CivilityCivility is the capacity of a group to cooperate and resolve disputes in a reasonable and structured way. This is the primary value of a society whereby cooperation and the avoidance of excessive and disorderly conflict make life better.
StabilityA society can provide stability to life. For example, a nation that is so incredibly financially stable that people panic when economic growth turns slightly negative for a few years. Generally speaking, as societies advance they become increasingly stable whereby small changes to quality of life are viewed as tragic. This level of stability may be taken for granted whereby larger changes to life become unimaginable.
Technological AdvancementThe pooled efforts of millions or billions of people can solve problems, create knowledge and develop technologies that would be out of the reach of smaller groups or uncooperative groups.
Shared ServicesA society can pool resources to offer public services. For example, a city with a large technically advanced hospital that most people seldom visit that is nonetheless there for everyone when they need it.
Efficient InfrastructureShared infrastructure such as train lines, roads, bridges, ports, airports, canals, electric grids and computer networks that make things more efficient for everyone.
Efficient MarketsShared markets whereby a large number of sellers and buyers can transact. This creates massive efficiency whereby innovation, quality and low price are rewarded in the competitive rush to give consumers what they need.
Capital DistributionA society distributes capital -- potentially in an efficient way. For example, a financial system that gives people loans so that they can pay for their homes as they live in them. This is far more efficient for people than saving up for a long time for a home whereby they may potentially be old before they can build.
Common GoodsA society can prevent the hoarding of common goods that can benefit everyone. For example, an island where all landowners must provide beach access to everyone such that nobody can own a beach.
Education & KnowledgeSocieties commonly provide educational opportunities to their population and support institutions that create and share knowledge such as schools, universities and libraries.
ProductivityProductivity is the amount of value that you create in an hour of work. High productivity is the basis for standard of living and improved working conditions such as a short work day. Advanced societies create conditions in areas such as civility, stability, public services, infrastructure, technological advancement and education that make people more productive. For example, a pilot flying an aircraft with 550 passengers at 575 mph produces more value in an hour of work than a person rowing a boat with two passengers at 5 mph.
Political ParticipationPolitics is the means by which people decide what to do as a group. A society may allow all of its members to participate in this process. For example, a democracy that allows citizens of a nation to run for office and to vote. Politics is an inherently contentious process but is important as it allows groups to make decisions and pursue common goals.
Creative TensionSocieties need not be stable to the point of stagnation. In many cases, societies include competitive and contentious processes that generate creative tension. Where this may be uncomfortable it fights complacency and mediocrity. For example, intensive politics that eventually shape the character of a nation to be a more fair and prosperous place.
RightsRights are things that a society owes each individual in a society. For example, a right to things such as safety, security, education, healthcare, sustenance and housing that provides a minimum quality of life in a nation.
FreedomsFreedom is the ability to do things that you want without interference from others. For example, the freedom to move, express your opinion and enjoy privacy. Rights and freedoms are often in opposition. For example, a homeowner can claim their right to quiet is disrupted by the freedom of children to run and play on the street outside. Society provides systems to strike some compromise between rights and freedoms such as a recreation area or play street that respects the right to play with rules to protect delicate neighbors.
Economic BadsEconomic bads are negative effects produced by economic activity. For example, a factory that produces air pollution that costs others $50 for every $5 widget it produces. Society can regulate economic bads to ensure that production ads value without creating too much negative value.
JusticeSocieties typically have a justice system that enforces laws and regulations. In theory, these can be designed to make a society a fair place whereby people have incentive to follow rules that prevent injustice. Retributive justice systems seek to punish wrongs and restorative justice systems seek to rehabilitate offenders so that they are less likely to cause future injustice. Justice also implies that the representatives of society and its institutions are accountable and equally constrained by laws.
People & PlanetA society can do good for people and planet. For example, a society that vastly increases the quality of life of its population in areas such as life expectancy, health status, education, economic opportunity, working conditions, safety, security and freedom.
Human ExperienceWith productivity and stability -- societies can generate enormous wealth that allows people to spend time on high level aspects of the human experience far beyond the material struggle for survival. For example, workers in an advanced economy who have relatively short work hours and long vacations such that they have the resources to pursue recreation, leisure, sport, hobbies, aesthetics, art, culture and adventure.
The following are possible counterarguments to the position that society is important.
Real world societies commonly produce large scale damage and risks such as ecological destruction.
Societies may oppress the freedom of the individual in an excessive pursuit of stability and goals such as economic growth.
Political processes that allow a majority to oppress minorities in a society.
Affluent societies that produce new problems such as people who are disconnected, unhealthy and unhappy in new ways. For example, a consumer society where people try to buy what they need instead of earning it with their behavior.
Paternalistic societies that seek to systematize and control every aspect of life such that the human experience becomes uninspired.