The Tragedy of Disconnection

by JordanB

This is a follow-up to the post on unity. It is a bad news post 😦

Our desire for unity is stymied by the distrustfulness of the world. It is the stress of this ever-present distrustfulness that makes us long for the garden. Failing that, we set about protecting ourselves, either by insulating ourselves from others, or by asserting our dominance over others. Alternatively, we might ally ourselves with someone who who believe will protect us, or completely forego consideration of our own well-being by becoming thoroughly dependent on others.

We are a curious species. Social cooperation was the means by which we survived and thrived, evolutionarily speaking. We developed language because we needed to coordinate with others. This was not unmitigated cooperation, however. Trust is a risky proposition. Therefore, we evolved in tribes which, ostensibly, were small enough to be self-policing. The name of the game was cooperation within groups; competition between groups.

We evolved a sense of self, and with that came a relationship with our self. I can, as a subject, hold myself as an object. Obviously I’m rather invested in myself, especially as am aware of things which might bring my self to a speedy end.

With the sense of self comes the ability to see things from the point of view of other selves. We have the ability to take the perspectives of others. This was intended as a means of empathy. The irony is that this ability also enables us to cheat, deceive, and take advantage of others. We see others, and we know that others see us (ironically, this is likely where the self-concept comes from; we see that others see us). We know that we are an object in their perception. But we do not know how they feel toward us, nor what their plans toward us entail, whether they desire our well-being or will discard with us as soon as we are no longer useful to them. The social ‘checks’ that existed in small tribes no longer exist in this anonymous, dispersed world.

So this is bad news. The way forward is not entirely clear. For me, I think it is good to recognize that distrust will never be excised from human existence. It is something to be lamented and mourned. I do think that trust ultimately can take up distrust, and that connection can ultimately take up disconnection. In our experience, however, it is a halting endeavour. It will require some bold moves on our part; a willingness to not hold our self so tightly. It will require pre-emptive vulnerability. To become vulnerable is perhaps only possible if one is held by a greater security. Interestingly, I’ve found that both Buddhism and Christianity offer this security, but in two very different ways.