society is an ambiguous beast of which we find ourselves a member and which is, at the same time, something completely other. its failure to engulf me is what allows me to remain me in the face of its overwhelming enormity. i remain, beyond the vastness of a society which i cannot escape and which indeed makes my relations with others possible and meaningful. at the same time, i am never me alone; i am never the autonomous and free self i might wish to be. i am always a being-with-others. this being-with-others is the source of all conscience: con-science: thinking-with-others.
neither piety, nor love of neighbor can do justice to the complexity of these social relations. in love we attempt to seclude ourselves in the privacy of intimate relations so as to avoid the scope of our responsibility. it is true that love is blind: love is blind to those who are beyond the intimacy of the one with whom we have decided to identify and to whom we hold ourselves responsible. nor can we turn directly to god to absolve ourselves of the complexity of the social. the turn toward god, in the attempt to satisfy conscience, is to turn away from one's responsibilities, an attempt to shut out the voice of the many and reduce it to the voice of One that one claims will forgive all. but god is not blind.
we cannot live in such closed relations. and we know this well, unfortunately, no matter how we might try to hide from it. the guilt of conscience has to do with the fact that the meaning of who i am and what i do is not contained nor solely determined by my own intentions. my intentions lead me beyond what i intended into a relationship with the whole of society. in each of our intentions, our actions go out from us, always returning to us another way. they become detached from us and subject to the judgement of others. we become communal. we thus await the judgement of others: others we have never met, who appear as the face of strangers surrounding us in condemnation. beyond love, and all our claims to piety, there is the Whole which comes to us in many faces and whose voice is not one.