By Dr. David Bray, PCI Executive Director
Through shared narratives, the enforcement of laws, and use of technologies, humans have shaped social norms and reshaped how power (i.e., the capability to compel or oblige someone to take a certain course of actions) has been distributed in our communities. Now with the beginning of the 21st century, we are facing big questions of “Quo Vadis?” – where do we want to go, as communities and human societies, especially given the recent rate of new technologies challenging the distribution of power within our societies? With these changes, there is both a huge opportunity for improving our communities with people-centered approaches, as well as significant challenges, where our digital future may not be as hopeful as we would like it to be.
We humans are tool users. Our tool use is connected to our use of narratives, laws, and technologies to distribute power. Starting with the beginning of history, we used fire and stone tools to make the transition from a nomadic lifestyle to one where we began to settle and plant crops. Our use of tools helped give rise to civilization, including the advancement of writing, development of calendars for crops, and the start of navigation of the seas.
Even before the start of human civilizations, human nature included some aspects where selfish instincts – be they greed, envy, or other hurtful elements — challenged the formation of large human communities beyond immediate family members. While some civilizations generated social order through sheer physical force imposed upon other humans, compelling obedience, others generated social order through an initial system of laws that sought to protect communities from hurtful behavior of others. Such a system of laws was not developed for purely altruistic reasons, the same system of laws solidified the power of rulers and included different forms of taxation over the labor of their subjects.
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