Can the collective transcend the aggregate? Only if the organizing principle is just right. A colony of honeybees is not equal to a bucketful of crabs.
Anyone who feels himself to be less than he wants to be will try to connect and identify with something larger than himself. This is the spiritual impulse. I say it is holy. If anything is from God, this is. It calls us to excel, to advance. But it can go wrong.
Too many souls seek a shortcut to transcendence – an organization, a movement or a group identity. The half-conscious reasoning seems to run something like this: “they are many, and I am one. Therefore they are bigger than I. Therefore they are better than I. If I join them, I become them, and thus become more than my solitary self.”
This is tribalism, identity politics, organized religion. And it doesn’t work. But to a shallow person, it seems to work. He feels like he is part of something important.
As evidence accumulates that his chosen tribe is not all he wants it to be, cognitive dissonance emerges. The lesser mind reacts to cognitive dissonance with denial, attacking the intruding external reality. This is how we get religious intolerance, ideological intolerance, football riots and tribal warfare.
No tribe will give your life meaning. If you first find your own meaning and then find the right tribe, you may share meaning with others who also have their own meaning. But unless you first find your own meaning, no tribe can give you meaning. It can only fill the void with a vicious lie.
I’m not saying the individual is all. I’m saying the individual must be the starting point, the building block. You can’t make a good structure from bad materials. Solomon said: “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Try that with three strands of overcooked spaghetti. Try it with fifty. If it’s long enough, gravitational tension will pull it apart. Strength adds to strength, but weakness is just multiplying by zero. You won’t make it up on volume. Unity is of no real value to the weak.
It’s worse than that. The rope analogy – and also the fasces analogy – presume that the members will be standing side to side. What if they’re not? Then a different analogy applies. If there is one weak link in a chain, the entire chain will fail. The weakness of others pollutes relationships.
Do not try to relate to the weak as equals. Do not join with them in a grand abstraction. Your strength will not lift them up, but their weakness will drag you down. There is a passage in the epistles of Paul which warns: do not be unequally yoked. Christians teach that this is about marriage. There is no mention of marriage in the passage. This is about all associations whatsoever on an equal or near equal basis. Don’t put on that yoke.