Treading Slowly on the Path from Barbarism to Civilisation

The modern world is attempting, to some degree successfully, to move beyond the exclusive concentration on the physical and vital wants and needs to now incorporate at least a modicum of cultural development of the mind.  For the vast mass of humanity, imperfectly educated, and still very much concerned with the issues of physical life and survival, this represents an influence and an appreciation of some amount of cultural development.  Yet, there is still lacking a truly free and independent development of the reason and the intelligent will as we may see developed in the relatively small number of people, throughout the world, who have achieved serious growth and expression of the higher powers of the mind.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Philistine is not dead, — quite the contrary, he abounds, — but he no longer reigns.  The sons of Culture have not exactly conquered, but they have got rid of the old Goliath and replaced him by a new giant.  This is the sensational man who has got awakened to the necessity at least of some intelligent use of the higher faculties and is trying to be mentally active.  He has been whipped and censured and educated into that activity and he lives besides in a maelstrom of new information, new intellectual fashions, new ideas and new movements to which he can no longer be obstinately impervious.  He is open to new ideas, he can catch at them and hurl them about in a rather confused fashion; he can understand or misunderstand ideals, organise to get them carried out and even, it would appear, fight and die for them.  He knows he has to think about ethical problems, social problems, problems of science and religion, to welcome new political developments, to look with as understanding an eye as he can attain to at all the new movements of thought and inquiry and action that chase each other across the modern field or clash upon it.  …  he has perhaps no very clear ideas about beauty and aesthetics, but he has heard that Art is a not altogether unimportant part of life. …  He is the great reading public; the newspapers and weekly and monthly reviews are his; fiction and poetry and art are his mental caterers, the theatre and the cinema and the radio exist for him.  Science hastens to bring her knowledge and discoveries to his doors and equip his life with endless machinery; politics are shaped in his image.  It is he who opposed and then brought about the enfranchisement of women, who has been evolving syndicalism, anarchism, the war of classes, the uprising of labour, waging what we are told are wars of ideas or of cultures, — a ferocious type of conflict made in the very image of this new barbarism, — or bringing about in a few days Russian revolutions which the century-long efforts and sufferings of the intelligentsia failed to achieve.  It is his coming which has been the precipitative agent fort the reshaping of the modern world.  If a Lenin, a Mussolini, a Hitler have achieved their rapid and almost stupefying success, it was because this driving force, this responsive quick-acting mass was there to carry them to victory — a force lacking to their less fortunate predecessors.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 9, Civilisation and Culture, pp. 89-90