Humans are the only animals that are capable of conducting civilization. Most of the time, we are able to control our primal instincts, become perceptive of our surroundings and use logical way of thinking, behave in front of others; resulting in ‘civilized’ animals. These civilized animals flock together and create a society.
Society living in a place in a period of time interacts within itself, hence tradition and culture. Every society builds its own tradition and culture—hence traditions and cultures will vary among societies. As the time goes by, many things change: people change, society changes, tradition and culture change, the law changes—and a new standard for ‘normal’ is set. What is considered normal in the past isn’t necessarily normal in the present time; and what is considered normal now isn’t necessarily normal in the future. Science and technology evolve, so are people’s way of thinking and lifestyle.
Nowadays, incest marriages are uncommon (if not prohibited)—but in ancient times, incest marriages were a common thing among royal families to keep the throne within the family or simply to keep the purity of the royal bloodline. In the times when unmarried girls were properties of their fathers and married women were properties of their husbands, domestic violence was not a thing. Tradition becomes culture, culture becomes local wisdom, and local wisdom becomes law.
Change is inevitable, but there are some things that never change: the way society builds its paradigms.
Paradigms in society have to be observed from various points of view. They have to be understood as the results of the evolution/progress of a certain society. What is (considered) normal for someone isn’t necessarily normal for other people, thus what is (considered) normal for a society isn’t necessarily normal for other society, because ‘normal’ is merely a concept which is defined by certain people at certain circumstances in a certain period of time, a.k.a. the current society.
For example, where I live, virginity is still considered an important/sacred thing and one should not lose his/her virginity before marriage. There are people who still associate virginity with morality, and I see this as an influence of various religions and traditions in Indonesia. People who were raised in other culture might see this as ridiculous, because they have different set of values regarding virginity—the same way Indonesians might think people doing free sex as ‘immoral’.
Another example is marriage. People from different traditions may have different opinions about same-sex marriage, polygamy, etc. There have been a lot of changes in paradigms regarding marriages. Marriage used to be merely an interpersonal relationship between two people which consists of social and culture stuff, but nowadays the legal system (country) has taken marriages under its territory, making marriages do not only have social and culture (and religion) implications, but also legal implications. I am not against legalizing any form of marriage, because it will give the couples what they deserve as citizens of a country: the legal rights regarding marriages. My personal opinion is that any marriage has to have 2 important points: (1) consent from all parties, and (2) there is a certain limitation for those who are considered to be fit to give consent in a marriage. So it’s a ‘yes’ for same-sex marriages but a ‘no’ for child marriages. I am not against polygamy (either one-husband-several-wives or one-wife-several-husbands) as long as all parties have consented to the marriage. Even now, polygamy is still considered an honorable act in some countries.
Which will lead us to the next topic… the moral implications. Since there is neither an absolute right nor wrong regarding these social paradigms because they evolve as the society evolves; all discussions regarding such things will only lead to moral implications. However, problems will arise if someone insists on using their personal standards to judge others. The values and the principles of one society don’t belong to other societies—thus we must avoid looking at things solely from our point of view.
It is ‘normal’ to agree with one paradigm and disagree with others, because everyone’s entitled to their opinion, while opinion is influenced by culture, tradition, religion, family, environment, logic, personality, etc. We cannot help being subjective because we are indeed subjective creatures. Some might point that agreeing with abortion while disagreeing with euthanasia is hypocrisy—but to tell the truth, how entitled are we to our opinion? Is there truly such thing as free will opinion?
We—all of us—are made by our surrounding society. We have a basic set of principle/morality, which we learned from our parents, our family, our society. Then, as we grow up, we develop our personal set of morality like the branches of a tree, with little variety here and there, but we can hardly change the fundamental morality that has been taught to us since we were kids, which is the trunk and the roots of the tree. So, let me ask you again: when we said we’re entitled to our opinion, whose opinion it really is—ours or our society’s? [Note: In my opinion, even our definition of and standard for ‘happiness’ are influenced by our society.] Only by having an open mind and looking at things from various points of view, we can be more objective and be more entitled to our opinion.
Besides, recent issues are more influenced by the development of science and technology. The concept of human rights, which is defined as a set of fundamental rights to which a person is entitled simply because he or she is a human being, has raised some questions. What is a human being? When does life begin? When does a fetus become a human being? Does an abortion violate the fetus’ rights?
Is a cell alive? If a cell is alive, does it mean that a cell has certain rights? If a cell is alive, who owns it? Who owns the body? Who owns the cells? Does human-cloning violate the cells’ rights? Does it mean that performing euthanasia violate the cells’ rights? Does it mean that committing suicide violates the cells’ right? Does it mean that intentionally inflicting harm to oneself violate the cells’ right?
These are very, very interesting issues, not only philosophically, but also as a challenge for science and technology to provide scientific explanations to these questions. Answering these questions will surely raise other questions and change some paradigms in our society, but whether it will lead us to a better future or not, depends on how we respond to those changes. As John C. Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” We can also decide the future of our society, since we are the ones who created society, but we are also made by our society. However, no matter how our society changes, the most important thing is our personal growth. By having an open mind and critical way of thinking, we will always be able to survive in any situation.