Society is the complex interaction of many and various groups, institutions, and disciplines (here to be understood as professional fields). While the configuration of the various social groups varies from one particular society to another, all are amalgams of participating, that is, acting, individuals. Actions, however, are the exclusive domain of individuals. An aggregate entity qua an aggregate entity cannot act. When one speaks of an aggregate entity as “acting”, “thinking”, or, “being responsible for something,” one necessarily speaks of individuals as acting, thinking, or being responsible for something. For example, when the State executes an inmate it is not the State who administers the poison; rather, the executioner does so. During a football game, a team never scores a touchdown; instead, an individual scores touchdowns.
It should be noted that the football player never acts in complete isolation either. When the player scores a touchdown to win the game, it is the team that is victorious and not solely the player. In a like manner, the executioner is an executioner and not a murderer only insofar as he acts within a certain, specified role that receives and retains meaning only in and through the institution of the State. It may further be noted that all roles, whether father, friend, or lover, doctor, pilot, or artist can maintain meaning only within some formal (in many cases informal) social relation. This, unfortunately, does not annul the fact that only individuals act. For, in the case of the executioner and the football player, there is a similar, common psychological orientation shared between themselves and the other individuals in their group. The commonality is not real, though. Rather, it is a construct that serves as a facilitator for individuals in attaining a desired end or ends.
I define the division of labor as the specialization of co-operative, concerted action non-centrally distributed among numerous individuals for a desired end(s). Invariably, the division of labor increases productivity per unit of labor exhausted. This insight has led to the alleviation of many heretofore-insoluble human hardships. Without the division of labor, each man himself is compelled to produce each one of his many wants and needs. It is a fact, however, that not all men are equally productive in their natural abilities. That is, there are men who are more gifted, more skilled, and harder working than others, and men who are less gifted, less skilled, and not as hard working as others. Furthermore, it is an unfortunate fact that one’s environment does not equally possess any one (or more) commodity in universal abundance. It is a fact that since Adam’s fall men are destined to inhabit environs that are not equally rich in natural and artificial resources. In most cases, an agent discovers that, because of a lack of resources and natural talent, many of the particular commodities that he desires are inaccessible. These natural inequalities compel agents to co-ordinate their productive efforts for their greater benefit. The individuals involved in co-operative labor will soon conclude that, overall, it is in their best interests to do so. In this sense, then, the division of labor is a tool, if only a complex tool, utilized for value acquisitioning. It is imperative for the value acquisitioning process that agents communicate and co-ordinate their productive actions accordingly. Society is just such a coordinated division of labor.
One may only speak coherently of group action if one first recognizes that it is an amalgam of individual action. Groups act only insofar as the individuals who comprise them act together to achieve a common goal or end. To reconsider again group action, say, the American military occupation of Iraq, we must understand that it is merely the actions and the common psychological orientation of a certain number of individuals. To conclude otherwise would be to assert that every American is currently in the military and physically occupying Iraq at this very moment.
Of course, a commentator may note that the American military presence in Iraq is not merely (even though empirically it is) a group of individuals acting in concert for some end. This is true. Yet, this is also to assume that there is a meaningful entity called, “The United States of America,” and that its military is (if only partially) occupying a foreign country. This entity, while certainly possessing a type of existence- let us call it a contingent existence-, is merely a construct of individuals who share a common psychological orientation. (Indeed, the urge to point out that the concept “The United States of America” only exists in the brains of individuals is overwhelming.) To use the military example again, it is a fact that whenever a soldier is awarded a medal, given a bonus, or rewarded in some other fashion, the awarder, the presentator, and the awardee are all and only individuals. Any connection to a group is solely and merely psychological.
In no way do I intend to denigrate or devalue social interaction. It is an undeniable fact that society is the great wellspring of many of our sweetest pleasures. To be sure, by participating in society and not removing to a more private location, I declare as much. Perhaps, though, it is best to be cautious and speak not of society but of the psychological orientation of its constituent members. For it is far too easy to ascribe to a linguistic construction a signification not supported by external fact, and thus we often find ourselves in questionable moral situations.
Take, as an illustration, the idea of the “social good”. It is often used to justify a great number of actions, such as, but not limited to, the involuntary redistribution of wealth. It is said that by doing so, the “greater good of society is being served.” However, as there is no embodied entity to which we may impute the term “society”, what exactly is accomplished by involuntary wealth redistribution is the sacrifice of some individuals for the benefit of other individuals. (I use the term “involuntary” because wealth redistribution is not necessarily involuntary in nature. Indeed, wealth is voluntarily redistributed rather frequently through the trading of a medium of exchange for commodities.) To use individuals in this manner, I assert, is to use some individuals as mere means for the certain ends of others, and is thus immoral.
Furthermore, the individuals sacrificed must recognize that the initial benefit that they were to receive by participating in the group has disappeared and that what remains now is a coercive construct that penalizes productivity. Now, one of two things are likely to follow: (1) the sacrificed will refrain from his productive efforts and maintain or approach, in relation to his fellows, some level of marginal utility; or (2) the sacrificed will conclude that his current inclusion in the group is not cost effective and will thus leave for a more appealing situation, or endeavor to change the status quo in the current situation. Of course, after saying this, I must offer the following caveat. The level of marginal utility in (1) and the likelihood of relocation in (2) are directly proportionate to the amount and frequency of the involuntary wealth redistribution. What should be clear now is that involuntary wealth redistribution is a logically inconsistent practice.
The difficulties directly derivable from such notions as the “good of society” are many; however, I felt it necessary to mention only two. In fact, the two that I did mention, I must admit, deserve a longer, more systematic treatment than I have afforded them here. Nevertheless, I feel the examples to be adequate.