14 October 2016

Deontology: Social Reality (III)

Part III of a V part essay. Begin with Part I, continue with Part II, before reading this part. 

The word deontology refers to rights, responsibilities, obligations, duties, privileges, entitlements, authorizations, empowerments, permissions, prohibitions, taboos, penalties, and other such phenomena. The combination of Greek dei 'it is necessary' with ont 'being' gives us deont 'being required, being necessary'.

As noted in Part II, the imposition of a status-function on an individual, through collection intentionality, implies that they have rights, duties and obligations in relation to their new status. This means that the collective intentionality behind the imposition of the status-function has a deontic power. All status-functions, including those applied to objects, are created by this deontic power; people are expected to fulfil their functions to the best of their ability.

Having passed one's driving test, one is an authorized driver. But as a driver, one is obligated to follow the formal and informal rules of the road. There is both formal and informal surveillance on drivers; and both police and other drivers have sanctions they can impose. Similarly membership of a group always has at least informal rights, duties, and obligations, sometimes these are simply inherited. If I join some friends at the pub, there are some pub-specific rules (see for example Fox 2005), but mostly the local norms for social interactions apply.

Generally speaking we have little choice about which status-functions we are assigned and almost no choice about the rights, duties and obligations that come with status-functions. For the most part we don't get to design our social role. We are like actors who say the lines in the script and follow directions, but who strive to make the part our own. We may shine as an actor, but we don't get to change the play. As in real life, play-writes are rare. Or we might be compared to orchestral musicians who follow a score. Occasionally a soloist will stand out from the the crowd, but they too have a score that must be followed. This is the reality for a social animal.

Apart from foraging/eating and sleeping, much of our time is spent on activities related to social cohesion: chatting, story telling, laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, getting drunk, collective work, religious activities, and so on. These are sometimes considered under the head "Leisure Activities" but leisure is a misnomer. For most humans foraging has been replaced by work, though in some small-scale societies foraging (hunting and gathering) is still the main source of food. Both social cohesion activities and work are governed by rights, duties, and obligations. It's only in sleep that we are truly autonomous, but ironically we are not conscious to appreciate it.

Society not only sets up rights, duties and obligations, but it also prescribes regimes of surveillance to ensure compliance as well as roles and procedures for repairing potential breaches of the rules. There are normative rules for what counts as being a good/bad group member. Other group members may be more or less assiduous in policing rules and enforcing compliance. For example, one of the main aims of any group is to manage internal conflict, by defusing tension, de-escalating conflicts, reconciliation after confrontations, consolation of weaker members hurt during conflicts and so on. In modern society breaking some minor rule together may be a social bonding exercise.

Speaking very generally, the paradigmatic deontic power is the authorization for an agent to act or the prohibition from acting, where the potential for acting is defined by one's functions. The deontologies of status-functions are a matter of conventional power, i.e. power that is a matter of convention, as distinguished from brute physical power. We can think of conventional power as emerging out of collective intentionality. Convention authorises and prohibits by co-opting our desire to participate in the group. The desire to belong is very strong in all social mammals. Conventional power can be what authorises the use of physical power, as in the case of the military or police. When we confer a new deontic power we are enabling an agent to act, or compelling them not to act. The group norms define potential actions for any member through modal verbs: i.e. may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, can, could

We can relate this new insight to the general form of the status function X counts as Y in C. Schematically the propositional content of power is:

(S does A)

In other words, someone does an action. Or as a prohibition, not (S does A). So when we say that X counts as Y, we mean that metaphorically there is an identity between X and the function Y; that X takes on a new status associated with carrying out the function Y; and that X is authorized by collective intentionality (agreement) to carry out function Y. Searle puts this in the form:

We accept (S has the power (S does A)). 

This is the basic logic of the deontic power associated with status-functions, which means that it is the basic logic of social relations. And importantly, this means that power is at the heart of social relations. I'll return to the subject of power, however, the most important fact about deontic powers is that they give us reasons for acting that are independent of our immediate inclinations.

~ Reasons for Acting ~

This is vitally important. As a member of a social group there can be a tension between what is good for us and what is good for the group. We have to decide how much time or energy to spend on self, family, troop, tribe, and outsiders (Cf Robin Dunbar 2014). And typically this budget goes from most to least along that axis. 

As a social primate we have to be able to unconsciously or intuitively understand our relations to group members and their relations to each other. That is we have to keep track of all the relationships, the rights and duties each individual has with respect to the group as a whole, as well as the obligations that each has to the others. Robin Dunbar observed that our ability to do this is limited by the ratio of our neocortex to the rest of our brain, and that in humans the limit is around 150 individuals. It turns out that hunter gatherer communities and villages in the Domesday Book average out at about 150. Many other examples give this credibility, and 150 is widely known as "Dunbar's number". The Dunbar number for chimpanzees is 50.

As social primates, two basic imperatives vie for our energy: firstly to meet our own needs; and secondly the need to maintain social cohesion through reciprocity with other individuals in our society (what I'm tempted to call the autism-altruism spectrum from Greek auto 'self' and Latin alter 'the other'). Thus, seeing human behaviour simply in terms of the isolated psychological motivations of individuals is a mistake. Everything we do has to be seen in a social context, and the reasons we act sought for in the roles we play in society, i.e. the authorisations, commands, or prohibitions that come from the community. These dominate our lives and typically overwhelm our immediate inclinations.

Most people do what is expected of them, whether they like it or not, because group membership itself provides us with reasons for acting that are independent of our immediate inclinations. Most of our training to be good citizens is education in these reasons and the consequences of ignoring them. Thus the local rules of society evolve through mutual reinforcement and are strongly normative (and thus conservative). Everyone is both agreeing to these constitutive rules and ensuring that others are committed to them. This provides positive feedback and reinforces the system. Society is a kind of cybernetic system.

In small-scale social groups that are relatively homogeneous, such training might be largely tacit and informal. Similarly, children in the playground informally and unconsciously establish norms of behaviour and status hierarchies amongst themselves. As a foreign living in England ,I frequently, though usually inadvertently, trespass against unspoken rules of English behaviour that many English people would struggle to articulate. Even English people can benefit from reading Kate Fox's anthropological account of English mores (2005). Such training will often culminate in an explicit transition from childhood to adult in a rite of passage involving a shared ordeal and the imparting of special knowledge.

In a large modern city the rites of passage are almost non-existent and citizenship is something that is taught explicitly. The problem of non-conformity is a real issue. A large society can tolerate a certain level of non-conformity in different strata or classes: a largish number of harmless eccentrics can be very interesting, but a large number of outlaws who threaten the well-being of members makes society precarious. Not only this, but migration may transplant people from different cultures together. This can be invigorating, but primates and primate groups are also stressed by strangers and strangeness. We humans rely on our ability to override emotion to make living in large heterogeneous groups possible. Some of us are better at it than others.

Also consider that even groups that approach the ideal size are still prone to cliquishness and some people define their in-group as only immediately family, or only members of a clique. This means that a person may feel little or no obligation to wider society. Intense in-group acceptance can foster rejection of the out-group. This is true of all criminal gangs, the Masons, religions cults, and many large businesses. Allegiance to a city, nation state is an interesting phenomenon, but this part of the essay is already too long and I need to move on.

If we have the function of "group member" then that comes with benefits in terms of protection and food sharing; but it also requires members to follow the rules and contribute to the well being of unrelated group members (though generally speaking we have no obligations to outsiders). Group membership has costs and benefits. This is not particular to human beings. 

As described by Goodall (1971) and de Waal (2013), chimps have collective intentionality and a few basic status-functions, e.g. troop member, alpha-male, and alpha-female. Chimps experience empathy and practice reciprocity. They have expectations of each other based on gender, age, family ties, group membership, and social hierarchy. Each relation implies different obligations of different strengths.  A female infant could behave differently from an adolescent male for example and still be accepted. Adult males are often indulgent towards infants (though infanticide is not unknown), but once a young male reaches adolescence, he is expected to be aware of the power games of the adults and to behave more deferentially to larger males. If he fails to do so, he may be physically punished for mistakes. An alpha-male takes the role through winning the almost ritualised charging displays. But he must previously have built a coalition of peers who support his bid. Once acknowledged as alpha that support must be reciprocated and rewarded to retain the position. Bonobo societies are structured very differently, with alpha females and males dependent on their mothers, but they too have collective intentionality and some basic status functions. 

There are clear parallels with human society. We are tolerant of infants, but expect more of older children. By adolescence we expect youngsters to have absorbed a sense of what is required of them. The exact age at which someone is an adult is something Western societies fudge, often having different ages for being tried as an adult for crimes, for consensual sex, drinking alcohol, driving a car, joining the army, or getting married. Sometimes an interim period in which the action is permitted with parental consent applies, e.g. in the UK one can marry at 16 with parental consent and at 18 without. Some jurisdictions can try as adults children as young as 10, others treat anyone under 20 as a child. Historically, in the society I grew up in there was a single age at which one became an adult, or reached one's majority.

Recent research (Schmidt 2012, 2016) suggests that human children not only absorb social rules, but very early on attempt to generalise from observations to create norms that they desire in-group members to follow.
"Preschool children very quickly understand individual behaviors and spontaneous actions of others as generalizable, governed by rules, and binding... these findings suggest that, even without direct instruction, young children draw far-reaching conclusions about the social world they live in." (Medical Xpress 2016)
The researchers call this phenomena by the catchy title of "promiscuous normativity". I remember when my half-brother, who is 14 years younger than me, started attending school. Very shortly afterwards "you're not allowed" became a refrain for him. Having been forced to adapt to a new highly rule-focussed milieu in which behaviour was strictly regulates, he quickly adapted but struggled with the fact that the rules did not apply everywhere. His primary-school rules certainly did not apply to my teen-aged self! For chimps and bonobos this situation-specific awareness is less of a problem, but humans frequently compartmentalise into distinctions such as private/public. formal/informal, sacred/profane, and single sex/mixed sex situations, where each has it's own norms.

Power is not simply what the strong use to control the weak, but is enacted in all status-functions and agreed to by all members of a society. As social animals we trade off the costs and benefits of group membership, so that the safety of belonging balances out the loss of autonomy. As well as group members enforcing norms, each member of the group shapes themselves to conform to norms for the sake of belonging. We need to look more closely at what is meant by power which is the subject of Part IV.


~ Bibliography ~

Covers all parts of this essay

Diamond, Jared. (2012) The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? Penguin.

Dunbar, Robin. (2014). Human Evolution: A Pelican Introduction. Pelican.

Foucault, Michel. (1983) The Subject and Power, in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (2nd ed.) edited by H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 208-226.  Original Publication: Le sujet et le pouvoir (Gallimard, D&E Vol.4 1982). Online: http://foucault.info/doc/documents/foucault-power-en-html

Fox, Kate. (2005) Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. Hodder & Stoughton.

Goodall, Jane. (1971). In the Shadow of Man. London: Collins.

Jones, Richard H. (2013). Analysis & the Fullness of Reality: An Introduction to Reductionism & Emergence. Jackson Square Books.

Kolb, B., Gibb, R. & Robinson, T. (2003) Brain Plasticity and Behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 12(1) 1-5.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By. New Ed. [Originally published 1981]. University of Chicago Press.

Lyotard, Jean-François. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester University Press. Originally published as La Condition Postmoderne: Rapport sur le Savoir, 1979

MedicalXpress. (2016) Children overeagerly seek social rules. September 27, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-09-children-overeagerly-social.html/ [Commenting on Schmidt M. F. H (2016)]

Medical Xpress. (2012) Toddlers object when people break the rules. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-07-toddlers-people.html July 26, 2012 [commenting on Schmidt 2012)

Schmidt, M. F. H. & Tomasello, M. (2012) Young Children Enforce Social Norms. Psychological Science. 21(4), 232-236. doi: 10.1177/0963721412448659

Schmidt, M. F. H. et al. (2016) Young Children See a Single Action and Infer a Social Norm: Promiscuous Normativity in 3-Year-Olds, Psychological Science (2016). DOI: 10.1177/0956797616661182

Searle, John R. (1992). The Rediscovery of the Mind. MIT Press.

Searle, John R. (1995). The Construction of Social reality. Penguin.

Searle, John R. (2012). The Normative Structure of Human Civilization [lecture]. Max-Weber-Vortragsraum des Käte Hamburger Kollegs „Recht als Kultur". https://youtu.be/edn8R7ojXFg

Waal, Frans de. (2013). The bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Amongst the Primates. W.W. Norton & Co.
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