20 June 2008

Your World - A Social Construct

My inspiration to begin blogging traces back to two things: my outrage at George Bush’s policies and wanting a forum in which I played with my 4th Economy ideas. It seems as though, of all the things that interest me, this 4th Economy idea – my one big idea – is the one that provokes the least interaction and interest when I write about it.

Going over ideas of Werner Erhard’s about how our own personal narratives are constructs, I wonder if one of the obstacles to my explaining the 4th Economy don’t trace back to this still elusive notion of social constructs. Foundational to the ideas is the notion that even terribly large constructs – like Renaissance thinking or the modern, dominant pragmatist way of thinking – are themselves social constructs.

If one were to doubt the claim that any culture’s dominant world view is a social construct, one would only have to look at the inordinate amount of time and attention we give to “civilizing” a baby to become a member of society. The gross effort it takes to recreate our society in each child should be testament to the fact that any culture is not a "natural" or spontaneous state; it is, instead a social construct that takes great effort - every time. Language and manners, what we question and what we accept, social roles … all of these end products represent the myriad tasks of parents and teachers and are essentially tasks that work to construct a world view and assert the place of the individual in it.

Instead of being seen that way, we more often see social constructs as “the way things are,” rather than a choice that is carefully and painstakingly chosen and supported. Mothers in particular have to be aware of how tenuous is this social construct. The curious child, the rebellious child, the stubborn child, the lazy child (and really, which of our children are not all of these things at various stages of the day / week / childhood / adulthood?) all question the social construct in ways that don’t readily suggest easy answers.

It might be too much to expect parents and schools to add to their list of admonitions and lessons the label: “Warning: contents of this society have been known to create feelings of anomie and alienation, provoke wars, homicides, and suicides, and pollute the habitat you need for survival. Most of what we tell you should be questioned and improved on. This is, really, just the best we’ve been able to do up until now and it could be that improvement will actually overturn much of what we now accept and advocate. Learn about your culture and your place in it, but don’t cling too tightly to it.”

It does seem like a stretch to expect communities to see their culture as a social construct when, as Werner Erhard and others have seemed to prove, even accepting the notion that our own life, our own life's story is a construct is elusive, a notion we tend to resist. As long as we continue to believe that even our own lives just represent "what is" rather than a construct that we might change, it'll be hard to build a consensus that it is time to break out of the consensus trance. And to give you some idea about my own level of optimism, I actually think that this is a task we can do.

To quote from the bumper sticker, just sign me, "another dopeless hope fiend."


Jennifer H said...

You know, I've probably not thought about my influence as a parent in such a large way before.

I try to leave the possibilities for my children wide open, but we also stand waist-deep in socialization. It's hard to wade out of that, but I don't believe for a minute that it's impossible.

That warning label you describe may be too much to expect, but it shouldn't be too much to ask.

(And please tell me you're working on a book about all of this?)

Dave said...

I don't comment much on this part of your blog because I'm not competant to do so. I don't always agree with you; but, where I disagree, I find myself unsure.

The older I get, the more I find it a good idea to keep my mouth shut when I'm not sure of what is right.

exskindiver said...

So, as a mother and teacher, I agree that it is a lot of work to recreate the “social construct” in each child. But seriously, don’t you think that peer pressure alone is enough to prompt children to adopt whatever social construct is dominant? Nobody wants to be ostracized. Well, nobody, apparently, but a few people who wander around trying to engage people in conversations about the modern world as a social construct.

(I am so smart, it is sick)

Ron Davison said...

I have taken stabs at a book on all this, but only written a couple of thousand pages on it over the years. I'll have to work more to distill it to something bite sized.

I appreciate your honesty but still value your opinion. Ultimately, the story of Western Civilization ought not to be beyond the ken of someone like you.

That's a good point about peer pressure, one I hadn't really thought of. And actually, the notion that shutting up about the world as a social construct might mean that I won’t feel ostracized in large groups is one that gives me hope. Thank you.