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Month: September 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

Creating a Peaceful International World

A defining characteristic of human behavior is that we organize ourselves into groups. These groups enable us to function effectively as collections of individuals. Individuals are self-interested; they behave in a way that benefits them and seek out things that will help them. However, one individual’s interests and behaviors can compete, and indeed oppose, the behaviors and interests of another.  As a result of their pursuit for their interest individuals can thus come into conflict with other individuals. The groups we create, however, function as regulators – they provide customs and laws which inhibit what the individuals within it can do. Furthermore, these groups condition the individuals within them to operate in a certain way through customs and norms, which dictate what behaviors are accepted and taboo. By doing so, they limit the extent to which individuals can seek out and achieve their interest. This has the effect of limiting the conflict that arises in the group. Furthermore, by organizing individuals into a collective, groups can enable them to collectively pool their resources to better obtain similar interests and cooperatively resolve differences in interests.

The societies of individual states often operate in this manner. Think about your own community and your own society. Laws produced by the governing institutions of that society regulate your behaviors, and the enforcement of those laws ensures that those laws are followed. Though enforcement is not always capable of stopping some behaviors, they limit them enough that those behaviors do not negatively impact the society to a great degree. Cultural values and norms within your community also shape your behaviors – for example, in what you think, who you interact with and how.

Like how individuals are restricted in their actions by laws produced and enforced by their society, states in the international system can also be restricted in their actions by laws produced and enforced by the international community. Like how individuals generally engage in specific behaviors defined by the customs and norms of their society, states can also be conditioned to engage in certain behaviors defined by the customs and norms of the international system. Eventually, like how individuals can form a peaceful and cooperative society when governed by laws, customs, and organization, the states of the international system can interact in a cooperative and peaceful manner.

How would this be accomplished? States are collections of individuals; they represent the collective interest of the people living within their society. As such, they operate in a manner like individuals do. A common assumption about international relations is that states act in self-interested ways. They engage in behaviors that will further their interest, and will seek out resources to assist in their behaviors. However, there is presently no agency capable of limiting what the states may or may not do. As such, states still come into conflict. The creation of a regulating agency, which produces and enforces laws, would be able to constrain states in their actions. There presently exists an agency which produces laws for the international community, the United Nations, but it does not possess the means to enforce those laws so that the behaviors they regulate do not harm the international system. The ways in which the United Nations could develop a way to enforce laws are numerous, and many are fraught with issues and difficulty. However, once a regulating and enforcing agency comes into being that oversees the international community, it can be expected that the states in the community will temper their behaviors like how individuals in society do.

The development of international norms and customs is something that already exists within individual societies. By developing norms of behavior and taboo behaviors, states within the international community would also be constrained in their behaviors to maintain their legitimacy and credibility. Just as how an individual in society is ostracized for breaking social norms, so too would a state in the international community be ostracized for breaking international norms. The development of norms of behavior is a gradual process, but by virtue of the fact that interaction between states occurs regularly, these norms are constantly being produced. Over time, certain behaviors will be so recurrent that they will be expected of every state in the international system. This has occurred since the beginning of civilization, and the development of a global international community and increasing international interdependent will only expand the production of these norms.

If norms are created in the international system that taboo certain negative behaviors and condone certain cooperative behaviors, the states in the system would behave in an increasingly cooperative manner. Eventually, norms could develop that expect states to follow the international laws and regulations put into place by an overseeing agency, just like how society’s norms expect us to follow the laws of our government. When this occurs, states would be less likely to break the laws that were designed to govern the system, and if they do they would be ostracized by other states in the community. Because states collectively make up the entirety of the system, it would rely upon them to enforce those laws. Yet if norms exist that allow states to coercively enforce laws on states that break them, a precedent would further be set not to break them. In this manner, a system of enforced regulation and regulation by norms and taboos would limit the behavior of states enough that they are forced to behave cooperatively and peacefully like how individuals in a society do.

Developing norms of cooperative behavior and creating a system to enforce international law has the potential to drastically change the anarchical nature of the international system and, doing so, produce a peace and cooperative international community. Of course, there is still much to be done. Slowly, the norms produced by the system will constrain state behavior, and it is possible that a mechanism to enforce law will come to fruition. Until then, unfortunately, conflict will likely continue to be a reality plaguing humanity.

Introspection # 29: “On Society”

Human society is integral to the human experience and the function of human civilization. Society is a construct – though it is not a tangible thing, it can accurately describe the norms, behaviors, and functions of a certain population of humans in a specific area. Though every human is an individual and thus holds an individualistic perception of reality and their own worldview and values, these contribute to the characteristics of the society they live within and are in turn shaped by that society. Each human is a part of society, has a position in that society, and serves a function for that society. Society can then be considered the collective behaviors and perceptions of a population. It is the sum of all of their interactions, behaviors, and beliefs.

Because of this, the way society is set up and its characteristics are of vital importance for understanding how humans live, perceive, and behave. Every human is born into a society, and are often raised in that society as well. There is now no opportunity for a human to be raised outside of a society. Because there is a certain set of cultural norms and values within a society, a human born into a specific one will be conditioned to accept and behave under those norms and values. Furthermore, as there is a defined way that humans behave in a society through that society’s systems and social structures, humans born into that society are constrained to the limits of that society. They are forced to operate within the systems of that society, but accept it because those systems are valued by the society’s cultural norms and they are conditioned to accept those norms. This nature of society thus determines how humans are controlled. Instead of operating without restriction, humans are constrained to the values and systems of their society. Of course, societies come with varying levels of restrictions on human freedoms and liberties, but invariably they all in one way define and determine the limitations on human behavior. As such, determining and defining the norms and systems of a society can be enormously powerful when attempting to control a human population, determine its values, and shape the way they perceive and thus approach the world.

Of course, the nature of society is constantly evolving and shifting, making it impossible to firmly set societal standards. Society’s cultural norms are continually being redefined to match the circumstances of new times. This evolution of a society is the product of the interactions of all humans living within that society – their collective values, behaviors, perceptions, and predispositions define the values, perceptions, and norms of their society. These are produced through the sharing and disseminating of certain values, behaviors, perceptions, and predispositions held by individual humans throughout the human population. This sharing comes in the form of communication, action, education, and the myriad other human interactions. Those values, behaviors, perceptions, and predispositions which become most common in the population through these interactions begin to define the norms of society. In this process, society comes into being, and through the gradual evolutionary changes in these values, behaviors, and perceptions the norms of society evolve as well.

However, the way humans interact and what they are exposed to in those interactions can be defined and manipulated through some sort of power. By exposing humans to certain values and beliefs, or by suppressing what they are capable of sharing, certain beliefs can be amplified or limited. As beliefs which are amplified become more mainstream, they become integral to a society and thus come to be a defining part of it. Alternatively, beliefs that are suppressed become less mainstream, and do not becoming a defining part of a society. Indeed, if these beliefs are persecuted, they might define what is against societal norms. In these ways, the direction in which a society evolves, and thus the way the humans of that society will behave and what they will believe, can be controlled and steered. This has enormous implications for those who wish to control and shape human behaviors and for the way states organize, mobilize, and define their populations.

How can human interactions, which contribute to the shaping and changing of society, be controlled? History has demonstrated a number of means. Beliefs can be suppressed through the persecution of them, as has been seen in the Soviet Union’s political purges under Stalin. They can be made taboo by cultural leaders, such as the Papacy’s religious decrees on certain religious and cultural issues which carried a ‘divine legitimacy’ and defined behaviors, or political systems, such as the American government prohibiting alcohol through prohibition legislation which partly contributed to a temperate society. Of course trying to limit behaviors and the sharing of those behaviors has varying degrees of effectiveness and may not be able to shape society, but the opportunity exists nonetheless. Alternatively, certain behaviors and values can be amplified to lead to their mainstream acceptance and the shaping of a new society. This can be done through mass messaging, be it through political messages and rallies such as Hitler’s ideological messages to the German masses, or through advertisement and consumerism, as the modern capitalist world is beginning to do to shape purchasing preferences. Certain perceptions and values can be rewarded to make them more mainstream and accepted, like the Nazi and Soviet states’ widespread party membership and positive reinforcement of the values that came with it. Through these means certain values and behaviors can be reinforced in a human population until the societies they live in reflect those values.

The issue with this targeted shaping of society is who has the means to do it. Very often, the means to reinforce values and behaviors or suppress them resides with those who possess power, be it economic, military, or authoritative, in that society. They are the ones with the capacity to reach the entirety of a society’s population, needed to define the mainstream values of that society. They are equally the only ones with the capacity to effectively suppress values and beliefs to the degree that they are so far in the minority that they make no impact on the evolutionary direction of society. As those who are most suited to manipulate society in this way are the ones who are often also in control of that society, they are therefore capable of exploiting society to meet their own goals for expanded power. By shaping values and positive perceptions that reinforce their own rule or the system in which they rule, they can make a population less capable of rebelling against them. Alternatively, by creating certain perceptions and values, they can mobilize society towards some goal. It is in this way that the Nazi regime was capable of producing a society that supported it and a society so willing to tolerate, and indeed participate, in organized intolerance and mass murder (which also buoyed the Nazi regime). Even outside the realm of political authority, those with the means to define beliefs and values can manipulate society to benefit themselves. For example, corporations have produced a society of consumerism which propagates and even fuels the growth of these corporations and the continued evolution of an ever-more consumerist society.

Society defines people’s thoughts, values, beliefs, and perceptions. It thus also shapes people’s behaviors and actions. Society is constantly evolving through the sharing and interaction of these values, beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions. The way society evolves, however, can be controlled and manipulated through the amplification of certain values and beliefs or through their suppression. Those with the means to do this amplification and suppression manipulate society to support and amplify their own power. This, in turn, only expands the power they already possess. In this way, the people who have long been the target of this amplification and suppression of values, the masses, have always been left with minimal control of their society, and in turn have continually been devoid of power. Until the means in which society evolves is changed, or the ability to manipulate that evolution is removed, this will likely remain the case. After all, building a society which grants power to the masses is something that those who manipulate the evolution of society, and who currently posses that power, would never want.

Introspection # 28: “Explorers Still”

Our species is, by its nature, an inquisitive one. In order to bring about the world in which we currently live, the humans of the past sought out new knowledge, strove for innovation, and doing so developed the technologies, thought, and circumstances of our present time. This search for expanded understanding and further progress continues to drive our development. In this regard, we are now living in an era of extreme possibility: in so many fields, we are beginning to more rapidly and definitely understand our world. The humans of the past were explorers, and we are explorers still.

stone-ageThis quest for knowledge can be traced back to our species early beginnings. Spreading out of the African savannas and jungles which originally housed us, we quested for new lands and new resources. Whether this was driven by curiosity alone or by pressures for survival, the simple act of wondering what lay beyond the horizon became one of our characteristics. Our powerful intellect allowed us to develop increasingly sophisticated tools, but in order to utilize this intellect we needed to possess an equally vibrant curiosity.

Throughout the development of our civilization, our quest for knowledge was driven largely in part by political goals: discover new trade routes, develop new technologies to benefit the nation, push the boundaries of knowledge and possibility for the benefit of prestige. Regardless of what the ulterior goals and motives for these quests for knowledge may have Voyage-to-Virginiabeen, they fueled the innovation and discovery which has spread our species across the globe, into space, and provided it the technologies and knowledge of the modern world. Be it the expeditions to the ‘New World’, the ‘Space Race’, the development of the internet or the exploration of the Pyramids, we have been explorers of knowledge, no matter what the motive.

Now we live in a time of incredible possibility. Our technology enables us to further unlock the secrets of our universe, and future developments will likely benefit us further. With the coming age of exploration, colonization, and development in space, we will be able to explore the final frontier. In many ways, it is the apex of the human pushing of possibility, and will be one of our final realms of discovery. Though scientific theories, by their nature, are continually developing, refining, and reforming, we have come to develop a body of knowledge that can accurately predict and explain the ways our universe works to a large degree. No longer are we trying to only explain the practical; now, our search for knowledge has pushed into the metaphysical and the theoretical. We have mapped the human body, searched and mapped our planet, constructed timelines of our history and our universe, and even begun to probe the planets of our solar system. This is a time of discovery in which knowledge is being unlocked and accumulated to a greater extent than ever before. We are explorers still, in a time of incredible discovery.

What will the future hold? It is, to us in the present, unknown. Yet we can be assured that, whatever may come to pass, the humans of the future will be explorers still. We have come to our present circumstances by virtue of the fact that the humans of the past quested for knowledge, and we today continue that quest. The humans of the future will Ap4-s67-50531inherit a world with wide understandings and enormous possibilities. Yet the quest for knowledge will never end. In some ways, a true understanding of our universe’s nature is beyond human comprehension. The vastness of outer space limits our possibility to discover, examine, and categorize everything within it. There will always be new theories, and the process of proving or disproving those theories are quests for knowledge in themselves. So long as humans have a curiosity, which is something innate in our species, we will be explorers still.

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