Monday, July 20, 2015

The Tyranny of Identity

I have to admit that one of my favourite films is Donnie Darko. It's a convoluted tale of physics, metaphysics and ignorance that just doesn't quite make sense. I guess that's why I like it!

There is one particular scene... Ah! here it is (and apologies for the profanity therein - it may actually be justified)

Of course, life is not as simple as the rather closed-minded and simplistic authority figure shows in this clip. However, I do think that there is a grain of truth in what she is trying to say. I just don't think she has the intellect to understand the profundity, unlike Donnie.

Human beings are a wonderful hybrid of mind and body whatever one's philosophy. We can indeed be compared unto the beasts that perish. We are biological organisms and therefore servant to biological necessities. Love and fear are indeed two powerful emotions that indeed command some degree of control over our lives. They are, however, not as one dimensional as Mrs Farmer seems to think. There is fear, and there is fear, just as there is love, and there is love. We are all familiar with the four loves, there are probably a similar number of fears.

Human beings do indeed have some intrinsic morality that does not come from the physical world. I am sure that any reader of this little blogling would regard the rape, torture, and murder of a little child to be abhorrent, vile and unequivocally evil. We would also reason that anyone who thinks that these are morally okay, is not in possession of their right mind or is simply a person consumed by evil. Yet, this happens in the animal kingdom every day. There is no physical prohibition, like trying to walk on the ceiling, there is no social reason as this sort of thing does happen among social animals such as chimpanzees, so where does it come from? Regardless of our answer, we are glad that there is such a moral repugnance for such an awful act.

Yet we know that we can, and often do, go against any moral code that we have. Our reasons for doing so are rooted in our own self-orientation. I'm going to be bold and say that many of the troubles of the human condition are caused by self-orientation, and that it is the desperate protection of our precious identity that gives rise to our personal angst as well as the problems of living in society.

I like to think that the seven deadly sins are reasonably comprehensive in their encapsulation of human misery. All of them possess some recourse to some fear about our identity.

Not only is this the over-indulgence with food, it is the preoccupation with having things just the way we like them. C.S. Lewis points out that the lady who wants just a little bit of toast but done a very specific way. There is here a desire to control our resources and to impress our will upon what we consume.

As I've said somewhere before, Lust is an unbridled and uncontrolled passion that infects our consciousness. We perceive it markedly in the lust for sex, but it also seeks a complete possession of what is desired. Again, we see a desire to exercise our power over the thing we desire.

This idea of hoarding things so that others cannot possess them again demonstrates a desire for control not only of what we have but what we don't want other people to have. Why does someone seek to be rich if not to take complete control over one's life and to protect oneself from the vicissitudes of fortune and the demands of others on our lives.

The saddest sin - a desire to possess that which another has. Here there is always that fear of missing out, of entitlement, of seeing those whom we want to be and wanting to be them so that they cease to become who they are to our benefit.

The uncontrolled desire to force one's will on others. In wrath, we seek to impress our own justice upon others in revenge for an injustice perceived against us. Note that, in wrath, again we seek to impress our identity on the world around - in this case, our own sense of justice regardless of whether that justice is indeed just!

In sloth, we find the disinclination to make any contribution to the world. We seek only to maintain our own comfort at the expense of the needs of those around us. We do not wish to lift a finger because the matter of other people being human doesn't matter. In sloth, we seek the comfort of contemplating our own identity from the warmth of our bed.

Need I say more. Like sloth is formed being comfortable with our identity, pride and vanity seek only to dress up our view of ourselves with empty importance and the belief that our will is more supreme than those around us. In seeing ourselves as the most important aspect of our lives, we find only ourselves to worship.

We can see from these that at the heart of each of these sins, there is a desire to protect and develop our identity. In a sense, this is natural. The one thing that all the experiences and sensations of my lives have in common is me.

Many people in the world today believe that this Me is the only thing they can rely on. Possessions get lost or break, people leave, love fades. The only constant appears to be Me, and if the Me gets damaged or broken or lost, then I have lost absolutely everything! The Me is small, naked and fragile. What do we then do to protect the Me? We seek to keep people away from it and wrap it up in things. Controlling other people keeps them from coming near the Me and thus keeps it safe from invasion. Thus our desire for power comes from making sure that our will is supreme and that the Me cannot be touched by others demands upon it. Not caring for others again releases the Me from being changed from what we want the Me to be. We seek only to become the Me we want to be. But what happens if I actually become the Me I Want To Be?

If I were to become the Me I Want To Be, then I could never change. If the Me changed, then it would not be the Me I Want To Be. If what I wanted changed, again, the Me would not be what I wanted it to be. If both changed together, how would we know? We could look back and see that we have changed, but we would see that the past Me would not have been the Me I Want To Be that I now am.In that case, I would conclude that I was deluded in thinking that I was the Me I Want To Be because I wanted to be the past Me, and that I could not be sure that I am now the Me I Want To Be, and I would want to be sure that I am the Me I Want To Be! I'm sorry for the linguistic jiggery-pokery, but I think this proves that it is impossible for me ever to be the person I want to be, unless I suddenly become changeless, i.e. either becoming God, or becoming dead. We find ourselves slaves to the tyranny of our identity.

The way out is simple. If we want to be free, then we must let go of the illusion that we can ever be in control of who we are. We have to let others have some investment in our identity. We must let them help us find some self-definition. Concern for others is indeed vital if we wish to find some fulfilment in life. I can become a better Me, by seeing the good in others and assimilating that good in Me so that still others can see the good in Me.

Yet, the Me still has one final surrender. What is the point of Me if I am doomed to die and wink out of existence. If there is nothing after this life, then all this work in finding fulfilment in truly being me is worthless. I might as well strive in the futility of seeking to become the Me I Want To Be even if it is impossible. It will make no difference either way, since, eventually if there is nothing else, there will not only be no Me, there will be no other Mes at all! With the end of this planet comes the end of all the Mes, and there will be no Good nor Evil, just dust and then nothing at all.

But there is Good and Evil. This leads me to conclude that there is something beyond our existence that determines Good and Evil, and further something that determines the Me that I am gives me the idea of a better Me I Want To Be because there is some idea of perfection. There needs to be an end if there is any real sense of meaning in this universe other than the arbitrary meaning that human beings impose upon it. That end can only ever be God, and we can only ever see the perfection of humanity in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we seek truly to be happy in this life, then we will never find it in ourselves and the pursuit of developing and protecting a false identity will prevent us from ever really finding satisfaction in simply being ourselves. We can only look for an identity in God and, if we do, we can find and develop sufficient confidence in Him to become the Me He Wants Me To Be which will be the Me I Want To Be!

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