Twenty-First Century Society

This website is devoted to discussion of contemporary social problems from the perspective of the principles required to underpin a complex 21st Century Society in which all citizens are free to pursue Life, Liberty, and Happiness, so long as that pursuit does not impinge on other people. This entails developing a systems view of modern complex societies in which we understand stages of social development, properly distinguish the roles of governance at different levels of society, and properly identify the separation and interrelation of the cultural, economic, and political spheres.

This site looks at society both from the standpoint of ideal relationships that enable societies to function well and for the people in them to pursue their happiness, and from the standpoint of improving existing societies by delineating the types of changes that enable them to advance from where they are to freer and richer societies in which all people can flourish.

The societies we have inherited from the past are unable to guide or sustain us in the future, and must be adapted to the increasingly complex world of globalization, mass production, and cultural pluralism. Modern Western Civilization unleashed these forces, but no system has yet been designed to enable them to function properly.

Globalization

Economic globalization has caused large economic entities, sometimes worth more than entire countries, to migrate to new locations where they can thrive, disrupting national economies and causing large disparities in wealth. Old methods of taxing corporations in captive state environments are no longer viable as states compete to attract corporations that will provide lots of jobs in the global economy. New forms of electronic money like BitCoin and M-PESA are more efficient than traditional banking systems and may eventually eliminate the type of strangleholds that traditional big banks had on entire countries. Laws have yet to be written that properly address the existence of these types of currencies and allow some antiquated and burdensome institutions like the U.S. Federal Reserve to disappear. The increased exploitation of global natural resources must be properly checked by natural systemic principles in which exploiters do not function like hunter-gatherers, but like farmers whose farms must sustainably for long periods of time. At the same time, there is a growing opportunity to creatively design and produce new high quality personalized goods and services as mass produced goods tend to only appeal to basic needs. Success awaits people who have skills to design, produce, and sell personalized goods and services aimed at enhancing quality of life far beyond the ability of those corporations aimed at mass production and distribution.

Pluralism, Rights, and Responsibilities

The history of humankind has been one in which there was no separation of church and state. This began to change following the Reformation in Europe when the Dutch became independent with the collapse of the Spanish Empire. Holland was unable to form a new government without religious freedom, because the religious backgrounds of people living in Holland–Catholics, Jews, and several Protestant Denominations–were to diverse to accept a political constitution that did not include religious freedom. However, the quasi-official Dutch Reformed Church still received state tax dollars. The United States further separated Church and State by not recognizing or supporting any established religion.

Prior to the separation of Church and State religious values had guided state policies. People who violated religious laws could be punished by the state. The Sharia law advocated by many Islamists today is an example of the way sate and religious laws typically intertwined prior to the development of the separation of the political and cultural spheres. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0 describes how the relationship between spheres can be developed through voluntary principles combined with checks and balances, which are a core principle of any successful society.

The Rise of Human Rights

The separation of Church and State led to the separation of rights and responsibilities. “Rights,” or at least what have come to be known as “negative rights,” can be guaranteed and protected by governments. It is no accident that codes of human rights were begun to be developed in Holland by Grotius and others after religious freedom appeared there, and that the International Declaration of Human Rights was largely promoted by Americans like Eleanor Roosevelt, who were from a society where pluralism thrived. Negative rights are those that prevent legal discrimination against groups of people who hold different beliefs and values. Thus, preventing discrimination against, race, religion, ethnicity, age, or gender is a role that law can play in a pluralistic society. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0 describes why protection of basic rights is a core principle of any successful society.

While pluralistic states can enforce human rights, they cannot enforce human responsibilities. To do so would be to implicitly adopt a set of values, creating a new official “religion,” or it will create economic injustice, for example taxing one person or group and giving their money to some other group. The United States has become pressed on both of these issues. To a large extent the “politically correct” speech we have at universities is a reflection of these limitations in a pluralistic society. The conflict between free speech and “hate speech” is a good example. The law can protect anyone’s right to speak their mind, even if others do not agree, but it cannot dictate what people will say. In the past this was governed by codes of civility, but those codes were rooted in specific cultural traditions. Without some set of social values that, at a minimum, support functionality of the social system, there is cultural anarchy, and that causes system dysfunction and collapse.

Human Rights and Social System Dysfunction

Human rights allow freedoms but do not define goods. For example, the law can give everyone has a right to own property, but it cannot dictate how that person must care for the property without imposing a restraint on freedom. Human rights can allow persons of any cultural background, education level, economic status, or gender to freely marry one another. Human rights can protect the right of any couple to move into any community. However, the application of those rights says nothing about what is the best arrangement for raising children, or whether the children raised in a particular environment will be functional. Human rights protection, while foundational for pluralistic societies, is an inadequate basis on which a society can be built.

Human Responsibilities and Levels of Society

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, there are building codes that dictate everyone must have an adobe-style house to create an ambiance that reflects traditional community architectural style. If a small community like Santa Fe adopts this code, a person wants to build a radically-different style of house there will have his freedom impacted. On the other hand, if a person really likes adobe-style houses and wants to live in a town like Santa Fe for its charm, but Santa Fe is prevented from enacting a building code, then his freedom to belong to a community he wants to belong to is impinged upon and he will not be happy.

Neither having the highest levels of governance determine values, nor forbidding human beings from into organizing into communities and groups based on values, is a viable basis for a functional society. This social dilemma is best resolved by the principle of subsidiarity. This principle says “the greatest responsibility to the lowest possible social level.”  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0 describes why the principle  of subsidiarity is a core principle of any successful society.

Principles vs. Interests

Modern Western democracies are predicated on the principle of an enlightened citizenry that is sufficiently checked and balanced so that the laws it passes will only be those that benefit the entire society. A 51% vote, is inadequate to guarantee this type of outcome– 80% or more would better guarantee such laws. The U.S. Founders sought to limit factions that would use the government to serve selfish interests as the expense of the whole. Over the history of the United States, its system of government largely degenerated from a system of principles to a system of interests. The vindictiveness in rhetoric between Republican and Democratic Parties reflects this degeneration, in which none of the five core principles of good governance are ever reflected in laws that either party promotes.   Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0 describes how the political parties and other interest groups have hijacked the United States political system and have largely overtaxed and destroyed the self-sustaining middle class, the bedrock of any form of democracy, producing instead a plutocratic form of government in which lobbyists create laws that benefit their clients at the expense of the whole.

Gordon L. AndersonGordon Anderson, Founder and Editor.

 

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About — 2 Comments

  1. Calling the successive versions of government systems 1.0, 1,5, 2,0 etc. gives the association with computer programs that are improved and renewed over time. Do you think that the ideal government system will come forth by learning from historical experiments such as in Babylonia, Greece, Rome, England and the US? Or said in other words, will the ideal government system come about by a new revelation from God (most likely being an entirely new system) or do you think that God has already revealed many good principles in these historical systems?

  2. Each of these successive versions came about when people of conscience sought to secure liberty and social order. The comparison to computer programs is apt, because government is the operating system of human society. An entirely new system that did not take solutions to historical problems into account would fail. The advancements I have cited have occurred because of consistency with the principles of our existence–given by God or whatever term one uses.

    Societies can grow analogously to individuals. They need nutrition, and their organs all have to work in proper relation. When they cease to follow natural principles, they collapse.

    I would more compare an entirely new system to a “clean install” rather than an upgrade. It would need to include, at a minimum, the five principles I outline in the book. However, every attempt at a clean install has caused great chaos, because the culture has to start a zero and move through stages 1.0 – 4.0 to get to where we are today. It would take several generation to accomplish this at a minimum.

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