Wednesday

Tweet Reddit Share

I am intrigued with the points made by Gabriel Marcel in his book, Man Against Mass Society, a book that came out in English in 1962. Modern society is, to Marcel, mass society, a society where public life is relentlessly presented to us as reality, but it is not reality because people in public are never being true to their real existence. If people accept it as reality, they are accepting a false reality—which is, ontologically speaking, tantamount to accepting nothingness as reality.

I realize this is an odd concept, so it might help to explain by reference to another existentialist thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, who wrote about the “leveling” that takes place in society. When people are in public, they never behave like their “authentic” self (the self in touch with reality, with God; the recollected self). The public, therefore, does not truly exist. The perceived public is merely a bunch of people who don’t really exist (because they don’t exist while in public), hence the public is not real. When people turn to the public for guidance into morals, ethics, etc., they are turning to a non-entity. As people increasingly live in public—as is the case in mass society—they turn to a non-entity for their signals on how to live. The signals cannot help but be banal—not because the individuals are shallow (though in mass society they increasingly are), but because the individuals while in public are shallow. When people are forced into the public, they must struggle mightily to ignore the shallow signals, so they can live an authentic self—if at all possible, recollecting themselves while in public, but at least recollecting themselves when the work-a-day world gives a few minutes of peace.

In mass society, nothingness is king, with the result that relativity rules.