Things used to be so much simpler back in the good old days. Back then, a person’s role in society was clear: They could be a righteous nobleman, a religious figure or have next to no power as a serf, slave or commoner. Yes, most people fell into this latter category, but at least it was easy to know where you stood.
The days of feudalism are long gone, though. Now, we must at least pretend to hear and care about everyone’s voice. When building on and changing society, we must worry ourselves with concepts of democracy, equity and social mobility. These are, of course, good things to worry ourselves about, but there is no denying that the questions that are posed by society are more intertwined and complicated now than ever before.
One of the chief questions that has been raised time and time again in the past century or so is about the role of public institutions and private entities. For clarity’s sake, public institutions are all entities that are granted power from governing bodies (and thus ideally from the public), whereas private entities refers to everything else that runs our society, including both for-profit and nonprofit groups. From the October Revolution to the Cold War to most of the recent tension in the United States today, the warring of economic systems has held center stage in most internal and international conflicts of the past few generations.
While our ancestors would wage war over different belief systems (be it between ethnic groups, religions, etc.), the driving force between many conflicts now is a new breed of tribalism. The scary part of fighting over economic systems is its far-reaching effects on society. While solving the question of the role of public and private groups will not solve every dispute, fixing issues related to discrimination, inequality, poverty, security, the environment and so much more can be aided by considering what we want pulling the strings of our culture.
So, should we let the government watch over and control our daily life, or should we let companies do the same? Are we as a society more concerned about a 1984-esque Big Brother scenario, or is Brave New World the more chilling tale? This may sound like some sort of enlightened centrism, but I do have a position on all of it.
I believe humanity is only to “evolve” if we accept the intentions and work of public institutions in our society, and the greatest crisis of our time is in making this choice.
To be clear, this isn’t my way of announcing that I will be marching in the streets for communism. Of course, it will take time to find the right balance of power. Especially in the United States, though, public institutions do not get the respect they deserve.
All through our history, we’ve been so afraid of strong government. From our inception of rising against the crown and chanting “taxation is theft” to the suspicion towards communist sympathizers, there’s been a sort of reluctance (if not outright hostility) towards the government. Despite all of this, we constantly rely on public groups for travel, communication and education. So, while I admit some time and care is needed to adjust, this adjustment is deserved and in dire need.
While we squabble to resolve individual disputes like healthcare, education and ideology, we avoid the broader question of what we want guiding our society. At the end of the day, it’s of course all people, but the interests and goals of these people can change quality of life dramatically. So, it is important to discuss not only this underlying issue, but also the threads and undercurrents of it running through our lives. Throughout this semester I will be discussing the current state of public and private affairs in the United States, as well as what we should strive towards as a society in this respect.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.