For most of us, Covid-19 has made clear we are social animals. Being cut off from family, friends, and work colleagues has been enough for that. Even someone as (sometimes) solitary as me has to accept that point.

But 'social animal' and 'social' are very general terms, and so do not answer many of our biggest questions. For instance: Does 'private' (however defined) property inhibit our cooperative social nature as Marxists and some ecologists claim, or does it fit in with our social life as conservatives and many (not all) liberals would say? Again, the revival of nationalist populism in response to economic instability (and capitalism is unstable) is only the latest form of humans acting as social animals which can run contrary to achieving a caring and empathetic environment for those outside the in group. The report on treatment of women and children in mother and baby homes run by the Irish Catholic church from the 1920s to 1970s illustrates an older form of the same theme.

Those intellectuals and academics who long to break away, as they see it, from 'atomistic' individualism (that is, most of them) are readily drawn to philosophies which insist we are social creatures and cooperative. Mary Midgley and Alasdair MacIntyre in his later guise are recent examples. Fine so far as it goes, but that does not deal with the ideological questions - how do we make social cooperation work in practice, and how far do social cooperation and empathy extend? For fans of the social animal I have just one piece of advice: Be careful what you wish for.

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