The object of criticism in this song can at surface level be discerned simply from reading its title, and with no further knowledge of its composition or lyrics. That being said, however, the specifics of the statement being made, or perhaps more accurately lack thereof, allow Society to make a subtle and passive, yet blanketing critique of its namesake. The song does not endeavor to accuse, rather, it overtly laments the state of things in fairly vague terms. It likewise doesn’t endeavor to solve the problems it proposes in any concrete way, simply offering that one can remove oneself from them, if they so choose.

Society counters the issue of cultural materialism and its corrupting impacts, and is quite literal in doing so lyrically. This is evident as immediately as the first verse which goes as follows:

It’s a mystery to me

We have a greed with which we have agreed

And you think you have to want more than you need

Until you have it all, you won’t be free

There are a number of implications here, which largely serve to illustrate the overarching messaging. The second line demonstrates the universally widespread nature of the problem of greed in society, excepting not even the narrator by the use of “we,” and posits that it is endemic to any and all who have accepted or “agreed” to it. The subsequent two lines blatantly reference consumerist culture, and convey that those who willingly subscribe to it are in effect prisoners of the system and ideology, respectively. This critique is compounded by the first line of the following verse:

When you want more than you have, you think you need

By juxtaposing ‘want’ and ‘need’ here, it demonstrates that the materialist dogma causes those who’ve adopted it to fundamentally misconstrue these concepts, mistaking unessential wants for needs. This confounding of values bears deeper societal consequence, surpassing simple material, which is addressed in verse three (particularly the first two lines):

There’s those thinking more or less, less is more

But if less is more, how you keeping score?

From what I am able to discern this verse represents a perspective shift, making a case from the side of society, as opposed to the narrator. This is done so ironically, as the point being made helps to illustrate condemnation of the presuppositions upon which it relies; namely, that less is not more, that life has a ‘score’ (which indicates winners and losers as well), and implicitly that material wealth is the proper metric by which to assess this ‘score.’ These dynamics hinted at here are exemplary of the greed and selfishness that the narrator posits permeates competitive, consumerist society.

While Society is ample and largely head on with its critique of materialist culture, the solution (if you can call it that) which is proposed, or at least has been taken by the narrator, is considerably less obvious. The chorus is essentially the only place we see any kind of resolution and goes as follows:

Society, you’re a crazy breed

I hope you’re not lonely without me

Firstly, personifying society and addressing it directly essentially makes the song an open letter, which airs out the narrator’s grievances to the intended recipient, and such levies blame onto it for its condition. In doing so with a construct as broad and general as society, Hannan has not passed judgement on anyone in particular, rather implicating everyone who is a contributory part of it and its problems. The second line continues this sardonic use of personification, but therein is one of the only indirect proposals of action; by sarcastically positing that society may miss them, their absence is implicit, and it is evident that the narrator intends to leave it behind. This kind of isolationist departure, rooted in the story and ideology of Chris McCandless, is likewise vaguely hinted at in the last two lines of verse two:

I think I need to find a bigger place

‘Cause when you have more than you think you need more space

The thematic elements in the songwriting, the nature of the various versions and performers, the vocal delivery given by Vedder, and likewise its classification as a folk song, all are very cohesive elements, and furthermore empower the critique that is being made. Society was originally written by, adapted for, and collaborated on by two very authentic and appropriate musicians (Hannan and Vedder), and its anti-materialism, anti-greed, and societally renunciate stances all make it greatly congruent with its genre, as these are frequent elements and themes all throughout revival and post revival folk in America. Vedder’s vocal delivery is similarly conducive to the messaging. His tremulous, raspy baritone is earnest, haunting and imbued with emotion, expressing the lament and melancholy mirrored in the lyrics.