Inevitable Progression and Results of an Age of Individualism

As the mental development of humanity begins to take a more active role in the life of individuals and the society, it leads to an age of individualism, as the mental power does not manifest equally among all people concurrently, and thus, there are certain individuals who have a decided advantage in terms of mental development and who can then use it to advance their own perceived interests and achieve their own desired ends in relation to the mass of society.  Once such an age develops and more individuals take on the mental development, a form of competition arises, as more individuals attempt to gain access to the resources and bounty of the society, and this leads to an inevitable progression in human development, as explored and explained by Sri Aurobindo.  We can observe this progression in the world today.

“The individualistic democratic ideal brings us at first in actual practice to the more and more precarious rule of a dominant class in the name of democracy over the ignorant, numerous and less fortunate mass.  Secondly, since the ideal of freedom and equality is abroad and cannot any longer be stifled, it must lead to the increasing effort of the exploited masses to assert their down-trodden right and to turn, if they can, this pseudo-democratic falsehood into the real democratic truth; therefore, to a war of classes.  Thirdly, it develops inevitably as part of its process a perpetual strife of parties, at first few and simple in composition, but afterwards as at the present time an impotent and sterilising chaos of names, labels, programmes, war-cries.  All lift the banner of conflicting ideas or ideals, but all are really fighting out under that flag a battle of conflicting interests.  Finally, individualistic democratic freedom results fatally in an increasing stress of competition which replaces the ordered tyrannies of the infrarational periods of humanity by a sort of ordered conflict.  And this conflict ends in the survival not of the spiritually, rationally or physically fittest, but of the most fortunate and vitally successful.  It is evident enough that, whatever else it may be, this is not a rational order of society; it is not at all the perfection which the individualistic reason of man had contemplated as its ideal or set out to accomplish.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 197-198


Basic Causes of Failure of the Rational Intelligence in Guiding the Development of Society

Humanity is not yet ready for the sovereignty of the rational intelligence as the guide and manager of the physical and vital life.  In The Republic, Plato theorized about the rule and management of society by an educated elite as a possible way forward for human civilisation.  We can see in an ideal sense the value of subjecting the impulses of the life energy to the organisation, discipline and direction that can be provided by the reason.  At the same time, we must recognise the fact that in today’s world, the vital impulses, the desires, the physical and vital needs still rule the vast mass of humanity, and their use of the reason is for the most part limited to applying it for success and self-aggrandisement of the individual regardless of the higher ideals and principles that the rational intellect sees and wants to implement.  Society today pits people against one another and this competition is harmful to the needs of the whole of humanity, the integrity of the environment and even the society itself, as issues such as income inequality and corruption of those who are in power are creating ever-more tension and division and setting back the larger goals which rely on cooperation and oneness for their success.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “In practice it is found that these ideas will not hold for a long time.  For the ordinary man is not yet a rational being; emerging from a long infrarational past, he is not naturally able to form a reasonable judgment, but thinks either according to his own interests, impulses and prejudices or else according to the ideas of others more active in intelligence or swift in action who are able by some means to establish an influence over his mind.  Secondly, he does not yet use his reason in order to come to an agreement with his fellows, but rather to enforce his own opinions by struggle and conflict with the opinions of others.  Exceptionally he may utilise his reason for the pursuit of truth, but normally it serves for the justification of his impulses, prejudices and interests, and it is these that determine or at least quite discolour and disfigure his ideals, even when he has learned at all to have ideals.  Finally, he does not use his freedom to arrive at a rational adjustment of his life with the life of others; his natural tendency is to enforce the aims of his life even at the expense of or, as it is euphemistically put, in competition with the life of others.  There comes thus to be a wide gulf between the ideal and the first results of its practice.  There is here a disparity between fact and idea that must lead to inevitable disillusionment and failure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pg. 197

Basic Principles for the Action of Reason in the Development of Human Society

The reasoning intelligence has, for the most part, been put to work carrying out the will of desire.  The influence of the vital nature on the reason and the conclusions drawn by the process of reasoning has been, and continues to be, an enormous impediment that skews the results and makes reason little more than an instrument of power and control by those who have a more developed power of reason than the mass of society.  This leads to an elite ruling class which then uses the powers it possesses to maintain and extend its control, influence and the benefits accruing to that effort.  One of the methods used by this elite is to deny education and the opportunity to exercise the powers of reasoning to the vast mass of society, or at the very least, if education is available, to use it as a means of indoctrination and brainwashing.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This reason which is to be universally applied, cannot be the reason of a ruling class; for in the present imperfection of the human race that always means in practice the fettering and misapplication of reason degraded into a servant of power to maintain the privileges of the ruling class and justify the existing order.  It cannot be the reason of a few pre-eminent thinkers; for, if the mass is infrarational, the application of their ideas becomes in practice disfigured, ineffective, incomplete, speedily altered into mere form and convention.  It must be the reason of each and all seeking for a basis of agreement.  Hence arises the principle of individualistic democracy, that the reason and will of every individual in the society must be allowed to count equally with the reason and will of every other in determining its government, in selecting the essential basis and in arranging the detailed ordering of the common life.  This must be, not because the reason of one man is as good as the reason of any other, but because otherwise we get back inevitably to the rule of a predominant class which, however modified by being obliged to consider to some extent the opinion of the ruled, must exhibit always the irrational vice of reason subordinated to the purposes of power and not flexibly used for its own proper and ideal ends.  Secondly, each individual must be allowed to govern his life according to the dictates of his own reason and will so far as that can be done without impinging on the same right in others.  This is a necessary corollary of the primary principle on which the age of reason founds its initial movement.  It is sufficient for the first purposes of the rational age that each man should be supposed to have sufficient intelligence to understand views which are presented and explained to him, to consider the opinions of his fellows and to form in consultation with them his own judgment.  His individual judgment so formed and by one device or another made effective is the share he contributes to the building of the total common judgment by which society must be ruled, his little brick in appearance insignificant and yet indispensable to the imposing whole. … it is sufficient also for the first ideal of the rational age that this common judgment should be effectively organised only for the indispensable common ends of the society, while in all else men must be left free to govern their own life according to their own reason and will and find freely its best possible natural adjustment with the lives of others.  In this way by the practice of the free use of reason men can grow into rational beings and learn to live by common agreement, a liberal, a vigorous, a natural and yet rationalised existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 195-197

The Role of the Rational Intelligence in the Progress of Humanity

The vital life of society develops habitual actions, whether they spring from some kind of instinctive knowledge, or come through experience, or the direction of an inspired leader.  Initial inspiration tends to get codified into ritual and convention.  At some point, the actions carry on while the actors have very little, if any, connection to the original source of the inspiration.  At that point, what was once a living force becomes a binding obstacle to progress.  It is the action of the rational intelligence, then, to question the conventions, and push the boundaries of the society to break out into new ways of knowledge, and thereby support the progress of humanity in its evolutionary cycle.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Man may for a time, for a long time even, live by the mere tradition of things whose reality he has lost, but not permanently; the necessity of questioning all his conventions and traditions arises, and by that necessity reason gets her first real chance of an entire self-development.  Reason can accept no tradition merely for the sake of its antiquity or its past greatness: it has to ask, first, whether the tradition contains at all any still living truth and, secondly, whether it contains the best truth available to man for the government of his life.  Reason can accept no convention merely because men are agreed upon it: it has to ask whether they are right in their agreement, whether it is not an inert and false acquiescence.  Reason cannot accept any institution merely because it serves some purpose of life: it has to ask whether there are not greater and better purposes which can be best served by new institutions.  There arises the necessity of a universal questioning, and from that necessity arises the idea that society can only be perfected by the universal application of the rational intelligence to the whole of life, to its principle as to its details, to its machinery and to the powers that drive the machine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pg. 195

The Processes and Functions of the Reasoning Intelligence

The vital nature responds to life through instinct, reaction, and the pull of desire and push of aversion.  The mental nature is of another kind, and it attempts to understand life through a process encompassing observation, organisation and sorting of perceptions and information, analysis and testing, and then using the knowledge so gained to attempt to act upon life successfully.  To the extent that it fails in the attempt it must obviously fine tune its observations, its conclusions or its determinative action.  The mind begins with its focus on the physical and vital life, but it is not restricted to them, and thus, it has its own native action in the world of ideas, as well as the capability of turning its focus higher to the spiritual basis of life.  Imagination, intuition, and speculation all fall into the action of the mind either within its native province or when turned to the higher action.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But reason seeks to understand and interpret life by one kind of symbol only, the idea; it generalises the facts of life according to its own strongly cut ideative conceptions so that it may be able to master and arrange them, and having hold of an idea it looks for its largest general application.  And in order that these ideas may not be a mere abstraction divorced from the realised or realisable truth of things, it has to be constantly comparing them with facts.  It has to be always questioning facts so that it may find the ideas by which they can be more and more adequately explained, ordered and managed, and it has always to be questioning ideas in order, first, to see whether they square with actual facts and, secondly, whether there are not new facts to suit which they must be modified or enlarged or which can be evolved out of them.  For reason lives not only in actual facts, but in possibilities, not only in realised truths, but in ideal truths; and the ideal truth once seen, the impulse of the idealising intelligence is to see too whether it cannot be turned into a fact, cannot be immediately or rapidly realised in life.  It is by this inherent characteristic that the age of reason must always be an age of progress.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 194-195

Thinking Man in the Pre-Rational Ages of Human Development

Even in the infrarational stage of human development, one can identify the operation of intelligence and reason, although it is very much subordinated to the infrarational drives and needs.  Yet the character of the thought-process in the infrarational stage took on the colour of the primary influence of the vital age within which it was taking place.  Modern man, living in an age where the reason has come greatly out from under the shadow of the vital force and has begun to act with a new power of organisation and marshalling of ideas, operates under a completely different mode of thought than in the prior age.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “It is not that in the pre-individualistic, pre-rational ages there were no thinkers upon society and the communal life of man; but they did not think in the characteristic method of the logical reason, critical, all-observing, all-questioning, and did not proceed on the constructive side by the carefully mechanising methods of the highly rationalised intelligence when it passes from the reasoned perception of a truth to the endeavour after its pure, perfect and universal orderly application.  Their thought and their building of life were much less logical than spontaneously intelligent, organic and intuitive.  Always they looked upon life as it was and sought to know its secret by keen discernment, intuition and insight; symbols embodying the actual and ideal truth of life and being, types setting them in an arrangement and psychological order, institutions giving them a material fixity in their effectuation by life, this was the form in which they shaped their attempt to understand and mentalise life, to govern life by mind, but mind in its spontaneously intuitive or its reflectively seeing movements before they have been fixed into the geometrical patterns of the logical intelligence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pg. 194

Stages of the Development of the Reason’s Approach to Society: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

The intelligent reason, as it develops and attempts to take charge of, guide and direct humanity in an attempt to surpass the infrarational vital stage of development, passes through several stages of its own.  Sri Aurobindo has identified them as based on the underlying principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.  The reason itself is an intermediate term, between the infrarational and the suprarational, and thus, does not appear to have the final resolution within its scope.  It may fall back into some form of infrarational sleep state, ossifying the ideas that were novel when they appeared into tradition, creed, cult and habitual action.  It may proceed to widen itself and open to the higher spiritual truths of the nature and thus, exceed its own natural action.  Otherwise, within its own frame of reference, it can never be totally satisfied and thus, never reach a final settled result.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “If we may judge from the modern movement, the progress of the reason as a social renovator and creator, if not interrupted in its course, would be destined to pass through three successive stages which are the very logic of its growth, the first individualistic and increasingly democratic with liberty for its principle, the second socialistic, in the end perhaps a governmental communism with equality and the State for its principle, the third — if that ever gets beyond the stage of theory — anarchistic in the higher sense of that much-abused word, either a loose voluntary cooperation or a free communalism with brotherhood or comradeship and not government for its principle.  It is in the transition to its third and consummating stage, if or whenever that comes, that the power and sufficiency of the reason will be tested; it will then be seen whether the reason can really be the master of our nature, solve the problems of our interrelated and conflicting egoisms and bring about within itself a perfect principle of society or must give way to a higher guide.  For till this third stage has its trial, it is Force that in the last resort really governs.  Reason only gives to Force the plan of its action and a system to administer.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 193-194