Between 1995 and 1996, the news media produced a blitz of stories on the so-called Unabomber. After seventeen years of terrorism he threatened more death and destruction unless his manifesto was broadly disseminated. Among the claims in his document were:

1. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world.

The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries.

25. The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. For example, we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates somebody at some time or other, whether he admits it to himself or not. Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin. We use the term "oversocialized" to describe such people.

Why so much attention paid to this individual? The argument in his text was not new, that modern industrial societies pose grave dangers to both individuals and the environment. Perhaps it had more to do with the audience receptivity to his argument. With the approach of the millennium, optimism in the future is waning, as many individuals sensing that cultural materialism may be approaching its conclusion and that something is missing in the fit between self and society. As Octavio Paz wrote in The Other Voice, in this Age of Modernity we have reached an end of an era, with a society so fragmented and disconnected that it is impossible to know if a new, humane social order can be fashioned or if we will simply revert to savagery.


Society Cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

--Edmund Burke

In addition to the tension between nature and nurture there is the old dilemma of individual and community: the tension between personal freedom and social control. Is social cohesion possible without social coercion? Or is it the case, as Sigmund Freud argued in Civilization and Its Discontents, that the history of society is the history of human repression?

On the individual level, various needs are assumed to underlie personal motivations and hence personal behaviors. For instance, John Burton's Deviance, Terrorism and War specifies eight basic human necessities (1979:72): the need for others' response (and consistency thereof); stimulation (and who knows how much this "necessity" has changed historically); security (for instance, freedom from everyday preoccupation with death fears); recognition (through which individuals receive social confirmations that their reactions to social stimulations are relevant and approved); distributive justice (not merely a consistency in response but a response or reward deemed appropriate in terms of individuals' experiences and expectations); the need to appear rational (following from the need for consistency of response; rationality calls attention to the fact that there is a need for consistent behavior in others); need for meaning to be deduced from consistent response; and the need for a sense of control.

This list, of course, is far from exhaustive and there are various "camps" promoting the centrality of their distinctive need systems. These include, for instance, the need to belong, to bond or connect with others; the need for meaningfulness (as put by Richard Nixon, "Unless a person has a reason to live for other than himself, he will die--first mentally, then emotionally, then physically."); and the need for transcendence (studies of terminally ill individuals reveal the need for assurance that they have a legacy, that their lives made a difference, and that others are who they are because of oneself and that these others will carry one's memory with them). Some personality theorists typologize selves in terms of the centrality of particular need drives, such as the Machiavellian's need for power, the Narcissist's need for attention and esteem, or the Authoritarian's need for order.

Social systems have various "needs" as well. There is, for instance, the social need for a collectively shared sense of order and that rules for a society's game board of life are understood and respected by all social actors. An ordered world is a predictable world and the essence of society is the predictability of its members' actions. There are the needs for solidarity between social members (including, as anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn observed, "a set of common values that give meaning and purpose to group life"), their willingness to accept their social duties and to make personal sacrifices for the welfare of others, and their cooperation with each other. Further, if we perceive social systems to be analogous to organisms struggling to survive in potentially hostile environments, there are such supraindividual needs as defense, coordinated action toward collective goals, and the ability to adapt to challenging new internal and external conditions. This brings us to the problem of motivation and how personal impulses become transformed into socially typical and functional goals, such as patriotism on the battlefield or subscribing to the Work Ethic in capitalist economies.

A classic example of the tension between personal and collective needs is described in Garrett Hardin's 1968 paper "The Tragedy of the Commons."  Click here to play the game (Java-capable browser required--a cruder, non-Java version available here).


In postulating the existence of various "needs" underlying human motivations we must be wary of the concept. As Henry Murray observed in Explorations in Personality (Oxford University Press, 1938):

A need is a construct (a convenient fiction or hypothetical concept) which stands for a force (the physiological-chemical nature of which is unknown) in the brain region, a force which organizes perception, apperception, intellection, conation, and action in such a way as to transform in a certain direction an existing, unsatisfying situation. A need is sometimes invoked by internal processes of a certain kind (viscerogenic, endocrinogenic, thalamicogenic) arising in the course of vital sequences, but, more frequently (when in a state of readiness) by the occurrence of a few commonly effective press (or by anticipatory images of such a press). Thus it manifests itself by leading the organism to search for, or avoid encountering, or, when encountered, to attend to and respond to certain kinds of press...Each need is characteristically accompanied by a particular feeling or emotion...it may be weak or intense, momentary or enduring. But usually it persists and gives rise to a certain course of overt behavior (or fantasy) which (if the organism is competent and external opposition not insurmountable) changes the initiating circumstances in such a way as to bring about an end situation which stills (appeases or satisfies) the organism (pp.123- 4).

Despite such criticism and despite little confirmation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, arguments can be made for the following need systems. What's important to note is that each features a fundamental tension that differentiates different types of selves.


University of Minnesota Human Rights Library
Human Rights Page
Human Rights Watch


The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.


To conceptualize this supraindividual level of social reality called "society", social theorists have applied various metaphors to capture its essence. A long-standing favorite has been to view society as an organism, an organized system made up of stable and well-integrated parts, each contributing to the welfare of the overall whole such as the various organs of the body. As tissue grows around blood supplies so social organization grows around the flow of social resources, whether they be commerce, information, or knowledge. With evolution--in other words, with the adaptations accruing in order for the system to survive in changing environments--these parts and processes become increasingly complex, with greater differentiation and specialization. Society has also been likened to:

In "A Study Of History" (1954), Arnold Toynbee describes how most of the great civilizations have disappeared from the world stage, dissolving not from external invasion but rather from internal decay, from a type of cultural suicideTo survive, Talcott Parsons (The Social System, 1951) argued that social systems must have mechanisms for social integration, adaptation, goal attainment, and for the management of latent problems. These entail such things as producing and socializing the next generation of social participants, reinforcing the social "do-gooders" and punishing the deviants, and locating and nurturing the talented. When the collective body is threatened with such "diseases" as selfishness, lack of cooperation or chaos, societies react violently to cast off the "infection," sacrificing individual rights for the good of the common whole.

On closer inspection, these four mechanisms involve some very abstract and complex processes. The concept of social integration, for instance, involves the interrelationships between economic, political, religious, and artistic systems--like the innerworkings of the various organs of the body. At the social psychological level, social integration also entails how the net sum of social activities cognitively "hang together" and feel "natural" or "right" in the minds of individuals. At this personal level, integration also means a consensus toward the common purposes and values toward which all social members are oriented and around which all collective life is organized. Ideally, from society's perspective, such consensus means that people are satisfied with their groups, that they voluntarily participate in civic activities and show respect toward the social laws and norms.

For social systems to meet their integrative needs, common values, interests, and goals must be instilled within the motivational structures of their members or else coercion must be employed. People must orient their actions toward the welfare of others if a social system is to survive, and ideally (again, from society's perspective) such contributions to the common good stem from natural and automatic impulses. This was relatively easy in simpler, traditional societies, where individuals shared common ancestry, religion, language, and occupation. In more complex societies, solidarities derive from individuals' interdependencies with highly specialized others. John Burton (1979) claims that this has led to the situation where rules and norms have become more important than individual needs.

As was the case with personal needs, these needs of a society can likewise be conceptualized as tensions between extremes. There are, for instance, the tensions between totalitarianism and anarchy, between the deficiencies and excesses in freedom, and between forces directed towards the status quo and change. In addition, as Kai Erikson noted in Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance (Wiley, 1966), there are

those forces which promote a high degree of conformity among the people of the community so that they know what to expect from one another, and those forces which encourage a certain degree of diversity so that people can be deployed across the range of group space to survey its potential, measure its capacity, and, in the case of those we call deviants, patrol its boundaries (p.19).

History is but a pendulum between these extremes, and the various political ideologies are staked out positions on this continuum.


Man is not made for society, but society is made for man. No institution can be good which does not tend to improve the individual.

--Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), American social reformer

When the Titanic sunk on April 14, 1912, more than eight out of ten of those who drowned were men. As the recent movie of the event recounted, many of these men had sacrificed themselves so women and children would have seats in the scarce lifeboats. Eighty years later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette queried its readers about whether they, under such circumstances, be willing to relinquish their seats. Only 35% of the men said they would for unrelated women and children. In fact, only 54% were willing to cede their lifeboat seats for their mothers and 67% for their spouses. What does this say about changes in the moral order over the twentieth century? Are we to blame individualism, as does Robert Bellah, for such dissolution of community?

Various statistics (a word from the Latin statisticus, meaning "state of the status quo") are employed to gauge the "adequacy" of social orders. These include such measures as infant mortality, life expectancy and suicide rates; literacy rates (of both males and females); indices gauging the extent of social inequalities and political disenfranchisement; economic measures of inflation and unemployment; family violence and divorce; rates of crime, murder, imprisonment, and executions; national rates of volunteerism and charitable contributions; the quality of the physical environment, such as the purity of air and water; and indicators of social rot, such as:

In A Study of History (1954),  Arnold Toynbee develops how most civilizations collapse not because of invasions from without but rather because of dissolution from within, from a kind of cultural suicide.  Among the common characteristics he found among societies on the brink of collapse were cultural "truancy," or retreating from social problems into a world of distraction and entertainment; a collective fatalistic outlook; and a collective self-loathing and guilt.

All developed countries have official reports on the status of their social health with the exception of the United States. The reason why may lie in recent trends gathered by university and private monitors, such as those detected by the Genuine Progress Indicator of California-based Redefining Progress and by the Index of Social Health from the Institute for Innovation in Social Policy at Vassar College.

UNICEF's 1996 Progress of Nations
WorldAudit.org "to educate and inform ... on democracy, human rights, press freedom, corruption and rule of law"
World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators featuring data on corruption and other governance indicators. According to its measures of freedom citizens have to voice opinions and select a government, the U.S. dropped from 22nd to 35th place between 2005 and 2006 because of restrictions on press freedoms and growing distrust in public officials. See also its Online Atlas of the Millennium Development Goals
Collapse: Why Do Civilizations Fall? (an Annenberg/CPB Projects Exhibit)
Josephson Inst. Ethics Corps
Independent Sector: Information, Advocacy, and Service for Philanthropy, Charities, and Volunteerism
National Center for Children in Poverty
In "The Land of Prisons", a special 2001 report,  Mother Jones explores why U.S. has highest incarceration rate in world

Various groups in the social sciences maintain batteries of social indicators to ascertain the nature and direction of social change. Among those monitoring trends are the International Society for Quality of Life Studies and Social Indicators Network News.


What if individuals were socialized such that personal happiness and high esteem derived from doing things unselfishly for others? Here the social needs for mutual assistance would be in sync with the personal needs of Good Samaritans. Here let's explore volunteerism.  According to Stephanie Boraas' "Volunteerism in the United States," more than one-quarter of Americans had volunteered between September 2001 and September 2002.  Let's compare her Census findings with the results of the 1996 NORC General Social Survey, when NORC researchers asked Americans whether they had done volunteer work in the following areas in the past twelve months (within parentheses are the percentages saying yes):

  • health (10%)
  • education (17%)
  • religious organizations (24%)
  • human services (9%)
  • environment (7%)
  • public or society benefit (8%)
  • adult recreation (6%)
  • the arts, culture, or humanities (7%)
  • work-related organizations (12%)
  • political organizations or campaigns (5%)
  • youth development (15%)
  • private or community foundations (7%)
  • international or foreign (2%)
  • informal, alone, not-for-pay (7%)
  • other (3%)

From these responses a scale was constructed summing the number of causes for which Americans had volunteered. The range ran from zero, accounting for 42% of the respondents, to eleven. This scale was then trichotomized into low (no volunteering), medium (one area of service, comprising about one-quarter of the sample), and high (two or more areas, amounting to one-third of the sample). In the table below are the percentages of "high" volunteers broken down by education and age.


18-30  31-45  46-64    65+   TOTAL
0-11 YEARS 17% 15% 17% 11% 14%
HS GRAD 15% 35% 22% 21% 25%
26% 46% 34% 19% 36%
49% 56% 59% 39% 54%
TOTAL 26% 42% 36% 19% 24%

Other findings regarding the distribution of this measure of volunteerism:

  • strongly religious individuals are significantly more likely to volunteer for two or more causes (45%) than those not very religious or having no religious affiliation (27%);
  • among the religious faiths, Jews (44%) are most likely to be high volunteers, followed by liberal Protestants (41%), moderate Protestants (39%), fundamentalist Protestants (33%) and Catholics (29%);
  • among permutations of sex and race, white females are most likely to be high volunteers (36%) while black males are the least (17%);
  • among the regions, those from the mountain (47%) and west north central (44%) states are the most likely to be high volunteers while those from the mid-Atlantic (19%) and east south central states (24%) are the least;
  • those claiming to be strong Republicans (46%) are significantly more likely than strong Democrats (32%) to be high volunteers, while Independents (28%) and lean Democrats (29%) are the least likely of those on the political spectrum to be so.

So what are the psychic gratifications of being engaged in volunteer work? Does it make people happier? Evident above is the fact that volunteerism increases with education. We know that education increases the likelihood of being very happy. So how does level of volunteerism increase happiness taking into account individuals' education and age?


18-30 0-11 YRS 14% 12% 11% 13%
HS GRAD 23 21 25 22
29 27 28 28
14 33 33 27
TOTAL 21 23 28
31-45 0-11 YRS 21% 25% 33% 24%
HS GRAD 30 18 29 27
28 34 27 29
25 34 37 33
TOTAL 27 28 32
46-64 0-11 YRS 29% 9% 67% 31%
HS GRAD 32 50 28 34
22 33 38 31
36 36 41 39
TOTAL 30 35 40
65+ 0-11 YEARS 29% 47% 30% 33%
HS GRAD 27 55 57 42
33 33 43 35
45 33 64 50
TOTAL 31 47 50
GRAND TOTAL 27% 31% 35%

Hey, have some data to analyze! Beginning with the bottom row, observe how in total the likelihood of being "very happy" increases with level of volunteerism. Our highest volunteers are 7 percentage points (or 30 percent) more likely to be very happy as opposed to those not having volunteered in the past year. From the TOTAL rows for each age group, observe that this happiness payoff from volunteering is greatest for the two oldest age categories. And within each age group, note how this payoff is generally the greatest for the most educated.

CIVITAS: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society
Yahoo's  Philanthropy directory
Independent Sector, including its Giving and Volunteering in the United States 2001
Civnet: International Resource for Civic Education
National Center for Charitable Statistics - find a volunteer opportunity for whatever you like doing in your area
Chronicle of Philanthropy
Percent of Adult Population Doing Volunteer Work, 1995, from infoplease
Big Brothers/Big Sisters
Create "one act random act of senseless kindness" at Kindness, Inc.
Random Kindness
Related to altruistic cooperation is altruistic punishment, where individuals, despite personal costs, punish freeloaders and others who violate collective norms of fairness and senses of distributive justice


When visiting the United States in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed by Americans' willingness to sacrifice for the common good. He kept asking why. Everyone responded with a variation of the theme, "It's in my enlightened self interest." Over a century and a half later some social observers claim that this willingness is evaporating, that excessive individualism isolates rather than joins the social molecules.

Robert Putnam - Bowling Alone - Journal of Democracy 6:1
Listen to Putnam's May 31, 2000 NPR interview
The Social Capital Foundation
THE REAL NEWS PAGE: Robert Putnam: Is TV the Culprit? (Part 1)
Andrew Greeley's "The Strange Reappearance of Civic America: Religion and Volunteering"
"Unraveling From Above," Theda Skocpol, The American Prospect


There's much to be studied about the decline of civility in everyday life.  One needed case study of the disappearance of everyday courtesies is the evaporation of acknowledging and giving appreciation to the efforts of others--of saying "thank you." 

  • NBC's "Lie, Cheat and Steal: Dishonesty in America"
  • For an update on the lost wallet methodology see WalletTest.com--"100 wallets dropped in front of hidden cameras to test honesty."
  • Media Terror--Lessons from Tokyo

    Interesting case studies in the trade-offs between personal and social needs come from contemporary China and Russia and other countries where communism is being replaced by more democratic and capitalistic orders. In China, for instance, the relaxing of totalitarian social controls (with the country's increasing involvement in the world system) has produced both a new class of wealthy individuals and a 20 percent annual increase in serious crime. To crackdown on the latter, in 1996 Chinese authorities began a "Strike Hard" campaign, which has led to the execution of thousands. Before execution, prisoners are paraded in municipal sports stadiums wherein they are denounced by party officials. Families of the executed are billed for the bullet used.

    Besides studying such real life phenomena, to understand how social needs (e.g., the greatest good for the greatest numbers) can be addressed by selfishly motivated individuals, social scientists have simulated problems of cooperation by use of games. Check out the resources below for illustration.

    Prisoners' Dilemma
    Jim Ratliff's List of Game Theory Resources on the Net
    Roger McCain's introduction to game theory
    David Levine's Economic and Game Theory Page


    When considering the various interfaces between individual and social needs perhaps the core social psychological issue involves individuals' senses of social justice. John Rawls in Theory of Justice (1971) argues "Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought." Justice, in turn, is built on self-control, prudence, and the respect for the life and property of others--qualities that typically only appear when there is emotional security provided by social institutions.

    Injustice Studies: Global Issues
    Patricia Michaels's Environmental Justice page


    United States Institute of Peace - Conflict Resolution Resources
    Peace and Conflict Archives
    Program on Peacekeeping Policy

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