A social construct

Guest Post:

When I went to university there was a concept referred to in practically every course I took.  That concept was to describe institutions, customs, and the general underpinnings of our society as “social constructs.” I didn’t have a problem with that. It seemed obvious to me that humans have over thousands of years developed structures by which to order society and that these structures also vary from culture to culture. These structures are not inherently natural but are created or constructed by society to provide some sort of order. Good.

However, at university the focus was generally only on the social constructs that academia disliked and that were referred to as social constructs – the institution of marriage, gender binary classification, particular laws, anything to do with Christianity, etc – other social constructs were probably recognised as social constructs but rarely referred to as such. Other social constructs that were acceptable (to the academics) were largely ignored.

Referring to something as a social construct, in my mind, creates an instant stigma or negative connotation. The stigma or negative connotation arises as “social construct” identifies the structure as something we made up, created ourselves and that brings into question if it is acceptable or correct. As I said, academics only refer to social constructs they dislike and then they go on to criticise and or attack them. They also helpfully provide alternatives including just doing away with the social construct in question. The reason academics never refer to acceptable alternatives (theirs or otherwise) as a social construct is that they don’t want to create a stigma or negative connotation on what is acceptable… to them.

A salient example of a supposed social construct and how it has been dealt to is gender binary classification:

“Gender binary classification is a social construct.”

“That construct does not allow for those who neither identify as male or female.”

“Let’s dismantle that social construct and allow people to identify as whatever gender they feel they are.”

What do we get? A proliferation of gender identities. And who is to question what you identify as? Hmmm, I think I might identify as a Black Hawk helicopter.

While I think we should question and evolve our social constructs to improve society, I have two key issues with the attack on our social constructs, the wanton destruction of society’s foundations that have served us pretty well and academia’s and the left’s dominance of the debate.

Many of our social constructs make up the foundation upon which our society functions.  To just dismantle this foundation without replacing it with a viable alternative, in my view, is destructive to our society. I think the gender example above also demonstrates the absurdity that can result. If you have ever built a house or even a deck you will know that a solid foundation is critical to the integrity of the structure that ends up sitting upon it. It is exactly the same for society. If you wantonly destroy a social construct and don’t replace it or replace it with an ill thought out alternative you weaken the foundation upon which the order of our society rests.

It is one thing for an academic and other high-minded people to come to terms with the fact that our society is made up of a plethora of social constructs and visualise them as a sort of mirage or smoke screen and see past that. However, in my view, the vast majority of society doesn’t see the world like that and unconsciously rely on these rules of engagement, institutions and customs as a support and comfort around which to order their lives and feel contented and secure that there is an order to society. History is littered with examples of societies that fell into decline as the structures of their society were eroded.

The second issue I have is reliance on academics and other pointy heads to lead and control the debate. If you have ever studied at university you will know that it is a world of its own far removed from the real world.  In my first semester at university in 1999, I ended up nearly suffering from depression, seriously. I was a bit green and was fed, in lectures and tutorials, with account after account of woe mainly as a result of the “neo-liberal experiment” and I was assured that New Zealand was essentially a basket case. I had just uprooted my young family from Australia to return to New Zealand to study. My God, what have I done? I snapped out of the depression fairly quickly though, the first-semester break actually.  During that break, around the barbeque, I realised that out in the real world where all my other friends and family dwell we saw the world for what it really is, pretty bloody good.

Academics, by and large work, and socialise with other academics and are highly susceptible to being out of touch with the real world. Some of the nutty stuff I witnessed from academics while at university confirms this.

And yet these people are at the forefront of debate determining how our society should be structured.

If we don’t challenge the dismantlers/re-creators of our social constructs then we will be lumped with the social constructs they propose, or a vacuum that fosters uncertainty for society, or a change that does away with something that ain’t broke and that could result in a breakdown of order.

It can all get a bit depressing if you dwell on what is happening. Thankfully we live in a society where these people can be challenged. I unreservedly support academia’s right to critique our social constructs. However, I also support those who challenge and fight for the tried and true institutions, customs, and the general underpinnings of my society. I am fairly socially conservative but I am open if I can be shown a tweak or an alternative social construct that will genuinely improve society.

Look out for my next piece. I will offer some fun ideas on how we can all play a part in challenging academia et al’s ideas on what our social constructs should look like. That should brighten things up again.


by The Undertaker

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