Monday, May 28, 2012

Identity and Purpose

This Memorial Day is one of the few opportunities for people in the United States to bond as a community to thank other members of their community – posthumously – for sacrificing their lives for us all. It is particularly meaningful, since that sense of being part of a larger group with a common identity and purpose seems to be under assault.

The diversity of cultural background in this nation has always been as problematic as it is celebrated. Merging different values and backgrounds requires a willingness to learn and compromise our own, which can be particularly difficult for a sizable fraction of any population that is easily stressed by unpredictability.

Lacking sufficient identity, a common purpose can unite people – at least until the purpose is reached. Eliminating a threat is one such purpose, but the threat must be recognized as such by everyone to be an effective uniter. Wars define a society in this way as long as the memory remains, which holidays like Memorial Day are a means of assuring.

Communications and transportation technologies have enabled diverse people from around the world to get to know each other, promoting among many a common identity as part of the human species. It has promoted in others a desire to take advantage of a unique opportunity to collect and exercise huge amounts of personal power over the rest of the population.

Complicating this dichotomy is a set of natural resource crises that threaten the livelihoods of large parts of the human population, many of them precipitated by the dumping of astronomically large amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Mass movements of people will almost inevitably result, threatening the existing socio-economic power structure and potentially leading to far more wars than what we're used to. This will happen if we don't all embrace our species identity and adopt a common purpose of distributing power so everyone can at least meet their basic needs and stop contributing to the core problem: creation of waste faster than it can be reprocessed into something useful – if at all.

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