No Man is An Island

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No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. –

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

I think that the ‘no man is an island’ clause can be interpreted almost in terms of geopolitics. Here is my take on it.

No man is an island means that Every man is a land-locked nation. Of course there is always room for co-operation however as in any relationship Capabilities matter more than intentions. The individual has no permanent friends, or enemies only permanent interests. The human being is a marionette that can see(1) its own strings, the strings of biology and culture, of causality. These strings control his desires and his aversions and therefore his interests. To cut these strings means death. To put forward his interests with others effectively he has to create a buffer region around him to protect his industrial core. Lets call this buffer region ‘civility’ and the industrial core is his ‘uncensored opinion’.

In effect all interactions between two or more ‘land-locked/non-island’ humans is diplomacy and consequently governed by the laws of social exchange theory. The nearest ‘non-island’ humans are more likely to have conflicting interests. If a clod is washed away by the sea, this is always a loss for some land-locked humans and a gain for other land-locked humans because you see Europe is not one island nation- one individual but rather a continent of nations with competing interests. Some men’s deaths diminish him but others benefit him because he is involved in mankind. Therefore the bell only tolls for him if it tolls for his individual/national interests(2).

What is the point of this analogy?

It is precisely because ‘No man is an island’ that the bell does not always toll for him. Whereas if he had been an independent agent, an island, so to speak, if he didn’t have a stake in it, then his warm immaterial intentions would have counted rather than the cold hard capabilities that govern him.


(1) To an extent

(2) I know it is quite absurd to think of the individual as a nation or of the nation as an individual, this doesn’t make any sense internally, well may be said that symbolically the people are the body of the nation, at any rate often you will find that when countries ‘interact’ with each other almost as if they were individuals and that their interests remain often unchanged, and if the nation can act is if it were individual when interacting with other nations, I don’t it is too far fetched to analyse the behaviour of human beings when they interact with each others as if they are nations.