Conversation and the Collective

A man when alone — I mean truly alone, not merely waiting for others to arrive — occupies his own depths. He lives in ocean currents and the most profound silence. Two such deep-flowing individuals, in conversation, may hope to preserve some of that serious silence between them. For the source of all conversation — using that word in its essential, definitive sense — is the soul’s craving to share some measure of its depth with another. Three in conversation may still maintain some of the seriousness of two, but the resulting conversation is necessarily experienced precisely as an attempt to preserve something, as three trying to be two.

One who is attentive to himself becomes aware, in any conversation with more than one interlocutor, of the effort required to resist the natural buoyancy of group interaction, the urge to float upward, away from the profound — the siren song of the surface. With each added participant, conversation in its original, definitive sense — shared depth — is diluted. A group, to the extent that it functions as a collective, tends toward, and operates on, the surface of life. All becomes public display, performance, reputation, mimicry, “the sense of belonging.”

Collectivism, ever ascendant among today’s vanguard — in politics, morality, metaphysics, education, psychology — would reduce human interaction to an endless skimming upon an inescapably superficial plane of existence. It is inescapable because it admits of no “beyond.” When all mankind has been buoyed to the collectivizing top of things by force, by intellectual indoctrination, and by sentimental education, the surface will at last be all there is. The depths — the individual man, alone — will have been forsaken entirely: outlawed by the state, discredited by the school, ridiculed and exiled from life through community singalongs and mass entertainments. But without the depths, there can be no surface. The sea itself will have thus evaporated, leaving what remains of human life — all our “social intercourse,” “social mind,” “social media,” “social consciousness” — exposed as nothing but dust blowing across the cracked, crusty surface of a dry seabed. 

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