Body, Mind, Spirit Magazine

The Relationships Between the Individual and Society in History.

By Titu22
Titu Barua
Bangkok, 10120.
To return once again to the simile of the river, the history of humankind is like a great river bearing its waters into the ocean of the past. What is past in life does not become something that has never been. No matter how far we go from the past, it still lives to some extent in us and with us. From the very beginning, the character of the man-society relationship changed substantially in accordance with the flow of historical time. The relationship between the individual and a primitive horde was one thing. Brute force was supreme and instincts were only slightly controlled, although even then there were glimpses of moral standards of cooperation without which any survival, let alone development, would have been impossible. In tribal conditions people were closely bound by ties of blood. At that time there were no state or legal relationships. Not the individual but the tribe, the genus, was the law-giver. The interests of the individual were syncretised with those of the commune. In the horde and in tribal society there were leaders who had come to the fore by their resourcefulness, brains, agility, strength of will, and so on. Labor functions were divided on the basis of age and sex, as were the forms of social and other activity. With the development of the socium an ever increasing differentiation of social functions takes place. People acquire private personal rights and duties, personal names, and a constantly growing measure of personal responsibility. The individual gradually becomes a personality, and his relations with society acquire an increasingly complex character. When the society based on law and the state first arose, people were sharply divided between masters and slaves, rulers and ruled. Slave society with its private property set people against one another. Some individuals began to oppress and exploit others.
Feudal society saw the emergence of the hierarchy of castes, making some people totally dependent on others. On the shoulders of the common toiler there grew up an enormous parasitic tree with kings or tsars at its summit. This pyramid of social existence determined the rights and duties of its citizens, and the rights were nearly all at the top of the social scale. This was a society of genuflection, where not only the toilers but also the rulers bowed the knee to the dogma of Holy Scripture and the image of the Almighty.
The age of the Renaissance was a hymn to the free individual and to the ideal of the strong fully developed human being blazing trails of discovery into foreign lands, broadening the horizons of science, and creating masterpieces of art and technical perfection. History became the scene of activity for the enterprising and determined individual. Not for him the impediments of the feudal social pyramid, where the idle wasted their lives and money, enjoying every privilege, and the toilers were kept in a state of subjugation and oppression. At first came the struggle for freedom of thought, of creativity. This grew into the demand for civil and political freedom, freedom of private initiative and social activity in general.
As a result of the bourgeois revolutions that followed, the owners of capital acquired every privilege, and also political power. The noble demand that had been inscribed on the banners of the bourgeois revolutions—liberty, equality and fraternity turned out to mean an abundance of privileges for some and oppression for others. Individualism blossomed forth, an individualism in which everybody considered himself the hub of the universe and his own existence and prosperity more important than anyone else's. People set themselves up in opposition to other people and to society as a whole. Such mutual alienation is a disease that corrupts the social whole. The life of another person, even one's nearest, becomes no more than a temporary show, a passing cloud. The growing bureaucracy, utilitarianism and technologism in culture considerably narrow the opportunities for human individuality to express and develop itself. The individual becomes an insignificant cog in the gigantic machine controlled by capital. Alienation makes itself felt with particular force.
What is alienation? It is the conversion of the results of physical and intellectual activity into forces that get out of human control and, having gained the whip hand, strike back at their own creators, the people. It is a kind of jinn that people summon to their aid and then find themselves unable to cope with. Thus, the state which arose in slave society, became a force that oppressed the mass of the people, an apparatus of coercion by one class over another. The science that people venerate, that brings social progress and is in itself the expression of this progress, becomes in its material embodiment a lethal force that threatens all mankind. How much has man created that exerts a terrible pressure on his health, his mind and his willpower! These supra-personal forces, which are the product of people's joint social activity and oppress them, are the phenomenon known as alienation.
The thinkers of the past, who were truly dedicated to the idea of benefiting the working folk, pointed out the dangers of a system governed by the forces of alienation, a system in which some people live at the expense of other people's labour, where human dignity is flouted and man's physical and intellectual powers drained by exploitation.
The individual is free where he not only serves as a means of achieving the goals of the ruling class and its party but is himself the chief goal of society, the object of all its plans and provisions. The main condition for the liberation of the individual is the abolition of exploitation of one individual by another, of hunger and poverty, and the reassertion of man's sense of dignity. This was the kind of society of which the utopian socialists and the founders of scientific socialism dreamed. In contrast to bourgeois individualism, socialist collectivism starts off from the interests of the individual, not just the chosen few but all genuine working people. Socialism everywhere requires striking, gifted personalities with plenty of initiative. A person with a sense of perspective is the highest ideal of the creative activity of the socialist society.

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