Archive for September, 2010

Social Development


In the section ‘the system’ we introduced a view of society as a natural phenomena with the ideas of society as a complex system responding to the same principles and patterns of change as all complex systems in nature. In this section we are going to expand this idea with the concept of social development as another natural phenomena.

Developmental processes are a natural phenomena that occurs in complex systems, by which the system increases in complexity (see Development).  Social development then, in particular, is the process by which society increases in complexity.

Social development is intuitively related with those changes in the system that improves the general well-being its people. In the following we are going show that this is indeed the case. Development is a natural process that is related with an improvement of society. In life there are two incompatible aspects: the pursuit of personal good and the general good. By nature we are inclined to pursue our personal good over the general good, for we have a nature based on the continuance of our genes, and not for the good of society or the natural environment. But nature is neither wise nor perfect, since our higher good is to live in a healthy environment and in harmony with it. The pursuit of personal good over the general good is usually related with a deterioration of the environment (both social and natural). Social development on the other hand, is related with changes in the social environment that curbs this tendency. We sustain that socio-economic, institutional and cultural development are related with a balance of power and interests within the population, which promotes the general good over the personal good, thus improving the general well-being of the population.
Social development doesn’t depend on any political, social or economic ideology. Development is a natural occurrence in the physical world, and so is social development. Social development then is not an ideal that we could dream or aim for. It is a natural process that, like all natural processes, is beyond our control and over which we have very limited influence. But nevertheless, within our limited influence, we do have the power to understand it, to facilitate and let it happen. And if it happens, it does improve the condition of society.
Development in nature is not an inevitable process (see Development). And neither is social development. Societies don’t develop ‘naturally’. Societies can either develop, remain stationary or regress, depending on inhibiting or facilitating internal factors to the system or external factors in the surrounding environment.
To illustrate the process of social development, we can make its analogy with mental development. Mental development is a similar process related with growing complexity, in this case, with an increase in mental complexity. Mental development is also a natural process independent form any human ideal. Mental development is not an inevitable process neither. The process can occur or not depending on the existence of facilitating conditions, both internally, like physical and mental health, and externally like a loving and simulative environment. In social development the same is true. It is not an inevitable process. And it can happen or not depending on internal conditions, like institutional, cultural and socio-economic conditions, and on the effects of the surrounding natural environment and other societies. Social development also resembles mental development in that it is a natural process over which, like in all natural processes, we have no control. Yet, we can have certain understanding of it and we can facilitate it. And, as in mental development too, if the process happens, it improves the condition of the system.
The following is a description of the process of social development, of how it is related with an improvement of society and the internal conditions that facilitates it.

The structure.
First of all, we have to define the structure of the system. We previously modelled society as a complex system formed by the interaction of institutions, culture, socio-economic relations and human nature.

Social Structure

Each element is itself a complex entity. Social development then, is the process by which society increases its socio-economic, cultural and institutional complexity, and the integration of these elements.

The process
Institutional, cultural and socio-economic development is the process by which they increase in complexity. Higher complexity, in general, means higher differentiation and integration of their constituting parts (see Complexity). So social development then, is the process by which institutions, culture and socio-economic relations becomes more differentiated and integrated, and by which themselves becomes more integrated.

. On institutional development, higher differentiation and integration is related with democratization processes, lower hierarchies and de-centralization of power.

. On socio-economic development, higher differentiation and integration is related with social equality and higher individual freedom.

. And on cultural development, higher differentiation and integration is related with a democratization of knowledge and a shift from traditional values to values of self-determination, equality and tolerance. Cultural development is the process by which culture passes to be from an instrument of control, to a mean of social integration and personal emancipation and development.

The process of social development

Social development depends on the mutual dependence of three social aspects: cultural, institutional and socio-economic development. Social development cannot be understood, nor it happens, as a consequence of any of these aspects in isolation.

So the system not only develops through cultural, institutional, and socio-economic development but also through their higher integration. Higher integration between these dimensions means culture, institutions and socio-economic orders that facilitates their mutual development (e.g. institutions that facilitates social and cultural development, etc.).

The effect
Social development, that is, the increase of the system’s complexity, increases the well-being of the general population.

We normally relate by intuition development with improvement. And we also often related social development or improvement with changes that improves the general well-being of the population. We sustain that this is indeed the case. But if development is a natural process related to an increase in social complexity, why is it related with social improvement? Why would social development, or higher social complexity, increase the well-being of the general population?
Well, first of all, let us define what we understand by well-being. Well-being is a general term representing higher levels of happiness through the satisfaction of our physical, mental, personal and social needs. In the present we are going to model the elements conductive to our well-being on the following dimension:
. Stability & Security
. Prosperity
. Social Equality & Justice
. Mental & Physical health
. Freedom
. and a social environment where we can find Integration, Tolerance & Support.

Higher social complexity, through institutional, cultural and socio-economic development, improves the system in all these dimensions.
. Institutional development improves the social strength by bringing more stability, security and prosperity.
. Socio-economic and cultural development improves the social health by bringing more equality, justice, freedom, physical and mental health and social integration, tolerance and support.

The effects of social development

The asymmetry between the dimension related with social strength and the dimensions related with social health, reflects the asymmetry in our value system (see Values). Our value system has a hierarchic structure where values of safety and security precedes values of freedom. As a consequence, social organisation is characterised for having social strength as the original state, and as the state to which all societies tend to return when they are threatened or they regress. For example, in general lines, if we think in modern civilisation of social strength being represented by right-wing politics and social health by left-wing politics, we have that European political and economic strength originates from past right-wing politics. Current European socio-economic development on the other hand comes from recent left-wing politics. And in the face of an uncertain future, with environmental deterioration and mass migration, Europe is turning once again to the right looking for safety, security and prosperity. The same process happens in all societies. In all societies social strength is the original state, and the state to which they tend to return.

As we mentioned before, the system doesn’t have any function, so it can work for the benefit or the detriment of people. We sustain that the higher the complexity of the system, the more it works for the benefit of the people.

The general process that increases the general well-being in society is a balance of interests. Higher social complexity lowers the hierarchic structure of the system and diminishes the unequal distribution of power. As a consequence, the system works less for the interests of those above at the expense of others, and works more for the interests of the general population.

Developmental Stages
Development is a continuous process. And to analyse this process sometimes is useful to define stages. Developmental stages are qualitatively differentiable dynamic states of the system (see Development). Stages are characterised for having a hierarchic order, where higher stages are built upon lower stages.

So if we would have to define developmental stages in the process from social simplicity to higher social complexity, in terms of how the system works for the people, we could differentiate between the following:

. Stage 1: the system works for the interests of the ruling elite.
Societies in this stage would have highly hierarchic and undemocratic institutions with centralised power, social inequality, lack of freedom and cultures with traditional beliefs and value systems.

. Stage 2: the system works for the interests of the higher and middle sectors of society.
It is a similar stage than the previous one, with the difference that in the struggle for power, the middle sectors gains more influence. In this stage there is more room for democratic expressions, more diversity of thought and values, individual freedom, etc.

. Stage 3: the system works for the interests of the general population.
Societies in this stage would have democratic institutions, de-centralised power, social equality and freedom, and a culture that ceases to be an instrument of control to become a means of development, with the democratization of information and knowledge and cultural values of tolerance, integration and support.

. Stages 4 and higher: the system also works for the interests future generations, of other people and in harmony with the natural environment.
These stages would be similar to the previous one, with the addition of the system being also constructive to other societies and the natural environment.

Properties from development
All complex systems are characterised by properties that varies on six main dimensions: linearity/non-linearity, dependency/autonomy, rigidity/flexibility, commonality/rareness, similarity/uniqueness, instability/stability. In general, the more complex the system is, the more irreducible, autonomous, rare, unique, flexible, adaptable and stable it becomes. In social systems the same is true.

. Developed societies are more complex, less linear and more irreducible to the sum of its constituting parts. One effect of this, is that the functioning of the system is less dependent on any particular individual or institution.
. Developed societies are more autonomous and less dependent on other societies.
. Unlike simple societies which have more rigid political organisation and cultures, complex societies are more flexible and adaptable to change.
. Developed societies are a minority. The majority of societies have low levels of development. And the more complex they become, the more rare they are.
. And unlike developed societies, societies with low levels of development are characterised by political, economic and social instability.

The difference between social development and ‘human development’
The concept of human development, as represented by the United Nation’s Human Development Index, differs from social development in several ways.

First, social development is a natural process, while human development is an abstract evaluation of societies. Because of this, social development is universal, and human development is subjective. The concept of human development only makes sense and is applicable to nation-states and current civilisations. Non-civilised societies or past societies cannot be evaluated in terms of human development. Social development on the other hand, is a universal an timeless phenomena that occurs in all types of societies -from civilised to non-civilised societies-, and at all times in history.

Second, the human development index doesn’t reflect levels of social development. The human development index emphasises economic growth over social, institutional, cultural, ethical and environmental aspects. Social development on the other hand, is a process that depends on the mutual relation between socio-economic, cultural and institutional development.