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By: Joe Blow

so-ci-e-ty n., pl. -ties. 1. a. The totality of social relationships among human beings. b. A group of human beings broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture. c. The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group. 2. a. The rich, privileged, and fashionable social class. b. The socially dominant members of a community… -- The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, c. 1982

Notwithstanding the advantages of the division of labor, society--as the preferred condition of man--is overrated, largely due to many perversions inflicted by those who value status, power, and control over sovereignty, liberty, and freedom. Modern society is replete with daily examples, but I would be remiss by ignoring that it has always been so. Peter Jones writes in The Spectator:

"From Diogenes the Cynic (4th century bc) living in his wine-jar (not barrel) to the ascetics of the late Roman world atop their pillars, many ancients argued that not being valued by society was the only way to live. Diogenes rejects the concept of ‘society’ tout court, seeing true values and moral standards only in animals, primitive man, barbarians and the gods. The Epicurean Roman philosopher Lucretius (1st century bc) points out how sweet it is to remain immune to the mad passions that drive the majority to spend their life competing against each other, striving for status, struggling night and day to emerge top of the heap. Even the Stoic thinker Seneca the younger (1st century ad), who was for a time an adviser to Nero and as a Stoic was committed to the idea of public service for the public good, seems to think that withdrawal into a private life of study can be justified."

"Asceticism - Greek askÍsis, ‘training, practice, routine’, the belief that humans had an almost limitless potential for spiritual development through ‘exercises’ designed to transform the personality - had had a long pagan history before it became associated with Christianity. Among pagans, however, it was a practice for the educated rich, a ‘lifestyle’ statement they could afford to indulge."

At one time it was considered the epitome of fashion to have your very own hermit living on your European estate. Only the rich could afford a hermit, but isn’t that the point? Keeping up with the Joneses was not an option for the rabble of the world.

"But for Christians, anyone of any class could renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil, or sell all that they had and give to the poor; hence the hermit (Greek erÍmos, ‘solitary’) and the fascination with the desert, the powerful symbol of the renunciation of man as a social and civilised being."

J. M. Besse describes hermits in The Catholic Encyclopedia:

"Eremites, "inhabitants of a desert", from the Greek eremos), also called anchorites, were men who fled the society of their fellow-men to dwell alone in retirement. Not all of them, however, sought so complete a solitude as to avoid absolutely any intercourse with their fellow-men. Some took a companion with them, generally a disciple; others remained close to inhabited places, from which they procured their food… Elias is considered the precursor of the hermits in the Old Testament. St. John the Baptist lived like them in the desert. Christ, too, led this kind of life when he retired into the mountains. But the eremitic life proper really begins only in the time of the persecutions…Some monasteries had isolated cells close by, where those religious who were judged capable of living in solitude might retire…Those who felt the want of solitude were advised to reside near an oratory or a monastic church. The councils and the monastic rules did not encourage those who were desirous of leading an eremitic life."

Society--in this case the Church--did not approve of square pegs in round holes.

"The widespread relaxation of monastic discipline drove St. Odo, the great apostle of reform in the sixth century, into the solitude of the forest. The religious fervour of the succeeding age produced many hermits. But to guard against the serious dangers of this kind of life, monastic institutes were founded that combined the advantages of solitude with the guidance of a superior and the protection of a rule."

Hermitages became monasteries. It was much easier to control these square pegs if they were sequestered inside four walls, under the watchful eye of the Church.

"[T]here still continued to be a large number of isolated hermits, and an attempt was made to form them into congregations having a fixed rule and a responsible superior… We see, therefore, that the Church has always been anxious to form the hermits into communities. Nevertheless, many preferred their independence and their solitude. They were numerous in Italy, Spain, France, and Flanders in the seventeenth century. Benedict XIII and Urban VIII took measures to prevent the abuses likely to arise from too great independence."

Note that the Church--the dominant social group--"took measures to prevent the abuses likely to arise from too great independence." The modern equivalent would be measures taken by the State--the current dominant social group--to prevent abuses (read as non-conformance with State norms) by fringe groups, such as tax protesters or those at Ruby Ridge and Waco. The issue is maintaining control and it is always maintained the same way--by force.

The definition of society includes all groups, but the dominant social group still persecutes fringe groups. Why? One could easily assume that all social groups should be equal, but history teaches us that the dominant social group is more equal than the rest. Historically, this was the Church, but today it is the State. While the Church only required tithing, the State now demands 40% or more, under threat of imprisonment for failure to comply. This is social progress?

Society is many things, but mostly it is overrated. It displays a warped sense of values and it rewards the wrong things. It encourages self-destructive behavior while discouraging and penalizing productive behavior. It often portrays black as white and expects you to believe it. It fosters divisive classes that are used to enslave one segment of the population at the expense of another. It worships the dominant social group while persecuting fringe groups. It results in tyranny through the perpetual quest for power, influence, and control over others. It produces perverted manifestations; oxymorons like free press, political correctness, situational ethics, voluntary income tax, and minimum wage. It values youth and beauty while dismissing age and experience.

Peter Jones summarizes, "It is, apparently, a problem for many males that when they retire they feel dissatisfied because ‘society’ does not value them any more. It is hard to see what ‘society’ as such can actually do about this, but it raises the question why anyone should want to be valued by society…Retire to your study; become a hermit; abjure sex; go to church - unlikely advice for the retired, perhaps, but anything must be preferable to pleading abjectly with ‘society’ to value you."

I couldn’t agree more. Society will never value the retired because society abhors free men--and retired men aren’t wage slaves for the State. They are no longer available as daily sources of supply for the vampires of society. They are free to come and go as they please. I think everyone should retire early, at least once.

Society has taken its lumps over the years, and rightly so. Here’s a baker’s dozen of truths that support my position:

"Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things." - Russell Baker

"The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants." - Gen. Omar N. Bradley

The best things in life aren’t things. - Art Buchwald

"We have a system that increasingly taxes work and subsidizes nonwork." - Milton Friedman

"We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"It's a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man." - David Harris

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - Jiddu Krishnamurti

"Civilization is unbearable, but it is less unbearable at the top." - Timothy Leary

"Society honors its living conformists and its dead troublemakers." - Mignon McLaughlin

"Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned." - Swami Nirmalananda

"How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?" - Paul Sweeney

"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat." - Lily Tomlin

"What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?" - Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau understood completely that society is overrated at best; it should not be celebrated, it should be spurned, based solely on its results. Hurrah! for the few remaining hermits, they are the last of a noble breed. They alone understand what it means to be free of society’s chains. It may already be too late for the rest of us.

"Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."

Joe Blow is a pen name for a public high school teacher on the left coast. He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.

He can be reached at joeblow073@yahoo.com

Published in the September 23, 2002 issue of  Ether Zone.
Copyright © 1997 - 2002 Ether Zone.

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