“Madness is rare in individuals, but in groups, parties, nations and ages it is the rule. ” Friedrich Nietzsche
This text appears on a refrigerator magnet on our major appliance.
It happens to be sitting on my desk just now because I wanted to quote it accurately in an ongoing email discussion with a neighbor. He has spoken encouragingly of the “group mind” of humanity that surely will eventually do the right thing, and, along with a last-minute technological fix, save the day.
Related, I’ve read some of the early reviews of E O Wilson’s new book, the modestly-titled “The Meaning of Life.” He holds up as a primary threat to our future the notion of “tribalism” and in this way, agrees with Neitzche.
I am of two minds on this. On the one hand, the incestuous group-think of some of the vast political tribes that wield power today (such as Wilson must intend) give me pause. They have become sequestered anti-rational anti-science self-aggrandizing aggregates that appear to have gone mad.
On the other hand, if the tribe is sufficiently small–some anthropologists suggest not more than a few hundred people–the group coheres, the group tends to work cooperatively, and things get done.
So somewhere between the autonomous self and the maddening crowd is a group-scale that works better than either extreme. There is a level of scale of human togetherness that seems best to fit our tendencies towards self and our needs of belonging.
That matter of scale is one of the things that is still possible in a community as isolated, small, and “poor” as Floyd County. Our “poorness” as someone mentioned recently, makes us less prone to excessive demands from the earth for happiness, and fosters an economy where creativity, slow pace, and small scale contribute to a healthy “sense of place.”