I have recently found myself faced with a peculiar conflict (of the existential variety). In my heart of hearts, I have long considered myself a socialist. I say this not in a strictly political sense, but in a moral one (I would more formally describe myself as a progressive liberal). I am sensitive to the connections among us. I see them in both the daily minutia and my life as it unfolds more broadly. Undoubtedly, we are all connected. We are all mutually dependent—even at our greatest distances, and in our most desolate of separations. As Carl Sagan (and many others) have reminded us, “we are made of starstuff.” The romanticized nucleosynthetic origins of our finer components (carbon, oxygen, etc.) might be augmented only by the preceding origins of hydrogen and helium during the Big Bang. With such temporal depth we are able to trace the origins of everything and everyone to a singularity in spacetime. One event. One place. One moment. What differences exist between us are perhaps less meaningful when confronted with this perspective. We might look further to ecology or the concept of quantum entanglement if we desire more contemporary evidence of our interconnectedness, but the conclusion is the same—as is the implication that we are far more than that which bears the labels I and me. The boundaries of body and self are simply conventions to be overcome, I believe. And as a species, I am convinced that collectivism is our wisest and most adaptive method of operation. As we are connected, and as we influence one another, we must work together. More importantly, we must outgrow our tendencies towards individuality and separateness. They are simply illusions.
A few weeks ago, however, I stumbled upon the following recommendation: “Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself.” And a conflict arose within me. I too cannot help but resist annihilation, even in my desire to transcend the conventions of my existence. After all, what would be the point of any one particular existence if the goal were complete dissolution? There is fear in the thought of losing oneself—and yet such an outcome is a logical consequence of more socialist and collectivist endeavors. As individuals, we indeed risk non-existence in the most extreme manifestations of collectivism.
My conclusion then lies somewhere in the grey (as it so often does). To continually and determinedly assert one’s individuality is to disregard and ultimately undermine the connections that exist among us. Yet to dissolve oneself in the whole thing is to lose some piece of the human condition; to deny the quality of consciousness itself, which by nature is driven towards identity and the perception of separateness. The solution may not be choosing one or the other, but rather the careful juxtaposition of self and collective. I am me, but within that perception is the possibility that I affect others just as I am affected by them; and the potential for all of us to live as individual components of a single unified system. To see the connections within the system is the goal, and to expand our identities beyond their more apparent boundaries. They need not be made obsolete, but simply overlapping—and connected. Should we see our lives the way they are—as pieces of a grand puzzle; as ripples in the interwoven fabric of these particular coordinates in time and space—we would be afforded no other existence.