There is a dynamic creative force that appears to manifest more powerfully in smaller societal groups than in larger ones. It appears that the key factor is the ability of everyone in the community to participate in the issues facing the society and to interact closely with one another, thereby providing a forward impulsion based on a meaningful interaction. The larger institutions tend to mechanise activities in order to manage them and coordinate large masses of people and groups within the society. There is also a certain amount of anonymity that arises in the larger aggregates, and the frequent experience that many individuals feel a sense of alienation, a lack of connection, and they can be easily overlooked and put to the side.
In the Bhagavad Gita, there is an interesting verse which implies something of the difference between a smaller, tightly integrated group and a larger, more unwieldly group. In Chapter 1, v. 10, Sri Aurobindo translates it: “Unlimited is this army of ours and it is marshalled by Bhisma, while the army of theirs is limited, and they depend on Bhima.” (Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, Sri Aurobindo, pg. 3) What is not clearly stated in the translation, but which is implied in the subtlety of the terms “aparyaktam” and “paryaktam”, is the sense of one being unwieldly or undisciplined in its massive size, while the other is disciplined and coordinated in its compact form. The sense is that the larger size is not necessarily an advantage when it loses its coherence and intimate connection between all the members of that group.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “…everywhere the root of this free, generalised and widely pulsating vital and dynamic force, which the modern world is only now in some sort recovering, was amid all differences the same; it was the complete participation not of a limited class, but of the individual generally in the many-sided life of the community, the sense each had of being full of the energy of all and of a certain freedom to grow, to be himself, to achieve, to think, to create in the undammed flood of that universal energy. It is this condition, this relation between the individual and the aggregate which modern life has tried to some extent to restore in a cumbrous, clumsy and imperfect fashion but with much vaster forces of life and thought at its disposal than early humanity could command.”
The challenge of developing a social order of the scale and complexity needed to address the many billions of people on the planet and meet their needs within the framework of the carrying capacity of the world, while at the same time creating the intimacy and involvement of the society to engage each individual, is one of the great challenges of the modern day world.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 11, The Small Free Unit and the Larger Concentrated Unity, pp. 90-91