Friday, December 27, 2013

Society is like the air

This is an interesting quote expressed with Santayana’s inimitable lucidity. He says there is more to social life than gregarious socialising which he sees as an essentially passive activity akin to breathing.

Gregarious sentiment is passive, watchful, expectant, at once powerful and indistinct, troubled and fascinated by things merely possible. It renders solitude terrible without making society particularly delightful.

A dull feeling of familiarity and comfort is all we can reasonably attribute to uninterrupted trooping together. Yet banishment from an accustomed society is often unbearable.

A creature separated from his group finds all his social instincts bereft of objects and of possible exercise; the sexual, if by chance the sexual be at the time active; the parental, with all its extensions; and the combative, with all its supports.

He is helpless and idle, deprived of all resource and employment. Yet when restored to his tribe, he merely resumes a normal existence. All particular feats and opportunities are still to seek.

Company is not occupation. Society is like the air, necessary to breathe but insufficient to live on.

George Santayana - The Life of Reason

I’m sure we’ve all come across highly gregarious people who only appear to want superficial social contact. They may be good company in the right surroundings, but somehow don’t relish anything deeper than good humoured chit-chat.

Perhaps this is where the emptiness of modern politics comes from. The ghastly charade of social empathy which seems so shallow. If Santayana is right, the shallowness may result from a doomed attempt to substitute the forms of gregarious behaviour for the warmth of genuine engagement.

After all, striding to the political lectern in shirt sleeves doesn’t convince anyone. Simply telling it as it is would probably work better. Not only because the shirt sleeves are unconvincing, but as Santayana says - in itself gregarious behaviour is insufficient to live on.

A dull feeling of familiarity and comfort is all we can reasonably attribute to uninterrupted trooping together. Yet banishment from an accustomed society is often unbearable.

Sounds like a political party conference to me. It isn’t surprising that the vast majority of us seek more genuine social engagement while party membership inevitably declines to a squabbling, anti-social core.

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Paddington said...

I believe that the world might be better if we had a few more leaders who actually solved problems, instead of assigning blame and taking credit.

Sackerson said...

Yet another stimulating piece. Recent battle memoirs I've read (plus "fiction" by Andy McNab & co.) demonstrate that soldiers are constantly monitoring one another's mood and morale (as well as their own).

Santayana's formula that social interaction is necessary but not sufficient may have more to do with his own drive. This is the 5% not understanding the 95% again.

For the latter, the minutiae of social intercourse (much of it non-verbal) is endlessly engaging, and I suppose this might explain the fascination of "reality TV" programmes and the soaps. It doesn't even need murder and car crashes - the "Royle Family" series showed you could be absorbed by what goes on in a plebeian family living room.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - I tend to blame the PR business and the idea that perceptions are there to be manipulated in as covert a manner as possible.

Sackers - interesting point about the "Royale Family". I didn't watch it, but caught enough of the format to find it a little spooky that trivia can be so engaging yet so ephemeral.

Paddington said...

Santayana didn't understand (or accept) that, as a species, we are social animals. Most of us want to 'belong' somewhere. This is what has made the internet both positive and negative. Outcasts in their own societies can find like minds, even those like the KKK.