I write this inspired by the work of Ian Hacking on looping effects, human kinds and so on. My sympathies are with Hacking on this. Still, I believe there’s something that needs to be added: the social looping effect needs a binding effect in reality to remain stable. This has consequences: it is too easy to reduce a specific kind of humans out of the human kind just because they are confronted with a reality that happens to be out of the social norm.
Let me make up a story, a parable of sorts, about an imaginary civilization in which an evil both real and socially constructed exists. A parable has the virtue of edification because it illustrates a point without risking the muddle of prejudice which will inevitably surround any actual real and/or socially constructed concept or behavior.
Mountains, social exclusion and initiation rituals ahead:
It was a nice little civilization. We would call them positively enlightened. They honored a whole bunch of diverse traditions without getting hung up about them. It was not a matter of debate when people of different traditions met; rather one of mild banter, a mix of awe and cynicism. These were a proud people who realized it had taken them time to get on, overcoming their differences of opinion whilst allowing each tradition to frame in its own way this feat of overcoming.
Each tradition had come to realize that its goal had been to live together as creatures part emotion and part reason. That was what held them together. It had helped that in all those traditions the coming of age ritual was enshrined in the same way. Obviously they did not regard it as a ritual anymore. It was just the final piece of growing up to full adulthood; the completion of balanced judgment in combining desire and rationality. The desire to see all things from a bird’s eye point of view and the realization that it took a long journey to take that insight in, always just briefly in the awe of a moment earned after a tough trip.
It would seem this was a very cerebral people but they definitely were not. The journey was a literal one, up the mountain. Each tradition had its own preferred route and each also its own final point of view to look down at the plains where they lived. Different points but as they had learned over the times: it was the act of looking down and taking in the overview of that splendid place where they lived which made the real difference. That, and a journey that took so much effort and dedication that it could only be undertaken a few times in the life of even the fittest amongst them. The combination of the trip and the view were – they knew – what was required to combine humility and pride as reason and emotion needed to be combined to live the good life.
The only real issue left in our little enlightened civilization, the only spot of negativity in a sea of positivity were the ‘glass’ children. The children that could not make the trip. It was not a matter of exclusion as they went out of their way to include these glass children in all aspects of their society. If there was controversy left it was about how to perfect inclusion; and about trying to get more glass children to take the trip so there would be less of them. Some worked with the children and some tried to make the trip easier. They felt there was only so much they could do here though. The trip needed to remain a trip.
It made for a lot of confusion: if the trip was different could the realization as a complete being still be as complete? Were these children who formally would have been of glass now really part of society? Some of them still acted differently from the norm and not a few of them actually advocated other children not to take the trip at all anymore. Over time more and more glass children frustrated their loving environment who knew they could take the trip but just opted out of it. The frustration was certainly not smaller because others made the trip albeit they were clearly less fit to be normal citizens. The irony was that it were the borderline glass children who were by and large responsible for making the trip easier. The thing was that glass children were good with technology and, given this, they tended to be the ones inventing what was being built.
The term “glass children” became somewhat controversial. The tradition was a strong one and the flexibility of our civilization pretty high so more and more children took the trip – being ‘glass’ seemed in the end to be reserved for a heterogeneous bunch of children (they themselves hated being called children by the way, they believed they were just different) who somehow felt like they chose not to take the trip. They seemed to believe they were as whole as anybody else on the basis of pure reason and living together on the plains. Worse of all maybe were the adults who had taken the trip as a child but refused to take it later in life because it was tiring and pointless. Some even flaunted there criticism by flying to the top and making a spectacle of it, something commonly believe to be disrespectful.
Anyway somehow there was something ‘glassy’ about all of these people critical about the trip. Research showed there might be something amiss in their brains although others saw a problem in their upbringing that made them aversive of such social activity as the trip. It was both and above all something that divided our little peaceful civilization deeply. Could they claim full citizenship as they did? Wouldn’t they erode the basis of balance in society as more perfectly sane people avoided the trip?
There was no end to it.
PS: this needs work and an illustration, both are elements of ‘the trip’ I am as incapable as uninterested in