Social Convention And Samuel Butler's Erewhon

2333 words - 9 pages

Social Convention and Samuel Butler's Erewhon


There are many conceivable explanations that have the potential to

rationalize the preservation of society through time.  These

explanations clarify the fact that society, since its inception, has

continued to exist.  I assert that the precise reason for this

self-perpetuation is convention, and moreover, that convention

encompasses all of the other possible explanations for this

continuance.  Yet this conclusion merely follows from proper

distinctions of terminology.  Real profundity stems from the

examination of convention in relation to individuals who follow it.  I

find that many individuals are not cognizant of the fact that society

rests upon conventions.  Consequently, these individuals often exist

with twisted ideas of reality.  Conclusions in this realm parallel

closely with arguments made by Samuel Butler in his novel, Erewhon.


"In spite of all the to-do they make about their idols, and the

temples they build, and the priests and priestesses whom they support,

I could never think that their professed religion was more than

skin-deep; but they had another which they carried with them into all

their actions; and although no one from the outside of things would

suspect it to have any existence at all, it was in reality their great

guide, the mariner's compass of their lives; so that there were very

few things which they ever either did, or refrained from doing,

without reference to its precepts."


                         -Samuel Butler, Erewhon


Convention enables members of society to communicate.  Without

convention, communication between individuals would be impossible, and

society would cease to exist.  Of course, the proof of this fact is

simply a result of definition: societies are aggregates of people

having common institutions, traditions, collective activities and

interests, and convention is simply a general agreement about basic

principles.  Thus, convention is a requirement of society.


Members of a given society must agree upon basic principles to be able

to share them.  In American society, the use of English as a common

language, the use of dollars as an exchange for goods and services and

the use of traffic lights as a means for order are all conventions.

Mostly everyone who drives agrees that when a traffic light is red, it

means stop.  When people stop following this convention, car accidents

occur.  On a much broader scale, if people stopped following the

conventions of English as a common language and dollars as an exchange

for goods and services, American society would fall apart.


When usually speaking about convention and society, individuals

usually converse about religion and hand shaking, not language.  Yet

one must realize that language is just as much a convention as...

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