So­cial en­gi­neer­ing is not some­thing any of us can avoid

Sunday Herald Life - - Mind & Body - By Martin Ste­pek

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.ten­ Please email info@ten­ for de­tails. Martin’s been prac­tic­ing Mind­ful­ness for 20 years and teach­ing it since 2004. See www.mar­tin­ste­

For­mer PM Tony Blair was the ar­chi­tect of the ‘early in­ter­ven­tion’ pro­gramme

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