Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Specialized Society In Conflict

from The Technology Of Good


It does seem like our society acts like an organism with cooperative, technically functioning parts. But if so, why does it also show signs of its parts acting against each other?

According to the article, Functional And Conflict Theories Of Educational Stratification:
"The evidence indicates that educational requirements for employment reflect employers' concerns for acquiring respectable and well-socialized employees; their concern for the provision of technical skills through education enters to a lesser degree.

"The higher the normative control concerns of the employer, and the more elite the organization's status, the higher his educational requirements.

"There has been only a mild trend toward the reduction in the proportion of unskilled jobs and an increase in the promotion of highly skilled (professional and technical) jobs as industrialism proceeds, accounting for 15% of the shift in educational levels in the twentieth century.
(Folger and Nam, 1964).

"Technological change also brings about some upgrading in skill requirements of some continuing job positions, although the available evidence (Berg, 1970:38-60) refers only to the decade 1950-1960. Nevertheless, as Wilensky (1964) points out, there is no "professionalization of everyone."

"The increasing supply of educated persons has made education a rising requirement of jobs.

"The large American corporations, which have led in educational requirements, have held positions of oligopolistic advantage since the late 19th century, and thus could afford a large internal 'welfare' cost" (of employing the less able of those in their own social class rather than those outside it who could do the job better)."
According to another article, Leaps Of Faith, dealing with the question whether education is often a place of conflict rather than a preparation for cooperation and specialization:
Just as upper classes use education requirements to see that preferred jobs go to their own class, irrespective of functional capacity of employees, the lower classes deny themselves education, either as a deliberate act of resistance, or as unconscious victims of their cultural education, and so become ineligible for employment in the preferred occupations, not even as compliant subordinates.
Both articles agree that despite the obvious specialization and cooperation between specialists in our society, much of what goes on is conflict between groups which find their base of power in various specialties.

Both articles explain that the fact that a society is organized does not imply that organization must move in the direction of progress, defined either as greater productivity of goods or services, or passage to another form of social organization considered to be more perfect.

Specialization brings with it a change from our acting on what we know from our own experience, to learning how to manipulate the thoughts and actions of the people whose decisions our lives depend on. People in specialized roles naturally have an interest in protecting their own groups, because these are the people their lives depend on. They have no interest in a theorized future development in technical perfection of society as a whole in one form or another.


Functionalist theories and conflict theories both propose an order exists in society as a kind of natural law, and the two kinds of order are not incompatible with each other. In societies which are functionally specialized the social classes which take main possession of certain roles are in conflict with other social classes in other roles.

Herbert Spencer, considered to be one of the founders of modern functionalist theory, in fact proposed a third order: a future state would arise in which generosity, when it evolved from lower forms of behavior, would make government inessential. This kind of functioning can also, before it becomes dominant, coexist with the other two, in conflict with them.

Readers of Plato should at this point recognize a pattern: functionalism, conflict, and generosity as forms of social order are parallels to the three parts or faculties of the soul: the desiring, the spirited, and the rational.

Plato tried to imagine in "The Republic" what a society incorporating the three faculties of the soul would look like. He came up with totalitarianism in which each faculty was allowed its place, as workers, guardians, philosophers, each locked in fixed relation to the others.

This imagined society was presented as a functioning system, a fourth kind of order in itself, obviously in conflict with (because limiting) each of the interests of the three orders it incorporates, but suppressing conflict by its optimal functioning.

In Plato's imagined evolution, specialization leads to conflict leads to totalitarianism. Absent a mythological destiny of human beings, reason mysteriously evolving out of unreason, this was the best that could be hoped for.

Plato did not assume it was necessary to build a society on specialization. He described the overspecialized person as sick, and argued that making a society out of sick people was like in medicine treating symptoms without curing the disease.

As reason and stability are enlisted to aid individuals hold themselves together who are sick with desire, so for the class based on sick desire, the "oligarch" class, putting thinkers and fighters into stable, totalitarian relation to them is also in their interest. If they know it, they will work to establish this relation. Lacking knowledge, they may simply stumble upon actions which tend towards establishing this totalitarian relation, find they are rewarding, and go on doing them.

The social class of those sick with desire tells its stories of big government, of little government; the particular story doesn't matter. The stories are told to enlist the support of the other classes which, participating in the world of specialized roles, are burdened with the need of telling stories of themselves, reputation making. They chose between stories of the best society, looking for the one that most favorably solidifies and formalizes relations between classes, that is, allows them to most safely and successfully go on telling their own stories.

The story of relation between classes is not all that is going on between classes. Politicians elected telling stories of small government, once elected, enlarge the government, or vice versa. No revolution results, because voters, habitually paying more attention to stories than reality, don't consistently reflect and act upon what doesn't immediately interfere with their personal reputation making. Those who are most likely to pay attention to what really goes on, and do something about it, are those in the class of people the society is based on, those who have excessive desires that call for management, who want the excessive things the society is founded to produce, who unlike the other classes are more interested in things than ideas.

Plato left the question open whether different starting points could evolve different futures. If specialization leading to totalitarianism was a functional law, other functional laws could exist in conflict with it.
"We are fascinated by the strangeness of our democratic life, and by money as a tool for resolving the strangeness. This fascination overpowers our love of home and friends, suggests that since money is used by all the world with money we can be at home in all the world. We make the most money by perfecting ourselves in role. And to allow us make the most money society must be perfected in its functions."*