Countering Existential Opportunism with the Power of Collective Consciousness

By its very nature, existential opportunism favors the survival, success and prosperity of individuals and groups, while the interests of other individuals and groups are compromised or marginalized. While this is natural and acceptable in the animal kingdom, which is essentially driven by instinct, in a society of intelligent beings it is a fundamental obstacle to the civilized coexistence of people. However, since we humans have a much more evolved brain and intelligence, we have a much higher potential for collective consciousness than even the most intelligent animal species.

But what is this nowadays often talked about, but seemingly very malleable and elusive concept? According to the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, this is essentially what holds our societies together, however rudimentary or complex. This is due to the fact that the collective consciousness of the individual fundamentally determines one’s belonging and identity, and thus one’s thinking and behavior towards others. Collective consciousness is therefore something that is common to the whole of any given society, and its level and quality depends very much on its culture. It has a vital role in passing on different ideas, values, beliefs and traditions from generation to generation. And although individual people die after a while, a collection of these intangibles, including the social norms that go with them, become embedded in the public consciousness and the institutions that frame our lives.

In this sense, then, collective consciousness is something that the individual embraces under the influence of external forces, thus seemingly independent of our personal will and influence. Nevertheless, we must see that there is also an individual form, existing only in our own consciousness, the presence or absence of which, or the degree and quality of it, shows how much one has regard for other people and for the values and interests one shares with them. Viewed in this latter context, collective consciousness is not merely an instinctive way of looking at things, adopted from others on an emotional basis or linked to our identity, but a state of consciousness rationally attained and understood by the individual, in the realization of which common sense and consistent thinking play an important role.

Given that the main function of collective consciousness is precisely to maintain consolidated social norms and the functioning of civilized communities, it has a fundamentally opposite effect in our societies to the existential opportunism that puts individual well-being above all else. And as such, it is the only truly effective tool against existential opportunism – indeed, I dare say the only realistic chance we have of besting and containing it. The existence and the strengthening of the role of collective consciousness is inevitable, if only because it is essential for the changes needed in our world today, for achieving environmental and social sustainability and for solving problems on a global scale in general.

This also means that it is far from enough to entrust change and essentially our entire future to a few people who, in one way or another – whether through legitimate political elections, manipulated or arbitrary power-grabbing, or even material power guaranteed by wealth – are empowered or somehow put in a position to make decisions over our heads. In order to make the best decisions and solutions for small and large human communities and for humanity as a whole, the majority of people should think and act in ways that are in line with collective consciousness, which implies that civil society is key to promoting change worldwide.

Through the many examples in our history and in our daily lives, it is hardly difficult to see that only through united action can we defend the interests of the community against the selfish and short-sighted interests of individuals and the unilateral interests of some at the expense of others. Mahatma Gandhi and his millions of followers in India successfully took up the fight against the British oppressors without even needing a bloody civil war. Following his example, Martin Luther King also called for non-violent protest in the USA, making significant gains in black rights by rallying the masses to join him. Nelson Mandela leaned on civil society in South Africa to successfully combat the oppressive apartheid regime against blacks, but social mobilization has also played a pivotal role in promoting women’s rights around the world.

In addition to the above, there are countless other examples of how important and far-reaching changes have been achieved through social cohesion. The problem is that this is typically limited to a few cases, rather than being the so-called general practice. When you think how much we could have achieved around the world if the latter had been the case, the vision of the future seems almost utopian… But that is exactly why we can say that it would be a somewhat understandable expectation or wish that civil society should, as far as possible, operate everywhere in an organized and coordinated way, keeping a constant check on the economy and politics and, more generally, on public affairs and the functioning of our institutions.

It is hardly surprising that this is not the case, given that there are still very few countries in the world where civil society and democracy have reached a level of development where it has any kind of a realistic chance of being achieved. In societies where rational thinking and reasoning based on facts and scientific findings is not the authoritative or exclusive factor, or where there is widespread poverty or very marked social inequalities, people do not really have the opportunity to do so, as a large part of them is preoccupied with their own habits, daily problems or survival rather than with public affairs. But today, in countries where this is not or less common and where democracy has reached a relatively high level, we often see a degree of division between different political forces and civil society groups that is also a fundamental obstacle to broader cohesion.

So the first step in promoting change is to overcome, or at least reduce, the divisions in our societies, which is of course no easy task. Knowing that in our modern societies politics can shape public opinion just as easily and quickly as vice versa, we need to be aware of the manipulative methods used by opportunists, and focus on what is really important and our universal human values instead of any other aspect that divides rather than unites us. We can only hope to keep opportunists in check if we do our utmost to counter current trends and distance ourselves from the increasingly common extremes.

To ensure that this does not remain a naive vision, we need to make significant progress in informing and enlighten people properly, as objectively and widely as possible, while at the same time ensuring that the mindset of the next generation is rationalized and humanized by changing the way they are brought up and educated. In essence, we need a radical transformation of culture and public thinking for a much more active and conscious civil society, through a general strengthening of empathy and collective consciousness. Furthermore, we must say a firm ‘no’ to rivalry and violence for selfish interests, because only in this way can we finally free ourselves from the constant hostility and barbaric dominance of existential opportunism.

Once this is more or less achieved in a society, we can start to really empower and consolidate democratic institutions. However, they must be based on a modern constitution that genuinely protects the interests of people and their communities, guarantees the satisfaction of basic human needs, prohibits manipulation for unilateral material or political gain, and generally puts social utility before individual interests. And if we could raise collective awareness and strengthen civil society at the international level, we could even achieve a world without (major) wars, extreme social inequalities, unnecessary death and suffering, and come much closer to achieving environmental sustainability. But all this presupposes that we prioritize organic solidarity over mechanical solidarity at the level of individuals, which will be discussed in more detail in the next blog post.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *