The Echoes of the Mind – Societies


The sociological principle is that the type of society we live in is the fundamental reason for why we become who we are. Not only does society lay the broad framework for behavior, it also influences the ways we think and feel. ~ James Henslin

A society is a system of interpersonal interaction that extends to an entire population. Societies incorporate both culture and social structure: folkways which enforce conformity.

The sociological significance of social structure is that it guides behaviors. ~ James Henslin

Émile Durkheim thought of societies as superorganisms. A society’s institutions act to ensure their own survival, irrespective of the constituent population.

Social organization and culture have a degree of independence from each other in a society’s character. The historical “melting pot” of American society is exemplary.

Most people think of their society as correspondent with their nation. But in several places around the globe, notably in Africa, tribes within nations consider themselves oppressed by the state. Failure to resolve such conflicts result in civil war.

(A nation is a political territory. A political state is the controlling institutional system. In a nation-state the state is the government of a nation.)

Evolution of Societies

Thousands of years ago, societies were small, sparsely populated, and technologically limited. In the competition for scarce resources, larger and more technologically advanced societies dominated smaller ones. ~ Margaret Anderson & Howard Taylor

As aforementioned, some attribute the evolution of complex societies to large-scale cooperation that arose from religion. Instead, the impetus was war, and coerced cooperation (at least initially, until assimilation took hold).

Costly institutions that enabled large human groups to function without splitting up evolved as a result of intense competition between societies – primarily warfare. ~ Russian American scientist Peter Turchin et al

Group conflict has likely been a constant among hominids throughout their evolution. (This statement is backed by historical accounts, by considering current social group dynamics and social psychology, and looking at the group behaviors of the apes most closely related to humans.) Advancing technologies simultaneously amplified the rewards of cooperation and improved the severity by which war could be waged.

The emergence of large societies all over the world were primarily a consequence of conquest. The problem then became keeping it together. The only way that such geographically dispersed societies could be sustained was through the invention and evolution of bureaucracy. Further, no empire ever existed in a vacuum. Conflict not only created large-scale societies, conflict’s continuing prospect kept those societies on their toes.

At its height, the Roman Empire was still being pricked by the Germanic tribes that the Romans never managed to conquer. The Parthian Empire checked further expansion of Rome’s claim in the Middle East.

As the Romans demonstrated, dissolution is always possible. When it occurs, societies can take a large step backwards.

When the Roman Empire broke up, literacy effectively went extinct, because the smaller fragment states did not need a literate bureaucracy. ~ Peter Turchin


The earliest societies were social groups in a geographical area which shared subsistence strategies and technologies. Social cohesion afforded technological development, which in turn advanced the means for securing survival resources.

Societies are usually lumped into 3 types, by technology level: preindustrial, industrial, and post-industrial.

Preindustrial societies were of communities, sometimes striving for the resources to survive. From 15,000 years ago onward there was a technological transition from the hunting and gathering groups of early humans to domestication of animals and plants. The next societal revolution came with the invention of the plow over 4,000 years ago, affording agriculture on a scale sufficient to generate surpluses.

The onset of agriculture around the world was termed the Neolithic Revolution by Australian archeologist Gordon Childe in 1923. Whatever social inequality existed prior to the plow was elevated to an altogether higher level with the establishment of settlements and land as property.

The first armies appeared in the wake of the Neolithic Revolution, as did the first taxes, and the forerunners of political states. No one knows how it transpired, but females were subjugated by men during this period.

Societies throughout history have repeatedly been rent by conflict or deteriorated through internal corruption and incompetent governance. Less dramatically, into modern times, societal bonds loosened, and sense of community waned, as migration increased. Urbanization accelerated this process.

Advances in technology and increasing intensity in energy consumption led to the development and employment of labor-saving machines and mass production. Industrialization irrevocably altered human societies. Commercial enterprise graduated from trading to more exuberantly exploitative capitalism.

Mass manufacture not only meant more goods. It spun a different dynamic of strong societal division by economic class, even as hereditary social stratification slightly weakened.

Industrialization forged men who amassed wealth from the labors of others by virtue of their seed capital and eagerness to gamble with it. Whereas preindustrial social stratification topped out with the landed gentry (an English term of socioeconomic status nonetheless applicable worldwide), the cream of industrial and post-industrial societies were those who had managed to amass mountains of money off the backs of others’ labors.

Meanwhile, polity became more brazenly plutocratic – so much so that working men were denied the right to organize for better working conditions and a fairer share of their labors. In the early 1900s, American workers who tried to organize were killed by private police, and even the National Guard, a federal militia.

Among the laboring class, relative prosperity propelled unchecked breeding, as presciently predicted by English scholar Thomas Malthus at the end of the 18th century. Population explosions were the norm early in the industrial age.

Population density intensified with urbanization. More extensive land use followed with suburbanization in post-industrial societies.

The grasping materiality of preindustrial times was small potatoes compared to what industrialization would infect human societies with: an unrelenting cancer of institutionalized inequity.

In Europe, World War 1 was catalytic in jarring social moorings. Though it had its own landowning elite, the US was always a plebeian society. It took a 2nd World War to disrupt and alter the societal dynamics throughout the industrialized world.

Once goods and garbage could be generated by machines on a massive scale, humans started becoming important again. While industrial societies were forged in the machine age, post-industrial societies arose as services became as economically valuable as the manufacturing sector.

The United States was the 1st nation to have over half its workers employed in service industries. Countries in western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand soon followed.

The labor specialization that began with industrialization accelerated in post-industrial economies, as specialized knowledge became the avenue for raising income.

The advent of the personal computer ushered in the information age, culminating in the Internet, which became a worldwide data dumping ground: a sea swelling with info-flotsam, dotted with pearls of knowledge.

The Internet created the opportunity for amassing superficial social bonds of shared interests, while lessening the extent and quality of the more intimate interpersonal social networks of earlier times. The Internet has been a profound agent of societal change; as significant as the printing press.

Burgeoning online shopping through the Internet is now wrenching another societal change. The decline of retail shops is dismantling the service industry which employed the most people. The sinking of shopping malls also spells an avenue of community intercourse closing.


Cities are the greatest creations of humanity. ~ Polish American architect Daniel Libeskind

Up to 80,000 honeybees may live within a single, compact hive; yet they are harmoniously productive. Overcrowding eventuates in swarming, whereupon a sizable population of bees migrate. But even that process is rational, not violent; and honeybee hives are decidedly hygienic.

Ants live in colonies that may number in the hundreds of millions, with interconnected nests, each comprising tens of thousands of members. Ants too live peaceably among themselves, in clean conditions; so do cockroaches and their colonial cousins, termites.

Humans have nowhere near the capability of insects, plants, or even microbes, for sanitary and amicable living in crowded conditions. Instead, epidemics, crime, and pollution are the inevitable outcomes of population compaction (urbanization); and those are just the outward manifestations.

City dwellers display little sense of community or common identity, and look to others mostly as a means of advancing their individual goals. Tönnies saw in urbanization the erosion of close, enduring social relations in favor of the fleeting and impersonal ties typical of business. ~ John Macionis

Cities exert a profound influence on all aspects of health. Despite the suaveness of the term urbane, much of the urban touch is deleterious.

Like a man who has been dying for many days, a man in your city is numb to the stench. ~ Native American tribal leader Chief Seattle in the mid-19th century

All the stressors of society become concentrated in cities: discrimination, inequality, pollution. Then there is the sheer stress of incessant proximity, or, conversely, feeling isolated in a sea of people.

Any price is worth paying to get away from the thought-destroying din and soul-killing routine of the city! ~ American author Fritz Leiber

Urban living has been linked to a 39% greater risk of mood disorders, and a 21% added risk of anxiety disorders. Many people simply do not cope well with constantly being in close quarters.

We do not look in our great cities for our best morality. ~ Jane Austen in the early 19th century

The nocuousness of cities is nothing new. In the 19th century, Ferdinand Tönnies, English social critic Charles Dickens, French writer Émile Zola, and many others chronicled the dangers of population density. Since then, only marginal improvements have been managed, and those largely limited to areas where wealth concentrates. Yet the trend of urbanization continues. In 1950, 2/3rds of the population lived in rural settlements and 1/3rd in urban areas. By 2050 that distribution will be reversed. As of 2017, over 55% of humanity lived in cities.

As a rule, our largest cities are the worst governed. ~ American Protestant clergyman Josiah Strong in 1885

 Urban Evolution

Violent tribal interactions had a notable impact on early urban ecology. The oldest cities were commonly situated in defensible locations. Ancient Athens was perched on an outcropping of rock. Paris, New York City, and Mexico City were all founded on islands.

With industrialization, economic considerations came to dominate city siting. All major American cities were located near rivers and natural harbors that facilitated trade.

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Cities often grow, and decline, similarly. Their fate is at the mercy of men seeking profit or plunder.

City centers begin as business districts bordered by a ring of factories. Concentric residential zones lay outside, with property becoming more expensive the farther it is from the noise and pollution of a city’s center.

With further growth, cities often decentralize. The core downtown remains while satellite urban centers spring up.

Industrial parks, commercial clusters, and residential areas push away from one another. Few people want to live close to industrial areas, so a city becomes a mosaic of distinct districts.

Urban decline often begins in a city’s original downtown. Businesses depart for outer districts, leaving behind those residents lacking the means to move. Decay and impoverishment set in. This has happened in many American, British, and European cities.

Deindustrialization may start the downhill slide, as it did in Detroit, Michigan (Motor City) beginning in the 1950s. Factories, and the jobs that went with them, were relocated to places with lower costs, notably cheaper labor and land. But urban blight can have numerous causes, including bad governance.

Cultural Dimensions

Our lives are not only dominated by the inanities of our contemporaries, but also by those of men who have been dead for generations. Each inanity gains credence and reverence with each decade that passes after its original promulgation. Since one cannot possibly talk back to one’s ancestors, their ill-conceived constructions are commonly more difficult to get rid of than those built in our own lifetime. ~ Peter Berger

Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede developed a framework called cultural dimensions theory that characterizes major aspects of social interaction at the societal level, and describes how a society’s culture impacts its members’ behaviors.

The only way to change bias is to change culture. You have to change what is acceptable in society. People today complain about politically correct culture, but what that does is provide a check on people’s outward attitude, which in turn influences how we think about ourselves internally. Everything we’re exposed to gives us messages about who is good and bad. ~ Jennifer Richeson

Hofstede proposed 6 factors along which cultural values may be analyzed by degrees: social stratification, group affinity (individualism versus collectivism), gender orientation (male dominance), uncertainty tolerance, time horizon, and indulgence inclination. 1 crucial factor Hofstede left out: morality. A 2016 worldwide survey concluded the obvious: societal institutions have a corrupting influence on the population, as Russia, China, the United States, and many other nation-states illustrate.

Economic systems, institutions, and business cultures shape people’s ethical values, and can likewise impact individual honesty. ~ Austrian economist Simon Gächter & American economist Jonathan Schulz

Social Stratification

Social stratification is a system of structured social inequality. ~ Margaret Anderson & Howard Taylor

Status stratification is an inherent social dynamic in primates, and in other clades of animals, such as birds. Even insects have dominance hierarchies beyond biological castes. Burying beetles are one example of many.

Primates’ status (position) typically correlates with their power (resource control). ~ Susan Fiske

Hereditary lineage provides inheritance of social standing for many creatures. In modern human societies, this is accompanied by material wealth.

In all societies – from those that have barely attained the dawning of civilization, down to the most advanced – 2 classes of people appear – a class that rules and a class that is ruled. ~ Gaetano Mosca

Italian political theorist Gaetano Mosca observed in his 1896 book The Ruling Class that societies are necessarily governed by minorities. His cogent logic was as follows: societies require organization; organization necessitates leadership; leadership is ipso facto an inequality of power; selfish human nature means that people in power will use their positions to reward themselves and their sycophants.

Competition between individuals of every social unit is focused upon higher position, wealth, authority, control of the means and instruments that enable a person to direct many human activities, many human wills, as he sees fit. ~ Gaetano Mosca

Mosca considered the foregoing to be invariable facts of life, with social stratification inevitably running along the lines of power.

All human societies tend to be structured as systems of group-based social hierarchies. Among other things, the dominant group is characterized by its possession of a disproportionately large share of positive social value, or all those material and symbolic things for which people strive. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius

Unlimited private property altered how social stratification is determined among humans: wealth became the paramount signifier of status. The social power of wealth is expressed most directly by limiting the ability of others to acquire affluence.

Employment discrimination produces and maintains group-based social hierarchy. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius

With rare exception, social stratification has been universal in human societies. Its enforcement is primarily, though by no means exclusively, economic in nature.

Stratification has varied in the degree to which social mobility is tolerated. Particularly clever and socially adept individuals rise in cultures which afford social mobility.

Dumb money in and of itself does not necessarily grease a significant social slide. The reason for this is that humans have escaped the necessity for survival cunning beyond civil conversation, and even such a deficiency is often overlooked. In modern societies money talks, and insidiously controls the conversation. In contrast, other animals face survival challenges, and so ingenuity is a valued trait, and a harbinger for social climbing.

 Stratification Systems

Human stratification systems are broadly categorized into estate, caste, and class systems. These generally follow historical development.


In an estate system, the ownership of property and exercise of political power is monopolized by an elite who control societal resources. The estate system is common in agricultural societies. Feudalism was an estate system, with 3 basic social groups: nobles, a priesthood, and commoners.

Women belonged to the estate of their husbands. Besides sharing the hard life of their husbands, peasant women faced the peril of rape by ‘noble’ men.

Estate systems continued into modern times. In the 20th century, several Latin American countries were run as estate systems.

So-called “communist” societies, such as Vietnam and North Korea, have party members as an elite in what is essentially an estate system. Totalitarian regimes are typically estate systems.


Slavery represents the extremity of estate system stratification: fellow humans are treated as chattel.

Slavery has existed in many societies since prehistory. The Old Testament lays out guidelines for how owners should treat their slaves, as does the Koran; so much for these esteemed texts serving unblemished moral goods.

Historically, slavery had 3 originations: war, crime, and debt. The enslavement of the vanquished through conflict was the hoariest means for acquiring slaves. Women were the first to be so enslaved. With the men of a defeated tribe killed, the women were raped and brought back as slaves – valued both for their orifices and their labor.

Within a tribe, a thief or murderer, rather than be killed, might have been enslaved by the victim’s family as compensation for their loss. In some societies, creditors would enslave those who could not pay their debts. Indentured servitude is a variant of debt slavery.

Slavery is a Western cultural tradition. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans had slaves. The practice continued legally into the 19th century, most notably in Britain and the United States, though many other countries lucratively practiced slavery.

Finding it profitable to make people slaves for life, US slave owners developed an ideology, beliefs that justify social arrangements. Ideology leads to a perception of the world that makes current social arrangements seem necessary and fair. The colonists developed the view that their slaves were inferior. Some even said that they were not fully human. ~ James Henslin

To make slavery even more profitable, American slave states passed laws rendering slavery inheritable: babies born to slaves were the property of slave owners. To strengthen control, laws made it illegal for slaves to hold meetings or be away from the master’s premises without carrying a permit.

Gradually, the entire white South became an armed camp to keep Negroes in slavery and to kill the black rebel. ~ American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois

Under the guise of “states’ rights,” the US civil war was fought over slavery. The slave-owning agrarian South had scant chance of prevailing over the industrialized North; and so, 4 years (1861–1865) and over 1 million deaths later, with the South in ruin, slavery was legally abolished.

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Racial segregation legally continued throughout the United States until the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which barely cracked the ice. Ineffectual laws followed.

Though racial mixing in the US now occurs to a historically unprecedented extent, de facto segregation continues to this day in numerous ways and degrees. Social and economic discrimination remains widespread.

Separation is the first cause of inequality. ~ Iranian author Katy Tackes

Though now ostensibly outlawed everywhere, slavery still exists worldwide, with over 35 million – at least 0.5% of the world population – enslaved (not counting wage slaves (everyday working folk)).


In a caste system, individuals have an ascribed status, given at birth by virtue of one’s parents. Caste systems have a rigid social hierarchy. Occupations are part of each caste.

Apartheid in South Africa 1950–1991was an example of a racial caste system, as was the American South before civil-rights laws began a slow erosion.

  Indian Caste System

The classic example of a traditional caste system is India. The caste system began ~1500 bce, with the arrival of fair-skinned Aryans in India from southern Europe and northern Asia. Disregarding local cultures, the Aryan conquered regions throughout north India.

The Aryans organized themselves into 3 groups: warriors (Rajayana, later Kshatriya), priests (Brahmans), and workers: farmers and craftsmen (Vaishyas). At the bottom of the heap were subdued locals, who were low-status servants.

Within a few hundred years, the caste system had been set and ossified. Skin color was significant in determining caste.

The Hindu religion incorporated the caste system in its stories, with tales of wars between light-skinned Aryans and dark demons. Deceptive seduction of Aryan men by dark-skinned demon women was another common theme.

The Aryans invented reincarnation in order to justify the caste system and prevent revolt against it. Reincarnation explained why Brahmins were born into social privilege. It also deflected hopes for social progress through the veiled promise of a better next life by being virtuous this time round.

Around the 6th century, lower castes, fed up with brutal suppression, turned to Buddhism, which offered the prospect of individual release. Buddha, born into the warrior caste, was a severe critic of the caste system.

The 19th-century British Raj ended up diminishing the rigidity of the caste system, much to the outrage of the upper castes. But this was well after the British used the caste system to attain societal control by allying themselves with the Brahmins, the alpha caste.

When India became a republic in 1947, the new government instituted laws to assist the lower castes, including a quota system for education access and government jobs.

The Indian caste system is no longer mandated, but it remains in effect. In 2007 the Indian Supreme Court ruled that caste is inherited and cannot be changed.


In societies which afford achieved status via effort, status attainment is the process by which a person manages to gain a given position within a stratification system.


Class determines the access different people have to resources and puts groups in different positions of privilege and disadvantage. ~ Margaret Anderson & Howard Taylor

Whereas a caste system has an inflexible ascribed status system, a class system offers some degree of achieved status. Modern capitalist societies are invariably class systems.

Ostensibly, class is a level in the hierarchy of social standing within a society. But class is not just an attribute of individuals. It is instead a characterizing feature of the society in which a class system exists.

Different classes in society not only live differently quantitatively, they live in different styles qualitatively. ~ Peter Berger

Invariably, economic well-being is a primary determinant of class, with occupation as a telling secondary factor. Occupations are achieved statuses. Higher-status occupations can be attained via education and social contacts.

Class social systems are by no means open-ended. Gender and racial prejudices and discrimination remain strong in every class-based society. Supposedly intelligent people are just as prejudiced as the dumber ones: they’re just better as disguising it. Further, the potential for achieved statuses is strongly correlated with parental wealth. So-called “self-made men” are mostly a myth perpetuated by promoters of capitalism.

Though “freedom” is hyped, social mobility in class systems is hampered throughout the world. Only a miniscule number of men, and even fewer women, have ever managed to climb out of an impoverished childhood to attain high class in adulthood. They are often celebrated as a fabled norm for the ambitious, and so fortify the ideology behind an inherent inequality which can never be morally justified.

A woman or a dark-skinned person in a society dominated by light-skinned folk climbing out of poverty to attain upper-class standing is a rarity indeed.

The family background that a child in inherits at birth may present such obstacles that he or she has little change of climbing very far – or it may provide such privileges that it makes it almost impossible to fall down the class ladder. ~ James Henslin

Friendships are influenced by class, arising more frequently within classes than across them. In caste systems such as India, friendships between disparate castes is unthinkable, as one in a higher caste would not risk being “polluted” by associating with an unclean creature below.

Assortative mating predominates in human societies, and is as strong in modern class systems as it has ever been. In the United States, the share of couples marrying who both had college degrees doubled from 1960 to 2005: from 25% to 48%.

  The Sinking of the Titanic

I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that. ~ Titanic Captain Edward Smith before his optimism became fatally ill-founded

The RMS Titanic was an English passenger liner that sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Over 1,500 of 2,224 passengers and crew shuffled off their mortal coils in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean in the wee hours of 15 April 1912.

Despite receiving 6 warnings of sea ice the day before, the ship was near her maximum speed when she rammed into an iceberg. Following existing maritime practice, there were far too few lifeboats, and many were left unfilled due to a poorly managed evacuation.

Warnings were sounded first for those holding 1st-class tickets, with accommodations on the upper decks, where lifeboats were most available. Over 60% survived.

In contrast, only 36% of the 2nd-class passengers survived. Of the poor souls in the lower decks with 3rd-class tickets, only 24% escaped drowning.


Great Britain’s class system retains the marks of a long feudal past. ~ John Macionis

Britain evolved during 19th-century industrialization into a class society largely based upon inherited wealth, the remnant of the preceding agrarian estate system (the landed gentry). Britain’s estate system was maintained by the law of primogeniture, by which only the eldest son inherited parental property. This law had the effect of keeping estates intact for centuries rather than being divided among multiple offspring.

The law of primogeniture also meant that younger sons had to find another living. The clergy – the 2nd estate, owing to its vast land holdings – was popular, as was the military for boys of a sterner bent. Meanwhile, the fate of females was always in marrying well.

The cream of England’s elite – a fraction of 1% of the population – are a small number of families that have been wealthy for many generations. These are the descendants of estate holders from the preindustrial era of manorialism in England. Such a long duration of standing promotes high status consistency.

A rung below the estate-based elite is the “upper class,” with both wealth and highbrow cultural capital; some 6% of the population.

Upper-class Englishmen are educated at elite institutions, enjoy high prestige, and have considerable power to shape society. A woman’s social status becomes that of her husband.

The middle class comprises some 25% of the population within. The top crust of the middle class is moderately wealthy, and includes many professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, and those unusually successful in business: increasingly commonly in the 21st century in the financial sector, making money with money (once the only occupational refuge of European Jews, now sought after by greedy gentiles).

The middle of the middle class has educated professionals in business managerial, technical, and scientific occupations.

On the bottom crust of the middle class are wage earners who have accumulated little wealth. Most are office workers.

Status consistency is more viscous at the bottom of the hierarchy than toward the top, and downward mobility is more slippery.

Half of Britons are working class. Modestly educated, the working class are wage slaves: employed as technicians, in the service sector, employees in shops and small companies, or manual laborers. The vast majority of ethnic minorities are working class.

Service workers have been a rising proportion of the working class for the past few decades. As of 2015, ~20% of British society were employed in the service sector. The downing of retail shops by Internet commerce will continuously stress that sector.

The remaining quarter of Brits are precariat. Precarity is existence without economic security or predictability.

The precariat has emerged from the liberalisation that underpinned globalisation. It consists of a multitude of insecure people, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development, including millions of frustrated educated youth who do not like what they see before them, millions of women abused in oppressive labour, growing numbers of criminalised tagged for life, millions being categorised as ‘disabled’ and migrants in their hundreds of millions around the world. They are denizens; they have a more restricted range of social, cultural, political and economic rights than citizens around them. ~ English social economist Guy Standing

Compared with Americans, Brits are very class conscious. Like Americans, they recognize class distinctions based upon look, the stores patronized, and car driven. But the most striking statement of British class is dialect and education. As these often show up in distinctive speech, accent almost always betrays class. As soon as someone speaks, social class is revealed, whereupon the listener treats the speaker accordingly.

Far more than in other western European countries, if you are born poor in Britain, in a poor area, the chances are that you will remain poor for the rest of your life. If you are born rich, in a rich area, the likelihood is that you will find a way – or will have ways come to you – to stay wealthy and privileged throughout your life, and your children will do the same. Advantage is hoarded by the privileged sticking close to those who are similarly privileged.

There is a subtle collusion shared by both left and right to maintain the solidity of this structure, while continuing to deny it. Tensions between the classes have been exploited mercilessly by politicians.

Social and economic inequalities, particularly between the south-east and the rest of the country, and between major cities and outlying towns, have grown, and that growth been tolerated, for decades – to a point where it now threatens social and political stability. ~ English journalist Lynsey Hanley in 2016

  The United States

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. ~ American historian James Truslow Adams in 1931

American exceptionalism is the long-standing notion that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. It was born from the political slogans first spun during the American Revolution (1775–1783): of individualism, laissez-faire governance (commonly called “freedom”), and egalitarianism – though only in the legal sense, and most certainly not economically. The coinage of American exceptionalism dates to French political historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited America in the early 1830s.

As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in? ~ Alexis de Tocqueville

The American Dream first took root in frontier life, with the taking of native Americans lands and deforestation wherever rich soil with ample water supplies were found via easy access. The fruition of the American Dream was small towns, urban sprawl, and suburbs dotting the nation, with freeways crisscrossing the country.

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. ~ American novelist John Steinbeck

Not ironically, America’s social stratification grew to resemble the British class system, though with a very significant ideological difference: the abiding myth of the American Dream.

The British appear long resigned to their social stratification as resembling a natural order. In contrast, Americans were long religiously uppity in their insistence that prosperity in their country was merely a matter of enterprise and diligent hard work. It was a hardy delusion that finally crumbled. That America is “the land of opportunity” had been worn threadbare by the 21st century, as plutocratic governance entrenched economic inequality. The rich long had a grip on political power. It was a mere matter-of-course progression for the wealthy elite to squeeze those below as economic growth slowed.

Opportunity is slipping away. ~ US Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2015

Inheritance plays as large a role in preserving the elite in the United States as it does in England. But the British have a much higher status-consistency, particularly among the hereditary elite.

In the US, class status is merely a matter of money. American nouveau riche suffer less snobbery than in England; but then, America is less classy.

The US perhaps has a tad more meritocracy than Britain, but the game is rigged from the get-go. This is a fact that most middle-class Americans still refuse to recognize.

If you ask most Americans about their country’s social class system, you are likely to get a blank look. ~ James Henslin in 2010

The quality of education in the United States has increasingly been a matter of parental wealth, as the qualitative difference between public and private education has diverged, owing mainly to diminishment of public schools for lack of governmental investment. And education is the ticket to economic ascension like never before.

There is fierce competition to the best American universities, which provide the best opportunities to network with those in the current generation who are going to matter, and to stand out to employers who will pay top dollar. Legacy matters in getting admitted to elite universities.

 Power Distance

Geert Hofstede termed societal range of social stratification power distance. In cultures with high power distance, political power, social influence, and wealth are concentrated in a tiny proportion of the population.

Historically, authoritarian political regimes have high power distances, as strongmen rule via well-funded sycophants. Into the 21st century, power distance has widened even in democratic countries, as money buys votes, with the Collective conned into perpetuating a stacked-deck society in hopes of a taste of trickle-down prosperity.

The United States is a poster-child nation for this deluded dynamic: where corporations are treated as if they were people in desperate but well-deserved need of hand-outs, whereas the truly desperate are treated as free-loaders.

 Stratification Effects

Social hierarchies are maintained in part because those in dominant and subordinate groups think and behave differently. These differences are both a consequence of stratification and a proximal cause of it.

Power is perhaps the clearest determinant of social interdependence. Those in positions of power are independent of others because their own outcomes are unaffected by others’ actions, whereas those without power are inherently interdependent because their outcomes are controlled by others’ actions. Independence is not an ancillary feature of social power; it is the defining feature. ~ Nicholas Epley & Adam Waytz

As with status differences associated with gender, societal stratification has wide-ranging effects, beginning with warping people’s minds. People who feel powerful are less likely to attend to others in conversations. Hence, they are less able to accurately identify the interests and attitudes of those with whom they socially interact, and less inclined to see things from other people’s perspectives: an empathy drain via apathy.

Power shapes emotional responsiveness to other people’s suffering. ~ Dutch social psychologist Gerben van Kleef

People who feel in a position of power are less likely to empathize or experience compassion. They are more likely to exploit others and treat them as mindless objects.

This lack of empathy does not go unnoticed. High-status individuals are commonly considered insincere when their behavior is contrite.

The expression of emotions after a transgression are perceived as less authentic and less sincere when they are made by a high-status person. Accordingly, people are less inclined to forgive high-status people than those with lower status. The more senior the position, the more we are inclined to assume that they are better at controlling their emotions and are using emotions strategically. Because we believe that they are trying to achieve something, we perceive them as less sincere in the same situation. ~ Israeli social psychologist Arik Cheshin

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Even thinking about money enables a feeling of independence and decreases the tendency to adopt another’s perspective during a conversation.

Money brings about a self-sufficient orientation. ~ Kathleen Vohs

It is not that people in a position of power are unable to consider others if specifically motivated to do so. Rather, possessing a sense of independence diminishes people’s tendency to care about others. Conversely, those motivated to connect with others are more likely to attend to their emotions and mimic others’ behaviors in social interactions.

Mind perception is critical in interdependent contexts, and those contexts activate one’s mind perception abilities. ~ Nicholas Epley & Adam Waytz

The importance of a relationship affects attentiveness. People are more likely to seek information for mind perception when they expect to meet them in the future and are more likely to accommodate another’s perspective when effective communication is important to them.

People who feel interdependent are more likely to attribute mental states to nonhuman agents, such as pets and electronic gadgets. Overactive mentalizing is an evolutionary adaptive response to feeling vulnerable. The actions of those perceived as a threat – and hence more independent from them – are perceived as more intentional than those who are not considered a threat.

 Out-Group Favoritism

The most basic cultural, social, economic, and psychological tasks of life are made more difficult for subordinates and easier for dominants. These social conditions influence the psychological states and local social conditions of everyone in society, causing group differences in behavior, particularly in behavior that influences how well people do in life. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius

People tend to value and favor in-groups over out-groups. This apparent universality was labeled ethnocentrism by German sociologist Ludwig Gumplowicz in 1879. The concept was popularized by American sociologist William Sumner in his 1906 book on folkways.

In strongly stratified societies, social bias can lead members in subordinate groups to prefer the dominant out-group over their own in-group. A classic example of this out-group favoritism was shown by black American psychologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark in a famous doll study conducted in 1947. In the study, American black children aged 3–7 were asked through different requests to choose between a Negroid (black) doll and Caucasian (white) doll.

(The study became famous because the Clarks testified as expert witnesses in the racial discrimination case that resulted in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling which decreed that race-based school segregation was inherently a social inequality.)

It was clear that the children “identified themselves with the colored doll” as “a reflection of ego involvement.” The children also had a “clearly established knowledge of ‘racial difference'” in the dolls. In other words, the children understood the dolls as signifying black and white people.

The children were then asked about the dolls as representing races. The results were rather startling in showing these black children as not identifying with their racial in-group in a favorable way. A majority preferred to play with the white doll (67% to 32%), thought that the white doll was nicer than the black doll (59% to 38%), had a nicer color (60% to 38%), and that the black doll looked bad (59% to 17%). Preference for the white doll over the black was more pronounced in northern children that went to integrated schools.

The southern children in segregated schools are less pronounced in their preference for the white doll, compared to the northern children’s preference for this doll. ~ Kenneth & Mamie Clark

Rather than learning to admire and identify with their in-group, black children were developing identities and attitudes congruent with the racial inequality in American society.

A similar study by American psychologists Curtis Branch and Nora Newcomb in 1980 found that black children whose parents were civil-rights activists had a stronger out-group favoritism than normal, as they were more aware of the differential status between blacks and whites.

Out-group favoritism has been uncovered in several subordinate groups, including black children in the Caribbean, Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and Maori children in New Zealand.

The psyches of subordinates reflect not only some normal human desire for positive regard and belonging, but also their group’s inferior social position, just as the psyches of the dominants mirror their privileged position in society. These group differences reflect people’s awareness of their relative power and status. ~ Jim Sidanius & Felica Pratto

Though children may be more susceptible to out-group favoritism than adults, this social-psychological dynamic is common in sustaining groups which feel inferior to others.

In-group favoritism is most prevalent in groups that have equal or greater status than the out-group. Out-group favoritism occurs most often when the out-group has higher status and when the social status hierarchy is perceived to be both legitimate and stable. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius

Out-group favoritism is essentially a social inferiority complex compensated for by identification with the out-group.

 Intergroup Marriage

Intergroup marriage is exemplary of asymmetrical attitudes toward establishing in-group/out-group bonds. Members of higher-status ethnic groups are always more opposed to intermarriage with someone in a subordinate ethnic out-group than the reverse. Marriage downward in the social status hierarchy is frowned upon.

Euro Americans oppose marrying Asian Americans more than Asian Americans do marrying Euro Americans. Similarly, Asian Americans are more mortified at the prospect of marrying black Americans than the converse.

 Subordinate Debilitating Behavior

The saddest effects of social stratification are behaviors by societal subordinates that reinforce their status.

Subordinates will engage in activities that are both directly and indirectly harmful to them at higher rates and with greater intensity than dominants. ~ Jim Sidanius & Felica Pratto

Parenting styles are generally related to social status. Low-status parents tend to use more physical punishment and practice more directive, authoritarian, and punitive child-rearing than higher-class parents.

Subordinate children also receive less mental stimulation because their parents are less likely to read to them, expose them to books and other reading materials, and even engage them in conversation. Reading habits and conversational skill are associated with academic achievement which low-status subordinates lack.

Children in subordinate groups are much more likely to spend time in passive activities, such as watching TV. Black American children watch almost twice as much TV as white youngsters at all levels of parental education.

Excessive television viewing has been correlated to poor school performance. Further, extensive exposure to this paracosm readily leads to low self-esteem and out-group favoritism by reinforcing a child’s neglected state.

Subordinate-group offspring are more likely to be neglected and abused. This corresponds with greater spousal abuse in low-status groups, owing to higher levels of stress associated with privation as well as other causal factors.

Educational achievement is the sine qua non for adult occupational opportunities. Unsurprisingly, dominant groups outperform subordinates educationally: a generalization validated by studies in many countries worldwide.

Inferior academic performance partly owes to self-debilitating behavior: subordinates have higher rates of school truancy, are more remiss in their homework, and drop out of school earlier.

Cultural beliefs influence behaviors in ways that influence intergroup relations. Whereas students who believe that hard work leads to success study more, those who believe that fate has dealt them a bad hand which cannot be overcome resign themselves to poor results.

Stereotypes also influence academic outcomes. In the US, the stereotype that blacks are naturally intellectually inferior remains widespread. This stereotype can undermine the school performance of blacks by making it part of the hurdle they must overcome when being evaluated.

A similar stereotypical gender bias exists for girls studying math, science, or technology. As beliefs color the world, stereotypes tend to be self-fulling prophecies.

One study found that black students did better on IQ tests when they believed the tests were measuring hand-eye coordination. Similarly, blacks performed better when they believed that their scores were to be compared to those of other blacks than when they thought their results would be compared with whites.

When black students were reminded of their ethnicity, their performance scores were significantly worse than the scores of both white students and black students who were not reminded of their race. ~ Felicia Pratto & Jim Sidanius

Women’s tolerance of sexism smacks of out-group favoritism, and even self-debilitating behavior. But, as with any subordinate group, rebelling against a social system invariably bears a cost. As that cost can be incalculable compared with acquiescence, stratification endures.

 Stratification & Violence

How a society is structured affects both stratification and the level of violence it generates. Foraging societies exhibit less hierarchy than agricultural ones, which have far less stratification than industrial societies.

When societies generate wealth and incorporate it into their value systems, male-male competition increases. War, conquest, and colonization have been the repeated results.

The structural basis for wealth also influences male aggressiveness. Even centuries after lifestyles change, the values precipitating violence remain in place, culturally transmitted through generations.

 Herding Honor

Compared to farming cultures, those reliant upon herding were prone to male aggression. Because livestock are mobile, herders were more vulnerable to theft. Raiders cannot rustle crops out of the ground like they can cattle.

The increased dangers herders faced motivated male vigilance to threat, including creating concern for establishing and maintaining a reputation for toughness, along with a concomitant propensity to seek revenge. This fostered a culture of honor based upon character.

Cultures that emphasize male honor inculcate boys to defend their reputations aggressively. This in turn leads to a propensity for interpersonal aggression to defend the honor of an in-group.

Cultures that valorize honor tended to a dry plains geography that lent itself to herding economies. This includes many Mediterranean cultures – Spain, Italy, Greece – and Arabs in the Middle East. This also applies to cultures formed by herder immigrants, such as in Latin and South America, which were colonized by herders from the Iberian peninsula.

The early waves of European immigrants to the southern United States came mainly from the borderlands of Scotland and Ireland. Unlike the Puritan farmers who settled the North, Southerners were from herding societies with a culture that esteemed honor.

The US South, and western regions of the US initially settled by Southerners, are more violent than the rest of the country. The herding regions of the South are still the most violent.

Homicide rates for White Southern males are substantially higher than those for White Northern males, especially in rural areas. But only for argument-related homicides are Southern rates higher. Southerners do not endorse violence more than do Northerners when survey questions are expressed in general terms, but they are more inclined to endorse violence for protection and in response to insults. ~ Richard Nisbett

Incidents of incidental aggression which male Northerners may find amusing angers Southerners, who feel insulted. Southerners more commonly believe that a boy should handle a bully by fighting back.

State laws reflect the cultural divide of honor. In Florida and some other southern states, a homeowner can legally kill a home intruder without having to prove that the intruder was an immediate threat. Until the 1970s, a man in Texas could legally defend his honor by shooting his spouse’s lover out the saddle if caught in the act.

Culture of honor values not only provide ideological support for male aggression, but social approval for women who “stand by their man,” remaining loyal and committed even in the face of violence. ~ Laurie Rudman & Peter Glick

Much of the conservative streak in the South reflects endorsement of a culture of honor. Opposition to gun control is stronger in the South than other parts of the country, as people view guns as necessary for self-protection. Southerners show stronger support for war as a way to defend national honor.

The mores of an honor culture bear a strong similarity to sexist ideologies, notably benevolent sexism. Under this creed, men should fight to protect the honor of women, especially their intimate partners or relatives.

Honor for a female is quite different than for a male. Whereas a woman’s honor is to modesty and sexual purity, a man’s honor demands independence and toughness.

Beyond physical threat, honor culture includes protecting a woman’s reputation from insult, and her person from other men’s sexual advances. Most Southern men, asked to imagine a male friend making sexually suggestive remarks to their girlfriend, view this as an insult to honor, deserving a violent reaction.

Southern man, when will you pay them back? I heard screamin’ and bullwhips cracking. ~ Canadian singer/songwriter Neil Young in the song “Southern Man” (1970)

I hope Neil Young will remember, a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow. ~ Southern popular music group Lynyrd Skynyrd in the song “Sweet Home Alabama” (1974), written in response to Neil Young’s insulting song.


The effects of stratification affect every facet of living. Educational and concomitant employment opportunities for subordinate groups are less than for dominants.

Health and social status are also aligned. The lower the social status, the greater the prevalence of morbidity, health problems in general, and higher mortality.

For lower-status groups, unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol drinking, and drug taking are higher, and health-linked behaviors, such as regular exercise, are lower. This can partly be attributed to a self-debilitating lifestyle, which is largely cultural, and befits subordination.

Along similar lines is criminal activity. Statistical analyses of crime in the US and UK suggest that ~22% of incarceration can be chalked up to discrimination in the so-called justice system. That implies ~78% of the overrepresentation of minorities in prisons is a function of criminal behavior within subordinate communities. In the US, blacks, while comprising ~12% of the population, commit nearly 50% of the violent crimes.

(Greater criminality among subordinates has been statistically seen for the indigenous peoples of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, US, Canada, and Finland; Arabs in Israel; Koreans in Japan; foreign immigrants in the Netherlands; Caribbean immigrants in England; and native Algerians under French occupation (before Algeria’s independence).)

Subordinate groups not only perpetuate crime, but also are the direct victims of it. American blacks are again exemplary. Most of the violence visited upon black males is by other black males. Young black men are almost 10 times more likely to be homicide victims than white males in the same age range.

It has repeatedly been argued that minorities are inherently inferior. The subordinates-are-savages is nothing more than a legitimizing justification for social stratification by dominants. It has the ring of truth only because oppression warps the minds and morals of those who are victims of it for generations unending.

What is perhaps more surprising is the decency that most in repressed subordinate groups manage to sustain. Once again, American blacks are exemplary. As a social group, they often display an abiding, resolute spirit to overcome the obstacles imposed on them – the truest sense of honor.

Group Affinity

One of the putative fundamental cultural divides of societies is the degree to which core values center on the individual versus the tribe. The origination of this came from lifestyle differences related to everyday sociality.

Psychologically, growing up in an individualistic social world biases one toward the use of analytical reasoning, whereas exposure to more collectivistic environments favors holistic approaches. Thinking analytically means breaking things down into their constituent parts and assigning properties to those parts. Similarities are judged according to rule-based categories, and current trends are expected to continue. Holistic thinking, by contrast, focuses on relationships between objects or people anchored in their concrete contexts. Similarity is judged overall, not on the basis of logical rules. Trends are expected to be cyclical. ~ American anthropologist Joseph Henrich

In those regions where rice was cultivated as the primary grain, a collective culture grew along with the crops. Before mechanization, growing rice took twice as many hours as wheat. To deploy labor efficiently, especially during planting and harvesting, rice-growing societies developed cooperative labor exchanges.

Conversely, cultures which relied upon wheat and other grains that could be independently grown led to cultural individualism. This is most apparent in the Fertile Crescent, where concocted religious creeds became the brittle glue of tribal association among its flinty peoples, who are given to petty bickering to the present day.

Even as individualism took root, the kernel of existence remained collective in the form of the family. The term familism is used for the value system whereby the interests of the family trump those of its individual members.

The folkways of familism independently evolved in early agricultural societies throughout the world. It appears a natural social order, as the family continues to this day to be the foundation of human sociality.

Familism is the origin of loyalty, and of honor: integrity which is a credit to one’s origins. Over time, individualism warped the term honor to refer to the individual, slighting reference to familial association. Nonetheless, these 2 terms are universally held in the highest esteem as moral values.

While Occidental societies evolved capitalist economies founded on the fabled principle of individualistic enterprise, the Orient supposedly retained its collective flavor. This was true only to an extent. China was first unified by invasion of wheat-growing northerners into the rice-growing provinces of the south during the 2nd millennium bce.

The upshot is that relatively independent-minded people banded together for conquest. This theme of materialist group aggression has replayed countless times throughout history.

Colonialism altered social and economic development wherever it landed. Western powers were simply continuing a well-established world tradition of conquest. The British hegemony that began in India in the early 18th century was simply a new twist to an old story. India was first colonized by Muslim Central-Asian nomadic tribes in the 11th century.

The British, seriously irritated over running into the red in trade with China, solved its debt problem militarily in the mid-19th century. The British solution also involved taking Chinese territories after China’s defeat. Most notable was Hong Kong being ceded to Britain in perpetuity, with political control of “leased” to the UK for 99 years. This remnant of British imperialism was finally cast aside in 1997, only because China had become a formidable power.

Forcible entry by Americans into Yokohama harbor on black ships in 1853 provoked the Japanese to radical societal overhaul: abandoning their stable feudal system for a reckless joy ride into militarism and colonialism, in an imitation of what Western powers had done for centuries.

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At the societal level, individualism versus collectivism is a charade. Individualist cultures managed their conquests via cooperative venture, albeit involving coercion via conscription.

Collectivist cultures have been no better at providing equitable social structures than individualistic ones. The so-called collectivist countries of the far East have long had the same social stratification problems that plagued the early comers to capitalism under the alleged aegis of individualism. Hence, we see a practical limit to the human capacity for cooperation and compassion, especially at the societal level. Once again, this owes to the firmly entrenched mind-set of predominant materialism within the men of the Collective.

Male social dominance is the primary reason for the ubiquitous deficiencies in decency. One need look no farther than the pathetic position of right-wing politicians on social welfare, such as in the United States, to comprehend the short-sighted and curmudgeonly inclination of capitalists and their sycophants.

Collectivism does assist in slipping into groupthink. Consensus toward colossal misadventures is easier. The history of China and Japan are exemplary.

Japan rebuilt itself after its modern militaristic spasm ended in ruined defeat in 1945. By the end of the 1970s, Japan had become a wondrous economic power, though afflicted with the same social, environmental, and economic diseases of the West, including intense environmental degradation and a persistent underclass. The miraculous Japanese economic engine stalled at the end of the 1980s and has not recovered, with no effective remedial collective action.

China’s enthusiastic adoption of the filthiest form of “free enterprise” from the early 1980s has generated staggering levels of pollution, corruption, and wealth inequality. China’s totalitarian government remains, so far managing to ride the capitalist tiger that it unleashed.

Though called “communist,” Chinese political operatives appear collective only in uniformly being like pigs at a trough. Government officials who are not corrupt have been the exception in China. The ascendency of Xi Jinping to Chinese leader in 2013 led to a historic stab at lessening corruption, albeit coincident with a drive by Xi to consolidate power, thus influencing who was targeted.

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Despite similarities in societal outcomes, there are interpersonal behavioral norms that differ between individualistic and collectivistic cultures.

People from individualistic cultures are more likely to use confrontational strategies when dealing with interpersonal problems; those with a collectivist orientation are likely to use avoidance, third-party intermediaries, or other face-saving techniques. ~ American communication scholars Myron Lustig & Jolene Koester

In more collectivist cultures with traditional social ties, friendships are predetermined by the familial ties. There is less need to put yourself out make friendships than in individualistic cultures, where affiliative relationships must be formed via initiative.

Small talk, flirting, and other facile communications are more important in individualist cultures. There is a greater emphasis on physical appearance, as first impressions can be crucial in acquaintance encounters. Relationships tend to be more casual and transient in individualist societies.

Styles of song and dance differ between the 2 cultures. Collectivist cultures have a higher cohesiveness in their singing, and more synchrony in their dancing. It is no wonder that rock and hip-hop, which emphasize “doing your own thing,” evolved in individualistic societies.

There are also worldview and orientation distinctions. People in collective cultures tend to be environmentally holistic in viewing situations, whereas individualists are object-oriented analysts.

Concern for the group runs nominally stronger in collective cultures. While this may not influence polity outcomes for society as a whole, it has great effect on interpersonal interactions, including nonverbal communication conventions.

Japan, which retains a strong collective streak, and its people prone to groupthink, is notably miserly in its social welfare system; stingier than even the United States. This is a sorry echo of the macho feudalism that the Japanese embraced for many centuries before taking up the cudgel of modernity. The Japanese underclass are the perpetual out-group.

Individualism has its staunchest adherents in the United States, where a man’s ‘freedom’ is practically a religion; but its strength varies somewhat by region and tribe. The mid-Atlantic and central Midwestern states hold individualism especially dear, while Southeasterners are the most traditionalistic and less individualistic. Whites and black Americans are more individualistic than Mexican Americans, who emphasize group and relational solidarity.

Individualism is a wellspring for selfishness, narcissism, sociopathy, and crime. In comparison to Western European cultures, which also embrace individualism, the extreme example of the United States provides ample evidence for these broad conclusions.

Western man has created chaos by denying that part of his self that integrates while enshrining the parts that fragment experience. ~ Edward Hall

Cultural Gender Orientation

The gender orientation of societies illustrates social evolution. In masculine cultures, positive traits include power, assertiveness, materialism, ambition, and competitiveness. Less valued are the feminine virtues of affection, compassion, nurturance, and emotionality.

Masculine nations include Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Columbia, the Philippines, and England. Islamic countries are also highly masculine. Feminine countries include Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Finland, Chile, Peru, Portugal, and Thailand.

Masculine countries have few women in the work force, and afford females fewer civil rights, such as taking rape as a serious crime.

Androgynous cultures result in higher levels of self-esteem, social competence, and intellectual development for both males and females. Social harmony is improved, including greater permissiveness in consensual sexual behavior. There is less tension between the sexes.

People live longer in egalitarian countries. Stress levels are, on average, less. At least some of this comes from not repressing emotions as a matter of practice, which men are especially prone to in masculine cultures.

The contrast of gender orientation in human cultures resembles bonobo versus chimpanzee sociality. Chimps live in male-dominated societies that are more stressful than bonobos, where females are dominant. Bonobos are more cooperative, and quite fond of sex for its bonding quality. Bonobos lack the edgy aggressiveness of chimps.

Uncertainty Tolerance

Hofstede identified “a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity,” which reflects baseline fear, and correspondent measures to minimize social change. Countries with strong uncertainty anxiety maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas. There is also less tolerance for carefree youth, with their exuberant antics and emotional extravagance. Inconsistently, people in uncertainty-avoidant cultures are more easily upset; hence, themselves emotionally exuberant about violations of mores.

More generally, uncertainty-avoidant people tend to be more emotional, as there is a constant stress underlying conformist cultures. Those not adverse to uncertainty feel more comfortable with change and tend to be pragmatic.

In high-uncertainty-avoidant countries, rituals are created to present the illusion of certainty through conformant behaviors. Such cultures place great importance on structured information channels, with the intent of creating the illusion of constancy.

Muslims, Latin Americans, the French, southern and eastern Europeans, German speakers, and the Japanese, are uncertainty-avoidant. Chinese, Anglo, and Nordic cultures are less anxious about uncertainty. But no culture is especially worry-free about the future. This reflects the ubiquitous incompetence of societal governance in dealing with the wide-ranging corrosion inherent in capitalism.

Conservatives favor social control regulations to thwart uncertainty. Liberals, more tolerant of change, also favor social controls, albeit for what they consider “the greater good” of societal cohesion.

Time Horizon

A society’s time horizon relates to its short-term versus a long-term perspective. A long time horizon encourages persistence, flexibility, and economy. This view looks to the future. In contrast, short-term-oriented societies value the past: emphasizing steadiness, respect for tradition, meeting obligations, and preservation of existing social structures.

The cultures of East Asia, particularly China and Japan, both old civilizations, tend to take a long view. In contrast, the Anglo and Muslim countries, as well as those in Africa and Latin America, have short time horizons.

Indulgence Inclination

Some societies attempt to legally enforce mores, especially regarding certain sexual behaviors and ingestion of intoxicants. Others are more tolerant.


Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory paints in broad strokes cultural characteristics of societies. Extensive survey data corroborates aforementioned observations, but such generalizations mask the frictions among factions that continually exist in all societies over cultural values. Cultural dimensions do illustrate the roles that fear and empathy play in public life.


Sociologists have construed 3 broad paradigmatic perspectives of human sociality, particularly social stratification: symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and conflict theory.

Symbolic interactionism emphasizes that abstractions are at the core of tribes and societies, and that symbols are the basis of both comity and conflict. George Mead introduced this perspective to American sociology in the 1920s. Among others, Mead observed that an individual’s sense of self is a social product.

Functionalism considers society a complex, entangled system, with groups and individuals contributing to its holistic functioning and stability. The functionalist perspective deems institutions as the collective means to meet individual and social needs. Functionalism’s lineage runs through theories spun by Auguste Comte, Émile Durkheim, and Herbert Spencer. American sociologist Talcott Parsons considered the social fabric woven by a combination of socialization and social control.

Conflictism, like functionalism, views society as a social system. But conflictism considers societies held together by coercion from the dominant factions. Whereas functionalism views society cohering via consensus, conflictism sees social dynamics as an ongoing competition for societal resources.

Conflict theorists argue that those who control the levers of political power apportion society’s resources. Derived from Marx’s considerations of class struggle, conflictism sees social stratification arising from class conflict and blocked opportunity. Stratification is itself a system of domination and subordination in which a ruling elite exploits and controls others (even if indirectly, such as by limiting opportunity and thereby upward mobility).

Each of the 3 perspectives contributes pieces in understanding societal dynamics. Symbolic belief systems form the core of the culture that creates and holds tribes together. Socialization correspondent with the dominant culture generally creates compliant social participants.

Functionalism and conflictism dispute the extent, and hence importance, of societal control. Functionalists believe society is more cooperative than coercive. Conflict theorists turn that notion on its head by observing that coercion results in cooperation.

German-born American sociologist Herbert Gans illustrated the functionalist perspective with his explanation of how poverty serves as a social good by getting society’s dirty work done. In doing so he unwittingly proved conflict theorists’ point.

The existence of poverty ensures that society’s “dirty work” will be done. Every society has such work: physically dirty or dangerous, temporary, dead-end and underpaid, undignified and menial jobs. Society can fill these jobs by paying higher wages than for “clean” work, or it can force people who have no other choice to do the dirty work – and at low wages.

In America, poverty functions to provide a low-wage labor pool that is willing – or rather, unable to be unwilling – to perform dirty work at low cost. Indeed, this function of the poor is so important that in some Southern states, welfare payments have been cut off during the summer months when the poor are needed to work in the field. Poverty persists not only because it fulfills a number of positive functions, but also because many of the functional alternatives to poverty would be quite dysfunctional for the affluent members of society. ~ Herbert Gans

Gans observed how poverty serves valuable social and economic functions on the cheap; poverty as a product of exploitation built into the system – exactly what conflictism posits.

Social Stability

Humans have a proclivity for norm following that is grounded in the emotions rather than in reason, and consequently a tendency to invest mental models and the rules that flow from them with intrinsic worth. ~ Francis Fukuyama

Life in society proceeds in an orderly manner owing to norms. The most important mores are taboos, such as not killing or stealing. Sadly, people in one culture may not extend the courtesy of these norms to those in another culture.

The term social control refers to the shared understanding and rules that constrain public behaviors. The wide array of norms which permit a society to achieve relative peaceful social control is called its normative order. The punishments for violating norms are sanctions.

As social structures begat institutions that garnered leverage in societies, social stability became entangled with the vigor of governance. Throughout history, polity invariably both reflected and defined social values.

When institutions faltered societies suffered. The Roman Empire exemplified the decay of institutions which lead to the collapse of a civilization.

Often, societies invaded by outsiders softened themselves up through the internal corrosion of corruption. So went Rome before the Germanic tribes arrived en masse.

Societies have had various degrees of uniformity or diversity in their cultures. In relatively stable societies, there is a dominant culture from which is drawn the ruling elite, with token representation from the other major cultures within.

The United States today is an example of a mature, modern society that is a vast mixture of cultures, owing to its immigrant history. A militarized police state maintains order. The US is a superb example of conflictism in gut-wrenching action.

Though a society may be a geosocial umbrella for several cultures, those cultures share important values, or are otherwise riven in time from cultural conflict. The history of China is exemplary: of both cultural integration and sporadic disintegration. China also illustrates the territorial conquests that were common throughout human history in shaping societies, where cultural conflict was incidental in the impetus of upheaval, and quest for power by cliques the driver.


Early in its history, China went through a long series of dynasties, beginning with the Xia dynasty (~ 2100–1600 bce) during its Bronze Age. Each dynasty dissolved in political turmoil, usually ending in war.

The inequity of feudal structures ensured a continuing degree of internal instability which was corrosive. Even so, early dynastic turnover was typically through territorial conquest by neighboring tribes.

The Shang tribe defeated the Xia clan at the legendary Battle of Mingtiao, thus succeeding to dynastic reign (1600–1046 bce). The prelude was a corrupt Xia regime that engendered internal dissent, thus weakening the dynasty.

The Zhou tribe, which lived to the west of the Shang, wrested power at the Battle of Muye in 1046. Thus began the longest-lasting dynasty in Chinese history: 1046–~256 bce, though it was a legacy of fractured reigns from internal frictions.

Internal tribal conflicts and incursion from neighboring territories eventuated in the Warring States period (476–221 bce). Then, a strongman from the state of Qin managed to gain power militarily; thus began the short-lived Qin dynasty (221 to 206 bce). The 1st Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huang, managed to create an imperial state, with centralized political power and a stable economy able to support a large military. Currency, measures, and weights were standardized, and a uniform writing system introduced. In an attempt to quell criticism and purge the history of old dynasties, most historical books were burned, as were historians. 460 Confucian scholars were buried alive in 210 bce.

While Qin Shi Huang got off to a strong start, his succession did not succeed. Internal squabbles led to the deaths of the 2nd Qin emperor and his key advisors. Popular revolt a few years later left a severely weakened empire, whereupon another strongman, Liu Bang, emerged from within and founded the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce). And so on, through 20 some odd dynasties, to the one that rules today in dynastic style: the so-called “Communists” (1949–).

 India & Pakistan

The institutions introduced by the British in India survived their occupation, which began in the 1820s and ended in 1947. Indian independence also spelled its division, with the partition of Pakistan.

The India-Pakistan division represented a violent cultural divide between Hindus and Muslims. It was accompanied by panicky flight and riots between peoples of the 2 religiously based cultures. In a bloodbath of spontaneous retributive genocide by residents, ~600,000 were massacred in the province of Punjab, which straddled India and Pakistan.

Societal Adhesion

Émile Durkheim envisioned 2 different systems of social solidarity: mechanical and organic (aka contractual). (The term organic was in reference to organs in a body.)

With mechanical solidarity, individuals are united via shared values and other social bonds. Society members, who perform similar tasks, develop a shared consciousness. Mechanical solidarity is found in farming communities.

Native American tribes prior to European conquest were bound together by mechanical solidarity. Their recent attempts to recapture this spirit of solidarity have been foiled by superimposition interference from the institutions of their occupiers: the dastardly white man.

Few societies are held together now via mechanical solidarity. One sterling outlier remains in the American Amish.

 The Amish

No joy is complete unless it is shared. ~ Amish proverb

The Amish began with the Swiss Anabaptists who emerged in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. In the years following Martin Luther’s protest, some Zurich reformers called for a sharper break with the Catholic Church. They were nicknamed Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”) because they insisted on baptizing only those adults who were willing to live a life of obedience to biblical doctrine.

Anabaptists were persecuted by Swiss civil authorities for refusing to take up arms, swear oaths of allegiance, or acknowledge infant baptism, which, not coincidentally, was used to confer citizenship, determine taxation, and demand conscription for war.

Over the next century and a half, the Swiss Anabaptist movement spread into northern Europe. A serious breach occurred in 1693. Jakob Ammann, a recent but fervent convert, proposed measures to tighten church discipline.

The Amish in the United States are a sect that broke away from the Swiss German Mennonite church at that time and settled in Pennsylvania around 1727. A 2nd, larger wave of Amish immigrants arrived in the early to mid-1800s.

Curiously, the Amish dissolved in Europe. Those who remained ended up joining other denominations.

Numbering ~250,000 as of 2015, the American Amish are concentrated in 3 states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. (There is also a significant community of Amish in Ontario, Canada, now numbering ~5,000.) Spurning birth control, their population had doubled since 1995.

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Amish sociality emphasizes face-to-face conversation. Apart from the extended family, the church district is the dominant social institution. Each church district comprises 25 to 40 families who live in proximity and attend the same church services, which are held in family homes rather than a separate meetinghouse.

Each church district is governed by an Ordnung, which serves as the blueprint for expected behavior. Containing both prescriptions and proscriptions, the Ordnung is handed down generationally in an oral tradition. Its provisos are reviewed and subject to revision twice a year.

Because each church district has flexibility to construct its own Ordnung, interesting discrepancies arise between congregations. A cluster of districts that share similar Ordnung are said to be “in fellowship,” and are called an affiliation. Affiliated districts may exchange ministers, and members may take communion at another’s church. Amish communion services include foot-washing as a symbol of commitment to interdependence.

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Nearly all Amish marry. The church makes no exceptions in disallowing marriage to outsiders. Further, parents not only want their children to remain Amish, but to stay faithful to their existing affiliation. It makes for a small mating pool.

The Amish commonly marry young. By age 25, over 80% of Amish men and women are married. The percentage of unmarried Amish drops into the single digits by age 30 for both sexes.

As a higher percentage of young men than women choose not to be baptized and live the Amish life, there are more single Amish women than men.

Despite marrying young, Amish partnerships are characterized by respect and mutuality rather than the romantic notions of love that are common among “the English” (non-Amish).

Divorce is essentially forbidden; if accomplished practically it carries a strong stigma. Widowhood and remarriage much less so. Remarriage between Amish in their 70s and 80s is not unusual.

Unsurprisingly, widowers are prone to marry younger women who have never been married, so as to breed some more and avoid getting involved with someone else’s children.

The family – with offspring – is the cornerstone of Amish society.

The more a child is valued, the better his values will be. ~ Amish proverb

As in other cultures, marriage creates alliances of kin networks, and the family is the primary context for the socialization of offspring; though for the Amish, it is an extended family.

Attitudes are caught, not taught. ~ Amish proverb

Connectedness and service to others is emphasized. Socialization to gender-specific roles are engendered in the Amish as they are generally throughout the world.

Practically every Amish woman, regardless of age or affiliation, describes the ideal wife and mother as one who is a “keeper at home,” taking care of her husband and family. The ideal Amish husband complements his wife in being patient and supportive.

Whereas an Amish family may look patriarchal from the outside, the reality is a strong maternal presence. While church leaders are all male, in the informal world of everyday life women share power with men.

With rare exception (unbecoming incompetence by church leaders), there is scant tolerance for spousal abuse. The Amish are appalled by domestic violence.

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Amish life is based on separation from the more secular world; a directive derived from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5–7].

Ideally, the Amish try to live their faith, including belief in Gelassenheit, which is a spirit of selflessness and humility (demut, as contrasted to high-mindedness (hochmut)); hence the plain dress, head coverings, and rejection of ostentation, such as owning automobiles.

All Amish affiliations place a cap on formal schooling at 8th grade. This is designed to combat the sin of pride.

We pass our convictions to our children by the things we tolerate. ~ Amish proverb

Amish moral values and mores are stringent. Those who do not conform are shunned: limited social contact. Those who do not repent are excommunicated.

A degree of nonconformity is tolerated in adolescents. ~90% of young adults choose to remain in the church and community.

The best things in life are not things. ~ Amish proverb

The Amish are not only non-materialists, they are also non-egoists. Pride is a cardinal and all-inclusive sin.

The Amish work ethic is superlative. Their adoption of modern technologies has been limited, by choice, as superfluous. Doing so to a finite degree, such as phone or computer use, has not changed their way of living or value system.

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. ~ Amish proverb

Because they reject force and competition in social relations, the Amish do not file lawsuits, hold political offices, nor serve on juries or as police or in the military.

As devout pacifists, the Amish eschew violence in all its forms. When a non-Amish madman shot to death several Amish girls at a school in 2006, the Amish community established charitable funds – not only for the families of the dead children, but also for the murderer’s family. The killer fatally shot himself after his heinous act.

To return good for good is human, to return good for evil is divine. ~ Amish proverb

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The individual submits to society and this submission is the condition of his liberation. For man, freedom consists in deliverance from blind, unthinking physical forces; he achieves this by opposing against them the great and intelligent force of society, under whose protection he shelters. ~ Émile Durkheim

The technologies of the outside world have been a continuing temptation to the Amish. It has been one wedge issue in the social schisms that have developed in the Amish community.

While each affiliation considers it Ordnung to be faithful to Anabaptist ideals, those ideals have been defined in distinctive ways. This has evolved into a divergence of cultural and religious practices within settlements.

Let’s face it, when a church splits, there’s bound to be hard feelings. ~ Amish bishop

For all the talk of aversion to pride, the schisms have resulted in status groups. The more conservative affiliations adhere to stricter discipline and separation from the world at large. More progressive church districts emphasize a more personal religious experience, and have a greater tolerance to adopting new, useful technologies.

There has also been a mixture in some districts. One affiliation is technologically progressive but doctrinally conservative. Such schisms are nothing new. They have been a recurrent feature of Amish settlements since their founding. Consensus and compromise are difficult for the strong willed, even those sharing the same belief system and brought up to be conformist.


In contrast to mechanical solidarity, organic (contractual) solidarity is the means of societal adhesion among peoples with differentiated lives. Division of labor begets economic interdependence. While individuals do not rely upon each other to have shared folkways or even values, their material reliance creates a facile unity.

With industrialization arose societies held together solely by contractual solidarity. Earlier task and class-differentiated societies, such as those during the age of European manorialism, retained some sense of mechanical solidarity, as their mores were shared.

Ferdinand Tönnies analyzed the fundamental historical shifts in societal adhesion. He termed village life, where everyone knows everyone else: gemeinshaft (intimate community). Contrastingly, the society that was emerging in Tönnies’ time was of short-term relationships, individualism, and self-interest: gesellschaft (impersonal association). This is one effect that industrialization has on society.

As societies change, so do people’s orientations to life. ~ James Henslin


In contrast to mechanical solidarity, organic (contractual) solidarity is the means of societal adhesion among peoples with differentiated lives. Division of labor begets economic interdependence. While individuals do not rely upon each other to have shared folkways or even values, their material reliance creates a facile unity.

With industrialization arose societies held together solely by contractual solidarity. Earlier task and class-differentiated societies, such as those during the age of European manorialism, retained some sense of mechanical solidarity, as their mores were shared.

Ferdinand Tönnies analyzed the fundamental historical shifts in societal adhesion. He termed village life, where everyone knows everyone else: gemeinshaft (intimate community). Contrastingly, the society that was emerging in Tönnies’ time was of short-term relationships, individualism, and self-interest: gesellschaft (impersonal association). This is one effect that industrialization has on society.

As societies change, so do people’s orientations to life. ~ James Henslin

 In Money We Trust

Norms of voluntary cooperation are difficult in a society of strangers unless they are mediated by some institution. ~ Italian economists Gabriele Camera, Marco Casari, & Maria Bigoni

Societies could not function without cooperative behaviors among its members. Trust is essential for cooperation. The trust required is that cooperation yields a reward. Trust is a bridging function between the present and the future for a positive outcome.

Mistrust grows with social heterogeneity among individuals, and sheer group size. To productively function, a society must establish a sufficient threshold of trust: something which can only be accomplished by a shared, imagined enforcement against transgressors of that trust.

While the idea of a functioning justice system is necessary for sustained cooperation, it is not sufficient. A ready medium of trust must be established to cajole cooperation. That medium is money.

Money is an institutional mechanism. People in modern societies cooperate economically only because they trust in their society’s political institutions to provide stability, especially with regard to money retaining its value. If trust fails, societies splinter into tribes.



Islamic fundamentalists tremble at the prospect of societal change: that male-dominated clans might be replaced with looser social bonds and even, Allāh forbid, a measure of gender equity. These Muslim men cringe at the prospect of altered lifestyles and mores: most importantly, their potential loss of status.

A significant slice of Muslims supports terrorist violence against Western societies as an expression of hate-based frustration from the infidel sociocultural values that are perceived as an encroaching corrosive threat to Islam. Mass media – which flagrantly flouts Western decadence – has further fueled Islamic madness.


War is the ultimate destructive force. War illustrates the extremity of cultural clash, and the easy mass violence of men deluded by dreams of dominance.

The sombre fact is that we are the cruellest and most ruthless species that has ever walked the Earth. We know in our hearts that each one of us harbours within himself those same savage impulses which lead to murder, to torture, and to war. ~ English psychoanalyst Anthony Storr

Along with resource acquisition and revenge, mating has been a key motivator in taking up arms. While men do not generally associate attractive women with aggression against other men, experimentally exposing men to pictures of desirable women increased their professed support for group conflict. Symbolic images, such as national flags, do not elicit the same response.

Warlike races are prone to the love of women. ~ Aristotle

War and mating as an evolved association makes sense. Historical analysis suggests that warriors multiply their sexual opportunities by raping the women of the enemy, or more mundanely through tales of heroism to local females.

So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second for safety; and the third, for reputation. ~ Thomas Hobbes

The prospect of profit is the usual fuel that fires war, which is typically territorial in its aim. War is otherwise an exercise in mass madness, or, at least, derangement in the ruling elite.

Humans will kill and die for an idea. ~ French American anthropologist Scott Atran & American psychologist Jeremy Ginges

The US provocation of the Vietnam War in the 1960s illustrates such insanity: a conflict over ideology, which is the ultimate absurdity of political abstraction. America had absolutely nothing to gain, yet committed its dignity, and risked its economy and social fabric, to an invasion of Vietnam: a roll of loaded dice that the aggressor was destined to lose. The US political establishment at the time had no conception of what was at stake. Ignorant of history and their chosen enemy, the American political elite naïvely assumed they could prevail – though to what end they had not bothered to ponder.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ~ American general and US President Dwight Eisenhower

 The US Invasion of Afghanistan

A similar experience to Vietnam, albeit more nuanced, was the American invasion of Afghanistan in the 1st decade of the 21st century. Did American political leaders think they would root out the Muslims who held animosity to the United States? Were they going to conquer the country, then sue for peace?

As repeated experience had already shown, America has no stomach for the so-called “nation building” that it touts, so any such pretense could only indicate deep self-denial at the highest levels of government.

In the instance of Afghanistan, a people long inured to tribal corruption were not swayed to change their ways just because ballot boxes appear in public places. Or, at least, tribal leaders were not, and they were ultimately the only votes that counted.

There appeared little consideration of the dynamic that invasion would stir. But then, the American political elite were never avid students of history, nor soiled by decency beyond posturing.

That the Soviet Union failed in a similar endeavor a very few decades earlier (with better geopolitical rationale) illustrates the inane hubris that typifies American foreign policy: a cultural characteristic since the early days of the republic.

America waging war on Afghanistan was revenge for 9/11; a 2nd act to the contrived Iraq invasion, which at least held the chimeric hope for cheaper oil by the American administration, as US oil companies awaited vampirishly to feed on Iraq’s oil supply.

In the finale, Pakistan was harboring Saudi Arabian terrorist Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the spectacle of flying airplanes into US skyscrapers. bin Laden and family members were summarily executed by the American soldiers as they discovered them, defenseless, in their suburban home. The US government lied in telling the world that bin Laden had been armed and firing at them.

This wasn’t an execution. ~ US government official on the execution of Osama bin Laden

Pakistan, as full of wild-eyed anti-American Islamists as Afghanistan, was ostensibly an ally. That, and it having nuclear weapons spared Pakistan the insult of invasion by the Wild West nation. But then, the US could ill-afford a 3rd act of aggressive folly, if for no other reason than voters had tired of such expensive shenanigans. Into 2019 American political leaders continued to squander resources on military folly in Muslim lands, lacking even an objective.

Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed. ~ Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong