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Social Order and Patterns

Order is extremely important to the structure and maintenance of all human societies. The higher the level of order a society achieves, the more advanced it tends to become and the greater its stability. During periods of anarchy and revolution, a society tends to lose its order and indeed can become chaotic.

Societies have many of the attributes of open systems. They exchange matter and energy with their environment as they increase their orderliness. Specialization tends to develop. Some members may be farmers, some hunters, some craftsmen, and so on.

Key to the organization and development of all human societies is the communication process involving patterns such as words and symbols. This allows the individuals to relate to one another in the social group, to organize their activities and to pass on learning to subsequent generations.

Patterns also serve as the common values which bind social groups and as the norms which express those values. Norms forbidding stealing, killing other members of the group, adultery and other antisocial forms of behavior are important patterns supporting social stability and continuity.

Talcott Parsons in the book The Concept of Order states that "so fundamental is the problem of order that the structure of systems of human social action, whether they be personality systems of individuals or social systems, consists of internalized and institutionalized normative patterns of culture – rules, values, and other normative components." In other words, order and pattern are the very essence of social organization and function.

Social Order, Energy and Change

While much of the energy in a society may be directed to maintaining order, change is inevitable. Karl Marx believed that "Every system carries the seeds of its own destruction." The noted German sociologist Max Weber pointed out that this is more true of traditional societies which stress always doing things the way they have been done before. Weber believed that rational societies were organized to achieve goals flexibly and thus were capable of adjusting to meet the challenge of change.

While some change allows a higher level of order, such as the advent of the railroad system, other change is needed just for survival. Some American towns whose livelihood depended in the early 1900s on the railroads, for instance, were able to change their economic base after automobiles, trucks and other forms of transportation became more widespread. Other railroad-dependent towns which did not adapt either stagnated or declined, and some vanished.

There is thus always a tension between order and change in practically all social groups, which in many ways represents the dynamic balance between order and energy characteristic of all living systems. Change is an energetic force that courses through a social system. The adaptive system restructures its order to cope with the energy of change; those which do not adapt usually do not survive. Change is inevitable, and some change can lead to higher degrees of order. But too much or too rapid change can be destructive of order and the social system.

One of the difficulties of modern life is adapting to rapid change. American society is complex enough that it can absorb a great degree of change without disruption of the social order. But there are still many Americans whom the system has failed to include adequately. They are "out of order" with the system. This includes the poor, the homeless, and many angry and rebellious minority youth who tend to form their own social units in order to survive in a larger society which seems to reject or ignore them. Their energy, focused primarily on their own survival, tends to turn against the prevailing social order, which they view as hostile.

Order and Government

The primary purpose of government in society is to maintain order. Government makes the laws (orders) which determine what citizens may and may not do. Government has the power of force (energy), including the armed forces and police, which really functions as a threat to those who might disobey the laws. That is, if millions of citizens disobeyed, the military and police could not control them. Ideally in a democracy, government operates with and reflects the consent of the governed; order is voluntary. In a dictatorship or military junta, certain kinds of order may be involuntary.

In order for a government to be effective, the order and patterns in which the leadership invest their energy must be similar to the order and patterns of the individual citizens. The good of the individual must be aligned with the good of the state. This requires a high level of communication (pattern exchange) and cooperation.

There is also a psychological dimension to the government-citizen relationship that becomes an internalized pattern like the parent-child relationship. The "law-abiding" citizen carries within his psyche a pattern of government-reinforced rules that affects his behavior practically all day long. Talcott Parsons believes "that the most fundamental ground of order in societies is the internalization of the normative culture in the personalities of its members and the institutionalization of that in the normative structure of the society."

Moral Order and Legal Order

Society is governed by both moral order and legal order. Although the two have some similarities, there are some important differences, as noted by Samuel Stumpf in The Concept of Order. The differences he cites are more a matter of emphasis than substance, but still illustrative of important distinctions.

• "...Law commands us to act, whereas in morality we choose to act." We obey laws because we have to; we obey moral rules because we choose to.

• "...Law is general and abstract, whereas morality is concrete and personal." Laws have to be written to apply to all citizens "without regard to race, creed or national origin." "This makes the law impersonal and abstract," Stumpf says; "the officers of the law are made to think in terms of rules and not people.... Morality, on the other hand, stresses obligations not to rules but to persons."

• "Laws are valid in a particular place, whereas moral rules are able to cross over boundaries." The laws of one state, for example, do not apply to citizens living in other states. But a moral rule, for example to be honest and to respect others, applies to all persons who accept it regardless of where they live.

• "...Law is concerned with external conduct, whereas morality is a matter of internal motive." We can judge obedience to law by a person’s observable behavior, but only the individual can know his or her own motive. Of course sometimes intent is taken into account when determining the sentence a condemned lawbreaker must serve, but the law itself is intended to control behavior.

Order and History

History as a discipline may be understood as an effort to perceive order in the past through patterns which exist in the present. The scholarly historian examines documents, artifacts, letters, paintings, photographs – anything which he might lay his hands on – to build a perception of the patterns which represented the lives and events under study.

As Eric Voegelin writes in The Concept of Order, in the mid-20th Century historians discussed "the meaning of history," and now the focus is more on "structure, patterns or a totality of patterns making the meaning of history." Because history is incomplete, Voegelin says, we can never know the meaning of history. More accurately, we might say that the meaning of history lies not in past events but in our present perceptions (perceived patterns) of those events.

Order and Exodus

Throughout recorded history, beginning with the exodus of Abraham from Ur and later with the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, the exodus movement has been an important phenomenon of history, Voegelin observes. "Whenever a new insight into order is gained, there is always the question whether to emigrate from the present order into a situation in which the new order can become socially dominant and relevant for the society that has gained the insight,"he observes.

A major example of a "new order" in history is the Christian concept of the Kingdom of God. Some see it as a future event, in which ordinary history or life will be replaced by the rule of God. Others view it not as a future event but as an escape from earthly burdens and materialism into an experience of present closeness to God. "These, then, are the two fundamental

possibilities: escape into eternity or escape into future time," Voegelin believes. Both "provide fundamental categories for the interpretation of history."

Orders, Empires and Insights

Others have sought to establish order through building empires. The Roman Empire is of course the best known ancient empire, but others existed in the Middle East, India and China, all about the same time – two centuries B.C. The Persian Empire and the Empire of Alexander the Great also sought to establish a world order ruled, not by God, but by mighty armies. And all these empires have fallen in the course of history.

"We now recognize that man is that being who is capable of insight into true order, the order of true existence and of God, which can only be understood through the orders actually existent in history," Voegelin says. "Only when spiritual insights are attained does man become defined as that being who receives his orders through existence from God."

"Every prophet, every philosopher, every enlightened person like a Buddha, a Confucius, a Lao-Tse with his doctrine of Tao, the Way, comes as an element of disorder in his society, because he has received an insight into the true order, which is different from the established order, Voegelin continues. "Thus every new insight into order is the beginning of a revolution of more or less considerable dimensions."

Order, History and Being

When we speak of the various configurations of history, Voegelin points out, we should keep in mind that there is no difference between patterns such as "configurations" and "history." "Insofar as we have history, we have it only to the extent that we can discern such patterns. The patterns are thus identical with history."

In a similar vein, the "who" of history is not mankind, he believes, for the movements of history have certainly not affected all mankind equally. "Mankind does not exist, and cannot be

the subject of history. It is not an empirical object. This would suggest, therefore, that ultimately the subject can only be Being in the most general sense, Being itself...."

Personally, I do not find the concept of Being at all helpful in understanding history. Being was a favorite concept of the existentialists in Post-War Europe, and it means little more than existence. The problem with Being is the problem of differentiation – all things that exist have Being, and we cannot say that some things have more Being than others.

I believe instead, as I said earlier, that history represents the attempts of individuals to impose or find patterns of order in the past by examining remnants of the past in the present. "History" does not exist except as information and communication about past events. By understanding the past, in some ways we can better understand the present and predict the future. History is a manifestation of the brain’s pattern-processing and search for order by attempting to find meaning in the past. Like many other of humanity’s pursuits, it will always be tinged with uncertainty.

Patterns, Challenge and Response

This very aspect of unpredictability in human affairs was addressed by the great historian Arnold Toynbee in terms of "challenge and response." Human behavior cannot be understood as completely predetermined cause and effect because humans have some degree of free will or choice, Toynbee reasons. Hegel and Marx saw history in terms of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, but Toynbee considers that view "in a rather limited intellectual form." He acknowledges that his concept of challenge and response, which includes "the emotional and volitional side of human action" better than Marx and Hegel’s, is rooted, like so many Western notions of history, in the Old Testament.

"God challenges Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, He challenges Noah to build the Ark before the flood comes,... He challenged Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.... The challenged individual is free, free of course at his peril,... to refuse to do what God asks of him."

How do we reconcile our perceptions of patterns in the past through history with the unpredictability of human events due to free choice? Toynbee answers, "I would say that the element of pattern in human life that is revealed by our records of the past is genuine, though it is not the dominant element in life. The dominant element is, I think, the unpredictability of the future, and this arises, I believe, from the fact that there is a genuine thing called freedom of will."15

Order And The Arts

Turning from history to the arts, we find many aspects of order and pattern in all the arts. Music is perhaps the best example, whereby different notes have an order conforming to the principles of physics. Beautiful music allows an experience of almost pure order and pattern. We sense both digital and analogical communication in music. Some music almost replicates sensory data, such as drops of rain falling or the rush of the wind. Some is more suggestive of emotions, such as the beautiful "Tristan and Isolde." Indeed, music’s capacity to move the emotions is due perhaps in large part to the analogical nature of music. Even when it is digitally recorded, its digitizing is so minute that we hear it and experience it rising and falling analogically like our emotions.

The visual arts deal largely with patterns. Realistic paintings and drawings evoke patterns similar to those we see with our own eyes, although all great painters add an interpretive aspect to their art that represents their own pattern perception. Abstract painting can evoke a wide range of responses due to its ambiguity. It does have patterns – spots and shapes, colors and lines and curves – but we experience them as pure pattern, like music, suggestive but not literal, affecting our thinking as well as our feelings. Often the average person has difficulty appreciating abstract art. He or she tends to project literal patterns into the art that are not there, patterns from his or her own mind and memory. Observing and appreciating abstract art is a learned skill requiring one to hold the mind’s powerful pattern-recognition tendencies at bay.

Dance is very orderly, with movements carefully patterned to evoke a particular effect. Like other art forms, it can be both abstract and suggestive or concrete and explicit. Often accompanied by music, dance unites the human form with music and rhythm for a powerful gestalt that is greater than the sum of the parts.

These are just suggestions of the role of order and pattern in the arts. All are forms of communication, sometimes with an effect very calculated, and sometimes with a quality of unpredictability that plays on each observer’s pattern "library" differently.

Order and Civilization

Social order, government, history, the arts and other institutions and developments combine to make the broad phenomenon we call civilization. In one sense, specific civilizations like the Aztecs and the Roman Empire rise and fall. In another sense, civilization is an on-going movement of increasing order in the world. Civilization is like a huge system in that it involves many parts interacting in an interdependent balance.

What is the cause of civilization? To some degree, it is mankind’s desire for order and power. Individual leaders such as kings and conquerors sought greater power and wealth by controlling ever more lands under their rule. But often people have submitted to the rule (orders) of others as a more desirable alternative to chaos or constant warring and death from rival tribes.

In today’s world, the force of human freedom is bringing democracy to ever more nations. The power of technology is breaking down barriers and creating what Marshall McLuhan called the global village. The power of the world economy is forcing isolated countries to trade peacefully with others. Economic boycotts are used more often than armed intervention by the United Nations countries to bring about change in a recalcitrant nation. The world is becoming ever more civilized – sometimes with disruptions and fallbacks, but in totality, moving forward – with the increase of order. President George Bush spoke in the early 1990s of a "New World Order." This is the dream of all civilized people – a world order which allows us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbor nations. I believe this hunger for order was placed in us by God, and I believe that someday the world will have greater order than we can imagine today.

It is interesting that the concept of order in civilization has been tied by leading historians and others to a relationship to God. We have touched on this subject many times in this book. In our next chapter, it becomes our focus.

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