The Cooperative Aspect of Vital Life Is Generally an Expansion of Individual Self-Aggrandisement

The first egoistic impulses of life for the individual are for his survival, growth, development and self-aggrandisement in various ways.   These impulses are tempered to the degree that an individual chooses to subordinate his own self-interest for the needs of others.   The question then arises as to the source of this impulse of subordination and the cooperation with others that occurs as a result.  We can trace the development of this impulse through the rise of the family unit, to the community, to the society and to the nation-state.  In each case, we see that the expansion takes in a larger segment of humanity, and is based on some relationship that has developed between the individual and that societal unit.  The individual cooperates primarily because he accepts the wider definition of his self-interest that the larger unit provides.  Because this cooperation and its basis is largely physical and vital, we see that these larger units tend to emphasize the economic, social and political aspects of man’s existence rather than the higher terms that individuals may take up in their quest for self-development and higher purpose in life than pure existence and enjoyment.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “… always the family is an essentially practical, vitalistic and economic creation.  It is simply a larger vital ego, a more complex vital organism that takes up the individual and englobes him in a more effective competitive and cooperative life unit.  The family like the individual accepts and uses society for its field and means of continuance, of vital satisfaction and well-being, of aggrandisement and enjoyment.  But this life unit also, this multiple ego can be induced by the cooperative instinct in life to subordinate its egoism to the claims of the society and trained even to sacrifice itself at need on the communal altar.  For the society is only a still larger vital competitive and cooperative ego that takes up both the individual and the family into a more complex organism and uses them for the collective satisfaction of its vital needs, claims, interests, aggrandisement, well-being, enjoyment.  The individual and family consent to this exploitation for the same reason that induced the individual to take on himself the yoke o the family, because they find their account in this wider vital life and have the instinct in it of their own larger growth, security and satisfaction.  The society, still more than the family, is essentially economic in its aims and in its very nature.  That accounts for the predominantly economic and materialistic character of modern ideas of Socialism; for these ideas are the full rationalistic flowering of this instinct of collective life.”

The issue of various competing societal groupings leads to the perceived need to develop a political structure as well as an economic one.  “If we give their due value to these fundamental characteristics and motives of collective existence, it will seem natural enough that the development of the collective and cooperative idea of society should have culminated in a huge, often a monstrous overgrowth of the vitalistic, economic and political ideals of life, society and civilisation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 161-162