Society and Social Power

8. Specialization
Specialization is an improvement on coordination wherein different individuals or subgroups within a group perform different tasks, and collectively accomplish far more than would otherwise have been possible.

An examination of the organization of an army, the ancient Roman army for instance, reveals power of specialization. Instead of entering as a single large mass, the Roman Army broke into many columns during the battle. They had specialized divisions, each with a specific role – foot soldiers, archers, cavalry, javelin throwers, signal bearers. Some soldiers had special skills, such as swimming across rivers to surprise the enemy, much like modern day commandos. In the background, the army was supported by physicians, blacksmiths, cooks, drivers, porters, spies, messengers and men who took care of the animals. No amount of brute force, courage or determination of the enemy could match the tactical strength of such specialization.

Specialization is an improvement on coordination, and generates greater social power. The term Specialization has a rather high sounding connotation, but we see it in practice everywhere. The family has its own specialized divisions – for protecting the members, providing for everyone’s physical needs and comforts, housekeeping, taking care of the children, fulfilling the emotional needs of all, instilling discipline and inculcating values in the younger generation. Specialization exists everywhere – education, agriculture, industry, governance – and increases the productivity and efficiency of the organization.

9. Hierarchy
Specialized Roman divisions working in coordination defeated powerful armies. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if everyone in the Roman army had started giving orders during a battle? If a general had disobeyed the king, or a centurion had told his general that he had a better plan, or a soldier decided that he knew best, they would have simply been run over by the enemy. Vertical grouping and delineation of authority and responsibility are required for the smooth functioning of any organization.

Like specialization, hierarchies are seen in all organizations. Colleges have a vice chancellor, different departments with a dean to head each, and lecturers in the various departments. Schools have a principal, various grades and a class teacher for every grade. Political power is differentiated into local, state, national and international levels. Every profession has its hierarchy of expertise – from service technician to production engineer to designer. Authority and responsibility flow through this path so that the whole group functions effectively.

This vertical division is seen even in families, though parental authority is becoming more difficult to exercise! Many Prime Ministers and Presidents, or maybe all of them are criticized by their own countrymen, but no country that does not want to be dissolved into chaos can do without them. Also, how dysfunctional would a country be if each and every decision had to be taken by the President! Hierarchies prevent this by differentiating authority and responsibility vertically into different levels, so the highest authority is assigned matching responsibility, and the smaller issues are handled by others lower down the line. This raises productivity and efficiency of the whole organization. Social capacity combined with social authority gives social power.

10. Integration
Integration magnifies the energy of organization. Within a group, when the various subgroups and their activities are integrated, the overall effectivity is enhanced.

Amartya Sen, the Indian economist and philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998, said that countries with functioning democracies do not suffer from famine. What is the connection between democracy and the availability of food? Society’s power to integrate is seen here. In democracies, the government is answerable to the public. The leaders are more responsive to their voters’ needs. Democracies generally have a free press that reports unbiased news. So the press watches what the government is doing, the people are aware of what their leaders are up to, they can voice their opinion in the press, and the leaders know the entire country, even the world is watching. Lack of transparency will allow one to get away with anything. But this integration of food production and supply, responsible governance and the media has the power to eliminate famine.

In this way, society generates tremendous power through coordination, specialization, hierarchy and integration. This power is made available to every member of society, to make use of and benefit from.

11. Inter-convertibility of Power
Society offers different types of power –food, healthcare, governance, law, education, science, production, trade, commerce, communication, transportation, recreation. All these forms of power are inter-convertible. The Roman Empire converted military might into economic power. Today, a country with a strong economy can use its money power to leverage political power. A farmer, using the power of technology, can produce more crops, and make more money. He can use this money to educate his children. So the power of technology can be converted into food, wealth, education and more. A commercial organization can use better transportation and communication facilities to expand the business. Knowledge can be used to get a job, make money, buy the latest technology, travel, communicate or gain social status. Physical prowess or artistic talent can be used to earn money and fame.

Power of any one type can be transformed into any another.

12. Individuals and Networks
Those who think that social networking began with Orkut and improved with Facebook must be teenage or younger. Humans have always been socially networked. Relationships are hardwired in us. They have helped us survive as a species. They stimulate our mental and emotional development. All human accomplishment can be traced to relating to others constructively.

The World Wide Web shows how powerful interlinking can be. Even search engines rank a website higher if it is connected better to other sites. Great civilizations of the past flourished when they forged trade links with other civilizations. The English language assimilates some 4000 new words from other languages every year. The more it accepts foreign words, the more it grows and is accepted. The stronger the connections between the nodes, the greater the opportunities for success.

All that we use – language, numbers, education, employment, money, clothes, food, stationery, furniture, buildings, roads, gadgets, freedom, law – are products of society. Society offers these vast resources to each one. That Wikipedia is the work of 30 million people is conceivable to us, if not the actual magnitude, but at least in concept. But as we go through the day, do we realize how many people have contributed to making each act of ours possible?

Society offers vast resources to each one. Some go to school, and learn. Some do not. Some do just enough work to make the grade. This is what we all do on a larger scale with ourselves in society. Those who take the slightest effort to make use of these powers are carried on by the movement of progress in society. Those who refuse to participate in society and isolate themselves for whatever reason, fail to benefit from the collective resources. There are some who see what society has to offer, empower themselves, and go on to accomplish, both personally and for the collective. These are the formed individuals who go from being led by society, to leading society instead. They create change; they are at the forefront of social evolution.

13. Unutilized Potential, Infinite Potential
The earth receives enough solar energy in one hour to meet human needs for a full year. But solar power accounts for less than one tenth of one percent of global energy produced as the world struggles to meet the demand for energy. Most of the sun’s rays are unutilized. Similarly, a small portion of society’s powers are organized and channelized through systems and made productive. But not all social capacity expresses in action. A large part of our personal and collective lives are unorganized, and our capacities unutilized. Inequality in the distribution of wealth and freedom, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and scarcity of opportunities alongside unused human potential reveal the inefficiency of present social systems.

Human capital is the ultimate source of all resources, and it is inexhaustible in potential. It grows by giving, much as information grows when shared. Social power is not subject to any inherent limits. It has unlimited scope for development, organization and application. A complete knowledge of the process by which human and social capital develop and are converted into power can be utilized by any individual to rise to the highest level of accomplishment and by any society to become a leader of human social evolution. Such a knowledge is essential for establishing a new human-centered development paradigm.

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