Somewhere to belong

Sense of Belonging

Part of the process of defining who you are, is to find where you belong. It is ironic that after spending a whole decade trying to find your identity by struggling to belong somewhere, you find that to know who you truly are, is to know that you don’t really belong anywhere. That is, you are you; any differences or similarities that you see are only in your head. Anyone can be similar to you or different from you depending on which aspects you focus on.

A sense of belonging is a cause of many problems in the world. Some people spend their whole lives struggling to find a place to belong to, whether it is religion, nation, culture, or race. In many cases, the things that create the sense of belonging are negative aspects of being human, such as drug addictions, alcoholism, racism, and mental/physical afflictions. They tend to strengthen the sense of belonging. In a way, they have recourse in the very thing that they criticize.

Belonging is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to belong because you feel lonely, so you seek out others who share certain similarities, but on the other, you don’t want to be categorized and generalized. You conveniently switch your position depending on a merit. You want to eat your cake and have it too.


Grouping people together causes conflict

Once more, bombs rain down in the Middle East , Arabs and Jews hurl fire and murder children, the world turns pale with horror and empty words pour from televised heads–and as usual, the obvious and effective solution can never be discussed!

It’s the same with immigration, the national debt, welfare, the war on terror and all the other state-driven and media-obscured questions of the day. Obsessed by details, blind to the obvious, we are like swimmers in shark-infested waters worrying about cramps.

The saddest thing is that we know exactly how to bring peace to the Middle East –and everywhere else for that matter! Solving the problem of collective violence might have been a real head-scratcher in the Middle Ages, but it takes a truly modern education to pretend ignorance now!

It’s embarrassingly simple, of course, but you’ll wear out the batteries on your TV remote scanning for a mention of it anywhere.

What is the solution to the problem of collective violence? Why, just this:

Stop believing in groups!

“Groups” don’t exist, any more than a “forest” exists independently of the trees it describes. A “Jew” doesn’t exist. An “Arab” doesn’t exist; neither does “ Israel ” or “Muslim.” There are people and land and trees and sky. There are no “groups.”

If people surrender their moral independence to some “morally-superior” collective (or, more accurately, some madman claiming to speak for such a non-existent entity), then of course violence is the inevitable result. Irrational and collectivist moral absolutes are the fundamental WMDs of our species. Believing you are part of the “master race” because you’re Jewish, or the “chosen of Allah” because you’re Muslim, opens the path to blood, tears, flames and graves. Such delusions are both false and absolutist–the most deadly combination. Irrational moral ideals which must be enforced always end up murdering the innocent and the not-so-innocent en masse.

Beliefs that are irrational, required, universal and absolute will always put swords in the hands of men. Illogical and anti-empirical beliefs cannot be validated by external and objective factors. Two scientists who disagree on a theory can resolve their dispute via the scientific method; they can defer to logic and reproducible experiments–they do not have to bomb each other into submission. Mathematicians can disagree over a proposition, but in the end it is not personal–it is not the dominance of one over the others, but of logic and proof over one, or all.


When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

— J. Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known, pp. 51-52

Illusion of Stability

To unite is to stabilize. To divide is to destabilize. But these forces are one and the same. Because every unity is artificial, it necessitates division whenever the artificial imposition of unity contradicts reality.

A unity is formed for the sake of presumed similarities. Religion, for instance, is a constant force that unites and divides. Initially Christians were able to stay united as one, but the forces of differences within, divided them. Today we have countless divisions within Christianity. Even if we took a small church as an example, we would find divisions within it as well. Eventually we find that each individual is unique, that any similarities we see are illusionary, and that the way they are divided is constantly shifting. In the end, the act of defining differences and similarities become futile because differences cannot be defined without similarities, and vice versa.

Thus, unity is a product of practicality, not of reality. In other words, it is nothing more than a practical compromise. When this product of practically is imposed on reality as if these presumed similarities exist inherently in reality, the counter forces arise to address the discrepancies between the forced similarities and the reality. In this manner, the forces of unity and division are constantly at play. When you criticize division, you are inherently criticizing unity, and vice versa.

To unite, we need to find a fixed center. This fixed center is imaginary. A variety of things can be a center: an ideal such as Christianity, Judaism, communism, and democracy, or a person such as a politician, a spiritual guru, a rock star, and a philosopher, or an institution such as Academy Awards, Museum of Modern Art, New York Times, and MTV. These centers and their elements together form a unity of stability.

The job of an art director in an advertising agency, for instance, is not so much about knowing what is good and bad, as it is about acting as a center to stabilize the otherwise chaotic world of subjectivity. If someone can confidently say something is good, that confidence alone has value regardless of his correctness, because it has the practical purpose of stabilizing the situation. Imagine a situation where everyone says, “I don’t know about you, but I personally like it.” Nothing will ever be resolved. If someone has a certain credential (It doesn’t even matter if it means anything.), and is willing to state in absolute terms whether it is good or bad, then others can stabilize the situation by fixing him as the center. The value lies in the fact that the issue was resolved, rather than in whether it was right or wrong.

Museum of Modern Art plays a significant role as a stabilizer in the art world. Contemporary art is especially elusive and subjective, and it craves for a fixed center. The more elusive and subjective a field is, the more it needs a fixed center to stabilize. Art criticism flourished in the 20th century because of its power as a stabilizing center. Most modern artists play within this structure of a center and its elements.

For our spiritual stability we seek a center in gurus, counselors, teachers, religious figures, or even rock stars. When we are unstable spiritually, we feel like a floating cork in the ocean, aimlessly getting pushed around by the waves. We despair over our failure to impose our own will on reality. We want to control where we are going and ultimately where we are staying. When we see a buoy, we are instantly attracted to its apparent stability. We want to use it as a fixed center to stabilize ourselves. So we hold on to it. Sadly, sooner or later, we realize that the buoy is not anchored to anything either. We then look for some other buoy that seems to be more stable, only to find that it too is floating like everything else.

Whether it is between art director and designers, New York Times and its readers, or Museum of Modern Art and fine artists, this imaginary structure of a center and its elements is mutually dependent. We commonly perceive the center to be the stabilizing force for its elements, but it goes the other way around as well; the center too depend on its elements for its stability. A spiritual guru needs his followers. MoMA needs artists to give it a certain amount of authority by being its elements. New York Times needs its readers to give it a certain amount of credibility to be successful.

Ultimately this imaginary structure stems from the schism of our perception between the world and the “I”. This schism is what allows all differences and similarities to be perceived. It seduces us to define what this “I” is, but it is impossible to define what it is without defining what the world is. That is, the “I” is what the world is not. Every time our definition of the world changes, our conceptions of who we are change, and vice versa. This schism is, like everything else, a binary pair that is dynamically and constantly shifting like a yin and yang symbol. It makes us play the game of stabilizing and destabilizing. And, it unnecessarily causes us to struggle and suffer.

In order to stabilize the “I”, we must stabilize the world, but this battle is destined to fail. The problem lies not in the instability of the relationship between the world and the “I”, but in the schism itself. Since one can be defined only by the mutual exclusivity of the other, the difference exists and does not exist at the same time. The Zen expression, “All is one,” is quite true in this sense.

See also

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