Gian Piero de Bellis
Polyarchy : a Paradigm
(2002 - 2013)
From the serial mass moron to the singular human being
|The portrayed human being|
|The real human being|
|The present historical reality|
|The serial mass moron|
|The preferable social reality|
|The singular human being|
The portrayed human being (^)
In the course of history, the scholars that have focused their attention on human reality (philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, etc.) have attempted to portray the human being by assigning to him specific basic features that have then been listed and grouped under the label "human nature."
Among the most known depictions of human nature are those of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They present very straightforward though totally antithetic views of human nature. By offering a simple, albeit different, answer to a very complex matter, they have succeeded in making their representations widely known. In fact, most people, even without knowing it, usually refer to one or the other image when speaking of human beings as shaped by human nature.
For Thomas Hobbes the natural human being is a nasty creature, waging war against everybody (bellum omnium contra omnes) (De Cive, 1642). This miserable condition associated with a human nature which is intrinsically violent and selfish (homo homini lupus) can be kept under control only by the active presence of an external power (the territorial state) emerging out of the civilizing process. Without the territorial state as Leviathan, holding the power of life and death upon everybody, the very existence of the individuals, due to their nature, would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, at least in some of his writings (Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes, 1754) the state of nature is, on the contrary, almost a blessed condition of humanity, not tainted yet by the corruption and violence that will be introduced by the so-called civilization process. The human being in a natural state is still capable of expressing sentiments of empathy and sympathy towards other human beings. It is only with the introduction of relationships based on power that human nature gets corrupted and all sorts of unbalances and miseries arise.
In later times these two images got expanded and further elaborated by upholders of one or the other position, with one side equating the primitive human being to a wild animal (the beastly savage) and the other side extolling the virtue of the primitive human being uncorrupted by civilization (the noble savage).
These opposite views can be retraced, in a nutshell, in everyday conversations and in the attitudes of many contemporary people who either chastise the basic badness and depravity of the human being or praise his overall goodness and decency.
From a theoretical point of view, in common discourse, two strong characteristics are often attributed to human nature:
- Univocity : human nature is deemed to have only one dimension (either negative or positive). In addition to that, it is fair to say that the general stress has been put, overwhelmingly, on the negative side.
- Unchangeability : human nature (either good or bad) is seen as something not subject to modifications, given once and for all from the beginning of times. This position also has the general negative overtone that a bad human nature is considered unredeemable.
Many people come to hold these positions (the univocity and unchangeability of human nature) simply because they are those of the majority, or those transmitted by the political and cultural elite, or just to remain on the safe side and not be seen as gullible individuals.
Generally speaking, those who produce/diffuse information focus mainly on bad (violent) behaviour and we are likely to be more impressed and remember bad occurrences rather than the good or neutral ones. So, if we rely on superficial impressionistic notions, especially those spread by sensationalistic journalists, the case is strongly biased towards a confirmation of the basic badness of human nature.
Sometimes people vacillate from one position to another according to specific events or contingent experiences that support one view or the other.
However, from a scientific point of view we cannot underpin our general beliefs on episodic happenings even if they are important and relevant to our lives.
For all these reasons, it is appropriate to look at other scholars that offer a view of human nature capable of taking into account the rich ensemble of its various faculties and tendencies. To do so we can refer to a humanist who, within the short span of his life, has given us an admirable depiction of human nature.
Pico della Mirandola
In 1486 the Renaissance scholar Pico della Mirandola delivered a famous oration under the title De hominis dignitate (On the dignity of the human being). The main points highlighted in this discourse are that human nature is something:
- Complex: human nature is made of every possible feature (tendencies) existent in nature;
- Undetermined: human nature is open to every possible instance (occurrences) existent in nature;
- Malleable: human nature is shapeable according to every possible form (lower-higher) existent in nature.
In other words, Pico della Mirandola attempted to present human nature as a repository of every possible combination of tendencies, occurrences and forms, and it was the responsibility of each individual, endowed at birth of free will, to develop, out of it, and become a worthy human being. The Oration is then a hymn to a human life experience made up of free choices and challenges coming out of a human nature, which is open to any possible outcome. If the outcome is miserable the fault is not ascribable to human nature but to the specific human being who has squandered and misused the potentialities (human resources) that have been given to him.
This view of human nature was totally at odd with that held by religious and secular rulers, interested in depicting the human beings as intrinsically irresponsible, unpleasant and unruly minors to be kept under control and requiring guidance. It is no wonder that Pico’s sudden mysterious death, at the age of 31, has been seen by some as the silencing (by poison) of what could have become a powerful voice against the mischief of a manipulative power.
It is now time to resurrect some of the positions and hypotheses held by Pico della Mirandola regarding the human being and to present a view of human nature more articulated and scientific in order to better deal with the current personal and social malaises.
The real human being (^)
The misunderstandings and biases surrounding the image of the human being have been possible because in each statement there is a grain of truth. In fact, throughout the human historical experience, there is plenty of evidence to support one or the other of exactly opposite positions. However, this simple observation, instead of leading us towards embracing unconditionally one or the other view, should make us aware of two important aspects of knowledge in general and of human nature in particular:
- First, that it is highly inappropriate to use partial evidence to support certain views, stressing what fits into a pre-confectioned ideology and ignoring or minimizing all remaining arguments.
- Second, that what is specially qualifying for a proper study of human nature is to remark and reflect about the presence, within the human being, of a complex variety of tendencies.
The situation concerning human nature is even more complicated and subtle than it might appear to an uncritical mind, unable or unwilling to go beyond conventional polarities and superficial appearances. The fact is that the interplay between human nature and external reality is often marked by something quite unexpected and difficult to accept:
- Ambivalence: the co-existence of good and bad components, that mingle inside individuals and emerge unpredictably in many occurrences. For this reason human nature cannot be characterized in one sense or the other (good or bad) and most people cannot be assigned certainly and definitely to one category or the other. Within the same human beings, angels and devils, saints and sinners, can coexist (dormant or awake) in the course of the same existence or even during the short span of the same experience. A classic example is that of a usually quiet person who can then participate, in a crowd, in acts of violence following the spread of rumours.
- Ambiguity: the emergence of good from something supposedly bad and of bad from something generally assumed as good. There are, for instance, many cases of altruistic generosity and total devotion to other human beings (the so-called good actions) that result in producing passive individuals and dependent social groups (the admittedly bad outcomes). In other cases a misfortune (the admittedly bad) can subsequently produce something positive (the surprisingly good) and this turn of events finds expression even in popular sayings such as “it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”
In the past both these puzzling aspects of human nature and human experience have been remarked and elaborated upon by novelists and essayists. We have, for instance, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic short story The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde on the clash of good and evil within the same human being, and the writings of Bernard de Mandeville and Adam Smith highlighting the fact that, out of something widely considered reproachable, such as greed and human selfishness, something very positive, like industry and the reciprocal satisfaction of needs, can arise.
However all these subtleties get continuously lost, crushed by the incessant pounding of those in power who are interested in a simplified, but also stupefying, version of reality in which they portray themselves as the thoroughly good fellows fighting selflessly against the totally bad fellows, in the name of the common good. This is clearly a representation convenient (for them) but deceitful (for all).
It is then necessary to stress once more that, with respect to human nature, the reality is not so banal and the appearances are not so real as might be believe. For this reason the ambivalence and ambiguity of the human nature in the course of the human experience is something that must be discovered and examined over and over again.
That is why it makes always a lot of sense to practice the classic Greek exhortation Know Thy Self that encapsulates a perennial wisdom of humanity.
If we start this voyage of knowledge of the self, we discover that the real human being and so thus the real human nature, far from being a one dimensional static entity, is distinctively marked by three specific dispositions:
- potentiality: the human being at his inception is made of many raw tendencies/faculties [potentiality is connected with possible choices]
- plasticity: the raw tendencies/faculties are, at the start, highly flexible and shapeable [plasticity is connected with preferable decisions]
- polyvalence: flexibility and shapeability allow the raw tendencies/faculties to became almost any conceivable reality within quite wide limits [polyvalence is connected with personal responsibilities].
In other words, the human being is the result of the potentiality-plasticity-polyvalence that characterizes human nature and that finds expression and realization in:
- Possible choices (expression of free will)
- Preferable decisions (awareness of alternatives)
- Personal responsibilities (acceptance of consequences)
For analytical convenience we can divide the human being and his human experience into a series of internal components and external agents. This should provide an idea of the potential complexity coming out of the interacting forces. At the same time, a true understanding of these dynamics should allow us to master the intricacies and show also, paradoxically, its basic simplicity.
The human being and the human experience are characterized by
- facets: emotive, cognitive, volitive
- dimensions: moral, mental, material
- factors: roles (functions), frames (circumstances), sets (environments)
It is the free and appropriate interplay of all these internal components (nature) and external agents (nurture) that produces the human being.
Unfortunately, in the past some scholars have unduly stressed specific tendencies emerging from human nature like, for instance, the search for power (Hobbes), profit (Marx), pleasure (Freud). This reductive view of human nature and of the related human beings obsessed by one single pursuit has been then considered universally valid and spread by popularisers that have not taken into account the specific aim and context of those studies.
In order to understand why we have a portrait of the human being that does not fully correspond to reality and, in quite a few cases, is an almost complete distortion of reality we have then to examine briefly the present historical situation, with some reference to its origin and development.
The present historical reality (^)
The present historical reality can be seen as one of many possible scenarios that could have taken place given the potentiality, plasticity and polyvalence of human nature. Usually what becomes reality, in the short to medium term, is the scenario which is easier to implement or that which offers the least resistance to some momentarily prevailing tendencies. This means that there is a reason (rationale) that justifies the occurrence of a certain reality but that does not equate reality with rationality.
The grounds underpinning historical reality are to be seen in the mix of facets, dimensions and factors that characterize a relevant number of human beings at a certain point in time and space. The mix is made of some components that are universal (related to the very essence of human nature) and others that are contingent (related to specific, transitory or localized aspects).
In other words, in order to understand the present reality we need to highlight those universal components of human nature that, in conjunction with some contingent aspects, have succeeded in producing the current human beings and the associated reality.
As previously said, the complex multifaceted human nature can be seen as a continuum whose opposing poles may be characterized using the easily understandable categories of angels and devils. Clearly most (if not all) people are neither angels nor devils but place themselves in some intermediate point on this continuum, moving towards one or the other of the two poles on different occasions during the course of their lives.
This simplified representation of opposing modes of being has unfortunately been wilfully exploited over and over again by those who occupy positions of moral influence and material power.
In fact, to any unbiased observer, it is very clear that an overwhelming number of human beings occupy that neutral and quite indistinctive space within the continuum where the person is attending to his business and daily chores almost without any trace of strong (angelic or devilish) behaviour. This is, that state of normalcy so commonplace to depict, that does not attract any attention.
Moreover, if we pushed our observation even further we might discover that most ordinary human beings have never killed a chicken or a rabbit in their life and would refuse to do so unless they were starving (and even in that case with a certain reluctance and repugnance). We can add that - even for those who are instructed and given by the state a licence to kill - committing acts of violence has frequently resulted in mental pathologies and disturbing personality traits.
Nevertheless, as previously pointed out, the conventional image that rulers and most intellectuals circulate, is a gloomy picture of the human being as a violent and aggressive animal, or someone keen on pursuing his interests and pleasure at the expense of others; an individual who is totally selfish and inconsiderate of the needs and exigencies of others. In the words of a celebrated intellectual "... we must teach our children altruism, for we cannot expect it to be part of their biological nature." (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976)
On the basis of this “official” view of human nature and following the introduction of technological devices that have made possible the mass-production of some material goods and services (information, health provision, instruction, etc.), the current overall cultural and social reality can be defined as a gigantic mass-society fragmented into so-called national sub-masses according to some minimum common denominator (usually the language). This mass-society is ruled by bureaucratic mechanisms and appointed representatives that are the recognized headmasters (regulators) and teachers (educators) of basically undisciplined and egocentric subjects.
The perpetuation of this cultural and social reality (the mass-society) is then made possible mainly by the widespread propagation and supine acceptance of a negative portrait of human nature.
This negative portrait, held by the Catholic Church (through religion) in the past and by the National Territorial State (through politics) in the present, is so partial that it cannot be considered other than a fabrication of reality. Moreover it rests on two very shaky pillars:
- A fallacy. If altruism is not part of the biological (human) nature, where does it come from? How could it be that some people can pretend to teach something (altruism) that is not part of their biological (human) nature? How can the high priests of power and culture (the headmasters and the teachers) be different from the rest of society and behave in a way (i.e. altruistically) that is not part of their biological nature? These are unanswered and unanswerable questions that reveal in this adopted position the presence of an inconsistent and unsupported act of faith that, in scientific discourse, is called a logical and material fallacy.
- A paradox. The fallacy is then compounded by an actual paradox arising from the fact that monopolistic positions of material power and cultural control (as under territorial state sovereignty) work in the direction of increasing the undesirable tendencies of human nature instead of minimizing them. This was poignantly expressed by the historian A. J. P. Taylor: "In the state of nature which Hobbes imagined, violence was the only law, and life was 'nasty, brutish and short'. Though individuals never lived in this state of nature, the Great Powers of Europe have always done so." (A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918, First ed.1954)
Nevertheless, this conviction of the devilish nature of the human being was and is still generally accepted and not critically questioned because of the existence of other strong tendencies which those in power try to avoid mentioning and the people are afraid to acknowledge for fear of being considered either naive or immodest.
Moreover, it must be said also that, for the common person, to rely on a working hypothesis that characterizes other human beings as mainly selfish and deceitful is not a totally insensible strategy because it leads him to be vigilant and cautious (principle of precaution). However, in actual reality, other principles and strategies prevail in the conduct of daily life and within familiar environments. In fact it would be terribly stressful and practically impossible to conduct relationships of any type on the assumption that the other person is trying all the time to deceive and damage us. This is why we often do not abide by the principle of caution even to the point of giving extraordinary trust and power to people we do not know personally and who could generate havoc in our lives, and those of others. A classic example is political voting and being represented by absolute strangers.
After a close scrutiny, we could say that in the average human being we find plenty of professed alertness coupled with practiced ingenuousness, and this is not something we should categorise as outrageously negative. As a matter of fact, the present historical reality characterized by the existence of powerful institutions and powerless individuals, is directly related to the presence of certain basic tendencies of human nature that could be considered highly positive if they were not used by the ruling power for manipulative and exploitative purposes. The tendencies here referred to are those of:
- socialization (engaging in all sort of exchanges)
- participation (associating with all sort of groups)
- imitation (assimilating all sorts of behaviour).
On the basis of these powerful tendencies, strongly present in every human being (except those affected by pathological disorders of the personality), and taking into consideration our life and our daily experiences in a non-preconceived way, most of us can comfortably reach the conclusion that the human being, ourselves included, is most of the time:
- more gregarious than rebellious
- more compassionate than egotistic
- more gullible than deceitful.
However, the generalized presence of these features is not something that is personally and socially constructive unless they are associated with other counter-balancing ones (critical thinking, initiative taking, autonomy, etc.). On their own these human features have generated a reality made of very unpalatable and horrific aspects (wars, concentration camps, tortures, etc.) that are not the foregone consequence of an evil human nature but the predictable actions of individuals that have been allowed to behave evilly by the accommodating lassitude and desire for a quiet life on the part of most people (the many gregarious, compassionate gullible ones).
During the last century, the individuals that have committed large-scale atrocities have been able to do so behind the protective shield of a monopolistic territorial power called the state. This monopolistic power has also controlled the cultural educational apparatus that has shaped human beings. Considering the flexibility of human nature, it is then necessary to examine what this power has produced in terms of human beings.
The serial mass moron (^)
The society of the last one hundred years has been previously characterized as a mass-society.
If we contrast the present mass society with the aristocratically dominant society of bygone ages we find aspects that are not all negative. In fact, mass society means also that many individuals (and not just a few well-off aristocrats) are able to enjoy goods and services once the prerogative of an elite, and this is a positive factor. Moreover, many individuals have come out of a situation of passive subjection to an aristocratic master, from birth to death, and are more in control of their lives.
However, besides some positive changes, due in large measure to technological progress, many unpalatable features have also appeared. The most relevant is the fact that the mass society, especially that of the first half of the XX century, is not composed of a multitude of distinct individuals coming together. The bulk of it is made of more or less identical mass-men (el hombre masa depicted by Ortega y Gasset in La rebelion de las masas, 1930) under the guidance and tutelage of powerful political leaders (Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, Franco, Salazar). Within a mass society dominated by the monopolistic territorial state, men are produced by the rulers as serial objects in the assembly line of state-run schools, state-dominated media, state-controlled industry.
At a later stage (the second half of the XX century) with the end of the dominance of strong political leaders, we witness the emergence of figures (Adenauer, De Gaulle, Attlee, De Gasperi, Eisenhower, Macmillan) chosen to reassure people tired of conflict. Some of those almost fatherly figures coexisted with younger and more vibrant ones (Kennedy, Trudeau) who prefigured the current situation in which the leader is essentially a show-man / show-woman or is capable of acting like one. People require more and more to be entertained from politicians and being spared the effort to think and act, hoping that others will magically solve all their problems.
What supposedly characterized the society of the XIX century, namely the struggle for life and the survival of the fittest, has been replaced during the XX century by the incessant nibble of the pie and the arrival of the fattest. The current most important task is to consume and keep consuming because the economy, this magical entity that no one has ever seen, is said to need it.
Clearly all this has been possible because during the XX century, on the basis of an incredible increase of production, the warfare state first and the welfare state later have succeeded in generating what can be only named as the serial mass-moron.
Focusing on the contemporary mass moron produced by the state and by the associated weapons of mental destruction, i.e. the mass media, three aspects, shared by a consistent number of people, come to the fore. They are:
- physical obesity
- mental apathy
- moral aridity
The existence of the serial mass moron has been substantiated by experimental studies and also by real events. We examine briefly only some exemplary cases that highlight the manipulation and degeneration of people living in a mass society under state control and tutelage. Manipulation and degeneration has been made possible, as hinted previously, by the political and cultural rulers exploiting, to their advantage, some aspects of the nature-nurture dynamics, namely:
- Prestige linked to status (human feature: docility). Stanley Milgram, perhaps one of the most unconventional and fertile social psychologists of all time, devised an experiment (1963) where a subject was given permission, by a supposed scientific authority (an impersonator), to administer (simulated) electric shocks of various intensity to a supposed learner (an actor) aimed at improving his memory performance. The fact that many subjects (in a specific case 26 out of 40) were ready to inflict what they thought were real shocks of extraordinary magnitude (450-volt) under instruction from a man in white coat (a professional) was and still is indicative of an human inclination to be obedient to authority even when highly immoral requests are put forward. (Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority, 1974)
- Power linked to role (human feature: compliancy). In the Zimbardo experiment (1971), a group of students was randomly assigned to perform the roles of prison guards and prisoners in a mock prison inside the psychology building of Stanford University (California). The prison guards were, almost from the start, so taken by the role and so conscious of their power that they behaved in a very authoritarian and sadistic way towards their fellow students, acting as prisoners, who became, for the most part, strangely submissive and compliant. The experiment had to be terminated after only six days (it was supposed to be conducted for two weeks) because it was getting out of hand, rising moral issues of violence and psychological abuse incompatible with scientific research. (Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect, 2007)
- Pressure linked to number (human feature: conformity). The Asch experiment (1955) was a sort of scientific test of the famous Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor's New Clothes, where people repeat what the majority proclaims even if the statement is sheer unreal nonsense. In the experiment, a subject was put in a group in which the other members of the panel were instructed by the experimenter to give wrong answers to a series of visual clues. The result was that in many cases (36.8%) the subject followed the majority, giving grossly incorrect responses against his senses and better judgement. The social pressure to conformity was so strong for quite a few, that they preferred to be absolutely wrong, siding with the majority, rather than perfectly right on their own. (Solomon Asch, Opinion and Social Pressure, 1955)
The central aspect, which is highly disturbing and worrisome, emerging from all these experiments, is that some features of human nature that are very necessary and useful for promoting sociability and smooth social intercourses (docility, compliancy, conformity) can also become, in the hands of any power, aggressive weapons to push people into committing all sorts of idiocies, misdeeds and even atrocities.
In other words, the serial mass moron so dear to the state power for his docility, compliancy and conformity, is a jolly good fellow, generally incapable of harming a fly, who could very well take part in acts of brutality and programs of mass extermination if only instructed by appropriately dressed up men (e.g. scientists in white coat or soldiers in high ranking uniform), who enjoy legal status (e.g. state servants) and are recognized and backed by a consistent number of other jolly good fellows (i.e. artfully manipulated individuals). This is what has already been qualified as the “banality of evil” (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, 1963).
So, when atrocious events take place there is no need to trouble oneself afterwards with indignant discourses on the badness of human nature and lofty invitations to redemption and conversion. These are wishy-washy perfunctory proclamations intended to cover up the really rotten mechanism that has made all that possible, namely the attribution of monopolistic sovereignty to a certain entity (the territorial state) in whose name and under whose instigation almost all atrocities are carried out. The existence of this monopolistic power constitutes the most appalling danger to the healthy development of human nature. Until that power is exposed and dissolved we are likely to witness or even participate in extreme cases of mass folly (like the Rwandan Genocide in 1994) or in ordinary events of moral misery.
Let us present some of these ordinary events of moral obscenity to make even clearer what we are referring to:
- The Kitty Genovese stabbing. In 1964, Catherine Susan Genovese, commonly known as Kitty, was stabbed to death near her home in Queens, New York. The same man, who even raped her, hit Kitty Genovese repeatedly in two separate attacks. Many people living in the area were at least partly aware that somebody was being savagely attacked but they did practically nothing. Finally, after the second attack, a person called the police; Kitty Genovese died in the ambulance on her way to the hospital. The full circumstances surrounding this death, while not so horrible as then reported by a New York Times journalist (Martin Gransberg, "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police." March 27, 1964), are nevertheless terrifying and indicative of the apathy and indifference of people living in a mass society.
- The James Bulger killing. In 1993, James Bulger, a two-year child, was abducted and killed by two adolescents, aged ten. The boys took the child to a distant canal and to other places. During the long walk, the distressed and already bruised child was seen by 38 people but only two intervened in a mild way protesting about the way he was treated; however, like the rest, they did practically nothing. James Bulger was finally led to a railway line near the Walton & Anfield station (Liverpool) and hit with an iron bar that fractured his skull. After causing 42 injuries all over his body, the boys put the child’s body across the railway line where he was cut in half by a train after they left. This episode repeats the same pattern of the previous one; many people saw that something was wrong but had not the will, the courage, the desire to intervene. For the serial mass moron intervention is the business of the state. Now let us examine an episode in which the state was called to intervene.
- The Jordan Lyon drowning. In 2007 Jordan Lyon a boy of 10 jumped into a pond near Manchester (U.K.) to save his sister. After leading her towards the bank he slipped down into the water because he could not support her weight. The policemen called to the scene in order to try to rescue him did not intervene because, as was later reported, they had not undertaken their water rescue and health and safety training.
What these episodes show is the diminishing of humanity and the reduction of the individuals to machines devoid of feeling, thinking, willing. The serial mass moron has abdicated his role as a human being and has delegated everything to Big Brother, the territorial monopolistic state to which he has handed over his body, his brain, his soul.
The serial mass moron generated by the Big Brother state is now:
- A master in the displacement of responsibility
- An expert in the avoidance of blameability
- A champion in the art of gullibility.
Apart from some serious instances of extraordinary individual violence, the serial mass moron can be assimilated more to a herd of sheep than to a pack of wolves. As a matter of fact the conventionally-held image of men like wolves has never been quite right and so the old (false) statement “homo homini lupus” should be replaced by a new more realistic one: “homo homini loco”. This characterization (loco = insane) means that we have slowly become total idiots who deceive ourselves in believing that social problems arise from the intrinsic badness of human nature while actually they are generated by the loss of any trace of human nature. Rulers have manipulated human qualities (and have been allowed to do so) in order to destroy human nature (humanity) and so justify their oppressive role of guardians. What has emerged is the “controlled insanity” so well depicted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four where “the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness.”
To become a serial mass moron devoid of human nature is the main or most likely avenue open to most people in a mass society shaped by Big Brother the monopolistic state.
However, it is not the only option for those who do not want to be made mincemeat to be pressed into the same mould, identical for everybody (leading to the state manufacture of identities).
Paradoxically, the rulers profit especially from the most peculiar qualities of the human being (potentiality, plasticity, polyvalence) which help to make him a docile instrument, fixed in a pre-established imposed pattern and, in the end, devoid of those very qualities so specific to human nature. So those who are not interested in becoming serial mass morons should engage in recovering their human nature qualities as they can be put fully to use in view of a totally different social reality that is not only possible but also preferable.
The preferable social reality (^)
The complexity of human nature and the variety of human beings and human experiences (the facets, dimensions and factors) is something we should be aware of at all times, if we only paused to think.
Once we realize this, we have also to accept the fact that goodness and badness, apathy and vitality, creativity and conformity, within the same person or as dominant traits in different persons, are expressions of human nature that cannot be modified or abolished by decree but should always be taken into account.
Given this situation, there are three important points that must be stressed when we refer to social dynamics and that should be put into effect when we deal with social organization:
1. No one (and certainly not the violent, the scrounger, the apathetic) should be allowed, separately or jointly, to define the overall reality that everybody has to comply with. Under the rule of the mass (democracy) this is unfortunately the case; a case that can never be justified no matter how apparently strong is the weight behind this imposition (the will of the majority) and how persuasively are the words with which it is upheld (solidarity, equality, security, etc.).
2. The highly rich interrelationship, which is a mixture of human nature-human beings-human experiences, requires a social organization characterized by a mechanism that allows for this complexity and variety to be freely expressed. This requires the emergence and acceptance, side by side, of parallel societies based on voluntary forms of association set up and chosen by each individual.
3. A multiplicity of parallel voluntary societies, each one legitimate in its own right, is only possible if the power is highly diffused amongst individuals so that no one is in a position to force his/her arbitrary will on others.
In different ways, these three points reiterate the same aspiration of personal freedom and voluntary agreements, for everybody and in every context.
As already pointed out, the notion of the mass society contained certain potentialities that could have developed into something similar to parallel societies if the toxins of nationalism, monopolism, territorialism, had not been incubated by the violent and the scrounger and inoculated to the apathetic majority, channelling everybody towards national monopolistic territorial statism, with its resulting moral and material disasters.
The emergence of the masses out of passivity and exploitation was a positive outcome of modernity providing that, out of the masses, individuals had sprouted, with distinct personalities and interiorized responsibilities.
This could have been quite possible because the spell of sacral authority (impersonated by the Church hierarchy) had abated and the reverence to frozen dogmas had been broken in favour of more enlightened and scientific beliefs. However it did not happen because the struggle against Church obscurantism and social elitism was in the end monopolized by an entity, the rising national territorial state, that subsumed/assumed all the worst aspects of the power of the Church and multiplied them for its own glory.
What we have now is a mass society in which we can roughly identify three kinds of people:
- The feeble. Those who do not know and are aware, up to a certain point, that they do not know; for this reason they are also afraid to take decisions concerning their life choices. Their aspiration: delegation of power
- The freedom-lovers. Those who know enough to be willing to take chances with their own life and are also aware of the complexity of the overall reality; for this reason they are not interested in taking decisions for everybody as they are already occupied with making the few right decisions still under their control concerning their own affairs. They want to be neither master nor servant. Their aspiration: self-power, i.e. autonomy.
- The fraudsters. Those who don’t know enough or don’t want to know how complex the overall reality is and so assume and pretend to know a lot; for this reason they are convinced that it is highly appropriate to take decisions for everybody about everything, as their decisions, in their opinion, are the best of all. Their aspiration: arrogation of power.
The undeclared connivance of the feeble with the fraudster (in a sort of dynamics reminiscent of that between the masochist and the sadist) has largely crushed the independent freedom-lover. The mechanism of parallel society would then permit the realization of all aspirations without forcibly affecting everybody, namely those who do not want to decide for others or to delegate to others. In fact it would accommodate also those who are unwilling to take decisions by themselves, leaving them free to set up their own specific institutions, financed by them and looking only after them.
The preferable social reality here advocated is not one emerging out of extraordinary fits of imagination or feats of ambition in which only the best aspects of human nature find their place with all the rest discarded by decree. This rosy picture that we find, in various guises and to varying degrees, in social blueprints and party manifestos, is neither what we do need nor what we can have. What we should aim at is a social mechanism, possible and practicable, that does not pretend to achieve the impossible, illusory and idiotic task of modifying human nature (for instance, to suppress forever all aggressiveness) but one that uses the basic human tendencies; even those that are seen as negative ones like selfishness and aggressiveness, and employ them in the best and most fruitful way.
For example, cooperation and competition are both engrained in human nature and it is not sensible to praise one over the other or to try to suppress one in favour of the other, as politicians and journalists have done and are still doing frequently and pointlessly.
There was a period (the XIX century) in which competition (the struggle for life) was commonplace. In more recent times cooperation has become the mantra.
However, what is not very clear to people fixated by an ideology is that, for instance, by suppressing competition we might be saying farewell to competence and competent individuals (all those terms have the same etymological root) and introducing a nightmarish world inhabited by social automatons devoid of energies, challenges and ambitions; all this just in order to preserve an egalitarian situation.
As for cooperation, this could very well result in corporatism, nepotism and all sorts of nefarious activities in which local or national groups “cooperate” callously to the detriment of everybody else.
What is required instead is what has already been advocated previously, namely a social reality characterized by a social mechanism in which the many facets, dimensions and factors are left free to operate and are given shape and direction by the free interplay of all the actors, and in which no one is dishonestly backed by a super-imposed monopolistic power or forcibly shielded from personal responsibilities.
If this feasible and highly preferable social mechanism is missing or is not permitted to operate successfully, then the result could be a defective, maimed social reality and consequently, and very likely, deprived, maimed individuals.
That is why a new social reality requires a human being with a new outlook and vice-versa.
In other words, in order to realize this preferable social reality open to many possible paths for all, we need a singular human being.
The singular human being (^)
The person that we should expect to see emerging from the various possibilities open to the individual, by the development of human nature, is certainly not the idealized figure of a saint or a hero on a massive scale. This scenario is not very likely and perhaps not even very likeable. By the way, if all were saints or heroes there shouldn't be much need for acts of saintliness and heroism.
What is needed is simply a human being free to develop his/her potentialities without other human beings organized as a power entity to block this development and to subdue him/her to their own whims. Whenever this blockage succeeds we have a mutilated personality, relegated in a subordinate role, in a determined frame, within a confined set of choices.
The assaults to human beings have come for the most part from centres of power rather than from other autonomous individuals. In our time, the central territorial state, promoter and ruler of the mass society and the mass man, has been and is the main culprit. Prolonged act of organized violence are possible only through a structured entity which has arrogated to itself the monopoly of violence and the licence to kill. The only organization with these features is the territorial state.
Moreover, this monopolistic territorial power justifies its existence attributing to everybody else vices and misdeeds (deceit, aggressiveness, stealing, etc.) that are proper to its own kind.
It is then quite appropriate to sketch the contours of the singular human being here envisaged by pointing out and stressing the radical differences with the mass-moron of the mass society. To this purpose three alternative aspects come to the fore:
- Individuality vs. identity
- Differentiation vs. integration
- Distinctiveness vs. sameness
Individuality vs. identity
Individuality, a term here used as meaning the process of individualization and the formation of an individual personality, is a concept rejected by the ideology of the mass society. The cultural promoters of mass society (state intellectuals and state journalists) use the term identity as a replacement for individuality. However, this is a deceitful and absurd substitution because those two terms mean exactly the opposite.
To expose the radical difference we can say that the serial mass moron has got and carries upon him an identity (usually a fabricated group similarity) while the singular social being develops and displays an individuality (i.e. a formed individual personality).
An identity, like its most common embodiment, the identity card, is something given/attributed to the person or recorded about the person by an external agent (currently the territorial state) and has the function of identifying subjects for reasons of central control and top-down organization. In a mass society, apart from those bureaucratic material distinctions (age, sex, nationality, etc.) people are more or less identical at least within a certain territory and are supposed to be so because they are said and are expected to have a national identity (speak the same language, eat the same type of food, abide by the same rules, etc.).
Individuality (individual personality) is something completely different.
First of all, it cannot be attributed like a passport number. As a matter of fact the more somebody uses bureaucratic means of identification (like numbers or bar codes) the more the individual is de-personalized and loses his/her individuality. Certainly a number (like the one stamped on the arm of a prisoner in a concentration camp or that stamped on a passport given to those living in national cages) is a good way to pinpoint an individual but is totally useless for defining/describing a sense of and the reality of individuality. Secondly, individuality (individual personality) is mainly the result of personal development in which the external elements may act as facilitators or stumbling blocks but in no way are to be considered the makers of that individuality.
Differentiation vs. integration
The total neglect given, in a mass society, to individuality is coupled with the stress put on integration. A person brought up in a certain culture, who moves to a different region of the world, is asked to integrate himself to that culture and to assimilate the modes of life dictated by the dominant group. Clearly we are not referring here to ways of conduct having universal value (e.g. tolerance, respect, etc.) because the person is supposed to observe them already. If this is the case, what is required should not be called integration but humanization or maturation. Here we are referring to the fact that the dominant group pretends to assimilate the newcomer into a way of life assumed superior in every aspect (otherwise there would be no acceptable justification for this pretence). In so doing the dominant group wants to transform what he labels as the foreigner into another serial mass moron in order to control him better. This is a most unpleasant manifestation of arrogance and the pinnacle of that very selfishness that the rulers of a mass society seem so keen to condemn. In fact, "selfishness is not living as one wishes to live. It is asking others to live as one wishes to live."(Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891)
The integration advocated by the power of the national state power is nothing other than the nationalization of the individual and the suppression/submission of his natural and precious tendencies towards both individualization (specificity) and universalization (cosmopolitanism). It is very unfortunate that the catchphrase “vive la difference” originally used in praise of the difference between sexes has not been applied also to each individual, cherishing his/her uniqueness as a quality to protect and respect.
Clearly we are not here discounting the desire of a person to be part of a group and so to be integrated into that group and assimilate its cultural features. However this should happen in a voluntary way that leaves the person totally free to choose the group (or groups) to whom he/she wants to associate and the features he/she wants to imitate.
The defining options: I link - I leave - I stand alone, with all the possible nuances and gradations, should be always available to anyone. The end result would be a distinctive human being, self-defined and self-developed, freely and fully associated with the groups of which he wants to be member.
Distinctiveness vs. sameness
The mass society, in which identity and integration are considered positive and necessary features, is a society based on sameness. The school and the mass media are the equivalent of the assembly line, where a serial product is manufactured by way of indoctrination, using the usual weapons of mass deception. The mass product is, in this case, the human being itself, made serially according to the specifications of the bosses, the state rulers. The fact that in the state factory the workers elect the bosses does not make much difference in terms of the sameness of the goods produced (a gloomy and largely identical existence) and is not very different from the past when the ruler was installed in power by the acclaiming crowd.
Both the past and present rulers were applauded and elected because they successfully presented themselves as the protectors of the people and the lovers of mankind. What they do, constantly, fail to add to their public profile is that they cannot really stand the singular human being in the flesh because it disconcerts and disrupts their plan of total control and top-down imposition.
That is why the aspect of human beings distinctiveness is a crucial one for those who want to go beyond mass society and mass men. It must be said again that this does not mean that the sharing of certain features is something not only expectable but also desirable. In fact we could say that the more a person expresses a mix of sharing features (a mestizo) the more accentuated is his singularity.
The stress put here on individuality, differentiation and distinctiveness is due to the fact that in the current situation these aspects are all crushed in many ways. However, what in actual fact is congenial to human nature is for the human being to be able to experience a continuum of social and personal realities characterized by:
- universality: the commonality of human race
- plurality: the variety of social groups
- uniqueness: the peculiarity of individual beings
Moving along this continuum the human being voluntarily chooses to place himself at various points in different periods of time, on the basis of his personal and social exigencies. The more he moves towards and mingles with people the more he is expected to share the common principles of humanity. The more he lives by himself the more he has the right to be left undisturbed and to be idiosyncratically eccentric.
All these different possibilities/avenues open to the human being are what make the singular human being as opposed to the serial mass moron.
Singularity is here characterized by three aspects:
- Specificity: to become a specific individual whatever that means in terms of differences or similarities with respect to other human beings;
- Voluntariness: to develop this specificity through personal free choices;
- Responsibility: to be fully accountable for the choices made and accept/bear all the (positive or negative) consequences.
We are returning here to the image of the human being depicted by Pico della Mirandola, as the architect of his own life by the use of a repository of tools (the human nature) at his disposal.
This is what has been stressed from Sallustius (Fabrum esse suae quemque fortunae) to Francis Bacon (Chiefly, the mould of man’s fortune is in his own hands).
This is exactly what Thoreau had in mind when he wrote:
"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscientious endeavor." (Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854)
The same concept has been later on reaffirmed by another critical independent mind with these words:
And this is the true essence and aim of the singular human being arising from human nature.
"To be fully aware of difficulties and to accept them is a distinctive mark of human life, making it different from that of domestic animals such as hens, sheep, armchair journalists, parrots, and the like." (Ignazio Silone, The School of Dictators, 1938)