Theoretical perspective on Contemporary American Social Problems


An Indian Perspective of Contemporary American Social Problems

by Garry Jacobs

 

Indian tradition offers two profound thoughts which have a direct bearing on the comprehension and resolution of contemporary social problems confronting nations in the advanced stages of industrialisation and urbanisation. The first of these two concepts is the essential unity of all being and becoming which is expressed in the Upanishads by the formulation, "All is Brahman". The second is a perspective of history based on an evolution of the spirit in life.

 

Unity of Knowledge ‑‑ Harmony of Life

 

The concept of unity expresses variously on different planes of existence. It expresses as the oneness of all knowledge. All thoughts, facts, ideas, ideals are fragments of a greater truth which is one. Ignorance stems from the division of reality into fragments. Knowledge arises from a vision of the whole of which these fragments are part and the relationship of each of them to each other and the greater whole.

 

The growth of modern science has been towards a greater and greater specialisation, a division of knowledge into smaller and smaller fragments, ever increasing preoccupation with the precise measure of microscopic elements, an amassing of ever larger quantities of data. These tendencies are natural expressions of the mind's characteristic mode of functioning. Mind moves in a linear fashion from one fact to the next, one thought to the next, one idea to the next and, like a spider constructing its web, gradually weaves together a larger mental structure, a theory, a model, a framework with which to evaluate fact and data.

 

But at its highest reaches mind reveals the capacity for another mode of functioning which envisions the whole rather than just the parts, which expands in all directions simultaneously to view each part within its wider context, which perceives the essential unity upholding and supporting diverse forms. These higher powers of mind are the source of the intuitions and inspirations of the great thinkers and scientists which come in rare moments, opening the mind's doors to greater truths and new discoveries.

 

The problems of the industrialised nations defy the diagnoses of social scientists, because their approach is partial and detailed, rather than comprehensive and complete. They search for solutions within the limited context of the problem, whereas often it lies outside that context. For instance, economics view the problems of inflation and unemployment as essentially economic problems to be resolved by changes in economic policy. They fail to see the broader context and the impact of political, social and cultural factors. The problem of unemployment does not simply relate to the figures of available jobs and manpower. It relates to changes in the social values of the people, the role of women, the level of skills and education, the employment aspirations and expectations of workers, technological developments, the self‑image of the individual, social status, level of health care, government social and political policies, etc. All these and many more are contributing and determining factors. If all these factors are to be taken into account, the entire social milieu must be understood and the problem viewed in that context,

 

At the level of life, the concept of unity expresses as harmony. All life, all living organisms survive by maintaining a harmonious relationship with their environment and a balanced growth of the different parts of their own being. The process of development involves a disruption of the existing harmony within limits and the restoration of a greater harmony at the next higher level.

 

Most of the problems of modern society derive from a unidimensional progress in one or more fields, rather than multidimensional expansion in all related fields. As a result, the wider harmony is broken and the integrity of the whole is lost. A wider perspective is needed in which development in every field is viewed in relation to the harmony of the whole. The problem of environmental pollution is an example of unidimensional growth of technology for production without regard for the disruptive impact of this trend on harmony with the ecosphere.

 

Evolution of Consciousness

 

The concept of evolution is common to both Eastern and Western thought. Darwin described the evolution of physical forms of living organisms. Social theorists like Spencer extended the same concept to describe the evolution of social institutions and activities. In contrast, Indian thought has viewed evolution as essentially an inner spiritual process. The evolution of life forms and social forms are outer surface expressions of a deeper, more all‑embracing evolution of consciousness.

 

Sri Aurobindo described the evolution of life in matter and the evolution of mind in life as two stages of a movement that extends above to higher spiritual levels beyond mind. The evolution of life forms and social forms are outward results of an evolution of consciousness. Man is the product of this evolutionary process from matter to life to mind. His consciousness, awareness, energy, knowledge, propensities, habits ‑‑ all that we call human nature -‑ is composed of these three elements or levels of consciousness. The world he lives in and the society he creates also consist of these three levels.

 

Physical Stage of Evolution

The physical consciousness in man of which his body is composed expresses as physical energy for survival and perpetuation of the species. It is the dominant consciousness in all primitive societies. In this stage, almost all of man's time and energy is spent in the drudgery of physical labour for survival. Hunting, primitive agriculture and crafts are the main source of livelihood. Human relationships are determined by blood relationship and physical proximity. The family is the basic social unit and the entire life centers around preservation and perpetuation of the family. Social organisation is at the level of the village or tribe. Social position is transmitted by heredity and there is little or no social mobility. Social power resides with the owner of physical resources, principal; land. Common social institutions at this stage are marriage, feudalism, and monarchy. Authority is derived from tradition and is, embodied in the head of the family, elders, men, and the hereditary leader. The main problems confronted by society at this stage are physical‑‑disease, famine, natural disasters, physical oppression by others. Among social values loyalty to the family and caste are primary. Growth and expansion of the community are based on the natural infrastructure such as rivers and ports. The society seeks stability by clinging to the past, to tradition, and fixed habit. The moral code is fear‑based and insists on conformity.

 

The physical energy and consciousness which sustains life at this level ensures the perpetuation of the community and maintains a harmony with physical nature. However, it is also characterised by certain negative traits: inertia, laziness and violent resistance to change; dullness and stupidity; obstinacy and pettiness; physical violence and cruelty. Obviously, these traits are not the exclusive possession of any community; rather they are characteristics common to all mankind, even the most modern and most educated. This fact reflects the extent to which the physical consciousness still dominates over the higher energies which have been released from it.

 

Vital Stage of Evolution

 

Out of matter, life has emerged and the physical forms of matter have evolved to express higher and higher aspects of the life force or vital consciousness. This vital consciousness is characterized by energy rather than form, activity rather than stability, change rather than preservation of the past, achievement and enjoyment and domination rather than security and survival and preservation. In man, it is the energy which seeks sensual pleasure, excitement, stimulation, success, fame, power, and prestige. Positively, it expresses as dynamism, enthusiasm, and enterprise. Negatively it is characterised by greed, lust, dissipation, a craving for sensation, selfishness, jealousy, impulsiveness, arrogance, and impatience.

 

The society which is dominated by this consciousness differs markedly from the society based on the physical. The city becomes the focal point of intense social activity and expansion. Human relationships are determined by the need for interaction, association and cooperation beyond the family and local community. Activity is less physical, more social‑‑trade and commerce, politics and administration, the arts and recreation. The role of the family recedes; that of social organisations like the company, the political party, religious groups, economic classes, schools of art gain importance. Status is determined by achievement rather than heredity. Power derives from money rather than land. The capitalist, the entrepreneur, the industrialist, the shareholder become dominant social roles. The drive for physical continuity of the group is superceded by the drive for continuity of the social organisation (the company, the party). The major institutions at this stage include trade, banking, government, festivals and the church. The moral code is designed to permit expansion of life activities, e.g., honesty in contractual obligations and obedience to law or conventions:

 

The major social problems confronted at this stage are wasteful and wrong use of resources leading to depletion and ecological imbalance, urban congestion, exploitation of one economic group by another, great economic disparities between haves and have note, political and social oppression of other classes and races, dissipation, crime etc,.

 

Mental Stage of Evolution

 

The mental consciousness whose emergence has had a dominant influence on the transformation of society over the last few hundred years is characterised by the development of the intellectual life in man. As the physical seeks survival and stability and the vital seeks growth and expansion, the mental consciousness seeks after understanding, knowledge and through them mastery over nature. Whereas the vital is enthusiastic, impulsive, dynamic and competitive; mind is idealistic, curious, creative and tolerant. Whereas the vital is greedy, selfish, impatient, and jealous; mind is dogmatic opinionated, uncertain, and narrow.

 

The mental consciousness is orderly and systematic, its actions are planned, organised and efficient. Its most important social activities are education, science, and technology. It generates social organisations based on ideas, ideals and the pursuit of knowledge‑‑schools, research institutes, scientific bodies, humanistic and philanthropic groups. As the influence of the mental consciousness pervades society, knowledge and technology become more powerful than money. The manager and technocrat replace the capitalist and industrialist as dominant roles. Loyalty to the family or the institutions is superceded by loyalty to the idea or ideals. The moral code is based on allegiance to rational or suprarational truths, idealism, humanitarianism, justice, equality, freedom, and fraternity enforced by individual conscience and free choice rather than physical compulsion or the fear of social ostracism.

 

Because the action of mind is linear, it generates unidimensional growth which is one‑sided and unbalanced. Because it deals with ideas which are abstracted and removed from life, it often fails to foresee the consequences of its acts on life and nature. Even at its highest, mind is unable to see the whole‑‑for that a higher power of consciousness is necessary‑‑and it lacks a vision of the harmony which governs all existence. These characteristics produce new types of social problems: technological advance outstripping social and cultural development; impersonal mechanical systems and organisations leading to isolation, boredom and loneliness; increasing psychological stress resulting in resort to drugs, suicide, and a seeking for intensity.

 

Principles of the Evolutionary Progression

 

These three levels of consciousness-physical, vital and mental‑-represent increasing frequencies of vibration on an energy continuum, rather than separate and discreet stages. The evolutionary advance is from the physical to the mental and beyond. All three levels of consciousness coexist simultaneously in every individual and every society. The rudiments of thought and planning can be found in the primitive farmer and the residues of the barbarian can be found in the most civilised modern man. The vital society does not lose all the characteristics of the physical, nor does the mental society lose those of the vital. In fact, these three pure types of individuals and societies do not exist. But there is a progressive development, whereby the emergence of the higher level of consciousness in the individual and the society acts on and modifies the existing structure of the lower levels and reshapes it. The process does not occur simultaneously and uniformly in all sections and at all levels of the society, because society is not a homogenous mass, but a composite of more and less advanced elements. Each higher energy may reveal itself in a small minority long before it manifests in a sizeable group, and it may appear in one section long before it becomes a general possession of the society as a whole

 

The movement from physical to vital to mental is not just a neutral qualitative change. It is essentially a spiritual progression in consciousness from lower to higher levels. It brings an increasing knowledge, power, enjoyment, and quality of life. At the material level, it generates prosperity and comfort. At the mental level, it generates enlightened understanding, culture and idealism. At the spiritual levels beyond mind, it uplifts the individual and society toward a spiritual fulfillment. .

 

It is evident that the growth of modern society represents the emergence of mind in humanity as a whole, not just as the exclusive possession of a rare individual or privileged caste as in earlier times. The spread of universal education, the rapid advances of science and technology, the increasing role of the man of knowledge in society, the emergence of social idealism since the French Revolution, the diminishing role of the family and increasing importance of larger social institutions, the growth of nationalism and internationalism are all expressions of the emerging mental consciousness.

 

It is not equally evident that this transition represents an upward progression of humanity. Modernisation and development appear at best a mixed blessing that have brought in their wake a plethora of social problems which sometimes seem more formidable than those they have overcome and evoke a longing in a part of humanity for a return to a more stable, pastoral existence thought to be closer to mankind's ideal than the present tumultuous commotion of rapid change,

 

This attitude arises from the fact that at each stage in the evolutionary process, the existing social forms are destroyed or drastically altered and new forms are created to take their place. The destruction of the old may be rapid or gradual, but the creation of the new usually requires a long period of gestation. During the transition period, man is alarmed by the loss of the old security and stability and lacks confidence in the new institutions which are emerging. The decline of monarchy and hereditary rights in Europe was viewed with great apprehension not only by the aristocracy, but even by the common man who had never experienced the benefits of democracy and lacked faith that a system based on the will of the majority could succeed. Today there is a similar response in the economic sphere to the emergence of the modern welfare state in place of individual self‑reliance and self‑sufficiency.

 

The impression of a retrogressive rather than progressive movement is accentuated by two other factors. The shift from existing to new forms and activities results in a disruption of the established social harmony and alters the balance of social forces. Furthermore, when the existing forms are broken to permit the upward movement, lower energies which were contained or suppressed by these forms come to the surface and express themselves for a brief interval. For instance, the extension of social and economic rights to underprivileged communities often results in militant assertiveness and violence in a previously submissive minority, such as the blacks in USA, precisely because it has disrupted an existing social harmony based on domination and discrimination and opened the door for pent up frustrations and hostility to express themselves.

 

 

This process is complicated by an additional factor, the resistance raised by the society itself, or rather elements within it, to its own further advance. Man feels insecure in what he perceives as a world constantly threatening his physical, social and psychological survival. When he is most satisfied, secure and comfortable, he fears it may not last. He is reluctant to risk his present security, no matter how low or how tenuous, for a future condition he does not know. If he is one of the fortunate minority, he is in constant fear that he may lose his privileged position. Even the relatively unfortunate doubt that a change will be for the better. For instance, in the late 1970's inflation emerged as the number one concern of Western society at a time when it enjoyed unparalleled prosperity. The public and their leaders failed to comprehend that the rising prices were a direct result of the greater dignity and social value extended to the common man. Inflation was only a mechanism for re‑establishing harmony at a higher level of prosperity and social equality. But social scientists were unable to distinguish this phenomenon from the inflationary spiral that wrecked economics in the past and, as a result, they recommended and the public endorsed policies that were outdated fifty years ago and which threaten to destroy the gains of the last few decades.

 

Yet there are indicators by which a forward movement of evolution can be distinguished from a retrograde movement of disintegration. All that takes the society ahead, all that maintains harmony, all that is a product of the higher element, is positive. All that takes us back, all that destroys the harmony, all that issues from lower elements is negative. If the new form is progressive, it will generate more physical comfort, increased vital cooperation, and greater knowledge. It will release freedom, energy, cheerfulness, joy etc. If a form is generated by a retrograde movement, it will be physically cumbersome or ugly, contain elements of vital dissipation, and be devoid of new knowledge. Elements of perversity may also be present. An evolutionary progression always requires a great effort of a higher order, not just a greater effort at the existing level. It requires an equally great effort to retain an evolutionary achievement, whereas retrograde changes are easily brought about and maintained. A true progress results in the upward movement of those at a lower level. Those of lower origins come to occupy higher positions and enjoy greater privileges. More efficient systems, greater organisation and greater harmony are introduced. Characteristics of lower evolutionary levels such as violence, cruelty, dishonesty and superstition diminish.

 

Three Major Tasks for Solving Social Problems

 

The solution of contemporary social problems is a complex matter involving three major tasks. The first task is to accurately attach positive and negative labels to each contributing factor. The second is to establish national policies, educational curricula, social goals and individual ideals which support the positive and suppress the negative. The last task is to devise strategies for implementation.

 

The first task is made easier by the fact that society has already passed through all the stages of development at one level or another, in one period or another, in one place or another. What is new today is the movement to extend this development to all of mankind at all levels of society in all societies throughout the world. This enables us to analyse every aspect of social life, its organisation, systems, ways of functioning and goals, and assign a value, a relative positive or negative, higher or lower value to each component. For example, in any society the repetition of fixed tradition belongs to the physical consciousness whereas the emergence of new thoughts as a result of education is the expression of a higher mental consciousness in that society.

 

The second task of finding solutions is facilitated by the fact that all solutions are contained within the problems themselves. If we analyse the problem and trace it to its origins, we can identify the point at which the harmony was broken or the movement deviated from the forward path. The solution then is to restore the harmony or correct the direction of movement. For instance, the acquisition of a new power such as is generated by a new technology may have come prior to the acquisition of the vital restraint or mental understanding to use the technology wisely.

 

The destruction of an archaic social institution liberates suppressed energies and creates an atmosphere of freedom, but those who are liberated may lack the self‑control and skill needed to channel their energy in a positive direction. Inherently positive factors may be labelled as negative due to a wrong perspective. Progress in one area may be achieved without adequate effort in other related areas. Solutions to problems of imbalance or unequal rates of growth can be easily devised in most cases.

 

The last task is to implement solutions to these problems. At the lowest physical level, implementation is by enforcement. At the highest mental level, it should be by education. For the levels in between, society can resort to a combination of enforcement and persuasion, utilising a variety of institutions, private and public and governmental.

 

When we examine some of the pressing social problems confronting the most advanced industrial nations today, we will find that in most cases the problem is actually not greater today than before. On the contrary, it may be far less acute, but the greater social awareness generated by the spread of education, improved communications and increased social mobility have magnified the problem and brought it to the focal point of public attention.

 

In most cases, the present problems are a direct result of growth, not degeneration. Often they are age‑old problems which only now the society is prepared to grapple with. Many of the behaviours we condemn today are possible only because in the atmosphere of greater freedom suppressed tendencies are permitted expression. This does not signal a deterioration of society, but rather a cleansing and purification of lower elements which earlier generations possessed in even greater measure, but refrained from expressing out of fear.

 

Each problem must be subjected to detailed study. At this stage, only some general lines of approach can be indicated.

 

 

The Foundation of American Society

 

With these principles in view, we will examine some of the problems facing contemporary American society. First it is necessary to understand the background on which these problems arose and the forces of modernity which have shaped the development of that society.

 

The USA was settled by the early waves of immigrants from western Europe who abandoned or were forced to abandon their native countries in search of a new life in a new world. The earliest permanent settlers were English commercial adventurers in quest of America's natural wealth and pilgrims seeking religious freedom. They were followed later on by wave after wave ‑‑ about 250,000 a year during the 1850's ‑‑ of mostly lower class peasants from Germany and Ireland. This was in addition to about half a million African tribesmen who were brought in as slaves prior to 1800.

 

These immigrant pioneers settled down on virgin soil, fought for their survival against a harsh climate and environment, a native Indian population and each other. Few of those who came were from the cream of European society. They were mostly farmers and labourers. About 60% of those who arrived in the 1820's had no occupation at all; of the rest 10% were farmers, 6% labourers, and only 24% were drawn from professional, commercial or skilled occupational groups,

 

Those who came were uprooted from their homeland and cultural milieu. They left behind family, property, customs, and traditional social values. They risked everything they had in a bitter fight for bare survival. They set foot on a no man's land and created living conditions out of forests, marshes and wilderness.

 

This was the starting point and foundation of American life. The struggle to survive and prosper called for an enormous physical effort and psychological determination. That effort generated and released an enormous energy in these people which still characterises the country two centuries later. The pressure of physical necessity stimulated the practical application of the emerging mental powers of science and technology for material invention, whereas in Europe science remained for a longer time pre‑occupied with abstract theory and knowledge. It also fostered a spirit of cooperation for survival ignoring to a large degree class distinctions and differences in social origin. The vast open countryside became a huge cauldron in which different national, ethnic, religious and economic groups mixed together, lost many of their distinguishing traits and emerged with a common American character.

 

Necessity prompted an unprecedented spirit of experimentation, an eager seeking for new skills and knowledge with which to tame the wilderness. New thoughts and ideas born in Europe found a more eager and open reception in America than they did in the countries of their origin. Here there were few social barriers and traditional restraints. The rigid regulation and discipline of the early New England colonies found little place as the country spread west. Nearly any idea could find an advocate if it provided a chance for success. .

 

Having faced the most hostile physical conditions and conquered a wilderness, they did not stop. The energy and dynamism released by that effort acquired their own momentum and spilled over into the plane of social life and mental exploration. Experimentation with new social activities and new ideas was pursued with the same vigorous energy and lack of social restraints. The results embarrassed the prudish, annoyed the traditional, outraged the establishment. In all this, we see a positive movement surging ahead. No doubt it is mixed with impurity and perversity and destruction of all that is held sacred. But out of this immixture the future lines of evolution emerge and gain momentum, the residues of the past are thrown up to the surface for a while and then are cast away.

 

Most of what the educated and self‑conscious frown on in American society today is a natural product of its formative experience and a legacy from its past. It is not the degeneration of social values and the emergence of a new evil which we see, but an old way of life finding temporary expression in the permissive social atmosphere before it finally gives place to new and higher ways of life.

 

The process of civilisation is slow and tedious. Energy is only the first stage. It must be upgraded into skills for production and social living. It must be further raised and converted into cultured sentiments and emotions. It must be restrained and refined by the influence of mind to become mellow, self‑disciplined and calm. Energy, impulse and emotion must be transmuted into mental energy, thought and idealism. For this transformation, the best instrument is education, the most essential ingredient is time.

 

Meanwhile, the original energy abounds. In earlier times freedom was limited by necessity rather than by culture or self‑restraint. Now most of the pressure of physical necessity has been mastered and eliminated. In the absence of physical, social or psychological constraints, that abundant energy pours out today in all directions good and bad, high and low, idealistic and perverse. The development of technology has aggravated the situation by eliminating much of the physical drudgery which absorbed man's energy and time. Efficient production has produced leisure, restlessness and boredom. They in turn have fostered dissipation of energy in unidealistic pursuits.

 

The original immigrants of the 17th and 18th centuries have matured into the economic, educated and cultural elite of America. But they have been followed by millions and millions of others-‑English, Irish, German, Scandinavian, Polish, Russian, Italian, Chinese‑‑during the 19th century and millions more (1.2 million in 1914 alone) during the 20th century from Europe, Asia and Latin America. Each new wave has come abandoning their past and seeking a new life. Until very recently most possessed no more property, skill or education than the earlier arrivals. They all came to start afresh, dropped the defining and confining traditions of their cultural origins, breathed deep of the atmosphere of freedom and launched on a new life. Thus, the absence of restraints which marked early American life has been perpetuated by a constant repetition of the initial settlement generation after generation.

 

Development of Modern America

 

The formative experience of the pilgrims and pioneers is the basis for the subsequent development of modern America. Many new factors have played a role in this process, factors which represent the emergence of the mental consciousness in the plane of social life. These factors have not only determined the course of social development, but also contributed to the creation of new social problems. When viewed from a wider perspective, it can be seen that the problems thus generated result primarily from unidimensional and unbalanced social growth. They are a natural though not inevitable part of the evolutionary progression; not, as many believe, signs of social retrogression.

 

1. Technology

 

The emerging mental consciousness has had its most pronounced effect in the physical plane through advances in science and technology. Improved means of production have increased productivity and raised the standard of living throughout the industrialised world. At the same time, they have contributed to a disturbance of the ecological balance through pollution and rapid exhaustion of natural resources. Man had the imagination to harness technology for many few purposes, but he lacked the wider vision which could foresee the consequences of his inventions on his environment. It was not the inherent evil of industrial technology that caused the problem, but rather his unidimensional view of life and his unbalanced application of new mental powers.

 

A parallel problem arose in Third World countries where modern medical technology was utilised to drastically reduce infant mortality and increase life expectancy. The population explosion has been a direct result of this application of science for a very beneficial purpose. Here too it was not the technology that was at fault, but a one-sided application of a new force. The mental consciousness which created these new medical technologies in the West was not extended in the form of education to the communities which were to benefit by them. The power generated by science was not balanced by a proportionate enlightenment of the recipient population. The imbalance generated a new problem which was not the result of a retrogression, but rather of a one‑sided advance.

 

Technology in the field of transport has shortened the distances and vastly increased physical and social mobility. Man who was until recently a stationery provincial creature has now become a globe trotter. The vital excitement of travel to new places as well as the lure of higher education, better jobs and lucrative trade have resulted in the migration of large numbers of people within countries and overseas. In the USA for instance, the average family shifts its residence every four years. The rapid growth of cities due to migration from rural to urban areas was facilitated by the improvements in transport technology and the development of roads. The concentration of modern life in the cities made them an irresistible attraction for those living in rural areas where technology had not yet revolutionised the way of life. Urban congestion is another example of the problem generated by unidimensional growth in a positive direction.

 

This technological advance which has generated unprecedented material prosperity has not been accompanied by an equally rapid development of human relationships. Just a century ago man's existence was confined to his own family and the local community. His relationships were based on physical ties of the blood and physical proximity of lifelong neighbors and friends. In the next stage his relations become less bound by physical attachments. He develops emotional relationships with those he works and meets with. Extensive vital relationships, less dependent on family bonds and physical proximity, replace the more limited relations of stationary physical life. This change has occurred but not at the same pace as technological change with the result that the old physical bonds have been disrupted, but not fully replaced by vital ones. Man is not yet able to extend the same emotional bonds and derive the same comfort and satisfaction at this higher level. This temporary lag in emotional development has contributed to the increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation in modern life.

 

Technology has advanced in another sphere where the positive benefits of the change are far less obvious, the field of military science and particularly nuclear weaponry. The splitting of the atom and the harnessing of nuclear energy for war or peace represent the application of mental consciousness to delve into the deepest secrets of physical nature. The positive utility of this mental power is evident from progress in the field of genetics and genetic engineering that produced the hybrid varieties of food grain which ushered in the Green Revolution and have saved millions of people from famine. It is evident that the power of mind can be utilised for great good or horrible evil. The question is what factors determine the purpose for which it is applied.

 

As we have discussed earlier, the evolution of mind in humanity progresses simultaneously at many levels and in many fields. Science and technology are the expression of one of its lowest and therefore most easily mastered powers, the power of mind over physical nature. The emergence of mind also has a profound impact at the level of society, human values and human psychology, but these are greater powers which are slower to manifest. As these higher powers emerge, the horizons of man's life widen from the narrow confines of his own locality to the farthest corners of the world. His ego which once identified only with his own family, his village, his community, his caste, gradually expands to embrace a larger national identity and eventually to feel a oneness or sense of community with all mankind.

 

But before this higher development takes place, man regards with suspicion and distrust those who speak a different language, have different racial origins, follow another religion, and live in distant lands. The sense of identification which compels him to share his possessions with his own family and friends and to give service for the benefit of his community or his country, does not extend to those at a greater physical, social or psychological distance. His generosity, unselfishness, and goodwill function

within narrow bounds. Education is mind's chief instrument for breaking the narrowness of the physical ego and enlarging man's sense of a common humanity with all.

 

The utilisation of science to amass weapons of great destruction is one expression of the gap that has emerged between the development of mind's power over the physical and its impact on man's, social and psychological existence. It is a perversion reflecting the residue of primitive instincts and physical stupidity (egoism), which are carried over from our evolutionary past. Yet, the very threat of mass annihilation has also led to an awakening of the world community to the insufficiency and danger

of a narrow‑minded outlook based on national or regional self-interests and unrestrained aggression. This awakening is documented by a recent statement in the New York Times:

"...a substantial part of the world has learned... People in the United States and Europe know they don't want war. It has not long been so. In 1914 the prevailing mood in Britain was relief at the outbreak of war and rejoicing at the chance to bash the Kaiser...Nations still make war, but they need excuses now, the hypocrisy that pays tribute to virtue. That is real advance in time..."

 

Nature utilises the present danger to exert pressure on man to renounce his smallness and perversity and to acquire a global outlook and a humanistic idealism which embraces all mankind.

 

2. Social Freedom

 

As the emergence of mind radically transforms man's relationship to physical nature, it also acts to transmute the character of human social relations. The French Revolution proclaimed to the world the sacred trinity of humanitarian idealism, "liberty, equality, fraternity". Though civilisation is a long way from realising this ideal, at least with respect to the first term it has made enormous progress over the last two centuries.

 

Freedom from oppression by foreign nations, freedom of self-determinations, freedom from exploitation and racial discrimination, freedom of religion are not new ideas, but the acceptance of these ideas by the world community and their widespread implementation certainly mark a new chapter in the history of civilisation. Until 1865 slavery was actually legal in nearly half the states of USA. Until 1946 nearly half the world's population was subjected to colonial imperialism. The dramatic changes of the last century are due to the increasing influence of the mental consciousness and mental ideas on the life of humanity.

 

The growth of freedom can be seen at every level and in every field of social life from the freedom of nations to determine their own destinies to the freedom of the individual to adopt new fashions and styles of life, the liberation of women from an inferior social position, the freedom of the citizen from illegal exercise of authority by government, the freedom of children from physical abuse by parents and teachers, freedom of the consumer from misrepresentation by manufacturers, freedom of privacy from unwarranted intrusion, protection of the poor from police brutality, freedom from job discrimination against minorities and women, etc.

 

The main result of this social liberation has been an enormous release of pent-up energies, an upward movement of suppressed groups, a greater exercise of political rights, an unprecedented prosperity at all levels of the population, freer access to the advantages of modernization, etc.

 

Simultaneously with these gains there has been an explosion of negative symptoms which concern the community and raise serious questions about the ultimate social consequences of following the present course. Aggressiveness and violence by the lower classes, a revolt of the exploited, sexual promiscuity and drug abuse by youth, the lessening of parental authority before individual maturity, the decline of the sanctity of marriage, militancy among the blacks and other minority groups, the growing incidence of crime, are a few of the most disturbing signs of trouble. The direct relationship between fulfillment of a social ideal which all believe to be the highest good and the destruction of traditional social values and patterns of behaviour is apparent and disconcerting to community leaders and social scientists alike.

 

The evolution of consciousness is a progressive development toward greater freedom; freedom from ignorance, from want, from persecution and exploitation, from pain and suffering, from coercion and oppression. Our historical past is filled with experiences of an opposite kind which we all carry as a conscious or subconscious legacy of fear, insecurity, resentment, jealousy and hostility. The extension of an external freedom instantaneously removes the outer constraints on our behaviour, but the psychological legacy is removed only after a prolonged possession and enjoyment of a new freedom.

 

The first response of a previously suppressed or exploited community to the extension of a new freedom is to exercise their new possession by an assertion against those who previously oppressed them. Where physical violence is not possible, they may express their assertion by an attack on the values of the society which excluded them and to which they have just been granted access. The black civil rights movement in the U.S. became aggressive and violent only after blacks were granted substantial social and economic freedom by the majority white community. The repudiation of traditional middle‑class, social values regarding fashions, money, authority, and sex by American college youth in the 1960's was the result of their mental liberation from blind adherence to white Anglo‑Saxon middle class morality through intellectual exposure to new ideas and other cultural values, and the economic liberation from fear of want brought about by the unprecedented boom of the 1950's.

 

Each of these negative expressions has had a destructive or disturbing impact on the society. Partially this process represents the destruction of old values which have been outgrown and need to be replaced. The unwillingness of society to fully part with the past necessitates a violent confrontation. Partially this process is a catharsis of suppressed impulses and desires which were prevented from expressing earlier. The preoccupation of America with sex during the last twenty years is a surfacing of long repressed physical and vital tendencies which must be outgrown as social and human relations evolve to a higher level of emotion and culture. What Freud discovered eighty years ago festering beneath the thin veneer of civilised behaviour has been released, so that it can be cleansed and mastered. The first essential step in that process is for it to become conscious.

 

Social Mobility

 

The enhanced physical mobility made possible by improvements in transport and technology is parallel to increased upward social mobility at all levels of the population. For instance, the average real income of black families increased by 125% between 1947 and 1974 ( compared with only 90% increase for whites.) The percentage of families from black and other minority races below the poverty line dropped from 56% in 1959 to 29% in 1977 and the absolute number of non‑white individuals below the poverty line decreased absolutely by 3 million persons in spite of an increase of at least 8 million in the population of that group. Lower class whites have made similar gains. In fact, there has been a substantial migration of families not only to higher standards of living and higher income groups, but to higher educational, occupational and social levels as well. For instance, the number of blacks elected to political office in the USA increased tenfold from 1965 to 1973.

 

This trend is the result of increased economic prosperity at all levels generated by technological advance combined with the impact of mental idealism which has generated a movement towards a more egalitarian society. Though we are much further from achieving social equality in real terms than we are from social freedom, still significant changes have taken place. One need only recall that in 1860 there were nearly 4 million black slaves in the USA‑‑and that from 1960 to 1978 the percentage of women employed increase by 33 1/3%. Great strides have been made in providing more equal access to educational and job opportunities for minority races and women.

 

One of the consequences of this movement has been a significant immixture of previously segregated social classes bringing into the upper stratum those who still possess many of the behavioural traits and cultural values of the lower classes. The increased exhibitionism, the lessening of sexual inhibitions, and the spread of drugs, which were earlier strictly a lower class phenomenon partially derive from this source.

 

The movement toward a more egalitarian society has raised the expectations of lower income groups, increased wage demands and consumerism, and thereby spurred inflation. The progress of women toward equal economic rights and opportunities has made them less dependent on their spouses for economic security and removed one of the most serious barriers to divorce. Woman's changing status has also removed the social odium attached to divorce and extra‑marital relationships. Therefore, indirectly the extension of equal status has helped to undermine a code of behaviour based on fear of social disapprobation. Equality in the social sphere has been achieved at a faster pace than the acquisition of psychological self‑restraint and cultured behaviour which develop more gradually by the influence of the mental consciousness over emotions and sensations. In the short run, the removal of external social constraints leads to a lowering of behavioural norms.

 

Another movement has also contributed to the generation of psychological tension and social stress. Climbing the social or economic ladder required an enormous individual effort. Sometimes a college education is the sole instrument for ascent from a family's lower class origins to an individual's higher social aspirations. Performing at a higher position requires more attention, alertness, dynamism, initiative, sense of responsibility. Enormous self‑restraint is necessary to curb earlier habits and accepted forms of behaviour which are resented or impermissible at higher levels. This puts a stress on the individual, greater even than the general stress of modern life, further contributing to the stress‑related symptoms of contemporary society‑‑violence, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, and crime.

 

4. Welfare State

 

The first social welfare programme sponsored by the US Federal Government was the social security system introduced in 1935 to provide retirement pensions and unemployment payments to workers. Though developments in the US lag far behind many other Western nations, still over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic change in the role of the government in the field of social welfare. Today there are programmes covering employment, retirement, health, education, housing, disability, maternity and child‑care.

 

These programmes have removed much of the insecurity and anxiety associated with loss of job, illness, and old age. They have also indirectly contributed to the breakdown of the joint family and the institution of marriage. As one expression of the shift from the family to a larger basic unit of society, government is replacing the family as the ultimate source of security and support.

 

Modern society provides many supports to the aged which were not available a few generations ago. Pensions, medical support, old‑age homes, retirement communities now make it possible for the aged to maintain their independence and self‑reliance. While this has alleviated a great deal of physical suffering, it has also aggravated psychological problems. The joint or extended family is a great psychological support to the individual. It provides physical assistance and security to the young and old. In the extended family, the elder generation plays an important role in giving attention and informal education to the young which a mother, especially a working mother, cannot provide. Children today get less attention in the house and thus are more prone to psychological distress. Families also contain fewer children today providing less sibling companionship. The elder generations become isolated and useless by being separated from the younger generations. Even the housewife may suffer from the absence of her parents or a large number of children

 

Unemployment insurance has reduced the physical deprivation of those who are without jobs. It has also reduced the incentives for the unemployed to seek re‑employment. Inactivity easily leads to boredom and loneliness. The breakdown of the extended family is part of a movement from the physical to the mental stage in society. It makes possible a widening of man's emotional life by fostering more intimate relations with a wider sphere of life. The widening and deepening of the emotional ego, the development of cultural sentiments for those outside the family, the freeing of human relations from the narrow limits of the physical are also an essential part of the same process. But these two movements do riot progress at the same speed. The dissolution of the old forms occurs first and generates a pressure for the recreation of human relationship at a higher level. During the interim period, the absence of the old supporting family structure results in a sense of isolation in the individual, boredom, loneliness and psychological depression.

 

Yet let us not glorify the past we are transcending. It is true that the institution of family has played a vital role in the process of civilisation and culture and that the highest human qualities have found expression in familial relationships. But it is also true that while the centering of life in the family has permitted the development of deep emotional intensities, it has not fostered expansive emotional qualities of sympathy and compassion for those unrelated by blood and physical proximity. This expansive movement is the characteristic action of mind and an expression of mind's idealism. It is one of the fruits of the mental consciousness which society acquires during its evolutionary progress, and for that the narrow boundaries of traditional social existence must first be broken.

 

5. Education

 

The other modernising trends we have been examining‑‑technology, freedom, social mobility‑‑have all derived an impetus and support from the American educational system, which more than any other in the world, has extended the opportunity to acquire knowledge to all levels and sections of the population. Today a larger percentage of American youth, 56% in the 20‑24 age group, are enrolled in high education than in any other country; in fact the level is double that of most other Western nations. Education has been a major factor in the emergence of the USA as the world's leading industrial power. It has also been used as a conscious instrument for absorbing and assimilating immigrants of diverse cultural backgrounds and inculcating the basic values of American life.

 

Aside from its obvious influence on economic and political life, modern education has had a profound influence on social values, attitudes, and aspirations. Education has imbued women and minorities with a thirst for freedom and social equality. It has helped bring down social barriers and open up the social hierarchy to every hard working achiever. It has widened the mental horizons of the most educated to admit a more mature view of the world. Yet at the same time, the rapid spread of education has assaulted traditional social institutions, liberated enormous energies and destabilised the social hierarchy. Education has eroded traditional sources of authority like the parent, the teacher, and the government. It has prompted greater independence and individual initiative resulting in greater divergence, dissent, and conflict. It has placed an enormous psychological burden on youth‑‑the burden of deciding for oneself, choosing one's own way, trying to distinguish right from wrong in a complex world. Education has helped liberate the minds of the underprivileged, principally woman and blacks, creating a greater self‑awareness of their disadvantages, position and discontent. It has widened mental horizons faster than social opportunities, leading to frustration and resentment, sometimes hostility and revolt.

 

Sources of Contemporary Problems Summarised

We have seen that the emerging mental consciousness is responsible for most of the advances we identify with modern life‑‑prosperity, comfort, knowledge, social freedom and equality, productivity, leisure, etc. We have also seen that the emergence of this higher power generates new types of social problems and appears to aggravate and intensify some existing problems. The reasons for this as already discussed are summarised below:

 

1. Evolution does not proceed at a uniform velocity in all fields and at all levels. Some new powers emerge earlier than others; some fields advance faster. The result is the creation of temporary imbalances and disharmonies between different levels, e.g. physical freedom and psychological self‑restraint, and between different fields, e.g. political rights and economic opportunity. These rates of growth and the resultant imbalances can be corrected and kept within manageable limits by a conscious effort of the society once the real cause of the problem is identified.

 

2. The characteristic action of mind is linear unidimensional progress. Many problems have been generated by the concentrated application of mental powers to achieve specific results in limited fields, e.g., the application of technology without thought for its impact on the environment. This has aggravated the general tendency toward unequal rates of growth and the resultant problems. This deficiency can also be overcome, but only by rising above the limitations of the physical intelligence with its emphasis on specialisation, an infinite dissection of reality into tiny parts, and a preoccupation with minute analysis of physical data to acquire a higher integrated perspective and a wider perception of the greater whole. All dimensions, viewpoints, experiences and circumstances are a part of this greater whole.

 

3. The emergence of mental consciousness in social life generates a movement toward greater freedom and equality. In the process, many latent tendencies and repressed energies come to the surface to work themselves out in the permissive social atmosphere, giving the appearance of a moral degeneration and threat to the social existence. The destructive effects of this phenomenon can be minimised by providing appropriate means for the surfacing energies to acquire constructive psychological skills and opportunities for channeling them into constructive activities. Freedom must be accompanied by education and opportunity.

 

The evolutionary process raises those below to higher levels. Inevitably, this involves immixture of lower values, habits, and activities with those of a higher order and a dilution of standards. For instance, the extension of education to all sections of the population results in a general lowering of the quality of education. But this fall is only temporary, and in the next round it leads to a further development of the field to higher levels than ever before. It is part of the process by which the privileges which were once restricted to the elite are extended to the whole society.

 

5. The awakening of mind, the spread of education and growth of mass media have made the public far more aware of what is happening around them than ever before. The awareness of the present is not matched by an equal knowledge of conditions just a few decades ago. The greater awareness generates a growing concern for current social problems and there is a tendency to believe that the problems are more serious today just because the public is more aware of them, when often the problem is actually less acute than before.

 

Decline of moral values in modern America

 

In order to fully demonstrate the value of this approach, we will examine in detail the origin and development of one major social problem in contemporary America. The growing incidence of extramarital relationships and the increasing use and abuse of narcotic drugs are frequently cited as proof of a deterioration in the moral fabric of American society which augurs ill for the future of the country.

 

Neither of these phenomena can be adequately explained by the social scientist if he restricts his view to the level at which the problem manifests. Some sociologists see these trends as the result of a shift in moral values from the puritanical self‑discipline of the Protestant ethic which honoured hard work, personal sacrifice and a sense of duty to a new set of values with a more wholesome and permissive attitude toward pleasure, self‑indulgence, and freedom of individual action according to one's own inclination. This shift is attributed to the decline in the role of religion in modern life, the emancipation of women, the erosion of simplistic value systems, increased physical mobility and social mixing. It has been noted that historically sex anal drug permissiveness are greatest in the lowest socio‑economic class, but due to greater upward social mobility, increased literacy and the influence of mass media, the traditional class distinctions are breaking down and society is becoming more homogeneous.

 

All of these factors are no doubt linked to the change in behaviour related to sex and drugs. But even a thorough inventory of these root causes does not really get to the heart of the matter and help us understand exactly what is going on and why. This approach does not tell us whether the changes are good or bad, positive or negative, progressive or retrogressive. The sociologist observes the direction of change but cannot say whether ultimately the change is for the better. For this an analysis of root causes is not sufficient. There must be a wider integrating perspective which views these changes in the broader context of social and human development.

 

The real root cause of these problems is not changing social values and styles of life, but changing human consciousness. As we described earlier, man and society are in the process of transition from the physical‑vital to a more vital‑mental stage of evolution. Human relationships during the physical stage are determined by blood and physical proximity centered around the family and the local community. Attitudes, ideas, opinions, sentiments, feelings, and emotions toward others derive from this basis and are extremely narrow. Those from a different location are looked on as strangers or foreigners, those of different ethnic background as inferior, those of different religious persuasion as infidels. The most important social value is loyalty to the family and intense emotions of affection and attachment are restricted to members of the family.

 

As society evolves, human relationships become less dependent on physical factors. Man associates more with people of other communities, nationalities, races, castes, classes and religions. The importance of family ties declines, the importance of social relations and occupational associations increases. The joint family gives way to the nuclear family, social institutions like the company and government offer security and companionship formerly derived from the family. Man offers his loyalty to larger social units‑‑the company, the class, the nation. His attitudes, sentiments and emotions widen considerably to embrace a much larger segment of humanity beyond his family and locale. He comes to smile at the stranger instead of eyeing him suspiciously. He enquires with curiosity about others' beliefs and cultural traditions, rather than maintaining an aloof sense of superiority.

 

These changes represent a development in human consciousness from the physical to the vital and mental planes. Relationship at the physical level is mere physical attachment to others who are felt as part of oneself, i.e. of the same body. At the vital stage, relationship is based on feeling and sensation, nervous stimulation, the intensity and pleasure of food and sex and companionship with those around. Only when man goes beyond this level can pure emotions and sentiments develop which are not confined and restricted to physical circumstances. Communities have attained this level of cultured relationship in the past, but it has been confined to a small section of the population, usually an aristocratic class freed from the preoccupation with material concerns by generations of wealth and comfort. Today society as a whole is making the transition to this higher level. The spread of education, the extension of social freedom to women and minorities, the dissolution of rigid class barriers, increased social mobility, are aspects of this process which we have described earlier.

 

What then is the real cause for the apparent decline in moral values associated with sex indulgence and drug abuse? These activities are primarily an attempt to compensate for the loss of physical attachments and nervous intensity brought about by the breakdown of the family. Man as an individual has adapted to social change by changing his attitudes toward others, by raising his consciousness from the physical and nervous to the emotional and mental planes. But this adaptation is only partial and not universal. Some are better prepared than others for this change and adapt to it more easily. Those who cannot, seek a substitute for the lost intensity of family relations at the same level, rather than making the arduous effort to raise themselves to a higher level.

 

Sex activity for its own sake and the use of drugs to generate nervous intensity are an effort to fill in the void that is felt at the nervous level by the lessening of physical‑vital bonds. The seeking for pleasure, which the sociologist regards as a new set of social values, is really not that at all. It is an attempt to reduce the pain and anxiety of the transitional phase. The real social values that are emerging are those based on a greater acceptance of other people regardless of race, creed or sex, a wider sympathy and compassion for all humanity, a more purely emotional and less physical or nervous capacity for affection.

 

Greater social freedom, which is a product of the evolution, has generated a more permissive atmosphere, not only for those prepared for life at a higher level, but for all those below as well. At the highest level, this freedom is used to develop new values and new forms of social relationships. At the lowest level, it is used to express latent and suppressed tendencies such as repressed sexuality.

 

Greater social mobility, another product of the evolution, generates a mixing of society. It raises those below and exposes them to higher values, but it also raises lower forms of cultural behaviour which dilute those with which they are mixed. The assimilation of slang language into American usage at all levels of society is one example. So long as behaviour the society considers unwanted is confined to the lowest classes, it goes relatively unnoticed and ignored. When the same behaviour occurs in the higher stratum of society, it is viewed as a sign of social disintegration and becomes a cause of great concern. Historically the term 'society' has always referred to the upper classes, particularly the aristocratic elite, and excluded those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Today this is no longer the case. Society has come to regard all its members and levels as part of itself. Therefore what happens at all levels today is of concern to the whole society. Furthermore, many from the lower levels have moved up and the behaviour which was considered acceptable for them in their earlier status is now a source of outrage and distress. What has changed is not the rate of crime, but the level at which it is incident today.

 

Education, another product of the evolution, generates a greater awareness of social standards of behaviour and the mass media give a wide publicity to social events. By this process man becomes more conscious of his own deficiencies and more aware of those expressed by others. The frequent publicity given to homosexuality lends the impression that sexual deviation is a much greater problem today than ever before. But according to Encyclopaedia Britannica there is little evidence that the incidence of homosexuality has actually increased. What has increased is our awareness of it.

 

The foregoing is only a preliminary analysis intended to illustrate the approach, not a comprehensive examination of this problem. Other social problems can be handled in a similar manner. When a study along these lines is completed, the source and causation of the problem will be seen in the context of the society as a whole and appropriate remedial action can be indicated. Such action may include measures to minimise the negative symptoms which trouble the society, policies to lessen the underlying pressures which generate the disturbance, and strategies to facilitate the further development of the society in the areas where it is deficient which is the real permanent remedy to any social problem.


Future Education Conference

We are pleased to invite you to participate in a one-day conference on Future Education in India being organized at Anandha Inn, Pondicherry on January 28, 2018 to consider the changes needed in our schools and to examine successful strategies that are already being applied by schools in India and overseas. 

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