Politics of eremitism (5)

Aristotle’s famous statement, “Man is a social animal,” has become emblematic of the notion of the necessity of social existence and the supremacy of politics and institutions over individuals. But what the statement itself and its proponents fail to realize is that the “social” is greater than human contrivances. Humans are part of the physical environment around them, part of the earth and seas, wind and rain, of the stars and galaxies. These, too, constitute the “social” context in which humans lead their lives. The other “social” part neglected by the proponents is the “social” relationship we have within our selves. Not so much that we are thinking beings, as Pascal said, but that we are sentient beings, and, moreover, conscious beings. From the consciousness within our minds to the farthest reaches of the universe, these are the “social” contexts in which we exist, not merely the circumscribed world of busy culture and the society in which we happen to be born, live, and die. If we are social animals, then our “society” is much greater than anything Aristotle or his followers ever imagined. The corollary, of course, is that our solitude cannot be viewed as the opposite of being social. It is social in this grand context.