Collective Consciousness – Emerson

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man,–present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state, these functions are parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies, that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,–a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in The American Scholar

How can man be satisfied with his day’s work when he cannot complete even one whole part to a working puzzle? The over-efficiency that plagues our world right now deprives man of the ability to connect to the finished product, to the consumer using the product, to his audience, to the reader. To those who feel they are made for something more, that there must be more to life than this work, they are right.

I was recently talking to a man who grew up in West Virginia, in the mountains. In the evenings, his neighbors would get together with their various instruments, voices, dancing shoes, and together would have a nightly convening of their talents. They would work together to make beautiful music, but also a community with a sense of wholeness, a rich environment for children, a sense of continuity for the elderly, and a place all could call home. I asked whether he joins in these festivities when he visits home. He told me that since the popularization of air conditioning and the internet, these get-togethers no longer take place. At all. What a heart-wrenching tale of the breakup of a community, a separation of a whole into individual parts, unable to sense the collective heartbeat any longer.

Good news – we’re humans. We need this connection. Sooner or later, we will tire of this trend toward isolation. Personally I’m rooting for a breakdown of all technology  that leads us back to an barter-based agricultural economy. But that’s the lazy way. The right way requires hard work, advocacy, and good parenting at the community level. I’ll work on mine, you work on yours. 🙂