I often think in terms of higher powers – gods, for all intents and purposes. And I believe Society is far and away the most powerful and influential god that most of us will ever encounter. Society is so unbelievably powerful that it routinely manipulates great masses of humans to march off and die, violently. That is the power of a god.
Society sets standards that we work and sacrifice to achieve, but when we finally arrive at our destination we discover that the goal posts have been moved.
Society dictates how we must walk, talk, dress, undress, eat, shit, sleep, bathe, work, love, and die if we are to be accepted. Society mandates what we are to believe, what and how we should consume, what we should produce.
And then, with a straight face, Society has the gall to assure us that we are “Rugged Individualists.”
Of course, that is only half of the story. We have no existence WITHOUT Society. Life devoid of Society is Thomas Hobbes’ imaginary State of Nature, wherein life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Note that I believe Hobbes’ State of Nature is a completely artificial thought experiment, and not actually useful for the sake of social contract theory, because I don’t believe hominids can exist without Society).
Without Society there could be no language, no material culture, no cooperation, no trust. On the most basic level, society allowed early homonins to gather together in cooperative groups to protect individuals against outgroups. And remember that it’s likely that our homonin ancestors invented the spear before they created language (even Chimpanzees have invented spears). Towards the extreme other end of the cultural timeline (and whatever your opinion on the current trajectory of our latter-day allopathic medical system) the germ theory of disease has happily resolved innumerable conditions that were formerly life-threatening. Look around you right now at anything and everything that is good in your life. You almost certainly have Society to thank for every bit of it.
So you can see that it’s a mixed bag.
In light of this conundrum, I conceive of Society as a two-faced god, something like Janus of the Romans.
In my vision, one face represents the gentle maternal nurturing aspect of Society, while the other represents the violent, sinister, and destructive side.
I have been calling it Janice/Janus. Gaze upon its works, ye “Rugged Individualists,” and despair.
The Daily Stone