Benefits and Failures of the Individualistic Age

As the evolutionary cycle encourages the growth of the mental consciousness, we have seen the emergence of the rational intellect, first in a relatively small group of individuals, and later, through the proliferation of universal education, to the mass of humanity.  Humanity is being trained to awaken and use the mental consciousness and is thereby beginning to gain some power to eventually guide and control the vital being of man.  The object for most individuals remains the satisfaction of vital desires, the acquisition of power, wealth and ease of life.  The mental power, as it emerges into the mass of humanity, does not tend to reach its absolute heights, but creates rather a somewhat shallow but wide mental layer that colours all of the daily life in society.  The unequal development of this power, however, exacerbates inequality in the society and creates a class of those that have power and wealth, and a class of those who do not.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “Democracy and its panacea of education and freedom have certainly done something for the race.  To begin with, the people are, for the first time in the historical period of history, erect, active and alive, and where there is life, there is always a hope of better things.  Again, some kind of knowledge and with it some kind of active intelligence based on knowledge and strengthened by the habit of being called on to judge and decide between conflicting issues and opinions in all sorts of matters have been much more generalised than was formerly possible.  Men are becoming progressively trained to use their minds, to apply intelligence to life, and that is a great gain.  If they have not yet learned to think for themselves or to think soundly, clearly and rightly, they are at least more able now to choose with some kind of initial intelligence, however imperfect as yet it may be, the thought they shall accept and the rule they shall follow.  Equal educational equipment and equal opportunity of life have by no means been acquired; but there is a much greater equalisation than was at all possible in former states of society.  But here a new and enormous defect has revealed itself which is proving fatal to the social idea which engendered it.  For given even perfect equality of educational and other opportunity, — and that does not yet really exist and cannot in the individualistic state of society, — to what purpose or in what manner is the opportunity likely to be used?  Man, the half infrarational being, demands three things for his satisfaction, power, if he can have it, but at any rate the use and reward of his faculties and the enjoyment of his desires.  In the old societies the possibility of these could be secured by him to a certain extent according to his birth, his fixed status and the use of his capacity within the limits of his hereditary status.  That basis once removed and no proper substitute provided, the same ends can only be secured by success in a scramble for the one power left, the power of wealth.  Accordingly, instead of a harmoniously ordered society there has been developed a huge organised competitive system, a frantically rapid and one-sided development of industrialism and, under the garb of democracy, an increasing plutocratic tendency that shocks by its ostentatious grossness and the magnitudes of its gulfs and distances.  These have been the last results of the individualistic ideal and its democratic machinery, the initial bankruptcies of the rational age.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 199-200