Unification in the Social Sciences: Search for a Science of Society

Figure 1: How Energy is Converted into Accomplishment


5.3. Consciousness and Organization

Sri Aurobindo depicts human social evolution as a progressive dance between rising levels of consciousness and rising levels of organization. “Life evolves through growth of consciousness. Consciousness evolves through greater organization and perfection of life: a greater consciousness means a greater life.”12 Human Energy directed becomes Force. Force organized becomes Power. Power expressed through knowledge, skills, positive attitudes and values is converted into productive results.

The enormous investments made by modern society to enhance the knowledge, productive skills, social attitudes and cultural values of its members have contributed as much to the progress of the past two centuries as the development of miraculous new technologies. Investment in human capital is the most powerful lever for enhancing the individual and collective capacities of humankind for higher levels of development and further evolution­ary advancement in all fields of accomplishment. Skills function like the billions of tiny transistors on a silicon chip that govern how infinitesimal quanta of energy are directed and combined together to perform complex functions at incredible speed. Every human act is composed of innumerable physical, social, perceptual, mental and psychological skills. Each tiny circuit has the power to aid or obstruct accomplishment.

6. Personality – The Psychological Microcosm
The process of energy generation and conversion at the social level has a precise counterpart at the level of the individual as well. The social process depends on the aspirations, knowledge, values, goals, institutions, skills and attitudes of the collective. The individual process depends on their counterparts at the level of individual personality. Society is an infinitely complex macrocosm. Personality is an equally complex microcosm of ideas, concepts, beliefs, attitudes, values, opinions, and skills organized and coordinated by multiple layers and levels of psychological structures – superficial manners, conscious behaviors, subconscious character traits and deeper capacities for creativity, originality and uniqueness. As the modern democratic welfare state is the most successful collective form of social structure thus far created, the formed individual capable of independent thinking, judgment and action on internalized values rather than conformity to the collective represents the most complex, sophisticated organization of human consciousness yet to evolve.

Energy is the driving force for accomplishment at the level of the individual as well. Highly accomplished individuals tend to be those who exhibit a high level of energy and channel that energy into an intense laser beam-like focus to accomplish the goals and values they seek to realize. Their personalities act as coordinating centers to organize their energy, knowledge, values, skills, capacities, actions and relationships to achieve maximum results with minimum expenditure of time and energy. Teddy Roosevelt, Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Balzac, Beethoven, Victor Hugo, Tomas Bata, Bill Marriott, Tom Watson and Steve Jobs are among countless legendary examples of personal energy converted into focused intensity for high accomplishment.

Personality is the link between the individual microcosm and the institutions of the social macrocosm. Individuals access social power by identifying with the aspirations and affirming the values of the collective. The failure of the Knickerbocker Trust of New York in 1907 precipitated a severe financial crisis that threatened to destroy banks and securities markets throughout the USA. At the time there was no government banking oversight system with the power or responsibility to control the situation. The government remained a passive and helpless witness to the rapid deterioration of market confidence. Finally it turned to the only man in America who was widely considered capable of effective action – J. P. Morgan. Morgan was a wealthy industrialist and banker like many others, but he was distinguished by a sterling reputation of trustworthiness and reliability which were the most prominent characteristics of his personality. Morgan appealed to the social need for reliability and stability.

“The search for impartial truth came to be regarded by many as synonymous with the study of objective forms of reality.”

When the New York Stock Exchange was on the verge of closure, Morgan managed to cajole the bankers into collective action and the crisis was contained. He appointed six analysts to identify which banks were sufficiently solvent to be saved. He called on other financial institutions to contribute to a voluntary pool of finances to support institutions that could be salvaged. Even the US government contributed $25 million to the private pool. Morgan defused the financial crisis by his remarkable negotiating skills and the immense trust placed in him by bankers and the general public. After the crisis had subsided, the US Government established the Federal Reserve System to institutionalize the powers and role Morgan had played to quell the panic. The personality of an individual was institutionalized as a system that eventually acquired the knowledge and power to maintain high levels of stability and public confidence in the US financial system. Individual personality and social culture are interdependent expressions of a unified reality.

7. Reuniting Subjectivity & Objectivity
The further evolution of the social sciences requires efforts to identify unifying concepts and processes that transverse disciplines and function similarly in multiple dimensions. Reunification is especially necessary to restore the proper relationship between three dimensions of reality which were obscured during the triple reign of positivism, reductionism and materialism: the reunification of the subjective and objective dimensions of social reality, the reunification of the individual and collective dimensions, and the reunification of the three dimensions of time within an inclusive vision of human causality.

Social science needs to reunify the objective and subjective aspects of human existence that became increasingly divorced during the hey-days of 20th century scientism. The source of the rift is not difficult to understand. The scientific method evolved during the Enlightenment as an impartial, objective means of validating truths of natural phenomena freed from the distorting influence of the physical senses, personal belief, superstition, religious dogma, preference and prejudice. It proved ideally suited for a study of material objects and processes that lent themselves to external observation and analysis. But over time the focus of early science on the study of external objective manifestations of reality gradually morphed into the notion that only phenomena which can be studied objectively can be approached rationally and scientifically. Eventually many scientists began to speak and act as if the subjective dimension were somehow less real than the objective. Two separate meanings of the word ‘objectivity’ became confused. The search for impartial truth came to be regarded by many as synonymous with the study of objective forms of reality. The study of subjective forms of reality was confuscated with the distorting and unscientific notion of personal preference and prejudice. That which is not observable as an object came to be regarded as somehow less real than external material things. By a strange alchemy of logic, a mud pie, plum pudding, chemical reaction or electrical impulse came to be regarded as more ‘real’ than Plato’s Dialogues, Lincoln’s idealism orGandhi’s belief in non-violence.**

The reality of the subjective permeates all dimensions of human existence and must occupy a central place in all valid social theory. Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States on March 1933 in the midst of a financial crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Since the onset of the Great Crash in 1929, more than 6000 American banks had closed and the national economy was in the midst of a panic. All over the country, depositors were lining up at their banks to withdraw their life-time savings before their banks also collapsed. Even the financially strongest bank could not withstand such huge sudden surge in demand for return of deposits, so the panic was self-fulfilling. Long before the nascent Federal Reserve had acquired sufficient knowledge or power to provide unlimited funds to support the banking system in 2008, there was no known economic or political remedy for a panic of such proportions.

The objective situation seemed hopeless. FDR was not an economist, but he had shrewd insight into the underlying social and psychological basis for economic institutions. He understood that the panic was not an objective problem of economic management, but a subjective problem of trust. In his inaugural address, he pronounced his famous dictum “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Five days later he addressed the nation on radio in the first of his famous fireside chats. He explained in simple language that the rich natural resources, enormous industrial infrastructure, and skilled hardworking labor force, which had made America the world’s wealthiest nation, were still in place. The problem resulted from a loss of public confidence in the banking system. He appealed to American native self-confidence, pride, courage and trust and made an outlandish proposition. He called on the people to go back to the banks and redeposit their hard-earned savings. He instituted a host of legislative and administrative measures to restore public confidence in the banking system. When the banks reopened the following Monday, the tide turned and the panic gradually subsided.

Roosevelt intuitively understood what social science often overlooks – that the entire objective edifice of a nation’s economic, political and cultural institutions and activities rests on intangible, but all-powerful, subjective social and psychological foundations. FDR’s management of the crisis is one of countless events in history that illustrates the singular difference between conscious human behavior and the behavior of inanimate objects and subconscious forms of life. Subjective reality may play a relatively insignificant role in lower forms of life that can be ignored, but in human behavior the subjective and objective dimensions are inseparable aspects of a single reality.

No social science can be complete or effective that partitions the objective and subjective aspects of social reality, as if they are separate realms of existence that exist and can be studied independently from one another. Valid economic and political theory and practice can never be divorced from sociology, anthropology and psychology. The psychology of the individual can never be fully understood without reference to social and cultural context. In his actions as well as his understanding, FDR applied a remarkable combination of subjective powers – superb communication skills and exuberant personal charm – to stop the panic of 1933. The same strategy, the same speech delivered by another president with a different perception and different values may very likely have led to very different consequences.

The true relationship between subjectivity and objectivity in human affairs does not lend itself to this radical approach. All human accomplishment represents an objectification of the subjective components of reality. All human creation is founded on subjective truth. The aspiration of the scientist for knowledge, the moralist for integrity, the artist for beauty, the engineer for precision, the craftsman for perfection, the child for love, the entrepreneur for wealth, and the political leader for power are all-powerful forces that have driven the rise of civilization over the millennium. A science bent on explaining away every subjective human experience as the consequence of objective chemical and electrical processes must eventually give way to one which restores the subjective dimension to its rightful place as the ultimate determinate and prime mover in human affairs.

** Dramatic advances in neuroscience and psychopharmacology have recently led to an alternative approach to eliminate the divorce between subjective and objective experience by reducing all psychological phenomena to their chemical and nervous manifestations in the body. The correlation between physiological and psychological factors proves there is an interrelationship but is far from sufficient to establish causality.
12 Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine(Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970), 1018.

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