Social Salvation vs. Individual Salvation

James Walpole/ July 26, 2020

From one era to another of human history, human energies seem to be dedicated either to social salvation – think “progress” – or individual salvation – think “enlightenment” or “sanctification”. Sometimes this takes religious guises, other times more secular ones.

We live in a time that, despite its frequent pandering to individual *lusts* and frequent spastic efforts to find “enlightenment” (yoga, New Age, etc), does not really have a structure that encourages individual salvation.

The social structure trains us to want *progress* for our society – whether it’s political and moral (in the way we think about gender, race, etc) or economic (we want more stuff for more people) or technological (we want more power over our natural world). We pursue social progress whether or not that means individual improvement in virtue, heroism, etc.

On the other hand, I would be interested to know whether more traditional and hierarchical societies like those of medieval Europe, despite not having an explicit ideology of individualism, did more to encourage individuals to seek sanctification.

In the relative technological, religious, and artistic stability of more traditional societies, the individual was just about the only actor that *could* change. Time would have been viewed more circularly and less linearly, with each generation restarting the hero’s journey and finding a fleshed-out and tested set of rituals for going from stage to stage. You either progressed as a person, or you didn’t.

This is speculation, but it seems fair speculation to say that more traditional societies at least had stronger ritual support for individual transformation.

It is not speculation to say that as we have become more concerned with technological/social progress, we have managed to make it harder for individuals to become heroic, holy, fully realized beings. Yes, we wield more potential power than ever in the form of computers and data, but we also buy that power with the need for sedentary lifestyles (sitting at desks) and greater economic centralization (corporations), not to mention all the mischief that computers tend to create from pornography to internet trolling.

It probably is not the case that social progress (in the sense of linear change over time) and individual progress are opposed. I think social progress tends to come out of individual progress. But I think it’s much more important that individuals – the only beings who can *experience* change – get priority. And if that means tamping down on the rate of supposed social innovations, so be it.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

1 Comment

  1. Hmmm

    “Social salvation” or “social progress”; how do you define these terms?

    Ask a communist and they might proudly offer the latest examples of how shared sacrifice works toward the greater good of all. Ask a Socialist and perhaps they will crow about the wonderful synergy between business government and the people working in harmony toward a greater good. Ask a fascist and they will explain, again, the importance of business driving policy for the greater good. As for Capitalists, they will be happy to show you the latest market numbers as evidence that there is more than enough wealth for everyone. Ask a Zionist and they will tell you that Palestine has always belonged to Israeli, and they have no Palestinian problem because there are no Palestinians. Ask an African dictator and he will smile and patiently explain that social progress in his country is State business, not yours. In real world, practical terms, “social progress” and “individual progress” would seem to always be in conflict with each other.

    Conveniently the “internet” seems to have the answer at the ready. Not only that, but they give you reams of data and statistical analysis to back it up. And they all seem to tell us that comparatively speaking, people are much better off than ever before. Except of course, in those countries the authors do not happen to favor at the moment.

    Here is just one example: “” Problem solved?. Founded, owned, and operated by a tangle of LLC’s which results in unknown. It purports to “..provide decision-makers and everyday citizens with the very best data on the social and environmental health of their societies and help them prioritize actions that accelerate social progress.”

    A consistent definition of “social progress”, even if one could be agreed upon, would seem to be a red herring at best. So, what should be measured in terms of human progress. Well, how about a “freedom index”?

    Here is an example also waiting at the ready. Again, courtesy of the “internet”

    “ Problem solved?” Founded by the Koch Family, the CATO “institute” purports to be a “libertarian think tank”.

    What a relief to see that these 2 websites, coming from seemingly differing perspectives, offer results that are almost in look-step. “Freedom” and “social progress” appear in practical terms to be one and the same after all. Salvation is just around the corner…..
    And they both adhere to the KISS principle so that even a cursory reading does not leave readers uncertain about what they are selling.

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