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Distorted Looking Glass

An excellent example of paper 2 by Eric Peek - Winter 2010

In a time when survival was entirely unorganized and unpredictable people valued a different assortment of attributes. You were respected for being a good hunter, gatherer or someone who was physically fit and had the ability to go beyond the laws of nature. As time continued on, man discovered innovative ways to make life more adaptable to fit our needs. We found ways to bring resources in closer proximity to where we lived by creating cooperative social groups known as societies. With basic life sustaining resources in a manageable position, humanity found themselves in a world where we could use our brains for more than just survival. This allowed humanity to invent new contraptions and concepts that further improves the quality of life. In this evolved western based society, people strive to modernize in order to be viewed as a success. We've come to value modernizing, because it allows us to be more productive and efficient. This momentous appearance has attracted other societies to join our ambitions. Not all societies see modernizing as a means to success.

Ferdinand Tonnies was an analyst who deeply studied societal structures. He discovered two types of societies, the Gemeinschaft society and the Gesellschaft society. A Gemeinschaft is a community that is socially intimate; everyone in the society is personally connected on both a social and an economic level. The opposite of a Gemeinschaft society is known as a Gesellschaft society. In a Gesellschaft society it is more common to have impersonal relationships in both the economic and social structure. The point being that a Gemeinschaft society is more fixated on an intimate web of human relationships while a Gesellschaft society is more about individual's cooperating to maintain their personal wealth. The interesting thing about these societies is not just their social foundations but also how they interact when they collide.

Before 1962 there stood a village that was a pure Gemeinschaft society. This village was occupied by the Ladakh. In 1962 the Ladakh abruptly got on a pathway to convert to a Gesellschaft based society. Before the conversion, this isolated society used natural farming methods, scavenged for resources and manufactured their own tools with out any help or influences from neighboring cultures. In other words they were an "intimate community" that relied on the success of the group.

The Ladakh also followed a Gemeinschaft style economy, which is distinctively diverse in comparison to our own. Helena Norberg writes in her article The Pressure to modernize about the Ladakhns. She wrote about the economic strategies of the Ladakh. "The labor one needed was free of charge, part of an intricate web of human relationships."(2) What this is suggesting is that the Ladakhn's obtained every thing they needed to survive by creating social arrangements with members of their own society. Everyone who lived in the Ladakh's society worked to maintain the health of the whole village by sustaining life giving necessities and distributing evenly throughout the group. The Ladakhi's were on a steady path that allowed them to prosper in their isolated environment.

In 1962 the Ladakh's were discovered by the outside world for the first time in recorded history. Almost immediately they converted their culture to a Gesellschaft society. This adopted westernized culture required a new approach on how they would survive. They had to use money to make basic transactions and to obtain money the Ladakh's had to adjust their occupations. The Ladakh's found themselves absent of the knowledge and resources needed to be wealthy in a westernized economy. They did not have enough jobs, the right resources or the education required to successfully adapt into the newly formed society. This caused the Ladakh's to become economically poor.

The story of the Ladakh's is simply a tragedy, but what troubles me is why they felt the need to convert to a Gesellschaft society. Holmes talks about the false assumptions the Ladakh's had on western culture "They cannot so readily see the social or psychological dimensions - the stress, loneliness, fear of growing old. Nor can they see environmental decay, inflation, or unemployment."(3) What the author was trying to express is that the Ladakh's were completely mislead. They were showered by our media, which could be confusing to those ignorant of our concepts and values. The Ladakh's had no way of knowing what it took to be a part of a modernized society; they only looked at what they saw without realizing the sacrifices that come with it. There are also a number of sociological laws that contributed to the Ladakh's desire to change.

We perceive ourselves based upon our interpretations of how others react to our actions. Once these responses are fully translated and developed into understanding they act as a guide to social growth. This concept is known as the Looking Glass Self. It's called this because it's essentially a mirror of oneself created by the people who we interact with. This metaphorical looking glass or mirror is a delicate structure that can be warped or cracked with any form of social interaction. For instance, when the Ladakh were introduced to the new culture their looking glass changed. Exposure to the foreign culture revealed new ideas and new technologies that were far more advanced than their own. Norberg mentions how the Ladakh felt in comparison to the new culture "In contrast to these utopian images from another culture, village life primitive silly and inefficient."(3) This must have caused the Ladakh to reflect upon their own societal accomplishments. Seeing how little they accomplished in comparison must have made them question their own looking glass and the images that are being reflected back from it. The Ladakh were the victim's looking glass that was warped by the visual superiority of the modernized nation.

Language also can alter ones perception. According to Essentials of Sociology a down to earth approach, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is a concept that is defined as "rather than objects and events forcing themselves onto our consciousness, it is our language that determines our consciousness and, hence, our perception of objects and events."(44) What this is saying is that when people are exposed to new words they gain new symbols, which can essentially alter their perception on a particular object or event. The Ladakh were affected by this law because they were introduced to the Indian language and the western culture. This exposure gave them a new perception on themselves. Norberg states that the Ladakh youth associated Western society with words such as "speed, youthfulness, super cleanliness, beauty, fashion and competitiveness" (3). All these words are primarily associated with power and success and are attributes that most people strive for. The Ladakh on the other hand were labeled with words such as "primitive" and "inefficient" which are negative words. The Ladakh must have felt ashamed of their culture for being associated with such words and symbols.

People feel the need to modernize because they want to gain a new perception of their limits. The more we advance the closer we are to discovering greater things. What we need to realize is that it takes a long time to develop a society that can handle the pressures of modernization. The Ladakh's unfortunately couldn't grasp this concept. They thought the American life was easy and simple, but in reality it is the most complex and delicate society ever assembled. They converted because they were mislead by glamorized advertisement and misinterpreted language. The desire to modernize made them unaware of the serenity that they could have, if they had remained with their original way of life.

Henslin. "Essentials: Sociology a Down to Earth Approach."

Norberg-Hodge. "The Pressure to Modernise and Globalise."