Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
Using the example of Germany, after the WWI, Sri Aurobindo illustrates the grave danger of false subjectivism. This happens when the seeking “to be oneself” can degenerate itself into a tendency “to live solely for and to oneself.” The latter tendency, Sri Aurobindo warns, if pushed beyond a certain point becomes a disastrous error, both for the individual seeker and for the larger collective.
“For it is necessary, if the subjective age of humanity is to produce its best fruits, that the nations should become conscious not only of their own but of each other’s souls and learn to respect, to help and to profit, not only economically and intellectually but subjectively and spiritually, by each other.”[i]
Sri Aurobindo writes that the real German force leading the nation’s march to a subjective self-seeking was not its statesman or soldiers but its great philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Nietzsche; her great thinker and poet Goethe; her great musicians such as Beethoven and Wagner. Together they all represented the uniqueness of German soul and temperament it represented. The statesmen and soldiers acted as the bridge “between the idea and imagination and the world of facts, between the vision and the force, which makes realisation possible.” But unfortunately this bridge “ran mostly through a dark tunnel with a gulf underneath; for there was no pure transmission from the subjective mind of the thinkers and singers to the objective mind of the scholars and organisers.” Sri Aurobindo explains further,
“For more than a half-century Germany turned a deep eye of subjective introspection on herself and things and ideas in search of the truth of her own being and of the world, and for another half-century a patient eye of scientific research on the objective means for organising what she had or thought she had gained. And something was done, something indeed powerful and enormous, but also in certain directions, not in all, misshapen and disconcerting. Unfortunately, those directions were precisely the very central lines on which to go wrong is to miss the goal.”[ii]
The disastrous outcome of Germany’s going in the wrong direction and missing the goal, as we all know, was the advent of the rigid, armoured, aggressive, formidable Nazi State and the worldwide destruction that followed. This false subjectivism of an individual or a state or any collective is actually based in a completely false sense of group or collective identity. A false sense of self, an exclusive and aggressive ego, which refuses to see that the ‘other’ too has equal freedom to seek its unique identity and accordingly be its “own self,” and that in essence the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ are not separate but integral parts of one whole.
A modern-day example of such utterly false subjectivism can be seen in the religious terrorism, particularly the Islamic terrorism. One of the core Islamic beliefs is:
“God revealed His wisdom and instructions through ‘books’ to some of the prophets like the Psalms, Torah, and the Gospel. Over time, however, the original teachings of these books got distorted or lost. Muslims believe the Quran is God’s final revelation revealed to Prophet Muhammad and has been fully preserved.”[iii]
Such an exclusivist article of faith, when taken to its extreme literalist understanding, and coupled with a false vital ego-sense of superiority which permits the act of even eliminating others with different beliefs leads to violence and terrorism in the name of religion and loss of innocent lives.
In the business world also we can find disastrous examples of subjectivism gone wrong. All across the world many business organisations have been hit by scandals of various proportions. Corporate greed could be one of the reasons for such corruption. Let’s consider the case of Enron which was founded in 1985 as the result of a merger between Houston Natural Gas and InterNorth, both relatively small regional companies in the U.S.[iv] As a new entity, Enron in its zeal to find its uniqueness, its raison d’etre, felt the need to discover some novel business models. “Throughout the late 1990s, Enron was almost universally considered one of the country’s most innovative companies – a new-economy maverick that forsook musty, old industries with their cumbersome hard assets in favour of the freewheeling world of e-commerce. The company continued to build power plants and operate gas lines.”[v]
But perhaps over time the very idea of “to be oneself” degenerated into the tendency “to live solely for and to oneself.” This false subjectivism led the company to a wrong direction where it became completely oblivious to the “other’s” pursuit of wealth, profit and happiness. The result was devastating. Near the end of year 2001 it was revealed that the company’s “reported financial condition was sustained by an institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud, known since as the Enron scandal.”[vi] Several thousand people lost their jobs, money and retirement funds. Enron has since become a well-known example of wilful corporate fraud and corruption. In Indian corporate sector, Satyam became a similar example of trying “to live solely for and to oneself,” and the outcome was same as in the case of Enron.
Continuing with the example of Germany, Sri Aurobindo cautions that such disasters happen because the path of conscious self-finding is exposed to serious perils and dangers. These dangers arise from a wrong identification with the vital ego, mistaking vital ego for “oneself,” finding only one’s force instead of seeking for one’s soul. In this misidentification of oneself with only one’s body and life lies the supreme danger of walking the path of asura, becoming an instrument of a titanic force.[vii]
“It is also evident that there is a false as well as a true subjectivism and the errors to which the subjective trend may be liable are as great as its possibilities and may well lead to capital disasters. This distinction must be clearly grasped if the road of this stage of social evolution is to be made safe for the human race.”[viii]
To avoid such capital disasters, two realisations on the path of subjective self-seeking are essential, both for the individual and the organisation. First, it is important to be conscious not only of one’s own soul “but of each other’s souls and learn to respect, to help and to profit, not only economically and intellectually but subjectively and spiritually, by each other.”[ix]
This suggests widening one’s sense of self to include the ‘other,’ which in practical terms could translate as creating greater opportunities for collaboration, partnership and alliances. Second, in order for the subjective collective consciousness to become the basis for outward action, there must be a purest transmission of the subjective mind of visionaries and thinkers to the objective mind of the scholars and organisers. This second point has important implications for encouraging collaborative research and dialogue in the academic fields of sciences, humanities, philosophy and applied fields such as management, engineering and social sciences.
Considering the dangers associated with the path of subjective self-finding should it be pursued at all? By individuals, organisations, societies and nations? We find an answer from Sri Aurobindo: “the misuse of great powers is no argument against their right use.”[x] We also find an assurance, as individuals and as parts of a collective, as to how significant this turning toward subjectivism is, provided we can avoid the danger of a wrong turning.
“The subjective stage of human development is that critical juncture in which, having gone forward from symbols, types, conventions, having turned its gaze superficially on the individual being to discover his truth and right law of action and its relation to the superficial and external truth and law of the universe, our race begins to gaze deeper, to see and feel what is behind the outside and below the surface and therefore to live from within. It is a step towards self-knowledge and towards living in and from the self, away from knowledge of things as the not-self and from the living according to this objective idea of life and the universe. Everything depends on how that step is taken, to what kind of subjectivity we arrive and how far we go in self-knowledge; for here the dangers of error are as great and far-reaching as the results of right seeking. The symbolic, the typal, the conventional age avoid these dangers by building a wall of self-limitation against them; and it is because this wall becomes in the end a prison of self-ignorance that it has to be broken down and the perilous but fruitful adventure of subjectivism undertaken.”[xi]
This present article and the one preceding this, and the previous three articles in the series, The Organisational Cycle, have been our humble effort to explore the living truth of Sri Aurobindo’s profound psychological insights into the societal evolutionary processes. As students of Sri Aurobindo, this attempt to identify discernible trends in the world of modern business management and organisational development has been of tremendous help to study the real-world applicability of Sri Aurobindo’s explanation of a collective evolutionary journey based on deeper psychological truths. It should be noted that while it is highly likely that for a vast majority of the examples which we have cited, the primary driver for any change in those organisations might have been some outer or objective factor, such as changes in the marketplace or economic necessities. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the gradual changes happening in these organisations or in the overall field of management principles and practices seem to be following an evolutionary pattern or cycle of going from more objective to a deeper subjective view, although in an unconscious or half-conscious movement.
[i] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 40
[ii] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25, pp. 41-42
[iii] Core Values of Islam. http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/10256/core-values-of-islam/
[vii] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 42
[viii] p. 43
[ix] p. 40
[x] p. 42
[xi] p. 44