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What is Wrong With Society? That Question, Actually

Updated on July 22, 2010

If you ask that question, don't. It's not a question. Nor is it an actionable answer.

The question "What is wrong with society?" should never be asked, nor used as an answer. But it is. In fact, it and its synonyms are a common refrain, particularly on the internet. Confronted with some truly tragic incident, or a stupid person, or a random event, the questioner tries to explain its incidence and thereby asks this question while simultaneously answering it: "what is wrong with society?" Cue the endless stream of nonsense about how his or her town/state/country/planet is going down the tubes. Allow me the chance to dissect this banality:

First, the question/answer itself. It is framed as to be utterly meaningless, aside from its rhetorical power of separating THOSE PEOPLE from ME. This utterance is exclusive, in that the offending interlocuter by no means includes himself or herself in with the rest of "society."

Indeed, it is never quite explained what "society" is anyway. This is a common class of pseudoexplanations, mobilized whenever there is the need to generalize away a particularity. Why can't I get a job? Well you see, society has... Why do people (I) have problems with relationships? Society has given us the perspective that...Why do I hate my body? Don't worry, society wants us to believe...

No, not really. "Society" doesn't do anything. It's not an actor. It's an empty category, a useful scarecrow to be set up whenever needed, to explain for or against any phenomenon.

Second, the assumptions behind the statement are never called into question. The dim-witted nod their heads in agreement: "you're right, society these days, eh? People used to work hard/have more respect/be more courteous/care for each other/not worship the dollar/blahblahblah." The obvious assumption in play is, of course, that the world - some 10, 20, 50, or 100 years ago - was appreciably "better" in some measurable way. It is not clear, at least without more evidence, that "society" was any "better" during these time periods. We can't generalize from single events to covering laws.

Third, as alluded to earlier, the exclusivity. Such a statement, besides erasing shades of grey ("contextuality"), erases the speaker's culpability or participation. If society is a monolith, of which all its members are subsumed, then everyone is to blame. Obviously, this is nonsense. Instead of jumping to the instant blame game (though a ineffectual game at that), we should take more care to balance out particularities and generalities. That is, if some bad person "does a thing," we need to put it into context in order to understand it. Someone made a choice, and had many reasons (not just one) for that choice.

We need to think better and improve public discourse. Things have been just going down the tubes lately. People can't think for themselves anymore. I mean really, what is wrong with society?


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    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 7 years ago from Ohio

      Good hub....I seem to only find peace of mind when society becomes irrelevant. I believe we can't learn if we are too busy teaching. :)

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      Great hub. Well done. Welcome to hub pages. Will be back for more.

    • WillGrander profile image

      WillGrander 7 years ago from New York

      Thanks for the comment! Indeed, I want to stress the complexity of issues such as these.

    • Joni Douglas profile image

      Joni Douglas 7 years ago

      Indeed! I'm sure there are a multitude of philosophical reasons as well. Interesting way to look at it.