Humans are unique in the animal kingdom. We have invented and gained much of our success through cooperation beyond our kin that is sustained through what we call society, “the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community”.
Society gives us trade, culture, commerce, collaboration, as well as mutually assured destruction. It is held together with rules and institutions that are invented by people and for the most part we agree to and allow governance over our lives.
We do this because it is much better than the free for all that would happen if we scrambled for resources.
Other species communicate beyond family groups and for close kinship bonds but none have overcome genetic competition for mutual benefit.
A quick google search on ‘society’ reveals the most commonly associated contexts are
- Will society collapse
- Can society ever be equal
- Why society needs laws
- How is society affected by government policies
- What society do we live in
At Sustainably FED we think of society as both a constraint and an opportunity for feeding everyone.
How society with all its rules, norms, inertia and diversity chooses to use natural capital will determine how much food can be grown, the quality of that food, equity in food distribution, and, in the end, the likelihood of human survival into the next century.
Society is what determines the sustainability in FED.
What is a good society?
Good society is an opinion, meaning there are lots of good ones without an objective way to decide the best.
Good would usually mean that the majority of people were satisfied with their lives, believed that they had an opportunity to better themselves, that their children would do better than they did, and that people could walk down the street without getting mugged.
In practical terms, this comes down to food, water, shelter, safety, health care, education, and the ability to earn a living. Typically, trading time for a realistic wage.
Good would likely to also include a feeling of self-determination. Society was there in the background supporting and nurturing but without overt control.
Society can deliver these things in a multitude of ways from the draconian to the progressive and in recent decades the democratic model is the one that achieves these outcomes most consistently.
In short, good society is about sustainability.
The society challenge
The reality is that society is complex, dynamic and often poorly understood.
People bring their prejudices, fears and opinions before they find compromise and solutions. This produces inertia suggesting that society is slow to change but then can be disrupted in an instant when enough people decide that change is necessary.
Society provides us with laws, cultural norms and politics that determine much of our everyday behaviour. They are the tools for change but can also constrain innovation, restrict the scope of sustainable solutions and how much people are prepared to defer their needs and wants into a future they might not witness.
This means policy and politics at every level from international agreements and national government all the way to the local bowling club or parent-teachers association.
Motherhood statements about feeding everyone in a good society are easy to make. When it comes to the details of food production, ecology and diet it is not the general that matters but the specifics.
The reality is that society is where we live.
Understanding and embracing society, warts and all, is essential for sustainably FED solutions.
What sustainably FED suggests…
It is impossible to feed everyone without understanding how society works.
Human institutions from money to government to the family unit all impact the decisions each individual makes as they live their lives.
Remember though, society and its institutions are a human construct. As such, they can be taken down and replaced.
Society is also made up of individual behaviours. What we know as psychology is shaped by the society we live in and in turn shapes it back through our choices and behaviours.
No amount of science, evidence or persuasion over the sustainability of food production and diet through the foundation of ecological understanding can achieve anything without understanding this dynamic human construct.