The Difficulties of Achieving Unity While Maintaining Diversity

The human mind finds it next to impossible to reconcile what appear to be opposite extremes.  The simplest approach to unity appears to the mental consciousness to be rooted in the development of a uniform administration of human life and actions, with the intent to reduce possibilities of conflict and disagreement.  This approach has been the cornerstone of past attempts to unify diverse peoples into one functional unit, whether a nation or an empire.  To the extent that diversity could not be entirely suppressed, various mechanisms were devised to allow some form of local autonomy while the larger political, administrative, economic framework was developed as a uniform structure.  Sri Aurobindo has enunciated the weakness of this approach.  Eventually uniformity leads to stagnation and stagnation leads to internal weakness and dissolution of the form over time.

On the other hand, encouraging widespread diversity, including cultural, linguistic, political, economic differences makes it well nigh impossible to achieve a true psychological unity.  Even if there is a framework for a time, the centrifugal force of the diverse ideas and viewpoints will stretch that framework until it breaks down, thereby shattering the outward unity.

This is then the problem to be faced and solved by humanity:  how to develop a strong psychological unity of humanity without sacrificing the essential diversity that is required to maintain the wellsprings of creativity, progress and inner strength of the race.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…if an excessive uniformity and centralisation tends to the disappearance of necessary variations and indispensable liberties, a vigorous diversity and strong group-individualism may lead to an incurable persistence or constant return of the old separatism which will prevent human unity from reaching completeness or even will not allow it to take firm root.”

“The problem is rather, on a larger and more difficult scale and with greater complexities, that which offered itself for a moment to the British Empire, how, if it is at all possible, to unite Great Britain, Ireland, the Colonies, Egypt, India in a real oneness, throw their gains into a common stock, use their energies for a common end, help them to find the account of their national individuality, — Ireland keeping the Irish soul and life and cultural principle, India the Indian soul and life and cultural principle, the other units developing theirs, not united by a common Anglicisation, which was the past empire-building ideal, but held together by a greater as yet unrealised principle of free union.  Nothing was suggested at any time in the way of a solution except some sort of bunch or rather bouquet system, unifying its clusters not by the living stalk of a common origin or united past, for that does not exist, but by an artificial thread or administrative unity which might at any moment be snapped irretrievably by centrifugal forces.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 250-251