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No. 3. From our Archives, Tom Davidson responds to an inquiry: "What's the Purpose of Society?"

Updated: Aug 25, 2019


Portrait by Alexandra Bildsoe

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July 28th, 2019


Personally, I love the long form interview; how it allows one to inhabit the space created by the interviewee's responses, and how it feels like listening in on a conversation between friends.


To date, many of my most enjoyable moments as editor have taken place during these interviews, and often, toward their end; when we've reached or surpassed the two hour mark, and it's apparent that nearly everything that could be said has already been said.


Sometimes the last answer is short ––– a small reflection, or a quick offering of wisdom to carry along the journey. Other times, the final response echoes the tone and feel of a final paper, a thesis, or a summation that a skilled and charismatic trial attorney would give to an adoring jury.


One example of this type of end to an interview took place when Alexandra Bildsoe and I spoke with Tom Davidson for Issue No. 3 - Winter 2017-18, on a Sunday afternoon in March, 2018. The interview can be read in its entirety within the issue, which can be purchased from from our "Quarterly" page.. As for today, Alexandra's final question (in essence, "What is the purpose of society?") and Tom's final response hold the space for our daily.

- Isaac Myers III

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Alex: I was talking with a friend the other week, and we were talking about human consciousness, and our ability to reflect on our own experiences. And we also have this ability to create culture, and traditions, and all of these things that are so rich with individuality, and serve all of these purposes ––– and you can perhaps say that the sum of all these things makes up society; and the question would be, what do you think the purpose of society is, or should be? We have this incredible superpower that's unique, well maybe unique to the entire universe . . .


Tom: That's another question, are we alone?

Alex: That's funny. But I guess the question is, what's the purpose of society? And you can interpret the question however you'd like.

Tom: It's a big question, and a big topic, and I don't know if it's one that I can answer very well. As you mentioned, we have this capacity for technological and scientific advancement that is unmatched by any other species, but there are considerable drawbacks to having those abilities, and that focus on progress. And I think the losses mount up, in terms of our mental well-being, and the knocks that we take against our own psychological well-being. And how we treat our bodies, and the relationship that we have with other species.


It's one thing to be focused on progress and technological advancement, and to want to see the world developed for the better in that regard, but it's quite another when you look at the systematic effects, on a global scale, and what results from that technological mindset.


It's not by accident that if we continue to extract tons of materials and resources from the planet, then it's going to have some kind of effect, be it global warming or otherwise. So, I think the purpose of society is to understand the ramifications of our actions, and to understand the planet as an ecosystem, and to understand people in a much more holistic fashion.


We are emotional beings, and we have a physiological part to us. There's a genetic part to us, and we have certain wants, and wishes, and needs, and a lot of these different pieces of the whole equation get neglected, in favor of a very narrow outcome, which is commercial enrichment, and material enrichment. But what about our psychic well being? What about the trees? How are we affecting trees? Are they happy? And can we talk about the happiness of trees, or is that just ludicrous? I think we can.


I think we live on a sentient planet that feels everything that we do, and we're all interconnected in that way, and so I think at a base level, when you ask the purpose of society, I think the purpose, fundamentally, is to try to understand the holistic and interconnected nature of absolutely everything, and from that point understanding that our actions have multiple and myriad consequences, upon every single living thing on the planet, and maybe even beyond, of which we can't even be aware of.


And so it kind of goes back to our original question, about meditation, and an awareness, I think we need to be aware, and I think if we were more aware of the totality of sentient experience ––– that absolutely everything that goes on within the planet, within our bodies, and without, then we would be able to create systems and structures that take into account all of life, and all of its permutations. That's the first thing that comes into my head. What do you think, Isaac?


Isaac: I think if you do the things that you've described, then what you're doing is paving a way to make joy more accessible, for more people, real joy, not being able to use faster or better technology, but real enrichment. If you're making that pathway, and if you're making joy easier to access, and easier to feel, then you're onto something.


Tom: Right. For example, I was reading an essay on rituals this morning, and there was a reference to how, I can't remember where it was from, but it was an African tribe, and it said essentially that in that specific society, when someone would transgress, or do something wrong ––– commit a crime, or whatever it may be, that person is brought into a circle, and everyone goes around the circle and says something positive about that person, to kind of bring them back into re-alignment with themselves, and also with the society around them.


That's an example of a society that has viewed humans in their totality. People go wrong for reasons, and they're not inherently evil, and we can bring them back into a closer relationship with themselves, and each other.


We've even engineered a way to do that, which is through loving kindness, and by giving a person compliments. So that's an enlightened society, which really embraces the human being and doesn't just let them go and live in isolation. So, there are a lot of examples, I think, in looking at societies all throughout the world, where people think, actually, you know what, we're going to take into account the emotional make-up of a human being, and we're going to take into account that this person is feeling sad, and this person sometimes feels depressed.


As a result, these societies create groups and systems, and rituals, and institutions which can cater for these very unique situations, and support people as a result. But we're also going to be aware, going into it, that we have to create this system of support, and that we can't just let the free market decide, we can't just let the military take over, or the economy, or we can't just hope that these abstract concepts are going to engender trust and love in society.

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