Sunday, May 13, 2018

Man In Society

"While it is vitally important to see man in his relation to society, we must not forget that society is not man’s only and ultimate reference. In spite of the fact that our ideologies and institutions continue to imply that the worth of a person is equivalent to his usefulness to society, every one of us entertains the keen expectation that other people will not regard him merely because of what he is worth to them, because he is capable of satisfying other people’s needs, but will regard him as a being significant and valuable in himself.

Just as the grandeur of the sun or an oak tree is not reducible to the functions it fulfills, so is the grandeur of a human life not reducible to the needs it is capable of satisfying. Even he who does not regard himself as an absolute end, rebels against being treated as a means to an end, as subservient to other men. The rich, the men of the world, want to be loved for their own sake, for their essence, whatever it may mean, not for their achievements or possessions. Nor do the old and sick expect help because of what they may give us in return. Who needs the handicapped, the incurably sick, the maintenance of whom is a drain on the treasury of the state? It is, moreover, obvious that a person’s service to society does not claim all of his life and can therefore not be the ultimate answer to his quest of meaning for life as a whole.

Man has more to give than what other men are able or willing to accept. To say that life could consist of care for others, of incessant service to the world, would be a vulgar boast. What we are able to bestow upon others is usually less and rarely more than a tithe. There are alleys in the soul where man walks alone, ways that do not lead to society, a world of privacy that shrinks from the public eye. Life comprises not only arable, productive land, but also mountains of dreams, an underground of sorrow, towers of yearning, which can hardly be utilized to the last for the good of society, unless man be converted into a machine in which every screw must serve a function or be removed. It is a profiteering state which, trying to exploit the individual, asks all of man for itself. And if society as embodied in the state should prove to be corrupt and my effort to cure its evils unavailing, would my life as an individual have been totally devoid of meaning? If society should decide to reject my services and even place me in solitary confinement, so that I would surely die without being able to bequeath any influence to the world I love, would I then feel compelled to end my life? Human existence cannot derive its ultimate meaning from society, because society itself is in need of meaning. It is as legitimate to ask: Is mankind needed? as it is to ask: Am I needed?

Humanity begins in the individual man, just as history takes its rise from a singular event. It is always one man at a time whom we keep in mind when we pledge: “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” or when we try to fulfill: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The term “mankind,” which in biology denotes the human species, has an entirely different meaning in the realm of ethics and religion. Here mankind is not conceived as a species, as an abstract concept, stripped from its concrete reality, but as an abundance of specific individuals; as a community of persons rather than as a herd or a multitude of nondescripts. While it is true that the good of all counts more than the good of one, it is the concrete individual who lends meaning to the human race. We do not think that a human being is valuable because he is a member of the race; it is rather the opposite: the human race is valuable because it is composed of human beings. While dependent on society as well as on the air that sustains us, and while other men compose the system of relations in which the curve of our actions takes its course, it is as individuals that we are beset with desires, fears and hopes, challenged, called upon and endowed with the power of will and a spark of responsibility."

[Insecurity Of Freedom]