Negotiation

Social standards are typically propagated from above. Laws are formulated by people (not necessarily our elected representatives) recognized for their experience and aptitude in organizing people to accomplish social goals. Moral standards are propagated from religious or social institutions that provide an environment for study of the impact of personal choice without becoming caught up in the daily struggle for survival in the impacted community. This allows the analysts to maintain a distance and objectivity. (Until, of course, they find themselves contradicted by actual outcomes - but that's a matter of personal pride and public prestige, rather than survival.)

Fortunately, most of the meaningful decisions we make in our lives concern our relationships with our peers. They occur at a level of detail that is both invisible to our authoritative institutions, and beyond their capacity to control. Simply, we outnumber them - in part because they are also us.

These interactions between peers - who may be members of the general public or coequals in authoritative institutions - are to a large degree consensual. They do not proceed according to predefined rules, but evolve through a process of negotiation between the parties.

In modern society, this process has exploded almost beyond the point of manageability. Our ability to cross the divides of time and space - through high-speed travel, electronic media and the internet - allows us to establish unique cultural connections. Culture is not a simple matter of association. It includes concepts, protocols and shared experience that underpin our interactions. Without them, communication is laborious, and even moreso negotiation. By implication, the diversity of our cultural choices undermines our ability to establish supportive associations.

The tendency towards fragmentation is exacerbated by the realities of the digital age. We are bombarded by information that overwhelms our capacity to identify patterns in our cultural context. As a consequence, we must simplify, whether by excluding a large part of our society from consideration, or by adopting a shallow temporal context that may make our opinions and priorities appear quixotic even to our intimates.

To fight these tendencies, we need a limited set of concepts that can serve as touchpoints for our negotiations. The concepts in our discussion of personhood apply here: they are a basis for communication of human need and concern. What we provide here are a few concepts that have meaning only in a social context.

Again, the goal is not to provide a means for resolving every difficulty that we face in life. Rather, it is to help us cut to the chase. Every negotiation is concerned, at root, with establishing the availability and allocation of power. A common cultural context provides us cues and protocols that facilitate that negotiation. When that does not exist, we benefit from clear and unambiguous terminology that allows us to define and analyze claims to power. That is the limit of our discussion here.