A reader asked me some questions which I said I’d be happy to address. To wit:
Do you believe that collective consciousness is a force powerful enough to effect real change as we have seen in the phenomenal efforts of the american voters this election?
Or do you believe that the average "joe the plumber" or "nancy the nurse" will retreat back into their own world or personal consciousness, embracing and protecting their individual cultures while ignoring inequalities, gender discrimination, and ecological destruction?
And finally do you believe that we, as a people, have evolved sufficiently to awaken our capacity for collective knowing and conscious action?
“Collective consciousness” is an interesting concept, particularly when applied to an activity such as electing a president. My impression of a collective consciousness entails everyone in a particular group being on the same page; having the same idea about a particular subject; sympatico. This can be as simple as a family unit knowing exactly what is being referred to when the crazy cousin is mentioned or as broad as a nation experiencing a moment of homogeneity, for example, everyone understanding a pop culture reference like the expression “voted off the island.”
But do I believe that it is a force powerful enough to effect real change? Obviously there is a form of collective rallying that brings about change. Examples of this are the American Revolution, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. However I wouldn’t classify the source of these phenomena under the same category as “collective consciousness.” To me, the collective consciousness is the “awake version” of the collective unconscious, as described by Carl Jung. It is my opinion that such a consciousness is completely passive, in other words, knowledge about a thing that is shared by a homogenous social group, be it a family, a classroom, friends at a local pub, a town or a nation. The changes to which this reader refers and the instances I mentioned above take a far more active participation. The result of the recent presidential election was not really a function of the collective consciousness, although obviously a certain degree of being “on the same page” was involved. Certainly the majority of the nation was sympathetic to Barak Obama, but his actual election was carried out because of millions of actions by individuals, not because a lot of people were simply aware of Obama and his ideas. Non-Obama voters were aware of Obama and his ideas, but this didn’t help get him elected.
As an analogy, let's look at a mountain. Over time the mountain is eroded, worn down. Why? Not exactly because of “the rain” that falls or “the beach” at its base that scours. Just because weather and the forces of nature exist does not necessarily mean that they will affect the mountain. But each individual raindrop makes a tiny but indelible mark on the mountainside. Each individual grain of sand scours its own tiny groove in the mountain. Every glob of ice that freezes in the mountain’s cracks makes those cracks a tiny bit wider. If the rain or sand or ice are not in proximity to the mountain, they do nothing. Eventually, after enough actions of the tiny drops and sand and ice, the mountain is eroded down to nothing. Similarly, it was not the collective awareness of Barak Obama that got him elected just as the mere existence of weather will not erode the mountain, but the collective actions of millions of individuals that did so, much as the millions of raindrops and sand grains that, individually and collectively, accomplish their task. As I said before, this is a much more active participation than simple collective consciousness. Barack Obama (and John McCain and all the other candidates) had to not only exist, but inspire their constituents. This took work. Once inspired, the voters could not just sit home and cheer, but actually had to take action. This same process had to take place with the other examples listed above - the American Revolution, suffrage, civil rights, etc. In another analogy, a smoker may be conscious that his habit is harmful, but that knowledge is useless unless action is taken. Consciousness is necessary for any overhaul, whether involving an individual or group, yes, but collective action is a far more important step in implementing changes in a society.
Now I think the real question this reader wants to know is ‘do I think this “force for change” will continue?’ This is hinted at in the next questions asked. Will “Joe the plumber” and “Nancy the nurse” retreat back in their own little world and ignore the problems with society? Well, there have always been segments of society who are xenophobic, agoraphobic and any other phobia you can describe that involves anything new and different. The individuals making up these societal groups may vary, but the phobics will always be there. An even bigger question is: Will the people that rallied and supported and elected Obama continue their momentum and remain active participants in the process of “change,” or will they sit back and say “I’ve done my job; I voted; now let Obama do all the rest of the work”?
That seems to be a far more challenging question to answer. The American public has been motivated before to effect real change, such as in the other examples I’ve given. The American revolutionaries didn’t just get motivated for one day, it took years of action, work, suffering, meetings, fighting, and killing to accomplish their goals. Passion was not enough, action was what was needed. The same goes for women’s suffrage, civil rights and many other transformations in society. The real issue is whether or not Americans are willing to do their individual part in taking actual action in making things happen. Are we willing to make our voices heard, to speak to our neighbor, to make sacrifices for change?
But wait! What changes are we talking about? That’s another big question, isn’t it? Specifically, what is it we want changed? We’ve heard that word over and over and over. Change change change. Any reasonable person would want to know exactly what it is they are expected to sacrifice and work for. In our examples, the goals were very tangible: independence from an oppressive government, the right to vote, equal treatment regardless of race. In the current topic, I look forward to seeing what our new president plans on doing. But specifically what changes are we expected to strive toward? “Tax reform” seems a rather vague goal for everyday Americans to sacrifice for. “Universal health care” sounds nice, but what precisely am I expected to do about it? “Global warming” sounds like a good, solid cause to rally around, but there is no reason to expect that the country buying Toyota Priuses is going to restore the polar ice caps. The broad term “change” is entirely too nebulous for me to work toward. I’d be happy to do something, but what? At least in the American Revolution our forefathers were able to pick up a musket or sword and aim it at something tangible. Right now, not so much.
Lastly, I believe I’ve already answered this readers third question, namely if we have sufficiently evolved to awaken our collective knowing and capacity for conscious action. “Collective knowing” is just that. It requires no action beyond just being awake and somewhat aware of society around you. Collective action has been a part of human history since the dawn of civilization. In fact civilization would not exist were it not for some form of collective action, even if it is as simple as being part of a village in the most primitive hunter-gatherer society. The questions facing our society today are “Where and how should we direct our collective action? And are we willing to?’
5 years ago