Monday, October 25, 2004

Adopting Social Responsibility


For the most part, we all fulfill our responsibilities to our country, and that's as far as it goes. Australia is not an anarchy - proof by example that we are sufficiently law-abiding. But what about people who believe that's not enough?

People usually form social groups, and while these are fuzzy entities, they more or less form an extended family, to which we pay our dues, and from which we receive support. However strongly the instinct is to bond, membership is still entirely optional. While few people really live in a vacuum, plenty of people subvert social grouping into a form of elitism - that is to say they ascribe moral qualities to their social group on false bases.

To some extent, elitism is nothing but self-defeating. In the kind of Desmond Morris (author of "The Naked Ape") way, these people are selling themselves short if they believe that a group consisting only of strong members is stronger than a more mixed group. In fact, humanity has flourished precisely because they have been able to extract the fullest value from every member, rather than concentrating on the abilities of the strongest only. In a Darwinian sense, evolution is favouring social grouping over individual strength.

However, it is possible (indeed regular) to have very influential groups coming into existence, and for a short time dominating. (Nazism is an interesting example - one could indeed argue that they were a strong elitist group, but they too failed in their ambition). Of course, the ambition of most social groups is rather less than world domination. However, it can lead those who are not a part of this social group to feel unwanted, outcast and unloved.

As such, the best (and strongest) social group is one whose entrance criteria do not depend on poor assumptions - for example that what you wear is more important than what you think.

When on the inside of such a group, the intelligent realise that they are achieving less than they might - both as a group and as individuals. Desire is a poor indicator of good action, although it is very powerful. Taking a more studied look at what is good gives us far better insights into what we must do in order to achieve happiness.

On the outside, one might be jealous of the skills and abilities of those inside such a group. It is understandable to feel admiration for those with good abilities that you might feel are superior to your own. They might even actually be superior to your own. Dealing with this can be difficult. On the whole, you just need to learn to live with it, and fix your own circumstances rather than trying to change the group. There is nothing that can be done to prevent the occasional formation of such groups, but in the long run they will bubble and disappear as their false beliefs come back to undermine them. (Of course the lifespan of some such groups can be greater than a human lifetime, and in fact may arguably persist indefinitely, but there is at least a counter-acting evolutionary force).

Rather than try to answer the question "what should we do", perhaps understanding this process can give people looking in from the outside a more subtle understanding of their own worth, and what is really worth fighting for.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Naked Ape was written by Desmond Morris, not Adam Smith

10/28/2004 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Right you are. Sorry, I had the mental equivalent of a typo. Correcting now...

10/28/2004 04:27:00 PM  

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