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Social warming

In the last couple of hundred years, there have been some incredible technological advancements. From various parts of the industrial revolution, with the huge increase in mineral and energy requirements, to improved transportation, such as the car or aeroplane. Energy intensive entertainment. Advanced refrigeration. Aerosol.

While these have incredible benefits, one problem, which is now generally accepted as occuring to some extent and there are now movements underway both on a local and global scale, is global warming. Negative environmental impacts lead to a gradual altering of the global environmental.

During this time, there have also been a wide range of advances which improve our ability to make choices. The car and aeroplane facilitate a mobile society, so that moving from one place to another is now very easy. Improved birth control decreases the risk of negative consequences of promiscuous sex. Improved communication gives us greater access for entry into other peoples' lives.

While every invention and every advance has benefits and advantages, what isn't always noticed are the negative social consequences. Having greater choices doesn't guarantee that people will do the right thing.

The illusion that sex is just a pleasurable activity with no greater consequences can encourage people to devalue steady, secure relationships, with the associated breakdown in institutions such as marriage.

A more mobile society encourages people to move to areas, rather than living there. Organisation membership decreases. A sense of community decreases. The build up of social networks is neglected. A town ceases to be filled with people who know, and will support, each other.

Improved communication has the potential to erode our private times and more intimate life. I've gone into this in greater length and detail here.

All of these things are immensely empowering, but, like the polluting advances before them, no thought is necessarily being given to the negative consequences.

This leads to a breakdown in many of the small and medium sized social institutions which lead to a stable and thriving society. The encouragement is there to act in an individualistic manner, without thoughts of others.

I'd imagine that trying to raise a child as a single parent is, at best, incredibly difficult. At worst, it leads to neglect of the child, with all the attendant implications. Despite this, we still have people who are somewhere between permitted (providing IVF for women who are "socially infertile" is the perfect example. It encourages people to make decisions which affect more than themselves without reference to those it affects) and encouraged (some of the social justice support mechanisms for single mothers end up encouraging women to be single mothers for the financial benefits - and yes, I do know of cases where this has happened) to try to have children (yes, accidents happen, and yes, some relationships do need to end. I am not talking about these here) by themselves. This is not good for the child.

This is an example of where the choices made available to individuals lead to people being able to make "easy" decisions without any greater thought about the effects on the social environment.

When I switch on the television, I don't think about the carbon dioxide which is emitted. When someone walks past their neighbour who they have never met without any greeting, they don't think about how this weakens important social bonds which form the basic fabric of society.

One problem with identifying what I'll refer to as "social warming" is that the actual factors are a lot harder to identify than in the physical environment. We have accurate figures for everything from temperature change, to incident sunlight to environmental carbon dioxide.

We can easily detect changes we cause, and we can develop simple mathematical models to suggest the effects we have on the greater physical environment. The effect of different social changes is far more difficult to quantify. To try to isolate individual causes and effects is virtually impossible at the moment.

When I had the discussion with the fundamentalist, we discussed the role of prophecy. I told him that I didn't believe that prophecies referred to specific events. Prophecies are there predicting the effects of social misbehaviour . Had the 12 Israelite tribes not squabbled amongst themselves, they would have provided a united front when the 10 tribes were lost. Rome crumbled from within well before it was ravaged from without. When a society begins to isolate members and weakens social networks, then this society leaves itself open to infiltration and other negative consequences, which would be fairly easy for any prophet worth their salt to predict.

It is not hard to suggest that if we erode certain key aspects of society, that the people will suffer. Unfortunately, a stable society is not found in short-term happiness. People need emotional variation. This is one for a different day though.

What to do? The first step is to admit you have a problem. Actually, out of all the problems you can face, this is one of the better ones to have. If you want to fix the physical environment, you make sacrifices and rely on everyone to do the same. If you want to fix the social environment, you make short term sacrifices, but these actually improve your life. They strengthen your social bonds, so that when things go wrong in your life, there are other people to help you. And when people are going through hard times, you get the emotional satisfaction of helping them.

And this is the next part of the disconnect revolution. Once we have found time to focus on our most intimate relationships: Parents; Partners; Children, as well as broader family and closest friends, we should then look to building ties with those around us. Neighbours. Community - be it a religious group, a sporting club, whatever. Broader friends. People who make up your society. People who are there when you need them.

It is telling that, a synagogue is a house of assembly not a house of worship. In English, the word congregation refers to congregate, not prayer. The primary benefit of the synagogue os that it provides a venue for people to focus. Rebecca and I have met some good friends from our synagogue. Of a range of ages. People we would not meet otherwise. When I travel, I have almost always been made to feel at home when I have visited the synagogue, and try to reciprocate with visitors when I am home. This will also be a topic for another day.

Finally, to leave this on a last note of hope. Overcoming social warming is actually easier than global warming. Because the tendency is to follow the lives of people we see as happy, the more people live fulfilled, happy lives within their social networks, the more people will want to live similar lives. And we live happily ever after in real lives replete with challenges, good times, sadness. The traditional Hebrew toast is L'chaim - to life, not to happiness.


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