Discussion of C.H. Cooley's "Social Consciousness"



There are a number of facts which readily occur to any one of us as illustrating the social character of mental activity. Solitary confinement is known to be one of the most terrible punishments, for it drives its victims mad through the absence of intercourse with other human beings. The mind cannot live unto itself, but must have contact with other minds. Lighthouse watchmen placed at points which are isolated, and where they have practically no opportunities for contact with mankind, are never left entirely alone, but are invariably given a companion. This is not because it requires two to attend to the work,

(113) but because the isolated individual deteriorates mentally and becomes something altogether abnormal. But even when there are two of them in the same lighthouse, it is not uncommon for them to become insane, or at least cranky---because two persons form too short a circuit for stimulating social intercourse.

Even the smallest and most selfish minds, those which seem to center wholly about themselves and to care nothing for others, need social intercourse. The intellectually lowest type of woman, capable of little truly mental life, nevertheless needs contact with other minds and finds it in the form of gossip with her neighbors over the backyard fence. Consider, again, the incontrovertible desire to impart a secret to other minds. The more important and the greater the secret, the more insistently does it press for communication to other minds. Great thinkers, no matter how profound their contempt for the "common horde" of readers, invariably seek the means of imparting their thoughts to others. Mental property is not individual, but social. Furthermore, when we read of the suffering of others, of people whom we may never have seen, and whose welfare does not concern us at all, why is it that we suffer? What is it in us that suffers, unless it be our social consciousness? We suffer in that part of us in which we are not ourselves, but a part of something greater than ourselves. When the country's flag is insulted, what need we care as individuals? The insult does not touch us. It does, however, affect our social consciousness. We are hurt as members of the social body.

Our mind is therefore part and parcel of the group to which we belong, and the interests and desires and feelings of the group become our interests, our desires, and our feelings. Take a perfectly truthful young man and make him a reporter on one of the newspapers. From that time on his group-consciousness becomes such as a member of the staff of that paper that he will work for it, fight for it, and lie for it as he never would for himself.


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