Social Norms and Social Policy

On Governance, Theory, and Policy

The primary purpose of a government is to create and produce policies which bring order, cohesion, and further development to a given society, among other things. And most governing bodies have available multiple avenues to achieve said outcomes.

But before any governing body attempts to deal with their citizenry, a view point about the current conditions of society must be adopted. That is, when we consider disparities of wealth between social class, for instance, we adopt some theoretical view that accounts for those matters of fact therein.

In one example, an evolutionary theorist will suppose that disparities in wealth are a reflection of personality traits and IQ; and that it is an inherent norm within any society for disparities to develop in that regard: namely, that some become the haves while others become the have nots; only because some personality traits and IQ scores, two phenomenon which are notably shaped by genetic factors, increase the likely hood of someone coming across an abundance of resources, and thus increasing the ease at which said individual can pass along their offspring.

In another example, a marxian view will suppose of wealth disparities some form of oppression. Namely, the have nots have gone from generation to generation in material conditions which disenfranchise them. Put otherwise, the have nots continuously lack either an equal opportunity of start, or an equal opportunity of outcome. And thus, the have nots have been oppressed rather than given a fair chance to compete; which brings about a disparity in wealth.

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As we can see, both viewpoints attempt to account for the conditions of society with their respective theoretical accounts; and one of such viewpoints is precisely what a given governing body has to adopt when forming policy. But herein resides some difficulties.

The Mystery Of Social Norms

Some of us think, evidently so, that some social norms are inherent, while others believe that some social norms are socially engineered. And of course, both views are true in-and-of-themselves; that is, some social norms are dependent on inherent biological mechanism, while other social norms are indeed socially engineered. But to decipher which is which can be a difficult task.

When a government adopts too much of an evolutionary view, for instance, they neglect the impact which historical material conditions can have upon some group. Likewise, when a government adopts too much of a social constructionist view, they neglect the inherent biological mechanisms which shape some cultures; and as a result of such ignorance, they then try to change something that cannot be changed: it as though someone has attempted to persuade our mouths to never again bite into a delicious piece of food.

The ambiguity that stems from the equivalent explanatory power of either a marxian or evolutionary viewpoint brings indecisiveness and confusion; more specifically, since each theory can account for the matters of fact, and since we cannot be anymore certain in one theory over the other – if and only if each viewpoint explains the data equally well –  we are left with the task to disambiguate both the basis and origin of certain societal norms.

Are sporting events rooted in some biological mechanism, of which has to be expressed, like the basic biological mechanisms for movement and language? Is poor academic achievement a result of bad genes? Or is bad academic achievement a result of a poor upbringing?

Worse yet, though we have spoken in a dichotomous fashion about nature and nurture views, both of which clearly have their pros and cons as well as their truths and falsehoods, there is yet another view: namely, gene-environment interactions.

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A gene-environment interaction view supposes that biology is the foundation of culture, and that social learning accounts for the various differences found atop each foundation. In example, we all have the innate capacity for language yet we all adopt different styles of language.

For any government to decipher the basis and origin of a particular social norm requires, beyond doubt, enormous amounts of skepticism and a great deal of open-mindedness.

In Favour Of Political Centrism

As we have seen, sometimes a social norm will result from inherent human tendency, like pair-bonding; while other social norms will result from social engineering, like language variation; and even moreover, some social norms will stem from biological foundations, though manifest differently across a populace, like culturally-bound holidays.

As a consequent, there will be times wherein which we cannot change something about human nature: i.e., the notion that we can rid humanity of all crime; or wherein which we require some massive social change: i.e., equal rights for the sexes.

And since humans have a tendency to engage in foolish consistency, a notion which references belief in some principle, despite any detriment, I believe political centrism is the best approach to most social issues.

A political centrist will be able to identify more readily the issues that stem from biological factors, while likewise being able to identify socially engineered disparities.

We all have top-down viewpoints for social issues. The evolutionary theorist tends to seek biological factors, and the marxian theorist tends to seek social factors, but the centrist holds skepticism to be the default viewpoint. A centrist approaches with uncertainty; they are unsure about how one ought to view a given issue, as we cannot know a priori the solutions to empirical problems. Centrism is synonymous with open-mindedness.

Therefore, since social issues are complex and non-linear, it is best we adopt an open-minded approach: namely, centrism. Because many times complex social issues are a result of biological factors feeding into social factors, and vice versa. Political centrism is the best a priori position for issues regarding policy.


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