Saturday, December 2, 2006

Identity Crisis

Implicit in much of our lives is the concept that we belong to groups that are distinguishable from, and generally better than the rest of the human population. It ignores the huge number of similarities between everyone on the planet, and usually focuses on a very small subset of common traits, values, and history. This view of the world is built into our DNA as an agent of evolution, which enabled small groups to adjust to new environments. Now, due to the ability of many of us to significantly impact the lives of most of the population, both directly and through the environment, it is at best, meaningless, and at worst, dangerous.

As an example of this, consider the workplace. Employees and managers have become practically interchangeable, and as a result, so have the technologies, products, and services they help to create. With the differences between companies and their output becoming fewer, competition has become more about quantity than quality. The increases in quantity have resulted in mountains of waste, solid and gaseous, which are now literally overwhelming the Earth’s natural systems and endangering not only us, but most of the other species on the planet.

Until recently, the largest groups people identified with were nations or religions. Each group superficially shared a common culture, ethnic heritage, or both, which its members considered superior to the others. Now an increasing, though still small number of people are identifying with the entire human species, and a few of us with the entirety of life on Earth. Groups tend to compete with each other, but when the community reaches the size of a planet, competition must be replaced by cooperation for the population to survive. The world is in the process of making this transformation, though whether it will happen soon enough to avoid catastrophe remains to be seen.

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