News Karnataka
Sunday, December 04 2022

Collective consciousness and conscience of humans

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Around sixty-five thousand years ago, a group of fully developed Homo sapiens from East Africa moved over to the Far East and Middle East countries and through that way came to settle down in the Indian subcontinent also. Yuval Noah Harari, Spencer Wells and David Reich report this in their books which were brought out after careful studies, which included those evidences based on the DNA samples from people of all these regions. Interestingly, one of the descendants of those Africans who settled in the Indian subcontinent became the President of India recently.

Such migrations continued to happen intermittently and more powerfully about six thousand years ago and they settled down in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, presently in Pakistan, and built urban civilisations in those areas. Most of the descendants of the first migrants of the humans escaped to the forests and lived there, rather miserably, and in the middle of terrible dangers for several years. About three and half thousand years ago, the modern humans started to move away and settle down in different parts of India giving up their connections with Afghanistan and the Middle East. Though these adventurers established different kingdoms, the original inhabitants lived in the forests and continued to multiply and live like the original foragers without much of a mixing with the newly established congregations of humans, unless they were caught and made into slaves for different purposes. It is only in the twentieth century that some of them came out to see different types of humans as well as comfortable living.

Homo sapiens continued to civilise themselves and settle down in different parts of the world during the last three hundred centuries and more so, in the last twenty to thirty centuries. Human interactions became a representation of the progress of the humans themselves and the agricultural revolution that happened ten to twelve thousand years ago made them much more prosperous than in the past, especially in consequence of the new learning which led to the domestication of plants and animals. May be, the starting point was the discovery of wheat ten to twelve thousand years ago which started the agricultural revolution itself, making human congregations and the small families stay for long in one place till the harvesting, thus, leading to building permanent abodes apart from stopping to be foragers.

All these years, learning and developing became a habitual behaviour of all humans. This naturally followed discoveries that could be made during such processes which contributed to greater and more pleasurable human living.

Among all learning and development that humans made, those in the social front were the most effective. Just as they made their own societies, sometimes these societies fought with each other very often leading to the defeat of one and the taking over of the other, and each discovery in the social front involved enormous amount of violence against each other; and also against nature itself; more creative societies leading to the most effective social discovery of democracy itself. If fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were dedicated to discovering more unexplored lands, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries provided opportunities for scientific discoveries. As the humans progressed in their discoveries, they established philosophic terms for living and thinkers and writers became beacons of more and more civilised living with rational and logical pursuit of the goals of life. Nineteenth century brought up greater amount of transnational contacts through the exchange of ideological concepts most of which had historical background as a base. Twentieth century, quite against the previous centuries, brought up collective violence resulting in the two world wars and a cold war. Towards the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, technological revolutions started giving new ways of international contacts ushering in learning and development on finger tips.

In the progressed world, consciousness of the humans became a key factor for the smooth functioning of different communities and the societies that they live in. At present, individual consciousness is paramount in its functioning for each human to live a life in which she or he desires to be equal to others. Discovering different belief systems, collection of information, learning of new concepts, making use of available opportunities, interactions with people from other societies, knowledge of those people beyond common borders, amenities for relating to different individuals and societies across the world, and much more than all these, the support of science and technology to reach out to unknown humans within short periods have made humans build their individual consciousness into what they want it to be. Despite several aspects that help humans to develop their individual consciousness, what contributes most is their adherence to different types of belief systems, some of which are protected with their willingness to die for them. So, the nature and functioning of the individual consciousness decide each one’s quality, both for life and common living.

If the hallmark of each human is her or his individual consciousness, one has to lay stress on the support of this consciousness on the building of one’s conscience, the most powerful of all resourcefulness and effectiveness of each human. This individual conscience decides the living of not only that single individual but even those of others because the connections and the responses that one makes are dependent on this individual conscience. Undoubtedly, this individual conscience is developable and not anything permanent though, some of the elements may or can remain permanent. The development of individual conscience has an impact on each individual’s relations with other individuals and the society itself. Therefore, one has to publicly and strongly advocate the need for using every type of enlightenment for the furtherance of the development of one’s own conscience as one’s responses to both the other individuals and the society as a collective depend on the quality of conscience though there may be other areas of human elements that could decide the effectiveness of the functioning of such responses.

Just as there is individual consciousness, there is also a collective consciousness of the society. What happens in the collective is the response of several people’s consciousness. Learning and development as may happen in a society is responsible for the making of the collective consciousness. Philosophers have doubts about the impact of collective consciousness on the totality of the society and its response to everyday happenings. However, it cannot be denied that a large amount of social responses, especially those which get expressed, are dependent on the collective consciousness of any given society. It is to be accepted that there may be people in such a society whose individual consciousness does not allow them to be a party to social behaviour despite the fact that they may not be able to regulate such responses, especially when they are socially right in their judgements of the expressions of collective consciousness.

Just as individual consciousness creates an individual conscience, the collective consciousness creates a collective conscience. This collective conscience generally represents the people of a given society. Any analysis of collective social responses at given moments in history tells us how the expressions of the society of those days emerge from the collective conscience. The tragedy of the humans is that the collective conscience is the product of collective consciousness which need not be the best of any social response. Therefore, making of the collective consciousness is essential for making the collective conscience which will allow humans to decide on collective social responses. Individual conscience is able to influence the collective conscience because both are products of their consciousness.

Television news as well as newspaper reports give us plenty of violent behaviour of the modern people. While this is an expression of collective consciousness, we can easily find refusal of such expressions by the individual’s consciousness. This represents the true conscience of the humans in the rejection of violence. However, it cannot be denied that the collective consciousness is not acting upon to intervene to stop this violence. Neither is the collective conscience doing anything to stop this violence by both individuals and collectives. One wonders what sort of responses can be built into the society so as to allow collective consciousness and collective conscience to bear upon such behaviours of violence or for that matter any other social evil.

The best example of the making of the collective consciousness is our freedom struggle. The individual consciousness of the people for love of freedom and disapproval of enslavement by the British resulted in the collective consciousness to act upon. However, it could have been very violent but for the intervention of the Mahatma. His conscience did not allow violent responses against the British and hence he started the non-cooperation movement. The most successful influence of the Mahatma was on the collective conscience of the people who also accepted his conscientious ways of working against the British. Thus, the Mahatma was able to create a collective consciousness against violence and he was able to make an impact with it on the collective conscience of the people. Of course, there would have been stray incidents of violence but the general public did not accept that. The collective conscience rejected several political and social activists who tried to influence the collective conscience of the people with violence. All the same, the collective consciousness and its product of the collective conscience stood with the Mahatma.

If the individual conscience of the people is not overshadowed by political thoughts, the ‘enlightenment’ that builds the conscience, the collective conscience of the Indian society would vote for offering aid to the suffering people of any country. The collective consciousness and the collective conscience definitely would be in favour of offering aid to any suffering people. However, it is the overshadowing of the individual conscience through political thoughts, ‘the enlightenment’, that result in the collective conscience deciding against human nature.

Thinkers and philosophers and thoughtful people need to express themselves more without fear, so that such expressions will have an effect on our collective human responses, enabling the contribution of the individual consciousness towards the formation of a more humane collective consciousness and both together will influence the society to express the disapproval of certain unexamined ‘enlightenment’ governing the collective consciousness and its product, the collective conscience. After all, both are developable.

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Prof Sunney Tharappan

Prof. Sunney Tharappan is Director of College for Leadership and HRD, Mangaluru. He trains and writes and lives in Mangaluru.

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