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Society and The State

Its real

Margaret Thatcher (long time PM of Britain, now deceased) was of the opinion that there is no such thing as a society; there is only individuals and families.
That's not the way it works; it's like saying there is no such thing as individuals there are only cells. Or there are only atoms or fields or whatever.

I want to present now is a simile; a society is like an organism. I don't want to get too fancy defining what an organism is; examples are bananas, diatoms, fruit flies, paramecia, blue whales and people. The range is pretty wide but a common thing we see is well we SEE them as things with capabilities and projects.

Rocks and mountains and the weather don't act like they have projects. The point I make with my simile is that we can see society as an organism in the same way.

That perspective is easiest to attain if we look outside our own. If we look at societies around the world and through history we see a wide variety of forms, like we see in biology. There are very many ways people can be organized into things that can be seen as societies but those ways all have things in common.

Each society has the same sort of problem that organisms do. It has to feed itself and maintain itself against competing interests. And each society has a variety of capabilities that it brings to bear on it's projects. That's what we see when we look at a society as a whole interacting with other societies.

If we examine an organism in enough detail to see how it actually functions we are confronted with a new aspect of the organism; there is a WAY it functions.

That is, it functions this way and not that way. It wouldn't be what it is unless it functions this way. The way an organism functions is not something other than the organism any more than the organisms capabilities and projects are.

Here's a second simile; The State is like the WAY an organism functions. The State is the WAY a society functions. From this perspective, as soon as there is a new society there is a new State.

We can be quite general about this. As soon as you have a distinguishable social group that group has a state. That is, the group has a way of creating the capabilities that it uses to undertake it's projects.

For example; remember the Occupy Movement from a while back? They had a very distinct way of functioning. Besides being the way a society functions. The State also reflects the state of affairs of the society at a moment.This perspective on The State distinguishes it from government.

Government is like a society's mind. Government is where perception of the environment happens and where decisions get made about how to deploy the functionality of The State. An important distinction between societies and organisms is that societies are composed of organisms that are themselves highly autonomous, self aware, and capable people. The society that people are embedded in has it's projects, but the people themselves have personal projects, or group projects, that subvert societies projects.

This makes for a certain tension.
For instance: It might be a project of society to preserve global fisheries to create a sustainable food supply.
It might be the project of fishermen to catch as many fish as they can to feed and educate their families.

When that sort of thing happens in organisms we call it disease. But in human society we have to expect it to be the norm. And, as might be expected, there are ways the society has to try to regulate fishing. That is: The State intervenes with everything from cops to social programs making opportunities for people that make fishing seem like a hardship.

There is no doubt at all that a State can be oppressive. We've seen many examples in history and in the present. We can see it in the logic of the situation too. If you want to fish and The State takes your boat away because you went over your quota you feel oppressed.

And, if the State takes your boat away and leaves you high and dry on the beach with no resources then the State has harmed you. And if the State starts acting against you because they know you are pissed and it anticipates trouble then you are fucked er oppressed.

But it doesn't have to be that way. The State could approach it's goal of a sustainable fishery for instance by just giving fishermen a lot of money not to fish.

And we can all see the outcome of that; some people would take that money and still fish. And the State would come and take their boats away and they'd be pissed off but would they be oppressed anymore than a debtor is oppressed when his car is repossessed?

Finishing up then; here are some take away ideas from this discussion.
-You can't have a society without a State. -There are many different ways of being a society and each way is a different State.
-The way a society functions is also influenced by the state of affairs it finds itself in.

That is, it's not only the way it works but it's also what work needs doing that determines the State. It's easy to see how a State can be oppressive. But it's easy to see that not all societies involve oppressive States.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.