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"We" | briancapleton.com

Non-Fiction

Sprituality & Transpersonal

The Nonsense Play

"We"

From the book The Nonsense Play
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It is one of the great illusions created by the greatest network of our time. The Internet. All networks create illusions. Including that network called the human brain. So the great network of all human beings, the idea of it, called "we", as an extension of "me", is a nice idea, but it is not the truth. It’s an illusion built on another illusion: the personal idea of "who I am".

The word "we" is a weasel word. And "us" is another version of it. Being a weasel word, it can fit in with anybody’s idea of "we" on the false assumption that everybody has the same idea of what it means.

In the contemporary West, there is now a new, popular version of it. The contemporary Western mind as it is now, in its contemporary idea of what it is to be a human being, has its own idea of it, meaning, pretty much, something like "we" means "everyone in the human race, who like me, is a person, who should be free to be whoever they want to be".

If you are born in the privileged West, with a modest background, modest, but not uncomfortable, it might be quite easy to identify with that idea. If you are born into a strong community, but one that has to struggle, then you are likely to feel that "we" is all people like you, who have to struggle.

If you are born with a very privileged background, then you are likely to feel that "we" is all people like you, who have the same or similar privileges. And there is a possibility that you might not even regard them as privileges.

It is not necessarily the case that when anyone uses the words "we" or "us", that they are referring to the whole human race. Not even if they think they are.

When the biologists and evolutionary scientists say "we", they probably mean "we, as an ape species, who have evolved". 

When the mafia say "we", they are probably talking about the mafia, or "the family".

When Christians say "we", they are talking either about "the family" of the Church, or about everyone having been created by God, who should turn to Jesus for salvation.

When members of other religions say "we" they are probably referring to those who are devoted to their religion.

When astronomers talk about "we", they are most likely talking about the human beings who live on this planet, as opposed to intelligent beings that they are hoping are there, living on other planets.

Often enough, when Americans talk about "we", they mean Americans.

And then of course, there is the Royal "we".

People have their own agenda for understanding what "we" or "us" means. 

The contemporary "liberal" movement also plays on this weasel word "we". It is always using it, as if its own interpretation of what it means, is the only meaning.

This particular psychological flavour and fragrance of the contemporary "liberal" idea of "we", originated in the emerging idea of individual identity and self expression, (replacing the former idea of duty) that had been brewing since the beginning of 20th century, and started to take off in the 1950s after the second world war. It started to rise out of where it had already been gestating, and then really accelerated with the new younger generation, in the 1960s. 

The fact that "we" and "us" is really about individual identity, can be seen in the inevitable, eventual, consequential rise of contemporary identity politics. This has now finally happened, and manifested through the promotion of this very idea of the universal, global, "we" and "us".

So this idea of a global "we" appears to be all about the network of all "human beings". But in psychological actuality it is still invariably an extension of, and all about the individualistic idea of "me" and "who I am". There is a sleight of mind, a misdirection going on. 

As it happens, in a very negative reflection of the same principle, the organised expression of hatred in far right politics contains a similar sleight of mind. It doesn’t contain much overt indication that behind it, is individual, personal pain. 

Of course, talking about "we" as all human beings on the planet, seems to be humanitarian, whilst the expression of far right politics doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a common, deep, psychological mechanism, behind both. Which is very much to do with what happens when you link people together, who are "like-minded", or who have a common cause.

A mechanism that actually, scientifically, comes from how the human brain is working. And is about how the same neural principles can produce different outcomes.

So on the one hand, the most modern "we" is supposed to mean the network of all human beings on the planet. But on the other hand, in the contemporary "liberal" mind, it actually still refers back to the personal idea of "me", the idea of "myself", or "who I am". Which of course, is what is behind the modern idea of identity politics. Because in order to have this flavour of the idea of who "we" are, as all human beings on the planet, in a way that hopefully will set you free as a person, you first have to have the personal idea of "me". 

And in that, the spell is cast. The first global civilisation has cast a misdirected belief, through subtle suggestion, that makes it look as though everyone on the planet, in the global network of "we", is basically the same as "me". It’s just that they are different. 

But that doesn’t mean that the old idea of a selective "we" has gone away. Because the personal idea of "me" hasn’t gone away, and it is invariably plugged into various networks, that it likes to feel it belongs to, that are a selective "we". Such as "my" race, "my" family", "my" country, "my" religion, and so on, all of which are limited, selective networks, that are not the whole global network.

And unless all these selective networks are already all in harmony with each other, then there is still going to be disharmony in "my" personal idea of "me". A disharmony that is felt, if not between "my" network and someone else’s network, somewhere, that "my" network disagrees with, then in the global network itself, to which "I" feel "I" belong. Because the global network is not free from disharmony. It never has been so far, and still isn’t, now.

The new "we" is an extension of the idea of "me". Dressed up to make it look as though it has put the idea of "me" aside, in order to be selflessly devoted to the whole, of all humanity, which is the "we".

The commonly heard assertion is that "we are all human beings". Which of course is literally true. Except that many subscribers to this idea itself, at the same time, when it suits, also subscribe to the idea that some human beings, perhaps pedophiles, or psychopaths, for example, are monsters. As the popular press would call them. So there is a flag there, that something is not quite right in the whole idea, to begin with. Because if we are all human beings, then we are all human beings, no matter who the person is.

If we want individuality, rather than say, just duty, then we are not all the same person, with the same idea of "me" and "who I am". Not even when we partially identify our personal idea of "who I am" with the idea of the global "we", of all human beings. Even when we do, it is only ever a partial identification. The individualistic idea of "me" which is always based on some selective network identity, is still there. Together with its potential for conflict with other selective network identities.

The modern "liberal" answer to conflict between cultural and racial and religious identities that are different, is a thing called "tolerance". The trouble with tolerance is that no matter how "liberal" you like to think you are, there is a limit to how much you will tolerate, whilst still clinging to the individualistic idea of "me", and the personal idea of "who I am". It is just that you might not realise it, and the test to your tolerance won't necessarily come in the form of things you think you are liberal about. It might just come simply in the form of conflict between two different persons. Yours, and someone else's. Such as between you, and your partner, or between you, and your partner's other lover. Being truly liberal isn't just a matter of accepting other persons whose differences to you are defined by the convenient set of labels that "liberal" ideology uses, such as "race" or "creed". That kind of "liberalness" is easy, because it's not truly liberal.

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Saying we are all human beings isn’t really saying anything unless you also are very clear on what the difference in meaning is, between a human being and a person. A person who wants to be free to be the person they want to be.

The subconscious new idea is that if only everybody identified with this global "we", the world would work. It would work benevolently for everyone. Because everyone would be dedicated to the common good. And everyone would be conscious of "us", so that every one of "us" can be the "me" that they want to be. This is the contemporary "liberal" dream, the "liberal" network mind’s idea of the world we are living in.

And indeed you can actually see it working, this idea, in many networks of people. This idea that you can be whoever you personally want to be, as an individual, and dedicated to your group collective at the same time. You can see it in like-minded groups of people. You can see it in any relatively small group of people who get a sense of identity from their network. 

You can see it working in a small, playground clique. A relatively small social network. But you won’t find it in any very large networks, anywhere near the size of everyone on the planet. Even if you think you have found it in a network as large as a corporation, as soon as you look to increase the size of the network, say, to the whole business world, you will then find the opposite. 

You will find competition and conflict. And there is no proper scale to this effect that you can find. The emerging trouble often appears at the level of small, social networks, and it can happen at the level of nations, and the international scene. It is scale-free. Which is a term borrowed from network science, because it is, in fact, a network effect as much as it is an effect of human nature. 

Still, the fact that you can do it in small networks, or networks smaller than the size of the whole globe, makes it look as though you should just be able to "scale it up" and make it work for the global network of all of "us". At least, it looks like that, if you don’t really understand the nature of networks. And perhaps more to the point, when you don’t really know your self, and the root mechanisms underlying your own personal "who I am" idea. The idea of "me".

It all starts with the thing most basic to human psychology - the need of identity. The need to have an idea of who you are. The "who I am" idea. Which starts, when you are very young. And there is nothing like being a member of a network, a peer-group, to give you a sense of belonging, and to fill in part of the idea of who you are. 

And so if someone offers you the idea of a group, a network that is global, to whom you can feel you belong, the principle works there too. And indeed, globally, we are all human beings. And if you love at all, then there will be something in the root of that love, that recognises our common humanity. And perhaps feels that this love should be present everywhere. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand it, or that you understand what is happening in the world, or that you understand what is happening in you. Or that you understand the nature of networks, or that you understand what is going on in humanity now, as a whole.

In a small network, the idea of "we" can work very well. You can belong to a small network, that you feel loyal to, in the spirit of "one for all and all for one". But you will notice that this motto from The Three Musketeers, was for a pretty small network, of just three.

You might be able to scale up this principle to a whole army. Even to a whole network of allies. You can scale it up to a mass movement, who can organise a protest, by communicating online. But any one of those networks actually consist of countless other networks, between which there can be conflicts. 

The problem is that you cannot scale up this principle, indefinitely, to cover the whole globe. Into this supposed global network of "we", the one that we in the privileged West think we have already found. And already understand. No mass movement of "we" ever succeeded in converting the whole globe into itself. 

But many, many people, believe in that idea now. It is part of the zeitgeist of our times. In complete ignorance of the nature of networks, and the nature of the human mind and self. But despite that ignorance, it is incredibly beguiling. Incredibly attractive, as an idea. Because actually, it is a reflection of the truth. The problem, however, is that it is only a reflection of it. And a reflection is an illusion.

We think that all we have to do now, is recognise that we are "all in this together", and work together for the good of all of "us", and then we would have solved it. We will enter a new, golden age. Everything will come together. Into a golden age in which human beings know who "we" are, and are at last responsible, responsible for "us", and for the planet.

It’s a nice idea. But unfortunately, it rests on the mistaken conviction that you can scale-up the "one for all and all for one" principle, indefinitely. Until it covers the whole globe. It rests on the mistaken idea that because we know we are all human beings, that we therefore know who we are. And it rests on the idea that you can talk about us all being human beings, as if that is something different to talking about us all being persons, without knowing the difference between a person, and a human being. 

If you believe this, then you have been suggested into believing that your pursuing your own personal idea of "who I am" can always be in harmony with a global network of everybody doing this same thing. 

And the truth is, that this idea is simply not the truth. It’s an idea that doesn’t rest on knowledge of the laws of networks, or the principles on which the human mind and self are working.

However, what you can do, is create another psychological illusion that makes it look as though you can scale up the "one for all and all for one" very fast and very easily into at least enormous networks. Huge network of "followers" or "friends" who all agree with each other, and who all "like" the same idea. Because you can do precisely that, in the new, globally connected, online world.

It is one of the great illusions created by the greatest network of our time. The Internet. All networks create illusions. Including that network called the human brain. So the great network of all human beings, the idea of it, called "we", as an extension of "me", is a nice idea, but it is not the truth. It’s an illusion built on another illusion: the personal idea of "who I am".

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