Universal Rights and Social Constructionism

As the prime survival trait of the human species, social constructs present capabilities not attainable through any other means. A social construct is a concept that only exists if two or more people agree it exists (it’s only an idea if held by a single person). You can’t hold a social construct in your hand, or point to it with your finger. It can only be described as a mental concept. That said, social constructionism is one of the prime reasons humans have advanced so far, despite a litany of physical limitations.

Examples of social constructs range from complex social systems (Health Care), to festive cultural expressions (Happy Hour). Within that range are the key concepts humans have developed as a survival trait. Emergency services, public education, law enforcement, are all social constructs that have allowed human civilizations achieve highly ordered capabilities. Without such developed capabilities, our species would likely never have become farmers, built cities, or reach space. These are the products of a species with highly developed social order.

By comparison, the survival trait of sociality found in nature is well understood. However, this common level of sociality is limited to local adaptation of a given species, predominantly focused on the immediate survival of a colony or family.

While humans exhibit the same survival traits as many species in nature, we’ve expanded upon this though the development of complex language — a prerequisite of advanced sociality. As a result, the sustainability of sociality throughout nature is easily validated — as evident from the continued use of sociality by any species existing for millions of years — it doesn’t get more sustainable than that. Likewise, advanced sociality is also a sustainable survival trait by humans, as validated by the continued existence of the human species.

If the advanced sociality of humans is inherently sustainable, how does this square with Universal Rights given the large array of Universal Rights violations found in many of our social constructs?

The failing of any social construct is found in the development stage of a given social construct. Like all things adaptive in nature, social constructionism is a process of continuous development — it simply never ends. The effectiveness of a social construct is proportional to that concept fitting a survival need. Likewise, in nature one cannot develop an adaptive response to an environmental pressure that doesn’t exist, there has to be a purpose for the behaviour. If the described implementation of a given social construct is based on faulty or incomplete information, the resultant social construct will fall short of the capability it was intended to offer. What follows is a review and revision process within the social construct concept — an adaptive process towards a more effective response in satisfying a survival need.

If the process of review and revision were not intrinsic to how we evolve social constructs, medicine might still use leaches, or blood letting. As with any survival trait, social constructs must be allowed to continuously adapt. Much like putting on a warm jacket in the winter, social adaptation stems from changes in a given social environment, further refining the current shape of a social construct. Both are a key components for sustainable development. The further a social construct is developed, the more sustainable it’s likely to become. While a social construct might not exhibit perfect harmony with the intended environment, it need only continue adapting to said environment. This holds true even if this results in the demise of the original social construct concept, favouring a more sustainable concept.

What becomes of a social construct if continued adaptation to its environment is restricted or outright prevented?

Clearly the social construct becomes less sustainable, and may even threaten the viability of other social constructs tied to the same environment. Without question, any action or inaction that blocks the adaptation of a social construct is a violation of Universal Rights. Ultimately, there are only two situations where a social construct is not sustainable in its current form: either it requires further adaptation (refinement), or the use of said social construct affects the sustainable function of another social construct. There is never a situation where two sustainable social constructs interfere with each other.

At this point, we can examine key elements of any given social construct and assess what failings may be present. As a result, this likely reveals how an unsustainable social construct can violate the Universal Rights of individuals by affecting other key sustainable social constructs in use.

A good example of a sustainable social construct is public education. Education by itself is a fundamental requirement of any species of sociality. In nature, there are countless examples of sociality though education. Birds are taught to fly by watching their parents, mimicking their actions until they learn to perform well enough to survive. The same applies for learning to secure food, build shelter, avoid predators, or any other complex survival skill. Simply put, education is the most fundamental survival trait of any species of sociality — the absolute lowest bar if you will.

How is education expressed in human cultures? At first, as also seen in nature: eating, walking, talking, and “Don’t touch that hot stove.” or “…play with that sharp thing.” After these basic steps, the concept of public education comes into play. As a child grows, the level of complex education grows. Likewise, the method and content of education must naturally evolve to changes in a given social environment. Therefore, skills learned through public education must reflect current or future social functions of value. Otherwise, less relevant or outdated instruction is without applicable value, and can prevent individuals from effectively contributing to the abilities of the a species and its continued survival.

Public education is a cornerstone of any given human society. Individuals with more education have higher potential in a given society. Those with less education must function with a reduced survival potential. It is therefore fundamental to the survival of the human species that all individuals maintain their Universal Right in achieving one’s maximum potential, unimpeded by any other individual.

With education the lowest bar for any species of sociality, how does this translate to a sustainable social construct under Universal Rights?

There are plenty of examples where education is a critical component of most cultures. However, there is just as much evidence where education is restricted or even prevented. The reasons for this vary, including basic access to relevant material. However, if relevant material is available to a given society, there are still many barriers that can limit individual’s Universal Right to education. A large portion of examples take direct aim at wealth and social power.

In some societies, access to relevant education is ironically contingent of one’s societal wealth. As such, these individuals may have access to higher education that can result in greater societal wealth. However, this skips the reasoning of why more societal wealth is needed. Societal wealth is a measure of individual potential within a society. This type of wealth not always, but typically correlates to monetary wealth, and can be used to tap social and physical capabilities by transferring this wealth from one individual to another.

Monetary wealth is also a social construct. No single individual truly has any other type of wealth outside of knowledge. Knowledge begets mental abilities, and is used to easily leverage the many social constructs requiring specific knowledge for entry. Ultimately, monetary wealth in its basic form represents liquid societal potential. This stands only because it represents transferable potential between dissimilar values in a given social structure, and thus inherently defines one’s social worth as an actual form of currency — one begets the other, and vice-versa.

The potential of liquid wealth becomes clear when exchanging the value of a need by one individual (food), with the capability of another (baker). In supporting the concept of liquid wealth, one individual can retain the trained capabilities of another. This model actually accelerates the growth of potential for all individuals: If the efforts of one individual can focus on a given task, that individual will become highly proficient at that task. As a result, the value of that task will increase with the advancement of experience. Likewise, this might mean a loss of proficiency and value toward unrelated tasks for a given individual. Without surprise, few would ask a carpenter to bake a cake, over the skill of an experienced baker.

While this illustrates sustainable advancement of a species of advanced sociality — giving rise to social constructs, there are societal pitfalls that could result in unsustainable function. If one individual is given a disproportionate amount of liquid potential in exchange for no advancement in personal capability, technically, such an individual could not offer an increased value to a given society. In such a scenario, this excess wealth represents artificial value. Again, the social worth of such an individual is not based on a growth of knowledge or exceptional experience furthering the social capabilities of a species, but represents a different kind of currency. A currency of artificial/false value. A false societal value is an inherently unsustainable element in a social environment. This has the effect of shaping the response of individuals within an environment based on an artificial value. This also represents a profound impact on the rights of many individuals.

At this point, such an individual would not have the Universal Right to perform some social functions much less influence how those functions are performed. It would be the same as an individual sitting at the controls of a plane while never having learned how to fly. While this doesn’t suggest everyone should be a pilot or a doctor just to have those needs answered, an understanding of those values needing to be qualified are clear. Universal Rights makes clear the logic involved, and always point towards sustainability. If the qualification does not exist, the right does not exist. Hence, if no knowledge of the function of a capability is present, the direction of that function cannot come from an individual without the required knowledge. Else, the direction of a social capability utilized by others, could be steered in an unsustainable direction — not because of ill intent, but from a fundamental lack of qualification. An unsustainable result would adversely affect the potential of all others utilizing the affected social capability — a Universal Rights violation.

For those individuals who do not possess the means to access higher education, cannot achieve their maximum potential. Thus, the basic concept of public education is separated into levels. Some levels are sustainable, while others are not. What could be flawed in the unsustainable levels, and how does this model persists if the concept for these levels are unsustainable?

Artificial social value. This is a concept where restricted access to a fundamental right yields an artificial value for a specific advantage by those who enable the restriction. Dissemination of knowledge requires a specific amount of effort by all individuals involved. The content of the information is of no consequence to the exercise. However, in many societies around the world, certain skills are valued more than others.

Basic abilities have lower value because access to individuals with basic abilities are plentiful. Advanced abilities are more valuable because there are fewer individuals possessing such abilities. Note, this is not a dichotomy based on wealth, but based on access. Here is where the failing is: artificial value through restricted access. With that, the loss of capability to a larger group of individuals is a violation of Universal Rights. The reasons for this point to failings in other social constructs in a given society.

If members of a given society cannot access education for specific functions within society, then society suffers a loss of capability if those abilities are in short supply. In turn, social structures are often arranged to limit change (adaptation) by those who are less educated. Rather, such changes can only be introduced by those with higher education. Again, this is not a measure of monetary wealth, but a measure of access to social functions — contingent on higher education — requiring greater monetary wealth. As a result, those who are privileged with higher wealth can access higher education, who then have the ability to change the functional order of social constructs to either increase access to the less educated or further shield access to those with less education.

While Universal Rights supports the qualified abilities of any individual, it does not support those who are qualified if they impinge on the rights of others — much less as a requirement of remaining the most qualified. Simply put, any individual has the right to achieve their maximum potential while never impinging on the rights of others. This is a universal biological constant, and remains so indefinitely irrespective of any social construct.

If the actions of one individual affect the rights of others, that individual will immediately lose the right to enact said actions that impinged on the rights of others.

Still, the concept of permitted function to those qualified is not what’s at issue here. The key failing points to a loss of sociality in those individuals who are in the position to make choices towards a sustainable direction, but choose not to out of fear they will loose their distinct advantage currently exploited. The idea being, if everyone could do it, no enhanced value could be placed in doing it. As a result, a separate culture within a given society is born, and those who enjoy a disproportional advantage over other members of society, alter the function of a social construct to protect their advantage. While these advantages bring unusual benefits to those few, a measurable adverse effect is identified by all others in said society.

To be clear, the unsustainable element here is not that the privileged individuals have a greater potential, but that a large proportion of their enhanced potential is just as artificial as the mechanisms placed in society that allowed the creation of their artificial advantage. The net result is a society that serves not all members, but those with artificial privilege. Over time, this unsustainable concept spreads to other social constructs. In time, the whole of society then becomes crippled due to ineffective function of each social construct: Function in any area of society can then become influenced by those protecting an artificial advantage.

Scroll forward in time, basic social services such as Health Care and Education, are divided into levels. Opening avenues to the benefit of those who chose the unsustainable direction in securing an artificial advantage over others.

Were this model to be extrapolated to the extreme, it might look similar to a dystopian novel set in the far future: Education is limited only to those who work labour camps. Health Care is reserved to only those who can work. Clean air and water is reserved only for those of upper class, and civil liberties are all but abolished in place of institutionalized labour forces. A modern day dark ages. Surely a storyline for Hollywood, still, however inaccurate this description might seem is transparent to the critical question of education and the sustainable function of a given species. Education is free in all species on earth… all except for the supposedly more advanced species. If all other species have survived their environments for millions of years, can humans claim an advanced intellect if they can’t survive the environment of their own making?

Were societal choices consistently made to the benefit of all members in a given society — and in turn benefit those choosing a sustainable course of action, it’s likely humanity would have colonized the moon a century ago — at minimum.

Loss of an innate sense of sociality is a critical failing for the survivability of a given species intrinsically dependent upon sociality for its very survival. Those who exhibit such a critical loss in basic sociality are commonly referred to as sociopaths.

In essence, the viability of any social construct are only as sustainable as the individuals who steer the function of that construct within a given society. If the existence of a species is based on sociality (as most are), the effectiveness of how that sociality adapts will define how long that species will remain in existence.