Can our identities be broken like glass?
In this post I look at how our identity, the things we feel define us, can make us do anything and how Religion is a very big part of that.
The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.
Attributed to SOCRATES by Plato, William L. Patty and Louise S. Johnson, “Personality and Adjustment” , p. 277
The 5 minutes I spend in front of a class I learned about as much as I taught others: I learned I wasn’t a good teacher at all and that teenagers these days couldn’t care less. And, if we consider the quote above, the latter has been the case for at least the last 3 millennia.
Kids may seem different today, but they aren’t, not really, and that is not necessarily a good thing. For all the effort they put into being lazy, into -not carring- and into avoiding effort at all cost, this is not going to last much longer. -for them individually, not for us as a society-
Because already in their little hearts lie the seeds that will transform them into us, the ‘messers-up-of-worlds’. The thing they care about is Becoming and the thing they fear most of all is that they’ll be Irrelevant. To Be or Not To Be isn’t so much ‘the question’ as it is the engine that makes the world go round.
One of the most cliché questions put to young people is ‘what they want to become?’. Which most often refers to an occupation, to properties as ‘smarter’, ‘taller’ or even to rewards included in becoming ‘Nobel-prize-winner’ or ‘Olympian’. It definitely takes a few years for the youngsters to start caring about forming an identity, although the decades where a “30-something” could wander around ‘to find himself’ are definitely over.
I sure am not the person to rewrite the psychology-book about ‘Identity’. What interests me is how -“who we think we are”-, -“who we think we should be”- not only determine what clothes we wear but also drives us to prove ourselves; it demands we sacrifice and suffer and that we strive to become part of subgroups; because of it we fight wars and battle with insecurities and constantly seek confirmation of who-we-are and recognition that we are somebody to begin with.
‘Identity’ is the reason why “you are kaka!” stings much less than “you’re nobody, you’re just a loser”. Who we are and what we think we should be, determines the notions of ‘success’ we hold, it determines where we judge our proper place in society.
If all you have is a hammer every problem is a nail. Likewise, if you think you are a warrior the meaning of life is to win wars. Who we are determines how we view life itself, what we do in it, or don’t do in it and how we choose, or refuse to choose, to end it.
‘Identity’ is why it hurts so much to lose a job or to lose a relationship. ‘Identity’ is also why it feels different to lose somebody because they leave us with regard to when they die. In the latter example we mourn that person, in all the former examples we mourn the passing of -a part of – ourselves. This sometimes runs so deep that people, severed from the thing they considered to be the meaning of life, become suicidal. I am not passing judgement here. It is just curious that this notion we barely ever talk about in life can be more important than the air we breath, the water we drink or the food we eat as well as as lethal when starved from.
Joining groups is a big part of identity. With the current European Soccer Championship going on I can’t think of a better example.
“I support [fill-in-random-famous-soccerteam]” said the man. To which I replied “I support IKEA” which perhaps is true enough, if reluctantly so. The man looked rather puzzled to me, but I think my statement really made more sense than his. Ikea is no less a ‘for-profit’ multinational with no ties what-so-ever to his or mine community as his own soccer-team is. Both companies are likely run by impersonal holdings and employ an ever-changing body of employees that are on-average indistinguishable from the employees of other companies in the sector. The only thing, it seems, that separates these companies, these brands really (because they could have the same owners) are logo’s and colours. And while I can still go to my ‘local’ Ikea, most soccer-supporters support teams that are not from their city or not even from their country, and whom might never-ever even go to their country. So we claim to be adults, but in order to build our identity, we rally behind logo’s that are even more empty than the national banners we stand for in times of war.
They say soccer is a religion, but they’re are wrong, soccer is an identity, but then again . . so is religion.
You would think religion is mostly about honouring the various gods and respecting the arbitrary rule left and right, but religion is nothing if not all about the group. Just like the colours of the soccer-jersey are not all that important for anyone choosing his soccer-family, whether or not God exists may not actually matter that much for a well-surrounded community-theist. It may be a ‘truth’ attested-to without being thought through and proclaimed much like a soccer fan proclaims his team ‘The Best’ and equally lacking in objective evidence.
The fact is that in this world it is impossible to go it alone. If people refuse to sell you food or refuse to employ you so you can get money to buy food, you are pretty much done for. Your freedom to differ from your surrounding society depends on the tolerance of that society for individualism and of the particular divergence in question. My particular society is thus that I feel free enough to write this blog, even though it would be trivial for any government to identify me, but not stimulated or even comfortable enough to do it openly with regard my personal social surroundings. This is somewhat unsettling given that apart from Sweden and Canada, Western Europe is about as good as any individual can have it with regard to secularism.
In this respect atheism differs as an identity from the theist counterpart in that it is too small and widespread a ‘community’ for the individual to join purely out of social reasons. Almost every member has paid a social price in order to take on the identity of ‘atheist’ (and make no mistake, atheism is an identity). Perhaps atheists share the ‘Don Quichote’ -gene, a tendency to rise against wind-mills, to stand isolated and surrounded.
I take from these musings that it may not be possible for atheism to confront theism head-on and win. For that theism is too engrained in society. The way to go is rather to make society more tolerant of all sorts of convictions so that divergence does not mean an automatic banishment-sentence. In a more tolerant society the case of atheism is the most logic choice requiring the least amount of energy to maintain.
I write this blog because I want to Be somebody. You read it for much the same reason. We expend tremendous effort in order to find out and/or prove who-we-are ! Some invent new maths, others invent computer-transistors or other ways of making laser light. Still others indulge in less productive ways of finding self-confirmation. Case in point are the splinter-groups of soccer-fan-clubs that because of group-dynamics are able to suspend morals and run havoc on other people and their property. Mirrored into a religious context these are the terrorist-cells that directly target people’s lives. What bothers me most, perhaps weirdly so given all the objectionable things about these sub-groups, is the seeming arbitrariness with which they’ve chosen their cause. It bothers me that most Manchester-United fans are not from Manchester(UK) about as much as it bothers me that almost all believers simply take on the religion from their parents. The first because it suggests that fans flock to successful soccer-teams like they flock to women with big breasts; because they feel a ‘deep connection’ on a “spiritual level”. The second bothers me because it seems everyone is by sheer coincidence born into the one and only true faith.
It seems to me that if we’d all take these identities for what they are: slowly moving constructs which are partially true, some of the time , that we’d automatically become a little more tolerant.
Especially with the non-productive investments that are made into ones identity, I would urge some serious self-reflection. On the other hand, it is something to do with your time and, no-matter what I say here, we all keep hoping don’t we? We are used to tremendous efforts for unclear and postponed returns, you never know, one day, something you’ve done …somebody may “Like it” on whatever social network will be all the rage then.