Monday, December 12, 2011

Linguistic Conceptions of Love and Idenity

This essay is the culmination of a semester's study of identity in my MA program on Conflict Transformation. I realized that it became a bit of a personal manifesto of belief as well. Identity does reach to the core of who we are, so that would seem to be a natural route for a reflection on the topic.  


     Whenever I'm asked about my religious beliefs, I say that love is the ultimate. I respond that love is God, which is one example of where my beliefs coincide with The Bible. We can see the thread of love in the makeup of all the world's great traditions, but is it enough to say that "I believe in love" and leave it at that? I say no, as not only will there be different ways of applying and defining love, but the universal nature of that small word opens up an entire new language that we can use; and much like language in the broader sense, love creates its own concepts by the very fact of its existence. It gives shape and clarity to everything that is. Its universal nature requires it to, and because of all that it envelops, "love" can seem impossible to harness into something neat and compact that we can categorize in our minds. There is a need to contextualize and explain what we mean when referring to love as related to identity.

     
     Perhaps then it is best to see how love looks in various situations. One of my favorite quotations comes from Cornel West (2010) when he says that "justice is what love looks like in public". There is so much in that statement, including something unsaid: that love takes on a different "look" depending on context. So how then does love manifest itself in issues of identity? Better, what are some of the words and/or statements that we use in this love language of identity? Looking back on a semester, I can see where my worldview of love as the ultimate has found itself enhanced by new additions to my vocabulary. These new words/concepts have sparked corresponding new ideas and potential ways to enact love in our world. It has created new entry points to tap into the energy described so well by Pierre Tielhard De Chardin - who portrays my metaphysical conceptions best - when he sees love as an energy of attraction or coming together of consciousness, humanity, knowledge and biology in a process of evolution that will ultimately culminate in "God" (Chardin, 1976). So, let's look at love as it appears in some of the words we associate with identity. 

Love and identity as dignity

     In my reading of Donna Hicks, I have not seen her name it as such, but her message is consistent with the idea that dignity is the essence of ourselves that is at base inseparable from and a part of universal love. It is where love resides in the individual, and tapping into that essence comes about through a process of self-reflection and discovery. Once we are able to see it in ourselves, then we can see it in others. This ability to see that internal space where love resides in humanity allows us to see true identity. I appreciate how she teaches us that dignity is not part of basic human needs, it is part of basic human essence. To deny someone's dignity is to deny their humanity (Hicks, 2011).

      From my own experience, I have found that it's when I'm most violent to myself that I'm violent to others (that is not to say physically violent, but violent in words/thoughts). It's when I'm least capable of overlooking personal faults that I'm also incapable of overlooking faults in others, and I tend to make sure the other knows about whatever "wrong" they've done in my eyes. My vision has been blocked in those moments. I fail to focus on the truly human and instead pick out external conditions and tie them to the person's identity. I have not placed dignity at the forefront in these situations, and because of this I identify myself and others in relation to the external or a particular context, instead of seeing a human in the midst of and irrespective of a context. Yes, we exist in relation to the world, but in and of ourselves we are still autonomous humans defined by the very dignity that is often denied by others. We learn from those others, and denying their humanity is to deny our own.

Love and identity as mimetic desire

     
     Vern Redekop (2002) gives shape to a concept we all use called mimetic desire. We learn to relate to the world by sent and received messages and signals in relation to others and through imitating positive responses that meet our needs, including the needs around identity. Mimetic desire or the desire to imitate can be positive or negative, but at base it is a desire for connection to something we see in the other. Redekop argues that what we are looking to connect with is at the very essence of what it means to be human, and it is here that I would agree. Notice the consistency with the other aspects of love which we've already addressed, such as Chardin's love energy working through evolution to bring us into tighter relation and consciousness as inter-connected humanity. Also, the desire to reach the essence of the human is the desire for dignity which is inseparable from essence.

     Redekop himself refers often to dignity, and it's concomitant element of autonomy. Both Redekop and Hicks are consistent in their descriptions of the seeming tension between the dual needs of individuation and integration. This tension is not so difficult to resolve when love as the mimetic as brought in. What we desire in imitating the other is that which defines us all as humans. It can be as simple as learning the appropriate way to dress or as complex as connections at the deepest emotional level. Thus, once we attain those desires/needs, we are then fully realized in our individuated humanity while at the same time we have achieved connection with the humanity around us. The two cannot be separated, as seemingly disparate as individuation/integration look at first glance.

     This makes sense when we continue to keep in mind that love is universal. Therefore ultimate love would by nature be fully capable of realization in the whole or part of the whole. However, the part only retains identity in relation to the whole. Identity cannot happen in a vacuum. There must be a relation in order for the individual to stand out or identify to humanity. If humanity or larger societies were universally homogenous, there would be no individual identity as there would be nothing to relate to. Love as mimetic desire fulfills the need for relation and autonomy in its healthiest manifestation by allowing us to be truly present witnesses through an awareness of others and how we identify in a continuous give and take. Thus the individual continues to combine and work towards higher levels of consciousness, unity and love by having their needs fulfilled while at the same time offering back to others those parts of one's self which we are able to give. In this way, mimetic desire works in all areas of the human experience and makes clear why healthy self-care and knowledge is inseparable from the love of others.

Love and identity as biology 
      I have already referred to Chardin's metaphysical paradigm of evolution as love, but I want to expand on that idea a bit and bring in thoughts of biologist Mary Clark as well. The idea of evolution as love and what that means for our identity is a profound departure from the normal discourse of evolution as natural selection. Both Chardin and Clark argue that we have evolved into beings that are by nature social and not competitive. 

      Clark (2002) takes this somewhat novel idea of evolution as a point of departure and argues that our minds are essentially "meaning-making" organs (p. 62). She illustrates this by showing us how language itself has evolved out of relationship in that it is a shared system of making sense of the world. It is through coming together that we come to a greater knowledge simply by the mere fact that we have a common basis for understanding in linguistic terms. This is a refreshing departure from survival of the fittest as a paradigm for increased intelligence. How often have we seen the power of ideas in a group of thinkers being superior to the individual, even if that individual has a higher singular intelligence than any one member of the group? 

     This is but one example of what I take from Clark in that biological evolution is a relation of love, and that the coming together of cells mimics the coming together of humanity. At this point, we enter into the metaphysical, as we cannot see the end of our evolutionary road. Chardin posits that the ebbs and flows of power structures, the errors and violence, the love and hatred are but the normal process of humanity's evolution towards the highest or ultimate realized for him in Christ and for me in love.

     Chardin died before the invention of the internet, but the advancement of technology is another example of evolution at work, and a form of evolution that unites us rather than separates us. Further, It is from imperfections in learning to deal with new and unfamiliar others - and their corresponding identities - that violence can occur. As technology makes the world smaller, we are facing new challenges of how to continue to come together. But Clark argues that it is in our nature to be social beings, and in this I find agreement with her. It is natural to unite, and the violent reactions we see in our world when diverse identities first engage in the trial and error process of unity are a result of earlier evolutionary processes that form the makeup of our individual cells. To continue to evolve, the human as organism will "learn" that going with the grain of the universe means learning to unite, not divide. Their evolution is centered around the ultimate goodness at the heart humanity, which I call love/divinity.

     So as Redekop (2002) and Clark (2002) both point out, we have evolved towards self-preservation, but when we bring that idea together with Chardin's ultimate metaphysic of combined humanity-as-one, we see that the self-preservation will eventually reach to a much greater macro level than anything previously envisioned. For in the end we individual humans, now seen as a whole in and of ourselves, will become - and in many ways already have become - the makeup of a higher form of life, much like the individual cells which make up our bodies.

     
     This evolutionary energy of love that drives life at all levels is what we must learn to tap into as we become ever more physically closer on this planet. This is my conception of becoming closer to divinity - working towards the divinity in ourselves as united with others - and this is where I see and understand the Christian concept of God in man as Christ. This vision of Christ as the ultimate evolution - which is the true view of Chardin and all Christians - is really a vision of the highest stage of humanity and consciousness. Our identity and purpose as humans is to be part of the greater whole that is driven by love. So, to me, love and Christ are inseparable, and to say that I believe in love would also carry a form of belief in Christ, but additionally would include other energies of love that can be seen in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. All are attempts to identify humans as tied to this energy of love, and that's why I cling to love as the ultimate force and God of the universe.

     Additionally, since all humanity contains the grain of divinity within their very biological essence, then is it too far of a stretch - given all that we've discussed thus far - to envision different autonomous expressions of God in the diversity that is the makeup of humanity? To take it further, isn't it this diversity contained within an even larger whole that will culminate in God? Cannot this God then be diverse as a part of its makeup? Does this not mean then that the energy of love is great enough to be all-inclusive and uniting and even has a destiny to unite? I say yes, and these questions are the kinds that I've grappled with in my own mind in attempts to make sense of the metaphysical. Furthermore, they are all directly related to the very core of who we are as humans, and how we identify with the universe and particularly the "others" around us.

Love and identity as politics

     At first glance, you the reader might think this statement oxymoronic. Politics is traditionally thought of in terms of governments, deal-making and power struggles. Yes, this is a part of politics, but Kenneth Hoover (1997) reminds us that there are power dynamics in any human relationship. If we are alive, we have power, and therefore power is a part of our identity. It cannot be ignored and it cannot be avoided, so awareness of the critical importance that power carries in human identity is crucial to our further evolution and survival.

     Interactions of power-containing individuals and societies, in Hoover's conception, are meant to draw off of the same energy of love that we've been discussing. Proper use of power as political relations is pragmatic application of the energy of love. Politics also encompasses far more than the macro government level. Politics is human relations. Therefore for these relations to remain healthy rather than self-destructive to our species, we need to focus on providing the kind of environments that will contribute to mimetic exchanges that allow diversity, tolerance and equanimity. Stifling mimetic desire as described by Redekop (2002) is to try to counter-act the process of evolution. Eventually this is doomed to failure if we accept everything posited thus far, yet this is what many governmental power structures attempt to do in our world today.

Love and identity as revolution

     Further, it is the stifling of these rich mimetic exchanges, in their ideal form, that becomes a threat to identity and is a direct contributor to violence. This is easily perceived when we remember that mimetic desires help define and shape our identity, and to be aware of our identity is to be aware of our dignity. When governments or power structures establish environments that try to homogenize or restrict this identity formation, they are also engaging in an indirect or direct denial of human dignity. Those subjected to this denial will often rebel and become violent, and these environments are the atmospheres from which revolutions are born.

     Granted, revolutions are not necessarily a bad thing, and much like the evolution of humanity, they can be seen as an evolution of the conditions that contribute to the positive evolvement of human structures of power. The problem is in the violence. Revolution by nature does not equal violence, but it of course often includes it. Revolution at base is about change, and the kind of change that revolutions work towards is to bring conditions that not only provide room for human dignity to shine, but to enhance and grow the dignity of humans; ultimately, it's about increasing awareness in the lives of the oppressor that the oppressed are claiming back their identity. This may sound like some grand statement, but isn't any revolution a progression, which is born out of a desire that a certain group has to elevate their worth as humans?

    
     While I cannot endorse the methods of a Che Guevara, he did capture the essence of revolution in his statement "at the risk of sounding absurd, a true revolutionary is motivated by love for the people" (Franklin, Hsu & Kosanke, 2000, p. 20). What I find admirable about Che's writings is that he was seemingly driven by the lack of dignity that he recognized in his fellow Latin Americans. He had seen how the machinations of power and imperialism had de-humanized the people with which he identified, and he felt this de-humanization in his deepest core essence. Ultimately, he identified himself as one of those people which the power structures of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the United States, were oppressing.

     I am convinced that Che's revolutionary motivations were as much an effort to restore his own dignity as they were to elevate the dignity of others. His methods became extreme, and he acted violently to keep the revolutionary movement progressing forward. This I can no longer agree with, although there was a time when I did. However, I have come to a greater empathy of the reasons for the actions of a Che Guevara, or at least the actions of the Che that I've read about and that has been presented to me through Cuban and other leftist literature.

     Che's actions as presented were an effort to restore equality and dignity in all people. Theoretically, this is the message of Marxists everywhere. However, the dark side of power inserts itself into dialectic materialism by not acknowledging the fact that one power class ends up replacing another. A purely Marxist message is not one of equanimity and dignity for all humanity, it's only for those who were formerly oppressed. If the Marxist revolution succeeds - at least in the real world outside of Marxist literature - the oppressed becomes the oppressor.

Love and identity as divine revolution

     We can see from the preceding statement how identity can instantly take on a different form when conditions are not created for the proper dignity of all, including the former oppressors. When this happens then we as the greater body of humanity have arrived at the position we held before the revolution. The death and violence involved in the cleansing of the old guard has done nothing to advance the evolution of the new guard. The new guard has separated itself from the greater body by attempting to elevate itself above the previous oppressor. This separation from the larger body of humanity is a form of identity loss, and is akin to a branch being separated from a tree. By refusing to recognize the dignity of the whole, the dignity of the part is lost as well. As previously mentioned, the part can only maintain its identity in relation to the whole.

     However, divine revolution, the revolution that goes with the energy of love recognizes the dignity of all and must by that fact alone be a revolution of non-violence. For how else can we respect our common human dignity but to remain non-violent? Any form of violence is at base a de-humanization. It is a judgment placed on a particular human life, stating that in this situation that human no longer has a place in the greater body of humanity. It is a denial of dignity - of identity at its very foundation - which is the identity of being human.

    
     Revolutionaries such as Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Cornel West and many others, like Che Guevara have also fought for the oppressed. But they have done so in a way that keeps the dignity of the oppressor intact. For the revolution means nothing if it is not universal, and for it to be universal it is absolutely necessary to stop the cycle of violence not later, but now. Forgiveness is necessary to restore the dignity of the oppressor, and it is necessary for the restoration of the dignity of the oppressed. The bond comprising the greater human identity has been ruptured in situations of oppression, and to restore it both parties must be reconciled. Forgiveness by the oppressed is at the base of this process as well as the acknowledgment of the rupture committed on the part of the oppressor.

Concluding remarks

     In addition to the methods above, I'd like to close this reflection on the love language of identity by stating that love and identity are also knowledge and awareness. Love grows out of knowledge and awareness. Anything we as individual autonomous members can do to increase our awareness extends itself to the whole through the mimetic exchanges with which we are constantly engaged. We have no choice but to intervene in our world, as the very essence of being human is to interact. Even an inaction is still an action.

     Therefore, when we increase our own awareness, we work towards increasing the awareness of others. At the same time, we cannot increase our awareness separated from others. Awareness, like human existence itself, is individuated yet integrated. Without a cultural base, a frame of reference, linguistic terms to make sense of what's around us, and interactions with others, whether it be in print or in person, our awareness is nothing; it is a vacuum. Even the contemplatives, monks, Buddhists and other ascetics are ultimately trying to tap into the same divine universal energy of love that we all seek and find in ourselves and through our relations with others. Their seemingly isolated search is actually a very intense process of reaching towards the whole. Those who are able to achieve the feeling of ultimate connection of being at one with the universe have tapped into divinity. They have found love, and they are now speaking its language. May we all work towards finding this connection in our lives, for there is no truer way to define our identity than through love.


References

Chardin, P. T. (1976). Activation of energy: enlightening reflections on spiritual energy. New York: Harcourt, Inc.
Clark, M. E. (2002). In search of human nature. New York: Routledge.
Franklin, C., Hsu, R., & Kosanke, S. (2000). Literary studies east and west: navigating islands and continents: conversations and contestations in and around the pacific. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Guevara, C., & Deutschmann, D. (2003). Che guevara reader. Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press.
Hicks, D. (2011). Dignity: the essential role it plays in resolving conflict. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Hoover, K., Marcia, J., & Parris, K. (1997). The power of identity: politics in a new key. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, Inc.
Redekop, V. N. (2002). From violence to blessing: how an understanding of deep-rooted conflict can open paths to reconciliation. Ottawa, Canada: Novalis.
West, C. (2010). Brother west: living and loving out loud, a memoir. New York: Smiley Books.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Intervention


The late activist Arthur Gish in Palestine

When asked to reflect on the idea of "intervention" as applied to my peace work grad studies, I realized how foundational this is to every human interaction.  We cannot escape intervention, we engage in it constantly, whether or not we are conscious of it...

...and as with any concept, I like to dig deep, find out all I can, think about it from every angle, and maybe jump in and immerse myself to the point that I am living the idea - at least in my mind.  Is a word or can a word be an idea?  I say yes in the sense that "love" as a word is also an idea, "justice" as a word is an idea, and "intervention" can be as well. 

                Intervention by nature implies an action, which includes stepping into a situation, environment and/or someone's life or lives.  Therefore we have underlying factors such as motive and purpose working in the idea of intervention.  Going deeper still, I seem to hit a bedrock of two dynamics:  1.responsibility and 2. a philosophy or way of life as being at the abstract foundation of intervention.  I think we must begin with the latter.

                For me and probably for many others, the decision to work for others in such an obvious way as peacebuilding came about through an intense and sometimes torturous mental journey.  Why are we so driven to make changes in our world?  Why or how can one person possibly make a difference?  Is there some underlying need that is at work in our own lives?  When we've seen some of the world and realize the transient nature of things, the questioning ultimately will turn to the existential:  Is there a reason for living other than relationships and the impact we make on other lives through our own life?  I've come to the decision that there is not.  People are life and life-giving.  But why do we even need a reason to live?  Is our reason for living for others driven by selfishness?  These are all questions I've spent an enormous amount of time thinking about. 

                At this point we can bring in the issue of responsibility to our philosophy of life.  If we are considering stepping into a situation that has a direct impact on the life of another, then we'd better be aware of the magnitude of what we're doing, and how we're doing it.  But the dialogue can become quite existential here as well.  Is it possible not to have an impact on others?  Isn't our very presence in the world an impact just from the fact that we're alive and live in relation to others, even if that relation is seemingly benign or irrelevant?  Is the lack of the good that we could have done for someone an action of its own accord - an action out of inaction?  The conclusions I've come to in this regard tells me that the energy of the universe, the energy that many refer to as God, and I refer to as love, is the same energy that has caused me to live and that draws me inextricably towards others in positive mutuality.  Yes, I have a need that I am fulfilling - the need of purpose - by choosing to intervene in the world as a peacebuilder.  However, I am fulfilling that need with the full knowledge that what I see inside of myself is interdependent on others.  Humanity by nature is meant to function as a union, and as peacebuilders, we are working towards repairing ruptures in inter-relational dynamics and striving towards a consistent healthy functioning of that union.

                The needs I recognize in myself are common to all of humanity.  We are all drawn towards each other, so in this sense I cannot reduce the actions of peacebuilders to simply selfish motives - as everyone has the need for connection and purpose.  If it is selfish, then it's a shared selfishness with all humanity.   So we need to be connected yes, but there is a coinciding need for autonomy that goes along with connection.  We are independent and autonomous yet connected through the same energy that gives us all life.  I appreciated the reminders that Anderson & Olson (2003) - among others - have given us that peacebuilding in its ideal form is meant to give space to others to establish their own autonomy and independence.  Those two concepts involve the further concepts of dignity, freedom, sustainability and control of self.  Peacebuilding is not meant to impose peace on others, as if it were something that I or anyone was able to give to them.  No, the best that I can hope to do is to open up more spaces for others to realize opportunities that they never were able to see before, and to further allow them to see that they can build upon these opportunities and continue to spread the divine energy of the universe in their own lives and environments. 

                But here again, caution is needed.   The same motive of opening "opportunities" is also claimed by those who enter parts of our world to proselytize.  We have a very real danger of falling into the mentality of the benefactor who believing themselves superior, has something to give to those less fortunate.  I have observed that this benefactor mentality is often combined with a misconception of the categorical imperative to "show the light" to others.  This is where the idea of duty or the establishment of morality by some code can become dangerous, and where I disagree with the wording of Anderson & Olson.  Yes, we should live our lives by a standard.  However, to term that standard "morality" can imply things to others that we don't mean it to.  The same could even be true for the term "love", but I do not know any other way to refer to the ultimate life force we all live by. 

                The main point to be taken from this is that we must constantly be aware of the environment and worldview from which we come.  We must further be aware that everyone has a worldview, and none is benign or lacking of impact upon others in some way.  As mentioned previously, I strongly believe that inaction is still action.  We cannot escape worldviews or our impact upon others.  But we can control how that impact is made upon others.  Entering situations and foreign environments requires us to live and operate with the utmost humility.  Our morality may not be the morality of others, but I fully believe that love is universal.  There is a certain level of dignity and respect for human life and rights that is also universal.  I believe that we cannot go wrong if we always strive to hold our every action up against the energy of love which is inclusive of equanimity, justice, peace, respect, humility, compassion and dignity. 

                But you as the reader may be thinking that all of these are abstractions and not very pragmatic in application.  I would argue otherwise.  When considering our conceptions of humanity - that is how we view human life in all of its facets, right down to the very value of the life itself - we must realize how subconscious these conceptions become and how influential they are on every life decision we make.  There is no choice to intervene, and there is certainly no choice whether or not to intervene for the peace practitioner.  We intervene no matter what we do.  

                Since we have no choice in the matter, we need to approach our "interventions" in life with an open attitude; one that realizes that the need to learn more from others is greater than the need to teach others or assume some sort of "high road" when it comes to morality.  I believe this applies as well to someone who is adopting the "do-gooder" mentality out of a feeling of guilt rather than love.  I cannot see how we can effectively practice peace in our world unless we learn how to truly connect with others on a deep level.  To do that, we must learn how to love - and love in the broadest sense, which starts with the love of self.  If we cannot recognize and love the humanity that resides within us, we will never be able to recognize it in the world around us, and we will be going through life blind to the interventions that we engage in constantly.  I appreciate the insights that the academic world has given me in this respect, but the vast majority of this knowledge cannot be learned through strict academics void of coinciding internal work.  For some, it requires a great deal of adversity, for others it may not.  But no matter how the process manifests itself in life, those who are able to achieve the smallest insight into the complexities of intervention are among the fortunate ones in our world.  

Reference
Anderson, M., & Olson, L. (2003). Confronting war: critical lessons for peace practitioners. Cambridge, MA: The Collaborative for Development Action, Inc.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kenneth Hoover on Identity, Power and Politics

The focus of several recent posts on this blog have involved the concept of identity as related to Conflict Transformation (which is also a course I'm currently taking).  This has been one of my most enjoyable classes in my grad program this semester.  The book reviews and topics discussed here have been posted because these topics have been integral and parallel to my own thoughts and development this past year.  


Introduction
                There are foundational tensions at the heart of Kenneth Hoover's book The Power of Identity: Politics in a New Key, and they go to the very core of what it means to be in the world and further to be in relation with; i.e. the full range of what it means to exist as a human.  These tensions take various forms, a couple of which are the us vs. them duality we hear in numerous contexts and the positive vs. negative benefits as applied to the individual when referring to identification with a particular group.  Therefore the tensions are multi-dimensional, multi-layered and complex when we begin to break down the internal and external elements of human identifications and relations. 

Politics And Power As Related To Identity
                Politics as defined by Hoover is also multi-dimensional and multi-layered.  Here Hoover is partly  referring to politics in the "traditional" sense, that is to say in the state or governmental spheres.  But politics according to Hoover is much more; it is essentially any interaction involving situations of power, influence and knowledge (among other factors) which affect relations between - and the concomitant identities of - individuals at the micro level and communities/societies at the macro level. 
                Therefore, the scope of this relatively short book is incredibly large as it attempts to look at identity from the vantage point of many different perspectives and group dynamics.  However, Hoover's great achievement is to instigate appropriate lines of questioning when it comes to the meaning of identity.  This type of questioning is not much different from that which goes into the process of healthy identity formation itself.
Stages of Identity Development
                Integral to Hoover's tensions within the various elements and types of identity is the gradations in identity development, both within societies and communities, and within the individual in relation to those larger groups.  Hoover's statements resonate when he mentions the stages of identity development within the individual, particularly the time in late adolescence which he refers to as "moratorium".    The critical importance of this period is emphasized by Hoover, and with the advantage of hindsight, anyone with a bit of life experience and a healthy sense of identity should be able to recognize the decisions made - conscious or not - during this time. 
                What Hoover means by moratorium is that there is enough development in the individual's mind and just enough life experience (in late adolescence) to begin the process of questioning.  Whether or not this process is actually embarked upon at that time is another matter.   There is a danger in this stage of accepting everything that has been presented to the developing mind without the appropriate critical thinking that is so crucial to self-esteem, self-respect and true identity formation.  "Identity foreclosure" is how Hoover describes the process of closing further development at this point in one's life.  One example of this could be the fundamentalist - of any stripe - who simply accepts what has been presented to them externally their entire life.   
                However, identity foreclosure is not necessarily a bad thing once proper identity development has occurred.  If one has given themselves the opportunity and courage to question the world around them during the moratorium period, and has come to certain conclusions on their own then identity foreclosure could be seen as a natural progression.  Hoover could be interpreted as saying that having solid beliefs, with the caveat of flexibility and openness to learning new experiences, is a healthy form of "foreclosure".  This flexibility prevents the creeping in of dogmatic lines of action and thought. 

Identity, Tolerance and Culture
                Once the individual has established and is aware of their own identity progression, they are then able to confidently and openly tolerate differences of opinion in others.  With the solid grounding of their own identity, they perceive no threats from the outside.  This review argues that this is one of the most critical elements at any stage of identity in our world today, whether it be at the individual level, or at the societal and community levels.   Additionally, it is argued that intolerance results from a lack of appropriate questioning in one's life, and this results in insecurity, which could be - and perhaps often is - subconscious.  There is an element of fear that one's beliefs and worldview (a large part of identity) might not be the final "truth", and the perception of threat from those with different identities comes into play.  That is, the individual feels the instability of their own identity in the face of "the other", and it is not inaccurate to say that they almost believe that this "other" wants to change them in some way, or that they might be changed themselves with continued exposure. 
                A very close concept to identity foreclosure before a proper moratorium would be labeled by Hoover as "diffusion".  This is the other direction in which the individual could head in the moratorium period.  Diffusion is where no identity at all is claimed, whether external or internal.  Where it can be interpreted by the reader as similar to early identity foreclosure is in the sense that both elements (identity foreclosure without proper moratorium and diffusion) lack internal stability.  The process of questioning allows the individual to "feel out" the world around them and establish identity in relation to the world or culture.  This, we can argue, is what Hoover means when he talks about culture being inseparable from identity.  
                This statement about the individual process can also be applied to communities of any size and the larger societies around them.  To expand even further on the concept of culture being inseparable from identity formation is that culture provides a starting point.  There is a grounded reference found in culture than can be accepted or rejected by the party (individual, group, society) given all the elements at their disposal.  Even if this culture is rejected by the identity-seeking party, there is still an identity in relation to that particular culture.  The environment around the individual cannot be ignored, because a non-reaction to culture is still a reaction.  The inter-connectedness of all that is comes through very strong in this important idea. 
Identity, Government and Diversity
                A further tension in Hoover's work is seen in the concepts of politics and power in the commonly perceived sense, which is the government or larger community/society.  For a society to exist, and for it to have an internal cohesion, there is a requirement for balance in identity.  This statement seems to match well with Hoover when he illustrates the drawbacks of the two commonly perceived "sides" of politics.  The right can become intolerant in its sometimes closed conservative ideals that refuses to bend to allow others into the circle.  Further, a different sort of conservatism - involving the market mentality - is individualistic to a fault in that the idea of competition has clearly established (and isolated) winners and losers. 
                On the left side of the political spectrum, we can see the demand for tolerance of any and all types of diversity, ideas, personalities, etc.  In theory this is a very laudable and desired concept.  Yet much like the right's insular community this can be taken to an extreme, as Hoover illustrates, by the very stringent demand for diversity being itself an inflexible idea.  There is little room in both mindsets - the closed community of the right and the stringent demand for diversity on the left - for compromise in coming together.  Both end up being self-defeating and intolerant in the end by refusing to allow true diversity which is grounded on a stable identity that is not just unthreatened but enriched through the flexibility to consider outside ideas, however they might arrive. 
                Hoover's idea of the proper concept of power in government or polities/politics at any level is something with which this review can agree.  He believes that power in its most ideal form is something which creates a space for the freedom to engage in proper identity development.  To do this, there must be freedom of expression and ideas.  It is argued here that nothing should be off the table - which would mean a minimum of any type of censorship by power structures - and further that an environment conducive to tolerance is necessary.  This would mean not just laws that technically allow freedom of expression, worship, information, etc..  but an environment that is conducive to equanimity in application of these laws and structures. 
                Further, diversity should be embraced and accepted as a desirable part of community.  Proper identity formation allows this, and the institutions of power and politics can help create a culture and atmosphere conducive to this, but Hoover makes explicitly clear that mutuality is not something that can be mandated at a macro level.  He illustrates this point quite effectively by referring to China at the end of the book and how - particularly under Mao - the Chinese identity was so homogenized that the identity of the individual was lost in the collective.  This is counter-productive to the concept of community.  A healthy community (and Hoover would likely agree) is one where identity is properly established at all levels, from the individual to the community and ultimately the larger society.  The very nature of healthy identity formation will produce its own diversity. 
                As Hoover mentions, this is not something that can be mandated by the state.  Proper identity formation involves relations between individuals and the world around them, and decisions resulting from those relations.  This is an interpretation of a context where Hoover's concept of  "mutuality" can occur.  Mutuality is dependent on individual relationships grounded upon healthy "interiors" or identities, and cannot be state prescribed.  Cults of personality and the resulting identifications as tied to those personalities in authoritarian regimes are external not internal forms of identity.  The same can be said for blanket acceptance without question of any ideology, including religion.  Accepting any identity without the proper internal work goes back to Hoover's description of identity foreclosure. 

Concluding Statement
                It is the interpretation of this review that Hoover's book is yet another example of the attempt to balance the conflict of opposites inherent to the human condition; in this case "opposites" as referring to the opposing tensions in identity development and the necessity to balance those opposites for proper development.  Hoover's illustrations in the structures of politics and the dynamics of power that coincide with them rest on a solid foundation of properly developed identity with the ability of the human consciousness (at any level, micro or macro) to rise above this foundation and immerse itself in diverse ideas, cultures, opinions, peoples, etc.  It is through this paradigm of identity that we as a species can work towards the reduction of fear and the acceptance of "the other" as an integral, yet uniquely diverse expression of our common humanity.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Les Misérables

I finally read Hugo. To attempt some sort of original review would be superfluous. All I can say is a few thoughts that it stirred in me, which are related to the current context of my life. The same would be true, but different, for anyone else.

1. Everyone has a need out of which they act. To judge actions of people in society at first glance is to not UNDERSTAND, to not EMPATHIZE.

2. The conditions and absurdities of society separate us from others. Sometimes this is by chance, sometimes from misunderstandings. Often these separations cannot be repaired in the context of relationship, but just as often they can. Regardless, redemption is an internal process, and it is the interior work that is where we touch what others refer to as divinity (and what I refer to as the energy of love).

3. I have no use for the categorical imperative or "duty". Morality is not a universal concept, love is. In society, morality or duty trumps love. Therefore I reject that society as morality and duty are defined arbitrarily.  Love is the ultimate, and Javert's attempt at being irreproachable is quite often how society approaches religion. We destroy lives in the name of duty or morality. The actions of love, peace and social justice seek understanding, which is far more important and goes far deeper towards the depths of the soul than any attempt at having the most "morally upstanding society".

Monday, November 7, 2011

Amartya Sen's Controversial look at "Identity and Violence"

With the pressures of a demanding grad school program, my personal writing as been minimal, and I've missed that but still have an outlet in classes with personal reflections on literature, contexts, case studies, etc... that I can and want to share.  One of the classes I'm taking is a fascinating dive into identity with all its philosophical, biological, scientific, sociological and political implications in the field of peacebuilding/conflict transformation.  My approach to Sen's book was at times one of "devil's advocate" in this review, hoping to raise questions as much as give my opinion.  

Introduction
                  In an issue as subjective and wide-ranging as identity and identity as a factor in violent conflict, there is necessarily a wide variety of possible opinions and insights.   Amartya Sen's book Identity and Violence takes an overarching view of identity as related to many areas including culture, religion, economics and politics.  This overarching viewpoint was necessary in that one of the areas where Sen excelled was in constantly illustrating that the singularity of identity, an idea which will be expanded upon below, is one of - if not the - main causes of violence.  There was an emphasis on questioning in order to eliminate what Kenneth Hoover would refer to as "identity foreclosure" both in ourselves and in how we see or recognize the concept of the other (Hoover, Marcia, & Parris, 1997).  In this, Sen was able to use easy-to-read language to prompt further investigation into his ideas. 
                Sen does not leave the reader with a multitude of answers, but perhaps that is as it should be.  By acknowledging the reductionist approach to identity, Sen by nature of his thesis cannot give pre-determined solutions.  Instead, Sen serves as a guide in a process of continued questioning.  This review will focus on a couple of the main problems that Sen emphasizes in how we view the world and the people around us, some potential problems in Sen's argument itself,  and the patterns of thought we can adopt to work at further understanding of identity's connection to violence.  Like identity, Conflict Transformation is in a state of flux, and we must maintain the mental resources of critical thinking to evolve along with an ever-changing world. 

Singularity in Identity

                In peacebuilding, we are constantly looking for ways to reduce "otherness" in viewing people in favor of seeing and emphasizing our similarities and where we can find a place to begin dialogue.  Sen's argument is that the very idea of the other is only possible by focusing our attention on one or at most very few traits in an individual.  This concept could also extend to societies and nations.  There is a hesitation to say it could include culture, because the idea of culture is one area that Sen claims is hard to define.  Culture upon closer examination seems to break down in various ways.   An example would be trying to pinpoint the cultural location of the origin of a particular mathematical concept.  If we go back far enough in history, and break the concept into small enough pieces, we would see that various people in different times, places and situations contributed insights that continued to expand in an evolutionary way. 
                In this particular volume, Sen uses the contemporary modality of West/Anti-West interaction for his illustrations.  Specifically, he focuses on "the West as related to Islam", thus immediately assuming the common identity framework used in current U.S. and British foreign policy dialogue.  As Sen illustrates, that dialogue is limited and divisive.  Both sides have chosen one label to place on the other, excluding the endless options that exist for identifying ourselves in a complex and pluralistic world.  All of the influences that have flowed East to West, West to East and back again are pushed aside in looking at this one way of seeing people.   And worse, this limitation is done by choice.  Environment always plays a factor in our decisions, but using religion as (in this case) a divisive element is not by nature deterministic nor is it necessary for it to be geographically oriented.  It is a decision that is consciously made and therefore it is a decision that can be consciously changed. 
                Sen makes great use of Samuel Huntington's idea of The Clash of Civilizations, which was also the title of a Huntington essay, to show how easy it is to compartmentalize people which then leads to conflict as we differentiate ourselves.  Huntington assumes a division from the beginning in order to make his argument.  By dividing the world into separate "civilizations", something very hard to do in and of itself, Huntington has created the conditions for conflict rather than devising a paradigm incorporating solutions to conflict.  Civilization is another term that is not easily definable upon close examination.  Where the influence of one idea ends and another begins is - at best - a vague or even non-existent boundary. 
                On the other hand, the problem with criticizing arguments like Huntington's is that the criticism can fall back on itself.  Sen's point is that Huntington has focused on one aspect of human identity, and by doing so has created a way for people to differentiate themselves.  Rather than illustrate where we need to focus our efforts, Sen would argue, Huntington has instead created the very need for a conflict transformation rather than its solution by inventing divisions through singularity in identity.  But isn't Sen doing the same thing by pointing to Huntington's thesis as a divisive element?  An interesting question arises which has been partly responsible for the controversy surrounding Huntington, and could be stated as follows:  "Is it possible to analyze a potential conflict without in some way creating a division between peoples in the very nature of the explanation?".  By pointing to what is perceived as the problem, we have brought attention to something that - if not already the problem - could become the problemThis could apply to Sen, or anyone, just as much as it could to Huntington. 
                Here is one example of some of the traps that those discussing identity could fall into.  It seems that there is a very fine line between viewing the traits we claim contribute to healthy diversity and/or viewing those same traits as something contributing to conflict.  As Conflict Transformation practitioners, it is necessary to emphasize the positivity in the way we view the various backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, politics, etc... of people vs. the negativity
                It could be argued that this statement is the key to understanding what Sen is trying to say.  His entire book seems to emphasize the attitude with which we approach the pluralistic nature of the world around us as much as it does the singularity in focusing on one or a only a few significant factors in identity. 

Defining "Culture"

                As an economist, Sen spends a good deal of time discussing the effects of globalization on culture, and what he means by culture.  It will be noticed that Sen makes a special point of attempting to name possible ways of looking at "cultural diversity" and what is it that we are truly trying to attain by having a culturally diverse society and world.  There are many ways that he goes about this, including the very definition - if there is one - of culture.
                Beginning with culture, one of the ways Sen attempts to shape the debate is around the ideas of cultural liberty vs. valuing cultural conservation (Sen, 2006, p. 113).  Here, he leaves us with two choices.  First, we can promote a society that encourages freedom of thought and allows the individual to make their own choices about what elements of their family, religious environment, nation, or any other ideology/thought pattern they wish to retain for themselves.  This is what is meant by cultural liberty, and it can be argued, is an important process for everyone to go through.  Nothing should ever be accepted externally, and one can only come to a realization of identity through the internal process of questioning. 
                This too is what many mean when they refer to self-discovery, and is where this reviewer disagrees with Sen's comment that there is no "self" to discover, that the self is simply a matter of choices we make.  It is true that the self is determined by choices, and Sen's point is noted that we have freedom of choice in shaping our lives.  However, the choices that any one individual will make will never exactly match another person's.  There is always the issue of context, and an individual context, by nature, is incapable of being repeated.  Where a particular person is in time, place, location, genetic/family heritage, gender, etc... is never exactly matched.  There is an individual there that is unlike anyone else, so in that sense, there is a self  to be discovered.  Further, this concept of self does not even begin to delve into the realm of the spiritual, where individuals have unique metaphysical connections and identities. 
                Where the reviewer would agree with Sen is when he makes the reference in the preface to the remark that "most people are other people" (credited to Oscar Wilde) (Sen, 2006, p. xv).  This is one concern raised by those who promote valuing cultural conservation.  Paradoxically, it is also a concern of some promoting cultural liberty.  What is meant by this?  Well, when people assume an identity fed to them externally, whether that be in the dominant messages received from the media, an admired person and/or leader, or any other source outside of themselves, they are not really questioning what it is that they themselves truly believe.  To take this argument even further, depending on how strong and how forceful those external messages become, it can be debated whether or not there is true cultural liberty and freedom of choice at all.  An extreme example could come from some of the Communistic totalitarian structures under Mao or Stalin.  A less forceful illustration would be the manipulative messages put forth by the media that influence every decision we make. 
                The other side to this argument, is that even in a society that proclaims and for the most part promotes what would generally be referred to as freedom of choice, those choices about "self" are still being made in a context of an ever-changing cultural environment, and further, an environment that is becoming ever more familiar with other parts of the world in our era of globalization.  So a particular culture is becoming ever more infused by influences from other "cultures".  As can be seen, the dividing lines between one culture and another very quickly begin to merge (and it is argued here that they have been vague throughout human history).  This is a concern for those who value cultural conservation, and therefore can become reactionary in attempting to preserve a perceived past that may no longer have the necessary conditions to preserve its existence, however it may be defined. 

Concluding Remarks

                It is the position of this reviewer that the intellectual aspects of globalization are indeed beneficial to all of humanity if we take the time to properly learn from the rich history of our world.  The economic effects can be debated as economics delves into the profit motive and all the implications  - most of all greed and exploitation - that that paradigm implies.  The key in that respect is to figure out better ways of including the have-nots in the area of basic human needs.  That needs to be the primary concern in the humanitarian work and global economics of our time, and we are badly missing the mark. But having access to the rich cultural heritage of places never before accessible (through technology such as the internet) can only mean increased choices for humanity, and the ability to tap into greater collaboration and larger ideas through the integration of so many individual identities.  The possibilities of mutual respect and by extension the reduction of violence through familiarity with diverse identities is greatly increased.  However, all must have access and that, again, must be the first priority.
                New forms of mobilization and democracy are also possible, and mutuality can further be increased by the expansion of dialogue through processes such as social networking and access to literature and the dominant ideas in different parts of the world.  All of this furthers understanding, and reduces violence by allowing our focus to expand in a pluralistic manner regarding identity as we learn more and more about those around us.  We can begin to see that those who share our planet do not have to be the other, but can be viewed as a different, yet beautiful expression of the common humanity that we all share. 
       
References

Hoover, K., Marcia, J., & Parris, K. (1997). The power of identity: politics in a new key. Chatham, nj:    Chatham House Publishers, Inc.
Sen, A. (2006). Identity and violence: the illusion of destiny. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Human Identity: How Emotions and Feelings Are The Very Basis of Our Nature


In the peacebuilding/conflict transformation program at Eastern Mennonite University, there is a great emphasis on interconnectedness, both in the many diverse academic discplines, as well as humanity as a whole.  This interconnectedness naturally extends into the areas of practice incorporated in the field, and most recently has included the ideas of Attachment Theory.  Mary E. Clark was the one time chair of Conflict Transformation studies at a leading university in the field, George Mason University near Washington D.C.  Here is a brief introductory review I wrote of her book "In Search of Human Nature"




Introduction

                From the very beginning of Mary E. Clark's In Search of Human Nature, she acknowledges the inherent difficulties of attempting a study as broad as the title suggests.  This is a book that comprises (according to the author) nearly four decades of accumulated knowledge and academic as well as life experience.  Immediately, questions arise; both for Clark and for the reader.  It was these kinds of questions that prompted her to write this book, such as:  What are the basic components of what makes us who we are?  How do we find objectivity or does objectivity even exist in analyzing who we are?  She found the explanations of science to be adequate early in her career, but those explanations slowly became more and more illusory and unsatisfactory as time went on.  Her own sense and need for meaning drove her to draw on and combine diverse disciplines in creating a cohesive analysis of humanity.  This review will center on the first part of Clark's book, up through the third chapter, which starts at the very origins of life itself, and specifically focuses on how we came to be what we are today:  the species known as homo sapiens

Summary and analysis

                Battling the claims of Western science to hold the way to absolute truth, and challenging those already established "truths" of science is at the heart of Clark's first three chapters.  The indisputable subjectivity of any human viewpoint is repeatedly discussed, and particularly emphasized through the role that culture plays in the way we see our world.  She argues that scientific methods of breaking down the relationships of everything that is in our universe misses the point.  To counter-act this way of understanding, Clark begins with the very language she uses ; the term "gestalt" is one that proposes the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, and is, Clark feels, a more accurate way of looking at the nature of humanity.

                Life is too complex to be reduced to individual deterministic patterns of interacting objects/events; rather,  Clark would have us switch from this way of thought, which is described as the  "Billiard Ball" gestalt (with the individual objects representing the billiard balls) of Western science to the more Eastern approach of the "Indra's Net" gestalt, which changes the paradigm to an interlocking web of nature.  The Indra's Net describes everything that is as a part of and therefore dependent upon this interconnectedness for its very existence. 

                The first area of concern for Clark is the way that evolution has been presented in the West.  The subjectivity of the Western Capitalistic, Hobbesian mindset, she argues, is seen in the way that competition, even violence has been presented as central to evolutionary natural selection.   This is shown to be overly simplistic and misguiding, and sometimes flat out wrong.  To Clark, it leaves out too much of what makes us human.  It is true that adaptation is necessary for survival, and has its place in evolutionary theory.  However, Clark specifically says that adaptation could mean a number of things.  What if, for example, we were to look at the ability to adapt to changing conditions as a necessary prerequisite for survival?  This would then lead to the fact that adaptation requires the ability to respond to changes. 

                Clark goes on to say that through responding, we see the beginnings of emotions and feelings.  Responses start out as repulsions and attractions, which are precisely what characterizes feelings and emotions.  These feelings are what science overlooks, by its constant emphasis on rationality and logic.  Rationality and logic do not fill in the gaps of individual human behavior or existence, because they are too limiting and reductionist.  They leave out feelings, which are very real, although, she concedes, hard to understand. 

                Thus, Clark states that the behavior of the individual can only be explained in the context of the whole, as the repulsions and attractions experienced by the individual objects are in relation to the rest of the "net".  By the very fact of stating that these objects (which include humans) are attracted to various elements of being, Clark makes a strong point about the fundamental existence of the energy of love.  Further, this attraction and repulsion or determining the proper "place" of an object in the Indra's Net gestalt leads to Clark's explanation of the three basic human propensities:  Bonding, autonomy and meaning. 

                Seen through the theory of attraction/repulsion, Clark shows that it is only through healthy bonding that an object can function.  However, this kind of bonding also requires autonomy in that the individual object must develop the ability to adapt with a universe in flux through its own "decision making" or repulsion from some objects in favor of attraction to others.  This is not deterministic in the sense that there is only one path.  On the contrary, in an ever changing universe, Clark shows the importance of adaptability and therefore autonomy in the object's response to changing conditions. 

                We can now see the beginnings of intelligence in Clark's description, not just a purely rational or logical intelligence, but one that includes many different feelings and emotions as well.  In fact, Clark says that logic and reason are only attempts at explanation for why things are the way they are.  Feelings and emotions, in the form of attractions and repulsions, would have been the primary or first form of intelligence. 

                It would seem that the need to bond is very closely tied to Clark's third stated human propensity, which is the need for meaning.   It is presented to us that meaning is the overarching need that subsumes the other two.  This would make sense, and is agreeable if we take bonding and autonomy separately, and view how each one is a "search" of sorts. 

                One Interpretation of the text would say that through properly evolved autonomy, we have the freedom and the capability to evaluate our feelings and emotions and become in touch with our individuality.  Context then comes into play as the genetic situation in which we find ourselves vis-à-vis our parents is the first unique factor with environment (people, places, things, etc...) being the second.  The argument from Clark backs up her claim that adaptability, and not competition, is the crucial evolutionary factor.  We could say from this reading that as each human is encountering a unique situation, the species could not possibly evolve in a deterministic fashion which is identical for all.  Rather, not only is the homo sapiens species unique, but each individual within the species is in a unique context with unique genetic information. 

                The individual context then contains its own patterns, and it is only through learning to bond with these patterns that the individual survives.  Hence, the second propensity comes into play, that of the propensity to bond.  Clark makes a statement at one point that the propensities to bond, yet also be autonomous are in opposition to one another.  This argument could be contested by saying that it is through autonomy that the individual determines the proper way to bond.  Further, the very process of bonding and autonomy itself leads directly to purpose and meaning.  The decision making and adaptation required in proper bonding is, when looked at from another viewpoint, a search; a search for the proper way to fit into the whole.  The very nature of existence, far from being value or meaning free as scientists would claim, would be countered by these arguments and would explain the very deep need that humans have to make sense of their environments simply in order to function within that environment; environment then becomes a basis of our identity.

                It is then through this desire for meaning combined with bonding and autonomy that leads to culture, or shared meaning through the group, which culminates in societies.   Clark shows that the process becomes reciprocal as societies and individuals become more evolutionarily complex.   Once the individual finds a form of meaning through bonding with the group, then that individual's intelligence evolves to incorporate the patterns of the group.  The group then takes on a life of its own as the more the individuals within it interact, the more we can see that some sort of shared ideas and opinions must evolve in order for continued bonding (i.e. universal love) to maintain the group.  This search for group meaning becomes the foundation of what Clark refers to as the "sacred myths" of humanity, which of course include religion and even science.  It can be argued that these sacred myths are the natural evolution of societal thinking or what we know today as groupthink.  As the individual becomes bonded to the social group, thus identifying with that group, then we can see how Clark's idea of "self" is directly tied to the cultural patterns within the group. 

                This attraction towards the social group is required for the very survival of the group which Clark partly exemplifies in reproduction.  However, Clark presents the sexual drive as not simply utilitarian, but as one of the ways in which primates and hominids have shown affection and reduced stress and aggression over evolutionary history.  She seems to allude to the idea that repression of sexuality can lead to increased stress in modern societies, something that many might agree with.  Clark discusses how this has been shown to be the case in careful observation of primates, and that signs of affection increase feelings of security, strengthen the ties of bonding, and reduce the feelings of fear that can inhibit healthy functioning of individual autonomy. 

Conclusion

                A central theme of Clark's throughout In Search of Human Nature is the inherent subjectivity in every area of life, even science.  Dogmatic thinking takes many forms, and Clark does an effective job at illustrating - through examples drawn from diverse areas of knowledge - how much culture influences the way scientists interpret the information they receive.  Ultimately, everything that we perceive is filtered through the lens of various minds, from that of the group mind of society down to the individual interpretation, all of which are drawn from many experiences in just as many individual contexts. 

                One of the ways in which we see a painful example of our thinking when it comes to evolution, is the fact that the male has played a prominent role in the narrative.  The role of females and children is just now starting to receive the recognition it deserves.  Further, the competitive Western Capitalistic world view has downplayed the significance of the group as a survival mechanism.  Group life not only increases intelligence by drawing off of the experiences of others, but it also serves as a protection mechanism during times of great stress, such as threats to survival by outside organisms and climates.  Living within groups enables group members to carry on various functions such as hunting, gathering and helping to care for the children, not to mention meeting the emotional needs of bonding and meaning that are crucial for survival. 

                Clark's belief is that for the individual to survive, there first must be the capacity for the group to survive, and that both the individual and the group must contain features of adaptability that go beyond pure genetic determinism.  It is for this reason that she believes the propensities of bonding, autonomy and meaning to be foremost in the history of human evolution, and not the more commonly heard explanation of cold, often violent competition as the basis of human nature.  She has put forth a compelling argument that this kind of cold competition would lead to eventual destruction, and that situations of violence have only arisen throughout history when the group did not function properly, thus creating stressful situations that challenged the interconnectedness of the group.  This could be as a result of lack of resources for basic survival, or over-crowding that limits autonomy and places a strain on the bonding of the group. 

                Ultimately, Clark points us, through academic insight, in the direction a universal energy of love at the base of human relations.   Her theory is an optimistic view of human nature, and one that shows ways we can improve the environment in which we find ourselves by realizing how dependent we are on everything and everyone around us.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ramadan

Today I was involved in a friendly Facebook discussion on the meaning of divinity.  Now, my idea of God is not like most.  To me, “God” is an energy; a universal love.  Love is something that is central to all of the world’s major traditions.  That’s why I feel a special connection to my many Muslim sisters and brothers during this month of Ramadan.  I take my relationship to those who share in this universal love beyond friendship.  If you believe in love, and believe in practicing it in your life, you are a sibling of mine; a spiritual sibling.  My religion is love, and love is inclusive not exclusive. 

Love IS divinity.  If one focuses their vision, one can see love in all facets of the universe.  Chardin has mentioned that even evolution shows the principles of love.  It is a Capitalistic society that sees Darwin’s ideas as “survival of the fittest” and counter to love.  No, if we view it as the coming together of ever increasing complexity and consciousness, then that is unity, and unity is a form of love.  Evolution is perfectly compatible, in my humble opinion, with religion, and science and religion do not have to be at odds.  They can be united in the truths that both aspects of humanity have found in the universe.

I had asked a few of my Muslim friends for responses on what they thought about Ramadan; both in general, and if they had any particular thoughts about a Ramadan memory from a certain year.  I received a response from a dear sister, whose name I’ll keep anonymous, and I enjoyed this statement in particular as it contained a universal truth:  “You have to train yourself to do good and not just run behind your desires. I feel peace in this month.”  Ramadan, due to my Christian background (I no longer consider myself a Christian or belonging to any one religion) has been shut out of the education I received growing up.  I believe that to be true of many in the West, and I don’t need to go on in this context about the misunderstandings we have of Islam here in the United States and many parts of Europe. 

Many know that Ramadan is first and foremost a recognition of Allah’s delivered message to The Prophet in the form of the Qur’an.  The Qur’an states that Allah “sent down the Criterion to His servant, that it might be an admonition to all worlds”.  This is the month for Muslims to recognize and give praise to Allah for sending the divine message.  It is a time for self-discipline, for peaceful relationships, for communal gatherings after sunset, for a commitment and a goal in the ritual of fasting, and for prayer.  Everything in Ramadan represents love, and that is where I find common ground with my Muslim sisters and brothers, even though I am not Muslim. 

It is especially bittersweet, and therefore significant, that Ramadan is occurring this year during a great time of social upheaval in the Arab world.  I stand strongly against the structures of power that kill, maim, torture, kidnap and beat their fellow Muslims for wanting a more peaceful existence; a more conducive environment to experience the divine, and the freedom (physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually) to practice the love that is expressed through Ramadan. 

At the same time, all this social upheaval gives hope.  People are realizing the power that they have; good power in the form of taking control of their own lives, and working with their fellow citizens.  So, to all in the Arab world, and to all Muslims as you celebrate Ramadan this season, may you be blessed now and always.  May the universal love that finds us all touch you and those around you.  May these expressions of solidarity of the people create a truly free environment and not lead to further repression.  I stand beside you as you fight for justice, love, peace, non-violence and commitment to the discipline that is exemplified through your faith.  Further, I invite and welcome your comments about anything I may have said about Ramadan that you might not agree with.  Please, be open and let’s discuss.  Let us all continue the ongoing dialogue and let us keep talking.  That is the only way peace and understanding can be maintained in our increasingly complex world.  Salaam. 

Tim ~ First Friday of Ramadan 2011