As described in Chapter One, and reinforced in other earlier chapters, self-awareness (consciousness) is a prominent feature of the human psyche (a concept that includes the totality of a person's cognitive processes, conscious as well as unconscious). Consciousness was greatly expanded, if indeed it didn't originate, during the period in which humans learned to live in groups, a process which also included the evolution of symbolic thought, culminating in the use of language.
With the development of the human social group came also the emergence of morality as we now understand it. It is not clear that consciousness would have been required for the evolution of morality, but it is certainly true today that humans are aware of, even obsessed by their moral nature.
Although it seems that the basic foundations of morality, including reciprocal altruism and a predisposition to trust others arose in the context of the social group, and are part of humans' genetic endowment, cultural development has greatly expanded the ethical structures under which modern people exist.
Individuality, as it is experienced by modern humans, is also bound up with consciousness (self-awareness). Other key cognitive advances which have helped to make up the foundation of the modern psyche are a sense of historical time, something which may not be shared by any other animal, and the practice of naming people and objects, something which was a necessary precursor to language.
It is not right, however, to suppose that individual, moral consciousness is an adequate basis for a successful society, in the absence of collective institutions, at least not without considerable and often painful personal development. Neither morality nor individual consciousness could have developed originally other than as an expression of the collective, and the same is very probably true for every new individual even today. Writer after writer (see the Introduction) insists upon the groupish nature of early humans and their social institutions.
For a modern person, saturated in belief in the elaborate individuality that has somehow come to be erected in opposition to the over-mighty State, it requires a super-human effort of mind to realise that the group came first, the individual came second, and the State, by a long way, came last.
After tens or hundreds of thousands of years during which human societies governed themselves as self-contained groups, it is just in the last few thousand years that monarchs, religions and eventually states have taken it upon themselves to deliver ethics and justice. This process has reached a pathological extreme, and it has been the message of the greater part of this book that a reaction is now going to take place, helped along by globalization and the Internet.
The subject of this chapter is the fate of the human psyche as this next transformation takes place in human social affairs.