The First and Last Freedom (TFALF) 3: Thoughts during "Individual and Society"

Is the individual an instrument of society or does the society exist for the individual?

In the first paragraph K creates this black and white sense of options. I find myself immediately reacting because I have thought about this very deeply over the past six years. When I realised that most of the rules and norms in society take away one’s individual freedom of choice, that what is accepted as the moral code is handed to us rather than something we arrive at, I felt a strong urge to defy it. I explored my ‘shadow’ and performed several thought experiments. But after enough time, I started to understand the importance of society. Humans are social beings and trying to live like a lone wolf will not make anyone truly happy because our brain has been programmed to experience pleasure during social interaction and feeling connected to other humans. As a species we have been over-successful, if I may say so, because of our inherent ability to cooperate, communicate and care for each other. So to condemn society for the little cooperation it asks of us to maintain a sense of order is being too selfish. After all, society is made of people and people have made these rules because most people agree that say, killing others or taking someone elses wife is wrong.

Anyway, moving on:

I think K defines society differently than a biologist/neuroscientist like me. He sees it as a place from which we obtain patterns of thinking, which will take away from one’s individuality if individuals exist as its instruments. He says that if society exists for the individual, it will not ask the individual to conform to a pattern but give him/her the feel of freedom. K then re-emphasises that leaders, propaganda and opinionated books cannot lead one to the answer to this question. He says the mind that wants to understand this problem/question must be swift and fresh because the issue is dynamic. He emphasises the need for an inner revolution which is the only real way to bring about a change in the world. Then he says something quite difficult to apply:

If society is static, any action or reform without the inner revolution will also become a habit, and a pattern. The inner revolution needs to be constant. In other words, each of us need to be aware every moment of ourselves as discussed in the previous chapter.

He then points out that ‘you and I have created it [this confusion and misery]…in our relationship with each other’. That we project our internal thoughts and feelings onto the world and our relationships. And the relationship between you and me, and you and whoever else is what constitutes society. It is the product of our relationships. Having established this link, he asks us to study out daily lives.

We feel greedy and envious. We want more power and prestige. This attitude creates conflicts and leads to politics in which true relationship is destroyed. When we enter into this chaos, when we participate in any form of domination or submission, we become responsible for all power-play that exists and the consequences that follow, for example, war.

He defines stupidity to be when we give wrong value to the things that minds create (ideas) or hands produce (materialistic things). When we believe in a religious or social system that separates people, surely we are giving wrong value to those ideas i.e., we are being stupid.

He also adds imitation and authority as disintegrating factors as they corrupt and impede creativity.

Is it possible to bring about a society which is constantly alive? This is what it will take for any large movement to have any meaning at all. ‘However wisely legislation may be promulgated, society is always in the process of decay because revolution must take place within, not merely outwardly.’

And a static society will absorb the individual and make him/her static and repetitive too. Difficult as it may be, and I agree, ‘creative revolution can take place only in individual relationship, which is society’. So can we, you and I be the architects who, instead of imitating build on our creative understanding?

Although theoretically I agree with him, I find it necessary to put another spin on the factors he labels disintegrating: greedy, envy, power-play and dominance, belief in ideas handed to us, imitation and authority. Greed is what motivates us to do the things we do. We want more money and social prestige/power so we go the capitalist way and make the most, monetarily speaking, out of our skills. Greed can even lead to innovation. (I will explore greed in more detail when I start reading Atlas Shrugged.) Envy is part of evolution; we compete for mates, resources and the one who is most suited to the environment is naturally selected. Of course within relationships it is destructive but as part of competition, it is plain evolution. I would put power-play and dominance also into this category; bad within relationships but in terms of institutes competing for more publications or companies for more clients, i.e., on a larger scale, it follows the design of evolution. Belief has been a human habit for a long time. It has served it evolutionary purpose and I think it is time we grew out of the types that divide people or create conflict. Imitation is a big part of any learning process. It is unrealistic to expect growth without imitation. And authority; is a necessary part of the way society works in today’s world.

In a world where everyone is undergoing constant inward revolutions, authority would not be important; all power based systems and organisations; religions, governments and perhaps even companies will dissolve into individuals who think for themselves and relate to each other with true connection, and love. Greed may transform itself into a striving for personal excellence. People will be aware and loving enough of themselves that envy and a need to feel dominant will no longer make any sense to anyone. And perhaps our inherent ability to cooperate and care for each other will take on a new level in this evolved state of society.

Mass self-awareness can do wonders for our society but I must say I can hardly imagine a larger percentage of the population being self-aware than has always been the case. It is simply too easy to follow a leader or an existing philosophy/religion. Too difficult to constantly question and watch oneself. And if that stays that way, I wonder if change is possible at all?

See also