A recurring theme in my thinking is the notion that our perception of time (present, past and future) can help us organize the paradigms we use to describe our reality. Perhaps this is an example of apophenia, but in this post, I will try to explore how the perception of time is related to the projects of society that have emerged over time.
Several scholars have devoted considerable effort to understand how societies evolve. Culture and traditions, organisational structures, interaction mechanism and many other perspectives have been proposed to explain perceived social changes. However—and with the risk of awfully disregarding the insights offered by the proposed frameworks—in this blog, I suggest the consideration of societies according to their perception of reality based on time horizons (past, present, and future). What I mean by this, is that societies acquire their characteristic structure in response to the reality perceived by the individuals that comprise them. Which, in turn, is constrained by the time horizon used by these individuals to derive meaning. In particular, I will address in this blog the first to cases, past-oriented and present-oriented societies. I plan to discuss future-oriented societies with much more detail in a future post.
When one considers what sociologists describe as traditional societies, we can identify a past-oriented perception of reality. In these cases, the past is the primary frame of reference to provide meaning to what individuals perceive. These societies retained their characteristic form because “that’s the way they have always been”. Any intentional manipulation is so far behind in human history that it is often forgotten, and supernatural explanations take their place. Thus, the record of any deliberate manipulation has been left so far back in human history that it is often misremembered, and supernatural explanations take their place. Gods, demons and other folk creatures occupy a central role in these societies since it is through these figures that the phenomena experimented by such society obtain meaning.
Moreover, the actions and behaviours that differ from what was known are also attributed to supernatural beings. Hence, victorious leaders were favoured by God, natural disasters were interpreted as punishments, and other random events were related to the whims of innumerable deities. All these societies share the notion of an inconsequential existence, where humans do not have a significant influence over the world they live in and the reality they perceive.
As one moves to more recent examples, sociologists tend to group the changes in societies using concepts such as modernity, modernism and post-modernism. These terms reflect on the changes that occurred in response to the new ideologies emerging all around the world. These societies are distinct because they acknowledge the consequences of their actions, either for good or for the bad. Thus, considering the present as the primary frame of reference to guide their actions.
This orientation towards understanding the “causes and consequences” of the perceived reality materialised in remarkable cultural and philosophical breakthroughs; such as the renaissance, enlightenment, and the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Thus, philosophy, science, and technology have progressed at a considerable pace in these societies. However, this progress is not without blunders. And most of these occurred because these societies are often more interested in determining if they can do something, instead of considering if they should do it.
Naturally, the next step is to consider future-oriented societies, or the possibility of their existence, since I believe we are at the fringe of this transformation. And thus, we must begin to consider how we should face this change and how it will affect us. I plan to compose an entire entry to discuss future-oriented societies in more detail.
However, for the moment, it is helpful to bear in mind that the future is unpredictable. And therefore, future-oriented societies will have to adapt to discover how to deal with what is inherently unknowable. Unprecedented situations where they won’t know the variables, the scope or even the answer is correct once it is implemented. Unfortunately, there are already many examples, nuclear energy disasters, climate change, gene-editing or space exploration. This phenomenon is better known as uncertainty, and future societies must be built around how to deal with it.
Thank you for reading, if you have comments or ideas I’ll include some space below for you to post them, or you can contact me directly here.