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Andrew Hedden
10/17/02
Society & the Individual

What is the individual’s responsibility in/to society?
What are the obstacles faced in fulfilling that responsibility?
What tactics are useful in overcoming obstacles to action?

Countless tracts, bibles, novels, guides, short stories, dictionaries, poems, expositions, symposiums, newspapers, five-year plans, tomes, plays, polemics, songs, leaflets, magazines, encyclopedias, newsletters, books, brochures, manuals—not to mention essays like this one—have all been composed to address the individual’s responsibility to society. Additional ink has been shed from many a pen in hopes of answering the converse: what is society’s responsibility to the individual? If the amount of literature is any indication, the relationships between individual and society, and their immediate implications, have always been ones of importance.

Beyond the seemingly bottomless inkwell of answers, however, we have the existent reality. These questions cannot remain as mere philosophical musings; not when the common mediators between our society and its individuals continue to become forms of home entertainment, customer service, career opportunities, corporate managerial affairs, investor relations, public relations, ad nauseam. In terms of real life social institutions-and the dynamics of power-we have been separated, if not divorced, from any semblance of social responsibility. If responsibility in this sense is meant to connote “being accountable, as for something within one’s powers,” it may very well be said that we are without accountability for our own very lives—seeing how these institutions have taken on lives of their own, as creatures apart from “the people” their very purpose is to supposedly by and for.

To speak of responsibility, then, must be to speak of claiming a sense of self—not simply to choose from pre-scripted conclusions, but to author our own decisions in full; in fact, to author our own history as we make it.

For sure, the understanding of any situation depends on a reading of human history—a reading which ultimately informs our actions as human beings. Hence, within history, we must make a distinction, as educator Paulo Freire did, between subjects and objects. Subjects are those who know themselves and their historical situation, and act accordingly to write their own history; objects, in contrast, are those who are known and acted upon.

Theories abound which purport humanity to be predetermined or disposed to one end or another—historically (Marx), religiously (Calvin), biologically (racism), and so on. Reducing any segment of humanity to an object explicitly denies human potential Acting as a conscious subject, however, does not directly equate with recognizing responsibility. Rather, it is what is done with that consciousness. .

“Freedom is only a relative,” the anarchist Rudolf Rocker understood, “not an absolute concept, since it tends constantly to become broader and to affect wider circles in more manifold ways…” Therefore, “freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account.”

“To alienate men from their own decision-making,” Freire wrote, “is to change them into objects.”

EXPANDING THE REALM OF FREEDOM TO ALL- MAKING ALL SUBJECTS OF HISTORY rather than OBJECTS

RUDOLF ROCKER QUOTE:
freedom is only a relative, not an absolute concept, since it tends constantly to become broader and to affect wider circles in more manifold ways. For the anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account.

CHALLENGING ELITES:
When a Henry Kissinger proclaims that “history is the memory of states” what we have is an erroneous denial of the multiplicity of human experience. When a Margaret Thatcher declares “There is no such thing as society,” we have a denial of the sociability of the human experience. In all, they are pathetic apologies for a status quo which confirms their status as elites.

RECOGNiZING, CHALLENGING REIFICATION:
The modern crisis lies not only in the fact that these institutions are predicated on forms of domination- but that they have increasingly narrowed the the realm of human potential, the very ability to conceive of a society without domination.

The recognition of larger systems at work has been lost, and along with it the notion that such systems are subject to human action and change. Gone, is the vision of a better world, where ethics may not be overrun by “power politics” and “pragmatism.” “itself beyond our power of imagining because it has become our imagination, it has become our power to envision, and describe, and theorize, and resist.”

the matter demands chief focus, as the alienation of

The questions are of chief concern, in light of “Human beings

A reading of history can amount to either a theory or an ideology.

One no, many yes’s.

The answer lies somewhere between the two questions-

What has always been at stake in this discussion has been humanity’s future- that some still cling to Margret Thatcher quote

Howard Zinn: My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.