Skip to content

Society and Person – 5


– Level 2 institutions (from now on L-2i). Physical and Timeless Institutions.

Its most significant institution is the scripture. Scripture is not just the invention of a technique of annotation and decryption. To write man had to, in a manner of speaking, «isolate thought” making it an object, a visual representation; a pictogram. Once the representation as been made, the person has before him a part of his/her own thinking. From this point, a second operation it’s possible, to start splitting the pictogram between the visual representation of the object and the object it designates; the concept. Therefore the symbol does not have to mimic the object. Sign and meaning can be distinguished thus it’s possible to change and improve symbols without changing its meanings. At the end of this process the graphical system becomes a script made out of words or letters.


With letters humans can not only fix and share concepts writing them down, they also have a tool for generating signs with different meanings. Anybody -institutions included- potentially can create meanings for the symbols that the members of the society use in a public or private communication. Whoever controls the creation of those pairs (symbol-meaning) has power over the communications inside the community therefore has power over the stories and the culture of this community.

In the oral tradition cultures, such as the ones we’ve seen, to use institutions like the language, or the myths, or some rituals, in order to manage the group increase the distance between the people because you don’t have a direct transparent contact, but face-to-face contact between people is still essential. Whoever wants to know the rules and the group traditions, has to be with the members of the group or with people related with the group, because it’s the very same people, the ones who pass on and explain their institutions and the ones that are the institutions.


Coming back to the earlier example of the kiss, is not the same to kiss Alex than to explain to Alex what you feel when kissing her, but the distance increases further when instead of explaining «your kiss», you write it down for Alex -or anyone- to read it whenever he/she wants.


Upon fixing an institution on a physical medium, for example in a book, there is no need anymore to have a person attached to the institution, in order to explain it to somebody else who wants to learn it or apply the institution somewhere else. In a L-0i and L-1i societies, key persons where the pillars of the society because they were the holders of the ancient knowledge; objects were tools to help people to understand the old knowledge. In a L-2i society the object that vessels the knowledge becomes the pillar of the society and people become tools that aid to understand this knowledge. Rational objective knowledge becomes paramount and people have to create human sensitive institutions to counterbalance the power of institutions.


This is an enormous change. We move from a subjective, active and dynamic knowledge that a person in a society of L-1i has, to a static knowledge -engraved somewhere- that can be transported and shared but not altered. Now it’s not the person who validates the institution but the institution the one that validates the importance of the individual, and since the institution is valuable for its function people related with the institution must emphasized the importance of this function for the good of the group. The objects and the institutional function not the person and his/her stories is what begins to matter in society. The social up-rise of a person in society is therefore linked to the importance of the institutions where he/she belongs or feels committed. There is no need anymore for myths or famous heroes or list of names or genealogies to justify an institution; the institution justifies itself by its role among the other institutions. Myths and heroes are either incorporated into the institution or simply forgotten.


If the importance of an institution is determined by the importance of its role, when the institution delegates some of its own functions in an office or other institution, it has to enhance the importance of this new institution and their subordination to the main institution. For example: the steward of the King is important because the King is very important and the King is important because it’s the head of the institution of monarchy, which in turn is important because it represents the country. Each institution attempts to increase its power by creating new hierarchical networks of subordinate institutions that infiltrate the group as if they were roots of the main institution. The more roots an institution has and the stronger those roots are, the more cohesive the substrate of the society will be and the more immovable the main institution will be … but also the more resources the institution will need and the faster it will consume.


The model of a society where the value of person lays in a title, granted by the people because of skills, knowledge or expertise, is being replaced by a model of society where the value of people lays in the position that people holds inside large institutional hierarchies. In those hierarchies there is a peak that retains all the power and a base that, more or less voluntarily, subordinates themselves to that power. Institutions become very dogmatic and began to influence each other weaving links between them. For instance, monarchical institutions rely on political and religious institutions to reinforce their importance against persons heirs of the oral tradition that refuse to lose their ancient inherited powers. When the public service it’s not the main goal but the service to institution itself, abuse of power and corruption become systemic.

Map of the Northern Celestial Hemisphere’’ (1515), executed by Albrecht Durer and Johannes StabiusAnother crucial aspect of a L-2i society is that once you really understand that a text -which is just a human creation- is made out of signs or icons with a specific meaning, it’s easy to follow up that any sign or icon created may have a specific meaning as well. That is to say, that the reality around us -because was created- may be made out of signs. The world is seen not only as something given, but also as a creation that can be deciphered, as if it was a divine scripting. Everything can be interpretable and it is possible to assign arbitrary meanings to symbols and analyzes the results to guess what should be the correct meaning and forecast its purpose. The educated ones, or the ones favored by the gods, can grasp the meaning of the symbols and determine what is right and what it’s wrong, as well as what kind of action or behavior is closer to gods’ or nature will.


During this shifting from man to objects, from subjective to objective, objects become so important that man is seen as a simple aid. When a creation has, or pretends to have, an embedded meaning the person is a mere channel throughout the one the gods can embed a special meaning to an object. The written words become a sacred book and the book becomes an object of worship and veneration. Creation is due to god’s will, and the man that produces those creations it’s just – at the most- an enlightened man, good enough to grasp or channel through himself god’s will, and often those men are considered just lucky tools with no real relation with the brilliant meaning of his/her creation. In fact as long as nobody knows God’s reasons anybody can become God’s hammer, sword, pencil, hands, brain, voice. The displacement in the assessment of the person towards to the assessment of the objects is further reinforced.


L-2 institutions are not linked to any particular person neither depend upon any person or group in order to be transmitted and applied. Thus a L-2i society may exceed the limits of the tribe, assimilate other tribes and manage empires.