Conflict Between Society and the Individual
By: Matthew M. Lug
Sufficiency Course Sequence:
|Course Number||Course Title||Term|
|EN1231||Introduction to American Literature and Culture||A95|
|PY1731||Introduction to Philosophy and Religion||B95|
|EN2252||Science and Scientists in Modern Literature||C96|
|EN2233||American Literature: Twentieth Century||D96|
|EN2251||Moral Issues in the Modern Novel||C97|
Presented to: Professor Edmund Hayes
Department of Humanities & Arts
Term B, 1997
Sequence Number: 5402
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements of
the Humanities & Arts Sufficiency Program
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Conflicts between societies and individuals can be better understood when the needs of both are examined. These conflicts arise when these needs are significantly different, and resolving these conflicts often requires a compromise between happiness and freedom. In any case, individuality will be necessary for the survival of both society and the individual.
For thousands of years, humans have grouped themselves into societies, since this allowed individuals to benefit from the work of others, in addition to their own work. These societies have taken many forms, from small self-sufficient towns to gigantic empires. Most of these societies require individuals to make some kind of sacrifice for the common good. However, this common good can sometimes be in direct conflict with the good of the individual. When this happens, a society will often suppress this conflicting individual good, creating a situation which is the opposite of what society was originally created for.
Bartolomé de las Casas witnessed such an abuse of the power of a society when he visited the Americas in the late 1400s and early 1500s, and he wrote of what he witnessed in "The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies." He saw Christians constantly mistreating natives on the island of Hispaniola, "the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians" (16). Casas said that the Christians weren't satisfied with the amount of food that the natives gave freely, since "a Christian eats and consumes in one day an amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month" (16). The Christians then stole food from the natives, and "committed other acts of force and violence and oppression" (16). As a result, "some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians" (16). Even "the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer" (16).
The list of atrocities continued, since the natives could not defend themselves from the Christians' superior weapons. Casas described many of these atrocities in the following passage.
They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers' breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, "Boil there, you offspring of the devil!" Other infants they put to the sword along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim's feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive. To others they attached straw or wrapped their whole bodies in straw and set them afire. With still others, all those they wanted to capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim's neck, saying "Go now, carry the message," meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains. (17)
These actions seem almost unthinkable to many people today, but at the time Casas was one of the few who spoke out against mistreatment of the natives. He fought to end the slavery of the natives, and was eventually successful, although it took several decades.
The actions that Casas described are not unique in history; similar events have taken place at many different times, from the beginning of civilization to the present, all over the world. Injustice like this is often the result of a society putting its own needs before the needs of the individuals that it affects. Individuals are usually victims because societies are more than just physical entities; they represent a certain set of ideas and beliefs in addition to the individuals that unquestionably accept these ideas and beliefs. Balancing the needs of both individual and society could eliminate much of this injustice.
In order to find a balance between the needs of society and the needs of individuals, it is necessary to determine what those needs are, and how they affect both society and individuals. The needs of society can be found by determining how a society would function if in its ideal form. Ideal societies would be completely successful at having their needs fulfilled, so these needs and their effects would be much more obvious than in an unsuccessful society, where negative factors would complicate the view of its operation.
In his essay "Political Animals and Civic Friendship," John M. Cooper analyzes the nature of human society through the works of Aristotle. He begins by explaining Aristotle's term "political animal," and how it applies to humans. Another way of expressing the term "political animal" is "an animal that lives in cities" (303). These cities provide a secure and comfortable means of livelihood for their citizens, to a degree greater than that provided by smaller groups such as families and villages. A political animal has a natural need for cities like this, and do not live in them simply because they are conventional. Human beings are a higher degree of political animals because of their ability to share ideas through language. "Human beings alone have the capacity to conceive of their own and others' long-term and short-term advantage or good, and so to conceive of justice and injustice as well, since what is just is what is to the common advantage or good of some relevant group" (308).
In order for a city to be successful, its citizens must cooperate, and its leadership must work for the good of the citizens. "A city is a kind of community that depends upon the friendly interest that the citizens take in one another's qualities of mind and character, as well, of course, as upon their common economic interests" (318). This explains why citizens are often concerned with the character of those in leadership positions; they want to be sure that the leaders share their values and will contribute to the common good, as it is defined by each individual citizen. Cooper explains that the people of a city act in the best interests of the city because of what Aristotle calls "civic friendship." This type of friendship is based on both "the expectation of mutual benefit" and "mutual good will, trust and well-wishing" (319).
Civic friendship as Cooper describes it has several benefits within a city. Citizens will care about the well-being of others, since the well-being of each individual is involved in the well-being of the city as a whole. According to Cooper, this situation is similar to what happens within a family, since a success of one family member often causes a general good feeling throughout the entire family. The difference that Cooper notes has to do with justice. He says that, with a family, "injustice seems not, of itself, to destroy the relationship (the 'friendship') and so it does not do away with the participation in the others' good. But this is not so for civic friendship" (321). Civic friendship is partly based on trust, and injustice betrays that trust. Since there isn't necessarily an underlying family bond between civic friends, a betrayal of trust would probably end the friendship.
The main requirement of civic friendship, in order for a city to benefit everyone within it as much as possible, is that all individuals "attain as high a degree of perfection as they are naturally capable of" (324). Cooper says that the result of this is that "in the best, most successful cities, an excellent life is provided for those individuals (presumably a small number) capable of leading it, while the others get as nearly excellent a life as they are severally able to manage, given their natural limitations" (324). A good life is provided for all within the city this way, primarily through individual accomplishment, and secondarily through the success of the city (for those who cannot succeed on their own due to natural limitations).
Cooper's image of a city seems good at first glance, but there are problems with this idealized concept that would prevent such a city from existing in reality. Cooper focuses on the good aspects of human nature, and ignores any tendency for evil and destruction that might exist along with this inherent good. Even the definition of man as a "political animal" is not immune from this selective view of the nature of human beings. Not all people live in large societies such as cities; many instead choose to live in isolation. Cooper also dismisses the possibility that some people might choose to live in cities because of the benefits they provide, and not because of a need for this type of life. Aristotle's works are used to prove the points that Cooper makes, but Aristotle's works are also the source of these points. This makes it difficult for Cooper's ideas to work anywhere but in the mind of Aristotle.
Cooper states that civic friends would make the most of themselves, within the limitations that would naturally exist. However, it would be difficult to tell whether a person was limited by nature, or instead by individual motivations such as laziness, greed, or malice toward the city. Ideal civic friendship would not involve any of these negative qualities, but this is not an ideal world, and thinking of it as such will only further remove concepts such as civic friendship from reality. In reality, those who do not practice civic friendship to a certain degree would not be wanted in a city. This would cause the problem of deciding how far a person is allowed to stray from the ideal, as well as the problem of dealing with a person who is suspected of betraying the trust of civic friendship. Even a person who seems to not be living up to the expectations of the city may actually be practicing the ideal form of civic friendship. There is no absolute measure of success, especially in areas such as art, where opinions may vary greatly from person to person. Some artists may be gifted, and produce the finest work that they are capable of, but others might see it as being below the level that would be expected of the average infant. How would people be encouraged to achieve all that they are capable of, and who would decide if a person was failing to do so? Cooper does not even consider these questions, since he does not deal with reality. These questions are very important when considering the success of a city, since a failure to promote individual success would decrease the success of a city, and a failure to properly judge the actions of those within the city could remove the element of trust that keeps the city functioning as a whole.
Another problem that a real city of this type would face has to do with freedom. If everyone in a city really wants to act in the best interests of the city, then freedom would not be an issue, since these people are freely choosing what they want to do. However, in reality, not all people would choose to work for the common good. Real people have certain degrees of selfishness and greed, and will be likely to work for a common purpose if there were obvious individual benefits. Sometimes benefits that come from the success of the city as a whole can be difficult for an individual to see. The benefits to those in leadership positions however may be more obvious. Cooper says that those capable of leading a city will benefit the most, and others will benefit less. Some people might feel that this is unfair, and demand equal benefits. In order for every individual to assume a specific, unchanging position within a city, some degree of freedom must be removed. This appears to be the greatest obstacle that must be overcome in order to create a near-perfect society, since countless revolutions and protests, in almost every part of the world, have been started in the name of freedom.
Even though Cooper's ideas by themselves do not directly apply to reality, this does not mean that it is impossible to create a utopian society. The missing links between Cooper's ideas and a realistic implementation of them are the solutions to the problems of individual thinking and the desire for freedom. George Woodcock states "the stability necessary to maintain society unchanged will mean the elimination of the idea of freedom and the knowledge of the past" (174). In his novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley uses science to repress any source of independent thought. His utopia is believable, but it is only a utopia for those who are conditioned to accept it as such. The problem that John Colmer notes is that "we long for a perfect world, but the worlds we dream of turn out to be enemies of our individual perfection" (Colmer qtd in Draper 164).
Huxley's utopia managed to work because its inhabitants were conditioned in such a way that they would be incapable of desiring anything more than what they have. This conditioning begins before life begins for the inhabitants. People do not reproduce sexually, instead human eggs are fertilized in hatcheries. A single egg can become up to 96 identical eggs through "Bokanovsky's Process." When questioned about the advantage of this process, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explains that "Bokanovsky's Process is one of the major instruments of social stability" (5). The stability comes from the fact that all individuals produced from a single egg would be identical, making the population more standardized, and easier to control. Conditioning continues as the fertilized eggs develop, in the form of predestination. The eggs are specially treated in order to create the right number of people in each class, in order to keep the population constant. The population is divided into five classes - Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon - which have different degrees of intelligence, and are conditioned for different kinds of work within the society. After the eggs develop into children, the conditioning continues. Children are conditioned to like the things that they will encounter in their work, and dislike things that could detract from their work. The director again explains the benefit of conditioning when he said "And that, that is the secret of happiness and virtue - liking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny" (15).
Conditioning and population control ensure that there will be someone to perform any necessary task. As Woodcock states, "Utopia becomes feasible as a society in which men cease to be individuals and become merely the components of a social collectivity" (175). The class divisions and conditioning that Huxley envisions create a society which closely resembles what Cooper described as being the result of civic friendship; all people within the society achieve what they are capable of, and the society as a whole benefits. Huxley solves the problem of motivation through the class structure. Epsilons are conditioned for the most menial of tasks, Alphas are conditioned for the most intellectual of tasks, and the other classes fall between the two extremes. Members of each class are conditioned to prefer the tasks of their particular class, so there is no jealousy between classes, and no desire for anything more or less from life. Peter Bowering summarizes this result as being that the World Controllers have succeeded in producing a race which loves its servitude, a race of standardized machine-minders for standardized machines who will never challenge their authority. The animal, thinking and spiritual man has been sacrificed in his entirety" (99).
While it may seem from Bowering's quote that all individuality has been removed from this world, closer examination of his comment could bring this conclusion into question. The World Controllers are people who enter the world in the same way as everyone else in this society, but Bowering places them in a separate category, with good reason. People are not conditioned to be World Controllers, as proven by the Director of Hatcheries when he explained the variety of types of people that could be decanted in the hatchery. When describing the high end of this variety, "He was going to say 'future World Controllers,' but correcting himself, said 'future Directors of Hatcheries,' instead" (12). Huxley does not immediately explain the reasoning behind this reaction because of the importance of the idea. By creating some mystery about the World Controllers, Huxley causes the reader to wonder about how World Controllers differ from the rest of the population.
Since there is no sense of individuality in the general population, in order to show the problems with individuality Huxley introduces two characters who are truly different from the others around them. These two think on their own, and as a result are threats to the stability of the society.
Bernard Marx was physically different from most people, and this caused him to become isolated from those around him. This isolation caused him to begin thinking about generally accepted behavior, and how it prevented individuals from having strong feelings. No pleasure was forbidden; instead most were encouraged, so that they would become routine and lose all meaning. Bernard recognizes this, and becomes curious, but when he says "I want to feel something strongly," he is countered by the saying, "When the individual feels, the community reels" (94). Bernard does not blindly accept this however, because he has realized that people are conditioned to be "Adults intellectually and during working hours," and "Infants where feeling and desire are concerned" (94). This realization, coupled with his curiosity, caused him to think "that it might be possible to be an adult all the time" (94).
Hemholtz Watson was a friend of Bernard Marx, and was, like Bernard, somewhat isolated from those around him. "A mental excess had produced in Hemholtz Watson effects very similar to those which, in Bernard Marx, were the result of a physical defect. ... What the two men shared was the knowledge that they were individuals" (66). Hemholtz wrote meaningless, catchy slogans, but feels that he "could do something much more important ... more intense, more violent" (70). He discovers "that poetry offers a truth higher than emotional engineering" (Colmer qtd in Draper 314).
By themselves, Bernard and Hemholtz may not have caused any major problems, but the situation changed when Bernard visited the New Mexican Reservation and found John the Savage, the child of two "civilized" people, who was raised on the reservation, and had read the works of Shakespeare. John's perspective is similar to that of the reader; he is used to a society with good and bad aspects, and is willing to accept the bad along with the good. In a conversation with Mustapha Mond, one of the World Controllers, John expresses his desire for imperfection and unhappiness rather than the false happiness that the World Controllers perpetuate. "But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin" (246). John shows Bernard and Hemholtz that there was more to life than what their world created for them.
Bernard and Hemholtz never had a chance to alter the society's stability with their individuality, since they, along with John, were taken to see Mustapha Mond when John started an unsuccessful uprising. The World Controller then explained that stability is his greatest concern. He said that "we have our stability to think of. We don't want to change. Every change is a menace to stability. That's another reason why we're so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy" (231). Mond continued with the story of how he became a World Controller. He had been a scientist, and was "good enough to realize that all our science is just a cookery book, with an orthodox theory of cooking that nobody's allowed to question, and a list of recipes that mustn't be added to except by special permission from the head cook" (232). With this knowledge, Mond ended up in a position similar to that of Bernard and Hemholtz. He had been practicing real science, and was no longer fit for such a stable, unchanging society. He then "was given a choice; to be sent to an island, where [he] could have got on with [his] pure science, or be taken on to the Controllers' Council with the prospect of succeeding in due course to an actual Controllership" (233). This shows that World Controllers are selected from people who cannot take part in the unquestioning happiness of utopian society, which explains why the Director of Hatcheries did not use "World Controller" as an example of the type of person who can be predestined in the hatchery.
The irony in Huxley's utopia is that individuality is the greatest threat to the stability of society, yet it is also required in order to maintain this stability. Individuality must exist, yet it must exist outside the main population, either on islands, where Bernard and Hemholtz were destined to spend the rest of their lives, or in positions of power, as Mustapha Mond had chosen. Huxley is saying that the main goal of a society is stability, which will come from a feeling of happiness in all inhabitants. When people are happy, they have no desire for change, and have no need for freedom. People only desire freedom when they are controlled in a way that limits their happiness. John the Savage saw the lack of freedom in utopia because he was not conditioned to be happy in that utopia; instead he was happy in a reality that included the full range of human emotion, rather than just a dull happiness. He could not bring freedom into the utopia; his attempt at a revolt failed miserably. He could not leave the utopia; Mustapha Mond wanted to continue the "experiment" of introducing a savage to his society. John tried to leave, but society followed him, in the form of reporters and spectators. Without freedom, without happiness, and without any way to escape, John had only one choice. The reporters found his lifeless body spinning slowly in the breeze, and would probably never understand why John could not continue to live in a world that they thought was perfect. The individual was sacrificed so that the society could continue unchanged.
By examining examples of ideal societies, it was possible to gain an understanding of the goals and needs of societies in general. Using a similar approach when dealing with individuals should result in an understanding of the goals and needs of individuals. However, it is difficult to determine what an ideal individual would be like, but extreme cases of an individual's interaction with society can produce the intended results. These cases include individuals who are detached from society, and an individual who dedicates himself completely to the benefit of society.
Ernest Hemingway wrote several stories with characters who seemed to be detached from society in one way or another. His story "Soldier's Home" is one of these stories; it is about Harold Krebs, a soldier who returns from the war "much too late," after "the greeting of heroes was over" (145). He finds that "his town had heard too many atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities ... to be listened to at all he had to lie." As a result, he lies about what it was like in the war, "attributing to himself things other men had seen, done or heard of, and stating as facts certain apocryphal incidents familiar to all soldiers" (146). Because of these lies, "Krebs acquired the nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration" (146).
Aside from the lies about the war, Krebs's life is empty; "he was sleeping late in bed, getting up to walk down town to the library to get a book, eating lunch at home, reading on the front porch until he became bored and then walking down through the town to spend the hottest hours of the day in the cool dark of the pool room" (146). He spent some time looking at girls and thinking about girls, but nothing more. "Vaguely he wanted a girl but he did not want to have to work to get her. ... He did not want to get into the intrigue and the politics. He did not want to have to do any courting. He did not want to tell any more lies. It wasn't worth it." Krebs's parents worried about him, since he didn't have a job, a girl, or any real plans for his life. His mother talked to him about this, and said that his father "thinks you have lost your ambition, that you haven't got a definite aim in life" (151). Krebs didn't want his parents to worry about him, and he didn't want anything to complicate his life. In the end, "He had tried so to keep his life from being complicated. ... He had felt sorry for his mother, and she had made him lie. He would go to Kansas City and get a job and she would feel all right about it" (152-53).
Krebs's desire for a life without complication and lies is caused by his experience in the war. He "had been a good soldier; whatever else the war had been for him, he had found being a soldier simple and honest, and he had been proud of doing his job well" (Burhans qtd in Stein 190). He had become so adjusted to life in the war that he could not function properly back home. "Krebs is disillusioned less by the war than by the normal peacetime world which the war has made him see too clearly to accept" (Burhans qtd in Stein 190).
All of Krebs's problems upon returning home can be understood through his feelings concerning girls and courtship; Hemingway only explains this one aspect of home life in detail. Krebs saw courtship as nothing more than unnecessary complication and lies, which was much different from what it was like in the war. "Now he would have liked a girl if she had come to him and not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. ... That was the thing about French girls and German girls. There was not all this talking. You couldn't talk much and you did not need to talk" (148). His experiences in the war shaped how he thought life should be, and he brings this up several times while thinking about girls. "He wanted to live along without consequences. Besides he did not really need a girl. The army had taught him that. ... You did not need a girl unless you thought about them. He learned that in the army" (147-8). Krebs finds that applying what he learned in the army to his life at home somehow separates him from everyone else, and forces him to become an observer and nothing more. "He liked the look of the girls that were walking along the other side of the street . He liked the look of them much better than the French Girls or the German girls. But the world they were in was not the world he was in" (148). The result of this detachment, from girls and from life at home in general, was that "when the situation involves a collision of values, personalities, and attitudes, as in a family quarrel; or a social pattern of conformity, lies, and restraint, as in courtship; he would rather escape into the 'cool dark of the pool room' (146), or into a book" (Johnston 79).
Leaving home seems to be the only solution to Krebs's problems, especially with his mother pressuring him to find a definite aim in life. He seems to hope that a change in location will help him to adjust to life outside the war. The familiarity of home, and knowledge of how it was before the war causes Krebs to notice that his home remained the same while he has changed, which is why "Krebs finds not peace but conflict and tension on the home front" (Johnston 77). His mother's actions also cause a situation in which "the emotional cost of staying at home is much too high" (Comley 32). Robert Lewis explains that Krebs "will not give them the chance to kill him by making him lie again. He will leave home and try to protect his integrity" (176).
Another of Hemingway's stories that deals with a character's detachment from society is "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." The story takes place in Africa, with Harry dying from gangrene, and waiting for a plane to rescue him and his wife, since their truck has broken down. Harry seems to have accepted his imminent death, but he still has some regrets about how he let his life go by without actually accomplishing anything. Harry was a failed writer, and his condition made him realize that "he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well" (54). With his death close at hand, Harry re-lives the memories that make up the stories that he will never write down. Harry admits that "Idon't like to leave things behind" (58), which explains why this unfinished work causes him pain. This pain is the only pain which Harry feels, since his gangrene is painless, so he is fully aware of all aspects of his failure, and can determine why he failed.
Harry blames his wife for his failure, since he lived off of her money, and didn't need to worry about making a living. He never really cared about anything, and as a result he never wrote any of the stories that he kept in his mind. He refers to his wife as a "kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent" (60), but then he realizes that there was more to his failure than a woman and her money. He continues, "Nonsense. He had destroyed his talent himself. ... He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook" (60). Harry sought out rich women so he wouldn't need to work, "he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil" (60). He knew this, and as a result he knew that "It wasn't this woman's fault. If it had not been she it would have been another" (60). It was Harry's own inability to motivate himself that caused him to fail as a writer, but it was Harry's success with rich women, and the money that came as a result, that made him stop caring about everything else in life. The money destroyed his talent, and his ability to care about anything, even death. "I'm getting bored with dying as with everything else, he thought" (73). The result of all of this is that Harry "loses his soul and dies of futility on a hunting expedition in Africa, out of which he has failed to get what he had hoped" (Wilson 31).
Even though Krebs and Harry are completely different, they both end up in very similar situations, failing at life and being drawn away from their place in society. The reasons for their failures are also completely different; Krebs's experiences in the war "radically altered his attitudes and values" (Johnston 77), causing him to become "cut off from life" (Wagner 94), and Harry's talent for getting money from rich women made him lazy and indifferent, cutting him off from life, just like Krebs. Through their failures, it becomes obvious that both Krebs and Harry need something from society, but are unable to have these needs fulfilled. Krebs develops, or perhaps only becomes aware of, a need for simplicity and truth from life, but he is unable to find it because of all the unnecessary complications in life that he is able to see so clearly. The conflict between his needs and the reality of society cause Krebs to leave home, but Paul Smith recognizes that a change in location alone cannot change a person's psychological needs. The story ends with Krebs about to leave, but first he plans to watch his sister play indoor baseball. Smith says that "the last line questions whether Krebs will ever leave the 'soldier's home' where he finds the desperate solace of a world ordered but with no more meaning than a game. If he does not, he might as well stay in Oklahoma as leave for Kansas City" (74). Harry had a need to tell his stories to the world, but his greed and laziness got in the way, and "he failed to perform his duty to write of the world and its people in change, namely his time. Neglecting his vocation as a writer he failed to live properly, let alone perfectly" (Yu 128). Harry knew that his place in society was as a writer, and his trip to Africa was similar to Krebs's planned trip to Kansas City; both changes in location were intended to help reduce individual needs and strengthen connections with society. For Krebs the connection with society would take the form of a job, and maybe a girlfriend, and for Harry it would take the form of his writing. Harry was unable to overcome his personal greed, and as a result could not become a part of society through his writing. This was as much a factor in his death as the gangrene; it made him cease to care about anything, even life. If Krebs is unable to get past his personal needs, he too may be close to some kind of death.
Hemingway's stories help to demonstrate a point that Cooper presented without proof. Cooper stated that humans had a need for an organized society. Hemingway shows that two different people, with different lives and different needs, both have the kind of societal need that Cooper relies on in his essay. If two people with so many differences could both have this kind of need, then it is likely that this need could exist in many people, perhaps even most people. Proving that such a need of society by individuals is important in understanding the interaction between individuals and their societies.
While Cooper appears to have been right about the individual's need for society, he did not take other individual needs into consideration. Individual needs that conflict with the needs of society could cause problems for the society. In his novel Too Late the Phalarope, Alan Paton not only shows that other individual needs exist, but also shows that the suppression of these needs could be harmful to the individual. The novel focuses on Pieter van Vlaanderen, who suppressed all needs that did not involve what was best for those around him, and as a result lost everything.
Pieter's method of dealing with his needs and what others wanted of him was shaped early in his life. As a child, Pieter "had all his father's will and strength, and could outride and outshoot them all, yet had all the gentleness of a girl, and strange unusual thoughts in his mind, and a passion for books and learning, and a passion for the flowers of veld and kloof" (10-11). Despite all of his talents and desires, Pieter shaped himself into what his father expected of him. One time, when Pieter was reading a book while some boys were shooting at three tins on a stump, his father said "is that the way to treat your friends? Or are you afraid to shoot?" (10) Pieter then put down the book and went outside to where the boys were shooting, and "took the gun from one of the neighbors' boys, and fired three times at the three tins, and shot them all down from the stump" (10). This one example is representative of Pieter's life; he abandoned the things that he valued, and embraced the expectations that others had of him. Pieter later acknowledges this when he was reflecting on his past. "Then I thought I had perhaps been too obedient as a boy, too anxious to please and win approval, so that I learned to show outwardly what I was not within" (94).
Pieter's life continued as little more than what others expected of him. He seemed to follow Cooper's concept of civic friendship, achieving all that he was capable of. At seventeen he passed first-class on his Matriculation Examination, and after getting his degree at Stellenbosch he became a police officer. World War II started during his first year with the police, and went away to fight with the English. Pieter was described as being a great soldier in the war, and won the Distinguished Service Order, as well as many other medals. At twenty-four he became a major, and when he came back from the war he was made a lieutenant in the police (38-41). All of this distinction caused people to treat Pieter as if he were in a class far above them. When Pieter walked into a bar, the men there would stop telling dirty jokes, and even his best friend Kappie called him lieutenant instead of Pieter.
By neglecting his own needs, Pieter developed a "black mood," and he had a strong need to discuss this mood with someone. However, no matter how hard he tried, or who he tried to talk to, he just couldn't do it. Nobody treated him like a normal human being, and nobody could imagine that he was capable of having problems. All of Pieter's neglected needs caused him to do what was unthinkable in that time and place - have sexual relations with a black woman. This one act destroyed everything he had worked for, yet it was the only way he could escape from the desires and expectations of others and finally be himself. His family disowned him, his wife and children left him, he lost his job and was sent to prison, but when Kappie finally called him Pieter he gained a true friend, which was something he had been lacking all his life. Everything Pieter had done for the good of society was destroyed so that he could truly be an individual.
Through Pieter, Paton shows the power that a need for individuality has over the need for acceptance within a society. Pieter was accepted by those around him, but not as the person that he saw himself as. Pieter abandoned his individuality, and later regretted doing so when he found it impossible to truly be himself while maintaining his position in society. He is very similar to Bernard Marx and Hemholtz Watson in Brave New World; all three of them had their individuality suppressed, and all three of them lost their place in society when this suppression stopped. This not only demonstrates the personal need for individuality, but also shows that society has little tolerance for sudden realization of this individuality. When a person becomes more of an individual, that person's place in society becomes different, and the person becomes less able to fill his current place in society. Huxley notes this in the saying "When the individual feels, the community reels" (94). Since individuality is often unpredictable, it can be harmful to society as a whole. The personal need for individuality then can be seen as a potential problem for society.
While benefits to society are often benefits to individuals, the fact that the needs of the two are not identical means that there is the possibility of conflict between them. In fact, it was society's inflexibility and need for stability that contributed to the problems faced by Krebs and Pieter; unnecessary complications kept Krebs from truly living, and ironclad laws forbidding relations between the races brought about the destruction of Pieter and his family. Since a lack of stability can destroy a society, sources of instability like individual thinkers, scientists, and rebels must be controlled to some degree, or even destroyed. This can lead to injustice in the name of social stability.
As societies become larger, the possibility of injustice on a large scale becomes greater. Since the survival of a society depends on its stability, individuality will be tolerated less and less, and individuals will become more dissatisfied with the society. A society like the one Huxley depicts in Brave New World becomes a more realistic possibility, due to the strong control that a few people have over the entire population, eliminating all threats to the survival of the society, as well as most individual freedom. Another alternative would be the destruction of these large societies, but that would result in chaos, and would end up being destructive to the individual's happiness and well-being. Freedom and happiness can't coexist in either of these scenarios; one must be sacrificed for the other. However, George Woodcock believes that a compromise is not only possible, but also necessary to avoid the type of world that Huxley envisioned. He states that "it is necessary to form small self-governing communities, freed from the restrictions of Big Business and Big Government, where people can work together as individuals and not as the embodiment of specialized functions" (113). Such a balance of freedom and happiness would not allow either to be experienced as much as possible, but it would allow them to exist to a greater degree than the alternatives. Small societies would be more flexible, and less restrictive of individuality, because they would be less threatened by individuality. These societies wouldn't be as ideal as the cities that Cooper describes, but they could create an ideal balance between the good of society and the good of the individual. This ideal is more generally desirable, and also more possible than Cooper's ideal. People would be able to choose how they wanted to live, and the society would reflect these choices, instead of the opposite, which Huxley warns of in Brave New World.
It isn't clear which possibility our future will bring, but our possibilities already seem to be limited to Huxley's utopia, anarchy, or Woodcock's compromise. The result will depend on the strength of societal and individual needs, and the influence each has on the other. No matter what happens though, individuality will still be a necessity. Huxley points out that it is always necessary in the leadership of a society, and the actions of Casas demonstrate how individuality can be necessary to point out and correct injustice. Paton showed that individuality can even overcome a strong sense of responsibility to serve society, which proves that people like Casas could exist in almost any society. Future societies must be able to properly utilize this individuality, for both leadership and feedback, but they must also be able to handle destructive individuality. It is the responsibility of the individual to determine the line between useful and destructive individuality, and to ensure that the distinction is acknowledged by the leadership of the society. There is no easy way to balance the needs of society and the individual, but a generally acceptable solution is possible if people are willing to work for it.
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