A society is something like a massive brain, a web composed of individual human minds rather than neurons. The collective beliefs of a well functioning society will always resemble the shared beliefs of the majority of its individual members. Societies function best when the society conforms to one set of beliefs, one code of laws, one idea of ethics, one notion of culture: it is simply the best societal structure to maximize cooperation and minimize conflict. Therefore a well functioning society is something akin to a well functioning brain that is not, say, afflicted by schizophrenia (which might be something resembling a dual partisanship).
Being a member of a society is something psychologically more subtle than being a member of a town or a city or a country. One could say that a family is its own sort of society. Or a group of friends. Or any social environment one can imagine. Living together, and more importantly, forming bonds, is only made possible by agreeing. We need not agree about all things, but the more one agrees with another, the more likely it is that two people can get along.
The smallest unit of society is the individual. An individual in and of himself is a microcosm of agreeing and disagreeing ideas. When we find ourselves conflicted, we can be said to be “of two minds:” one mind embodies the ideals and rationale behind one choice, the other, the ideals and rationale behind another.
Interpersonal relationships, relationships between individuals, comprise the second smallest society. Two people agree with, disagree with, love, hate, and tolerate each other based on the amount of conflict between their beliefs. Interpersonal relationships act as the “webbing” of small groups like families or groups of friends. The social environment, the set of ideas or lifestyle choices agreed on in this small society, enters into larger networks, networks of groups rather than individuals. These groups represent a collective viewpoint, interacting with each other just as individual human minds interact with each other, forming the”webbing” of even larger social environments of things such as neighborhoods or communities. Eventually these groups grow larger and larger, forming towns, cities, countries, and even global internet environments like Facebook or Twitter.
The whole notion of a global social environment is certainly a pretty thing, but let’s take a look at the features of social environments in general. If a well functioning society is said to be the one that has the least amount of disagreement, then the best society maximizes its functionality by cutting out outliers, from here on referred to as divergent thinkers. By eliminating those who disagree with the fundamental ideals embodied by some society, we eliminate sources of conflict and subversion. We see this everywhere and to many different extents: totalitarian regimes eliminate rebels and naysayers, high schools segregate into popular kids and not so popular kids.
The very notion of eliminating divergent thinking is nowhere more present than in our current educational system, not by coincidence, but out of necessity: standardized education is the means by which we might achieve the end of optimizing the functionality of a society. Such standardization has far been a boon to humanity in general, but what consequences are reaped in the process? The stifling of creativity is one. The objectification of individual purpose is another: can a person accomplish this task, yes or no? People in such a system are prized for completing certain tasks in certain ways, for applying concepts in nuanced manners. Creativity is tolerated, but only insofar as it doesn’t deviate from certain standards of normalcy.
Despite this, it is a fact that a society cannot function if its members disagree too much or think too differently. There must be a limit to the amount of divergent thinking a society can tolerate before it descends into chaos. The elimination of outliers is a necessary feature of a well functioning society, which will always attempt to maximize the average happiness of its members.
My question, at the end of it all, is this: how do we balance individual creativity while maintaining social order? Is it necessarily impossible to maximize one without minimizing the other?