In my previous posting, “The Two Equalities,” I attempted to explore the inherent drive for equality peculiar to rational beings. One of my principal conclusions is that a society can only exist peacefully when that society’s members derive their self-worth from the same identity. Understandably, this conclusion may give one pause, it did for me, especially when we consider humanity’s beautiful display of diversity. In light of man’s variety, one would understandably feel that diversity encourages us to find a peculiar self-created identity in which we can find our personal brand of happiness. However, diversity actually serves to show us the problems we have with our own identities. As such, diversity promotes individual change and allows us to individually discover the actual singular identity that enables an equality, wherein all flourish together.
In our modern world, we are able to draw upon a diversity of experiences that has, heretofore, been unknown upon the face of the Earth. In contrast to the present , people of history were limited in their exposure to many forms of diversity. For instance, some of my ancestors lived in a small rural community near Viborg, Denmark. It is not unfathomable to think that some of them never heard words spoken in languages other than Danish and liturgical Latin. They may have never read a written word or had access to the thoughts of previous generations beyond what was transmitted through oral traditions. In all their lives, they could trust in the apparent determinism that community traditions afforded.
We, however, are not afforded that opportunity. We pass through life being exposed to many different and conflicting world views. The diversity to which we are exposed may be ascribed to four different groups. These groups include Locational, temporal, characteristic, and lineal diversity.
Locational diversity deals with that aspect of how the different locations where we reside cause us to have divergent experiences. Temporal diversity is drawn to our different experiences that are unique to the era of time to which we belong. Lineal diversity describes those things that are acquired through the maintenance of societal obligations. Characteristic diversity is the many different ways in which people express themselves. These groupings have significant overlap and are not all inclusive but serve to illustrate the abundance of influence we presently experience.
Locational diversity is a significant part of our earthly experience. Transportation and communication technologies have revolutionized the world. As is frequently contemplated, one can be in China one day and in Canada the next, all while communicating near instantly with anyone at any location on the planet. Thus, we have domesticated the exotic into a familiar travel guide. The Sahara sands, the Antarctic ice shelves, the Hawaiian volcanoes, even outer space and the ocean’s depths are all tasteable beyond mere imagination.
In all the talk of diversity, temporal diversity is the dishonored illegitimate of the differences to which we are exposed. It is the panhandler we pass, with our hands in our pockets, mirroring our vulnerabilities while we tie our social value to our distinctions. Yet, the actions of those who have gone before have the potential to help and reveal ourselves more than any other vicarious experience. We can learn from and about our ancestors as we access the many records of the past that were hidden from those who have finished their earthly sojourn.
Even our lineal diversity is different than in previous generations. We are able to more easily maintain family connections and friendly acquaintances after separations. In many ways, the familiar saying “Friends come and go” is not necessarily applicable to our time. Also, we have greater confidence in future reunions even when we separate for seemingly nominal periods of time. When one says “God be with you” upon a parting, it is frequently stated under the guise of a trivial tradition, which stands in stark comparison to the earnest pleadings of the past. As such, when circumstance has connected different lives together, it is presently easier to maintain those connections than has historically been the case.
In the face of all the many influences in our separate lives, be the influences biological or environmental, we select, at different levels of conscientiousness, a grouping of characteristics that we raise as a banner showing the world how we intend to find our path in life. As we pass through our existence we become exposed to people who manifest characteristics apart from and even competing with our self-created avatars. This characteristic diversity, may either challenge or reinforce our self-concept. In our modern times, due to many of the factors discussed above, we both experience and are aware of more differences between individuals than at any other time.
Subjected to these factors, we are all potentially exposed to a wide, seemingly infinite, range of human expression. Yet, with the many ways in which we identify ourselves, nearly all of the expressions that we use to distinguish ourselves from one another are outgrowths of transient identities, identities that are peculiar to our time and place. These transient identities, while temporally vivacious, have no ability to speak to our eternal capabilities. Rather, they act as signposts, providing information about humanity’s progression from its cradle to its grave.
Also, with the many temporal differences in the world, there is not a well-defined quanta to really know where one difference ends and another begins. For example, race is a rather arbitrary distinction between individuals. If we were to line up all of humanity, it would be difficult to identify any sharp distinctions amongst the masses, but we would appear as a gradual transition from one person to another. Further, much of what we consider to be fundamental characteristics of our self-conception are solely applicable to ourselves. Our intrinsic quality may not have been part of the previous generation and may not be transferable to subsequent generations.
Thus, here we find humanity, expression in abundance. But what is the purpose of the mass of human differences? The existence of diversity must serve a purpose beyond mere diversity. And as I see it, diversity exists to help us adjust ourselves so that we can willingly assume and jointly discover a single all encapsulating identity.
We all have many different identities. We rely on these identities to make sense of and imbue meaning to our relationship with the world. However, nearly all of our identities are at some point non-sensical, finding their importance only in relation to other similarly non-sensical identities. It is as if we all take part in the greatest Ponzi scheme in history, but instead of money the value is self-worth. As such, when those competing identities fall away, likewise falling away are the bench marks for our self-worth, leaving us exposed to our previously hidden mortal fears.
Thus, for everyone, the accumulation of identities a particular individual assumes, is at best partially wrong and at worst entirely deserving of being shelved. But how do we know which parts of our identities are in need of modification? Isolated self-introspection, by itself, is practically incapable of revealing our weaknesses but rather has the tendency to feedback on itself, encouraging the solidifying of our weaknesses. It really takes interaction with a different perspective to see where we are in error.
When we express ourselves, in the course of our interactions with one another, the differences upon which we rely will eventually manifest themselves. Frequently, we become aware of our differences either by someone openly sharing a thought that brings conflict to our internal self or we perceive that someone is withholding part of their selves from us due to the threat of, or actual, conflict arising in them. Through these conflicts, however, there is the potential that we can become more like one another, but only if we persist in reaching out to one another. The hope being that our differences will motivate us to seek change within ourselves, allowing us to reach a more enduring equality as we begin to see our interests align with the interests of others. Further, the pursuit of our interests can only be aligned when we find our self-worth in the same identity, or different fully congruent identities, (congruent identities being entirely subservient to a singular purpose).
As such, it is necessary to see most of the things by which we characterize ourselves as temporary, fleeting views of ourselves. Views that serve us only when they conduct us towards a grand common end and damn us when we listen to their sirenic songs of safety. Like Odysseus, we are pilgrims through the idiosyncratic hinterlands of our lives. It is our choice and responsibility to reach through the challenge of “the other,” letting the interplay of ideas change and mold us toward a singular, unifying end.
The thought of a common end, leads one to wonder, as to what this distinctive identity entails? There are a few indicators that I try to use as guide posts for myself when determining whether my current identity(ies) will conduct me towards a common interest with man. A first indicator is whether the identity is assumable by everyone living. A second indicator is whether the identity would be assumable by everyone who has lived. Third, does the identity become meaningless when comparisons against competing identities are unavailable? These factors were alluded to previously and there may be other indicators that I could use to help myself and others acquire a singular common interest with all mankind, but these three above are the ones I currently use and feel are important.
I find the first indicator important because much of how we find meaning for ourselves is frequently pursued in relation to the lives of our contemporaries. All of us have certain situations thrust upon us by circumstance, to which we glean some hope for our security. These things could be race, ideologies, wealth (or lack thereof), geographic peculiarities, religious beliefs, genetics, etc. We use these circumstantial characteristics to partition humanity into groups to facilitate the acquisition of meaning in our lives. However, it should be readily apparent how strife can ensue as the different groups find their meaning over contested ground & issues. Essentially, if an identity we hold is peculiar to a circumstance we or a subgroup we belong to exclusively has access to, then, that identity must be changed, exchanged, or discarded if we are to contribute to and have access to the ideal equality.
The second indicator leads one to assert that an identity should be universally applicable to everyone regardless of the era to which one belongs. There appear to be many who think present society is better than the past and that present social ills are anachronistic vestiges from past human errors. Conversely, many appear to fear that the present society is precariously teetering on the edge of a cliff and that the future is void of promise. Both views leverage peculiarities of the present against characteristics of either the past or the future. In our present time, for example, we should take care to keep our identities from being reliant on technological developments that distinguish us from the past. To avoid this reliance, I feel it is important to look into history and not just the history of the famous, but the more granular history that is uniquely owned by us yet stretches back in time and connects us to everyone.
The third indicator involves whether our identity only provides value in comparison with competing identities. Sports provide an easy example that illustrates this concept. Many of us connect our hopes to particular sports teams. When our team wins the championship, we feel exalted for a time, yet, eventually that exultation fades as our teams succumb to the next round of victors. The internal value of the victory fading with time as the victorious markers of the past attenuate and become intermingled with the louder present. While sports may be trivial to many people, many of us gauge the success of our various identities in relation to others. Did my candidate win? Is the social environment favorable to my causes? Did I get the promotion? Many identities find their value only in relation to others.
If you look at yourself, applying the above indicators, you should notice that many, if not all of your present identities fail some of these tests for the final common identity for mankind. Accordingly, insofar as we deny our identity’s mutability, we are damned, either in the eternal sense or in a temporal sense, as we will actively push humanity towards ever greater states of isolated loneliness. To gain the equality we all seek, we need to engage each other in our depths, expose our hearts to one another, so our diversity can reveal the only reliable common ground in which we can all base our identity.