Monday 1 September 2008

The fate of society

What determines the path of a society can be analysed under the auspices of a general formality. It starts with a prerequisite: being able to sustain one's presence.

The effort required to pursue the challenges of the moment needs a commensurate supply of resources. That can be transferred from one scale to another, provided we keep referring to principles.

For example, if a society decides to go urban the inherent activities must produce a sufficient amount of skills, materials and finance to support cities. Moving to the lower end of the scale, the cognitive dynamics can be analysed in a similar light.

The mental picture that represents an urban lifestyle requires a level of comprehension sufficient to address the administrative and organisational issues that relate to a relatively complex environment - and that includes an adequate degree of foresight.

Since most societies are hardly an island, interactions with the outside generates a flow of information whose contents are not necessarily in synch with the recipient. How the differences are dealt with depends on the overall quality of understanding on either side. The result becomes a function of the interacting dynamics at whatever level of efficacy.

That brief summary already hints at the contingencies needed for a well-functioning human activity system at any scale. On an individual level ideas make for potential options but need their host's situatedness in the real to turn them into effective outcomes. Groups may have ideals too, but unless the former are able to organise themselves so they will shape their environment in a realisable manner, those ideals will come to nothing. Worse still, they force their bearers into scenarios that are not sustainable and may well prove the group's downfall.

Societies at large follow the calls of their culture, but somewhere along the way their environment (geography, resources and other humans) needs to come to the party.

No path through history is ever a smooth one. Discrepancies between the inner imagery and the real impose qualifications often diametrically opposite to an intent. What overcomes such adversities is the vigour of a people and the ability to adjust one's imagination to what is.

The vigour comes from the will to look, and the readiness to adjust comes from the capacity to see.

Even a cursory glance around the world will show the extent to which either is manifest.

Ideology, that mental straightjacket par excellence, projects its own chimera onto the psyche of a people. Sometimes the spectres happen to be in line with reality, often they interfere with its dynamics. Submission to ideology's tenets impoverishes the will and makes for brittle sycophancy.

But reality, reality could not care less.

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