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The great Venn diagram of society

May 9, 2012

I think society can be modeled as a great Venn diagram. You know, those things where you draw a bunch of intersecting circles on a paper, like so:

A simple Venn diagram showing "bananas" in the intersection of "yellow" and "penis-shaped"

Yes, I find this funny. Yes, this is incredibly immature of me. BTW, why is nudity labelled “mature content” when penis jokes are among the most immature jokes you can make?

Of course, a Venn diagram of society would be very much more complicated that the one above. The sheet of paper (or the image area, if you prefer working on a screen) now represents all living humans on Earth. The circles represent affiliations. Let’s start with the obvious first, and make a set of circles showing political affiliations, that is, citizenship. A starter diagram, featuring only seven out of the 196 nations on Earth, could look like this:
I’ve drawn the circles representing nations as fully distinct, but in reality all nations that allow double citizenship will have a slight overlap with those nations they have “double citizens” with.

Ok, now let’s take that image and add something else to it. Say, religious affiliations. Most “circles” will now have some overlap with most of the national circles (though I’m pretty sure the Vatican will be completely inside the “Roman Catholic” shape). Disregarding small minorities, like I disregarded people with double citizenship earlier, it could look something like this:

This is very, very, very, simplified. I am quite aware that not all Finlandians are Protestant Christians (for instance). This is not intended to offend.

I’ll have to give up here. Despite extensive simplifications, the pictures are getting too complicated. There’s no way I can add in sports fandoms, support for political ideologies, or any other of the dozen loyalities a human has. But I think you get the idea: everybody’s in several circles at once. And every circle imposes demands on its members. Nations have laws, religions have moral codes, sports fans dress in certain colours on certain occasions, and so on.

Here’s how I think society should work: All the layers of the great Venn diagram should be independent on each other. The nations shouldn’t care about what religions their citizens practice, religion shouldn’t be tied to political ideology, and my political ideology shouldn’t dictate what soccer team I may root for. The basic layer of society should be citizenship of a nation. Everybody has to belong to a nation; everything else is optional. Nations impose basic behavioural codes on their citizens: don’t murder, don’t steal, pay your taxes, and so on. Since being a part of a nation is the only forced part of the societal contract, these rules should be as few and as allowing as possible. Basically, laws should be there to codify that my right to extend my arm ends where your nose begins, and to make sure that everybody with resources contributes to the common good.

On top of this barebones live-and-let-live society, everybody should be free to build their personal philosophy of life. Some will be freethinkers. Most will join various existing religions and ideologies. The rules adopted inside these communities should not be allowed to extend to society as a whole. For example, some people think that the Bible forbids homosexual relationships. Fine. Keep that opinion. But that can only ever concern people who have chosen to live their lives by the Bible, so that discussion should stay in church and not be allowed to influence our basic national laws. Any spillage between different layers is a bad thing, I think.

So that’s my model of society. What’s yours?

  1. Elias permalink

    The one part that would be interesting to hear you elaborate is how the rules a nation can (rightfully) enforce are chosen. What laws are supposed to be there and why?

  2. The one basic principle I think national laws have to enforce no matter what, is that my freedom must be limited by everybody else’s right to the same freedom. I’m allowed to do more or less what I want to, but only as long as I don’t harm anybody else. I can publish my opinion all I want, but not silence anybody else’s opinion. If I like fighting, I can’t just hit random people on the street, but have to join a boxing club or something, where everybody likes to fight and has agreed to it. And so on. If this principle is not enforced, you don’t have a society of free humans, but rather a tyranny of the strong.

    A second principle, which I think is optional but makes for a better society when implemented, is the maintaining of a “common good” in the form of roads, schools, health care, social care and so on. If this principle is implemented, it means that everybody who has resources has to give up a certain fraction of them (for us it’s taxes), and it then goes to taking care of tasks too big for an individual or corporation (like roads), as well as taking care of those people who don’t have resources. In this society, individuals give up a fraction of their power, in exchange for greater security. It’s a really good deal, I think, and most of mankind seems to agree with me, seeing how most societies have had deals like this going on.

    Things that don’t fall under either of those two principles is probably not the government’s business. I say probably because I haven’t thought too long about it, and there might be some special case or rule somewhere that I missed.

  3. i mostly agree, but i’m afraid that the way in which society comes to exist is from a mostly quite opposite angle than your ideal model, which makes it a bit hard to relate to. societies tend to be built on partly the need of people to belong to a bigger group with somewhat similar values and demands and expectation, which makes life a bit more secure and makes it easier to cooperate in those fields of life where one human can’t make it alone – and partly due to the force behind coalitions of people striving for bigger power in society who tend to expand their group of subjects as they go along.

    i mean, i’d love to believe in libertarian anarchism and that’s my ideal as well – the only fault to it seems to be the human species itself.

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