25 February 2009

Community and Identity

"We humanists serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any familiarity, which is our community." - Kurt Vonnegut

I've been thinking about the question of identity and community. We human beings are social creatures, and to meet our needs we associate with one another and form communities. Outside of this urge to be social and to be with our fellows, however, there seems to me to be another driving force behind our gathering in communities: it is an urge to create identity for ourselves by attaching the idea of who we are to communities bigger than ourselves -- consequently enlarging our own feelings of self-worth. How attractive to think of oneself as member of something greater -- how well it feeds the ego. How many billions have perished because of pride in one's town, region, or country?

Searching for and creating identity seems to be a major occupation of the human race. Many people seem to try to create their identity based on the objects they own: their idea of self-worth based on the condition of their home, their cars, their clothes. They form their identity based on the television shows they watch, the music they listen to, the people they quote. Religion is a good example of people attempting to create their own identities by attaching themselves to something they perceive as greater -- and so is humanism. I have realized that I find greater meaning in thinking of myself as a member of Humanity. I now look at my deconversion experience through the lens of identity, and find that it makes much more sense now -- as does my progress in being able to move on.

Outside of the human need to socialize, I suspect the driving force behind this quest for community-centered identity is that of our own sentience. We are aware of our individual selves, so much to the point that it's very easy to regard ourselves and small and insignificant. While I have never felt small or insignificant, I have felt the loneliness of sentience, that longing to find a situation in which one belong. It was a loneliness that departed swiftly when I realized my humanist heart, but that loneliness is kept away through my persistent reaching-out to people. I don't want to depend on an idea or an ideal for my identity, even if it be a noble one: I want to be comfortable in my own skin, and I think I'm growing more and more so. At the very least I now realize when I am being drawn toward an organization to feed that subtle desire for identity. I seek to be so comfortable in my own identity that the only benefit organizations would bring me would be to give me a social outlet -- for I know that there are some needs that I cannot meet on my own. I need community, but I do not need an identity through it.

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