The Collective Social Mind and Psychology

The mind in Western thinking has been conceived of either as the property of (a) each individual, or (b) a collective unconscious that pervades all individual. There is no conception of a mind for a specific culture, society, civilization, or religion. Accordingly, we can psychoanalyze individual people but not cultures, societies, civilizations, or religions as a whole. This is very restrictive because there are psychologies and mentalities underlying different cultures, societies, civlizations, and religions. To study this general pattern in a specific manner, we can restrict it to one specific issue, namely, the issue of freedom vs. responsibility, and their relationship. Different cultures, societies, civilizations, and religions give different priorities to freedom and responsibility, and conceive their relationship differently. That psyche also constitutes a collective mind but it is neither purely universal nor purely individual.

The ongoing clashes among people based on social and political ideologies are based on different moral stances that prioritize some moral principles while ignoring the rest. The well-known right- and left-wing debates are based on two simple ideas — (a) that society must be free and (b) that it must be fair.

The connection between free and fair is not seen in modern societies, because it depends on the acknowledgment of successive lifetimes in which the sacrifices made in one life are rewarded in the next by giving a person greater freedom. Conversely, if freedom is misused, then the freedom reduces.

In other words, fairness is always a higher principle than freedom. To practice that fairness, we need freedom–e.g., to make a sacrifice or not. Since sacrifices are rewarded, therefore, the system is fair. However, because the sacrifice trades off long-term reward for short-term loss, therefore, there is also a choice. The choice simply means: Do I prioritize long-term or short-term rewards? And fairness means that the result is according to the choices made by an individual. Free and fair are thus consistent.

Since modern society doesn’t see this connection, therefore, it almost always elevates freedom to a whole new level, whereby fairness is generally ignored. It may even rationalize unfairness on the principle that if one person benefits unfairly, then others too benefit, although their benefits may be smaller. Thereby, the idea of fairness is relativized through radical applications of the idea of freedom.

Based on the ideas of freedom and fairness, societies, economies, and political systems are formed. When the idea of freedom dominates, then fairness takes a backseat. Even if some fairness is left, it is viewed in a limited sense. For instance, it is “fair” for a powerful country to exploit and demean weaker countries, because fairness is only for the people in the powerful country, rather than globally. However, as fairness is limited to narrower domains, it keeps narrowing with time. For instance, after narrowing the fairness to within a country, the fairness is further narrowed to powerful people. Thereby, if a powerful person is demeaned, then he or she can talk about justice, but if the weak are demeaned then they have no recourse to justice. Instead, the powerful people have the power to demean other people, because fairness gives retribution when the powerful people are demeaned, not when weak people are.

Thus, social, political, and economic thinking is influenced by a tension between free and fair, and different societies choose different positions in the spectrum between extreme fairness and extreme freedom. A right-leaning society values freedom over fairness, and it legitimizes the exploitation of natural resources, labor, and laws for personal profit, thereby delegitimizing fairness. A left-leaning society instead values fairness over freedom, and it tries to create equal opportunities for everyone, disregarding their talents, abilities, capacities, and potentials, thereby delegitimizing people’s freedoms.

In Vedic philosophy, the opportunities you get are based on how you have used your freedom in the past. Those who misuse their freedom, lose that freedom and opportunities. And those who use the freedom properly, preferably making sacrifices, increase their freedom and opportunities. However, even when a person’s opportunities have been reduced, freedom is never zero. There are always choices you can make–to show that you know how to use your freedom–before freedom further increases.

The missing link in modern sociological thinking is the moral connection between choice and opportunity. Everyone wants maximum freedom and opportunity. But when they get the opportunity, they also misuse the freedom. Thereby, nature takes away their opportunities, and they complain about not being free. But they are still free, although freedom is severely constrained by opportunities.

When freedom is used fairly, then freedom grows, and that means more opportunities to use freedom. When freedom is misused, then freedom declines, which means lesser opportunities to use freedom. Therefore, the forcible implementation of fairness by creating equal opportunities is not true fairness. Likewise, radicalizing freedom to a point where it abuses any opportunity is not true freedom.

The dichotomies of modern society are based on false freedom and false fairness. Whatever position one takes between these two extremes, is also false. And the clash between left- and right-wing ideologues is based on a false dichotomy. False arguments are advanced on both sides, and even if one side wins, for the time being, it loses eventually. People now use “data” from the past to argue for their position, however, that data is always selected to fit a certain type of predetermined outcome.

The real need is to understand the relationship between freedom and fairness. When freedom is used fairly, then both freedom and opportunity grow. When freedom is misused unfairly, then both freedom and opportunity decline. With that decline, things may seem to have become unfair, but these unfair outcomes are only byproducts of misusing our freedom unfairly in the first place.

The idea that society has a mind means many things, but at the root lies the tension between free and fair. Ideally, those who have more opportunities should give away their wealth and power to those who don’t have it. By that, a short-term sacrifice will create short-term benefits for the weaker sections of society, and a longer-term benefit for those who make the sacrifice. This is the appropriate use of one’s freedom and opportunities to give others what they don’t have. By that sacrifice, both the receiver and the donor gain. Different societies also differ in terms of how much they understand the relationship between sacrifice and happiness. Clearly, some societies do understand it more than others.

Apart from the dimensions of fair and free, there is a third dimension about their relation. Those societies that understand the relation between free and fair will naturally outlive those that don’t. The social mind or the way a society thinks, therefore, determines its prosperity, longevity, stability, and strength.

Using this background, we can place all societies in a triangle whose vertices are free, fair, and related. A capitalist society is closer to the free vertex; a socialistic society is closer to the fair vertex; and a moral society–both free and fair, with freedom used within bounds of fairness–is closer to the related vertex.

This triangle is the “space” in which each society has a “position”. Then we can plot position changes within this triangle over time: societies moving from one location in the triangle toward another. That dynamics would represent the change in the Social Mind and define how some society evolves over time.