dominated nation, is becoming a much more diverse country, a change that has millions of white Americans in a panic.
The economy story: High levels of economic inequality and insecurity have left people afraid, alienated, and pessimistic.
I agree, to an extent, with all of these stories, but I don’t think any of them is the deepest one. Sure, social media has bad effects, but it is everywhere around the globe—and the mental-health crisis is not. Also, the rise of despair and hatred has engulfed a lot of people who are not on social media. Economic inequality is real, but it doesn’t fully explain this level of social and emotional breakdown. The sociologists are right that we’re more isolated, but why? What values lead us to choose lifestyles that make us lonely and miserable?
The most important story about why Americans have become sad and alienated and rude, I believe, is also the simplest: We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration. Our society has become one in which people feel licensed to give their selfishness free rein. The story I’m going to tell is about morals. In a healthy society, a web of institutions—families, schools, religious groups, community organizations, and workplaces—helps form people into kind and responsible citizens, the sort of people who show up for one another. We live in a society that’s terrible at moral formation.
Read: American shoppers are a nightmare
Moral formation, as I will use that stuffy-sounding term here, comprises three things. First, helping people learn to restrain their selfishness. How do we keep our evolutionarily conferred egotism under control? Second, teaching basic social and ethical skills. How do you welcome a neighbor into your community? How do you disagree with someone constructively? And third, helping people find a purpose in life. Morally formative institutions hold up a set of ideals. They provide practical pathways toward a meaningful existence: Here’s how you can dedicate your life to serving the poor, or protecting the nation, or loving your neighbor.
For a large part of its history, America was awash in morally formative institutions. Its Founding Fathers had a low view of human nature, and designed the Constitution to mitigate it (even while validating that low view of human nature by producing a document rife with racism and sexism). “Men I find to be a Sort of Beings very badly constructed,” Benjamin Franklin wrote , “as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more dispos’d to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation, and much more easily deceiv’d than undeceiv’d.”
If such flawed, self-centered creatures were going to govern themselves and be decent neighbors to one another, they were going to need some training. For roughly 150 years after the founding, Americans were obsessed with moral education. In 1788, Noah Webster wrote, “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities ; and for this reason, the heart should be cultivated with more assiduity than the head .” The progressive philosopher John Dewey wrote in 1909 that schools teach morality “every moment of the day, five days a week.” Hollis Frissell, the president of the Hampton Institute, an early school for African Americans, declared, “Character is the main object of education.” As late as 1951, a commission organized by the National Education Association, one of the main teachers’ unions, stated that “an unremitting concern for moral and spiritual values continues to be a top priority for education.”
The moral-education programs that stippled the cultural landscape during this long stretch of history came from all points on the political and religious spectrums. School textbooks such as McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers not only taught students how to read and write; they taught etiquette, and featured stories designed to illustrate right and wrong behavior. In the 1920s, W. E. B. Du Bois’s magazine for Black children , The Brownies’ Book , had a regular column called “The Judge,” which provided guidance to young readers on morals and manners. There were thriving school organizations with morally earnest names that sound quaint today—the Courtesy Club, the Thrift Club, the Knighthood of Youth.
Beyond the classroom lay a host of other groups: the YMCA; the Sunday-school movement; the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; the settlement-house movement, which brought rich and poor together to serve the marginalized; Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, which extended our moral concerns to include proper care for the natural world; professional organizations, which enforced ethical codes; unions and workplace associations, which, in addition to enhancing worker protections and paychecks, held up certain standards of working-class respectability. And of course, by the late 19th century, many Americans were members of churches or other religious communities. Mere religious faith doesn’t always make people morally good, but living in a community, orienting your heart toward some transcendent love, basing your value system on concern for the underserved—those things tend to.
Arthur C. Brooks: Make yourself happy—be kind
An educational approach with German roots that was adopted by Scandinavian societies in the mid-to-late 19th century had a wide influence on America. It was called Bildung , roughly meaning “spiritual formation.” As conceived by Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Bildung approach gave professors complete freedom to put moral development at the center of a university’s mission. In schools across Scandinavia, students studied literature and folk cultures to identify their own emotions, wounds, and weaknesses, in order to become the complex human beings that modern society required. Schools in the Bildung tradition also aimed to clarify the individual’s responsibilities to the wider world—family, friends, nation, humanity. Start with the soul and move outward.
The Bildung movement helped inspire the Great Books programs that popped up at places like Columbia and the University of Chicago. They were based on the conviction that reading the major works of world literature and thinking about them deeply would provide the keys to living a richer life. Meanwhile, discipline in the small proprieties of daily existence—dressing formally, even just to go shopping or to a ball game—was considered evidence of uprightness: proof that you were a person who could be counted on when the large challenges came.
Much of American moral education drew on an ethos expressed by the headmaster of the Stowe School, in England, who wrote in 1930 that the purpose of his institution was to turn out young men who were “acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck.” America’s National Institute for Moral Instruction was founded in 1911 and published a “Children’s Morality Code,” with 10 rules for right living. At the turn of the 20th century, Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s institution, was an example of an intentionally thick moral community. When a young Frances Perkins was a student there, her Latin teacher detected a certain laziness in her. She forced Perkins to spend hours conjugating Latin verbs, to cultivate self-discipline. Perkins grew to appreciate this: “For the first time I became conscious of character.” The school also called upon women to follow morally ambitious paths. “Do what nobody else wants to do; go where nobody else wants to go,” the school’s founder implored. Holyoke launched women into lives of service in Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. Perkins, who would become the first woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet (Franklin D. Roosevelt’s), was galvanized there.
Read: Students’ broken moral compasses
These various approaches to moral formation shared two premises. The first was that training the heart and body is more important than training the reasoning brain. Some moral skills can be taught the way academic subjects are imparted, through books and lectures. But we learn most virtues the way we learn crafts, through the repetition of many small habits and practices, all within a coherent moral culture—a community of common values, whose members aspire to earn one another’s respect.
The other guiding premise was that concepts like justice and right and wrong are not matters of personal taste: An objective moral order exists, and human beings are creatures who habitually sin against that order. This recognition was central, for example, to the way the civil-rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s thought about character formation. “Instead of assured progress in wisdom and decency man faces the ever present possibility of swift relapse not merely to animalism but into such calculated cruelty as no other animal can practice,” Martin Luther King Jr. believed. Elsewhere, he wrote, “The force of sinfulness is so stubborn a characteristic of human nature that it can only be restrained when the social unit is armed with both moral and physical might.”
At their best, the civil-rights marchers in this prophetic tradition understood that they could become corrupted even while serving a noble cause. They could become self-righteous because their cause was just, hardened by hatred of their opponents, prideful as they asserted power. King’s strategy of nonviolence was an effort simultaneously to expose the sins of their oppressors and to restrain the sinful tendencies inherent in themselves. “What gave such widely compelling force to King’s leadership and oratory,” the historian George Marsden argues, “was his bedrock conviction that moral law was built into the universe.”
A couple of obvious things need to be said about this ethos of moral formation that dominated American life for so long. It prevailed alongside all sorts of hierarchies that we now rightly find abhorrent: whites superior to Blacks, men to women, Christians to Jews, straight people to gay people. And the emphasis on morality didn’t produce perfect people. Moral formation doesn’t succeed in making people angels—it tries to make them better than they otherwise might be.
Furthermore, we would never want to go back to the training methods that prevailed for so long, rooted in so many thou shall not s and so much shaming, and riddled with so much racism and sexism. Yet a wise accounting should acknowledge that emphasizing moral formation meant focusing on an important question—what is life for?—and teaching people how to bear up under inevitable difficulties. A culture invested in shaping character helped make people resilient by giving them ideals to cling to when times got hard. In some ways, the old approach to moral formation was, at least theoretically, egalitarian: If your status in the community was based on character and reputation, then a farmer could earn dignity as readily as a banker. This ethos came down hard on self-centeredness and narcissistic display. It offered practical guidance on how to be a good neighbor, a good friend.
And then it mostly went away.
The crucial pivot happened just after World War II, as people wrestled with the horrors of the 20th century. One group, personified by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, argued that recent events had exposed the prevalence of human depravity and the dangers, in particular, of tribalism, nationalism, and collective pride. This group wanted to double down on moral formation, with a greater emphasis on humility.
Another group, personified by Carl Rogers, a founder of humanistic psychology, focused on the problem of authority. The trouble with the 20th century, the members of this group argued, was that the existence of rigid power hierarchies led to oppression in many spheres of life. We need to liberate individuals from these authority structures, many contended. People are naturally good and can be trusted to do their own self-actualization.
A cluster of phenomenally successful books appeared in the decade after World War II, making the case that, as Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman wrote in Peace of Mind (1946), “thou shalt not be afraid of thy hidden impulses.” People can trust the goodness inside. His book topped the New York Times best-seller list for 58 weeks. Dr. Spock’s first child-rearing manual was published the same year. That was followed by books like The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). According to this ethos, morality is not something that we develop in communities. It’s nurtured by connecting with our authentic self and finding our true inner voice. If people are naturally good, we don’t need moral formation; we just need to let people get in touch with themselves. Organization after organization got out of the moral-formation business and into the self-awareness business. By the mid‑1970s, for example, the Girl Scouts’ founding ethos of service to others had shifted: “How can you get more in touch with you ? What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” one Girl Scout handbook asked.
Schools began to abandon moral formation in the 1940s and ’50s, as the education historian B. Edward McClellan chronicles in Moral Education in America : “By the 1960s deliberate moral education was in full-scale retreat” as educators “paid more attention to the SAT scores of their students, and middle-class parents scrambled to find schools that would give their children the best chances to qualify for elite colleges and universities.” The postwar period saw similar change at the college level, Anthony Kronman, a former dean of Yale Law School, has noted. The “research ideal” supplanted the earlier humanistic ideal of cultivating the whole student. As academics grew more specialized, Kronman has argued, the big questions—What is the meaning of life? How do you live a good life?—lost all purchase. Such questions became unprofessional for an academic to even ask.
Read: The benefits of character education
In sphere after sphere, people decided that moral reasoning was not really relevant. Psychology’s purview grew, especially in family and educational matters, its vocabulary framing “virtually all public discussion” of the moral life of children, James Davison Hunter, a prominent American scholar on character education, noted in 2000 . “For decades now, contributions from philosophers and theologians have been muted or nonexistent.” Psychology is a wonderful profession, but its goal is mental health, not moral growth.
From the start, some worried about this privatizing of morality. “If what is good, what is right, what is true is only what the individual ‘chooses’ to ‘invent,’ ” Walter Lippmann wrote in his 1955 collection, Essays in the Public Philosophy , “then we are outside the traditions of civility.” His book was hooted down by establishment figures such as the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.; the de-moralization of American culture was under way.
Over the course of the 20th century, words relating to morality appeared less and less frequently in the nation’s books: According to a 2012 paper, usage of a cluster of words related to being virtuous also declined significantly. Among them were bravery (which dropped by 65 percent), gratitude (58 percent), and humbleness (55 percent). For decades, researchers have asked incoming college students about their goals in life. In 1967, about 85 percent said they were strongly motivated to develop “a meaningful philosophy of life”; by 2000, only 42 percent said that . Being financially well off became the leading life goal; by 2015, 82 percent of students said wealth was their aim.
In a culture devoid of moral education, generations grow up in a morally inarticulate, self-referential world. The Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and a team of researchers asked young adults across the country in 2008 about their moral lives. One of their findings was that the interviewees had not given the subject of morality much thought. “I’ve never had to make a decision about what’s right and what’s wrong,” one young adult told the researchers. “My teachers avoid controversies like that like the plague,” many teenagers said.
The moral instincts that Smith observed in his sample fell into the pattern that the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre called “emotivism”: Whatever feels good to me is moral. “I would probably do what would make me happy” in any given situation , one of the interviewees declared. “Because it’s me in the long run.” As another put it, “If you’re okay with it morally, as long as you’re not getting caught, then it’s not really against your morals, is it?” Smith and his colleagues emphasized that the interviewees were not bad people but, because they were living “in morally very thin or spotty worlds,” they had never been given a moral vocabulary or learned moral skills.
Most of us who noticed the process of de-moralization as it was occurring thought a bland moral relativism and empty consumerism would be the result: You do you and I’ll do me. That’s not what happened.
“Moral communities are fragile things, hard to build and easy to destroy,” the psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind . When you are raised in a culture without ethical structure, you become internally fragile. You have no moral compass to give you direction, no permanent ideals to which you can swear ultimate allegiance. “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how ,” the psychiatrist (and Holocaust survivor) Viktor Frankl wrote, interpreting a famous Nietzsche saying. Those without a why fall apart when the storms hit. They begin to suffer from that feeling of moral emptiness that Émile Durkheim called “anomie.”
Expecting people to build a satisfying moral and spiritual life on their own by looking within themselves is asking too much. A culture that leaves people morally naked and alone leaves them without the skills to be decent to one another. Social trust falls partly because more people are untrustworthy. That creates crowds of what psychologists call “vulnerable narcissists.” We all know grandiose narcissists—people who revere themselves as the center of the universe. Vulnerable narcissists are the more common figures in our day—people who are also addicted to thinking about themselves, but who often feel anxious, insecure, avoidant. Intensely sensitive to rejection, they scan for hints of disrespect. Their self-esteem is wildly in flux. Their uncertainty about their inner worth triggers cycles of distrust, shame, and hostility.
“The breakdown of an enduring moral framework will always produce disconnection, alienation, and an estrangement from those around you,” Luke Bretherton, a theologian at Duke Divinity School, told me. The result is the kind of sadness I see in the people around me. Young adults I know are spiraling, leaving school, moving from one mental-health facility to another. After a talk I gave in Oklahoma, a woman asked me, “What do you do when you no longer want to be alive?” The very next night I had dinner with a woman who told me that her brother had died by suicide three months before. I mentioned these events to a group of friends on a Zoom call, and nearly half of them said they’d had a brush with suicide in their family. Statistics paint the broader picture: Suicide rates have increased by more than 30 percent since 2000, according to the CDC.
Sadness, loneliness, and self-harm turn into bitterness. Social pain is ultimately a response to a sense of rejection—of being invisible, unheard, disrespected, victimized. When people feel that their identity is unrecognized, the experience registers as an injustice—because it is. People who have been treated unjustly often lash out and seek ways to humiliate those who they believe have humiliated them.
Lonely eras are not just sad eras; they are violent ones. In 19th-century America, when a lot of lonely young men were crossing the western frontier, one of the things they tended to do was shoot one another. As the saying goes, pain that is not transformed gets transmitted. People grow more callous, defensive, distrustful, and hostile. The pandemic made it worse, but antisocial behavior is still high even though the lockdowns are over. And now we are caught in a cycle, ill treatment leading to humiliation and humiliation leading to more meanness. Social life becomes more barbaric, online and off.
If you put people in a moral vacuum, they will seek to fill it with the closest thing at hand. Over the past several years, people have sought to fill the moral vacuum with politics and tribalism. American society has become hyper-politicized.
David Brooks: America is having a moral convulsion
According to research by Ryan Streeter, the director of domestic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, lonely young people are seven times more likely to say they are active in politics than young people who aren’t lonely. For people who feel disrespected, unseen, and alone, politics is a seductive form of social therapy. It offers them a comprehensible moral landscape: The line between good and evil runs not down the middle of every human heart, but between groups. Life is a struggle between us, the forces of good, and them, the forces of evil.
The Manichaean tribalism of politics appears to give people a sense of belonging. For many years, America seemed to be awash in a culture of hyper-individualism. But these days, people are quick to identify themselves by their group: Republican, Democrat, evangelical, person of color, LGBTQ, southerner, patriot, progressive, conservative. People who feel isolated and under threat flee to totalizing identities.
Politics appears to give people a sense of righteousness: A person’s moral stature is based not on their conduct, but on their location on the political spectrum. You don’t have to be good; you just have to be liberal—or you just have to be conservative. The stronger a group’s claim to victim status, the more virtuous it is assumed to be, and the more secure its members can feel about their own innocence.
Politics also provides an easy way to feel a sense of purpose. You don’t have to feed the hungry or sit with the widow to be moral; you just have to experience the right emotion. You delude yourself that you are participating in civic life by feeling properly enraged at the other side. That righteous fury rising in your gut lets you know that you are engaged in caring about this country. The culture war is a struggle that gives life meaning.
Politics overwhelms everything. Churches, universities, sports, pop culture, health care are swept up in a succession of battles that are really just one big war—red versus blue. Evangelicalism used to be a faith; today it’s primarily a political identity. College humanities departments used to study literature and history to plumb the human heart and mind; now they sometimes seem exclusively preoccupied with politics, and with the oppressive systems built around race, class, and gender. Late-night comedy shows have become political pep rallies. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died unnecessarily during the pandemic because people saw a virus through the lens of a political struggle.
This is not politics as it is normally understood. In psychically healthy societies, people fight over the politics of distribution: How high should taxes be? How much money should go to social programs for the poor and the elderly? We’ve shifted focus from the politics of redistribution to the politics of recognition. Political movements are fueled by resentment, by feelings that society does not respect or recognize me. Political and media personalities gin up dramas in which our side is emotionally validated and the other side is emotionally shamed. The person practicing the politics of recognition is not trying to get resources for himself or his constituency; he is trying to admire himself. He’s trying to use politics to fill the hole in his soul. It doesn’t work.
The politics of recognition doesn’t give you community and connection, certainly not in a system like our current one, mired in structural dysfunction. People join partisan tribes in search of belonging—but they end up in a lonely mob of isolated belligerents who merely obey the same orthodoxy.
If you are asking politics to be the reigning source of meaning in your life, you are asking more of politics than it can bear. Seeking to escape sadness, loneliness, and anomie through politics serves only to drop you into a world marked by fear and rage, by a sadistic striving for domination. Sure, you’ve left the moral vacuum—but you’ve landed in the pulverizing destructiveness of moral war. The politics of recognition has not produced a happy society. When asked by the General Social Survey to rate their happiness level, 20 percent of Americans in 2022 rated it at the lowest level —only 8 percent did the same in 1990.
Read: What the longest study on human happiness found is the key to a good life
America’s Founding Fathers studied the history of democracies going back to ancient Greece. They drew the lesson that democracies can be quite fragile. When private virtue fails, the constitutional order crumbles. After decades without much in the way of moral formation, America became a place where more than 74 million people looked at Donald Trump’s morality and saw presidential timber.
Even in dark times, sparks of renewal appear. In 2018, a documentary about Mister Rogers called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released. The film showed Fred Rogers in all his simple goodness —his small acts of generosity; his displays of vulnerability; his respect, even reverence, for each child he encountered. People cried openly while watching it in theaters. In an age of conflict and threat, the sight of radical goodness was so moving.
In the summer of 2020, the series Ted Lasso premiered. When Lasso describes his goals as a soccer coach, he could mention the championships he hopes to win or some other conventional metric of success, but he says, “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”
That is a two-sentence description of moral formation. Ted Lasso is about an earnest, cheerful, and transparently kind man who enters a world that has grown cynical, amoral, and manipulative, and, episode after episode, even through his own troubles, he offers the people around him opportunities to grow more gracious, to confront their vulnerabilities and fears, and to treat one another more gently and wisely. Amid lockdowns and political rancor, it became a cultural touchstone, and the most watched show on Apple TV+.
Even as our public life has grown morally bare, people, as part of their elemental nature, yearn to feel respected and worthy of respect, need to feel that their life has some moral purpose and meaning. People still want to build a society in which it is easier to be good. So the questions before us are pretty simple: How can we build morally formative institutions that are right for the 21st century? What do we need to do to build a culture that helps people become the best versions of themselves?
A few necessities come immediately to mind.
A modern vision of how to build character. The old-fashioned models of character-building were hopelessly gendered. Men were supposed to display iron willpower that would help them achieve self-mastery over their unruly passions. Women were to sequester themselves in a world of ladylike gentility in order to not be corrupted by bad influences and base desires. Those formulas are obsolete today.
The best modern approach to building character is described in Iris Murdoch’s book The Sovereignty of Good . Murdoch writes that “nothing in life is of any value except the attempt to be virtuous.” For her, moral life is not defined merely by great deeds of courage or sacrifice in epic moments. Instead, moral life is something that goes on continually—treating people considerately in the complex situations of daily existence. For her, the essential moral act is casting a “just and loving” attention on other people.
Normally, she argues, we go about our days with self-centered, self-serving eyes. We see and judge people in ways that satisfy our own ego. We diminish and stereotype and ignore, reducing other people to bit players in our own all-consuming personal drama. But we become morally better, she continues, as we learn to see others deeply, as we learn to envelop others in the kind of patient, caring regard that makes them feel seen, heard, and understood. This is the kind of attention that implicitly asks, “What are you going through?” and cares about the answer.
I become a better person as I become more curious about those around me, as I become more skilled in seeing from their point of view. As I learn to perceive you with a patient and loving regard, I will tend to treat you well. We can, Murdoch concluded, “grow by looking.”
Mandatory social-skills courses. Murdoch’s character-building formula roots us in the simple act of paying attention: Do I attend to you well? It also emphasizes that character is formed and displayed as we treat others considerately. This requires not just a good heart, but good social skills: how to listen well. How to disagree with respect. How to ask for and offer forgiveness. How to patiently cultivate a friendship. How to sit with someone who is grieving or depressed. How to be a good conversationalist.
These are some of the most important skills a person can have. And yet somehow, we don’t teach them. Our schools spend years prepping students with professional skills—but offer little guidance on how to be an upstanding person in everyday life. If we’re going to build a decent society, elementary schools and high schools should require students to take courses that teach these specific social skills, and thus prepare them for life with one another. We could have courses in how to be a good listener or how to build a friendship. The late feminist philosopher Nel Noddings developed a whole pedagogy around how to effectively care for others.
A new core curriculum. More and more colleges and universities are offering courses in what you might call “How to Live.” Yale has one called “Life Worth Living.” Notre Dame has one called “God and the Good Life.” A first-year honors program in this vein at Valparaiso University, in Indiana, involves not just conducting formal debates on ideas gleaned from the Great Books, but putting on a musical production based on their themes. Many of these courses don’t give students a ready-made formula, but they introduce students to some of the venerated moral traditions—Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Enlightenment rationalism, among others. They introduce students to those thinkers who have thought hard on moral problems, from Aristotle to Desmond Tutu to Martha Nussbaum. They hold up diverse exemplars to serve as models of how to live well. They put the big questions of life firmly on the table: What is the ruling passion of your soul? Whom are you responsible to? What are my moral obligations? What will it take for my life to be meaningful? What does it mean to be a good human in today’s world? What are the central issues we need to engage with concerning new technology and human life?
These questions clash with the ethos of the modern university, which is built around specialization and passing on professional or technical knowledge. But they are the most important courses a college can offer. They shouldn’t be on the margins of academic life. They should be part of the required core curriculum.
Intergenerational service. We spend most of our lives living by the logic of the meritocracy: Life is an individual climb upward toward success. It’s about pursuing self-interest.
There should be at least two periods of life when people have a chance to take a sabbatical from the meritocracy and live by an alternative logic—the logic of service: You have to give to receive. You have to lose yourself in a common cause to find yourself. The deepest human relationships are gift relationships, based on mutual care. (An obvious model for at least some aspects of this is the culture of the U.S. military, which similarly emphasizes honor, service, selflessness, and character in support of a purpose greater than oneself, throwing together Americans of different ages and backgrounds who forge strong social bonds.)
Those sabbaticals could happen at the end of the school years and at the end of the working years. National service programs could bring younger and older people together to work to address community needs.
These programs would allow people to experience other-centered ways of being and develop practical moral habits: how to cooperate with people unlike you. How to show up day after day when progress is slow. How to do work that is generous and hard.
Moral organizations. Most organizations serve two sets of goals—moral goals and instrumental goals. Hospitals heal the sick and also seek to make money. Newspapers and magazines inform the public and also try to generate clicks. Law firms defend clients and also try to maximize billable hours. Nonprofits aim to serve the public good and also raise money.
In our society, the commercial or utilitarian goals tend to eclipse the moral goals. Doctors are pressured by hospital administrators to rush through patients so they can charge more fees. Journalists are incentivized to write stories that confirm reader prejudices in order to climb the most-read lists. Whole companies slip into an optimization mindset, in which everything is done to increase output and efficiency.
Moral renewal won’t come until we have leaders who are explicit, loud, and credible about both sets of goals. Here’s how we’re growing financially , but also Here’s how we’re learning to treat one another with consideration and respect; here’s how we’re going to forgo some financial returns in order to better serve our higher mission .
Early in my career, as a TV pundit at PBS NewsHour , I worked with its host, Jim Lehrer. Every day, with a series of small gestures, he signaled what kind of behavior was valued there and what kind of behavior was unacceptable. In this subtle way, he established a set of norms and practices that still lives on. He and others built a thick and coherent moral ecology, and its way of being was internalized by most of the people who have worked there.
Politics as a moral enterprise. An ancient brand of amoralism now haunts the world. Authoritarian-style leaders like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping embody a kind of amoral realism. They evince a mindset that assumes that the world is a vicious, dog-eat-dog sort of place. Life is a competition to grab what you can. Force is what matters. Morality is a luxury we cannot afford, or merely a sham that elites use to mask their own lust for power. It’s fine to elect people who lie, who are corrupt, as long as they are ruthless bastards for our side. The ends justify the means.
Those of us who oppose these authoritarians stand, by contrast, for a philosophy of moral realism. Yes, of course people are selfish and life can be harsh. But over the centuries, civilizations have established rules and codes to nurture cooperation, to build trust and sweeten our condition. These include personal moral codes so we know how to treat one another well, ethical codes to help prevent corruption on the job and in public life, and the rules of the liberal world order so that nations can live in peace, secure within their borders.
Moral realists are fighting to defend and modernize these rules and standards—these sinews of civilization. Moral realism is built on certain core principles. Character is destiny. We can either elect people who try to embody the highest standards of honesty, kindness, and integrity, or elect people who shred those standards. Statecraft is soulcraft. The laws we pass shape the kinds of people we become. We can structure our tax code to encourage people to be enterprising and to save more, or we can structure the code to encourage people to be conniving and profligate. Democracy is the system that best enhances human dignity. Democratic regimes entrust power to the people, and try to form people so they will be responsible with that trust. Authoritarian regimes seek to create a world in which the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
Look, I understand why people don’t want to get all moralistic in public. Many of those who do are self-righteous prigs, or rank hypocrites. And all of this is only a start. But healthy moral ecologies don’t just happen. They have to be seeded and tended by people who think and talk in moral terms, who try to model and inculcate moral behavior, who understand that we have to build moral communities because on our own, we are all selfish and flawed. Moral formation is best when it’s humble. It means giving people the skills and habits that will help them be considerate to others in the complex situations of life. It means helping people behave in ways that make other people feel included, seen, and respected. That’s very different from how we treat people now—in ways that make them feel sad and lonely, and that make them grow unkind.
This article appears in the September 2023 print edition with the headline “How America Got Mean.” When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
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Ecological Change panel (New Chaucer Society 2024)
Lighting talk session at the New Chaucer Society biennial congress in Pasadena, CA, 15 July 2024 Organizers: Taylor Cowdery ( [email protected] ), Aylin Malcolm ( [email protected] ), Andrew M. Richmond ( [email protected] )
How did medieval communities characterize and grapple with ecological change—whether for the better or the worse? What social responses did they have to environmental disasters such as famine, or wildfire, or wastewater flooding? And what strategies, both local and global, did these communities adopt to reckon with the consequences of their shifting ecologies? This session invites lightning talk proposals that explore any aspect of the intersection of the environmental and the social across the medieval world. Potential topics might include the regulation and management of common resources (such as water and the roadways) or common hazards (such as waste) in the late-medieval city and countryside; the categorization and repercussions of work aimed at shaping landscape and social space; literary representations of urban socio-ecologies; or socio-literary responses to particular environmental catastrophes, such as the Black Death, the London fires of the thirteenth century, or the great famine of 1315–17. Contributors are also invited to reckon with the consequences of changes in our own interpretive methods and approaches, particularly in light of new developments in the digital humanities.
To submit an abstract, please see the guidelines at https://cdn.ymaws.com/newchaucersociety.org/resource/resmgr/files/ncs202... .
Feel free to contact the organizers if you have ideas or questions.
Opinion Forget the Trump trials. He might already be ineligible for 2024.
None of the criminal prosecutions of Donald Trump , even if he is convicted, can constitutionally stop him from running in — and winning — next year’s election.
But there’s a serious argument that, separate from any criminal charges, Trump is constitutionally disqualified from returning to the White House because of his role in the Jan. 6 , 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. And if the Constitution bars him from the presidency, then he’s not entitled to be on the ballot, and it becomes the job of state election officials to keep him off.
Two prominent conservative scholars have added their voices — and, more important, their extensive analysis of the relevant historical record — in support of this argument. They conclude that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War to prohibit former federal officeholders who joined the Confederacy from holding office again, applies broadly to any “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States and not solely to the South’s secession from the Union.
These scholars explain in a forthcoming law review article that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was an insurrection within the meaning of this clause and, crucially, that Trump engaged in this insurrection within the clause’s meaning, by both fomenting it and failing to exercise his presidential powers to stop it once it was underway. Refuting the view that the president is not an “officer” to whom this provision applies, these scholars cogently note that John Tyler was a former president and John Breckinridge a former vice president who both joined the Confederacy, and surely the framers of the 14th Amendment intended its disqualification from future office to apply to the likes of them .
The Supreme Court has not ruled on these issues. The 2024 campaign is underway with Trump far ahead in national polls of Republican voters and, in polls of all registered voters, running even against President Biden in a potential general-election matchup. For the sake of the nation’s system of self-government, the Supreme Court must settle the question of whether Trump constitutionally can be president again — before the Republican convention is held next July.
Ideally, this case would be settled before the primaries begin in January. Realistically, however, that might not be possible. As long as the Supreme Court resolves this issue before the Republican delegates meet in Milwaukee for their presidential nomination convention, their party can avoid nominating a candidate who is constitutionally ineligible for the presidency. That way, voters in November 2024 would not be making a choice in which one of the two major-party contenders would be ineligible to serve if elected.
What would be disastrous for democracy would be for Trump to appear on the November 2024 ballot as the Republican nominee, then to win the election, and afterward be disqualified and denied a second term. Yet that could happen if, without a Supreme Court ruling before the GOP convention, Congress were to decide for itself that Trump was disqualified and so it must nullify the will of the voters when it convenes to count the electoral college votes in January 2025.
How then to get the case properly before the Supreme Court in time?
Lawsuits on behalf of voters are already being planned , but for technical reasons concerning the jurisdictions of courts, it would be preferable if a state election official, such as a secretary of state, made a preliminary administrative ruling of Trump’s constitutional ineligibility and then sought judicial confirmation of this determination in state court. Consistent with due process, Trump — and voters who want him on the ballot — would be entitled to challenge this administrative decision in court. Whichever way the state court ruled could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, whose decision would be binding on all the states.
So far, so good. But there’s one important wrinkle. State law needs to permit election officials to make this kind of decision. If a state statute has not already authorized administrative officers to seek disqualification of presidential candidates , then — as the Supreme Court signaled this year — it might be a usurpation of the state legislature’s prerogative to determine the “manner” of conducting presidential elections for these officials to assert this power on their own.
Consequently, the safest course is for a state legislature to clarify, by enacting a new statute as soon as possible, that its election officials have the power to remove insurrectionists from the presidential ballot. A new statute could create an expedited timetable to ensure that the case reaches the Supreme Court in time for a decision before the Republican convention in July.
A swing state controlled by Democrats, such as Michigan, could — and should — do this, but any single blue state would suffice. If any one state’s judiciary were to order Trump off the ballot, pursuant to this kind of statute, it would require the Supreme Court to resolve the matter for the entire nation.
Before it’s too late, a patriotic state legislature should take the step needed to avert the constitutional crisis, far greater than the Jan. 6 insurrection, that looms if voters elect a candidate whom the Constitution has made ineligible.
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