The Second Standard of Human Conduct

Man is not a solitary creature; rather he associates in groupings such as family, tribe, team, community, nation, society and civilisation, with numerous sub-groupings based on defined characteristics such as religion, political party, club, and various “affinity” groups. Once this is recognised, the human being modifies his behavior from the pure law of survival and self-aggrandisement to include and take account of the needs, wishes, desires, or norms developed by the social grouping(s) to which he belongs. This represents a widening of perspective and a clear evolutionary advance over the first standard of conduct.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this point: “Man, pressing after the growth of his separate individuality and its fullness and freedom, is unable to satisfy even his own personal needs and desires except in conjunction with other men; he is a whole in himself and yet incomplete without others. This obligation englobes his personal law of conduct in a group-law which arises from the formation of a lasting group-entity with a collective mind and life of its own to which his own embodied mind and life are subordinated as a transitory unit.” This does not imply that the individual is ENTIRELY subsumed within the group-entity as there is still a purpose to the individuality in the divine manifestation.

While it is clear that the group-life is first and foremost an extension of the individual’s own drive toward survival and growth, it does begin to take on forms that become unique to that grouping. “The satisfaction of personal idea and feeling, need and desire, propensity and habit has to be constantly subordinated, by the necessity of the situation and not from any moral or altruistic motive, to the satisfaction of the ideas and feelings, needs and desires, propensities and habits, not of this or that other individual or number of individuals, but of the society as a whole. This social need is the obscure matrix of morality and of man’s ethical impulse.”

There arises something of a tension, if not an outright conflict, between the first law aggrandising the individual’s life and survival and the second law modifying that drive by the needs of a social grouping. “Man has in him two distinct master impulses, the individualistic and the communal, a personal life and a social life, a personal motive of conduct and a social motive of conduct. The possibility of their opposition and the attempt to find their equation lie at the very roots of human civilisation and persist in other figures when he has passed beyond the vital animal into a highly individualised mental and spiritual progress.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 7, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom, pp. 182-183

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