The Dialectics of Identity

In yesterday’s blog I discoursed re Lewis ThomasLives of a Cell and the symbiotic relationship between the setting of boundaries and willingness to “relax” them for the sake of the collective. Someone once described this process as the competing drives for homeostasis and change and is relevant to the individual and the collective. If the drive for “homoeostasis” is unbalanced, the individual will be trapped in a static, autistic world. If the other need becomes predominant, the individual will be trapped in an incorporative mode of being in which “strange” is so needed that it overwhelms the ego. This individual will be trapped in perpetual “hunger.” This can even describe the addiction process.

On the collective level, I like to illustrate with politics and there is no better illustration than our current political and social polarization. To function healthily, a culture must have “conservative” forces present as well as “liberal” forces. There must be a tendency to “conserve” tradition but that tendency must be balanced by a willingness to engage with “strange” or “difference.” There must be a setting of boundaries but this boundary-setting must be balanced by a willingness to “relax” boundaries here and there. On one extreme there is stagnation and ultimate death. On the other extreme there is “change” run amok and ultimately death.

Re this dialectic of the collective noted above, there is an interesting article in today’s Washington Post newspaper. The article describes the conservative response of one Oklahoma community toward changes that seem to be threatening them. The article reported the citizenry’s anxiety, fear, and anger toward an over-reaching government, creeping socialism, and liberal values from that bastion of liberalism “up north in Norman.” But this was not a hatchet job on conservative values. It merely conveys to the reader the genuine sadness that some communities feel when their world view is perceived to be threatened. And on the same idea, you might find PBS’s American Experience from this past week as it portrays the Amish response to encroaching civilization.


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