Uncategorized 23 Jul 2002 03:28 am

Trying to make things happen

Reading through Hayakawa’s Semantics, I came across a section on directive language, and in particular there is a section on the use of directive language called “The Foundations of Society” p.68.

The thesis is that a “society is a vast network of mutual agreements.” These agreements are “essentially statements about future events, which we of our own efforts, are supposed to bring about.”

I agree, and have spent some time thinking about what that means. It makes you think about what our social contracts really mean, and what a promise means. The next paragraph in the text goes exactly to where my thought goes from this line of thinking:

Therefore, in order that we shall continue to exist as human beings, we must impose patterns of behavior on each other. We must make citizens conform to social and civic customs; we must make spouses faithful, soldiers courageous, judges just, priests pious, and teachers solicitous for the welfare of their pupils.

At what point does the “convention” approach fail? It obviously can fail. America was founded on the ashes of a failed set of conventions – the charters to populate the new world from King George III. It fails when it is too taxing on the participants. If this is not a failsafe means of ensuring the continuation of the species, what else can we do to continue to exist as human beings?

One other means of preservation, an opposite of imposed convention, is adaptation. The ability to recognize a system that is not advancing our causes and to modify it or trash it completely so that we can attempt to move forward again. Experimentation, tweaking, or outright revolt means that there will be failures though. How much failure can the species afford?

In trying to reconcile these contrasting approaches we realize that if we do not adapt we will perish and if we do not have conventions then we will perish. Therefore, mutual agreements about how our mutual agreements might change are in order. As a society, we do have conventions for adaptation. These conventions make change happen really slowly. This is a good thing usually, because it prevents the whims of popular opinion or the politicized issue of the day from sending us careening off course. If we are required to persevere through great tests to make changes then hopefully only worthwhile ideas will survive. This creates day-to-day stability in an entity, such as a government, whose lifetime is measured in centuries. The timescale can be frustrating, but it is important.

There is another form of organization, the corporation, that is subject to a lot of the same forces, except on a smaller scale and a quicker timeline. Most corporations, and I am thinking of one in particular, do not seem to have it so sorted out.
This is the paragraph where I want to write an eloquent rant about stupid people in stupid corporations doing stupid things that violate the common-sense line between convention and adaptation. I will have to get back to it as I am generally still too annoyed with said people in said corporation and said things done to speak politely about how they might change for the good. Arghhh!

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