Social engineering (political science)

From Academic Kids

In political science, social engineering is a used mainly pejorative term, having been likened by conservative commentators to practices under authoritarian systems of government, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. In a broad sense, it refers to attempts by governments, or private groups to change or "engineer" the views and behaviour of citizens, for example, by the use of advertising, through active support of culture, or though the legal system. The discussion of the possibilities for such manipulation became quite active following World War II:

On occasion, efforts at social engineering were portrayed as sinister:

..."I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology.... Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called 'education.' Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part.... It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment." "...The subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship.... The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray." "...Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. The populace will in general be too busy earning a living or too lazy or just too world weary to care much about where and how they arrived at their convictions. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen."

Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, 1951

Yet on further consideration, it becomes clear that virtually all law and governance amounts, in essence, to social engineering. Prohibitions on speeding, littering, rape, or murder are all policies aimed at discouraging certain behaviours regarded as undesireable. Tax policies influence behavior, as do user-fees, and even ostensibly "laissez-faire" economic policies (intended to encourage economic growth by rewarding wealth-accumulation). Despite variance in degree and directness, the essential element of coercion remains the same. Yet the charge of "social engineering" is most often levied at those who advocate progressive politics - proposing to use law, tax policies, or other forms of state intervention to correct percieved injustices and equalize opportunity.

A general meaning is any attempt by a government to alter society. Whether a government is supporting or altering a society depends upon what is the purpose of government, although few governments practice social engineering on satisfactoryżynieria społeczna (politologia)


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