Adjustment to the Nightmare
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Adjustment to the Nightmare • Posted: Feb 13, 2009 14:27:09Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

More than 40 years ago a book was published that offered a very useful description of processes by which people within a community organize behavior in service to shared goals. That book was entitled The Social Construction of Reality and authored by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

They described a process by which cooperating individuals at first form expectations regarding each other's behavior. Reliable fulfillment of those expectations then often leads those same individuals to predictably regularize their coordinated behaviors into reciprocal roles. Institutions form when folks from the larger community are invited to fill sets of such coordinated reciprocal roles. Institutions persist when outcomes produced prove reliably beneficial for both individuals involved and the larger community. Examples of institutions include anything from marriage to a defensive military, stock exchanges and banks to a factory or school. On a concrete level the objects of our culture, such as benches, sidewalks, storefronts, support the behavioral roles we imagine for ourselves.

But what happens when conditions change and the roles and institutions we've developed no longer support the life we've come to enjoy?

That's a problem Berger and Luckmann take note of. While over time institutions can become the glue that binds a community together, those same institutions can also conceptually inhibit beneficial change while at the same time consume valuable resources needed elsewhere for growth and development. Berger and Luckmann label the inhibitory intransigence of institutions "reification" and warn that institutional reification can cripple the adaptability of communities facing a wide range of challenges.

Modern societies have developed a host of institutions hopeful of servicing the needs of today's communities. But do they? Many political conservatives would point to the institutions of government and insist they no longer serve society with the effectiveness and efficiency needed. Some political liberals would insist those same institutions just need more funding and better oversight. Political progressives often suggest we'd be better served by remaking the institutions of government to increase their effectiveness and efficiency.

It seems entirely certain the citizenry of today's communities will not be best served by sitting back and scratching their heads over the bewildering dissonance now confronting us, but instead by engaging fully in the discussions and debate that has begun.

What kind of future do we want for ourselves and our children? It is not a trivial question. Each of us would be well advised to consider carefully what involvement we are willing to undertake and then make our wishes known. Full engagement is the best chance we will ever have for emerging from the nightmare we now find ourselves in.

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008