People are products of their circumstances. If a man is born in Saudi Arabia, he is a Muslim. If a man is born in United States, there is about a 90% chance he is Christian, and certainly that percentage is close to 100% if his family and community are religious.* Similar statistics hold for most modern and historical societies with widely-varying religions. I have done an informal survey of the food preferences of my fellow multinational graduate students. With few exceptions, Japanese students prefer Japanese foods over all others, Chinese students prefer Chinese foods, and Korean students prefer Korean foods.

Religion and food preferences are transparently obvious examples of how individuals are shaped by society. But almost everything about each of us was chosen for us by society. The clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and the hobbies we enjoy, though seemingly unrelated, are highly correlated. Recently at a punk rock club I saw dozens of males with spiked pink hair, chain wallets, and slashed pants. I wonder if they ride skateboards? These individuals were largely defined by their microsociety. It is interesting to ponder how much they actively chose their microsociety and how much their microsociety was chosen for them by their circumstances. Often people point to cultural diversity as something humans should be proud of, but all it demonstrates is that people of all societies are forced to conform. What is so wonderful about masses of people who, like we, had the structure of their lives chosen for them?

Our senses of morality and etiquette are in large part decided for us by society. It is ludicrous to suggest that public nudity is inherently immoral, since at one time humans had no clothes. In some modern societies in Africa, nudity is natural and accepted. However, a person undressing in public in the United States would be met with indignant shock. He would be arrested and taken to jail for his crime. People freely smoke tobacco on city sidewalks, poisoning the air for everyone, and this is accepted. People who smoke marijuana in their homes, affecting nobody else (except extremely indirectly), are imprisoned. It's fine to blow one's noise in public, but picking one's nose is disgusting. Like our religions, our behavioral guidelines are very much founded on the whims of others. Sometimes they are so deeply ingrained that they seem beyond debate, and we never bother to justify them.

I don't think anybody would argue that humans are very much shaped by the society in which they live. Is this a good thing? Is there something to be said for the fact that almost all (all?) of the societies in Man's history have constructed a wide set of unfounded religions and brainwashed them into their constituents? Are we happier with a wide array of moral codes that were rather arbitrarily chosen for us? Are individuals happiest when they are molded into similar forms? I don't know the answers to these questions. I would guess that humans are happier when they have more freedoms and when their beliefs and lifestyles aren't imposed upon them. My sense is that modern societies are so regulated that they suck the life out of the populace. Restrictions on a person's views on his world limit the enjoyment that he could gather from making his own hypotheses and conclusions, and create internal conflict between his reasoned thoughts and his brainwashed preconceptions. I wish we had a culture of tolerance and unimposing nurturing rather than a culture of indoctrination. Unfortunately, I don't think that societies are evolving toward my wishes.

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