Who Are We to Become?


.:: Book Reviews

.:: Next

.:: Previous

"Thou Art That!" With these three words, the late Aldous Huxley summed up the mystical core of all religions in his classic book, The Perennial Philosophy. Edgar Cayce echoed this theme in his emphasis upon the study of "oneness." The observer and the observed are one, inside and outside are a seamless unity. With the advent of field theory in physics, and then the development of ecology, and since then the coming into awareness in many disciplines of the reality of interconnectedness, we are entering the new paradigm. We are transcending individual thingness and the boundaries used to define those entities and moving into the great vibrational dance.

It all sounds great, progress and all. But in the wake of this shift, there are some profound consequences. We may take ourselves for granted, but that confidence isn't necessarily warranted. We've heard about mid-life crises and identity crises. Well, this paradigm shift may bring us to a worldwide "self" crisis, where the basis of what it means to be a self, an identity, an individual, will come into question. How will we deal with this loss of our traditional identity?

If all minds are connected, where does your personal responsibility lie? If you commit a crime, perhaps you are acting out the motivations of others. How do you distinguish your own intent from the desires of the rest of society? What thoughts are clearly your own? What happens to copyright law? What is the meaning of individual rights? Do you have the right to be depressed if those bad vibrations affect those around you? Things get very confusing when we no longer are allowed to talk about things.

Does this mean that everyone will suddenly experience the "no self" of eastern enlightenment? Doubtful. We already have people who are pioneers in this new wilderness and they are not happy campers. To take one example, the "co-dependents" we are tired of hearing about, are like veterans of a war no one wants to believe exists. The basic complaint of the co-dependent is that "I don't know my own feelings, but act compulsively in response to the feelings of others." They exercise daily to give their mouths the strength to say "no," and hope to one day create personal boundaries. They're fighting hard to resolve a predicament that could face all of us in the future.

Multiple personality syndrome is another example of a response to the lack of personal identity, seemingly more extreme, but perhaps more likely according to one theorist who suspects hard times ahead. Someone who has finally looked into that future without boundaries, and is not sure of the outcome. Walter Truett Anderson, the author of the earlier book, Reality Isn't What it Used to Be, has come out with another provocative exploration, The Future of the Self: Inventing the Postmodern Person: Exploring the Post-Identity Society (Jeremy Tarcher). This social scientist and journalist has compiled the many forces at work in the world to erase the boundaries of the person. You are familiar with many of them. Computers cell phones bringing the loss of personal privacy. Ecological concerns and the dissolving of political boundaries, health concerns and the dissolving of personal boundaries, as in laws against smoking in public places. With advances in medicine allowing body parts to be transplanted, body identity is becoming blurred. The story of the woman who had a heart transplant and developed appetites echoing the young man whose heart was now in her chest, is an omen of things to come. We are truly entering a worldwide crisis in boundaries. What will become of us?

Anderson isn't sure. He hopes for the best, but fears the worst. More than twenty years ago, in an editorial I wrote for Sundance: The Community Dream Journal, I noted that the dreams of the times showed a rising concern for the development of true community. Forces of chaos were tempting us toward a fascist world of control, domination, and uniformity in order to assuage the rising fears stemming from unbridled individualism. Was there a way to find unity in diversity, to form a true community based upon common ideals yet diverse manifestations? Those dreams were prophetic of the challenge that faces us. Anderson would like to think that we will find community in the post-identity society. One answer would be a world that supported our loving one another. Love creates an expansion of the self that can embrace mysteries that are beyond our intellectual understanding, such as the mystical "no self." In this case, as Anderson puts it, "self happens." As Cayce would suggest, we would simply "watch the self go by" each other.

On the other hand, if the world can not be so supportive of shared positive values, if national territorialities and ethnic identities continue to clash over resources and rules of conduct, then we can expect more chaos and confusion. Interestingly, Anderson suggests that a global depression might help people to lessen boundaries in the interest of mutual aid. Learning to cooperate is an excellent kindergarten for the schooling of the global self. Maybe that's a good place to start over again.

Buy The Future of the Self: Inventing the Postmodern Person: Exploring the Post-Identity Society now! 


<% include("../../pubmenu.php"); %>