Balancing Perfection of the Individual With Development of the Society

Throughout the history of human civilisation, there have been various societies or cultures that have focused, at one time or another, on one of the 3 major strains of the aspiration for perfection that drives the evolutionary effort of mankind.

These three primary directions are, first, the perfection and fulfillment of the individual; second, the subordination of the individual to the development and perfection of the society or culture; and third, the perfection of the relationship between the individual and society and more broadly between varying societies or cultures.

There have also been cultures that have attempted to strike a fair balance between these various goals or ideals, such that the perfection of the individual was supported and idealised, while the needs and overall value of a strong society were concurrently emphasised.

In modern times, the emphasis on the value and fulfillment of the individual has very much given way to the striving for the development of society. Sri Aurobindo discusses it thus: “In recent times the whole stress has passed to the life of the race, to a search for the perfect society, and latterly to a concentration on the right organisation and scientific mechanisation of the life of mankind as a whole; the individual now tends more to be regarded only as a member of the collectivity, a unit of the race whose existence must be subordinated to the common aims and total interest of the organised society, and much less or not at all as a mental or spiritual being with his own right and power of existence.”

We see an even further extension of this trend with the development of modern day “consumer societies” whereby individuals are treated primarily as “consumers” and they are tracked statistically and motivated through the power of economic forces and media to find their “fulfillment” in the purchase and consumption of goods.

These trends tend to eventually reverse themselves when they get to the extremes because they fail to recognise the inherent and essential purpose of the other aspects, namely individual fuilfillment and development and inter-personal and inter-societal harmonious relationships.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”