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.