- fundamentals of a new social view -
by Joel A. Wendt
It is possible to see the social world as a living organism. But to do this requires of our capacity of thinking that it overcome not only a certain amount of inertia, but also that we let go of - that we sacrifice - most of our previously held conceptions. The mental past that we carry around with us can too frequently be like a dark cloud, masking the reality. Yet this same dark cloud is also like a rich loamy soil, full of life and seeds and future potential. The process of letting go of the mental past does not destroy these seeds but rather creates just that environment
in which they can grow and mature.
Let us begin first with a diagram - something at once simple, yet based upon a quite real and extraordinary complexity:
upward into Being
downward into living incarnation
upward toward rigidity
downward toward disorder
Social Form arises from a combination of ideology and the ideal as that is lived out through the individual human being in his collective social structures - family, clubs, churches, communities, nation states, peoples and so forth. Both the ideal and the ideological are necessary. For example, ideology is at its most ideal when embodied in the Law, while the ideal is most ideological in codes of moral conduct (such as the Ten Commandments).
Too much ideology makes social form excessively rigid and leads to too much order. This then leads to the paralysis and eventual death of the living element of the social form within the social organism. The rise and fall of Russian Communism is an example of this type of excess. Too much of the ideal keeps the social form from being fully incarnated, a fate that befalls all utopian social schemes.
With these simple ideas in mind, please now consider the Nature of the State in the light of a certain bit of wisdom. The following is from Part I of the essay: Waking the Sleeping Giant: the mission of Anthroposophy in America, the totality of which can be found elsewhere on these pages:
"the State as a creation of the psychological (inner) environment of the individual, and the individual as a reflection of the ideal environment of the State; or, the wisdom hidden in the saying of Christ Jesus: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are Gods." (Matthew 22:21)
"These words were the response of Christ Jesus when the Pharisees tried to trick Him with the question of whether the Jews should pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. While this could be narrowly interpreted as just meaning that money, being a thing of Caesar already, should be given to Caesar, my personal experience is that long and thoughtful consideration of the teachings of Christ Jesus will always be rewarded with depths of understanding that cannot be discovered in any other way.
"As to this particular saying, I had thought of it off and on for many years, as I continued to struggle for the right understanding of man's social and political existence. Just like the scientist, who after years of living with a particular riddle finds himself suddenly filled with the answer to his question, so it was only after a long preparation that it finally dawned on me what wisdom lay hidden in this simple statement.
"The State (that is any type of government) has no existence but what the humans, who conceive it and act it out, make it to be. Unlike sense perceptible objects, the State is a social form entirely, built up out of man's ideation and deeds. This principle remains the same, even though in many instances (e.g. fascism or communism) a limited number of individuals or groups are able to form the State according to their particular individual vision and actions. From this point of view, the being of the State, in such instances, includes oppressors and the oppressed, each a component of the totality. The State lives (has its only being) in the minds and wills of its members.
"The point of view being expressed here is in a very narrow sense value neutral. We may justifiably find certain forms of government to be egregious and unconsciounable, but our sense of justice does not change the fact that the being of the State, even a totalitarian state, is the summation of the deeds and ideas of its members.
"This is a rather complicated relation involving both individual and group action. We normally put the question: What ought the State to be? Thus we have the various theories of government from Plato and Aristotle to Machivelli and More to Nozick and Rawls. The thinking which asks the question, what ought the State to be, occasionally makes a contribution to the ideas a People hold of the nature of government, but I am trying here to direct our attention not to our theory of government, but to the actual conceptions held by a People of what their particular State is, and how that is then reflected in the actual nature (being) of the State in fact.
"These conceptions vary from person to person, and as well change over the course of any individual life. Nor are these ideas likely to be the result of any particular political philosophic effort, but rather will tend to be the consequences of a combination of schooling, the types of groups one has associated with, and the practical experience of government acquired in the course of one's life. Thus will arise an odd mixture of cliche, prejudice and truth.
"That we have names and words for these ideas (such as liberal, conservative, rightist, leftist, democrat, republican, freedom, capitalist, communism, and so forth) is also not related to the point I am trying to make. Especially today, when so few have really given any thought at all to these matters, most of us use such words with so little precision that we very often use the same word to mean quite different things, in spite of perhaps belonging to the same political party and espousing the same positions.
"Nevertheless, each individual citizen will hold some idea of the State, and will act according to this idea. Some will believe in freedom, but not for certain other classes of citizens. Some will believe in law abiding-ness, but at the same time cheat on their taxes. Some will form groups to demand that laws follow their ideas of what is right. Some will court such group's favor in order to get elected, only to do something else later. Some will do nothing, convinced that government is an oppressor, best to be avoided, and certainly not relevant to the real problems of life: getting a job, raising a family, struggling in a difficult relationship, and so forth. Some will be completely lawless, believing only in their own code, or desires, acting on impulse and taking whatever they want.
"Wherever a single human being stands, having some kind of idea of the State and acting out some kind of behavior in which this idea is more or less central or irrelevant, in this place the State in miniature exists. Finally then, out of the totality of these miniature 'States' comes into being the State as a whole, a mixture of an enormous variety of ideas and deeds, acting in a complex arrangement as the various collective associations dance together in their struggle to dominate.
"The point of this is to recognize that the being of the State is created by these ideas and deeds, by what is "rendered" it by its People.
"Now because certain common themes will live in the ideas and deeds of a particular People, each characteristic People has an individual historic and characteristic State. America, for example, has a kind of State which is given dominate thematic character by the ideas embodied in the Consitution, and the experiences which are derived from the land. Because we all live in the same land and because we are to a somewhat similar degree educated in the ideas of the Constitution, there tends to be a kind of order and consistency in the nature of the State throughout our history.
"The State, as a social form, is not unlike a wave form created in a stream by the existence of a rock just beneath the surface. As the water flows past the rock a wave form rises up, and remains present. Even though water continually flows through it, the general "shape" of the form remains. If we now turn our imaginations to the creation of a social form, in this case the State, the flowing water is the People moving through time, who come into being, live out their lives, and pass away. The rock is the reality of the spirit, which in this instance is active in the commonly held ideas related to the Constitution, and the characteristics induced in the soul by the common experience of the land. The social form - the State - arises out of the interaction between the two - the lives of the People and the presence of the relevant spiritual and soul elements, and maintains a certain continuous nature and quality, just as the wave form in the flowing stream remains the same, although the water itself (the People) continually moves through it.
"At the core of this process, which is a kind of psychological process, lies that element of our inner life - in our soul life - which might be called our feeling for what is right. This feeling for what is right exists in all Peoples, but varies in its content somewhat from People to People, and time to time. We should be noticing today, for example, that in Eastern Europe, as the domination of the Marxist-Leninist "rendering" of the idea of the State recedes, that what these Peoples make most important will not be the same as what we would conceive as most significant. In fact, if we observe closely enough we will see a struggle to accept the democratic ideal, but reject the materialsm, and the consumerism. While there are depths here we cannot in this place go into, the point must be understood that what a People "render" the State reflects certain cultural and ethnic characteristics of no little importance
"The principle, that the State is what it is through what is "rendered" it, has been known intuitively to our wiser political leaders. Our constitution begins: "We the People...". Lincoln said: "...a nation of the People, by the People, and for the People...". And Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
"While this may all seem too simple, it is not, and really understanding it will make other things much clearer later on. For example, we have in recent years been more interested in this country in our rights as individuals, without any thought to there being any correlative duties. We don't like conscription (the draft), paying taxes, thinking much at all about government unless we can get something from it, or it is taking something from us. Yet, the two go hand in hand. There are no rights without duties. There is no State from which to receive rights without someone having "rendered" it certain duties. A great deal we take for granted was first won by blood.
"When we lament today the sorry condition of our political life we need to reflect that its initial being was created out of the passsionate deeds of our ancestors, whose sacrifice left behind a kind of political wealth upon which we live; until, as today, we begin to exhaust it by taking without giving (all rights and no duties). The sorry condition of our modern political life is due to the gradual depletion of its being through the absence of sufficient "rendering" to keep it vital and alive.
"This being has a quite definite qualitative nature; that is, it is not so much what it is because so many people give it so many hours, or years (quantities of time), but because of the ideal and moral element of what they "render". It is the higher or lower qualities of our human nature which become aspects of the being of the State. When a voter votes only his prejudices, not having troubled himself to really understand the needs of the whole People, and when the politician encourages through advertising and speeches the People's expression of their baser instincts, then the being of the State can only reflect such qualities. When the corporations and unions lobby only so that their self interest is gratified, then the being of the State reveals no higher qualities. Did the rich get richer and the poor get poorer under recent administrations? Without a doubt, but what else did the most powerful elites "render"? The phrase of the computer programmers is quite apt: "garbage in, garbage out".
"This brings us, of course, to the other pole of Christ Jesus' saying, because the crux of the problem is the need for the State to receive into its being the higher elements of our nature. What then does it mean to "render unto God" and how do the two statements relate to each other as a whole?
"While the being of the State can be seen to be dependent in its nature for what is "rendered" it, this cannot be said to be true of the being of God. It is not the being of God which becomes what is rendered it, but the being of man. The human being who "renders unto God the things that are Gods" is himself transformed by the act of devotion. Those who would doubt such a proposition simply have to look closely at history. The Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, these and many more political figures, whose stature and importance to the being of our Government is unquestionable, have been able to contribute what they have in large part because of the moral nature of their character. Just as the State becomes what is rendered it. so we humans become according to whether we act so as to unfold our individual higher nature. -
"No one doubts today the validity of making an effort to maintain, care for and develop the physical body. Yet, the development of virtue is as much ignored as physical well being is advocated. No amount of physical fitness, however, will change the character of what is rendered the State. Only moral development, only transformation of the soul and spiritual nature of the human being can enhance the qualitative characteristics of what is rendered the State.
"The statement we have been examining, the wisdom out of the Gospels of Christ Jesus, has two meanings, dependent upon which principle we emphasize. These meanings are not contradictory, but rather are complimentary. One: The State is what it is out of what is rendered it in their ideation and their deeds by its People...and...the qualitative nature of what is rendered, is higher or lower according to the development of virture as that has proceeded in the individual.
"Simultaneously (Two): Only through devotion to God does the human being develop in himself those characteristics which flow from such an act...and...as a devote of God, one needs to recognize one yet remains a member of human society, which will only have as necessary characteristics what one gives to it.
"As a last point we must again notice that Christ Jesus says to render unto Caesar and unto God. Man must direct his activity both toward heaven and toward earth, in order to unfold his essential being, his "I"ness. Both the State and man need to become. It is a reciprocal relationship. If the State does not become, then man's potential development is limited. If man does not become then his capacity to render unto the State, and the being of the State, is likewise limited. "
Hopefully the above will help fill in, in more detail, the basic conception of how the ideal and ideological, as they live in individual human beings, become rendered into social form. All social form arises in the same way, whether it is a family, some kind of small organization, or some larger social form such as the State.
Now our participation in many of these forms is very often dependent upon tradition. Traditions already exist when we are born into them, and we are certainly trained by our families and our eduction on how to play our role in their life and continuance. Moreover, these traditions are often rooted in the best wisdom of the past. They are not arbitrary or capricious, but rather are frequently quite purposeful and wise.
Just consider marriage. This is an aspect of a social form we call the family. It has a quite definite legal (ideological) component, supported by the State; and it also has a quite ideal form as concieved by our religious traditions. Each member of the basic partnership brings an individual understanding of their role in the whole. Not only this, but the surrounding social environment, also influences this totality. All small social forms are embeded in larger social structures, which can, or can not, nourish them and keep them vital and alive. For example, a marriage, embeded in a large family structure, may suffer ultimate failure if the surrounding family members treat one of the partners in certain negative ways.
We should also distinguish between a type of social form, such as marriage, family or State, and a particular marriage, family or State. The type may continue from age to age (there have been families and marriages for millennia), but in particular times the individual expression of a type of form may be more difficult to maintain in particular instances. In our time, for example, marriages and families have a great deal of difficulty holding themselves together.
Here is what I wrote in another essay: Beyond Columbine...:
"Imagine, if you will, the panorama of recent human history as having an outward visible structure, and an inward invisible structure. We know the outer elements in the many stories we have concerning persons and events as this history has unfolded itself over the last and most recent millennia. If you will, however, picture behind these stories something else happening, something that leaves its traces in the outer stories, but is of a nature not visible to the mind in the same way as the events.
"Consider that human inner life is not fixed, immobile, or forever known and formed. Rather, it too, like the biological organism, evolves. The inner organism changes as does the outer visible organism.
"In order to discuss this we need some terms. These terms can be fairly arbitrary if we wish - they could even be nonsense words. Yet, we do have certain historically used terms that will not only serve, but whose use it will help us to resurrect - in this case the terms soul and spirit. In the age of science these have come to be seen as metaphors, but not as realities. For our purposes, let us consider them as possible realities, whose character and nature will enable us to do that act we so much desire - namely to reinsert wisdom into our social existence.
"To make these matters most concrete to the individual reader, let us consider that soul is what we call conscious and unconscious experience, whether it be the experience of the senses, of thoughts, of feelings, impulses of will and all the other aspects of inner life our language and culture recognizes. Spirit, on the other hand, is not experience but that which experiences. Soul is the unseen content known to the knower and actor - the human spirit. I don't know your experience, but I do know experience and I do know myself as a self. I interpret the world (usually, if I am not a sociopath or other seriously ill individual) as containing other individuals of like nature - who also have a self and experience.
"In order to understand the social context of the Columbine tragedy, it is necessary to appreciate how soul and spirit are currently evolving over time. It is this invisible order which helps us appreciate the need for the return of wisdom to our social life. This understanding of the evolution of consciousness need not be theoretical, because, as mentioned previously, these changes have left their traces all over our outer history.
"A particular change occurred in this invisible organization around the 14th century. Prior to that time the soul was more dominant than the spirit in the dynamics of the inner life of the individual. Experience was more determinative of self, than self was determinative of experience. Among the Scholastics of the 12th Century, we find the word participation in frequent use. The soul felt embedded in the world, not separate from it as we do today. Thus we have people with the names, John's son, or Telliard de Chardin, that is of a certain place. We were part of the community and of nature, and much less individuals.
"Other facts point toward these prior conditions. In a book by the writer Michael Dorris, The Broken Cord, he writes of an American Indian language in which it is impossible to say "I hit you", but only "we hit us". The ideal of ancient Taoism, so often repeated in the television series Kung Fu, is: "Be at one with nature", for it is the recollection of the taoist experience that self and experience - self consciousness and consciousness - (spirit and soul) was in a state of integration with outer nature.
"Yet, this was not a stable and fixed condition, but rather one which changed. Spirit became stronger, more individual, and began to determine soul, rather than be its semi-prisoner. As a consequence soul itself emerged more from the surrounding environment, both social and physical. This also brought historical changes in its wake, changes we can observe.
"For example, science arises from this change, for now it is possible, nay mandatory, for the self (spirit) to see the world as over there, and no longer something of which one is a part. This leads to a kind of onlooker consciousness, or what some have called the onlooker separation. It is as onlookers, rather than as participants, that we begin to develop modern natural science.
"A rather remarkable fact arises at this time. For the first time in the history of art, paintings begin to exhibit space. Prior to this time there was no perspective in paintings, then everywhere, slowly to be sure, space arises as the change of consciousness that is everywhere occurring takes place. There are many other changes, far to many to list in this short article. The reader who wants to go more deeply into this is invited to direct their attention to: Art and Human Consciousness by Gotfried Richter; and, Saving the Appearances: a study in idolatry by Owen Barfield.
"It is the changes in this inner landscape of the soul and spiritual life of humanity that has lead to most of the current social conditions. This is a complicated relationship, and I will only sketch out those matters connected to events about which we tend to have common knowledge.
"The increase in the powers of individuality, of a more dominate inner spirit nature, begins to affect the course of social life from within. Sons and daughters slowly lose interest in following in the footsteps of their parents, until in our time it is a social given that the children will take their own paths.
"The view of the world that flows from the onlooker separation results in a science which proceeds to see the world as an object, empty of consciousness and being. All the old ideas of Nature, as a place of spiritual workings, die, to be replaced by pictures of natural events as predictable clockworks. Demeter and Persephone disappear, and laws of gravity and particle interactions replace this old view. The social structures, once held together by these common religious impulses and understandings, begin to fail.
"Science brings forth great powers over the material world. From the technological implications, the industrial revolution arises, which also has a social effect. Villages and farms no longer contain the greater concentration of people, as cities and industrial concerns now draw the majority of the labor pool to their environs. The father (see Robert Bly's Iron John) and then finally, in our time, the mother, are pulled by the operation of economic necessities from the home. Children raise themselves now in the industrial West.
"Language itself undergoes many changes. The idea of evil comes less to the fore, and individual characteristics become more the product of bio-chemical and electrical properties of the brain. The individual grows stronger, and the ability of community to restrain it through social pressure lessens. At the same time we are given a picture of a mechanical human being, who is more a product of his genetic heritage and less a product of his own freedom and responsibility. In the psycho-babel of modern life, we become victims of our untrainable inner life, not the participants in an inner battle between good and evil. We know a great deal about the material dynamics of brain neurophysiology and almost nothing about how to have inner discipline in a practical sense.
"In outer social life this loss is named "the family values crisis" and becomes a political issue, rather than an issue of possible human knowledge and wise understanding. Science having become disconnected from Art and Religion lacks the resources to appreciate what is happening.
"Yet, the evolution of consciousness is not ended, but is rather a constant ongoing process of growth and/or possible decay. The diminution of the power of the community to determine individual moral behavior becomes an alchemical social crucible for another development. This development is one of a free moral conscience being born within the self-conscious spirit.
"The phrase, "do the right thing" begins to be replaced with the phrase "do your own thing". A great debate over the right to life and freedom of choice arises within political life around the legal abortion question.
"In one place, a man writes a book called The Philosophy of Freedom, bringing out in full consciousness these delicate inner issues. In another place, two drunks found a movement called Alcoholics Anonymous, in which the same problems are approached in terms of terrible real life experience. In a third place, a young man starts a change among the ordinary Christians, with his "what would jesus do" movement. Self determined moral freedom, as distinct from acquiescence to community standards, tries to emerge everywhere in the twentieth century, from its beginning to its end."
Hopefully the reader can now see that social form arises from two interacting processes. One process is somewhat vertical in nature, being a kind of interaction between what the individual renders within his own inner life, and how that activity becomes an aspect of the social present. Two kinds of "rendering" are involved, the one proceeding from a self determined ideal / moral sense, and the other an outside influence created by the totality of individual renderings. This totality we call the community, and it as well influences the individual within it, while the individual also influences the community. Both processes are active, and in various circumstances, quite different results will arise.
There is a secondary influence, in that in addition to the somewhat vertical relationship, with its lemniscate like movement, there is a horizontal gesture arising from changes over time. The community is not one fixed thing, but changes in all manner of ways, while the individual is also not of one fixed nature, but also evolves as time passes. The lemniscate movement travels through time, taking one shape at one time, and another later.
Elsewhere on these pages we will look at these same phenomena from other points of view.
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