Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Georg Simmel: Individual and Mass

When we talk about human individuals, it is easy to think that we are talking about isolated humans in their non-social activities. We think that, of course, because a century and a half of left-wing thought is founded on that assumption, that individuals acting as individuals are not really social.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

But Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, discussing "The Social and the Individual Level," is quick to puncture that idea. If we are to think of an individual just doing the bare minimum, such as obeying the law and "obeying the norms adequate to secure the continuation of the group... he would be an ethical abnormality, an utterly impossible being." In other words, when we talk about humans we may talk of humans as individuals or as members of a group. But we are always talking about humans as social beings.

But there is an important difference between a human in the mass and a human considered as individuals.
The first part of his nature can evidently consist only in more primitive elements... [that exist] in all individuals.
Individual qualities, on the other hand, are those "which constitute his private property, as it were, and which lift him out of everything that he may have in common with others." The point is that both these qualities are human and social. The only reason we don't think of them that way is that the left has diligently worked to make individual qualities and actions scandalous.

Simmel then goes on for pages about the consequence of the mass interaction being "more primitive". The "necessity to oblige the masses... easily corrupts the character. It pulls the individual away from his individuality and down to a level with all and sundry." So humanity in the mass tends towards the lowest common level of its members.

Thus Simmel rounds his arguments with quotes from Schiller and Heine.
[I]n Schiller: "Seen singly, everybody is passably intelligent and reasonable; but united into a body, they are blockheads." The fact that individuals, in all their divergencies, leave only the lowest parts of their personalities to form a common denominator, is stressed by Heine: "You have rarely understood me, and rarely did I understand you. Only when we met in the mire did we understand each other at once."
You can immediately see why Simmel hasn't become the go-to sociologist for all and sundry. His analysis of the social consequences of individual social action and mass social action just do not square with the needs of the modern ruling class.

The modern ruling class, in its revolutionary or its rational expert model, wants to sequester all higher and evolved individuality into its own care. And it wants the masses to be obedient and dependent. The model of universal freedom and individual equality dispersed throughout the population, with individuals using their unique qualities that lift them out of the mass, cannot advance their power project.

The whole concept of the modern authoritarian welfare state is based on brilliant experts devising one-size-fits-all universal programs in which humans are reduced into the mass, mechanical cogs in the machinery of government, designed and implemented by the better sort. As we have seen in the rollout of Obamacare, the ruling class knows what's best and must do what it takes, in deceit and misdirection, to advance its goals in the teeth of opposition from the "stupid" voters.

On the other hand you can see that the conservative-libertarian model of responsible individualism really focuses on encouraging individuals to develop and utilize their better qualities, and they can only do that, as social beings, by contributing to society. Good ideas, good products, good services developed by superior minds are encouraged. Yet they are in fact mass products for mass consumption by the masses.

Imagine that. Modern organic developed society can blend individual and mass to benefit everyone: the superior individual with the idea that nobody else has thought of, and the ordinary mass man that just goes with the flow and gladly enjoys the achievements of the exceptional individual.

The point is that the achievements of individuals are not selfish; they almost always have a social component. For humans are social animals; almost everything that humans do is social.

Next: Social humans at play.

No comments:

Post a Comment