If it is true that, as Machiavelli said, history always repeats itself, it is also unavoidable to think that men, as objects of history, are the outcome of long, continuous, and repetitive processes of crisis and progress, destruction and rebirth. It is also true however that the society of today is struggling more than ever to find a balance within itself and History – therefore, it is up to us, the people of this world, and our duty to create a new world order and choose our own future. The goal of this brief paper is to unearth the deepest origins of the most critical aspects of today’s society as a first step for a better comprehension of ourselves and the surrounding, and why not, as a first step for change.
Let’s start with analysing the three main pillars upon which the modern and contemporary society is based: masses, corporations, and the single individuals. Following a descending order, a definition of ‘mass’, ‘crowd’ could be the one offered by the 19th century French psychologist Gustave Le Bon in his book ‘Mass Psychology’: a collective soul in which the intellectual attitudes of men – and consequently their individualities and peculiarities – vanish; the heterogeneous dissolves itself in the homogeneous and subconscious features prevail.’ In simpler terms, we have been defined as a group of people homologated to each other in all and for all, with no independent capabilities of reasoning, of critical thinking, no independent behaviours, but just a mere product in series.
The reason of such mentality is to be found in the same process of evolution that brought us here: the two deepest and natural, innate, objectives of each human are to survive and to pursue personal interests aimed at surviving. While on one hand progress has helped us in achieving a sufficiently stable level of survival, on the other hand it has allowed us to lay more on our own individual interests, to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and enter a phase of ‘carelessness.’ In this state of passivity – achieved only after basic human needs are met – it results way easier for Nation-State governments and big corporations to control and manipulate us as a single entity: the mass.
Weighing well our current situation worldwide, the richness and quality of life has increased, less and less people die due to diseases or starvation or war, we have general access to good basic services such as health, food, transportations, justice… and the result? We have forgotten what it means to work constructively towards a better living condition, we forgot we are an active part of society with its own duties as well as rights, and with its own voice. If we look at the level of political participation or of trust in democracy today, the results are quite appalling.
Given this situation, we limit to follow the standards imposed from above: everyone, in a serial fashion, tries to assimilate a given model said to be unique and unrepeatable, a conformation behind an apparent diversification – the ability to adapt to the current structure seems the only way to have a certain influence over the same while in this flow of passivity the words of the existentialist philosopher Heidegger sound clearer than ever: ‘everybody is the other and nobody is himself.’
Thus, it is unavoidable that we fall into the game of manipulation put in place by our society: from targeted advertisements to the spreading of fake news, from repeated standards of beauty to stereotypes, to as much moving as meaningless inspirational speeches, we are subconsciously driven to do what we are told to without much questioning…
Moreover, apart from homologation, there are two other great risks brought by this passivity: an excessive attachment to the national identity and a strong reluctance and unpreparedness regarding changes. These two features are linked, meaning that the more a nationalistic spirit is strong and present, the more the society will result close and exclusive, and hostile to changes.
Furthermore, this unpreparedness to alterations creates the basis for a cultural shock when changes are unavoidable: in order to cooperate with the said shock, and especially to prevent it, we have adopted a deep fear-based attitude that ‘ranges from feeling very weak and victimized to highly over defensive’ – as the Iranian contemporary painter Lida Sherafatmand explains. This attitude usually leads to actions that are aggressive in nature: let’s think about how Europe is reacting to the massive flow of immigrants or how China banned the free use of technology for its people, about the reasons of the ongoing war in the Middle East or the fatidic ‘Wall’ alongside the south US border… all of them are examples of static masses unable to cooperate with History and therefore answering with exaggerated fear.
This leads us to the second point of our analysis: the fact that nowadays society in general tends to give more importance to its GDP rather than the quality of life of all its people. Given the devaluation human nature is ongoing, we are more inclined to distrust the values and the good of the single person while numbers and profit are valued more than the single employer – inducing us to think more about the short-term gains than the long-term benefits for our life. As a consequence, we tend to close even tighter into our shell, fuelling the cycle of ‘massification’ and contributing to the devaluation of the human being in the corporative environment.
The said environment is the emblem of a voracious society that eats, eats and eats – the emblem of that hunger typical of capitalism for greater and greater profits, and is never satisfied. This appetite has been referred by Richard Ned Lebow as one of the main driving force behind people’s actions within a collective – actions however that do not escape from the same aim of serving our own individual interests of survival. It is possible to establish therefore a connection between this appetite and the above mentioned fear, looking at the latter as the input at the basis of the former. As a matter of fact, our necessity of constantly pursuing wealth can be seen out of our fear of extinction in case we would be too weak to survive – and in order to assure that it does not happen, accumulating power is the only possible way. Such behaviour not only requires the sacrifice of people’s well beings, but it also kills fair competition and makes us blind in other parts of life.
But how are we being controlled in such a way speaking pragmatically? Many are the scholars that see the reason in a phenomenon peculiar to the generation of millennials and mainly brought up by technology; it is called ‘instant gratification’ and regards the fact that we are so used to think that everything can happen so fast with a single finger snap, satisfying our needs immediately. Lida Sherafatmand call these moments ‘world of temporary joy’ in which pleasure only is pursued, coming solely from superficial needs and desires.
Giving off these superficial and temporary moments of satisfaction, the corporative environment is able to shift our attention from the real problems of our life and of our society to an illusory sense of well-being; not only, when pleasure overtakes the independency of people we also tend to be more blind, and careless, towards our serious responsibilities – the deficit in democracy is an example – thus enforcing the concept of the blind masses.
From a more individual point of view – the third pillar of this analysis – Adam Curle speaks about identity crises happening because we are brought to develop our identity according to temporary surface possessions, rather that the inner deeper human qualities and individuality. Apart from superficial relationships, said identity crises can also be linked to the realization that not everything can be obtained immediately, but rather there are things, emotions, that have to be built over a long time period… The frustration that arouses from this realization, our impatience and the lack of proper coping mechanism, they all can all lead us to severe suffering and also anger, reducing our level of self-esteem, while on the other side can be exploited by stronger actors in order to gain advantages from such status.
If then we connect the problem of identity crises with the framework of the mass society – and its broader digital tribe – it will result easier to understand the both of them: the greatest risk with massification is to lose our own personal identity, conforming ourselves to set standards that define the model of the ‘socially acceptable person,’ thus aggravating the crisis of personal identity. According to the young sociologist Simon Sinek, digital tribe is just the result of the process of homologation and the production in series of our contemporary society, while turning to a mask (like the one of social media) is just another way to look at the problem.
We have already talked about the individual interests that every human pursues in his own life, let’s now analyse how humans behave in order to achieve them. Hobbes used to define the man as the wolf of the other man: we become predators in order not to be pray, we accumulate much power and richness, even subtracting it from the weakest, in order to assure our survival; we basically make use of other people to achieve our goals without much concern. When then things do not go as planned, we fall in a state of anger and acute suffering that lead us to even more negative actions out of a feeling of superiority and pride that keep creating suffering in a vicious circle. Impulsive responses such as physical violence, discrimination, and war happen when we feel our predominance and authority is being challenged. Individualism and massification keep fuelling each other mutually.
Of course, there is no single traced solution we have to take, but starting from our progresses and evolution would definitely be something – especially if we will be able to exploit them for a nobler reason… We should work more on creating an open inclusive environment based upon trust and cooperation, a model in which all the levels of power work together in fulfilling their social duties and are able to guarantee a better balance, a win-win model that favourites the growth of both parties instead of alimenting the interests of a single one and gives priority to people’s welfare, a stronger universal community that puts in first place all the differences and peculiarities of each one of us and that make us unique. Only History knows what lies ahead of us; as for now we can just do as much as it is on our power, for the sake of a better balance, for the sake of peace and harmonization, and for the sake of ourselves.