One of the most fundamental ideas that Auden held in the 1950s — the period of his career that I’m working on right now — was that “pluralities” of people come in three kinds. From an essay called “Nature, History, and Poetry” (published in Thought in 1950), with bold type added by me:
- “A crowd consists of n members where n > 1, whose sole characteristic in common is togetherness. A crowd loves neither itself nor anything other than itself. It can only be counted; its existence is chimerical.”
- “A society consists of x members, i.e. a certain finite number, united in a specific manner into a whole with a characteristic mode of behavior which is different from the behavior of its several members in isolation (e.g. a molecule of water or a string quartet). A society has a definite size, a specific structure and an actual existence.”
- “A community consists of n members, all of them rational beings united by a common love for something other than themselves.”
The tragedy of social media is this: Each given social-media platform consists of a crowd pretending to be either a society or a community.