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Freedom Control and Society

January 14, 2014

In this post I explicitly want to focus on some of my own opinions and beliefs as opposed to addressing sources of information which I have tried to do in  most of my other posts.

The contents of this post will not encompass the entirety of my thought, and beyond that, because of the tentative and finite quality of knowledge, it has been my experience that many of my initial suppositions have had to be revised in light of new information. That being said I will now attempt to outline the contents of this post in the general order I plan to address them, though it can often happen that two ideas I had initially conceived as distinct turn out not to be mutually exclusive.

In point form order, my main topics of concern are:

  • Social Control, Herding, Directing, and Channeling
  • Democratic forms of Interaction, Communication and Entertainment
  • Open Communication
  • Building Community and strong Interpersonal Relationships
  • The importance of Understanding and Acceptance
  • Discretion/Discernment
  • A call to Learn

Before I begin I want to say a quick word about the notion of acceptance. It is a word which is currently in fashion in new age spiritual texts and self-help material. I want to make it clear that I will not be following the line of these texts and certain of my conceptions of the term will be in opposition to the doctrines you will find in these texts. I will hopefully make that a little clearer when I address that particular point. It is also for this reason that I follow the notion of Acceptance with those of Discretion/Discernment.

In order to understand the discussion I am about to commence about social control, it is important to understand my conception of freedom to which its opposite (i.e. control) is understood in relation to. For me, true freedom is two things. Firstly, it is not the ability to fulfill ones desires at the expense of others, but it is the ability to desire while not necessarily having those desires fulfilled. Second, it is the ability to construct the vision of a peaceful and happy life and the ability to act in an attempt to create this peaceful situation as a reality without obstruction by other individuals or congregate forces in society.

If the above definition is granted to my conception of freedom, I will now begin to explicate on what I perceive to be issues of social control.

As it is difficult to know where to begin a discussion on any topic, except perhaps with a detailed process of defining concepts followed by a history beginning with the earliest known examples, for the sake of brevity and a desire for informality, at the expense of optimal organization, I am going to adopt something of an ad hoc approach to the topics in this post.

Social control has always been a part of human society, and in many ways individuals internalize “control” as protective mechanisms, structuring relevant information with effective actions which over time become routinized. This is partly a result of learning. To put it another way, if you knew the one best way of accomplishing a task, would you do it that way? In this sense relevant behaviors are able to be transmitted and repeated by various people over various degrees of time and space. With a little stretch of the imagination we can imagine an entire population performing the same task in unison, not because they are under a centralized control but because they are all performing the same task as a matter of course, because it is the most relevant and effective behavior.

On the other hand, social control is also used as a resource and method of power. This is manifest in its pure sense when behaviors are made effective in that they appease other humans through socially constructed rituals and institutionalized formalities. A very basic example is the demand of prostrating oneself before a monarch to gain or keep his favor, which has evolved into reverence for officials and dignitaries.

Because of the inquisitive and intellectual character of human beings, among other contingencies, such as recourse for the classical nobility to their free time,  self-determination and access to wealth and influence in a way that the laboring peasantry never possessed, they were able to contemplate reflectively and develop technical and scientific methods for accumulating and applying new information. It is my proposition that the development of social control was the result of a conscious coupling and development of the two notions of control outlined above.

In one sense there is a great degree of “control” in the scientific method and in a significant way it is this ability to stick to an empirical course that makes scientific inquiry and method so effective. But it was not through science that social control came into its own, but in political discourse where notions of order become institutionalized. It is through political inquiry that notions of order, most manifestly in “social structure”, that effective behaviors become channeled through institutional structure and congregation and ultimately formalized behavior rituals, as titles and roles become set, rules of behavior established, adhered to and enforced.

There is much more to “Social Control Theory”, and I think it is particularly valid to address it on its own terms, which I hope to do at a later time. But with that in mind, I do believe that many of the issues I address are at the heart of Control Theory formal, if addressed in a different light and with different conclusions.

Next I want to discuss  ‘Democratic forms of Interaction, Communication and Entertainment’.  First, I want to state I will be supplying suggestions on a provisional basis, and inherent in these “suggestions” is as much of a critique of existing forms of organization, interaction, and communication, etc. as it is an entreatment to dispersing forms of power.

I should make it clear that what I mean when I talk about a “democratic institution”. In particular, I am referring to an organization composed of or by the people on whose behalf it is acting. In particular those who are involved and affected by the machinations of said organization should have recourse to influence  in the composition and function of that organization.

I would argue that many if not most of our modern day organizations are not democratic. I make this statement on the basis that the institutions to which I am referring are operated from a centralized position where information and directives are filtered down through the organization and there is not open and equal access to information and self-determination on the part of its members nor the public on whose behalf they occasionally claim to act.

I am not so naive as to believe that there is no potential for “value” in a centralized institution, and in many ways I think that modern institutions are very effective at coordinating mass behavior and applying diverse skills and knowledge to concrete issues. I want to make it clear that that is not what I am getting at. What I am getting at is that there is a great danger to the freedom of individuals for self-determination under large, highly complex and powerful centrally organized institutions. The best case scenario for a society which has taken this to the limit is something like a society of ants or termites, where each individual has its designated role and together they protect and perpetuate their community to a very effective degree, but there is no character to the individuals of the society, only a function.

Centralized institutions I find particularly dangerous are centralized institutions of knowledge and information dissemination. While I do believe it is important to have agreement in a society among terms and definitions among other qualities of language in order to facilitate any level of communication whatsoever, taken to its most extreme degree, there would be a monopoly on what people know (or even can know) and subsequently what they can think, or are able to think. Combine this with centralized institutions which dictate which actions will be performed to the desired effect, and you have an extremely efficient form of control.

Examples of these kinds of centralized institutions are Schools, which receive their material through a centralized curriculum, Mass Media outlets, where the ‘audience’ is dependent on the outlet as a source of information, and the arts in their institutionalized forms, such as the film industry, where the individual takes on a passive role as spectator.

Examples of decentralized forms of information dissemination, and other democratic forms, can be harder to pin point and sometimes more difficult to define because they are often informal and not institutionalized. An example could be the internet, in the way that it becomes a tool to seek information from diverse sources. There are problems to the notion of the internet as a decentralized institution because of the fact that connections to the server are provided through centralized institutions, but basically the way that the internet can be used as a tool towards furthering information and not as an end in itself gives it the quality of a democratic tool.

Another example of a decentralized institution is composing ones own plays, writing or other art forms and performing or displaying them in non-institutionalized settings. For example friends making a play and performing it for neighbors. The reason that this is an important source of information dissemination is because it allows individuals to inject their own sources of knowledge, personal characteristics, desires, etc. into the performance and communicate it to others. In a sense youtube becomes close to a portal for democratic dissemination, but I believe it falls short for a number of reasons. First there is the issue that it is on the internet which often must be attained through centralized institutions, then there is the resources which must be possessed, such as camera and sound recording devices, editing software, and the skills that go along with them, being highly technical can often necessitate a degree of training which makes it a medium inaccessible to all. On the other hand, the ability to “search” on a platform like a video sharing website gives it an advantage over more localized forms of information dissemination, by allowing access to diverse opinions and ideas that might not otherwise have been available or self-evident. Wikipedia is another example of an information sharing device in the internet age.

Keeping in mind the paradox of this notion of democratic platforms [which I would attribute mainly to the fact that the notion of “democratic” is socially constructed and does not have a basis in nature but in the way we conceive it and the way we perpetuate our structures through our actions and the product of our energy], I will now proceed with the next two notions I wished to discuss which are ‘Open Communication’ and ‘Building Community and strong Interpersonal Relationships’. I think these two notions can be addressed together to our profit.

I will begin by saying that the following is couched in the assertion that many of our present interactions as individuals are formalized and often mediated through institutional roles and relationships. In this sense, much of what we genuinely think and feel is left out of our interactions in favor of formalities which either facilitate institutionally effective behavior or else smooth out individual differences, for example sharing a pleasant small talk wherein individual differences do not need to be addressed.

What I propose, which I am aware has no basis as a formal institutional structure, is a different form of building community and facilitating interpersonal communication. It is based on Open Communication and Acceptance. I now wish to attempt to clarify these notions.

I take inspiration for my notion of open communication from  certain aspects of psychoanalysis. I have no illusions over the fact that humans are animals and that at least a certain portion of our thoughts and desires do not fit the mold of civilized decency. I want to make it clear that I am not personally an advocate of hedonism, but I also want to make it clear that that is not what I hold at issue here. The need for what I am calling an open communication is not meant to be a license for acting out their every desire and acting on every whim, but I do believe that a society based on an instinct of oppression will end up doing itself harm either unconsciously or through the weakness (or might we call it strength?) of animal urges that lie dormant in the human psyche and which originate as a prior or primitive stage of development.

It is on these grounds that I call for acceptance, but not of a vulnerable kind. It is for this reason that I hasten to add discretion and discernment, on the part of both those speaking and those hearing the words of another. I think true friendship can only arise on the basis of this open communication, perhaps any real bond which is not subject to material contrivance or reliant on expectation and gain.

I believe we should seek to form communities on bases such as these, openness and trust, but we should also be wary that if we extend unconditional openness we lay ourselves open to abuse and exploitation. It is here that I interject discretion and discernment yet again. Open communication does not only leave us open to vulnerability, it is capable of providing our protection as well.

When we are engaged in formalized communication, if we are in a role of subordination then we must accept what is being demanded of us or face the consequences. In open communication, no one is subordinate to anyone else. Through open communication we are able to inquire directly into plans and motivations, and we are able to subsequently assess for ourselves whether these match the true intentions, or if there has been something missed or crossed in communication.

Through open communication we can establish our intentions, and lay the ground for where we agree and where we disagree. When there is irreconcilable disagreement this can be made conscious and acted upon.

The issues which surround open communication as opposed to formal communication are by the fact that open communication is a user created interface and in that sense it is more democratic. One hesitation is that open communication entails more responsibility for the individual, and a greater margin for error. What I mean by open communication being a user created interface is that as a user you create the rules and operations of the system. On the other hand, in a formalized communication process, the rules are dictated externally through formalities such as roles and directives.

The final notions I have yet to address are again connected. They are, the importance of Understanding and a call to Learning.

Understanding is a tricky concept all on its own. I will give a simple explanation of it and leave it to the reader to develop their own. As I see it, understanding is a continual process where information (from the most basic of sensory experience to abstract and categorical concepts) is given a structure so that  information and relationships can be made consciously accessible.

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