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Allan's Philosophy Podcast

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Philosophy on Facebook #21 - Norms of Society

Hey guys! I'm hoping to get the first podcast recorded tomorrow and up sometime this weekend. I'm probably going to record it at my friend's house so it isn't necessarily the format that I want the next shows to follow but I think it'll be a good starter and first episode that will pave a path for a fun experience and many insightful conversations.

I got the inspiration to write this post after listening in physics about how Copernicus received hate by society during his time. Most of society is determined by those who have power. Those in power in turn transfer their values and interests into what is normal for societies and their people to follow. If you don't follow the ideals of those ruling, then you will be cast out and looked down upon for not sharing a certain view. This is especially the case when the view is held by a majority of the public as well. As evident from the past, the ruling party doesn’t necessarily have to be a majority to determine what is normal. Copernicus experienced oppression in spreading his ideas that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun. This resistance was upheld by the church who at the time said what was acceptable and wasn’t. Religion is only one of the driving forces in determining right and wrong and it was even more influential in those times than it is today. Since Copernicus's ideas contradicted those of the church, he was cast out as a lunatic and not normal until his ideas actually gained footing with other notable scholars. If you have this perspective on what is right and wrong you can, with some exceptions, say that there is no definitive right or wrong. While there are general concurrences on what is ethically sound, like you don't murder other people, there aren't fundamental right or wrong decisions and viewpoints. For the time being, these right and wrongs are determined by those who administer control over their country and in our case it is our government. We have laws that tell us what is right and wrong but not all civilizations in the past have had these guidelines to determine what to abide by. In the past most of society was based on certain structures that repressed others from gaining control. Women have gained much more power and have had major impacts in determining the norms of society than in the past where they basically had no say on what should be done. Not only have women in the past be wronged of a chance to contribute to the norms of society, but plenty more races, religions, etc have been forced to follow those in power. Those in power were particularly effective in spreading their ideals if they could enforce them.

These norms of society are a big reason of why people are prejudice. As we know most people like a sense of stability that change tries to undo, thus they perceive it as negative. When people meet something that is different of threatens to change the way they live, those people are often reluctant to accept it. This leads to prejudices and negative impressions of others just because they are different or have different views. A reason why those who are different aren't usually accepted into society and assimilate their ideas with the "normal" people's at least at first is because the change that they bring with them. Sometimes things are ahead of their times and while they may be a great improvement for life, it is too early to institute into modern society and people need time in order to accept new ways of thinking. Like with Copernicus, his ideas improved our knowledge of the world around us, but his surrounding unfortunately weren't ready to accept his views until later down the timeline.

Norms aren't only an external issue as they can be internal with a person to person case basis. People have their own values and ethics that govern what is normal to them. While these are greatly affected by their environment as it helps set the foundation for their own ethics, internal norms also have an impact on society as well. Anybody who ever sees something in society that doesn’t follow what they believe, they are fully able in trying to change it. This lead to many changes in our society that would have otherwise remain the same. Martin Luther King and his dream helped lead to racial equality in the U.S. This task wasn’t a walk in the park however as he met a lot of resistance society imposed upon him and his followers. When you are faced with opposition from society there are many ways to respond. One way would to keep your opinions to yourself and keep quiet so society doesn’t outcast you or you can attempt to change the norms by inciting things like revolutions. Both of these have their pros and cons. Keeping quite can cause benefits like not being prosecuted for your beliefs but also lead to feelings of regret and remorse. There are situations where the outcome looks bleak for you and it might be better to keep your views private but if you believe in something enough it might be better to go for it and suffer the punishments society with impose on you than doing nothing. If you decide to completely reform society to fit your views and values then you have the chance to make your dreams the norms of society. Thus you with no longer be looked down upon for your views but look down upon others that don't follow yours. There is always the possibility that you fail trying to incite change. Another possibility is that the replaced views aren't the ones you intended for and it can be hard to establish as the dominant norm compared to the others trying to claim that spot.

U.S. society has been based upon many cultures that helped make it the great country it is today so they have been pretty good about accepting almost all views, beliefs, ethics, and opinions. I believe that no one opinion, view, etc is better than others as there are many ways to go about solving problems or many ways to live life. I feel in order to grow as a civilization you have to be accepting of everything that doesn’t endanger your own way of living (i.e. no terrorists). If you do this you have the ability to look at certain issues plaguing society today from many different perspectives and weigh their possible outcomes. Norms can sometimes alienate those that could help make a difference regardless of their views. I feel that you do need norms to offer some structure for daily life but not ones that are so specific that they end up ostracizing or excluding those who can make a positive difference in the world.

-Allan Nicholas

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