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Norms and values ​​formed by social engineering

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Firstly, Parson’s structural functionalism theory explains how society functions as a system. He uses the notion of social organism to explain how different parts of the body is required to function collectively, i.e. the human heart is reliant on oxygen when you breathe, for you to be alive. Thus, this analogy explains how different functions in society are required to produce results. He elaborates this further by explaining the unit act which consist of three systems; social, cultural and personality. Moving on to the next paragraph, I will discuss how these three systems may or may not work to achieve stability and how it might stifle individual freedom.

People in authority, do have the power to socially engineer an individual. In Singapore context, we have Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and their role is to socialise individuals to be efficient and good workers. However, there is still inequality in terms of class structure and how one is perceived by the authorities. (Williams, 2010, p. 387) mentions that “the worker is selling not just her labour power but her whole personhood”. Here, the author discusses how migrant domestic workers rights are being exploited. They are not allowed to get pregnant and have to go for medical check-ups every six months. They also have no rights to citizenship despite nurturing the generation in a way. Compared to Canada, (Kobayashi, 2015) said that domestic workers have the right to become a Canadian citizen and also get married to a Canadian. Henceforth, to criticise, policies in the global north have somewhat a human touch compared to the global south, where policies are strictly regulated to the economic needs. Moreover, exerting control over an individual may not achieve stability in the long term, because one is being used as a means to an end for others. Therefore, this shows how policies have power to socially engineer ones freedom whilst achieving stability. This accounts for the social system.

Another authority in Singapore, known as the Ministry of Health (MOH) plays a role in ensuring individuals are healthy enough, to contribute back to society whilst keeping the economy growing. Within healthcare services, Singapore has a specific economic model called the Central Provident Fund (CPF). It is where working individuals have savings in their medical account, although considering it being forced savings; as the government controls this. (Aspalter, 2006, p. 297) argue that the “CPF was designed to achieve both economic and social development, and, in the bargain, high support for the one-party rule of the PAP”. This shows how policy makers have power to conform norms and values to achieve stability in support of their ideas. Compared to another country, the article (John and Willmore, 2001) states how New Zealanders have pension schemes which help protect their retirement plans. This reflects how the government puts the peoples’ welfare first. (Dillon, 2010) mentions that Durkheim believes if one suffers from depression, it is not only a personal problem, but it becomes a public issue. Therefore, this is where the Ministry of Health (MOH) steps in to make sure that individuals are provided with excellent healthcare services to ensure economic stability. By regulating the populations health, together everyone can perform their functions and roles in society. This can only be done if the government policies take effect therefore, we are socially engineered to stay fit to ensure stability and a strong workforce.

Moreover, recently in Singapore there has been a specific focus on certain races such as the Malays and Indians eating habits. Through the power of media controlled by the government, they broadcast and educate the population on how to celebrate their individual festive seasons with healthy eating habits. This shows how it takes many hierarchies to socially engineer people and take away their freedom. This socialises individuals, through using health board promoted agendas by the government of thriving a healthy generation. This accounts for the cultural system.

The last government authority is the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) who regulate the behaviour of individuals. People have been socially engineered to be well-behaved, as we are fed discretions from the authorities that there will be consequences if we deviate against the laws. Behaviour and personality are therefore shaped through family and education institutions. Supporting this, (Choi and Lo, 2002, p. 82) used the drift theory proposed by Matza to explain how “delinquents drift between freedom and control… when social control is weak”. Furthermore, this shows the importance of having law and order in place to protect the social security of the community, or else it will create tension in the system if one deviates. Henceforth, this creates a greater good for all instead of stifling individual freedom. However, the law is not always fair with certain individuals. Comparing America, (Webster, 2007, p. 92) mentions in his book that “the police consciously conspired to construct young black people as a serious threat to law and order…to enhance their own powers”. This shows how government agencies function to play a role in socially engineering and stigmatising certain individuals as deviants. By exerting power and control, this shows that policy makers are not graceful to ‘supposed’ deviants who are not deviants, thereby stifling individual freedom. This accounts for the personality system.

To summarise the above paragraphs, all three systems interconnect, and work together to fulfil the adaption, goal attainment, integration and latent pattern maintenance (AGIL) imperatives which Parson proposed. Through socialisation, internalisation and institutionalisation; individuals conform to the expectations of what society embeds into them, through the cultural, social and personality systems. For e.g. since the socialised norm is be healthy to lead a good life, and when this cultural system is internalised, then the institution reinforces the cultural values and symbols which produce a functioning society. Although, fulfilling the AGIL imperatives can trigger tension. For e.g. if a country decides to increase migration to achieve adaption it could lead to pressure in integration and latent pattern maintenance. (Williams, 2010) describes how migrant domestic workers are perceived in foreign land. An author in his book said that there will be “a shift from a ‘family’ model of care to a ‘migrant-in-the-family’ model of care”. This shows how adaption could lead to a strain in society for the family and the immigrant. To add on, it could also result in deviant behaviour such as racism against immigrants, thereby stifling individual freedom.

Secondly, I will discuss how Merton uses the strain theory to explain how deviance occurs when a system becomes dysfunctional; culturally and socially. Due to strain, individuals who cannot achieve economic or societal set goals, they look for other illegitimate means to achieve them. Functionalists’ understood that the system cannot maintain a perfect equilibrium. Merton uses the manifest and latent function to understand if social engineering works in society or stifles freedom. For e.g. in Singapore, there is an alcohol ban in little India after a certain time at night. The manifest effect will be having a more pleasant society. The latent effect will be that shops will lose out in business for alcohol sales, although this is not the intended purpose. Since a change has been proposed, it could further cause a deviant reaction from certain individuals who feel constrained. Therefore, when the state calls for an action of change, it may result in being purposeful and non-purposeful.

On the other hand, to contrast this, Obama approved LGBTQ rights in America, which meant that everyone should be treated equally. As cited in President Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Workplace Equality (2018) article, Obama called for equal rights and a ban against workplace discrimination. To add on, the right to equality also meant that the use of public toilets can also be used by transgenders and bisexuals. Regardless of the common pink and blue signs being the norm to identify girls and boys. This explains how norms and values change as society develops, justifying Merton’s manifest and latent functions. To relate this to the question, it shows how people in power have authority to alter norms and values to socially engineer a more inclusive society. However, others might think that this will disturb the traditional system which originally did not recognise LGBTQ people. This in turn, may stifle straight individuals’ rights to autonomy in society. Although, this might not stifle the LGBTQ peoples’ rights in society, since their social concerns are recognised. Thus, this proves that the system cannot maintain a smooth equilibrium and how social phenomenon takes place when dysfunctions occur.

Parson assumes that the system steers towards stability, although conflict theorist say otherwise. Marxist view society as serving the interests of the bourgeoisie, whilst exploiting the proletariats. Marxist theory is a macro focused theory where it concerns the structure of society. (Alatas and Sinha, 2017, p. 75) argue that “ideology is not just a systematic interconnectedness of ideas but also functions to support the interests of the group that espouses that ideology”. The authors explain how the capitalist class hold power to conform norms and values to suit them. Thereby, the working class are the ones affected by their ideas.

Furthermore, to give an example, in Singapore, the education system is built to serve the elitist class. There are two types of schools operating, one is private and neighbourhood schools. In private schools, students who have well to do parents have privileges to send their kids to this school because of their social capital. To add on (Allan, 2013, p. 179) explains how Bourdieu says, “it isn’t what you know but who you know”. This shows that having people of power as friends, helps to derive the type of society they want to nurture; an elite class. Compared to neighbourhood schools, they are more for the working-class children. This shows how the government is in control of who is allowed to have access to better opportunities and who is not. This promotes further inequality thereby stifling individual freedom. It also reflects how education is about social class, preparing an individual for future prospects that benefits the capitalist system.

Social policies narrated by the government also play a role in stifling individual freedom. For e.g. in Singapore, the HDB policy promotes traditional family values to own a house. That is, if you are a married couple it is easier to get a house. However, if you are single you can only own a house after 35 years old. This shows how the government socially engineers’ norms and values to achieve stability. Functionalist, believe that in order to have a functioning society, we need the roles of individuals to come together to perform. Therefore, married couples have roles to play which in turn contributes to economic stability in Singapore terms. Compared to America and UK, there is more freedom as it is a cultural norm for Europeans to move out of their parents’ house after they turn 16 to 18 years old. Thus, this shows how the global north have different norms and values compared to the global south, in determining individual freedom.

Functionalists’ suggest that ones’ action is not just internal, as they are affiliated by systems and structures. Adding on, Durkheim, a sociologist looked at specific social structures that play a role in stability. As cited in (Dillon, 2010), Durkheim uses social facts and morality to understand how we are controlled and bounded by the law. (Dillon, 2010, p. 100) argues that “individuals are so closely oriented to fulfilling the social expectations of the community…that suicide becomes the… honorable option when they fail to meet those expectations”. The author shows that when society is socially constructed by norms and values, people feel pressured if they backslide.

To give an example, in Singapore, some conservative people have a negative approach towards suicide. They have been socialised to believe that suicide is against the state, religion, and is criminalised if attempted. The article (Staal, 2018) further states that having free will is a choice God gave us. Therefore, as humans we have a choice to make our own decisions, may it be suicide and we do not necessarily need the state to intervene. However, in other countries such as Switzerland, euthanasia is legal. It is where people choose to end their lives through assisted suicide, and it is not as much of a taboo to them. As cited in (Cheatle, 2018) many travel to Switzerland, to practice euthanasia, since the state does not legalise this in their own country. Therefore, suicide stifles individuals’ freedom to do so, because the state has socially engineered a society to view it as a crime. It can also be argued that religion is an institution which has the power to control individuals’ decisions.

To summarise, Durkheim has been criticised in attempting to understand human behaviour based on macro level data. His positivistic approach assumed social facts as unchangeable, but other sociologist said that society continually changes. Functionalist have been criticised for being too focused on stability to reach an equilibrium. It does not take into account society’s inequalities such as gender and race. To conclude, people of power socially engineering society is problematic to individual freedom. However, there needs to be a certain extent of power and control in society in order to be stable.              

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