A social policy essay, from my grad school days...originally, April 1, 2013, by Pialee Roy.
The modes of knowledge acquisition may be driven by needs for progress towards equity at the individual or larger societal level. The motivation for this process may be self-driven or imposed by assumptions or typical norms set by a society’s administrative system intended to either control or guide its members (or members of other societies) through its rules and laws. This paper will review themes in the process of knowledge acquisition of the individual and in an advanced (technological) society which then results in administrative systems that are viewed as oppressive or that provide for health and welfare as its priority. In societies where development of character is more of a priority, technical knowledge acquisition may be irrelevant. The observer and observed are distinguished as different acting forces in this inquiry and may have an affirmative or skeptical outlook which either fosters enlightenment of the individual through awareness, self-control or dynamic change resulting in social progress. Alternatively, ignorance, unresolved dilemma, or lack of contextual match to society’s needs from its systemic supports results in chaos in a larger socio-ecological web. Perspective is emphasized by many of the theorists attempting to understand behavior of people and how decision making for progress occurs according to qualifications of the individual’s standing and character as rationale, reasonable, along with his/her degree of enlightenment and consciousness. This paper will review psychoanalytic, positivist, critical, and post-modern theories which offer models for understanding and changing behavior. The theories emphasize a combination of individual nature or environmental nurture variables as predictors of people’s behavior and societal interactions. Social theories, models, and methodological approaches are explored or revised for this purpose where scientific inquiry alone has limitations. Different world perspectives within the environmental context are relevant to consider in this understanding of individual and societal behavior as cultural systems and their history are diverse and unique.
Origins of Knowledge Acquisition and Who is Considered an Expert:
Methodology for gaining insight, information, and change.
In order to meet basic needs, individuals are naturally driven towards more complex interactions with other members of society across their lifespan. Self-awareness (whether one believes this stems from progression of Creation theory or Evolution theory) distinguishes human from animal implying higher advanced consciousness capable of complex ordered thinking and interactions. Achieving inter-dependence and a balance of active or passive participation in society then becomes part of daily life activities. Increasingly complex hierarchical systems of interaction acknowledge the community and its organizations as including family, the village/city, workshops, temple, court, etc. Society then responds to personal troubles and larger social issues through these systems such as family, religion, or organized government entities (Mumford, p. 424). The drive within the capitalistic economic marketplace is knowledge acquisition of scientific techniques that strives for optimum production and trade of goods and services as the ultimate goal for human life (Bernal, p.408). However, the human condition if only considered an advanced machine, becomes a secondary priority as a result, if health and welfare is not given equal value which ultimately leads to the breakdown of production of goods and services anyways. Marx’s dialectical materialism begins to identify emotionally detached goals for society in production alone. “We have here the beginning of a rational study of development as such, but it is one in which it is no longer possible rigidly to separate the observer from the observed,” (Bernal,p.413). Marx ignored personality and the basic needs of the human condition by overemphasis of economic organization of society and the role of production and technology alone (Mumford, p.424).
Mumford (p.433) emphasizes the power of the human spirit and advanced consciousness having the ability to transcend the human condition as a machine: “Nothing could be more damaging to the myth of the machine, and to the dehumanized social order it has brought into existence, than a steady withdrawal of interest, a slowing down of tempo, a stoppage of senseless routines and mindless acts.” In order to achieve emancipation from oppressive behavior and individuals can begin by returning to an internal locus of control through spiritual consciousness. Habermas (p.256, 262) explains that dogmatism as opposed to idealism is external prejudiced behavior and opinions pushed upon others and the free mind defined as reason guided by experience, can only confront this problem. The free mind needs to think independently from other opinions but years of impressions are challenging to self-interpret and transcend. Outwardly clearly defining both personal problems or societal issues from his or her perspective (to change from a passive to active participant in the order of events that impacts his/her welfare) is necessary. As Goffman states (1959) “ …it will be in his interests to control the conduct of the others, especially their responsive treatment of him. This control is achieved largely by influencing the definition of the situation which the others come to formulate, and he can influence this definition by expressing himself in such a way as to give them the kind of impression that will lead the to act voluntarily in accordance with his own plan.”
Human goals beyond the advancement of scientific techniques and information include emphasis of character and culture to transcend material needs and goals to achieve social needs that also improve quality of life. “It is only recently that we have been able to separate in our minds the development of capitalist enterprise from that of science and the general liberation of human thought,” (Bernal, p.409). However, science and social inquiry together amidst economic (ex. capitalistic) and political (ex. democratic) forces purposefully in mutual goal-oriented ways can bring about social change. Negative forces can potentially drive science away from free inquiry and social advance therefore old systems need to be updated to fit with the evolving cultural context. Unplanned novel discoveries can occur outside the scientific method and quantitative measures of reliability. This flexibility of assimilation, acculturation, and discerning acceptance is needed to extend scientific thought to social problems incorporating qualitative feedback.
Individuals confront a conscious and unconscious resolve of basic needs through physiological drives and conclude what is acceptable behavior or not. Without resolve or control of self, at the collective level, chaos may result from uncontrolled behavior. Therefore, according to Freud, psychoanalytic understanding of thought process of the individual which results in acceptable behaviors is necessary. Society in context develops norms and schemas for what is considered typical or acceptable behavior which individuals are compared with and discerned by other members’ ego perspectives about. “One comes to learn a procedure by which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal (what belongs to the ego) and what is external (what emanates from the outer world). In this way one makes the first step towards the introduction of the reality principle which is to dominate future development,” (Freud, p.28). This knowledge is used to discern between what the mind considers pleasurable and un-pleasurable when confronted with “disturbances” beyond the self throughout progress of individual development. Freud’s theory considers the mind to be comprised of three parts: the “id” or the wholly unconscious domain with the role of drives, the “ego” which is partly conscious and holds defense mechanisms, reasoning, decision making and planning abilities, and the “superego” which is the conscious domain but also holds unconscious feelings of guilt, (Freud, p.165). Freud argues that the reasoning abilities of the mind’s ego and superego cannot process through self-directed introspection but needs a reflective psychoanalystic process. This is contradictory to other modes of social inquiry that include an emphasis of character development through self-reflective spiritual awareness. Both approaches acknowledge the importance of self-awareness and consciousness as necessary to be good members of society however they differ slightly in what motivates this inquiry and how it is achieved or resolved… It seems that all the theories ultimately are trying to answer the meaning of life and modes of meaningful survival or pursuit of happiness during this process of awareness, reflection and experience.
Although an atheist, Freud concludes that knowledge of life’s purpose starts and ends with religious inquiry, however, psychoanalysis can at least attempt to delve into understanding of behavior in life through mirrored reflection back to the individual by an “expert” to make sense of pleasure or happiness pursuits and to otherwise avoid pain (Freud, p.42). Suffering may be caused by: own physical body and decay (illness vs. health), external world destruction by natural (ex. weather) and social environment (ex. war) from interactions with other individuals (who may or may not have gone through a self-reflective, spiritual, or psychoanalytic process of awareness and purpose). One may avoid unpleasant experiences or become an active member of community with opportunity to collaboratively utilize the collective strength to benefit the community by mutual understanding and common purpose to coexistence and progress. Self-control and self-awareness independent from the external world can be accomplished through internal psychical processes. This happiness can also be derived from appreciation of art and beauty where science falls short. Interdependence to coexist as members of partnerships and community requires understanding of mutual goals and when established ways of life need to be upheld or changed.
Who are Decision-makers and What is the Process for Proposed Change?
Social science seeks to understand the dynamic interactions in the marketplace by observing and interpreting behavior of its actors in various tiers of interaction. Interpretation is key: “…any action concept involves reference to either the subject’s intentions, plans or, desires (these are called ‘intentional action concepts’, and an example of one is the concept ‘waiting’), or such things as the moral, legal, or social rules in accordance with which the subject is acting (these are called ‘conventional action concepts’, and an example of one is the concept ‘voting’) and neither of these two features can be identified simply by reference to physical movements,” (Fay, p.71-72).
The observer’s interpretation must include comprehension of the actor’s intention which motivates the observed behavior as well as the complex cultural context that the observed behavior occurs in. Misinterpretation by the observer may result if rules are applied to this understanding of an individual or society’s behavior taken out of context. Social scientists or any outside observer seeking to understand the environment or possibly change behavior of members of a society cannot assume to transpose rules or standards that do not function as a ways of life for the observed and the cultural norms they set for themselves. The limitation of not including context as part of interpretation is that the observer may apply assumptions about the needs of a society without first including perspective achieved by individual and group perspective of that society.
Who defines problems or describes anomalies from behavioral norms within a context then becomes significant in decision making for progress or potential evolving change of behavior in that society. Awareness or knowledge acquisition may now arrive, not only from self and spiritual consciousness but now by external ideas introduced by another member of society who is either considered an expert or ignorant to the cultural context or goals mutually defined by members within that society. An opportunity for dynamic knowledge acquisition and growth occurs once a society defines who has standing and who should participate in decision-making and interpretation of needs for that society. Evaluation and analysis of behavior should seek to understand from members belonging to a society: “What do you need? What do you need to know in order to achieve this goal? From your perspective, what strengths and resources or obstacles do you face in meeting these goals?” “…Only when both the observer and the actor ultimately come to talk about the actions and beliefs of the actor in the same way is it possible to claim that a correct account has been given,” (Fay,82). Communication of the interpretation of behavior and interactions of an empowered society in equilibrium must include both the perspective of the observer and the observed. “With the uncovering of social rules, this point is based on the fact that it is our ability to act in the expected and appropriate manner that determines whether we have understood the rules which establish the grounds for communication between socialized individuals...” (Fay, 82).
Themes from the Chomsky and Foucault debate (1971) highlight what variables contribute to society’s awareness/consciousness of their needs towards equity. Foucault emphasized that we exist in a class society and that one cannot discern between being oppressed or denied needs or rights as members of a society without a reference point of comparison to others. Chomsky argues that class systems are irrelevant to understanding disparities in universal human needs and justice. Chomsky asserts that fundamental needs for love, sympathy, kindness, empathy, respect, decency, and freedom are inherent human personality characteristics that transcend class (and political) structures. Resolution of unmet needs is found in human characteristics of creativity that contribute to meaningful human life, problem-solving, and social transformation towards freedom from oppression. Chomsky’s perspective is necessary and very significant in the current cultural climate of inequities and disrespect amidst an increasingly diverse world. However, the majority of people likely identify with understanding the social environment around them like Foucault’s interpretation.
Designated organizations and institutes in an advanced technological system and information society either serves to protect and provide or oppress according to holders and interpreters of knowledge. Therefore, educational systems of knowledge can either empower across social classes while exclusion or obstacles to access results in a further ignorant and oppressed group of peoples at risk for being manipulated by power structures towards lack of unity. Ways of knowing and philosophies thus result via association to a particular class and perpetuate cycle of imbalance in power and relationships among people. Government power in a non-democratic society may set orders through central economic, commercial, and financial institutions and punish those who don’t comply. Consciousness and knowledge acquisition leads to questioning lack of universal human needs and equity towards a free and just society. Knowledge acquisition through formal institutes have also evolved and contributed to progress of awareness and consciousness. Beyond the traditional natural sciences (“the big five”) increasing interdisciplinary studies stemming from social sciences (“the little five”) created further demands and relevance of social research as policy and evaluation sciences. Equity demands span broad demographic characteristics and populations therefore social behavior study is relevant and Horowitz is correct in that “we need to do a better job of learning from the people we claim to teach,” (Horowitz, 2006).
Transforming policy and systems that are in sync with cultural values of all members of a society is necessary, not just outdated expectations for assimilation. Bi-directional and dynamic acculturation becomes necessary in an increasingly higher ordered diverse world. Evolution theory requires acceptance of history and a rational explanation for new ideas as part of science while Creation theory seeks to explain the origins of all else that is unknown. Transcending simple ordered thinking in mechanics, physics, and chemistry, evolution theory in biology recognizes both “novelty and history in science” which advances comprehension of nature. (It would be interesting to get the perspective of NASA scientists and those that have travelled beyond earth and into space about their opinion on context, evolution theory and spiritual enlightenment.)
Awareness may be the catalyst for challenging an existing social order such as “the divine right of kings” and takes the form as radical civil disobedience in the extreme or shared decision making with the reasonable and the enlightened. The process of social inquiry restores balance to progress for a society that is acknowledged as having priorities that may be both technical and welfare oriented. “Whether (scientific) changes fit in or fail to fit in with human and social needs is the measure of how far science has been adjusted to its social function,” (Bernal, p.415). The limitation of the scientific method is that it still requires apprenticeship, advisors, and successors to achieve completion of scientific inquiry because conclusions of any study become then the new reference point for further study. Without incorporation of social inquiry to make meaning out of new cultural contexts, advancement of higher order techniques holds no purpose.
Truth is the mutual conclusion resulting from “the ability to participate in a communicative interaction which defines what is to count as truth in an interpretive social science,” (Fay, p.83). Conditions of context are important for “what makes a particular action or belief more reasonable,” however, interpretive models still neglect “pattern of unintended consequences” as even actors within the society may not be aware of exercise control over what is unpredictable, (Fay,p.85). Political systems instead of upholding a free and just society, that fosters education, health, and welfare as a priority, hinders overall progress without mutually agreed upon decision-making for goals instead of improving quality of life. “Societies consist of ordered sets of relationships among their members,” (Fay, 85). Misunderstanding and social tensions result from the inability to think from different views and communication breakdown due to conservative assumptions that perpetuate a continuity of no change. Progressive development of consciousness and knowledge leads to reasonable thinking and creativity, a qualification for mutual problem solving, which further empowers equal standing and social progress in a democratic society.
The critical model of social science finds interpretive directed analysis as necessary for understanding social behavior through active participation of the actors of society. This is distinguished from the positivist model in that it encourages enlightenment and self-understanding, through raised consciousness (Fay, p.93 and p.102). The critical model emphasizes value systems and beliefs as variables that significantly contribute to interpretation of cultural norms in a given context. For example, housework by women paradoxically may not be valued as work yet society may also declare that it is “unfeminine to work (outside the home and be paid by an organization) and compete with men” (Fay, p.97). Gender inequity results due to women and their roles not valued in any sphere of society. Critical theory guides individual actors out of suffering and dissatisfaction by highlighting illusions, needs, truth, and then a rationale way to the desired outcome (Fay, p.98).
After interpreting a needs assessment, a social scientist observer from this theoretical perspective must be open to a society’s rejection of subjective evaluation and recommendations for change in thinking or behavior. Gender inequity according to critical theory would be resolved by incorporating women’s self-understanding, self-defined needs and wants to be considered an active member of family and community to offset the changing social order that undermines needs of women and their ideas of themselves. Educational opportunities and choice for work empowers women and enlightens all members of a technical and information society that then may not view, for example, housework as menial or the option for birth control options as synonymous with radically different sexual behavior or control of physiological drives (Fay,p.101).
Knowledge Dissemination, Communication, and Decision-Making.
Social science through its observers may seek to change behavior by changing the self-view of members of society through reflective interpretation. Both the observer and observed may exchange dialogue or debate through dissemination of supportive or deconstructed interpretations of different perspectives of behavior. The critical theory model sees knowledge of different views of self as an empowering opportunity for action through options to change oppression and gain emancipation with respect to what those members of society consider to be their goals. The model’s methodology is directed analysis of suffering to offer enlightenment for progress (Fay,p.106). There is a risk for mismatched out-of-context world views and expectations that would perpetuate oppression. The community should be considered as experts also and their effective participation in decision making as voluntary and non-coercive, free from domination and threat is very important in establishing mutual goals that are likely to be upheld in a democratic society. Unlike this perspective, positivist theory assumes that the observer is the elite holder of knowledge justified in determining a rationale course of action and thus does not value shared decision making. The critical social scientist values opinion of community member and these policy experts check for updated opinions from the community when attempting to technically control or comprehend particular social situations or support community planning for progress (Fay, p.106). Even with mutual decision making communities should be aware that there are both intended and unintended consequences of policy systems as a result of interpretation, set practices, and action.
Conclusions are then communicated and perceived by people through an affirmative or skeptical outlook according to individual personality (developed out of nature and nurture of progressive consciousness). Plato’s “Allegory of the cave” illustrates the differences in perspective by potential decision makers, between knowledge achieved by seeing the world outside the cave in the light and trying to explain and communicate to others in the cave who only had achieved knowledge awareness to a limited degree from shadow reflections of real true images beyond them. The relevant lens of the cultural context and appropriate participants in decision making who stand to be impacted by those decisions are significant to consider. In addition, if mutual understanding and goals are not an agreed upon purpose, overall progress of a society is hindered by ineffective communication, propaganda of support or deconstructed information dissemination. It would make sense then that guidance and training may be needed for how to communicate effectively, negotiate, and problem-solve as an expected qualification of representatives. This way, community members who have standing to be impacted by policies and systems established in higher order organizations are ensured healthy advancement of social and technical progress in a timely manner. Even C. Wright Mills “…saw the postideological ‘postmodern epoch’…at its inception, and his book (“The Power Elite”) remains a founding text in the continuing demand for democratically responsible political leadership – a demand echoed and amplified across the decades in books…” (Summers, 2006). However, power can prevent issues and ideas from reaching Congress and the question still remains of how to balance and coexist with both a strong democracy and corporate capitalist driven “elites”. Ongoing dialogue has stemmed from present challenges of democracy versus amoral corporates, personal privacy versus national security, military execution versus United Nations, and policy doctrines versus media propaganda (Summer, 2006). Mills distinguishes between personal problems and public issues, for example, personal versus national unemployment. Mills does not feel solutions for one can be generalized for many in a rather hopeless skeptical outlook and that the individual alone, if ordinary, cannot solve system-wide issues imposed on him or her. Avoidance or random alternatives are not solutions to the existence of a public issue (Mills,p.5). Therefore a possible solution for wider (technical) training according to larger needs (as offered through certain ARRA grants and support for community colleges) would offset the job gap at both societal level while meeting individual needs makes sense. According to Mills, public issues need evaluation of institutes in the political and economic context to acknowledge intersecting structural opportunities and gaps that face members of society and stakeholders should understand problem-solving and meeting needs within these contexts (Mills,p.5).
“In common with Nietzsche and Heidegger, post-modernists share a skepticism about the possibility of truth, reason, and moral universals, a conviction that terms like good and bad are inappropriate, and an insistence that subjective and conflicting interpretations are the closest humans can come to “understanding’” (Granier 1977, Rosenau,p.13). Post-modernism emphasizes symbolic contextual meaning and its variations as meaning of behavior and events are interpreted as “a human construction, not an objective reality,” (Rosenau, p.13). With the perspective of current cultural context, post-modernism theories also encourage a rejection of “logocentric world views” as well as skepticism of “lessons” whose origins are from the historical past. However, while this theoretical perspective questions authority and older practices that have not changed, different and contradictory perspectives are both tolerated, (Rosenau, p.13). The post-modern emphasis on dynamic emotions and sensitivity (universal characteristics of humans needed to understand equitable and respectful relationships), may have stemmed from the romantics’ perspective that there is no universal “beauty, goodness, and truth”. This theoretical outlook acknowledges double meanings and the complexity of interpreting behavior among members of a society. The “absence of unity is both a strength and a weakness” as flexibility and creativity in problem-solving is an important component of higher-order thinking, yet achieving a common outlook is necessary for shared decision-making (Rosenau, p.14). Skeptics have an outlook that is negative, fragmented, consider nothing new is possible, experience radical uncertainty and social-political projects are not worth commitment. Skeptics find joy is temporary and there is no truth and therefore no point to seeking truth because there is only interpretation of meaning. On the other hand, affirmatives are process oriented and believe in the worth of positive action, political struggle and resistance. New age religion, lifestyles, and social movements are accepted and encouraged as part of society’s progress and purpose towards achieving a better quality of life. The purpose of social inquiry is to look for origins and meanings and then evolve including the importance of diversity as sometimes unique trends or necessary interpretations that go beyond set descriptions (Rosenau, p.19). Post-modernists accept change as part of the process of inquiry that skeptics are rather anxious about where in evolving linguistics and communication, an open and flexible interpretive practice is likely, as post-modernists are “notorious for inventing and discarding terms”.
Conclusion: Ways of Acting as Individuals and as Societies
The enlightenment movement tried to address the errors of a false conscious society that only advanced dominant interests of those in power which caused oppression and inequities. “Ignorance coincides with suffering and happiness denied, uncertainty with slavery, and the incapacity to act correctly.” Ignorance at the individual level leads to mass suffering and perpetuates a cyclical problem because oppressors grew in a limited way from an oppressed society. Kant explained enlightenment as “the courage to be rational for its own sake for what is “good”. (Habermas, p.257).
Therefore, participatory decision-making to overcome cycles of oppression and ignorance, favors: “justice, general welfare, and peace: the reason which defends itself against dogmatism,” (Habermas, 258). Weber’s cross-cultural perspective from empirical studies across the globe highlighted the significance of how people attribute value and meaning to activities from either individualistic or collectivist societies and expressed concern for how “compassion, creativity, and ethical action could continue to exist” amidst “modern capitalism’s instrumental calculations and impersonal exchange relationships ” (Kalberg, p.3-4). Resolution of personal problems or societal issues is possible to be achieved through individual reflection and collective system supports.
Progression of knowledge consciousness from increasing complexity of identity development is achieved from either self-awareness/reflection from spiritual enlightenment or from observer reflection from scientific inquiry and social behavior inquiry. Methods for ways of deciding stems from this self- awareness and self-identity with the characteristics necessary for this process as being reasonable, rational, and empathetic. This qualification in addition to having standing and the potential to be impacted by policy and systems changes should be consulted with in a participatory non-coercive process of shared-decision making for mutual goals that meet basic needs. Health and welfare as a priority with science and social inquiry to foster this contributes to both individual and collective progress. Therefore the purpose of life is to meet basic needs, pursue happiness, “avoid” pain, individual and collective progress and freedom through knowledge consciousness:
“The desire for emancipation and an original act of freedom are presupposed, in order that man may work his way up to the viewpoint of adult autonomy, from which viewpoint alone the critical insight into the hidden mechanism of the genesis of the world and of consciousness first becomes possible (Habermas, p.259).
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Pialee Roy, Ph.D.