The collective cultural and intellectual capital of a society is a civilization. Civilization cannot be contained and supported by any one individual. No single mind can retain and process the wealth of knowledge and culture that has accumulated over thousands of years. In a primitive tribal society such a task may have been possible, when one mind could learn and retain all of the tribe’s history and technology, but it is doubtless impossible today. As such, while civilization relies on individual minds to retain its pieces, as a whole it may only exist and develop through the collective.

The ideas that build and direct the course of civilization come from individual minds only. The collective has no mind or will of its own, but rather, it acquires its energy from the individuals that compose it. Fragments of civilization need to be processed by the minds of individuals for them to be active parts of the whole. As such, it is individual genius that shapes and moulds each every part of civilization in which they exist. Having nourished their mind and soul with the fruits of culture and science, the genius pours their own creative energies back into the whole, raising it a little higher with every contribution.

Civilization is the bridge between individual genius and the collective. This bridge cannot exist without the either part, and nor can the either part flourish without it. The individual cannot build a higher civilization without first having been nourished by the riches of the civilization within which they exist, and the people cannot hope for their civilization to improve unless the genius of the individual is given the power to shape it.

The difference between the mind of man and that of an animal is that man’s mind is directed not only by bodily impulses but by ideas. The extent to which those ideas dominate man’s life is the measure of a civilization within which he or she lives. The measure of the health of a civilization is the extent to which its people are engaged in the shaping of it, i.e. the extent to which the mind of genius is connected to the minds of the people.

History shows the various ways in which this connection can be severed. The chiefs of a collectivist society built on rigid authoritarian rule will tend to oust views they deem threatening to their position. Genius cannot thrive under conditions of forced submission for one cannot shape that which will not bend. In the opposite case, a society built on purely liberal principles allows the bridge to exist but poisons the flow. In a modern liberal society the mindshare of the people is occupied by the culture of impulse, propagated by profiteers exploiting animalistic weaknesses of the human mind. If in the former case the voice of the genius is silenced by force, in the latter it is drowned in noise.

Civilization may be shaped one way or the other, it may manifest different forms and ambitions, it may be directed by different ideals, but it may also grow and progress or shrink and regress. Civilization, being the sum of intellectual and cultural capital residing in the minds of a people can become greater or smaller depending on the size and quality of that capital. If people no longer care about the ideas and ideals of a civilization, about its history and its culture, about its philosophy and its religion, it will inevitably begin to shrink, being contained both in a smaller number of minds and in lesser quantities. In a state of regression each mind carries a lesser quality fragment of the whole, with fewer and fewer minds possessing an understanding of how the fragments fit together.

Civilization faces assault from both extremes. On the one hand, brutes seek to restrain the mind of man by force, seeking to submit it to the will of their primitive brains, in effect, forcing us to surrender the riches of the whole for a tiny fragment the brute deems worthy. On the other, liberal freedom transforms itself into the waters of Lethe that washes clean the minds of the collective into oblivion. A liberal society may be culturally active while its civilization shrinks and regresses as each mind begins to contain in itself a smaller and shallower version of the whole, gradually surrendering its understanding of life’s meaning, purpose and ideal. A society of infinite distraction intoxicates its mind in order to avoid the terrifying prospect of taking control of its destiny. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and Huxley’s Brave New World are two sides of the same coin – in one scheme, civilization is destroyed by brutal censorship, in the other by a daily dose of sweet soma. Yes, both stories tell of the seizure of people’s freedom by the state, but freedom can only be valuable when it is to be used for something – what value does freedom have for a society whose only wish is to drown itself in a sea of perpetual distraction?

September 2014