March 19, 2015

Why is the World so Screwed Up?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The title of this post may seem like a rhetorical question but I am actually quite earnest in asking it. Each day, we hear about countless instances of greed, hatred, violence, and destruction, and all of the pain, suffering, and sorrow that ensues. Although the ubiquity of these problems makes them seem so normal and ordinary that we may not even question them, I don’t think it’s possible to be a sociologist without wondering why these horrible social ills exist.  

The list of “screwed up” things is a bit overwhelming to comprehend because there are so many problems affecting so many different people, places, and things. As sociologists, we often look to patterns and trends as a way to analyze and understand what exactly is going on in the world. But with this seemingly never-ending list of atrocities, it may seem fruitless to try to identify a single contributing factor to all of society’s collective dilemmas. 

At the risk of oversimplification, I would like to propose that there is one pattern that characterizes most, if not all, of these disturbing problems: They all stem from a dualistic orientation. What I mean by this phrase is a mindset that envisions a world of you versus me, us versus them, self versus other. A dualistic orientation is one that focuses on our differences instead of our similarities, promotes arbitrary divisions at the expense of social cohesion, neglects our interdependence by nurturing our sense of independence, and fashions a deeply polarized world where if you are not with us (or like us) then you are against us (and therefore, we are against you).  

We can look at almost any social problem—racism, sexism, poverty, homophobia, ableism, bullying, terrorism, domestic violence, human trafficking, slavery, religious fundamentalism—and at the core, is a dualistic orientation. In all of these instances, both today and throughout history, the underlying reason one group of people has chosen to exploit, oppress, and harm another group of people has been because of an exaggerated emphasis on their differences.  And this dualistic orientation does not only occur between people. The earth is on the brink of environmental disaster because human beings (at least those in power during the modern age) have drawn sharp distinctions between the human and non-human world.

From a sociological perspective, this dualistic orientation is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, some sociologists have theorized about this orientation and the social problems that it may create.  In lieu of the term dualism, sociologists often use the concepts of “othering,” “doing difference,” and “in-groups and out-groups.” These concepts are similar to a dualistic orientation in that they describe a process whereby one group of people are degraded and viewed as inferior by another group.

On the other hand, many of the analytical concepts we use in sociology reflect this dualistic orientation in which the world is divided into two opposing camps: female/male; non-white/white; haves/have-nots; young/old; conflict theorists/functionalists; developed nations/less developed nations; oppressed/oppressors; industrialized/non-industrialized; Western/non-Western, etc. Analyzing the social world in such dualistic terms is clearly a dominant paradigm in the field; however, I can’t help but wonder if we are unintentionally condoning and reinforcing this dualistic thinking by using it in our sociological reasoning.

To some, this form of dualistic socio-analyzing may seem harmless; after all, aren’t we just describing the world as it is? Not exactly. The world is certainly a mess of socially created divisions. And while these differences seem real, and have very real effects, we must not forget that they are indeed social creations. Does it seem somewhat ironic that we have constructed analytical frameworks that obstruct our ability to see these dualities as socially constructed? Aren’t we supporting, and even reifying, these dualities by employing them so readily in our sociological explanations?

The problem of using these dualities to explain our screwed-up world goes even further: it makes it seem as if these dualities are real, innate, and natural. When we speak about problems between women and men, people of color and whites, Christians and Muslims, or any of the other numerous dualisms that we regularly invoke, we are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) suggesting that these two groups are essentially and inherently distinct, that at the core of these two groups is some fundamental difference.

Moving away from this dualistic orientation is no easy task. It may even require a herculean effort in thinking. But if we are going to at least venture down this path, we need to question and challenge the way we unreflexively describe and divide the world into dichotomous and opposing camps. In both our words and our actions we need to construct real alternatives to these arbitrary constructions, emphasize our similarities instead of our differences, build bridges instead of borders, and recognize that interdependence sustains us while independence tears us apart. Ultimately, the challenge is to see others as us. How we may go about doing this will be the topic of my next post. Stay tuned!


"Ultimately, the challenge is to see others as us."

And of course Kant told us this more than 200 years ago. According to his reasoning, we all view and experience the world through time and space. Things in time and space are causal - a poolball hitting another causes the latter to move. There's no free will in time and space - everything is deterministic. (Well, at least when Kant was writing this is how it seemed - the quantum world, where things with some mass can now be pushed into superposition, is a different story.) However, something must exist that is "prior to" time and space, and that's our free will. (Because we never see or experience time and space; they are like glasses through which we view the world.) Free will is what gives each person his or her dignity, which according to Kant should be universally acknowledged and respected. This can sometimes lead to the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Kant said very clearly that we first need to recognize ourselves in others before we can treat them like we would want to be treated. (He said something along the lines of: "you must look into the eyes of another and recognize his/her dignity as yours.")

I agree that all of the dualistic conceptions are socially constructed and should be torn down. But i think Kant is onto something when he talks about seeing oneself in another's eyes. Technology increasingly prevents us from seeing ourselves in others - we increasingly see others as data, which tell us all about their employment outcomes or what degrees they have, but which keeps their dignity out of plain sight.

From my point of view we have to search for the causes in human inherent characteristics. As the author says, the countless social dilemmas we experience everyday requires an approch as globally as possible taking on difficult and complex tasks which often lead to simplifications and generalizations.
I agree with the statement that the dualistic vision of the world may be artificial in many cases but it still remains the most common way to identify the problems which we experience or analyze between human beings. When it comes to think about social issues it would be helpful not to reason about social structures but instead focus the attention on human behavior. Why do these structures exist? Why do these problems endure through time?
Insecurity? Fear? eager for power? hypocrisy? the inner evil that human being has in his nature?
Sometimes the answer to this social issues would be easy. Of course we cannot just stay still dreaming about the impossible utopia of a good man. We must look for solutions taking our condition of imperfect living being as it is.
The question is how to change human being, since we are the root cause of everything.

We do come across sayings of treating everyone equal, but in a real scenario, this is not possible. Leave apart treating humans equal, we do not even spare the nature that lets us live or wildlife that maintains the ecological balance. We destroy them all if it is serving our purpose. There are many NGOs working towards these causes but we all need to contribute to help them. Ashirvadam is an NGO in Bangalore that helps NGOs and even individuals genuinely working towards wildlife conservation and nature conservation by providing funds and grants.
You may visit their website to know more about them:

Such a nice intelligent written article, so true!

Why are people becoming harder to live with in society today?

How is it that technology has and still is superseding human intelligence, when it's the humans that are discovering new technologies?

It's money. People will do ANYTHING for a bit more money and a bit more power. And that creates you dualistic thinking. Why? Because if I want the money, then I surely can't let you have any. Same goes for power, attention, prestige, recognition etc. This story is as old as the hills and until there is a shift in ALL humans from thinking that seeks only profit to thinking that seeks inclusion and love, we will FOREVER live out the same narratives.

Well most of the women of today have really did a number on that one since they're so very high maintenance, independent, selfish, spoiled, greedy, picky, narcissists, and so very money hungry as well which certainly tells the whole story right there unfortunately. These women really do expect the very best of all and will never ever settle for less because of their greediness and selfishness that they carry around with them because of their very high salary paying job that has really changed them for the worst of all. And this has really made their children so very badly messed up as well since they're following in their parents footsteps since they just don't know how to raise their children anymore. Today mental retardation among women is such at a all time high now more than ever which is real fact by the way since they don't even have respect for us good men anymore either. Their personality sure stinks as well and they really have no good manors at all since quite a few times i had women curse at me for just saying good morning or hello to them to start a normal conversation with the one that will attract me. A friend that i know had it happened to him many of times as well since he told me about it which really shocked the hell out of us how very evil that women can be these days. These type of women definitely have a real mental problem or now many of them do hate us men for no reason at all which many of them are really Gay now the way i see it. No wonder why many of us good men are still single today since we really have no reason to blame ourselves at all since it really does take two to tango.

Very nicely written. If we are ever to make progress on solving the problems of the world we must examine and challenge our underlying unconscious assumptions.

I would like to expand on this: "Moving away from this dualistic orientation is no easy task. It may even require a herculean effort in thinking."

My perspective is that the effort is not one of thinking, but rather of empathy. Empathy, especially when applied to the "other" in a recognition of the common humanity we all share, dissolves the dualistic orientation.

Empathy is generally not taught or even encouraged, but each of us is capable of cultivating empathy within our own hearts, and of overcoming the social conditioning that dampens this natural human inclination.

There are many, many human inclinations that divide us from one another, and these divisions can create horrific suffering. These divisions come from the mind.

But empathy is also a natural human inclination. It arises from the heart, and can reorganize the mind. Thinking cannot achieve the understanding, compassion, and reaching across the divide that is necessary to dissolve the dualistic orientation. This can only happen through the unification of the heart with the mind.

Empathy unifies.

same same, come up with something different

Some people suck, it's a fact we struggle with every day. Some people are responsible and trustworthy, others are not.

Some people are more evolved, but many others behave like savage beasts, notably hooligans and politicians.

You can have all the high-minded arguments you want, but in the practical terms of day to day life, some people just suck and that causes all of our problems.

How can you make people not suck? Brute force learning? More advanced education? Religion should do it? Harsh prison terms and reeducation? Rigid societal rules? Eugenics? Care and compassion? Psychology?

It's all been tried and it has only helped those who wanted to be helped.

The other people just suck.

So, basicly the world is only as sick as it's sickest human.

Well most women nowadays are certainly to blame for that one unfortunately.

Especially when many of us good single men will try to start a normal conversation with a woman that we would really like to meet, and then to have her Curse at us men for no reason at all.

thank you, good sir, I believe that the world is absolutely screwed and we are all going to die, one day.

My belief on “why the world is so screwed up” is that we are bombarded with the horrors that occur each day; we lose that innocence we had as children and replace it with a wall to insulate us. I know for my part, I will avoid many news stories as I cannot take anymore. So in essence I turn a blind eye to it. If others do the same, it allows those perpetrating some of these horrors to feel, well if no one objects I guess its okay.

I for one am at a breaking point. I have spent the last 7 months in hospitals, ICU’s and rehabilitation facilities supporting my father who was battling an infection. Walking in each day not knowing his condition (as it literally could change overnight) was a personal hell for me. One day he would be non-responsive and shaking, or communicative and speaking. One day, when my father was stable, I noticed all the other elderly people sitting in wheel chairs, up and down the hallways. Most if not all of them not moving, but instead just sitting their staring at a wall or a window. Each day after, as I would walk to my father’s room I would see these same people in the same place with no one else around. I also noticed others in their rooms calling “nurse” “nurse, I need help”, which would often go unanswered. These people are housed in these places and often forgotten.

While this may seem trivial when compared to the other problems our world faces, I use it as an example of how so many heart breaking stories and issues go unnoticed right in our own communities. It was not until I lived through this each day over these past 7 months that I witnessed how so many people spend the last days of their lives, alone, with no one even acknowledging they exist (including me as I began this journey).

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