Society and how it works

Society, we are told, is “a group of individuals engaged in persistent social behavior” In the words “persistent social behavior” lies a universe of truths that hides (and explains) the things you want to know about marketing, branding, identity, pro-social behavior and how we form and shape the better world we all want to live in.

Forming societies, of course, is not unique to us, human animals. Even amoebas form them and the reasons, at least at first, are for largely similar reasons and share a common goal: survival.

This simple, common goal leads to complex behaviors and interactions such as kin selection and Hamilton’s Rule which predicts the arc of social evolution when a society increases in numbers and goes as far as to show why altruism occurs. An activity whose complexity has yet to be unraveled to a satisfactory degree.

Our anonymous, massive societies are part of a basic drive we all experience. Making those societies work however requires us to actively choose to engage in pro-social behavior. Pro-social behavior is necessarily complex which means it requires choice and effort and that raises its value.

That means that such behavior has to arise from the individual which requires a degree of motivation that demands some kind of understanding. Everything we do, every norm we establish, stems from the same primary, core causes: emotions, neurobiological responses and self-centered motives.

This brings up a fascinating issue. The more we rely on technology to solve our problems the fewer soft skills we possess to help us deal with unexpected events. English University lecturer, Margaret Heffernan, argues just that in her TED Talk. American historian and anthropologist, Jared Diamond makes this even more interesting by examining not why societies work but why they fail and his five-point checklist provide food for some really deep thought.

Being able to spot and understand patterns and employ specific attributes to either counter them (if they are against us) or take advantage of them (when they benefit us) requires a specific, structured way of thinking and behaving.

The key, of course, lies in the latter. Behavior supplies the data out of which arises culture. Context is supplied by our needs which then change the nature of data by affecting the way we interpret it. Culture may be bookended by data and context but it is the connecting link that supplies the feedback loop that changes everything. As people we change only when we sense we have to. We can only sense we have to if we can see the effect our actions, and the actions of others, truly have. For that we have to both look and see.

So, coffee then. Right? And donuts. Some croissants, cookies, ice-cream and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday fellow humans, wherever you are.

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