Social environments characterize networks of interaction between members of a society; they are defined by the dominant social norms that are maintained and upheld by those members. For instance, the social environment of a town might be defined by its dominant political views, popular dress style, everyday commerce, general inter-member relationships, etc.These shared beliefs –from here on referred to as social paradigms– define a society’s sense of normalcy. Normalcy, in this sense, is just as amorphous as human belief. Is it normal for people to slap each other across the face? It might be, if you happen to live in a place where people believe that slapping is an appropriate greeting.
The strength of a social paradigm for regulating normalcy within a society is reflected by the extent to which deviation from social norms can be tolerated. For instance, the strength of ethics as a social paradigm is high: those caught in violation of standards of ethics are punished. Deviations from other, weaker social norms are more tolerable, receiving less severe sorts of filtering. Of course the strength of a social norm is entirely specified by the beliefs of the members of the society. For instance, it might merely be considered strange to wear gaudy makeup and costume jewelry around colonial Jamestown, but such attire in say, Puritan New England, would not only be considered strange, but offensive or perhaps even ungodly.
The point of my explaining all this is to provide the groundwork to larger questions and explorations about social paradigms. In particular, I would like to address this question: about what sorts of things do we form social paradigms? Perhaps the best way to approach this issue is to discover commonalities between social paradigms of different societies. What social paradigms are common to all forms and sizes of human society?
When looking for these commonalities, we have to make sure that we look not at the particular features of specific social paradigms, but at the general idea about which the paradigm generates a sense of normalcy. Paradigms about clothes, for instance, fall into more general paradigms of appearance. There are many social paradigms, that when closely examined, fall into paradigms about much more general concepts. What are these more general concepts about which people tend to form social paradigms?
I mentioned one already: appearance (or perhaps a better word would be aesthetic). All societies have some paradigm with respect to aesthetic. I should note here that aesthetic is more complex than mere visual appearance, for there are many aspects that describe how something appears that include, but are not limited to, visual appearance.The particular features of social paradigms of aesthetic, whether they generate norms about clothes, sound, style, demeanor etc., are not the issue at hand. We should focus our attention to the fact that paradigms of aesthetic are ubiquitous in societies. Why is this the case? I won’t explore a reason here, but just note that in any society, appearance, of both people and of things, is often regulated for normalcy.
Other social paradigms establish norms about action. These paradigms contain our ideas of ethics, good and evil, will and incontinence, cool and uncool etc.. Every society has paradigms with respect to action; paradigms about action generate the groundwork to the laws and rules that regulate order within a society. Establishing a common understanding of how one should act in a society promotes cooperation among the individual members of a society. Those who refuse to join in on this cooperation, that is, those who fall outside social paradigms of action, are purged or at least filtered from the society.
For now, I will leave this list with just these two; at the moment I can’t think of any more general concepts about which we form social paradigms. If you can think of another, please feel free to comment on this blog or on Facebook. The relevant issue to remember at the end of this all is that social paradigms regulate normalcy with respect to some larger concept. This notion will play an important role in the answering this question: how might we go about adjusting our social paradigms so that we can maximize individual creativity while maintaining a stable sense of social order?