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Comportamento / 08/08/2020

The morality trap: the problem of having a strong identity

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The morality trap: the problem of having a strong identity


There is no good label to describe Jiddu Krishnamurti, and perhaps that is how it should be.

In his youth, he was prepared by the Theosophical Society (a religious movement) to become what they called the Teacher of the World. As he matured, however, Krishnamurti returned all donations and dissolved the group to move away any and all ideological affiliations.

For decades, he traveled the world giving lectures on human psychology, social change and the importance of understanding the mind as individuals, rather than authority.

Some people consider him a religious leader, but given the modern connotation of the term, this is not accurate. Others refer to him as a mystic, who may be a better label, but he still doesn't seem complete. To call him a natural philosopher would be most appropriate.

The thing about Krishnamurti is that he had a way of communicating the abstract in such a penetrating way that it would shock you to rethink something you thought you knew.

He had a lot to say about the nature of the human mind and its relationship to the world, but above all, he made it very clear that no matter what he said, it should not be taken for granted. Only you, the individual, can reach that conclusion based on your own investigation.

Likewise, as his approach indicates, he was suspicious of all labels and distinctions between people. And, as always, he showed his reasoning with something he shared in a lecture:

“When you call yourself Indian, Muslim, Christian, European or whatever, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself the rest of humanity. When you separate yourself by belief, nationality, tradition, it generates violence. Thus, a man who seeks to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of humanity. "

The paradox of living ideologically

There are two reasonable ways to respond to Krishnamurti's statement: the first is to put the pieces together and see that, yes, at a central level, identity and violence are connected; the second is, again, to see this, but to argue, even if it is true, these separations are necessary.

What you cannot say, however, is that this statement is false, because in order to have violence, you need distinctions, and most of the violence is born out of the ideological distinctions we have created.

If you take a long-term view of history, over thousands and thousands of years, any major conflict can be reduced to an ideological battle against us. More interesting? Almost all sides claimed that their side is doing the right thing.

Everyone thinks they are against something - something bad - whether that is the evil manifested by the devil or the injustice they see committed by others in the world.

What begins as noble, however, is obscured by irrational tribal labels and affiliations that we begin to treat as facts, something that we implicitly suppose to be linked to some objective part of reality, a process that then gives us the moral basis for committing atrocities.

It is easy to argue - in theory - that it is harmless to associate a strong national affiliation with who you are, or to proudly and boldly use your belief system as a badge of honor, and in your case, it may be harmless, but the broader phenomena - in practice - they are never harmless.

At the end of the day, humans are animals; highly evolved animals, but animals nonetheless. This means that these identities (derived our tribal affiliations) are part of our nature.

But to deny that you are not participating in the violence, however indirect, due to your ideological association, is to absolve yourself when you have no right to absolve yourself.

You can even try to claim high morale and say that this level of violence is necessary because the other side is bad, but if you look more closely at history, you will see that the mere labeling of people, regardless of good or bad, has led to more suffering in the world than the real evil done by the people against whom you are so fervently.

A more integrated understanding

This reasoning may seem cynical and can lead to a deformed concept of things like justice and morality, but there is a solution; at least a partial, if that is your concern.

This solution is hidden in some terms borrowed the study of game theory: negative sum games and positive sum games. The former are competitive, while the latter are cooperative.

In a world of identity tags, you can't help but play a negative sum game, the goal is to win and lose the other side; you are the good guy, defeating the bad guy.

If you end up with labels that define your identity, however, and instead understand that different people have different life stories, shaped by different

The morality trap: the problem of having a strong identity s genetic and environmental factors, you can try to align your two different subjective worlds by playing a positive sum game.

It may be true that it is in our nature to be tribal, so distinctions of identity, in a way, are not something that we can get rid of completely, but at the same time, we have also evolved to cooperate, and if we change the frontier of whom we include in our tribe of just "us" versus "them" for just everyone, it is not inconceivable that we will find lasting solutions.

When we think of identities, we create a one-dimensional world. We have reduced the complexity of the universe to something that we can easily involve. This has its use, but it leads to false dichotomies of good and bad, us and them, and right and wrong.

Reality, of course, has more dimensions than just one, and when dealing with it, we cannot think of dichotomies, because these dichotomies do not exist. There is no rigid separation.

When you are arguing on the internet, the best way to describe who you are talking to in this one-dimensional world may be liberal or conservative, American or Chinese, but in reality, they are just like you; people with families, friends, doing the best they can to survive.

A world in which we only play positive games, each player wins something, may not yet be a world within our reach, but at least a more integrated understanding of different people and their realities is certainly a better solution than violence.

The Takeaway

There is no easy way to summarize what Krishnamurti saw in the world or what his vision of the future was, but one thing is clear: he knew that social change begins with an individual.

Before you are a label, you are a person, as well as whoever acts as an antagonist to your chosen label. Any group or ideology that reverses this distinction creates violence.

Almost everyone has some kind of connection to some kind of identity that is in line with generalized rules of operation. Even when we do not explicitly state, we live often.

For the most part, these identities and attachments are harmless, but that does not mean that we are absolved of the second and third order effects that come into the world because we like the comfort and pride and the community that has been creating distinctions.

And while it is tempting to think that your ideology is the right one, the one that should be imposed on others, chances are that this belief is supported more by an egocentricity of which you are not even aware than by the fact of having a moral purpose high.

There is no way out of this zero-sum game if you start a position of establishing dichotomies. The only way to really win is to understand: What makes others different you? What cultural forces are you not representing? How can we better integrate each side?

None of this is to say that differences, hierarchies and distinctions of some kind do not exist in the real world. Nor is it possible to suggest that it is entirely possible to abandon all nationalities, religions and tribal borders tomorrow so that we can suddenly live in a world of peace.

The question is that we always have a choice: do we continue to take the easy way out, playing zero-sum games, or do we make an honest effort to create positive-sum games?

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