The Phenomenon of Existence (part6)

By Will Baker


Back to the Paradox

I have indicated my belief that it is possible we individual, sentient existential beings are called to collectivize, and as we do so, a good number of the attributes associated with the individual are transferred to the Collective Unit. And the creation of these ever-greater sized units, one into the next, might represent a sort of logical progression towards the actualization of a Super Collective. Previously in this series I spoke to the paradox inherent in this situation. In this part we will revisit that paradox.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt said, as it relates to the reality of our existences there are two main aspects: Public and Private. It seems to me that the Private Aspect is the thing that Sartre would say is busy developing its (existential) Essence. He also might say that Arendt’s Public Aspect is a political construct, a necessary mechanism for interaction.

Now Hannah might not agree with all of the words which I am placing in J.P.’s mouth but I am certain both philosophers would agree that compared to how we act and process a situation while alone, when we interact with other people we human beings behave differently. I also suspect that, as regards interaction being a necessary mechanism, both would nod their heads in agreement.

However based upon my personal experience and my observation that, as demonstrated by the historical record, we oftentimes have a difficult time with this necessary interaction, I have to wonder about the necessity. Why would something that is so obviously a challenge, requiring expenditures of time and energy be such an imperative? Well, as we have previously discussed, Maslow has the answer. For in his Hierarchy of Needs he lists the need to belong as a Deficiency Need. So we are hard-wired to belong. But that begs the question: If we have an innate need to belong, why then do we have such a difficult time interacting? I have argued that the attributes of the individual are transferable to Collective Units. Therefore, according to that premise it should not be surprising that we would have problems relating to one another as individuals, as well as challenges with societal interaction. But again, if individuals and societies have a need to belong, why is it sometimes so difficult to do so? Therein lies the Paradox.

Perhaps this difficulty is also necessary. Hannah Arendt’s forte was political philosophy. And she described the mechanisms and motivations at play when the Private and Public Aspects interact. She noted that when divergent interests square off some sort of hashing-out will invariably occur. It seems to me that when this process is a productive one it may represent constructive conflict. To take this further, perhaps this is how ideas are synthesized so that the individual and the Collective can develop and transform. Yet the process is not always productive, in fact many times it is not.

Back to Sartre and then Maslow. Sartre noted the importance of free will to our ability to develop our essences. He also spoke to different states of being, with an implied progression-- some states being more productive than others. Maslow too, spoke to states of being and a progression. He noted that when our Deficiency Needs are met, we then start addressing our Growth Needs that lead to personal Actualization and Transcendence. Let’s examine Maslow’s Deficiency needs: Food, water, shelter and sense of belonging. It seems to me that the symbiotic, communal manner in which we humans feel compelled to organize ourselves results in a dependence upon others to satisfy these so-called deficiencies. So there’s a glimmer of the Paradox here as well. For in a way, Maslow demonstrates that we are dependent upon others for Actualization and Transcendence, for according to Maslow the Growth Needs can not be addressed unless all deficiency needs have first been met. So yes, as Sartre said, we have free will and we can and do develop our essences, but it seems to me that this is possible only with the help of others.

But as regards personal and societal actualization, what came first, the chicken or the egg? If we think back, and imagine a time early in the Agrarian Revolution, it is not hard to answer this question. Let’s look at a hypothetical group of folks from this time in history. Utilizing the principles described by Arendt, they (and their grandparents) were able to synthesize ideas into a body of knowledge representing the rudimentary elements of Agricultural Science. As a result, individuals/families formed clans and a Collective Unit large enough to satisfy a good number of Maslow’s Deficiency Needs was formed. These clans formed tribes and then confederations of tribes. Eventually, the Collective was able to provide sufficient free time and resources so that certain individuals were able to start satisfying Maslow’s Growth Needs (leading ultimately to the actualization of some of these individuals) giving birth to philosophy and mathematics. Therefore, based upon the above--even though it could be argued that the early Collective exhibited aspects of actualization, it seems to me that Sartre’s existential unit became actualized first.

If we are able to manage it, in itself and for ourselves our personal actualization is certainly a good thing. However it appears that it is a good thing for the Collective as well. For in a real sense, one enables the other. But I wonder: what are the implications of this dynamic?


Part 7: Of Kant and Collective Consciousness



 (Essay Collection)