Chapter 3

The human in and for himself: society.

I do not want to give the impression in this title that the individual becomes a vanishing "moment" suspended in that greater whole which is society. In Chapter 2 of Section 3 of the sixth part 6.3.2, I tried to show that a society which pretended to be a super-organism was an aberration. The society, as I said, is for the individuals in it, not the individuals for the society; but still it is the case that without society individuals cannot live human lives. Hence, it is with others that the individual human being becomes himself; we are not alone, and if we cut ourselves off from others, we cut ourselves off from ourselves.

The simplest and first and most natural society is the family, in which the brothers and sisters are all under the authority of the parents, and must subordinate their desires to the will of someone who is initially stronger than they, and who can physically and mentally punish and even physically and mentally abuse them.

The fact that the parents have authority over the children, and the fact that they must punish but are stronger than they, in addition to the fact that the children are naturally selfish and rebellious (and therefore provoke terrible anger) forces the parents to be much more sophisticated in their loving actions than they had to be toward each other, or they will simply kill or maim the children. Hence, they learn to do what is painful because what is painful is helpful; but at the same time, in inflicting pain, they learn to do so in a way that does no damage. Unfortunately, this is learned by trial and error, and every child to some extent is damaged by the most well-intentioned and even intelligent parents; because each child is a new encyclopedia of humanity, for which the rules that apply in general, or even that worked with other children, are inappropriate. Love learns humility in that it so often fails those it loves most.

The other side to this is that God has made children incredibly resilient; and so even with abusive parents, their fragile selves are seldom broken; and though the young tree is bent, it tends to straighten toward the light, and often in adulthood, the original twisting not only makes no real difference, it cannot even be detected. This is no excuse for abuse, of course, but abuse does build character; it is those who are spoiled who are in most danger--which is what the word "spoiling" implies. Parents need not try to raise their children in fear and trembling, but in love and affection, trusting in God who makes everything work out for good for those who love him.

The child, in being forced to obey, learns that self-will is not necessarily always to be desired, and that authority has wisdom behind it, and is not mere coercion; because it too often happens that a child is forced to do something he hates, and then later recognizes that if he had not done it, he would have been much worse off than he is now.

In any case, the first "we" was the family, those under the power of the parents and united among themselves by submission to the common authority. The "I" discovered itself only in this "we," and regarded its reality at first, not as an "independent" Lockean individual, but as a kind of part of the greater whole.

Meanwhile, the family was cooperatively seeking to survive by using up the surrounding world, first as gatherers and especially as hunters. The first economic activity of mankind, then, used the forces of destruction (clubs, spears, and arrows) as forces of production; and in destroying those animals larger than themselves but less than themselves, they themselves developed.

Not surprisingly, these same forces of production could easily be used against other human beings, who not only could be used as food, but also were rivals for the food supply consisting of other animals. Members of other families were not recognized as "us," and so became victims of "our" predation and predators to be guarded against. No one kills and eats one of "us"; that is the great crime; but this does not apply to "them." Many names of tribes are simply the tribal word for "the people."

But the brothers found mates outside the family and returned with these new people, who had somehow to be absorbed into "us." But when the sisters were taken by men from other families, what happened to them? It then became less easy to regard "them" as mere animals to kill and be killed by; because "they" then included some of "us," and "we" included some of "them." In many ways, the problem was solved by not regarding the women as really human. But, given sexual love, and the power a woman has over a man in love with her, this is not easy to sustain; and thus the "we" began to expand, and tribes began to be formed.

The parents, of course, grew old and feeble and the children mature and strong. But still the parents commanded, and the children, having learned that the force exerted on them was more moral than physical, based on wisdom, still obeyed and deferred to the greater experience and wisdom of their elders, whom they now took care of physically as if they were the parents and the elders the children. Thus, authority freed itself from the physical embodiment it had in the strength of the parents, and was recognized as something spiritual.

The great crisis in authority comes when the parents die. The children by this time would have been fathers and mothers of their own children, and so they exerted authority over them; but they would recognize their own lack of wisdom, and be at a loss, feeling now the need for authority and guidance, but not having anyone visible to give it to them.

And it is this experience, I take it, which is the beginning of religion. The fact that the child who is to take over authority still finds himself somehow under authority, but under no visible authority, would naturally lead him to assume that his parent is still watching over him. At this early stage, an afterlife of reward and punishment had probably not occurred to anyone, because in a close-knit tribe, where everyone is a relative of everyone else, no one can really get away with anything without being punished.

In practice, however, as tribes intermingled in the early days of human evolution, it would have begun to be less and less clear who the gods were, since the wives would have brought their gods into the tribe. Superior and inferior god-ancestors would then begin to appear, with the ancestors of the full-blooded members of the tribe the most important of the gods. Thus, it was love that created the realization that those outside the tribe were also human beings (if of an inferior sort), and also which led people away from a simplistic interpretation of the divinity into something responsible for more than mere tribal discipline.

Perhaps it was the need to remind himself of the dead ancestor, or perhaps it was simply the awareness (from seeing stones like chalk make marks and berries make stains) that he could create images that re-evoke the same emotions as the object, that led even the primitive human being to make works of art of astonishing beauty and sophistication. The full capacity of the intellect has been with us from the very beginning, as the cave paintings in France show.

Rather early in human development someone also discovered (possibly from noticing what grew from the dump) that seeds could be planted and grow into crops; and at this point, the human being found out that he could use the world, not by destroying it, but by cooperating with it, and with a little patience and not much effort, he could live in abundance. Once this idea of cooperating with the world occurred to him, he soon found that he could also raise animals by penning them up, and no longer needed to search them out. Here again we find that one of the most significant advances in human development was that of submission to reality and cooperation with it, rather than destructive domination of it.

But there was a dark side to this, as to everything human. Farming and cattle raising led to the need to exclude others from one's own property; and since the earliest means of production were weapons, the weapons were now used for protection; but it was not long before someone discovered that he did not need to kill the raiders, but could capture them and pen them up like animals, and make them work for him, simultaneously intimidating them with his weapons and promising them an easier life from his farm. Thus began the practice of slavery. Since those outside the tribe were not really human, but were very close to being human, they could, if treated skillfully, do all the work, and the masters would only have to watch over them. And here were the seeds of the leisure class that Marx made so much of.

But of course the master class was really the warrior class, and to keep in practice it had to find people to fight with; and so there were battles between tribes that continued until some peacemaker allowed the people to see that killing each other was counterproductive, and that merging the tribes into a single nation would make them stronger.

Thus, inter-tribal cooperation, not domination, was what allowed the expansion of the "we" to include all the members of the other tribe. When there is domination, the dominated are regarded as subhuman, not belonging to "us"; they are our slaves. Here, there was a recognition of the humanity of the other tribes, which also made sense out of intermarriage.

Further, with greater numbers in the nation, specialization arose. I mentioned the warrior class and the slave class; but there would also have been the farmers and the cattlemen; and there would have to be police also, not only to watch over the slaves, but to keep order among the members of the nation.

Amalgamation of the tribes also, of course, put the various tribal gods on an equal footing; but now, with worship of what was not really one's ancestor, it was not at all clear why one worshiped at all--except that there was as much as ever the need for an internalization of the commands coming from the one in authority, or no police force would be able to hold the people in check.

So Marx's notion that religion acted as a means for having people obey orders has truth in it; but it was not, I think, really a means of one class's dominating the others, for two reasons: first, everyone except the king was subject to authority (and even the king was, to some extent), and second, who would control the priests if it was simply cynical manipulation? They would have been the ones who held the real power. No, the early people really believed that there were invisible forces that controlled them. As we have seen in the earlier pages in this book, this belief has a firm evidential foundation in the world; and it would not be surprising, if God created people with limitations that they had to accept, for him to have created them in such a way that they could naturally discover the fact.

Finally, when nations became more complex and found that they had needs or at least wants that extended beyond their borders, they began cooperating on a new level, by bartering what they had with their neighbors (and those more distant) who would take it for what they wanted. This trade led to the invention of money, and also to the invention of written language, as the need to keep records of trade became pressing; and this brought mankind to the threshold of civilization.

Observing human beings at this stage, we find that the notion of "we" and of belongingness is much stronger than the notion of "I" and autonomy. It is the tribe or nation which acts; the individual is of very little account within it. In fact, if he is captured, he loses his status of human being altogether, and becomes like the house pet or the ox in the field. If he should escape back to his own nation, however, he becomes a human being again.

We also find that the means of cooperation, money and wealth, are also used as means of domination, with the rich able to afford men with weapons to protect them, and the rich nations able to buy armies with which they can lord it over and dominate their poorer neighbors. But on the other side of this coin, wealth also created a true leisure class, which could think about the meaning of life and the world; and this was what really led to further advance.