Society is No One: When You Have Society’s Approval

Society is no one. It is the no one who sits in judgment over an activist’s appeal. It is the nobody standing in support of a preacher’s morality. It is the no one who cares for and supports you in your personal growth. Of course, everyone together is society, and good society demands good people to make it up. Society is so much a little bit of everyone that it is very little of anyone and is a dry reed ready to splinter and stab anyone who leans on it for support. And yet, society is something.

If everyone ditched trousers in favor of kilts, “but everyone’s doing it!” would be a meaningful appeal. Although traditional clothing can have deep and significant meaning, monks with manuscripts are no match for punks with printers. Mindless manufacturing is efficient, so whatever the original pattern is, it wins. People just copy, and to a point, they don’t mean anything by it. Copying is a glandular function, not an intellectual one. When I look at pictures of old Mormon homesteaders, all I really see is a bunch of people dressed like pioneers with a surplus of wives. What everyone did covered all the bases the Mormons cared to clothe, but the ideas on the inside were what mattered, and it was for those ideas that the Mormons’ neighbors drove them out.

G. K. Chesterton said something about agreeing to live in peace with each other so we could settle the theology, and he rejected the notion of agreeing on the theology to support settling down to live together. For instance, I consider whether I have a girlfriend to be more lastingly meaningful to my spiritual life than whether women should be ordained, but I refuse to throw up my hands with a resigned “C’est la vie!” so I can get on with romance if society judges one way or the other about women’s ordination. Society says do this and do that. Society thinks this and that. Society has the intellectual depth of a bowl of dog sweat.

Now for a gay marriage reference. If gay marriage supporters say society supports them and it does not, they are liars. If gay marriage supporters say society supports them and it does, they nevertheless commit themselves to perpetual evangelism because opinions come in and out of style just as much as they think they do. If they win the externals without the conversions of hearts and minds, they are going to lose. In the push for gay marriage, as in any other thing in society, there is an A Team of thinkers somewhere doing the intellectual heavy lifting. When they die out, others will come after to continue the push, but good leaders do not keep the mob going so much as they fashion individuals out of the proletarian dust, breathing life into their hearts and minds.

I think that everyone should think the same things that I think. Even if their ways of thinking are different, they should reach the same conclusions and arrange them in the same places that I do. If I have not thought about something, I should hardly dare to call anyone to agree with my position on it. If I am wrong about something, I should hardly dare to surrender when we change the subject and I am right about the new topic. How is it possible for me to demand agreement from others while still calling upon them to do their own thinking? How can I believe in agreement, which builds society, if society is no one? The individual, the lone man or woman, has free will. Society only has momentum.

There are, from time to time, individuals who incarnate their societies’ values and interests. Kings, priests, prophets, scholars, poets, philosophers, entertainers: they live differently than all their family and friends, but they are accepted as part of society, even essential members worth the sacrifice of many lives of ordinary people. The Church has its own catalogue of exemplary people, and in some Christian traditions, they are the Saints. You know, with the capital S. Saints achieve in their lifetimes the reality toward which the Church is struggling and striving, that being union with God and the active revelation of him in every aspect of their lives. Not everyone gets to be a capital S Saint and painted into icons (or for evangelicals, have books and movies made about them), but everyone does get to choose who they will imitate. What is more, they have the choice to imitate a way of life or just drift with the dispassionate tides. Tides care about nothing. Saints care about the smallest things. Free will exists, but my free will and yours are not the only two in existence.

Call it God, call it powers and authorities in the heavenly realms, call it your mother in law’s dead hand strangling you from beyond the grave: all of these wills are working on you. References to society as some sort of authority are like references to a rickety canoe as some sort of stability. That canoe keeps us out of the water, but currents and cataracts work no matter how much we argue about where and how we should go. Society is no one, and we have free will. Society is everyone, and we have duties. “Society says” is a “shut up, stupid” against disagreement and forms a poor argument and even worse proof for anything. Society demands named individuals to stand up and be counted as examples and authorities to be cited. Society demands that something other than society should speak, because society has no will. Society has only momentum. Society is no one.

The Murder of the Homeless & Social Merit

Do we perform acts of kindness towards others because they deserve it or because they need it?

In case you haven’t heard, a homeless man was recently murdered in New York City after trying to help a woman in the middle of being assaulted. Brian Levin reports:

In New York surveillance video captured a homeless good Samaritan come to the aid of a woman being attacked by a knife wielding assailant, only to be stabbed himself. While not a hate crime, the bleeding wounded man was casually ignored by passersby who failed to do anything to assist him as he lay dying in the street.

Levin comments that though this instance isn’t a hate crime because the perpetrator was initially after the woman, Levin states that many hate crime scholars are regarding the increasing number of homicidal deaths of this demographic as such, because the homeless are “perceived as a threat.”

Of course, we should be angry at those who choose to actively brutalize and murder, but what of those who do nothing to stop or help when they’re able? What of the passersby?

Some are saying that the passivity of passersby is the result of a kind of psychological paralysis. “Bystander apathy,” as it’s called, is a result of being overly-exposed to violence and being in a very public setting in which people feel less guilty for doing nothing.

While some, like Manasan, offer other examples for why few get involved in public displays of violence, we should consider whether our judgments of those being harmed play into our decision to pass-by, watch… or help.

Isn’t it possible that in a crisis situation we are more likely to help those we consider more valuable within society than those who we view as a burden?

Jack Levin (no relation to Brian Levin), a professor of sociology and criminology, comments that being homeless and/or elderly has an effect upon those who are witnesses:

“We devalue people with disabilities, people who are homeless, people who are marginal types, and elders,” he said. Levin suggested that crime victims who need help while in a public space try appealing directly to an individual.”If you can somehow single out a person so he does feel personal responsibility, then he will help,” he said.

In discussing what happened in New York the other day, a professor of mine pointed out that even those who speak out for the marginalized often fail to properly help the marginalized.

We feel better about ourselves if we “say” something in support of the needy. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t make me feel better to write this article. But if I regularly justify not helping others when I can, for the sake of myself, and because of implicitly held beliefs about who is valuable and who is not, I am one of those onlookers who passed by the homeless-man while he was bleeding to death.

Consequently, if the murder of this homeless man is an example of our social gradation of human value, shouldn’t we consider the possibility that we are failing to live up to our professed beliefs?

Is it logically consistent to serve others based on merit or need?

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões. (Some Rights Reserved.)