Page:Rise and Fall of Society.djvu/54
Society Are People
behind. When the individuals disappear so does the whole. The whole has no separate existence.
Using the collective noun with a singular verb leads us into a trap of the imagination; we are prone to personalize the collectivity and to think of it as having a body and a psyche of its own. We transfer to this mental fabrication some habits or characteristics of the individuals who are the reality; rather, we pick out of the heterogeneity some traits that seem to be common to all the parts and ascribe them to the image in our minds. And so we speak of a Mormon Society, an agricultural Society, an advanced Society; in point of fact, Society cannot be religious, has no occupation, is incapable of advancement; these are attributes of individual persons. It is a legerdemain of language. We invent a word to create an impression rather than a measurable fact, and then we use the word as if indeed it does represent a measurable fact.
All of which is self-evident and would hardly be worth mentioning if this literary usage did not lead us into blind alleys. From describing Society as if it were a person, we slide into the habit of judging each member of the group by our impression of the whole, and of acting upon that judgment. By this mental trick the well-advertised pathology of the Nazi hierarchy was transferred to all Germans and, as its enemy, we decided that the only good German was a dead one. The mass mania of war is a product of this habit of personification; it then becomes a matter of honor, not a murder, to destroy the uniform of this personification. This negation of the individual, by use of words, is the premise of every socialistic rationale; socialism hasn't a leg to stand on until the individual, like a lump of sugar, is verbally dis-