One of the shifts I've made in recent years is adopting a more ecological perspective of society. Even if you find a particular group of people frustrating, they may very well be serving an important function in the same way that an ecosystem requires many different plants and animals in order to thrive (this may not be a fully accurate picture of how ecosystems work, but this doesn't matter as I'm only using it by way of illustration).

So if you're conservative, you may be frustrated with progressives and their tendency to be uncompromising in their desire for reform, but at the same time you might be able to appreciate that it's this very attribute that allowed them to push through the changes in the past which you appreciate now. On the other hand, if you're a progressive, then you might be frustrated with conservatives and their unwillingness to let go of past traditions and practices, but you might be able to appreciate the tendency of your group to get carried away if left to its own devices and so you might be able to appreciate how this quality reduces the adverse impact from everyone jumping on the latest intellectual fashion. Or you might be annoyed with libertarians and how everything is theft, but at the same time, you might be able to appreciate the role they play in pointing out when regulation has become stifling.

A few key ideas emerge from this perspective:

• Firstly, that someone can be playing an important role in society, not just in spite of their flaws, but sometimes precisely because of their flaws

• Secondly, that it suggests that unless we have a society of superhumans capable of playing every role well, then the best society wouldn't consist of everyone believing the same thing or acting the same way, but rather people playing a multiplicity of roles

• Thirdly, from this perspective, when societal dysfunction is not so much a result of dysfunctional individuals as a dysfunctional and out of balance system.

(This argument applies to groups as well. Maybe I'll develop it more in the future).


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1 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:50 PM

I think this is a nice way of looking at things. You take on an 'anthropologist' persona. Nevertheless, we can see our role as trying to find ways to achieve the benefits (for us or for society) without as many of the flaws. It also depends on what the individual is trying to achieve. There is also the self-referencing weirdness to deal with.  

For instance, world wars may have taught us some important lessons as a society, but could we have found a better way to learn those lessons without so much harm done to so many? 

Similarly, some conservative behaviors may be adaptive for some populations (getting married and having children an obvious one), but perhaps they don't maximize my own individual happiness, which I have a right to value more. 

This is where technology starts to play a big role as well.