VII. The World Beyond: Meaning that is Rooted
How resolving conflict requires a more clear and consistent pathway to meaning
In the Social Meanings section we looked at how an event with the same consequences, the same motivations, can be understood in completely different ways, depending on how those responsible or those affected are defined: “This is an outrage!” or.. “Well they deserved it.”
Earlier sections have developed the suggestion that type/race/identity is an illusion, an idea we consult instead of the individuals it supposedly represents, or their context.
Seeing the world through this filter is the deeper basis for cycles of insult and revenge, where offenses are traced to an ‘other’ type of person.
Based on a perception that ‘they did this to us’ people often overlook violent processes of their own or what they see as their side. Rather than aligning themselves against violence, against a violent mindset, they align themselves against a ‘type’ of person.
‘Why did this person do this?’, rather than: ‘They did it because of who they are’. In searching for an explanation we have the potential to find a resolution in conditions that can be changed. To even know that there is a deeper story is a grace that is the doorway into a new flow of history.
Differences between one generation and the next show that what for the moment seems like a truth of who we/they are, inevitably gives way in time. But although changes in behavior patterns from one generation to the next show that those patterns are not static or innate, tensions expressed between ‘types’, singular entities to which we can have one policy, endure.
A history of living in a cultural environment where people are divided and understood based on type leads to bias that is not interrogated because it seems correct. It becomes easy for people to think they are judging a situation objectively, when they are not, because the logic of social categories is one of sameness, and always unconsciously the ego is seeking a self or group-affirming story.
To merely stop at the explanation of the evolutionary significance of the group justifies people in an unconscious process of injustice, to which others react with resentment, feel impelled to–rhetorically politically or physically–retaliate.
If, on the contrary, people are willing to take the conscious step to identify and condemn negative actions wherever they take place, the cycle begins to unravel as people shift from seeing evil as a matter of being to one of harmful doing. When type disappears as a truth–and therefore a cause–we free ourselves to be judged based on our own actions and reasons.
Our reluctance stems from the fact that an individual’s sense of self is often built off of this warped story of good and evil, and also in part from the fact that in the current system we share the blame if someone of “our type” does something wrong. The discomfort and bad feelings, for many people, are real, the cultural differences are real. It is not a matter, of ‘different’ people simply not being able to get along. In holding onto the illusion of type we hold onto its results, its implications for meaning and thus our potential to work together.
Separation and its Consequences for Meaning
We can say what we want about an action or an event, but one important suggestion here is that we cannot take anything for granted about meaning, the words we attach to human actions and whether others will see things that way. There are people who celebrate slavery, the holocaust. To merely stigmatize those individuals however ignores something fundamental to our thought system.
What people have been taught, seen in their news stream, and what, at an unconscious level, they want to believe is one thing, but beyond these factors there is the existential progression of separation.
As mentioned earlier, there is our subjectivity that allows us to take responsibility for our survival, because only we feel our own hunger and pain. But because we know others feel pain, want to be happy, want to be loved, because what we share is the basis of why doing harm to others is an aberration and a crime, the surface differences that people ordinarily interpret as indicating that we ‘are’ different deepens the innate sense of separation beyond proportion.
This exaggerated distance is a result, not a fixed state. For every possible pair of individual people there will be different degrees of the extent to which each is able to remember and respect the other’s humanity, infer their unknown story, and so it cannot be supported that the exaggerated distance at the root of physical and psychological violence is merely a consequence of seeing others how they are. No characteristic or even action can change the core human attributes, and so to perceive someone as being different, to the point of overlooking that connection, is to experience the results of the collective illusion.
This is why we have not yet been able to take the meaning of an event for granted. To this point, everyone is experiencing greater or lesser degrees of separation from the humanity of everyone else and the idea selves we have created off the back of outdated tribal instincts deepen these rifts.
Beyond the Veil
Beyond the veil of identity it is easy to see what an action or event meant, how it intersects with the vulnerabilities and aspirations for happiness and security we all share. This is what it would mean for our understandings and our values to be rooted, where we could apply to ourselves, the standards to which we hold others. Why many cannot do that is a consequence of idea distance, dwelling on surface attributes or cultural developments that alter a person’s level of humanity only in our minds.
To be unable to value another person is to misunderstand them, to confuse them with your idea of them, with, perhaps, the conditioning we all cannot but reflect without first becoming conscious of it.
An Evolutionary Step
With this project’s attempt to achieve awareness, on a societal level, of involuntary and automatic processes of division, to thus free ourselves from them, it may seem a matter of what is or is not possible. Existing explanations and ideas of human nature rise in response like a reflex to hold things in place, even on the edge of an opportunity to move forward. It is not reality that is in the way, it is the absence of a precedent, it is reflexes that we have never before stood in the path of.
The next step is to collectively, consciously gather around a symbolic alternative, something beyond each local truth, to, initially, show ourselves we can.
In a moment, in a meeting, not everyone has the same experience of ‘difference’, not everyone would assume or fear or hate. The decision we have the opportunity to make is based not on truth as we see it, but on life as we want it. It would be to tentatively grant a different story of how we got here, that along the way our vision became supplemented through an exaggerated process of separation, where we fell asleep behind our egos and could not but act from its narrow horizons.
The decision would be to explain the sour parts of history, of the present, not as matters of being, but as errors of seeing.
It would be a decision to accept that we can see in different ways, ways that allow us to see each other, and ways that push us apart.
To peel back the architecture of separation, to hold our own ego, and its story, at arm’s length, makes it easy to see actions for what they do to people, to attain a sense of proportion between stakeholders, for our values to be rooted so they do not perpetually shift and so become meaningless.
It would be a process toward a greater capacity to coexist and cooperate in the face of humanity’s looming challenges, the shrinking earth, structural insecurity, technologies of war and visions of hate. The prevailing truths are leading us to outcomes that cannot be resolved as long as we hold onto them.
This is an attempt to prepare the soil in which other things might one day grow.