There is no Such Thing as Society

"There is no such thing as society"
Margaret Thatcher

Of all things that have been created by the God on the Earth (or were developed during a million-year evolution, if you want to put it this way), the man takes the crown in all respects. A human being is a tangle of emotions and senses, sufferings and inspirations, heavenly and earthy elements. Even death probably can hardly resolve the existing contraries. The man is a real small world in himself, the most complex being of all.

Well, it is not quite correct: two men are more complex. The whole novel range of relations arises when two human beings happen to interact, like two planets falling each into the gravitation field of the other.

The introduction of the third personage here makes things altogether imperceptible. It is quite remarkable that a general problem of three bodies in Newton Mechanics doesn't have a closed solution via elementary functions. We cannot predict exactly the future of a comparatively simple physical model with three ideal planets engaged, every characterised by its mass, position and velocity only. Can there be any chance to say anything surely about three human beings influencing each other in more complicated way than the laws of Newton Mechanics. Moreover none of these three human beings can be characterised even by a multitude of numbers. For example, can ever the problem of `love triangle' be solved?

What if we take a dozen of people for our cast? Or some 6 billions of the total present population? Will you excuse my digressions into Physics, but here is another comparison. If we take one atom of oxygen it behaves as a decent atom should do. But when we take many atoms, say the amount we breath to say letter O, their behaviour is strikingly different as asserts Statistical Physics. At least, inhaling one atom only, it is impossible to say letter O.

If inferior, identical, unimaginative, tiny atoms acquire novel properties as a flock compared to one atom, how much more complex must be a community of individuals each with his own world inside when compared to a single person!

To discuss anything we'd better define it clearly. The most plain definition is that society is a collection of individuals. But this way we seem to miss some important point. If we assume that the properties of every individual are well-known by the definition it is seem plausible that we simply add these together to receive something known as well.

Unluckily (or luckily?) it is not true; community is something quite different from its human components. So here is another definition: society is the Absolute Will expressing itself in the variety of individual forms.

Having these two extreme points of view, we safely assume that the truth is in the middle. It is hard to judge, partly because we have never met a totally isolated single person. Even the most stubborn recluse acts, thinks, lives in the patterns admitted by general belief, reacting in this or other way on the things we do. That is he experiences an influence.

The life without contacts with other people looks like something vague. But let us make a mental experiment. Pick a person and place it into an uninhabitant island. Give this man a consciousness, language, ability to work and think (not to make him helpless)---the properties which normally may be acquired only in the society.

As we are not able to analyse the whole range of nuances of the situation, let's consider it only from a rather narrow point of view: mostly the moral side of all this affair.

So, we have the man living on the island without any traces of any other human beings. Quite glowing prospects; satisfied loneliness, complete freedom, unlimited possibilities to express himself. Moreover the man is guaranteed to be a prig: he has very little chance to commit a sin! Of God's Ten Commandments he is able to violate only very few, if any at all.

Can he, for example, make a false witness? No. Physically and literally, he is not able to do it. Whom can he deceive? No one other human creature can hear him, and everybody, but himself, is far out of the reach of any possible evil words or deeds.

Can he then cheat himself? Isn't there some inconsistency in this expression? To define the notion of lie or fraud we must necessarily admit the existence of conscious realised intention and the object of the fraud. The mechanism of successful fraud includes the deliberate act of the subject and the unawareness of the object. Play a trick with yourself thousands of times and there would be either the former or the latter missing.

The third, somehow vague, possibility is to try to deceive the God. Well, the ideal, immaterial nature of divines, makes plausible, the guess that spoken words have a little role in liaison between earth and heaven. The real discourse with God is possible only via our deepest thoughts which depict us truly despite our possible intentions to conceal or distort facts. Even if we assume that is it possible to lie to God, then this means that one is not alone but in the company of the Highest Creator.

Similarly, he cannot steal, for there is nobody to steal anything from. He cannot covet his neighbour's wife, for there is no neighbour (nor neighbour's wife).

He cannot kill, except perhaps himself but why should he, if everything looks as in the best descriptions of paradise?

So it is a paradise. Paradise lost.

The man on the island is incapable of doing something great, or even of doing simple everyday good deeds. He cannot make a sacrifice, nor simply help anyone, nor resist a temptation
(as there is none).

Possibly (but perhaps unlikely) he can make some great discovery. But as long as other people are not concerned this discovery is of no importance. And there are no motivations at all for great discoveries unless there is some perspective of communicating his results to the world.

 Figure out some great thing. If it is a really great thing it cannot be accomplished by an individual himself. The same applies to the most monstrous things as well.

So, outside society, man is impotent of both good and evil deeds. As an act of moralising, we pompously give a very sound advice which (as all very sound advices is nearly impossible to follow). At the moments when one is about to commit a sin, when there is a temptation inside him---he'd better run away off people thus acquiring incapability to do any harm to others, and first of all to himself. And conversely at the peak of his good powers, experiencing the flight of inspiration and goodwill, a man should actively seek the objects of his deeds, that is he should go into society. Briefly speaking, a man with `wings' should use them as much as possible and a man with `horns' should disable them till better times.

So that's what we expect of a sample individual. With this in the mind we may try to characterise a good society. I think this is the one which with equal ease gives its members possibilities both to associate with others and to isolate themselves whenever they wish. So a good society must provide both meeting places and uninhabitant islands. And who knows which is more important...

Now we know what a good society is. The next question we ask is about its functions. There are an enormous number of these, so I'd better stop at some particular one which is closely related to the general course of the topic. Thus, society provides `iron pipes' (I take resort to beloved comparisons again). This allegory needs some preliminary discussion.

Let us assume a cosmopolitan philosophical point of view about our existence. Everything swirls around us. We are a brave and risky experiment by our Creator. All our existence on the planet of Earth is a hard trial for purity and goodness of our souls. It is not quite trial only, but also constant evolution and development; from an infant to an elder (when applied to one individual), from ancient tribes to future perfect Utopian community (when applied to the civilisation).

It is a painful process---no progress is possible without efforts, without critical moments, without `iron pipes' facing the individuals. An iron pipe is a situation when very little compromise is available. A situation when we have to make a deliberate choice entailing great difficulties. I understand the situation requiring the efforts of our will, bringing anxiety into our hearts, forcing our brains to deep reflections.

One can easily find the examples in everyday life. Risking the life to save a child from a burning house, letting down a lover for one's career sake, etc. Or even more prosaic events, like everyday charities, for example. One often founds himself in an iron pipe which lies perpendicularly to his usual everyday course, and there are only two radically different alternatives to take. Say, one which wouldn't bring him any benefits, but proper according to his outlook, his religion or moral. And the other one in opposite direction. Mind split in two, heart split in two... A choice which might change all his life. Moreover often he may know very little, if anything, about the choices at all. It may be a hard deal, one can make mistakes, but then there should be another pipe to undo your doings, to rehabilitate yourself. Another pipe, another chance to change your course. And our society is a labyrinth of infinitely many pipes and pipe-junctions, so usually after one turn you discover yourself inside another pipe with even more hard choice.

Note that animals apparently do not have any iron pipes; at that lower level of evolution, the natural law and instincts dictate more or less determined behaviour of individual species in any situation.

And probably we wouldn't face any iron pipes after the death. At `that' world we would have two determined alternatives which are essentially the same. The first is the Paradise, the world of a clear obvious life without any dilemmas, any necessities of hard choice, without any iron pipes. The second alternative is the Hell, the world of remorse, without any chance to change anything done before, any possibility to turn into the other direction, the world without pipes...

Let us reconsider that lonely man on that lonely island. Well, he lives, eats three or four times a day, has a walk after breakfast and a nap after lunch. Day after day, month after month, year after year. and so dully without any variations, except for weekends (if he has any). He would lead such a life until he dies eventually not bringing anything into the world, and nobody, even the God, would know whether he is a martyr or a wicked sinner. His life doesn't seem to have produced anything at all. We can regard his life as a failure. And if we consider our life on the Earth as a trial, then the lonely man on the lonely island wouldn't receive any grades at all and his existence doesn't have any sense at all.

So summarising, society is a cause of all evil things and a root of all good deeds. It is our severe punishment and at the same time a wonderful gift. It is the strongest catalyst of the individuals. Anyway it is a beautiful thing, definitely!

Cambridge, February 1997

Czech by by Barbora Lebedova
Latvian by Arija Liepkalnieti
Slovak by Andrijana Savicevic)