The Difference between Being and Identity

Modern man has reached a “fallen” state by becoming obsessed with being when what we really need is to know who we are. We cannot learn who we are through being. Being is a kind of essence; a state of awareness or consciousness of our surroundings and our own existence; it simply is; it has no identity. We discover who we are by learning about our own culture, about our own society, about the history of our own people, about our own personal past. To have an identity, to define ourselves, we must first put ourselves firmly in context.

Radio Tower with Outgoing Waves

Being is analogous to a radio carrier wave. Identity is the music that modulates the wave and gives it meaning. (Image: public domain)

To revive an old radio metaphor, being is the unmodulated carrier wave and identity is the modulated carrier wave – the talk or the music. Being is like a radio station that is “on air,” but broadcasting nothing but “dead air.” Radio does not come to life until something happens and keeps on happening. People work in much the same way.

The crucial point here is that we must make a clear distinction between being and identity if we are to walk the path to some kind of enlightenment or peace of mind. Pursuing being is a stagnant dead end, the last resort of the spiritually impoverished. Meditating ourselves into a recurring state of self-obliteration is most definitely not the way to a fulfilling life. The more typical (and more modern) pursuit of self-obliteration through drugs, booze, and incredibly loud music, while frenetic and noisy, is also about “being in the moment.” In reality, we achieve satisfying lives by doing something, not by sitting around or dancing around while we soak up our “being.” The earliest hermit monks cultivated gardens, made wine, wove baskets, or worked as simple ferrymen or silent gatekeepers. Their status as hermits was as much an identity as a state of being. Unlike moderns, they knew who they were.

There are serious consequences to believing in being rather than identity.

A preoccupation with being arises from self-centredness and an often-denied egocentricity, an attitude that leads to selfishness and a deliberate (and irresponsible) lack of concern for the future. Only the here and the now matters. If mere being is our goal, how could it be otherwise? When a society shelters large numbers of people with these values, it begins to falter from want of those who know what the society is all about, where it has come from, and what its goals are. When not enough people care, a society has no goals. It has lost its vision.

Identity is much richer and more complex than simple being. Identity is an abundant feast compared to the stark famine of being. A person with an identity understands their own culture (as opposed to someone else’s), knows their own history (from their own people’s point of view), and accepts their own personal and familial past (from their own perspective). Most of all, they pay attention to the society around them and regard it as an essential aspect of their own long-term survival. This view naturally leads to concern for the welfare of the family and the society of which they are a part. Furthermore, a broader outlook inevitably leads those who share it to consider – as they should – the future of their family and their society. Thus identity, and only identity, can lead to genuine altruistic behaviour.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

21 thoughts on “The Difference between Being and Identity”

  1. Do you truly believe there is [such] a thing as altruistic behavior?

    I recently posted a blog in which I talked about the sense of “being.” I’m not sure that I was spiritually impoverished at the time, but I’m not sure that I wasn’t, either. I do know that taking a break to just “be” was awakening. Like coming out of dark tunnel. I was able to clear my head and think organized thoughts after using that time to disconnect from my own past and future worries.

    I think there is a concern that if people do not think beyond the present, that we will lose sight of consequences. If we deny the existence of the past, we cannot learn from it, and if we deny the existence of the future, we cannot plan for it. However, in this moment, now, we possess everything we gained from the past. This includes doing what is right for this moment (not what feels good, but what is right) and doing what is right is the best we can do for the future.

    If I want to hit you, I won’t because what I have learned from the past is that this is not right. I have learned that talking out our conflict is a better way for the present, leads to a better future, and will make a better past in my next moment.

    I think “being” in the wrong hands, that is, someone who does not understand it, could be a tool ill used. However, if a hammer can be used for destruction as well as building, does that mean we say it is a bad tool?

    Looking forward to your thoughts . . I enjoyed this post!

  2. Interesting post as always, Thomas. Like Jean, I’ve found moments of ‘just being’ reinvigorating – not as a permanent state, but as an occasional method of relaxation. Having said that, I agree with you that people ignore their identity and history at their peril. I think, personally, that this is one of the faultlines in modern Western society – we have forgotten who we are. An example of this is, I think, the depressing dearth of the Classics in modern curricula (I’m speaking about the British education system in particular, but I imagine the same holds true elsewhere). If we do not understand the Greek and Roman roots of Western civilisation, we do not understand ourselves.

  3. This essay pleased and displeased me. I was happy with what seemed to be the condemnation of ‘incredibly loud’ music, drugs and that lifestyle and displeased with comments on ‘being’. I think it’s too harsh about philosophies which mainly derive from the east, meditation and ridding oneself of ego.

    We live in times when Western ideas are being imposed on the religious East. When Capitalism is replacing religion in many parts of the world which are called ‘undeveloped’. I don’t think myself this is to be welcomed as the western way of life becomes very stressful for many and the remedy for this stress is often to turn to Eastern ideas.

    One problem with the West is its tendency to emphasise hierarchies, to gather into power groups and to have more influence on the politics of the country than an individual. Also there is the competitiveness of western ways which is a big cause of the stress which ruins the inner peace sought in the ‘being’ way of life. There are big rewards for those who come under the umbrella of the successful in our culture. It’s a struggle for the ordinary person and a nightmare for the failures. The idea most people seem to have is to get as much for oneself as possible; to join in the competition and see how far ahead you can get. So, when judging the contexts within which we create identity, and also have identity imposed on us, we need to look at it from the point of view of ‘Value’. Value systems are, I suppose, as varied as identities; as someone living in the most ‘West’ of countries, UK, I find there are so many things that are inimical to personal development; so much so that I often identify myself as something that is like a Francis Bacon painting. ugly and stunted.

  4. Yes, Jean, I do believe altruistic behavior actually happens. A simple and obvious example would be the soldier throwing himself onto a hand grenade to save his comrades’ lives. It is a sad reflection on our times that we regard altruism with such scepticism. Much of the trouble here comes from the obvious fakery of the so-called “do-gooders” in Western nations. I have come to despise the social engineers who want to “do good” (exclusively their definition) with other people’s money. Which also says a lot about our times!

    As for the issue of “being,” I have to make a distinction between a brief respite from the seemingly endless toils and distractions of life on the one hand and the regular pursuit of extended periods of being on the other. Both you and Mari (next commenter below) have suggested the restorative power of such brief interludes. Interestingly, there is an old and highly suggestive way of describing these spells alone, when we have nothing in particular on our minds. We used to say we were “recollecting ourselves.” The implication is that we are not just “being” but at some level, remembering, re-gathering, recalling to mind who we are. We are performing the act of restoring identity.

    Jean, in your excellent post you describe very well the process of what I would call “coming to your senses.” We use the term to indicate that we see things clearly and begin to act sensibly after a period of confusion and unwise behaviour. Substitute “unthinking” for “unwise” and we have a great description of how these “being” interludes are all about letting go in order to restart with a firmer or better grip on our identity-based selves.

    Being as a tool “ill-used” is a fine way to describe my objections to the other way of approaching being. The regular practice of evading life’s realities is a means of running away from the challenges of life rather than dealing with them. In the end, problems not properly handled will only become more serious. The diminishing, or loss, of identity associated with an excessive emphasis on being can generate some sever psychological problems. I recommend Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” to anyone who thinks being is the way to enlightenment or a stress-free life.

  5. Mari, the fact that we in the West have forgotten who we are is a huge part of what ails our civilization in the present era. However, the problem did not arise by accident. We have deliberately excised much of our history and our literary past from the curricula for myopic political and ideological reasons. The swing to the left brought moral concerns about imperialism and colonialism to the fore, with no counterbalancing assessment of the historical necessity of these principles of action. Whatever we may now think of such policies, the industrial revolution could not have happened without them. Yet we have attached so much guilt to our history that we are denouncing ourselves – the people who made the modern world – for being villains!

    We must regard the loss of identity associated with vilifying ourselves and rejecting our own past as a spiritual problem. Spirituality in its truest form consists in self-discovery and self-acceptance. A people that refuses properly to consider, evaluate, and assign due value to major elements of its own past is spiritually impaired. Westerners are far from perfect, but we need not be as ashamed of our past as the left, in their egotistical fear of moral contagion, would have us believe.

    While I am at it, let me add to what I said to Jean, above. Spiritual impoverishment arises from an excessive concern with being because such a preoccupation interferes with self-discovery and self-acceptance. Being is a way of copping out, of avoiding the difficult journey towards authenticity. Being evades the need to wrestle with ourselves. We can meditate and pretend we are spiritual while actually going off to nowhere.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to comment at such length, Franny. You raise some interesting points.

    I will start with your concern about my being “too harsh” with Eastern philosophies. If you will have a look at my earlier post, “Outrunning the Hound of Heaven,” you will see that I am equally hard on Western religions. A quick look at “Socialism Tramples Unpopular Minorities” and “Neo-Aboriginal Thinking” will reveal that leftists and environmentalists also get their fair share of criticism. I am an atheistic conservative and divide my blogging time between presenting my own philosophy and pointing out the shortcomings of alternative points of view.

    I invite anyone who disagrees with my views to post a comment, as you have done. Several regular commenters diverge sharply from my positions and we happily exchange our very different views. Furthermore, these “disagreeable” people remain my friends! We learn from one another.

    You claim that Western ideas “are being imposed on the religious East.” I would say the East is adopting Western ideas of its own accord. Religious people may not be the ones doing the adopting, but they are not entitled to monopolize the arena of ideas and values. If Eastern people with secular views wish to go Western, they are quite entitled to do so. Many would argue that a little Western Capitalist stress is infinitely preferable to the common Eastern stress of abject poverty, bad water, disease, and hunger. I know I would much rather face the stresses of prosperous Western life, which are slight and entirely manageable, than go without life’s necessities. Living in a deeply religious society, far from comforting me, would drive me round the bend. Why do you think so many people from the undeveloped world try to escape to the West?

    I find it interesting that, while you object to Western ideas penetrating the East, you have no objection whatsoever to Eastern ideas being imported into the West. Western ideas are not perfect, but they created the world’s greatest civilization and most prosperous societies, the comforts and benefits of which you share. Your way of looking at things would deny the people of the undeveloped world (and yes, it really is undeveloped) the chance to have the same decent life that you enjoy. Any number of people in the undeveloped world would happily change places with you.

    The hierarchical power structure you object to is presumably corporations, big unions, NGOs, and the assorted lobby groups. Anyone can organize a lobby. If you feel a want of power and influence, you may start one. As an individual, you have the same power as the rest of us: one person, one vote. “Power groups,” as you call them represent large numbers of people: shareholders, union members, aid workers, and special interest groups such as environmentalists, gun owners, pro-abortionists, right-to-lifers, and so on. With socialist governments now wielding such immense power, these groups have every right to protect their interests by making themselves heard.

    Your objection to competition is troubling. The alternative is communism and we have already seen the appalling catastrophes that come from going down that unproductive road. Capitalism works. If you personally dislike competing and crave “inner peace” so badly, why not settle for less, take a low-stress job, and withdraw to some quiet corner. There is a movement called voluntary simplicity dedicated to just this sort of lifestyle. I am a manic-depressive and when I got into big trouble with the illness, I bailed out and lived for sixteen years as a hermit in a forest shack. I did not insist that everyone else join me in living that way.

    You must accept that most people thrive on a certain amount of stress. The research psychologists have shown that we humans actually need stress to keep us in top form. People may grumble, that is human nature, but they go to pieces without some pressure. The same may even be true for you!

    The inequalities you see in the society around you are inevitable given the range of human ability, intelligence, and willingness to work hard. Some people are fortunate, while others are not. Every life has value regardless of how easy or hard it may be. I learned things living as a poor hermit that I could not have discovered any other way. Personal development is the responsibility of the individual and, contrary to what you seem to believe, the West offers more opportunity in this area than any society on Earth. It is up to you to become a seeker and find the way. The only thing standing in your way is you. I can tell you right now that you will not move forward living the “being life.” While I was a hermit, I was also a devoted scholar and an active intellectual. I made progress.

    Now I must gently say a few things you probably do not want to hear. I am not attacking you or criticizing you. We all have our problems in this life. You need to open your eyes and take a long hard honest look at yourself. If you are serious, your comment about feeling “ugly and stunted” reveals a lot of self-pity and a severe lack of self-esteem. Being mentally ill, I have debilitating self-esteem problems myself so I know what that looks like. Instead of trying to “be,” read up on psychology and learn how to help yourself. Western knowledge in this area is unsurpassed.

  7. I am not positive altruism exists. When everything is stripped away, we are selfish creatures who react in every moment for our own cause. The soldier throws himself on the grenade because he loves his comrades, and love is something he feels for himself. I don’t find it sad. To me it is another fascinating thing to ponder.

    And you do not need to talk to me about do-gooders. I have seen my share of people to whom the end justifies the means!

    I wouldn’t say that during a mindful interlude I have nothing on my mind. I have never come close to achieving that! While I am mindful, EVERYTHING is on my mind. It is truly a coming of my senses, where the tastes, smells, sights, sounds and touch is extremely heightened. It is a very joyful, real feeling where I want to be part of the world, want to connect, want to make and realize goals. And perhaps this is my identity — where I come to grips with who I am, or who I want to be. Quite often it is when I am very productive, efficient, and genuine.

    I do have times when I fall to my old distraction — FOOD! When I find myself eating and I am not hungry, I ask myself, “What am I really feeding, because it isn’t my stomach?” More often than not, I am overwhelmed with tasks I do not want to complete. I am procrastinating. Then I ask myself, “Self? What would you like to do other than eat?” I might want to take a walk, or shop, or watch a movie or read. So I give in to my spoilt inner child. Eventually, and not usually too much later, she will be satisfied so that I can actually enjoy the tasks I procrastinated.

    This is what I would describe as my “being” modes. When I avoid challenges and evade life’s realities.

    There was a movie called “Being.” Have you seen it? You may find it interesting. I would not want to be like that.

    I keep thinking about reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” My reading list is long, though. I would also like to read “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

  8. Curious (to me), this post, and the thread of comments. While I agree that personal growth has a relationship to identity (and vice versa), the emphasis of empowerment you associate with identity is problematic for me. In fact – if related to the ‘state of the world’ and our place in it – I believe the opposite. I can’t help but to put the notion in context…

    For example: North American culture/s, in particular, so greatly over-emphasize individualized identity that inter-relational and social fabrics remain invisible (thus inconsequential) to the many (if not the most). Taboot, cultural forces disproportionately diminish value for affect, well-being, and the physiology of experience. All of which are contained in the baseness of Being.

    As a result, I believe the many (or most) of us live the ‘bare life’ but without acknowledgement. And without this awareness we lack reference to our common plight and more mutual experiences of this ‘reality’. In turn, identity can only confound and conflate issues pertaining to self-preservation. As the only acknowledged self, but that has been constructed through adaption to societal expectations, it does not represent the whole of an organic person.

    Until we grasp the realm of Being, allowing it to inform identity, the ‘values’ that our societies espouse are not likely to attend to the organics (bodies / physical health, relationships / emotional health, ecologies / civilizational health, etc). Instead, the very many of us are likely to cling to a construction of values that in every way undermines collectivity, in fear of annihilation of their identity.

    The individual may, in such case, aspire toward empowerment but can never out-power nor manifest the power of cooperative relations / systems….

    Sheesh… A bit of a ramble I’ve written here… Sorry ’bout that… Couldn’t help m’self… 😉

    Thanks for inspiriting post, though; I appreciate it!

  9. Oh – I should add – by ‘bare life’ I refer to the ancient practice of banishment… Are you familiar with Giorgio Agamben’s writings perchance?

  10. Jean, we have very different views on altruism. You seem focused on gain; that is, if the person benefits in any way from their actions, then those actions are not altruistic. I hold the traditional view that if it genuinely (as opposed to apparently) costs you something important to help another, then what you have done constitutes altruism. Since all rational acts are motivated in some way, your view does eliminate altruism.

    Your position resembles the philosophy of “enlightened self-interest” where it is held that “persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.” (Wikipedia) Notice that there is no mention of substantial personal sacrifice or cost.

    Making a genuine sacrifice is the very essence of altruism. I am thinking of Sara, in *A Little Princess*, who gives all but one of her buns to a homeless child on the street even though she is hungry herself and has no money to buy more. Sara may gain some measure of self-satisfaction from “doing good,” but being in dire straits, she has genuinely paid a considerable price to help a stranger. I call this empathic costly response to the plight of another, altruism.

    I enjoyed your notion that having nothing on your mind would be an achievement! (Spoken like a true Buddhist.) I regard this as self-obliteration and preach strenuously against it. Most people do not realize that having an unoccupied mind leads to “psychic entropy” and depression. Skilled practitioners of meditation may be able to switch off their thoughts, but they cannot do the same for their unconscious minds or their emotions.

    Your descriptions of coming to your senses are always delightful. You seem to have a zest for life that I, as an irritable manic-depressive, envy. Then there is FOOD, the bane of the depressive’s existence. Who asked those idiots at Cadbury to invent chocolate, anyway? Bakers should be arrested! I am holding all Americans personally responsible for French fries, double cheeseburgers, and Coca-Cola. Seriously, I have the same problem with wanting to eat just for the sake of eating, although in my case I have the (ridiculous) excuse that I am battling depression.

    I have not seen “Being” and could not find anything on the internet because “being” is such a common word.

    Thanks for a very perceptive and entertaining comment, Jean.

  11. Thanks for taking the time to make such a substantial and interesting comment, Ms. Qudaparcs.

    Wittgenstein wisely pointed out the importance of defining one’s terms when discussing philosophy. So, let me start by making clear my interpretation of your language. What you (rather poetically) call a “bare life” or “banishment,” I would refer to as alienation from society. When the banishment is internal, I would call this a state of self-alienation. What you refer to as an “individualized identity” that impairs interpersonal relationships and damages the social fabric, I would call a false persona. Note this carefully: not a true and authentic identity, but an idealized false persona made and maintained by the ego to enhance one’s image in the eyes of others.

    I agree with you that North American (I would go so far as to say, Western) culture over-emphasizes individuality. I also agree that this emphasis can and does impair relationships and tear (you would say hide or bury) the social fabric. I believe that individuals do damage when they raise their own needs above the needs of those around them, and when they elevate the individual’s needs above those of society as a whole. In other words, a focus on individuality breeds widespread selfishness, and ultimately, the unrecognized alienation you mention.

    I cannot agree that cultural forces *necessarily* diminish the value of emotions (affect) and impair our well-being either emotionally or physically. I will agree that in *some cases* they do, and the present exaggeration of the importance of the individual is one example. To say that “being” is the basis of our contentment is a groundless assumption that I utterly reject. As I have pointed out in this post, being is a mere carrier wave and has no value without the music of identity. The concept is too vague, abstract, and nebulous to be of any practical use. I only speak of being because it has become a popular, albeit misguided, concept.

    Your version of “identity” is clearly a false persona: “As the only acknowledged self, but that has been constructed through adaption to societal expectations, it does not represent the whole of an organic person.” I agree, but it is not “being” that is the whole, but the self, a concrete, and with some effort, entirely knowable psychological entity made up of our emotionally important ideas. Rather than the mystical unknowable “realm of Being,” we need to embrace our real authentic selves.

    This brings us back to my own concept of an *authentic* identity. The self is formed when we are children and our genes interact with the world around us to produce a set of emotionally important ideas or subjectively formed guiding principles. These live in the unconscious and have been shown to last a lifetime. Culture is part of the world we are born into, so culture inevitably influences those emotionally important ideas. Like it or not, we are the children of our culture. To reject our culture is to reject ourselves. (Note that this cultural influence comes long before the formation of the false persona. We are all more natural as children.)

    So, as I noted in the post, “A person with an identity understands their own culture (as opposed to someone else’s), knows their own history (from their own people’s point of view), and accepts their own personal and familial past (from their own perspective). Most of all, they pay attention to the society around them and regard it as an essential aspect of their own long-term survival.” By achieving this, we reinforce and make conscious the culture-induced portion of the authentic self. We connect the ego with the unconscious to forge a conscious *authentic* identity.

  12. Yes – to your interpretation of my intended meanings.

    So then there remains the issue of ‘being’. I suspect we refer to differing conceptions. I capitalize “B”eing so as to make distinction between the idea of existing and the concrete experience. To think of Being in Heideggerian context, for example, rather than with Kantian overtures. This is why I refer to ‘bare life’ before alienation (your position on this, I do not disagree with at all).

    …. I may have to come back to flesh that out, if need be, as I now must watch the clock.

    In short, for now, I do not suggest one over – or in place of – the other. But am convinced that an under-value and undermining of the base organics (which contain and define our more universal / mutual experiences of Being) is a substantial problem. So much so, that in diminishing it any further, I believe we then lend to concrete annihilation (as opposed to merely destroying our perception of self).

    …. First coffee of the day…. How much sense do I make (to you, that is)? 🙂

  13. We do seem to have different ideas about being. This highlights my position that being is too vague a term to be useful. However, I do think I grasp what you are saying about “base organics.” (Correct me if I am wrong.) You are referring to the sheer physical or bodily aspects of life, our sensory experience of the world. For you, this is “Being.” Using Heidegger as a starting point, your argument is that we all share this concrete bodily relation to the world and therefore it is common or universal ground. You further argue that a culturally induced false identity or persona interferes with this relation to the world by altering perception and generating values inimical to both the world and our relationship with it. The result of this acquired cultural bias is a sensorially and ethically impoverished existence or “bare life.”

    From there you argue that, because of those misguided values, we are in danger of destroying ourselves by ruining our environment.

    This is interesting thinking, but I have some problems with the fundamental ideas from which it arises. To begin with, humans are no longer exclusively an animal species. Your concept of Being is entirely the animal portion (“base organics”) of a human being, and as such has only a limited relevance to the debate over values. I refer to an over-emphasis on the simple physical aspects of life as “neo-aboriginal thinking,” a fearful self-destructive return to a more primitive worldview that has no legitimate place in the modern era. Evolution has introduced mind into the world. When forming values, we must factor in intelligence and psychology as well as the immensely powerful products of mind such as science and technology. This is why I object to your placing so much emphasis on being as the basis for affect and well-being.

    The formation of an identity or persona is a necessary psychological aspect of the mind and of being human. Culture is also indispensable. The key here is to make sure the persona is authentic. Part of being whole in the psychological sense is the willingness on the part of individuals to regard themselves as part of a greater society. We are at bottom a social species. Psychologically authentic people are more likely to form values that consider the long view, thus making an excessive concern with non-productive being (or Being) unnecessary.

  14. There’s really a lot packed up in what you’ve said here! Where to start….?

    Being: Not merely a reduction of the human being to flesh and bone. The EXPERIENCE of Being contains within it the substance of our inter-dependencies. From an individual’s sufferings and joys to their relationship with time itself. Authentic identities arise from and in response to experience – but not vice versa – thus my conviction of it’s direct relevance to well-being. See what I mean?

    Culture and animal cannot actually be separated. This is the experiential ‘split’ I believe we are immersed in today.

    No matter if we launch ourselves to the moon or hang out in trees; we are animals. Humans from 10,000 years ago did not differ in composition from ourselves in here-now. What differs is the contents of the culture. And culture is never a fixed ‘thing’ but a plastic and evolving manifestation of collective living. When we are determined to fix the definitions of a culture, whether spiritually or by way of our systems, we are instead instantiating dogma.

    There is no ‘primitive’ worldview. This was a colonial construct that lumped every Other into one social-darwinistic pool. But more specifically to our discussion; I did not advocate neo-anything lifestyle 🙂

    … Not to belabour the topic, on behalf of other commentators here, but I feel I must add…. Spirituality is a very significant attribute of identity. Best we remember that what we define as spirituality is actually just a way of reasoning and grappling with one’s own less-than-rational experiences. Attributes of the sciences and humanities serve these same purposes. In premise, this is healthy, and is but another aspect of cultural life.

    Again, it is where spiritual practice is inter-relating under the auspice of dogma that we observe crucially harmful impacts. So then, it seems to me, we must be careful what we assume of a culture. Especially where we aim to ‘protect’ it….

    … I do enjoy these sorts of conversations immensely… So I offer my difference in approach or viewpoint not with intent to agitate; promise 🙂

  15. Re your comment of February 7: Presenting your point of view does not constitute agitation, Ms. Qudaparcs; at least not in my book. Like you, I find these discussions interesting.

    Perhaps it would help if I made it clear that I reject all mystical explanations for anything. When you speak of having a relationship with time, which I regard as nothing more than our way of saying not everything happens at once, I see that as mystical. I believe that mystical explanations are useless because they are so arcane and difficult to grasp that you can do nothing with them. To be of any use, wisdom must be something you can easily access and deploy. Life is entirely understandable. This means complicated explanations are unnecessary and just get in the way.

    You talk about experience and make hard work of something that is straightforward. Experience in and of the real world contributes to identity, but does not account for all of it. You ignore genetically inherited character, for example, which a person incorporates into their sense of who they are. (Although not everyone is honest in their assessment of themselves.) We learn about our character from interacting with others in any number of ways. Some of this knowledge is conscious, some unconscious. With effort, we can become aware of most of what we know. There is nothing mystical about experience or the learning process or the formation of identity. What you are doing with your nebulous concept of Being is adding an unnecessary element. Life and the world are simpler and more basic than you want to admit. Like a religious, you want there to be something beyond or beneath life, when in reality, other than the mere fact of being alive (my definition of being, the carrier wave), there is nothing there. What you see is what you get.

    I have written in other posts about how the unconscious can generate an experience of the numinous and I begin to think this may be what you are trying to describe. It is a powerful experience, but an illusion generated by the unconscious when something resonates with its most precious emotionally important ideas. The purpose of the experience is to get you to follow, to look more deeply into whatever has triggered the numinous moment. It is the unconscious mind’s way of pointing out the path to greater awareness.

    Interestingly, after your subtle definition of Being, you then turn around and deny that humans are anything other than animals. Going back 10,000 years is not going far enough to reach our pre-human ancestors. Presumably then, animals also partake of your nebulous Being? Since animals are not conscious in the way humans are, one wonders what purpose their sense of Being serves.

    You say that we cannot separate culture and animal. I would say that culture is a product of mind and animals have no culture. They have only genetically programmed behavior and instincts. Culture is one of the ways in which humans differ from animals. Since culture is a natural product of the highly-evolved human mind, I will repeat what I said in my previous comment, “Culture is also indispensable.” I agree that culture is fluid and see no problem with this. Each new generation is shaped by the culture around them, as it exists at the time of their childhood. You may have noticed how older people tend to get a bit out of date. No one has ever successfully stopped the evolution of culture for very long, any number of dogmas notwithstanding.

    Do not take this personally, Ms. Qudaparcs, but I am a conservative and regard your claim that there is no such thing as a primitive worldview as complete leftist nonsense. You have preached against dogma and then drop into leftist jargon as you denounce “colonial construct” (leftist dogma) and social-Darwinianism (from a 19th century ideology and now considered a pejorative term). What you propose equates a free and democratic society where all have rights and are equal before the law with one that practices human sacrifice or female genital mutilation or the severing of hands for theft. This is anthropology’s highly-questionable concept of cultural and moral relativism.

    I agree that spirituality is a significant aspect of identity, but have a rational view of what spirituality actually is. I see it as the pursuit of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-realization. These steps to enlightenment, while not always easy, are understandable and doable. Several of my posts present these ideas from a variety of perspectives. The less-than-rational experiences you mention are either the unconscious generating a sense of the numinous (as mentioned above) or the result of misinterpreting (often deliberately) what has happened.

  16. Hope my last post (the ping-back) helps to clarify my view on these issues. In response to your comment, however, I’m compelled to add mention of a few facts:

    – Colonialism happened. Continues to in many parts of the world. As a Canadian, you would be more than familiar with the impact and legacy. Elite colonials perpetuated social-darwinistic theory as propaganda, to drum up support and soothe dissent pertaining to slavery, acquiring of foreign resources, and war in general. It was during this time that the word ‘primitive’ was used to suggest ‘less than’ instead of ‘different’. These ideas were carried forward from the realms of race and civilization and into political and economic systems.

    So, you see. To reference a ‘primitive’ social order the way you had, disparaging it’s relevance to modern society, does indeed echo this. Presenting societies in time as though a linear progression of superiority has taken place. As opposed to considering the principals of societal organisation, both today and throughout history, and comparing to the principals of our societal organising, then weighing them out. Which would be recognizing difference without inferring some inherit and unquestioned superiority. For example: Many of these so-called primitive societal principals exist today and grapple with contemporary themes.

    At anyrate – this is a sidewind. I did not propose an alternative structure or principals. Didn’t instigate this exercise, in the first place, so am also happy enough to move-on from it 🙂

    – We are animals. Not plants, insects, liquid, or gas. And I already noted that I do not dismiss the additional facts of identity and culture. I simply believe we emphasize one at the expense of the other.

    Those are history realities and not ‘leftist’ jargon. And finally:

    – Myself; I am an atheist.

    In fact issues of Being are not nearly as complicated as those pertaining to identity. So for a culture or worldview to dispense with the prior, for the sake of the latter, is telling. Don’t you think?

  17. Colonialism did indeed happen, Ms. Qudaparcs, and imperialism with it. They are historical realities. However, you must realize that not everyone regards them as evils. The left thinks they were horrors and musters every crumb of evidence to make it appear as if that is the case. The left controls the media and the education system, so their view is the most often heard. As a conservative, I have not lost the vision of what the West has achieved. I see colonialism and imperialism as policies brought about by the industrial revolution, which could not have happened without them.

    The British, with their globe-girdling Empire, quite literally created the wonderful modern world. Many free and democratic countries such as Canada, America, Australia, and New Zealand were born out of it. India, now swiftly rising to greatness, would not exist if the British had not cobbled together its hundreds of tiny warlord enclaves. English spread around the globe as it became the language of trade and commerce. It is the universal language of India, a nation with 1500 dialects.

    As a Canadian, I am familiar with colonialism, its impact, and its legacy. I enjoy all the benefits that colonialism has brought to my country. What would this place be without it? What would America be without it? You use the language of the left to denounce colonialism. It is true that the aboriginal peoples of the New World, Australia, and New Zealand have done poorly, but consider a few facts that all the leftist propaganda leaves out.

    Aboriginal people in Canada make up only 3% of the population. Most Canadians, while sympathizing with their situation, recognize that our aboriginal people are largely the architects of their own ruin. They chose to cling to their primitive – yes, primitive – stone age culture and so are not able to partake in the bounty that this nation can offer. People come here from all over the third world and do well because they adopt enough of the West’s ways to succeed in a modern sophisticated society. Only the aboriginals languish. I have no problem echoing the sentiment that primitive means “less than.” It so obviously does.

    The idea that primitive cultures are merely “different” is an idea promulgated by anthropologists who went abroad to study aboriginal populations and “went native” as the English would say.

    You object to emphasizing identity and culture at the expense of the body. I have no such problem. Humans were once no better than animals, but now, although we do remain flesh and bone, we have added mind and taken a quantum leap upward to become so much more. I will repeat that being is the mere fact of being alive and nothing more. Ignoring longwinded explanations for something so simple and obvious is nothing but good sense. There is a civilization to advance.

    These attitudes probably seem alien and strange to you because you are cocooned within the leftist-dominated university system where conservative ideas, values, and viewpoints are carefully excluded. You have unwittingly conformed to your environment and absorbed the leftist identity almost all universities promote. I find it dismaying that you do not know a leftist argument when you present one. Why not read more widely and learn to see your biases for what they are: just one side of a debate.

  18. I think I’ve adequately addressed (on my blog) why I won’t be entangling myself within all the presumptions you make (speaking of bias). You are projecting your stereotype of an university student out on me.

    I feel obligated to note that the issue is not whether you, me, or anyone regards colonial history or imperialism ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Fact is there are benefits to some, undue hardship for some, and outright the abuse of still others yet.

    Again. You are projecting out onto me a black and white dichotomy which I, in fact, do not perceive.

    I had thought we shared at least agreement on the social actor… But much of what you have written here (in response to me) completely deflects and / or dismisses the personal and cultural value of accountability.

    For example: What took in place in the past, combined with current policy (such as the Fed Indian Act), has created present circumstances. Pardon me say’n so, but if you were more informed about the details (past and present) you’d understand to what degree you are blaming the victims. Deflection.

    Most Canucks are not as satisfied nor as well as you are also presuming. Nor is the rest of world as satisfied with the process and outcome of imperialism. Nor would India or any other country require great white masters in order to evolve. THAT is the difference between presuming enlightenment (superiority) and not. What was evolving and would have occurred may have had different strengths and weaknesses – but you cannot know nor state for a fact one would have been better than the other (for the people of those places).

    Determinism. Is what that’s called and it self-justifies. Which does not either lend well to notions of accountability.

    Not to be provocative but… What the hell (since you are). The more of history I become familiar with the more obvious it is. The anglo-saxons had a gravely backward culture. If it weren’t for their discovery of the sciences which other cultures first developed…. Well… To summarize: Much of the technological advancement, that you appear to mistake for proof of cultural superiority, is likely to have happened somewhere else in the world.

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