Monday, 23 July 2012

Theories of Social Relations.
The debates about
social or selfish?
dependent or independent?
Gemeinschaft or gesellschaft?
Individual or group?
Individual freedom or social freedom?
continue to inform our theories of society.

There are many who want to emphasise their independence, often as an excuse to defend their selfish acts. The concept of Social freedom describes the ways in which we are all interdependent, and exercise our freedoms in relationships with others. Wecannot survive alone. Indeed it is impossible to be alone in any meaningful way.

It seems difficult  for individuals  in isolation [gemeinschaft ] or  in a state of  anarchy, to accept that  we carry the words, the ideas, images and relationships of others within our heads. Many individuals want to deny that we exist within a social matrix of relationships with others.  We may be lonely, but not alone. The conditions of society that are being described and criticized in this discourse are the by products of the mindsets and cultural filters that inform the behaviors of capitalist activities, and minimise the reality of our interdependence [gesellschaft ]  They are built upon the delusion of independence which assumes that individuals can be free to pursue their own freedom [anarchy]  and greed and aggrandizement, regardless of others, and  their impacts on others [after Tonnies]. Such assumptions have to be challenged. And are being challenged on several fronts.
Bourdieu (1998) argued for the need to analyse the work of  the 'new intellectuals', the doxosophers, whom he blamed for creating a climate favourable to the withdrawal of the state and to the dominance of the values of the economy.

‘I'm thinking of what has been called the 'return of individualism', a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy which tends to destroy the philosophical foundations of the welfare state and in particular the notion of collective responsibility.
Diane Swanbrow returns us to the issue of the selfish and the altruistic, exploring a new theory that selfish genes make humans selfless. She reports that humans are altruistic by nature, according to a new theory published in the issue of Psychological Inquiry [2006].  The theory focuses on explaining the kind of altruistic behavior that involves costly long-term investment in others, such as parenting, caring for the sick or injured, and protecting family and
comrades in times of conflict or war. This behavior typically entails considerable sacrifice of time, effort, health, and even life itself. Considering the self-centered motives  that continue to drive human behavior today, it's worth considering why people make these kinds of sacrifices, says U-M psychologist Stephanie L. Brown, who developed the new theory in collaboration with her father, Michael Brown, a psychology professor at Pacific Lutheran University.
Brown and Brown argue that the social bond - the glue of close interpersonal relationships- gesellschaft -  evolved to discount the risks of engaging in high-cost altruism. They propose that social bonds override self-interest and motivate costly investment in others. The formation of social bonds must have occurred mainly between individuals who were dependent upon one another for reproductive success, or whose evolutionary fates were linked. This linkage would have provided givers with a genetic safety net, making them resistant to exploitation, says Brown, [] a faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research [] affiliated with the ISR Evolution and Human Adaptation Program.
Effectively, this selective investment theory presents a striking alternative to traditional self-interest theories of close relationships that tend to emphasize what individuals get from others, not what they give.
Viewed through the lens of selective investment theory, Brown says, the fabric of close relationships appears different. Sacrifice becomes a characteristic feature of healthy, enduring relationships rather than aberrant, inexplicable, or diagnostic of pathology.
What makes selective investment theory distinctive is its focus on high-cost altruism, but also its premise that selfish genes ultimately are responsible for selfless, other-directed behavior. Selfish genes can produce selfless humans, says Brown, explaining that high-cost altruism helped insure the survival, growth and reproduction of increasingly interdependent members of  groups.
Viewed in this way, the spread of altruism in humans is no surprise, she says.  In support of their theory, Brown and Brown cite evidence from a wide range of fields, including neuroendocrinology, ethology  and behavioral ecology, and relationship science. The same hormones that underlie social bonds and affiliation, such as oxytocin, also stimulate giving behavior under conditions of interdependence.
The Browns say their theory has important implications for relationship science. We do not deny that close relationships involve selfish motivation, says Stephanie Brown, but the picture may be more complex. If social bonds evolved to support altruism then we may need to re-think the way we view human sociality. Models of psychological hedonism and rational self-interest may need to be expanded in order to describe our behaviors in families, at work
and even on the national stage. [] Ann Arbor, MI 48109 USA 1-734-764-1817.
Can we reconcile the models of hedonism and self-interest [gemeinschaft] with those of social bonds and interdependence [gesellschaft] ? All the evidence of our personal lives as children, and as adults; as pupils, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, family, workers, employers, and so on, indicate that we exist within various social networks, providing mutual support. However, despite these facts of dependence and interdependence, many individuals disregard this evidence, and construct personal visions in which they are free to do as they please, and exploit others for their own aggrandisement. It is worth reminding ourselves that we live in capitalist societies where the few control the actions of the many. 1230 individuals control global resources and enterprises by controlling many trillions of dollars. While up to 7 billion live in relative poverty unable to develop cooperative, social enterprises.

The concept of Social Freedom is offered as an alternative to hedonism, self-interest, and individualism. Social Freedom involves an epistemology of social interaction, dependence and interdependence. It is not communist  in the modern sense, according to which each person is subject to the dictates of the leaders of the commune, or the political party. Nor is it communitarian whereby individuals  do as the community demands. Nor is it to be regarded as any type of nationalism, which claimed to develop social freedom as exclusive, fascist and racist, fostering the freedoms of the national society.
Our Social Freedom recognizes the actions of individuals by drawing attention to the social networks in which they are enacted. It means that we become free by learning and interacting with others. We cannot be free as one, only as many. This means that we have to develop a philosophy and a morality that sees others as significant, not just figments of our imaginations or as lesser people. We act and interact together. What we do, we learn from others; and we tke notice of our impact upon others. Once we accept our social interdependence, we can work together to secure the freedom of all. The notion of individual freedom is a delusion. An individual human cannot exist, nor survive, nor thrive, alone. Whether we recognize it or not, our social interdependence is a social fact. Our social lives are a continuum in which the actions of all affect all. So there is a moral responsibility for the one, and the many, to realize their  interdependence. Ignoring our interdependence has drastic consequences particularly on the environment. The notion of individual independence has strong impacts upon us all. For example, Conservationists assert that if we continue to seek our individual gratification by consuming all the products and all the resources of the world, then there will be no sustainable future for our children.
The nature of our interdependence is such that the greed of some brings about the hunger of others. In order to secure the happiness of all we must act in consideration of all others. Humans are responsible for all the damage and destruction perpetrated by  inequality and exploitation. They are responsible for conservation and renewal; and have to accept that this world is the only home...not a temporary stop on the way to heaven. All people are responsible for each other, and need to care and share; not disregard and destroy others because they have different beliefs; or look  different; or speak different languages. It is necessary to adopt a different mind set, and  use other cultural filters

Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, and his walk to
freedom in February 1990, and the final collapse of Boer
apartheid in South Africa, emphasized the truth of the ancient
Bantu adage: numuntu ngumuntu ngabantu; (we are people through other people).And he saw the inevitability of mutual interdependence in the human condition: that  the common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide.  
If we consider humans as problem solving, tool using animals that live in communities, then the dilemmas set by environmental issues, poverty, capitalism, globalisation, and others are another set of problems that may only be solved by social action based on our interdependence, and recognition of the need to gain social freedom through this social interaction. Kofi Annan, in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Prize states that:
We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire.  
If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see
further, we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make
no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new insecurity has
entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A deeper awareness
of the bonds that bind us all in pain as in prosperity has gripped young
and old.’  Researches into environmental changes have indicated that some actions have global impacts. The use of certain chemicals; the widespread use of coal and lignite; the combustion of oil products; the discharge of sewage into the sea, and  lakes; have catastrophic effects upon the atmosphere and the lithosphere of the earth. Environmental studies, and the development of ecology, have revealed that the actions of humans in one part of the world impact directly upon those in other parts. We can no longer pretend that what we do locally has no impact globally. Ecology has indicated that we are all embroiled in environmental networks, and that we have to think of all humans as part of our global societies, and as active elements in the environment.
Social Ecology leads us to see that we are a global community, able to act and think locally and globally. . The fallacy of individualism leads me to give value only to myself!
Once I see that I am socially interdependent with everyone, and that I gain any freedoms in unison with others, then I can see the moral imperative to care and share for others. I must look after my 'sisters and brothers'. Once I give everybody else 'value' and recognise that they are 'worthy', then I must look after them. I do not need any belief in a 'god' to give me the authority to care for others: only to believe in the value and worth of all others and to gain our social freedom.
For references, go to     Discourse: A Social Ecology

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