The Issue of Uniformity in the Quest for Human Unity

One of the first impulses when the idea of human unity arises is to try to figure out how to get everyone to move in the same direction in a smooth and conflict-free manner.  The first solution is to try to create a society of uniformity, where people think, act, speak and believe the same things.  This is “efficiency” and makes administration and organisation much easier and more productive.  With the development of the industrial revolution, this type of thinking led to the development of the assembly line where many more products could be produced through repetitive and uniform motions rather than through an individual creative process.  With the development of automation, the productivity of the economy was vastly enhanced as machinery could systematize a uniform outcome.  The underlying key to all of these advancements in the economic life was uniformity.  This concept, already awake in the societal consciousness, seemed to be the solution to bringing about a harmonious world-society that could be organized to meet the needs of an ever-growing population.  Friction was removed from the system.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that too strictly applied, it removes creativity and positive change from the system and at some point, becomes a serious obstacle to progress.  That is why uniformity cannot actually be the final determinant of the form of a world-state.

Sri Aurobindo elucidates these issues:  “All thought in fact that seeks to establish unity by mechanical or external means is naturally attracted towards uniformity.  Its thesis would seem to be support by history and the lessons of the past; for in the formation of national unity, the trend to centralisation and uniformity has been the decisive factor, a condition of uniformity the culminating point.  The precedent of the formation of diverse and often conflicting elements of a people into a single national State would naturally be the determining precedent for the formation of the populations of the earth, the human people, into a single world-nation and World-State.”

Uniformity does not necessarily require that everyone dress the same or do things exactly the same way in detail.  As long as the major organizing factors of the society can be uniform, individuals can be allowed considerable choice as to details.  Thus, people can wear different clothes, or eat a variety of foods, or even follow different recreational pursuits, as long as they fit themselves into the economic, political and bureaucratic systems functioning in the society.  “Everywhere unity seems to call for and strive to create a greater or less uniformity as its secure base.”

As humanity grapples with ever-larger populations and the impact of those masses of people on the resources of the planet and the environment, there is a tendency by those in a position to govern to try to simplify the life through uniformity, as trying to solve the world-problems in a complex system becomes a virtually impossible task in their eyes.  Uniformity seems to provide a path toward the kind of simplification that can help to address the needs.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 19, The Drive towards Centralisation and Uniformity — Administration and Control of Foreign Affairs, pp. 168-170