Humanity has put forth several different goals in front of itself, which speak to different aspects of our existence. There is the goal of individual fulfillment, salvation or perfection. There is the goal of the development and perfection of the society in which the individual becomes a “cog” in the progress of humanity. There is the goal of the increasing harmony and balance between the fulfillment of the individual, the relationship of the individual to the society and the optimizing of the society’s progress within the context of the world. Generally, given the nature of the human mind to create “either/or” categories, these three goals are looked at as mutually exclusive to one another, and there are adherents to each of these views. Sri Aurobindo recognises that there is a truth behind each one, and that they can be integrated and harmonised with the development of a new power of consciousness that is not limited by the fragmented view of the human mentality.
An increasing trend towards subordination of the individual to the goals of the society has been taking place as we note when we look at the increase of regimentation, the expectations of the social order for people to fit into a pre-determined model, the stated need to sacrifice the individual for the good of society, the advancement of societal economic and developmental plans at the expense of the citizenry and its health and well-being, etc. Of course, none of this is absolute and thus, one can still find individuals who are able to follow their own separate fulfillment without concern for the demands of society. Looked at however from a macro-level view, clearly the vast majority are currently treated as economic “digits” in the society, to be exploited, utilized and thrown away when no longer useful to the model of the social development in place. Because the societal models look for statistical results, they do not necessarily drill down to the actions of any individual as long as the response of the whole fits into the predetermined patterns that are sought.
In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes: “…there is a discord between the necessary elements, an opposing emphasis, a profusion of rudimentary unsatisfying and ill-accorded solutions. These sway between the three principal preoccupations of our idealism, — the perfectibility of the individual, a full development of the collective being, the perfectibility of society, and, more pragmatically restricted, the perfect or best possible relations of individual with individual and society and of community with community. An exclusive or dominant emphasis is laid sometimes on the individual, sometimes on the collectivity or society, sometimes on a right and balanced relation between the individual and the collective human whole…. In recent times the whole stress has passed to the life of the race, to a search for the perfect society, and latterly to a concentration on the right organisation and scientific mechanisation of the life of mankind as a whole; the individual now tends more to be regarded only as a member of the collectivity, a unit of the race whose interest of the organised society, and much less or not at all as a mental or spiritual being with his own right and power of existence. This tendency has not yet reached its acme everywhere, but everywhere it is rapidly increasing and heading towards dominance.”