We guard our freedoms and rights with great commitment, tenacity and pride. We will fight for them; we will die for them. For many people they are sacrosanct, the bedrock of our individual existence.
And yet they are vulnerable and endangered; depleted and diminishing.
The reason for this is that we have committed ourselves to a societal existence. Society exists to protect us from the ravages of Nature. By living together – in a society – we can support one another in order to ensure our survival in what would otherwise be a harsh natural environment. Without society we would perish.
It is therefore essential that society is preserved. It is our survival mechanism.
Society – living together – requires rules. We can’t just do what we like. As individuals, we have to realise and accept that we belong to something that is comprised of many individuals and our actions and behaviours must have some regard for them if society is to fulfil its role.
Society has to therefore control and limit our individual behaviours, recognising, as it does, that we will generally endeavour to seek to maximise our own wealth, position and well-being whenever we can. Society has to restrain us from being greedy and self-centred.
As society has grown in terms of its remit, reach and importance we have become increasingly dependent upon it. As individuals we have become more specialised in the way we live our lives, each of us doing our bit but each of us reliant on others. Society is the body that holds it – and us – all together. Such is the change that society is no longer a supportive mechanism in helping to ensure the individual’s survival; it is now an indispensable requirement.
This means that there is a changed relationship between society and the individual. Previously, society existed for the protection and survival of the individual, but now, that priority has changed. Society is no longer there for the individual; the individual is there for society.
Recognising our dependence on society, the individual’s purpose and status has become secondary. This means:
- Firstly, that our individual freedoms and rights will increasingly and inevitably diminish. Witness the growth in surveillance cameras, mobile technologies that track our movement, stop and search powers of the police, facial recognition technology…. They are all, arguably, steps towards an Orwellian world where the individual is subservient to a greater force. Such steps are, however, necessary for the protection and preservation of society.
- Secondly, although we will always be vulnerable to some cataclysmic event (meteorite strike, virus epidemic, global warming) that could threaten our existence the greatest threat to our well-being is much more likely to come from some internal source, from our own human actions. We need protection from ourselves, from those that, through their actions threaten humanity’s survival. If society is weak, indifferent or disregarding of individual challenges or threats then it is in danger of undermining its own existence. If society goes soft on the individual it is a weakness which could well impact on society’s ability to serve its wider membership. What should society do if an individual repeatedly breaks the rules of society; if an individual has no regard for other members of society; if an individual doesn’t make any contribution to society?
The difficulty is that society exists to protect the individual but society’s existence is now more essential than that of the individual. In the past, society existed for us; but given that society now exists for the greater good, we now exist for society.
Logically, this means that, contrary to society’s founding role, we should be prepared to make individual sacrifices for the good of society. The rule and maintenance of society takes precedence over the well-being and liberties of the individual.
This change has not been a conscious one. It has not been made by choice or by decision. It is something that we seem to have just drifted towards.
For those individuals who are uncomfortable with this, they must direct their challenge, not at the measures themselves because they have an inevitability about them given society’s course, but towards the very corruption of society’s role. Society was never meant to be this pervasive.
- Society has lost sight of its founding purpose – that of being a tool to guard us from the savagery of Nature. Instead, it now seeks to be more proactive in regard to managing the conditions of its individual members – a better standard of living, an enhanced lifestyle, a more fulfilled existence. These are goals that transcend society’s original remit.
- The distinction and separation between society and the state may have become blurred. The State is an institution we have created in order to manage society. It is a tool. Unfortunately, sometimes the state can assume a self-importance that claims to over-shadow society.
Unfortunately, for civil libertarians, the shift in status between the individual and society may be beyond retrieval.
The individual is no longer the defining force of humanity. Society has usurped that role. That is why we have to accept the loss of some of our individual freedoms and rights.