Social engineering is not something any of us can avoid
EVERY so often one group of political activists or a spokesperson accuse the other side of social engineering when a new policy is introduced. More often it is the right criticising the left because of the left’s tendency to have state intervention as a strategy to try to change social injustices or help the weakest and most vulnerable.
Sometimes though the charge has been made in the opposite direction, where the left criticise the right for trying to engineer a selfish, individualist culture where all that matters is entrepreneurship and moneymaking, and the cultivation of people who can do this.
Ironically, what neither side notices is that social engineering is part of what we are as a species. We are inherently and continually socially engineered. You, reading this, are being socially engineered by my words. The engineering might be to agree with my points and possibly reinforce some views you already had. Or you might vehemently disagree with what I say, and thus be engineered in a different direction. In neuroscience terms, social engineering is called neuroplasticity, the constant effect of experiences on the brain, our personality and traits. So the question is not, should we try to socially engineer people but rather, who should be doing the engineering, and in what direction should this shaping of people go?
Libertarians argue that the best thing is to leave it to chance. Minimise state interference, and all will balance out for the greater good. It’s interesting though that they believe in laws to protect property and assets, laws which themselves surely cause social engineering of the highest order.
Socialists tend to go in the opposite direction and try to deliberately engineer. A classic example was Tony Blair’s “early intervention” policies designed to give very young children opportunities to those who may otherwise not have been given the benefits of education and love of learning at home.
Religion used to be the most dominant form of social engineering. By the age of four I was taught the first pages of the Catechism, words which are embedded in my mind:
Who made me?
God made me.
Why did God make me?
God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him so that I may be happy with Him forever in Heaven. This is powerful. In two sentences, before I finished first year at primary school I knew a version of how I was made, a whole life purpose, and a reason for having that life purpose. I also had no doubt from this programming that God was male. I don’t use the word “programmed” as a negative, simply to describe how such teachings enter the brain and influence a person’s life.
The fact that this remains so deeply ingrained in my mind suggests the extent of its influence on me. No doubt in other families, different beliefs or philosophies will have been programmed into the heads of children.
We are programmed by our family, often unconsciously and therefore unintentional. Growing up in Scotland in the 1960s, I somehow became programmed to dislike something called “the English” or “England”, meaning mostly the English football team, but sometimes more broadly. Sadly many were programmed in religious prejudice between Catholics and Protestants. These are examples of socially engineering through programming.
Mindfulness applied and taught to others is a fascinating form of social engineering, as one of its key benefits is to nurture a clear, calm mind that, among other things, comes to notice the prejudices and programmes already deep inside us. So at its heart it is a form of social engineering that enables us to de-engineer ourselves, and should we wish, to re-engineer in a direction which we, now as freer individuals, choose for ourselves, to the extent that any human can.
Look at your reactions to things. What do you instantly dislike? What do you instantly support? Can you calmly assess how that view came to be in your mind? Can you then more clearly assess its positive or negative influence on you and those around you? If negative can you let it go just this one time? If so, you have started to socially re-engineer yourself, this time by yourself, for yourself.
Martin Stepek is calling for 100 like-minded organisations, where the well-being and happiness of colleagues and community is central to what you do, to pledge to implement Mindfulness into your organisation in 2018, with Ten for Zen (www.tenforzen.co.uk). Please email email@example.com for details. Martin’s been practicing Mindfulness for 20 years and teaching it since 2004. See www.martinstepek.com.
Former PM Tony Blair was the architect of the ‘early intervention’ programme