SOCIAL ANIMALS THRIVE amongst their number and, in a significant way, can be considered less as discreet entities than elements of a larger organism. One single ant cannot survive. Chimpanzees live communally, and become deeply unhappy if separated from their friends and kin. They can even die of sorrow and loneliness.
People need other people, and the utterly solitary individual is as rare as he is miserable. The worst thing in the world is to be cast out of human companionship. A man alone is not a man, and to cast a man out from human companionship is to render him inhuman, worse than a beast. Coventry, solitary confinement, shunning, the silent treatment, ostracism: these are the most dreadful punishments humans can inflict on one another. It's no different to be cast out of a large group than to be cast out of the life of one single person. The pain and loss are the same.
Ostracism can work two ways: just as the group can reject an individual, so can an individual reject the group. Though the group may not feel it so much, still it creates hurt, self-doubt and anger. Prophets, visionaries and pioneers have provoked anxiety in the breast of society simply by their rejection of the group of which they were formerly members. In consequence, they have often been persecuted for their anti-social tendencies. It's a matter of degree: every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and when one member of society is cast out, the whole of society recoils a bit. The individual can be said to have been ejected, but in reality, both the outcast and society have moved apart. The smaller the group, the more violent the recoil. If the group consists of two members only, when the vote is taken to ostracize one, both become outcasts.
February 27, 1994
The title refers to ostracism, which in Athens was the banishment for ten years without disgrace and without loss of citizen rights or property. It was instituted by Cleisthenes out of fear of the revival of the institution of tyranny. The name of the individual to be ostracized was cut by the voters on ostraca, broken pieces of pottery. Voting was secret, and a quorum was necessary.
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