Our animal natures are in a constant state of tension between the personal and the communal. We have instincts which drive us to gratify ourselves, to dominate for food, status and mates. And then we have the pull towards the good of the tribe, pack or troop and the protection and support it offers.
As the huge media coverage of internet abuse has made clear (not least the appalling targeting of women on Twitter and other social media platforms), when public conversation is debased, we all suffer - though those at the sharp end suffer most.
Britain's most senior Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, will now not take part in the conclave to chose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, having been forced to resign early by allegations of "inappropriate conduct" made to the Vatican by several priests, both now retired and still serving.