One morning I woke up at 3 a.m with the realization that my entire life has been a lie.
The entire money system, the calendar year, countries, and even the words you’re reading right now are not all a part of objective reality––they only exist because we as a society agree that they are real and have value. This idea that humans create things in order to form our own societal reality is called social constructionism.
One common example of social construction is money. We carry little green papers in our pocket and have fake money in bank accounts, all because as a society we have decided that money is valuable. The whole money system is built upon shared, accepted constructs.
Written and spoken language are also social constructions. They only exist because, at some point, we made them up and assigned enough value to them, enabling them to exist for as long as they have.
This means that, realistically, swear words are just as “bad” as other words. However, this does not mean that you can go around swearing left and right in a positive way. Over time certain words have developed a negative connotation that isn’t automatically revoked just because it’s a social construct.
It’s the same thing with phrases; if you go around saying, “That was a piece of pie,” “Murder two pigs with one rock,” and “Punch the straw,” people will have no idea what you’re talking about. Over time, social constructions gain validity, especially things like phrases, sayings, and words. So although anything you make up is theoretically just as accurate as any dictionary or societal definition, it will likely cause confusion.
Non-social constructs usually go hand in hand with social constructs. For example, set mealtimes and having three meals a day, are social constructs––but the actual food is not. Movies are social constructs, but the data and signals that make them work are not.
Social constructs are also liable to change over time. One example of this is gender norms. For instance, young boys wore dresses until the early 20th century, and pink was seen as a color associated with masculinity. Any sort of “norm” is usually a social construct and is also more likely to change over time.
Certain things are more difficult to ascertain whether they are social constructs than others. Social Constructionism is a fluid theory more than it is a fact, and people often have differing opinions on what is or what isn’t a social construct. Race, religion, and math are a few of the more debated topics.
I have spent hours a day thinking about what is a social construct and what is not. While I believe it is essential to realize the concept of social constructionism, it shouldn’t define how you live your life or what you believe. Spending too much time worrying about what is real could make you a famous philosopher––or, more likely, it could turn you into an emotional wreck.
One thing I know to not be a social construct is nature, which is very real and would exist without society choosing that it should. Human emotions are also real regardless of societal agreement.
I think that some of the most valuable things in life are these non-social constructs. I love to be out in nature or inside taking care of my plants. Authentic connection with other humans is also important.
I also find so much joy in social constructs. Reading a good book, listening to music, participating in sports, and so many more valuable things are social constructs. It is important to choose a healthy balance––appreciating the legitimate parts of life and not getting caught up in society’s values while still participating in these social constructs.
In reality, most of our life is fake; it is based on ideas that we as a society decided to place value on. The shared beliefs and “constructs” of a society, no matter how unreal, give life so much more meaning, validity, and purpose.
Because of social constructs, we can communicate with each other, we can expand our knowledge, and we can become better individuals and citizens in general. Social constructs are like the glue that holds groups of people together. Although they are confusing––and at times very irksome––without them life would fall apart.