Thomas Jefferson on Society and Social Networks

In a letter to Peter Carr on August 10, 1787 Thomas Jefferson defined man to be destined and designed for society.

  • To live with others.
  • To work for the common good.
  • To discover things.
  • To own things.
  • To create things.

This might include the creation of social networks, which would not be possible without the Internet, cell phones and a lot of other technology too numerous to mention but clearly we are standing on the shoulders of jeffersonmany.

Jefferson said mankind’s morality is formed for the creation of society. Society and morality are linked by natural law. Men and women have a “built-in” sense of right and wrong that is every bit as important as the other five well known senses. Often this sense of right and wrong is referred to our conscience. It may be the most important sense. This sense is partly born of reason, a brain. Not unlike an arm or leg each of us has some uniqueness and varying strength. With exercise we can improve our strength. So too, Jefferson says, can we improve our moral sense. His somber advice is to read good books.

My advice is to engage in the social network around you. Not to expose your favorite breakfast cereal or engage in multi-level-marketing but to engage in society. To participate in your local community events, to follow events at the schools your children attend, to discuss (in a civil manner) the things that matter and to keep in touch with friends and family. Reading good books is great advice and I find the Internet is a great place to find more and more books. This quote from Thomas Jefferson, was found on-line on Google Books in, “Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence: Origins, Philosophy, and Theology” by Allen Jayne University Press Kentucky 1998.

“He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality…The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted, indeed, in some degree, to the guidance of reason; but it is small stock which is required for this: even a less one that what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better that the latter, because ha has not been led astray by artificial rules. In this branch, therefore, read good books, because the will encourage, as well as direct your feelings. “

I think we need to define society as a social network…more than successful websites or the technology that is required for a communications network to work. There are many great examples like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, the Internet, cell phones…etc. But more broadly, Society or the Social Network is the incorporation of the nature of man (moral society) with all of the structure that society offers to support life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. It includes everything from books, papers, magazines, telephones, telegraphs, postal mail to the satellites, fiber optics, routers, computers, software, electricity, roads and natural resources of the planet. The social network that defines society is all around us. It is part of us and we must work diligently to support and expand it. Each generation can point to achievements that guided their time in society.

plow, compass, telescope, clock ,sextant, steam engine, electricity, combustion engine, rockets, computers, networks

We live on a small blue dot in a vast expanse of space surrounded by a vacuum and forever we have fought to control and dominate each other for a variety of reasons from trade to race. Maybe the social network is here to continue to shrink the differences and to accentuate the basic needs of each one of us.

We have a purpose. To be in society.

We have a conscience. The moral guidance of our actions.

Our republic and democratic society is the open platform for society. It was the innovation of its day needed to continue the development of man’s struggle and quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was the beginning of a society not based on blood line but on the possibilities of the individual. There have been major struggles along the way.

We are continuing the development of the open platform of our Government in our daily efforts around Gov 2.0 and must be continually focused on the benefits of an open society that uses the talents and conscience of all to succeed. We may fail to recognize the significance of social networks, transparency in Government, open software, a free high-speed digital network but they are leading us to abetter society. They are tools that everyone should have access to like roads, sewers, water, electricity and now information. We need to protect their value, ensure their openness and encourage their use.

But we must do this carefully, within the rule of law and the moral ethics of Jefferson, for we are about to undergo the next big change in how we function as a society — how we deal with information, technically and ethically. The initial resistance to having the government managing this change will be the same as the general resistance to big government (and big brother). The challenge, then, will be in find the best way to make this change happen within the rules and best practices of a global capitalistic democracy.

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