The folly of society attempted to change itself and its course using the same contrived tools that brought it to its present precipice is an important lesson for the solitary.
Intrinsic to power and authority are the means of retaining and replicating itself, and these tools cannot be relinquished without self-destruction. Even such a devolution would not last. Some other aspirant to power and control would quickly fill the vacuum. This process could be described as an evolutionary instinct: the instinct of self-preservation and reproduction. Except that we are not speaking of individuals but of social and political institutions, of cultures and circles of power. Hence, the analogy of instincts is not accurate, but the desire for power and the extension and preservation of power is a good description.
The solitary already senses that institutions and organizations are not authentic beings. Indeed, they are abstractions, projections of individuals holding power, extending their power into families, associates, dynasties, cultural institutions, and ultimately into strong political, social, economic institutions, organizations, and structures. In turn, these entities can manipulate material conditions. Since these conditions include resources and infrastructure that moves them through society and provides individuals with consumable products and services, the abstractions then take on an aura of necessity and even a contrived naturalness, so that people assume they cannot live without them and that they evolved naturally and inevitably.
But the solitary looks at them with bafflement. These entities do not exist, epistemologically speaking. They appear to exist because countless individuals have acceded to their creation and renounced their autonomous spiritual status to them, transferring it to larger abstract entities (that is, to those behind the entities).
These entities (and they are familiar enough as institutions, organizations, groups, and collective legal fictions) are abstractions in the sense that they are arrangements and relationships between and among people. They are not concrete things. The material conditions in which we live appear as they do because of human inventiveness — or exploitation. The entities or structures themselves are no more than power relationships, as Foucault conceived of them. To the solitary, they are not inevitable in the epistemological sense.
That part of human relationship which entails a subordination to structures due to the threat of violence and harm does force the hermit to conform to power. We can think of laws that are not just, coercions that are unprovoked, societal and individual uses of power that are motivated by human aggression and vice — all these things force the solitary to conform outwardly, to submission or cooperation.
But understanding their origins helps the solitary to understand their evanescence and their lack of virtue, to understand that they exist out of what most spiritual traditions call the sinfulness of human beings, which might be called the complex web of mixed evolutionary inheritance, wherein human beings cannot distinguish their instincts or desires from a natural fellow-feeling in a social context.
An earlier post described the simple spectrum of social hierarchy found in the average person:
individual –> family –> community
The individual is concerned only for autonomy defined as reciprocity; the family-member is concerned only for the welfare of genetic kin; the community-member is concerned for group, regional, and institutional entities. It is these latter that constitute the breeding ground for power (not that families don’t). In “community” arises authority over large movements and social flows. And yet the community entities created and inherited generation after generation are abstractions. They have no real basis for existence except that we concede their legitimacy to wield power, a concession usually made at the point of coercion.
The hermit has always sensed this artificiality. Not necessarily being an intellectual, the solitary could not articulate this restless unease, this dissatisfaction with the world. The hermit knew that it was ultimately not a dissatisfaction with nature. However harsh and merciless the apparent ways of nature, the cycles of sorrow and suffering, they always seemed an inevitable context, a stage in which certain conditions were irrevocably placed, all of which called for deep reflection and understanding, not-too-facile acceptance, but not struggle or denial.
But the entities we call society and culture have always seemed to hermits of every age and culture to be, precisely, contrivances. They have been called vanities and red dust and illusions by the poets and sages, but only the hermit was willing to step back from, to disengage from, the relational aspect of the world.
This does not mean that the hermit needs to condemn anything or anyone, for that would be a form of engagement. From a philosophical and ethical point of view, the world (by which is meant the world of human contrivance) would stand largely condemned in itself. The source of the human contrivance would not be its mere facticity but originate in the contrived emergence of these entities and relations, from the social mind and desire of human beings.
The hermit is accused of indifference and hardheartedness for having the insight to see but not the desire to engage and help. And it may well be true in the case of hermits who are driven by an ideology of ego or are made misanthropes by harsh experiences. But the authentic solitary knows that what is ill with the world and with people is acquiescence to the large contrived edifice of power and authority, including false rebellion from it.
What is ill with the world is not something intrinsic to a given individual. We are all products of experience, genetics, and emotions, but, more to the point, we are primarily the products of contrivances.
How can an individual understand the world using the tools of contrivance? Science, reason, and tradition are not independent of human culture, society and manipulation. We have nothing to depend upon except that which precedes and exists independent of these contrivances. And seeing or sensing this, the solitary appears to be aloof and cynical, but is only seeing or sensing a reality that exists behind the phantasms that people expend themselves on.
Consciousness is a painful wound that nearly everyone tries to heal by conformity and identification with abstractions, by channeling emotions into grander schemes created by others more powerful and manipulative than themselves. We look upon the cycle of pain and sorrow in the animal world and wonder how it can be endured. But our own suffering is only worsened by the identification with entities defined by others, not our own doing.
We heal the wound of consciousness by identifying with the natural patterns that elude us, that rush on like a silent and invisible river or that trickle by like the quiet drops of water falling into the thawing soil at spring. We heal ourselves by disengaging from the world that others made and which frustrates the emergence of our own imaginative response to reality, a response that is as unique as the complex composite that we individuals are.