Causation and Social Forces for Cultural Change

The Life-Cycle of Social Forces and Institutions

“In our three-dimensional surroundings there is actually a fourth dimension, Time … whose influences may be unconscious, yet which persistently permeate our lives. There is the existence of patterns of reasoning … in historical events.” ~ Carl Gustavson, A Preface to History

There is complexity in every event. History is the continual dynamics caused through a series of events, one leading to the next one, ending in a final result. Causation is the relationship between cause and effect. It provides a means of connecting conduct with the results of what that conduct caused. There are two broad categories of causation; political and non-political.

Generally, non-political causes are linear and involve relatively few people in areas such as the developments in technology and science. Two examples are the development of vaccines to counter particular diseases and the improvement in methods of transportation. Political causation involves many more people, is non-linear and often involves conflict. Both political and non-political causation are affected by the law of unintended consequences. The law of unintended consequences refers to an intervention into a complex system by either adding or subtracting something which tends to create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.

In political causation, there are underlying causes, often grievances, which have been ignored or suppressed over a long period. Other underlying causes are calculated perpetrated actions, such as planning and implementation of aggressive behavior, like a war. Other actions are random, unplanned behavior that 'was the straw that broke the camel's back'. The reaction of those affected leads to other events followed by counteractions. Like falling dominoes, each event leads to the next, and so on until a major event happens.

When people feel strongly about something they will often join a group that focuses on progressing or preventing a certain change. A social force is when a group of people organizes for a common purpose. When people organize into groups with a plan and strategy, they are more powerful than the same individuals acting on their own. A social force gives power and direction to the ideas that are the reason for the formation of the group. A social force has far great power than individuals operating separately. For a social force to be effective a structure develops that gives it power and direction. Often the social force is defined by the name of the institution representing it, such as Greenpeace or American Association of Retired People (AARP), the Tea Party, etc. Like the two sides of a coin, social forces usually represent two or more views on a particular issue such as the Democrat and Republican Parties or 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice'.

There is often an event or cluster of events, that makes a critical mass, which changes the direction of the outcome. Winston Churchill coined the phrase, “the turning of the tide” in reference to three battles the Allies won in late 1942 and early 1943 during World War II. Like the tide, before those battles, the Axis won every major battle. After those battles, the Allies won all the remaining battles.

The final cause, the spark, is the event that defines the beginning of a major event. You know what event or events were triggered by these sparks: Lexington and Concord and “the shot heard around the world”, the assassination the Arch Duke Ferdinand, or “9/11”. Because of its emotional impact, often the spark is given more importance in comparison to the other causes. The bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese armed forces on December 7, 1941, is considered the most important cause of WWII for many Americans. However, the U.S. embargo of iron and oil to Japan, and the Japanese conquest of Indonesia with the subsequent loss of access to rubber and tin, were more significant causes of the war.

Issues are not causes themselves but are groups of related events or causes. The Navigation Acts, the Stamp Act, the Tea Tax Act, and the Boston Tea Party are all causes of the American Revolution that involve the issue of taxation. For example, four issues led to the American Civil War: economics, governmental differences, slavery, and fanatics. Effects are the results or consequences of an event. Those consequences can either be positive or negative, planned or unplanned. Often the unintended consequences have a greater effect because they were not planned for. Regardless, these effects may become the cause in the next series of events.

It is important to remember that the decisions which are made are done within the limits of what was possible at the time. Many disasters were caused by not taking this into account. Decisions are not always the correct ones that should have been made. Luck or timing are critical factors. In studying any past or present problem, event, institution, or idea it is important to seek origins, relationships, and comparisons.

It is possible to discern the forces which were/are dynamic in society. Society is perpetually undergoing a process of change. There is a constant tension between forces that want to maintain the status quo and those that want change. Because the past is still at work in the present, it is important to take into consideration the continuity of society in all its forms. All the above factors play out in an infinite fabric of complexity. The most important consideration of all is to maintain objectivity. This requires pulling yourself out of the situation, putting yourself in the other person's place, and making decisions as dispassionately as possible. The more time you have to make decisions the better the decisions are likely to be. Usually, it is not necessary to dislike those that oppose your views. I have observed that most people do the best they can under the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Each situation and event is unique. Nothing is possible to predict with absolute certainty. By understanding the possibility of probability you will increase your understanding of how best to respond to any given circumstance. This process of historical mindfulness will increase your understanding of events and will guide you in the decisions that you will need to make. It will increase your power to make correct decisions.

A social force must have an organization, formal or informal, to provide structure to be effective. A social force gives direction and power for the idea or ideas that are important for that group and are shared by its members. The associations and organizations of social forces through which the interests of the group express themselves give them focus and power. When social forces become formal they are identified by the institutions that are formed to promote the ideas of the group. Each social force through its organization represents a set of ideas and values, articulates the views of its members, and enforces some degree of cooperation and conformity upon them. To be successful institutions will have the necessary economic support, the facilities for convincing others of their value, the ability to defend themselves, both spiritual/psychological and material, and sufficient discipline within the group to avoid internal conflicts. While institutional energies are directed toward the particular beliefs of the social force, part of the institutional energies are directed toward the preservation of their own separate identities.

There is a life cycle that institutions follow. The institutions of a social force are created to protect and promote the beliefs of the group they represent. Individuals are drawn to that organization for altruistic reasons. As the institution becomes powerful it attracts individuals that are more interested in their own advancement and use the institution for that purpose. There is a tendency of all institutions to expand their power. Eventually, a formal institution becomes a vested interest, concerned with its own self-representation and aggrandizement. This creates tensions between different groups with competing beliefs.

The most prominent institution in the southern section of the British colonies, and later the United States, was the institution of slavery. Slavery came into existence as an economic social force promoting the ideas of slavery to maximize the economic well-being of the people living in the Piedmont region in the southern colonies/United States. The majority of the European population who lived there were poor compared to the 1% that controlled the economic and social beliefs of that region.

Unless the large plantation owners, the aristocracy, could keep discipline, it would fail. For the protection of slavery as an institution, they developed a class structure with self-aggrandizement, wealth, and power concentrated at the very top of the social order. Illiteracy for both the poor whites and the slaves, a pass system for slaves, and strong anti-fugitive slave laws were used as instruments of control.

An intellectual conundrum was created for the South after the formation of the United States as the US was founded on the fundamental beliefs of equality of all individuals. To rationalize that the dichotomy of a slave-based economy within a democratic central government, slaves had to be thought of as animals rather than humans. With the growth of commerce, the standard of living improved in the North and stagnated in the South. The only exception was the top 1%, those individuals who owned 100 or more slaves and who lived in opulence. They had a vested interest in maintaining the existing order. The best way to do this was through a draconian legal system with strong anti-fugitive laws. The North developed new technologies that were the result of the Industrial Revolution and an economic system based on commerce and manufacturing. The economic power of the North increased compared to that of the South which had stagnated. Commerce increased the power of the emerging middle class in the North. There was only a small middle class that had developed in the South.

As it is today, tension exists between the various social forces vying for power, all seeking to aggrandize their position at the expense of the other, engaged in more or less constant sparring for advantage. No institution gives up its power willingly. The established order fights to maintain the status quo while rationalizing that they are doing so for altruistic reasons. This is what the historian L.S. Stavrianos calls the Retarded Lead Syndrome. In the South, the constant peril of slave revolts created the need for a stronger authority which resulted in the establishment of a totalitarian system to the extent that slaves could be killed if they learned to read and or write.

To maintain their position the aristocracy of the South ran their society and received its economic benefits had to persuade the majority white population that was not benefiting from the antebellum South to buy into the status quo. The all-important allegiance of the masses of the people was created by making the myth that white people were superior to blacks and that the slaves were the beneficiaries of the superior white man’s culture they were exposed to. Slaves as a 'necessary evil' morphed into 'slavery as a positive good'. This was done by creating a sense of superiority over the black slaves and holding out the possibility that they could also own slaves, by either marrying the plantation owner's daughter or, like Andrew Jackson, by their own luck and pluck. It was a modification of the Horatio Alger story.

The institutional factor is a powerful one in the causation of the Civil War. The political institutions of the confederation were too disorganized to be effective. There is a far greater technological innovation in a manufacturing society than there is in an agricultural one. The replacement of the old-style Gutenberg hand-powered printing press was replaced by steam powered rotary press that could produce printed material quickly and cheaply. The writing and printing of the anti-slavery material by Fredrick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, and others increased awareness of slavery as a human tragedy.

The novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was widely read in the North, and copies were smuggled into the South. It was the single most significant underlying cause by creating an important social force leading to the civil war. In the South, there was created an 'underground railroad', a system by which slaves were smuggled out of the south to the North and as far as Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The Civil War and the remnants of attitudes of that time still exist today. But when the old ways of doing things no longer work and those individuals and institutions are losing the fight to retain their power. They will eventually die out. The paralysis in the national political system today is the byproduct of changing the paradigms on which this society is based. It is the cycle of death, birth, and rejuvenation. As the new paradigm is established there is a burst of creativity. That time is still in the future, but not as long as many think.