It was not until my introduction to university-level Humanity courses that I discovered a joy for History and Literature: Man The Social Animal.
The ready availability of the World Wide Web has made it easy to pursue in-depth analysis of events and issues around the globe. The answers to questions were all around. As I recall, I did not particularly enjoy previous history classes. Especially the rote learning of names, dates and places with the objective of getting a passing grade on the subject. All the intriguing and colourful stuff were mostly glossed over and without much context.
The Humanities provide the keys to understanding the Social Animal.
I’ve long been an “information junkie”. Throughout my life, I’ve devoured and consumed the contents of books and newspapers at every every opportunity. I used to haunt public libraries. While reading novels (not all) I’d hightlight passages or make notes in the margins as certain ideas or phrases grab my interest.
Watching televised news is something that I find to be generally dissatisfying. The often shallowness and brevity of the ‘news item’ coverages and presentations seems to like ‘small-talk news’. The type that is suitable to those who populate the twitterverse. None-the-less, I’m also a politics junkie. Not in the partisan way of what now passes for public or political discourse. My interests are more aligned with the social, philosophical and political aspects of the discourses themselves. The science of it all.
The everyday application of political ideals has its place in the social (political) aspects of our social lives – entertainment, for example. But I’m interested in the Machiavellis, the Mark Antonys, the Macbeths or Medicis of 21st. century societies.
It matters not whether you self-label or identify as being a Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, Marxist, Socialist or Communist. Whether Democratic, Autocratic or Theocratic, individuals who seek and wield political power (even in the case of religions) are all guided by baser instincts and self-interests.
Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract) addressed the legitimacy of the Authority of the State over the Individual in Civil Society. He prosited ‘The Social Contract’ as the basis upon which all individual self-interests are subsumed to those of the State which are encapsulated in the Social Compact between individuals. In current terms, Individual Rights and Freedoms are enshrined in State Constitutions. The Law is what The State deems as being Legal or a Civil Right.
There is no Opt-In choice. Opting-Out is certainly available to any individual who chooses to exercise their ‘Natural’ right to leave the constitutional confines of Civil group, the state. That is, self-exile. And, as has been clearly articulated by Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan), such individuals can expect that life, at best, outside the social construct of Civil Society would likely consist of “continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
In short, theoretically – the Individual does not give up his ‘Natural Rights’ as a condition of being an equal member of the collective – The State. He or she merely assents to allow their personal self-interests to be governed by that of the Collective or The State.
John Locke, in considering the degree or extent to which an Individual in Civil Society can expect to freely exercise his ‘natural rights’ within the strictures that will be imposed by the State’s Law or Constitution, addresses the question of Civil Liberties.
Liberalism, or the exercise of civil liberties, as John Stuart Mill pointed out, comes with attached costs. John Locke, also had much to say about liberalism. That is not to say that others have not opined or put forth their thoughts and observations of the human condition in what we (should) all accept as social conditions to modern or civil societies.
The Greek historians and philosophers have left their indelible marks on Western societies. Just as the Marxists, the Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists or Islamists have done in their times. Yet, in spite of the literature and bodies of work that exist on the nature of politics, good and bad, the sciences that are utilised to analyse and evaluate the progress of human history [admittedly, there’s no other type of history!) or evolution – it’s fair to say that today’s public discourses have become mired in navel-gazing subjects such as identity-politics.