Social Phenomena 简体中文 繁體中文
by Teng Wang
What is Society?
Before discussing social phenomena, we should perhaps ask the very first question of what society is. In other words, what the definition for society is. According to Dictionary of Modern Chinese as compiled by the Dictionary Editorial Board of the Linguistic Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 搒ociety means: (1) a collection formed by a definite economic foundation and superstructure that can also be termed social formation. Human society has five basic formations, namely, primitive communist society, slavery society, feudal society, capitalist society and communist society. (2) Society in general terms means a group of people gathering together due to similar materialistic conditions. American biologist Edward O. Wilson defines 搒ociety as 揳 group of
individuals belonging to the same species and organized in a co-operative manner. * I think Wilson抯 definition is the better one.
Why Society Exists?
The second question we should then ask is why some animals live together whereas some animals live alone. In other words, why some animals are social when others are solitary. In fact, many large carnivorous animals, such as tiger, leopard and bear (which is omnivorous) live alone. There are two basic conditions for animals to survive: there is enough food and they are not to be eaten by other animals. For larger animals, their body sizes lead to two inevitable consequences: they require more food, and they face less natural enemies. So, the primary problem for larger animals would be to find enough food. If these animals live together in a group, the problem of insufficient food would be exasperated. As for those smaller animals such as ants, wolves, monkeys and human beings that have to face many natural enemies need to get together, depend on and protect one another from their enemies.
The Goal of Human Existence
The third question we have to ask, then, is what constitutes the goal of human existence. I believe that human society is like a race. People are born athletes participating in a race, not physical but intellectual. Human life is just like a marathon race. Physical marathon race has a finishing line whereas intellectual marathon race will never end. Instead, human life has a direction or goal, and the goal is called 揷ontrol. In this world, anything other than
human is a thing (including animals). The ultimate desire for human is to exercise the greatest possible control over the other human and things around him. Control on human is 損ower, and control on things is 搘ealth. Power is
measured by positions and ranks whereas wealth is measured by money terms. With the control on human comes indirectly some control on things, such as politicians using their power to gain materialistic benefits. Likewise, with the control over things comes indirectly some control over human, such as rich
people hiring other people to work for and serve them. Politicians also have direct control over things, such as government-owned enterprises and assets. Nevertheless, this kind of control is not absolute and politicians cannot blatantly take the things under control as their own assets. On the contrary, the assets of a capitalist are entirely privately owned and the capitalist has absolute control over them. The study of how people control one another in order to gain indirect control over things is called politics. The study of how people make use of the control over things to indirectly control other people is called economics. American psychologist Abraham Maslow says that there are seven levels of human need, namely, (1) food, water, (2) safety, (3) belongingness, love, (4) esteem, (5) curiosity, (6) beauty, symmetry, and (7) self-actualization. Only after man抯 lower level of needs have been satisfied, will he recognize the need at the next higher level. Maslow believes that the highest desire of man is to 搒elf-actualize. In my opinion, though, the meaning of self-actualization is not clear enough. Instead, I believe that the ultimate goal for human existence is to control everything that exists, meaning the entire universe. Things will become 揵eautiful after they are controlled. For example, people think that today抯 life is more beautiful than yesterday抯 because they have greater
control over life today than they had yesterday. Otherwise, they would not say so. Curiosity is only a means to achieve the end, that is, control. One has to understand a thing before controlling it. Only when the structure of atom is understood can atomic power be controlled. As a result of the natural course of evolution, human beings have only two eyes and ten fingers. By the same token, the human desire to control and be curious is the result of evolution that has been going on for millions of years. Those ape-men that lacked the desire to know and control had died out long time ago. The so-called esteem in real terms is the desire to do well in everything and outperform others. People compete and compare with one another to see who can control more. This is the primary motivation force behind human social development. Social animals are 搒ocial
and live together because they are linked by a common force. The force that links the earth and the moon is called gravity, and the force that links social animals together is belongingness and love, an inherited instinct of social animals. Adults do not have to teach kids to make friends with other kids because it is in their instinct. Without friends, people will feel lonely. Among social animals, there is mutual attraction (belongingness and love) as well as repelling force (hatred) in competition for control. In other words, people co-operate and compete with one another. Co-operation increases the chance of survival for people as a group while competition and selfishness increase the chance of survival for individuals. Both forces are necessary and are results of the natural course of evolution over the years. Sometimes, though, competition can also increase the chance of survival for a group. A typical example would be two male deer competing for a herd of female deer. In the end, only the stronger male deer has the chance of mating therefore their offspring will have a better chance of survival.
In common words, the goal of human existence is to scramble for power and wealth. Human society is just a stage for race, or competition. To the losers, competition is very cruel. Competition causes a lot of stress, so not everyone likes competition. If you give up, others, including your parents, will look down on you, and tell you that you are useless. So, every one of us born in this society is forced to take part in the competition. Why is human society a stage for competition? Because human beings have needs. The first need is oxygen, and then the needs for food, water, clothes, housing and transportation are followed. All these things are not free, have limited supply, except oxygen. Nobody can survive without food, water, clothes and house, so, people feel unsafe, and then they desire for all these. This desire is limitless. Even if someone has gathered enough wealth for the rest of his life, he still wants to collect more for his children, even his grandchildren. The result of limited resources plus limitless desires is competition.
There are people in this world, such as monks and missionaries, who may not appear greedy and lack the desire to control other people or things. It is only because these people believe in an afterlife. They sacrifice the present life for the sake of the future life in 揾eaven. What is 揾eaven? In my view, it is
the place with indefinite control. Therefore, these people still want control in the end. They want to control their life to come because they believe in it. People that have more control over other people are called politicians. People that have more control over things are called capitalists and people that have more control over knowledge are called scientists. All these people are the forerunners at the intellectual marathon race.
I would like to discuss a metaphor before explaining social phenomena further. If I were an automobile designer and had to design an automobile, I would put forward my goal and requirements at the outset. Firstly, the automobile has to be a secured vehicle with brakes that work well, wheels (if any) that will not fall apart and a body that is compact and durable. Secondly, the manufacturing cost has to be low. Thirdly, the car will need to have towering engine power and high speed. Fourthly, it incurs low operating and maintenance costs, saves fuel (not necessarily gas), and will not easily break down. Fifthly, the vehicle is convenient to use. The reading meter and switches are at appropriate positions and easily been seen. It should have wide field of view, and be spacious and easy for people to go in and out. The temperature has to be adjustable, it should have high fidelity stereo and communications systems. The car also has to be quiet and with little vibration. Sixthly, its appearance and color will prove to be satisfactory to the customers. In short, the second, third and fourth requirements can be combined into one. In other words, to combine horsepower with speed, then divide them by manufacturing and operating cost and come up with the efficiency of the automobile. Simply speaking, the car will have to be safe, efficient, comfortable and good-looking. Of course, these requirements contradict one another. Cars with low manufacturing cost will never be very
comfortable, and cars that are handy to use will not be cheap. Cars will have to be big and heavy in order to be safe because large cars with greater inertia will suffer less damage in collision. However, manufacturing and operating costs will consequently be increased in this way. If I were to design an automobile for rich people or high-ranking government officials, I could well ignore the cost factor and stress instead the importance of safety, comfort and convenience. Nevertheless, if I were to design for the common folks, I have to pay much attention to the cost factor while also take the other factors into consideration. When designing for the military, safety would be of greater importance. Automobile equipped with armor becomes armored vehicles and tanks. These vehicles use much gas, the costs will be high, and they are with comparatively little efficiency. What about designing for those that cannot even afford to buy a car? Then one has to try to minimize the cost to make it a motorbike, which certainly lacks safety. Accordingly, no car can be perfect and by the same token, no plane, ship, house or bridge can be perfect. Nor are there any perfect desk, chair, television, radio ... You get the picture. The Goal (or The Purpose) of Human Society
Now that if I were to design a human society, what requirements would I have for the society? The first is security: personal security, property security and job security. The second requirement will be efficiency. Efficiency is defined as the average value that every individual creates in a given period of time. What we say in general terms 損er capita income actually means efficiency. The third factor would then be equity, meaning that every individual has the same opportunities and is subject to the same limitation, which is law. My definition for equity is: the situation when the ratio between the value that any individual creates and the domain that he/she controls equals to the ratio between the value that any other individual in the society creates and the domain that any other individual controls. What I mean by 揹omain here is the
sum of 損ower and 搘ealth. This definition demonstrates that the individual抯
gain will have to be in direct proportion to his/her contribution. The more one works, the more one gains. The less one works, the less one gains. No work, no gain. Question is, though, that 搗alue as a thing is difficult to measure. What
is the value of Einstein抯 theory? Newton抯? The fourth factor will have to be
social freedom. What is social freedom? We have to understand what freedom is in the first place. Freedom means no limitation or restraints. There are two kinds of limitation. The first is natural limitation that comes from nature. For example, human cannot survive in water as fish does, likewise, fish cannot survive on land as human does. The second kind of limitation is man-made, such as limitation in expression or thoughts, mobility, choice of occupation and the like. They are called social limitation. Natural freedom is without the limitation of nature, and social freedom is without the limitation of society. Possessing a car or motorbike will enable one to travel to places where one could not go before, and that is natural freedom. Nevertheless, if you have an accident or commit impaired driving and the judge revokes your driver抯 license,
that is social limitation. The fifth factor is therefore natural freedom in terms of time and space and the like. The sixth factor is equality, meaning an equal distribution of wealth.
Security and Efficiency
Just like the case of designing automobiles, these six social requirements also contradict one another. As shown in figure 1 below, dotted lines indicate contradictory relations and solid black lines demonstrate complementary relations. Where there is no line, there is no direct relation. Figure 1 has seven dotted lines and two solid black lines, indicating nine different kinds of relations:
Figure 1: Six requirements and their inter-relations
Let us first discuss the relation between security and efficiency. There will be no efficiency if everyone enjoys job security one hundred per cent. On the contrary, if job security can be lost due to poor performance, everyone will then work hard and be effective. As mentioned before, a motorbike is efficient but not safe enough, whereas an armored vehicle is safe but not efficient. In the beginning when the 揅reator 揹esigned animals, He also had to face the
same dilemma: turtle is safe with shell, but is slow. Rabbit runs fast but is not safe because it has no means to protect itself against harm. Be it in the natural world or the human society, security and efficiency always contradict each other. If people want to have more personal or property security, then they would have to spend more on military and weapons, which in turn will affect everyone抯 living standard and reduce efficiency. In the industrialized countries, exhaust fume from the cars is the primary source of air pollution. Nevertheless, if people do not drive, the society will be paralyzed. Social Freedom and Equality
Everyone is born different, except for twins. Some people are strong and some are weak. Some are tall when some are short. Some are extrovert while some are introvert. Some are clever but some are stupid. If every individual can freely develop without social limitations, then as a result we will inevitably see some people flourish when some people wane. Some of the people are poor but some are rich. For the sake of equality, society must therefore limit those that are clever and subsidize those that are stupid. The view of 搒ocial Darwinism
emphasizes social freedom but takes equality lightly, and favors the law of the jungle and free competition. On the contrary, the view of 揗arxism stresses
equality but ignores the perspectives of social freedom. In my opinion, the essence of Marxism can be summarized in one word: equality. Because of the even up policy as adopted in Mainland China, intellectuals always think that they are unfairly treated, hence always the issue regarding treatment of intellectuals. In the West, however, it has never been an issue because intelligent people think that they have already obtained their fair share, power and wealth. In as much the same way as no car that can both be cheap and luxurious, no society in this world can both have social freedom and wealth equality. Generally speaking,
a social system that stresses equality is called socialism and a social system that emphasizes social freedom is called capitalism. History is just like a pendulum. The Russian revolution in 1917 and the Chinese revolution in 1949 are examples of the pendulum of history swinging from 搒ocial freedom (inequality)
to 揺quality (no freedom). Nevertheless, if the pendulum swings to the extreme point of absolute equality (absolute no freedom), then it would be difficult to swing back. This is because the general public does not have enough freedom to organize revolution. It is only when the authorities in power decide to swing back and want a revolution, then will the revolution take place. This is exactly the social condition in which the recent revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union took place. Why then, is Marxism always successful in poor countries? The reason lies in the average low living standard of the people in those countries. For those people whose poverty falls even below the poor countries average living standard, they simply cannot survive and revolution is the only way out. How to stop this kind of social swing and why had there not been any disruptive social revolution in the western industrialized countries in the last couple of hundred years? There is only one simple answer: a legalized democratic system.
Social Freedom and Security
Too much social freedom will lead to insecurity. When people have the freedom to find jobs, their employers will also have the freedom to fire them. In this way, workers will not have job security. When people have the freedom to drink and drive, it will also lead to more accidents. When everyone has the freedom to carry firearms, then personal security is threatened.
Efficiency and Natural Freedom
The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler in reality discusses this kind of relation. Nevertheless, it is observed that Toffler does not realize that his concepts of synchronization, centralization, standardization and specialization can also be derived from the contradictory relation between efficiency and natural freedom. The so-called synchronization means that people would sacrifice freedom to some degree in terms of time for the sake of higher efficiency. Centralization is to sacrifice freedom to some degree in space in return for efficiency. One simple example would be the choice between riding in a car and taking the train. On the one hand, riding in a car is not subject to limitation imposed by train schedule. Car passengers need not go to the train station, nor have to take a route along the rail. In terms of space and mobility, riding in a car is better than taking the train. On the other hand, however, riding in a car is more expensive and less efficient than traveling in a train. When people sacrifice some freedom options in terms of commodity and service to only produce and provide certain kinds of commodity and service, that is standardization. For example, if I cannot get a pair of shoes in size 9.25, I have to settle with size 9.5. In the event that I insist on having a pair of size 9.25 shoes, I will need to have them custom made and since I have to spend more on the shoes, they are less efficient. Again, if I want to take a plane in the second and a half
class, that would be nearly impossible because I can only have the options of second (business) class or third (economy) class. The so-called specialization means that people can only learn and get hold of a certain discipline of knowledge in the short span of life, again for efficiency. It would be nearly impossible for someone to try to be an outstanding physicist as well as a physician today in a world that is bursting with knowledge and information. Therefore, people have to sacrifice freedom to some degree in terms of career options. Both Karl Marx and Alvin Toffler believe that in future people can afford to practice a profession in the morning, switch to another at noon, and exercise the third in the afternoon. Nevertheless, I believe that despite the assistance of highly-developed computers, ordinary people would not be able to grasp Einstein抯 theory of relativity in a matter of three or five years. In the West, since the per capita income (efficiency) of the general public reaches a certain standard, people are more willing to sacrifice efficiency for the sake of greater natural freedom. Five-day workweek and the not so standardized clothing and automobiles are typical examples of this trend. People would still think it worthwhile even when they have to spend more on these things. Social Freedom and Efficiency
These two are of complementary relation. When there is freedom, there is competition and consequently efficiency. When there is no freedom, things cannot serve their best use, and people cannot exercise their best abilities. Consequently, there will be no efficiency. The truth is that market economy that is adjusted by the relation of supply and demand is more efficient than a centralized planned economy.
Efficiency and Equity
These two are also of complementary relation. To guarantee a fair competition at the physical marathon race, there must be some established rules of the game. For example, there have to be adjudicators, and athletes cannot hitchhike or ask others to carry them to run. They cannot deliberately cause others to stumble, use steroid, or take a short-cut route. Only with rules as such that everyone will try his/her best to run with great efficiency. It works in the same way for the human race of intellectual marathon. In this race the rules of the game is called the 搇aw, with government officials and judges as the adjudicators. If the 揳thletes have the right to select, supervise and remove 揳djudicators,
then the 揳djudicators will not violate the rules. We call this a democratic society. However, if the 揳thletes have not such rights, the 揳djudicators
themselves will easily violate the rules and we call this a dictatorial society. A democratic society is more efficient than a dictatorial society because it is more equitable. The so-called feudal society means that those that are running at the front of the race will always run at the front, those in the middle will run always in the middle, whereas those at the back will always run at the back. The comparative position of any individual is determined by his/her family background or heritage instead of his/her personal abilities, and that is not equitable. Situations as such may be deemed necessary during a time when science
and technology is not highly developed. Since people at that time still held little knowledge and there was not much new discovery or invention that could increase productivity in multifold times, therefore people earned their living from inherited assets and physical abilities. Ever since the industrial revolution, however, this system has been grossly unfair with rapidly developing technology and new invention because people with talent and ability could not lift up their heads. As a consequence, people advocate democracy, freedom and equity. More than 200 years ago the slogans as advocated during the French Revolution were sovereignty of the people (democracy), liberty of the individual (social freedom), and equality before the law (equity). If we abbreviate the last part of the slogan to 揺quality, then it is obviously wrong. In a way,
though, the so-called feudal system has not been one hundred per cent feudal. One typical example would be the imperial examination system in Chinese history. The kids from rich or powerful families obviously were not running from the same starting point as the other kids at the intellectual marathon. Perhaps one has to legislate, if possible, to forbid any individual to inherit assets from his/her parents in order to achieve an absolutely fair competition. Nevertheless, people would lose the desire to accumulate wealth and will spend their way as they grow old, and the society will not enjoy any benefit out of it. Therefore, law is not perfect and it cannot solve all problems. To a blind person a stick is not ideal because it fails to make him/her see, but he/she will not abandon the stick because of this. The stick may be the most effective tool he/she may have before any means to make him/her see again can be invented.
Social Freedom and Equity
The main purpose of legislation is to ensure a fair competition. Law is man-made limitation. It imposes limitation on people抯 social freedom, therefore social
freedom and equity are contradictory to each other.
Equity and Security
The so-called unemployment insurance is for those who are employed to subsidize those who are unemployed. The so-called car or medical insurance is for those safe drivers and healthy people to subsidize the drivers that cause accident and those that are sick. From this perspective insurance as such is not fair. On the one hand, we have to sacrifice equity for security reason. On the other hand, we also have to sacrifice security for the sake of equity.
Equity and Equality
If we have to go for equality, we have to tax the rich more and tax the poor less. It does not mean, however, that both the rich and the poor are taxed 30%. It should be 50% or 60% for the rich, and 10% or 20% for the poor. The poorest not only are tax exempted, but will be subsidized by the government, meaning that they are supported by the other taxpayers. This is the principle behind the progressive tax and social welfare systems adopted by most countries in the world, and it is not equitable.
By now the reader should have noticed that there is no perfect social system in
this world, in as much the same way as there is no perfect car in the world. Social Science and Natural Science
There are several reasons for natural science to be more successful than social science (if it can be called science). Firstly, natural science stresses quantitative research. Secondly, there is no emotional linkage between the researcher and the object of study. Social science research, however, has many taboos. It is not nice to say this thing, or it will offend people in saying that thing, and the like. People sometimes can only say things that are politically correct but not scientifically correct. In my opinion, human language is vague. For example, the word 揹esk does not indicate how many legs
the 揹esk has or what material it is made of. By the same token, 搒ocialism
and 揷apitalism are also vague concepts. If I can provide concrete parameters such as measurement, material and color, then the 揹esk I talk about has a
definite meaning. There are also concrete parameters in social science research, such as efficiency, extent of security, degree of equity, level of equality, measure of natural freedom and social freedom, people抯 average life span, crime
rate, average number of phones and cars in the population, and the like. In order to reach objective conclusion, researchers of social studies should make use of these quantified concepts as much as possible to define concepts such as 搒ocialism and 揷apitalism. Adjudicators giving marks at the gymnastics competition is adopting a way to quantify the performance of the athletes. I believe that social theorists should also quantify the social conditions of different period and different regions in human history. It will be impossible to achieve absolute accuracy, even natural scientists cannot measure the length of an object to absolute accuracy. There will inevitably be some errors but in the case of social science, errors will be bigger. People have not forsaken the assessment method for gymnastics competition simply because it contains large errors. Up to now, not only are there vague concepts such as 搒ocialism and
揷apitalism, but also new vague concepts made up from these vague concepts, such as 損rimary stage of socialism and 搒ocialism with distinctive Chinese
characteristics, and the like.
The Essence of Marxism
Karl Marx at first recognized that there are only two classes in capitalist society: capitalist and proletariat. As indicated in Figure 2, many people are proletariat but only a few are capitalist.
Figure 2: The capitalist society according to Karl Marx Figure 3 below indicates the ideal society according to Karl Marx. There is no
gap between the rich and the poor and there is abundant supply of materialistic wealth.
Figure 3: The ideal society according to Karl Marx
According to Statistics Canada, table 1 indicates distribution of Canadian
family income in 1986.
Family income (CDN$)No. Of families (%)Family income (CDN$)No. Of
Less than $5,0001.4$35,000 - $39,0009.0
$5,000 - $9,9994.2$40,000 - $44,9998.1
$10,000 - $12,4993.5$45,000 - $49,9996.8
$12,500 - $14,9994.6$50,000 - $54,9996.0
$15,000 - $17,4994.8$55,000 - $59,9994.7
$17,500 - $19,9994.1$60,000 - $64,9993.7
$20,000 - $24,9998.6$65,000 - $69,9992.8
$25,000 - $29,9998.9$70,000 - $74,9992.2
$30,000 - $34,9999.2$75,000 or above7.3
Table 1: Distribution of Canadian family income in 1986 Figure 4 is worked out according to these numbers.
Figure 4: Canadian wealth distribution curve in 1986 According to U.S. Bureau of the Census, table 2 indicates the distribution of US family income in 1985.
Family income (US$)No. Of families (%)
Less than $5,0004.8
$5,000 - $9,9998.5
$10,000 - $14,99910.2
$15,000 - $19,99910.5
$20,000 - $24,99910.3
$25,000 - $29,9999.7
$30,000 - $39,99916.5
$40,000 - $49,99911.2
$50,000 or above18.2
Table 2: Distribution of US family income in 1985
Figure 5 is worked out according to these numbers.
Figure 5: US wealth distribution curve in 1985 The reality as indicated in figures 4 and 5 is entirely different from the theory of Marx (figure 2). The reality is that in the so-called capitalist countries, there exists a continuous curve for wealth distribution with a middle class that occupies the majority of the population. Because the essence of Marxism is equal distribution of wealth, therefore in the view of Marx this is not an equal world. Consequently human beings were classified into two classes and he also saw in these world concepts such as surplus value, exploitation, class struggle, violent revolution, the dictatorship of proletariat, socialism