Man is an Individual as well as a Social Animal

By batsman 

Man is an individual as well as a social animal. His brain is hardwired for this fact. His whole being is hardwired to operate thus. So when man-made social-economic or political systems over emphasize one aspect of man’s character over the other, something has to give.

The west, which is seized by capitalism, emphasizes individualism. They claim this is man’s natural character – to be selfish and greedy and only by being so, society is automatically best served by the invisible hand of productivity and creativity of the host of individuals working towards their own individual selfish ends.

Unfortunately, when individualism is rampant, even family ties are broken down and alienation sets in. The most to suffer are the weak and dependent, especially the children. So capitalism is forced to adopt religious as well as socialist institutions such as charity and social welfare, but always never ever compromising on the profit motive and “dog eat dog” value system. So it is that the charities they create operate on legalized corruption and hidden sexual abuse of children is common in the institutions meant to offer sanctuary to children. 

The east, at least those parts which do not ape the west, is seized by religiosity, so they tend to emphasize society or community more, to the extent that the individual often feels oppressed and forced to be obedient in order that social relations remain harmonious. Unfortunately, when almost all people tend to be obedient, it creates ideal conditions for a despot to seize power, the more so when capitalism dominates the world and corrupts even those in religious communities. In addition, if people tend to be of the same “chop”, they also tend to be dependent on the benevolence and patronage of their leaders and as such cannot compete effectively against modern capitalism in the economic field. 

So it seems that no system is perfect. But does that mean man will always suffer for his dichotomy? Will human history remain for ever a history of suffering or as the Marxists so valiantly put it “of struggle”, just because of man’s inability to design an appropriate socio-economic system? Will “happiness” be always compromised for “development”? 

To be fair to humans, it is really not possible to even try when there are others who are richer and more powerful who will go to any lengths to be even richer and more powerful still. After all, the powerful are pirates and the rich are powerful. 

Those who attempt have to strong enough to fight off aggressive military invasion, economic sanctions and trade embargoes. As if these are not enough, there are those who will bust embargoes for an obscene commission. The profit motive will always have a way to make a profit. And as long as they have a covetous eye on whatever wealth you have, they can always find an excuse to rob including violation of human rights, violation of UN resolutions, introducing democracy and searching for WMD and busting embargoes. 

The threat that they suspect you of violating UN resolutions alone is enough to send shivers down the spine of leaders of 3rd world countries, while those states which they favour break UN resolutions with impunity. 

All this must put immense pressures on the human brain to cope. Some intellectuals surrender and hire out their brains as apologists for the rich and powerful. Fortunately some intellectuals have more integrity. 

Bertrand Russell for example fought a life long Promethean struggle to try and bring “happiness” to humanity. And he did not do so just by “preaching”. His life long investigations into problems of knowledge for example are strenuous and intense. 

As Noam Chomsky puts it –  

Bertrand Russell asks, “how comes it that human beings, whose contact with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” Studying the relation between individual experience and the general body of knowledge, common-sense and scientific, Russell explores the limits of empiricism and tries to determine how it is possible to attain human knowledge; in particular, he attempts to discover the principles of nondemonstrative inference that justify scientific inference, “in addition to induction if not in place of it.” He concludes that “part of empiricist theory appears to be true without any qualification,” namely that “words which I can understand derive their meaning from my experience .. [with] .. no need to admit any exceptions whatever.” Another part, he concludes, is untenable. We need certain principles of inference that “cannot be logically deduced from facts of experience, or science is moonshine.” 

In my view, because man is hardwired to be both an individual and a social animal, his brain is able to handle both individual experience and knowledge as well as “social knowledge”. Social knowledge is obtained and imbibed from everyday life and interactions with fellow humans, from hints and suggestions as well as the amorphous knowledge of his peers. In a way, it is the “invisible hand” of knowledge. 

This social knowledge cannot be empirically proven to be true but nevertheless remains true for the society in which he lives and until science or another superior social knowledge proves otherwise, it feeds and succours his social being. 

Science is not able to prove many things including the question whether God exists or not. Capitalism which is closely related to science pretends it can, but there are many things about capitalism that science cannot predict or prove as well including the ultimate fate or superiority of capitalism or even that of humanity itself for that matter. 

On the other hand there are nasty things about capitalism that can be inferred or proven. For example, capitalism needs an underclass of wretched and desperate people to function. With globalization, such an underclass becomes a broad band of poor and backward countries. We really don’t want to belong to this band, but neither do we wish it for our neighbours. 

For another, capitalism suffers from periodic breakdowns called crises of over-production. With globalization, over-production means depletion of natural resources at an unsustainable rate. We may have very little left to sustain human life. In addition such a crisis can be triggered by financial speculation within the sole superpower hitting the moon. 

This appears to be what is happening right now. After being hit by financial rip-offs, creative accounting and speculation, the temperature of the crisis has been cooled somewhat by generous stimulus packages and grants for the banks and insurance companies as well as countries such as China, Japan and even Malaysia picking up part of the bill. However demand for goods and services is still slack and does not seem to want to pick up unless prices are dropped substantially. This can only mean another round of devastation of cheap natural resources or another big war. Someone or something must pay the price for wastage, overspending and greed. The problem won’t go away automatically and quietly without extreme suffering. 

So it would seem we may be headed for another round of extreme suffering. I only wish our grandchildren (if our children survive) do not have to go through the same thing. If only we have the wisdom, the strength and the will to create a more appropriate and sustainable socio-economic system.