Law in Contemporary Society

Institutional Creeds, Cons, and Making Choices for Life

-- By KevinChang - 27 Feb 2009

This paper was revised by Joseph Lu.

People’s choices are limited

People may generally think that they enjoy absolute freedom in making choices. Certain choices, however, are constrained by boundaries posed by law, morality, or other social values. For instance, some of us may believe that it is we who choose which colleges to attend, which courses to take, what should be our majors, whom we marry, and what careers to which we will dedicate our lifetimes. However, limitations in our social environment bias us toward certain choices even though we are well aware of the existence of other options. And even when this bias is not in effect to counteract an endogenous “free will” that negotiates with, instead of submitting to, external environmental factors, some of us—because of things like class status, familial dysfunction, and early life deprivation—cannot pursue certain choices even though we may want to.

Absolute freedom in making choices seems to necessarily involve an active conversation between (1) a person’s experiences, current expectations, and current values, and (2) external environmental factors constituting the social creeds whose purpose is to transform people’s tendencies toward certain choices. A wholesale substitution of a person’s experiences, expectations, and values by social creeds, then, is not the kind of conversation required for absolute choice-making freedom.

People tend to be confined by social creeds or the roles assigned to them

Since people are social animals, we are in constant communication with others. This inevitable social network is one means that facilitates the indoctrination of social creeds. These creeds both (1) amplify the desirability or even apparent “inevitability” of certain choices, and (2) perpetuate the biases that animate the attitude of resignation in campaigns to battle class inequality, certain forms of familial dysfunction, and early life deprivation—social problems that too hinder making choices for life. These creeds perform these two functions so well because the human preference for conformism is coupled with the top-down influence of conmen who are adept at manipulating this human preference. It may even be possible to imagine that each of these two circumstances can function independently of the other to limit people’s choices. But it would admittedly be difficult to imagine the absence of either conformism or conmen in our social environment to exclude the fact of mutual reinforcement.

People are controlled because of their weakness

Conmen act on not just conformists, but also people who might “need” being manipulated so that they would not get lost in their lives. Possibly, then, Leff’s conmen are shepherds for people who lack the substantive, “internal” components that otherwise motivate others to pursue certain choices. These people, instead, rely on social creeds to fill their gaps.

Controlling possibly benefits some people

Take making career choices for example. Some people may lack certainty about what careers to pursue. Some people may lack the resilience to resist being beaten down by the struggle to earn a living. Regardless of whether such people know what a “good,” “meaningful” career choice is, people can be inflicted by a number of other deficiencies that lead to their “gaps.” For whatever reasons, then, these people may prefer submitting to social creeds that dictate what career choices "should" be made.

For these people, having someone set up a stage for them and give them roles to play might actually help them and create social stability. It cannot be a blanket judgment, then, that what conmen do is categorically bad. For example, some people, though not having specific goals in mind, are willing to generally make the most of themselves. They get into certain professions, though somehow by accident, learn as much as they can, and finally become outstanding professionals. For this type of people, giving them scripts to play is helping them maximize their ability to succeed in the professions that ultimately might best suit them.

Think and fight, and we shall be free

For people who wish to activate the conversation between their experiences, expectations, and values on the one hand, and social creeds on the other hand, perhaps one means to ensure that this process happens is the same means through which social creeds are indoctrinated: constant communication within our vast social network. In the pool of ideas relevant to making choices about which colleges to attend, which courses to take, what should be our majors, and other life moments, we should insert knowledge about ourselves, particularly our thoughts, and solicit feedback from others to build on our thoughts. And this kind of knowledge should be as persuasive and forceful in creatively reinforcing our accumulated experiences, expectations, and values as social creeds are persuasive and forceful in their attempts to supplant, rather than interact with, our accumulated selves.

It seems that the primary difference between the processes of creative reinforcement and substitution is the extent to which the person’s autonomous self is integrated into the final product, the choice the person ultimately makes. Social creeds, using substitution, seek to eliminate the choice makers' previous accumulated selves in order to assemble an army of bodies with homogeneous intellectual lives—and if not homogeneous in this sense, then homogeneous in the sense that each body is performing its assigned stage role to uniformly serve the goal of any particular social creed. The better alternative, it seems, assimilates the accumulated self, external feedback about this self, and, if desirable, parts of social creeds into the final product, the choice—and, in this case, a free choice.


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r6 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:32:35 - IanSullivan
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