First of all, let me make a disclaimer. I’m not a philosopher or a sociologist. I’m simply an interested individual seeking to examine this hypothesis for my own edification and for the edification of those who share the same lay status as myself.
Let’s begin by looking at the definition of ‘social.’ One of them – and there are a few – means ‘needing companionship and therefore best suited to living in communities.’
Based on that definition, are we all social individuals? According to the experts, this is a truth that cannot be refuted. Indeed, sociologists and other social scientists posit that…
…the natural instinct of man is to be sociable since it is something that is inborn within him.
The famous philosopher Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” He goes on to say that, “Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to and therefore does not partake of society is either a beast or a god.”
Since being a god is out of the question, the inherent truth here is that man needs society to fashion him into a functioning human being or he becomes little more than a beast of the earth. The famous sociologist Robert MacIver has cited three cases in which infants were isolated from all social relationships to make experiments about man’s social nature.
The first case was that of a child who was brought up in the woods until his seventeenth year. It was found that he could hardly walk, had the mind of an infant and could mutter only a few meaningless phrases. In spite of his subsequent education, he could never make himself a normal man.
The second case was of two children who were discovered in a wolf den. One of them died soon after discovery and the other could only walk on all fours and growl like a wolf. She was shy and afraid of human beings. It was only after careful and sympathetic training that she was able to learn some social habits.
The third case was a child who had been placed in a room at the age of six months and discovered five years later. On discovery, it was found that she could not walk or speak and was indifferent to people around her. These cases reinforce the idea that if a man is deprived of the companionship of his fellow man, he remains a raw and beast-like creature.
McIver goes on to say that, “There are no individuals who are not social individuals, and society is nothing more than individuals associated and organized.”
This argument makes it clear that to be social is not just a part of our nature but also a necessity.
A man has many needs and in order to fulfill these needs, he has no choice but to engage and interact with the society he lives in. His physical, mental and social needs cannot be fulfilled all by himself. Hence, in order to survive, he is compelled to seek the assistance and companionship of his fellow men and become a link in the chain of inter-dependency.
The old adage of ‘No man is an island’ still holds true. For human life to thrive, living in societies is an essential prerequisite. As human beings, we are biologically and psychologically wired to live in a society. We have the DNA to build and hold that society together and contribute to its betterment. It is there that we’re molded and mellowed into productive people with a sense of obligation to others. Society provides the framework for our beliefs, ideals, morals, and attitudes. It creates conditions and opportunities for the development and self-actualization of our individual personalities. It is an indispensable part of our life on earth.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have people who voluntarily or involuntarily distance themselves from the society of their fellow men. The voluntary people are of two types: people who are religiously motivated, such as monks, nuns and hermits, and people who have simply become dissatisfied, disenfranchised or disenchanted with their lives, such as recluses. Would it be accurate to label these people as anti-social?
For the people who are religiously motivated, I would argue that they are not anti-social in the negative connotation of the word. They are simply replacing the companionship of society with the companionship of God. This brings them fulfillment and a sense of peace and purpose. Some of them also engage in good works with their wider communities, so they are not in total isolation. Neither are they in conflict with society.
For the people who shun society for reasons other than religious, their yearning to cast off the yoke of their fellow men can be for both selfish and selfless reasons. Sometimes, all they want is a period of rest and recuperation from the burdens and pressures they face. Other times it is because of a life-changing event that causes pain and disillusion, leading to a need to distance themselves from the source of that pain. For the people who become involuntary pariahs, it may be as a result of their own actions. Their misdeeds are not crimes which require punishment and incarceration but are still serious enough to turn them into social outcasts. In some cases, their entire family would share in the disgrace. This happened a lot in the past and still takes place to some extent today.
For the voluntary recluses and the involuntary pariahs, I liken them to trees with deep roots, whose branches have been cut off. The foundation is still there but the trees no longer serve the purpose as a tree. They won’t bear fruit or help with pollination. Such is the life of the voluntary and involuntary recluses. They still function as human beings but are no longer viable members of society. It may be short-term or long-term but inasmuch as they are separated from society, there is no lack of creature comforts. They retain the basic necessities in order to survive since deprivation will definitely lead to suffering and death.
We now come to a third category of people. They live productive lives as members of society but still have strains of anti-social tendencies. These tendencies are more of a disadvantage to them than to others. They are often labeled as socially inept or awkward. They are shy and introverted loners who find it difficult to cohabitate with society. They prefer their own company and are ill at ease when among others. In the long run, they either learn to cope and seek treatment or face mental health problems. A loss of mental health may even lead to a life of crime.
This brings us to the last category of people: those that embody all the negative connotations of being anti-social. One of the definitions of anti-social is, ‘hostile and antagonistic towards society. This includes behavior that disrespects and violates the rights and feelings of others as well as the order and principles of society. Such behavior includes theft, bullying, rape, deception, murder, and general criminal behavior.”
As we can see, this category of anti-social people resorts to a life of crime and violence. When this happens, it means that there has been a breakdown in the socialization process. The reasons and causes of anti-social behavior is a complex issue. They are usually lumped into the three broad categories: biological, genetic or environmental. These factors all contribute to the breakdown in the socialization process, leading to social ills and disintegration of society. Societies around the world struggle on a daily basis to save the souls of such individuals. Sometimes they are met with great success or miserable failure.
Finally, as believers in God and an adherent of the Muslim faith, there is no shortage of evidence in our texts promulgating the utmost importance of our communal responsibilities. In the Qur’an, God declared, “The Believers are but brothers…” (49:10). In that same chapter also, He tells us, “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another…” (49:13). In another chapter, we are told, “You are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. You enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency…” (3:11). A Hadith by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), stated/
“Verily, the believers are like a structure, each part strengthening the other.”
(Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 467, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2585).
To be able to live up to these faith ideals, we have to engage with our communities. Engagement leads us to become vibrant and dynamic members of society, leading to productive and useful lives. To remove ourselves from the social sphere is going against our own nature. In the long run, there are always negative repercussions when we go against our natural tendencies.
Written by Farah Zaman,
Her blog: //farahzamanauthor.com/