Social Atomization on an Unthinkable Scale

in #society3 months ago


The above image was made by @amberjyang using Midjourney with the prompt 'atoms of people, societal evolution is inherently cooperative in nature.'

In 1902, Piotr Kropotkin published Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. This collection of essays drew from observations of the natural world to argue that cooperation was often more important than competition when determining a creature's environmental fitness. In human societies, systems of mutual aid have always arisen in response to adversity. And authoritarian rulers have always suppressed these mutual aid systems.

The world isn't some grand Hobbesian battle of countless individuals constantly at war with each other. Human society isn't such a battlefield either. Sometimes we fight, but mostly we cooperate. Every part of modern society is a product of this widespread cooperation.

This reality is contested in our minds by dominant cultural stories about the world and our place in it. In practical terms, we're all pitted against each other in the artificial circumstances of the economy. And the corporate entities running the economy are obliged to be as selfish as possible.

In recent years, this state of affairs has produced social atomization on an unthinkable scale. Now we're all in our own digital bubbles, consuming personalized content while our communications are monitored. Globally, the whole direction of technological advancement was turned to provision individuals in the developed world with disposable computerized devices. What this means for us as people isn't at all obvious.

Pop culture functions in part to keep our minds off of thorny questions about our identities. Talking about race and gender is permitted, but only if the conversation conforms to woke norms, which change constantly. Simply asking what it means to be a man or a woman in this brave new world has become hopelessly controversial.

The question of who we are as individuals is assigned far greater importance than the question of who we are in relation to each other. Maybe this is by design. As economic entities, we're contestants in a rigged game. As political entities, we're participants in a corrupt system. If we ever start really talking about who we are in relation to each other, we'll quickly discover that the vast majority of us have interests in common.

I think it's in our common interest to accelerate the evolution of society. While we have the technological means to do this, it's not clear that we have the requisite social resources to even make sense of how that would work. Historically, the evolution of society has always meant increasing complexity. I'm not sure any of us have the bandwidth for more complexity than we're already dealing with.

When everyone got the internet, there wasn't an explosion of mutual aid groups. Today there are some, but not very many. That may mean that our appetite for mutual aid is low. But it may also mean that the right people are unable to find each other and connect in our social ecology.

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Wow! Amazing piece, with tons of quotable material in this post.

It's quite paradoxical to think about who we are as individuals, vs. in relation to each other. Our society supports the focus on who we are as individual in all the wrong ways: competition to be the "greatest," your looks, how much money you make, victimhood (ending what we feel is hurting us as individuals vs. ending injustice on a systemic level). We're not encouraged to focus on who we are in deep ways, which naturally invites questioning authority, finding our purpose, and opening up to our interconnectedness.

The media overwhelms us with human failures, tragedies, and news we fear. No wonder we feel like awesome things like Shareable, which focuses on social movements based on sharing and decentralization, is idealistic and unattainable on a large scale. On top of the negative news overload in the media, we have captured government agencies that serve establishment interests. Thus, it makes sense to me why none of us know how to summon the right social resources. With our WTK work, I've learned that many other countries have stronger social resources in place because their government actually supports the interests of the public, vs. corporate/private interests.

Most countries have banned toxic chemicals and DTC advertising in the pharmaceutical industry. Many countries have strong regulations in place to reign in the harmful impacts of wireless radiation. Finland offers free healthcare and education. What other examples exist?

And now that I think about it, we need a more nuanced definition of freedom. Many people look at the US and its lack of regulations (at the expense of the health and wellbeing of the people) and justify it by saying, "Hey, this is America. We're a free society." Yet clearly there are huge issues with the neoliberal economic policies that drive our country, even if there are benefits to a free market. What do you think about this?

I always come back to your powerful quote about freedom: "Imagine a society where everyone was both perfectly free and entirely accountable."

I think it was @lovejoy who was telling me recently about a Chinese saying that roughly translates to "the air of freedom." His friend lives in a major city and tells him that she can go anywhere at anytime of the day or night and feel perfectly safe. Here in the US, we "breathe the air of freedom" and have rampant crime and other social problems. I don't think China's way is better in general, but it does do a better job of holding people accountable for their actions.

I would love to see a truly free market in the US. Instead we have unfair monetary policy, corporate welfare and captured regulators constraining the actions of individuals and small businesses at every turn. What results is a heavily manipulated market, not a free one.

Despite our air of freedom, our society as a whole is likewise heavily manipulated rather than free. Maybe a more nuanced definition of freedom is called for. But I'm inclined to think that we all know what freedom means while the opportunities to truly exercise freedom have been systematically stolen from us by a control regime that keeps us too befuddled to even realize what we've lost.

Yeah they call it... 自由的空气 “Free Air”

Truly, the evolution of the society is our common interest but a lot of people are not working towards it even though we have technology and every other thing that can help us to achieve it

Most people may be oblivious but it only takes a few to move towards progress.

The world is really changing and moving at a fast pace. So fast

For sure. And things will probably keep moving faster as time goes on.