Human society is a fickle thing. On the one hand there is the individual’s want to do what they please as they please to do it. On the other is an irrational fear of the unknown and the inability to control external events that occur around us. The conflict between the two drives the need for socialization and the development of community. In theory, two people can split the paranoia of worrying about what may be lurking around the next corner easier than one person. By extension, groups of people can share the burden better than two people.  

In polite company of course we don’t call this a shared paranoia but rather the development of a social construction of reality. In small groups, informal relationships of who does what can quite often be well managed through a tacit understanding of each person’s station within the social construct. For much larger groups however we have the idea of laws, charters, governments, and other more formal bureaucratic structures which serve to codify the myriad of ways in which our shared paranoia may potentially manifest itself.

For example

  • Smoking marijuana is bad but cigarettes are ok
  • Drinking liquor is okay but drinking too much is bad
  • Open book exams are okay but bringing notes to an exam may get you expelled
  • Killing an individual is a criminal act but killing thousands is good politics
  • Giving $100 to Haiti relief is good but helping the out of work person on the local street corner we turn a blind eye to

There are thousands of inconsistencies in the way in which we look at the world based on our assumptions of how we perceive the division of labour. When our precepts in terms of this division is challenged there is a tendency to look upon the situation and being uncontrolled or in a state of anarchy which needs to be righted. More to the point, the anarchy that is felt is one of internal loss of control. If I am focused on Haiti relief then I am not focused on the 1001 other tasks that I need to do as part of my daily routine.  So we give our $100 or $200 or $50 to the Red Cross and sit back to say “my work here is done” so long as the implications of the event doesn’t happen in our own backyard.

The drug trade is unregulated so it scares us. Dealing with problem drinkers is something we turn over to courts and police rather than taking personal responsibility for. We penalize those who are good at finding and manipulating information rather than memorizing it even though both skill sets are equally valid in the application of knowledge. Political leaders of wars are rarely held to account unless you are on the losing side.

All social regulation, whether it be informal social morals or government bureaucracy, is about controlled anarchy rather than controlling anarchy. It is about the removal of the burden of social paranoias through an agreed upon division of labour which provides for a social construction of reality that holds for tomorrow the way it holds today.  The development of tacit social knowledge however has it boundaries which is where the explicit codification of laws, policies, and regulations come into play.

There are two inevitable extremes however that seem to create a destabilizing effect within a society. The first is when government bureaucracy goes beyond the requirements of stabilizing the security of the state and over regulates the society.  The second is when individuals develops an expectation of entitlement to excessive divestment of personal responsibility and accountability as being part of that society.

Both appear to lead to counter-productive purposes. The problem is one of resolving root believes which are fundamental to a functioning society. The Plan Canada for example provide opportunities for people to become a ‘foster parent’ of a child overseas who does not have access to the same quality of basic education, domicile, and sanitation as we have here in Canada. At the same time there are thousands of children living below the poverty line in Canada. How do we justify this? Should we not look after our own first? If we try are we really solving the problem or setting up false expectation?

See the problem? – The root beliefs we each carry establish a justification for what decisions we make on the margin of what we understood to be moral and ethical at the time the decision was made. But you can always find counter-arguments that not only invalidate the decision but will make people very uncomfortable in how they reconcile those decisions in the first place.

I raise this as an example not to point at a single inconsistency but rather as an exemplar of an entire class of moral dilemmas. Excessive government regulation and divestment of personal responsibilities are critical aspects that must be taken into account of a properly functioning society because of the escalating creation of challenges to a society’s justified true beliefs. In other words, once we have crossed a line of over regulation each new piece of legislation, regulation, or policy simply increases the number of core beliefs which are subject to be challenged.

As with any form of communications network, the growth of these points are exponential, not linear, as you add new points to the network. To further complicate things, since personal divestment and bureaucratic regulation are mutually reinforcing, the tendency for a society to reach a breaking point is almost a certainty. The questions therefore become, at what point does the re-organization of the political institutions governing such regulation become inevitable, how do we recognize the signs of the societal collapse before it happens, and is there any way to bring a society back from the brink even if we do recognize the signs?

I would suggest that we may be seeing the initial stages of this happening in various countries around the world. Of course that just may be a sign of my own paranoia of what the near-term future may hold within western culture. The thing about trying to predict the future is that the one person who is right will never be known until after the final cards are dealt. In the case of over regulation of personal liberties and a discussion of where personal accountability lies in the grander scheme of a well functioning society, these are issues which quite often go understated when new restrictions on social development are being considered. So right or wrong, I feel without this discussion occurring we are not doing justice to any new codification of how to control basic anarchistic tendencies within a society.

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