There are few immutable facets of our modern life. Most things we think of as objective and set in stone are completely constructed entirely from collective experience as members of society.
Firstly, let’s start by stating what a social construct is. A social construct is any concept that is defined by a group of people who live as a society. You might have heard the phrase, “Gender is a social construct,” which is true. Other social constructs include economic value, political borders, language, and even race. If any of those concepts on the list made you twitch, this is exactly the time to keep your mind open. Much like Renee Descartes and his metaphorical apple basket, no belief must be sacred, and we must build back from the bottom.
First on the chopping block: gender. Gender is a far more nuanced topic than our modern society gives credit for. When someone says “gender,” the first thought for most people is a harsh binary of “male” and “female.” This is just not true. Don’t believe me? Ask tribal societies in the Amazon rainforest who’ve had virtually no contact with the outside world. Ask pre-colonial Native Americans who had active concepts of male-female composite genders (two-spirit) and a lack of gender. Our modern concept of gender is heavily influenced by early European colonialism. That is not to say it is solely influenced by it but the rigid binary that we have thought was objective for so long has long been enforced by European societal norms. Gender is something that none of us should take for granted. Don’t worry if you don’t think you need to worry about it, however. If you find yourself questioning your own gender identity, that’s probably a good sign. Cisgender (those that identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) usually don’t question their gender at all throughout their lives.
Usually, the hardest concept in the set of various social constructs that we think of is economic value because it’s something that’s so readily available to us. Most of what we do as people is produce economic value in the form of “money.” Money is just a placeholder, however. How do we know that economic value is a social construct? Because the value of any product we buy is decided by somebody. Even if they used an equation to determine something’s value, they still decided to use that equation. Products only have a certain value because we have said they do. To be clear, this isn’t related to the concept of human desire. Humans want things because they’re alive. Humans have assigned value to products and use money systems as placeholders so that we can trade things of fractional values. Our current money system would be just as functional if we used varying sizes of buttons rather than American dollars and cents.
It behooves us all to look at the systems we have in place and decide what is really as simple and clean as “that’s how it’s always been.”