Institutionalization

What a word! In addition to having a huge amount of letters, this has a huge amount of influence on your life. The central idea of institutionalization is to remove a societal construct from the control of individuals and give it to an organization with hierarchical power over those individuals. This is to say the unpopular ideas of a single person can become popularized within a system if that person holds a powerful position.

That was a bunch of big words so I’ll give an example to better explain: education. The first education was parents teaching their children about methods of gathering food and protecting themselves. After the invention of agriculture, those lessons turned more toward how to farm and create tools to make tasks easier. Eventually, a more formal system was put in place with individual teachers educating multiple children at the same time.

Teachers were entrusted to “teach the children about the world.” Since there was no established standard for each teacher to use, two children who were educated by different teachers might have wildly different understandings of the same world. The institutionalization of education standardized the information that was to be taught to all students. With standardized education, two students from opposite sides of a country can have a relatively similar wealth of knowledge.

While the institutionalization of constructs like education are helpful to raise the standards across the board, other constructs can also sneak their way into the institution. Racism is one of the most harmful institutionalized constructs in our world. You might be thinking, “Racism is the mindset of a single person” and you would be partly correct. However, if a person with a racist mindset gains a powerful position within a system, that mindset can trickle down through the lower levels of the hierarchy.

A perfect example of institutionalized racism is slavery. Before the American Civil War, slavery was protected by the Constitution. That meant the individuals who believed that some people were inherently lesser than others could write their belief into a law to be carried out by all individuals, regardless of your personal beliefs.

Institutionalization can be helpful for a population, depending on the construct that is institutionalized. For instance, the institutionalization of language means that there is a standard for everyone to follow, allowing for easier communication and less translation. It’s looking like English will be the main language of the world when we do finally reach a global civilization. If you absolutely hate English you might not be happy about that, but unless you can ascend the hierarchical ranks of the institution, it’s going to happen anyway.

Institutionalization is a process that is fairly easy to understand, and one of the most difficult to reverse. It requires a change in high hierarchical positions, or a huge movement of lower levels to convince the higher levels to change. Right now, there are still a lot of harmful constructs in the institution. It requires empathy to see the harm and courage do something about it. If you see something wrong with a current institution, please don’t just give up because you think you are too small. Humans made the hierarchy and the institution; we can change it too.

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