Social Engineering or Social Sculpture?

This past year of lockdowns and mass confusion about “The Truth” has been pretty exhausting, hasn’t it?

Let us provoke you with a few questions that we hear people asking. Do the real dangers associated with COVID justify global lockdowns, medical mandates, and the largest transfer of wealth in history — or is it instead a new and unprecedented abuse of power? Is Israel defending itself from its rogue neighbor or has it become an oppressive apartheid regime? Is Biden a genuinely progressive leader, a mere shill for the status quo, or an alien who arrived with one of those UFOs constantly in the news?

Jokes aside, pay attention to your reaction to these questions. Maybe you reacted yes or no. Maybe you held your breath a bit as we kick the hornets’ nest.

No matter where you stand in today’s polarized culture — and we have friends and clients all over the map — the “Truth” has become elusive, many-sided, and hotly contested.

But here’s the thing. This shouldn’t be a problem. Truth is always many-sided, and humans hardly ever see things from the same point of view. We need diversity and difference; in fact, we thrive on it — so why has culture become a battleground?

The problem comes when we can’t tolerate difference — and when, by extension, we allow authorities to dictate truth. At that point, society becomes fragile, vulnerable, and manipulable.

When Edward Bernays wrote Propaganda in the late 1920s, he helped pioneer public relations. It was necessary, he said, for elites to essentially engineer culture for the benefit of humanity. And get this: he was reportedly a highly ethical individual. He genuinely thought it necessary for the “good leaders” to “steer” and “manage” the truth for the benefit of all.

A hundred years later, the “Truth” is weaponized, commercialized, authorized, or made into the New Religion. Private interests and organizations use powerful tools of obfuscation to protect their stake and gain power. Just think of big tobacco’s “science,” big pharma’s role in the opioid epidemic, Weapons of Mass Destruction, or a thousand other examples.

This tactic now is a field of study in its own right. Its called Agnotology, the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The very sources we trust to help us understand global events are being used to manipulate us — but we don’t know when, where, or how.

But it’s not just the nasty players. It’s well-meaning institutions too.

Countless NGOs, governments, and companies around the world — attempt to change the world by design. They engineer a solution.

To engineer something is to design it and, through rational and planned processes, make it real. And while that works brilliantly for bridges and skyscrapers, it wreaks havoc when applied to living systems and societies. Most don’t realize it, but they’re essentially dictating the terms of change.

These interests and institutions are engineering our society. To solve social problems for others, in other words, is to impose.

This isn’t to endorse inaction. But as we see it, we can either engineer society or we can co-create society. The difference is life or death.

Everything alive has its own intelligence, its own unfolding. Aristotle called this its “entelechy” — its “becoming.” And while we’re beginning (only beginning!) to recognize this about nature, we have yet to appreciate the human entelechy, the unfolding and emerging human individual, the human spirit.

A co-created society is the “social sculpture” — the society we all create together.

In the social sculpture, the Truth remains many-sided; it remains the common property of everyone involved. It’s in perpetual becoming and emergence; it’s never fixed. Its domain is the sphere of culture, which is alive and always evolving. Culture is the realm of human freedom of thought and creativity.

Why is this important?

Because as change agents working every day to make the world a better place, we’re surrounded by untruths at every turn. What can we do to create and co-create the world we need?

The first step is to understand the difference between social engineering and social sculpture.

Why is this helpful?

If we understand the difference, we can use this as a moral compass through the quagmires of misinformation, political polarizing, and fear mongering. We can learn to focus on the “signal” instead of the “noise.”

We can learn to see into the invisible fields behind the effects — the root causes of social dysfunction.

When we’re honest with ourselves — when we allow many truths and still respect and love each other —  we can then find the regenerative, renewing way forward.

Co-creation renders the old systems obsolete.

As we see it, this is the most urgent task of our age: for leaders around the world to help create the social sculpture — the society (and societies) we all create together.

Not the society dictated or engineered by distant authorities and unscrupulous interests.


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