The Basic Failures of Human Society

An observer of human society, regardless of the specific cultural form it takes, will eventually come to conclude that the development from the simple tribal forms of society to the more complex forms we see in today’s world, with all the rules and regulations, all of the industry, science and artificiality, with all of the artificially manipulated desires and the products and activities we use to try to satisfy these desires, is a disaster.  Charles Dickens took up this issue in Hard Times, where he showed, on the one hand, the industrial civilisation of England and its emphasis on facts and figures and the resultant view of life, and, on the other hand, the failures based on an absence of true human understanding and values in the one-sided focus on material development.  One of the proposed solutions to this result is the idea of abandoning the trappings of culture and going “back to nature”.  In his Brave New World, the ‘savage’ abandons the high-tech, drug-supported culture to try to return to a simpler life of solitude and reflection after being inserted into that society from a ‘reservation’ that had not participated in that societal development in the first place.  We see issues both with the society of the reservation and that of the modern high-tech society along the way.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Our civilised development of life ends in an exhaustion of vitality and a refusal of Nature to lend her support any further to a continued advance upon these lines; our civilised mentality, after disturbing the balance of the human system to its own greater profit, finally discovers that it has exhausted and destroyed that which fed it and loses its power of healthy action and productiveness.  It is found that civilisation has created many more problems than it can solve, has multiplied excessive needs and desires the satisfaction of which it has not sufficient vital force to sustain, has developed a jungle of claims and artificial instincts in the midst of which life loses its way and has no longer any sight of its aim.  The more advanced minds begin to declare civilisation a failure and society begins to feel that they are right.  But the remedy proposed is either a halt or even a retrogression, which means in the end more confusion, stagnation and decay, or a reversion to “Nature” which is impossible or can only come about by a cataclysm and disintegration of society; or even a cure is aimed at by carrying artificial remedies to their acme, by more and more Science, more and more mechanical devices, a more scientific organisation of life, which means that the engine shall replace life, the arbitrary logical reason substitute itself for complex Nature and man be saved by machinery.  As well say that to carry a disease to its height is the best way to its cure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 21, The Spiritual Aim and Life, pg. 223

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