I hear it all the time in one form or another: “Society made me do it!”

My father, a judge, regularly regales me with tales from the courtroom. Some of this stuff would make your ears burn—and everybody’s got an excuse:

“I drove drunk because I got laid off and the economy is tough.”

“I kidnapped that little girl because my mother wasn’t nice to me.”

“I ran across the football field naked because my frat brothers said I had to for initiation.”

Dad doesn’t have much sympathy for that stuff. But society does indeed hold quite a bit of sway over us.

Don’t Mess With Science 

I’m finding out the hard way that going against the grain of prevailing ideas on truth and reality doesn’t make one very popular.

I’ve written a few blogs critiquing society’s stance on science. (Here’s one on neuroscience and on about the failures of the social sciences.) And they are not generally well-received, which comes as no great surprise.

Our culture is quite convinced that chemistry, physics and biology hold the keys to all truth: God can be found in a particle, humanity is chemico-electric signals in the brain, technology will save us all from poverty and injustice.

Imagine, for example, being a diligent climate scientist. Perhaps you discover some piece of evidence that suggests we’re not necessarily barreling toward a weather apocalypse—or, if we are, it’s got nothing to do with human activity.

I’m not saying one way or the other that this is the case, just putting a fun little “what-if” out there. What sort of response could you expect from trying to publish your findings? Complete and total marginalization, ostracism, loss of funding, etc. You might lose your job or be aligned without your consent with some right-wing political institution.

Let’s Talk Dollars and Sense

Ron Paul. Love him or hate him, Texas Senator Ron Paul offered the most consistent social philosophy of any politician in recent U.S. history. A staunch libertarian, Paul looked at common sense economics through the eyes of Ludwig von Mises, saw government as necessary but also a highly destructive force if unchecked, and he thought that people should generally be allowed to go about their lives however they chose as long as it didn’t infringe upon anyone else.

Despite a groundswell of grassroots support, Paul was consistently marginalized by the media and even by the elites in his own party. Why? Well, this is highly disputed, but my view is that the American public and was not prepared to accept responsibility for the mess it had gotten itself into and Americans—both Republican and Democrat—were still hanging on to the idea that some politician would swoop in and clean it all up for them.

Ron Paul wasn’t going to promise that. He saw government and politicians as a huge part of the problem.

Furthermore, the political establishment was not willing to concede any power—which would have been inevitable under Paul’s leadership.

He was a lone salmon swimming up a swift stream with bears lining its banks.

You and Society

You are a creative individual, there’s no doubt about that. But all of that energy, your identity and everything you want in life must happen within a social context. There’s no avoiding it. You are unbridled in what you can think and feel. But when you bring your thoughts, ideas, feelings and aspirations out into the world, there will be constraints. To offer a bit of prose straight from THEE’s Personal Endeavor framework:

“I and my endeavor are in a social setting, in certain close relationships, in a physical environment, part of a culture, at a moment in history.”

In a sense, you’ve got two options knowing that: 1) Swim with the current, go with what works and what’s accepted or 2) Throw caution to the wind and brave the inevitable storm of social resistance.

Either way, it certainly helps to be aware of yourself and your positioning within your particular social context. That brings us back to the opening lines of this blog. All of the people that have found themselves in my father’s courtroom were aware that their actions would not be well received in society. They knew and they will be held responsible.

This doesn’t mean you’ve got to be some sort of lemming. Just know what you’re getting yourself into.

Tom’s Cry to be Understood 

I don’t try to be controversial in these blogs—but society would be one scary place without a word of dissent here and there. And please, let’s not go thinking that I’m all anti-science. Accepting the validity of science was a major leap for civilization. Besides that, it’s done us all wonders with medicine and technology and, all in all, offered huge strides into understanding our universe. I am often in awe.

Nor am I some sort of political revolutionary. I’m just pointing out the natural consequences of our particular brand of plutocratic pluralism, brought on by our current handling of our values. In many ways, western society is a beautiful construct that we and our predecessors have bravely fought and died for. So indulge me, readers.

There’s always room for improvement.

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