For some time I have been thinking about how to define the words social and anti-social. Then I thought about context for the past few days. Half an hour ago while making coffee three key words made sense and they are in the title. Structure and paragraphs became clear and it was time to write. Add some Pink Floyd and musical bliss and coffee bliss and the words flow like water. This essay addresses my personal gripes with what is considered social, anti-social and society’s role.
First some context to get started. Social refers to socially acceptable behaviour, anti-social the socially unacceptable behaviour and society is society. Sometimes society is best perceived as concrete or abstract, simple or complex in varying combinations of what is relevant for the scope of what you are researching. In this essay I will try to keep “society” as concrete as much as possible.
My perspective is personal to say the least. I consider myself to be a bit weird. I value knowledge and understanding generally more than trends that come and go. I appreciate a drink but detest getting drunk. Parties can be fun but quiet conversation or a good story I find more interesting. I am an introvert and having faced popular people who got away with belittling the silent others my attitude has become “fuck society, I adapt where necessary and then do my own thing.” Whether my attitude is considered anti-social or not so be it. When people cannot communicate politely and when people do not have manners I consider them not welcome.
From my perspective I have to make the jump to perception and standards. Perception and standards are influenced by individuals and groups. When I mention “groups” think of two people ranging to nine zeroes. How individuals and groups perceive and adopt or develop standards influences the media. The media then influence society on a large-scale. In that sense the media are the mirror of society in a region, country, continent or even a vague orientation like “the Western world.”
Add to standards the tricky factor of double standards and human behaviour. I know myself too well to not address this so I have to mention it. By it I specifically mean that people can easily make rules for others but also easily make exceptions for themselves. The double standard of behaviour is found everywhere because people are people. It leads to the paradox of why people sometimes do what they do.
Socially acceptable behaviour is sometimes a paradox in itself. In a society were power and influence can give a person the semi-privilege to break the rules, the people with (very) little power and influence have to follow the rules. Look at politicians, successful entrepreneurs and celebrities who get away with no or light penalties but the no-name small people have to face full penalties for breaking the rules of a state and/or society.
Then there is anti-social behaviour. Sometimes it is a politician, successful entrepreneur or celebrity. Often sub-cultures and all kinds of minority groups deviate from society’s standards of acceptable behaviour and are criticised for it. The criticism turns into acceptance when the sub-culture or minority group finds a popular following and the media say “this is the new thing, join and be popular too.” For me this comes down to the metaphor of the herd where you have wolves, goats and sheep. Wolves hunt the sheep and the sheep roll over with ease. The goats jump around and charge the wolf. I prefer the goats and adapt when necessary. Doing the popular thing is not always the smart thing to do.
From the herd metaphor I jump to society. First you have to ask yourself “what is society?” If you think I am asking an unnecessary question I can tell you that in the context of where you live and where you receive news and information you have to ask this question. What happens where you live applies to you and your neighbours. Per location and region people experience events and situations which are reported by the local and regional media. People and the media reflect each other in what happens in society. Think of the New York Times which reports on New York news and then on U.S. and world news.
When you have a more specific description of “society” you can look at the people it consists of. Then you learn that many factors influence behaviour. Sometimes also why so and how factors can lead to certain actions. Think of the angry students in Amsterdam who occupied the UvA’s Maagdenhuis. Their executive board refused to listen so the students said “no” and the students forced the UvA’s executive board to listen. The UvA’s executive board has somewhat learnt its lesson. This example is a concrete case but sometimes you have to do a lot of research to find factual information.
When you ask me now what I think of society, I ask “which one?” and I expect specific indicators like “the Netherlands”, “Europe” or “the West.” Then you have to be specific in your questions per topic so can answer “yes”, “no”, “I agree”, “I disagree”, “I do not know” or “no comment.” I would do the same for you so we can avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication and at least have a good conversation.
Even when you are not as critical as I am do think and ask questions. Today is a day in the year 2015 and things are changing quickly. People respond to changes and sometimes it is more important to slow down and think. The internet alone has been blurring boundaries that were unheard of a few years back.
Who decides what is socially acceptable behaviour and why? Think about it…
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