EGO: the origin of division
“Ego is the biggest enemy of humans.”
In a previous post, Alienation & violence (read it here), I discussed the causal link between, well, alienation and violence.
Now I want to talk about the link between EGO and alienation.
What is EGO?
There are so many different meanings and interpretations of what ego is. For the purposes of this discussion (and indeed, this blog) this is how I define Ego, in two parts:
1) Firstly, it is the strong identification with a stream of thought (I was told recently some new-age author has described it as such. I assure you this is merely a coincidence!)
2) Secondly, it is the belief that we are somehow separate and better than another (or others) on this planet. Over identification with a stream of thought will often lead to this.
So, when I say ego, I am not merely talking about vanity, or someone who is overly proud. I am talking about the base thought processes that cause us to view others as inferior or superior, and ourselves – or our groups, ‘tribes’ – as separate entities with little to no common ground with those that are… different.
Turn on any form of media and you will see and hear constant appeals to our Egos. Our mass culture seemingly thrives off it. Advertisers move certain types of products by telling us that we will be better than someone else, or at least feel better than someone else, if we buy them. Free-to-air public affairs programs tell stories entirely in black and white, with clearly delineated good guys (‘us’ – the loyal viewers of these programs) and bad guys (‘them’ – dodgy salesman, bad landlords, ‘bureaucrats’, foreign companies, immigrant taxi drivers, et cetera). Various subcultures are all about ego tribalism, defining the group, the ‘us’ as different to everyone else. Some weeks ago I watched a debate between a religious fanatic, who believed himself to be superior because of his faith, and a proud atheist, who saw himself as superior because of his thought processes, that he clearly deemed advanced (remember the definition: strong identification with a stream of thought). And we see ego in the modern day polarised political climate: though one might be drawn to a particular political party on principle or because of an agreement with their policies, there’s then a tendency by some to view opposing political parties and the people who belong to them as inferior or evil (although, lets face it, they usually deserve the label ;-)).
In another previous post, People like us: media representation & social cohesion, (click and read it here, peeps!) I referred to the 2005 Cronulla riots, where a mob of white males attacked random men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. Yes, alcohol and testosterone were involved. But it was also a case of EGO (egos) in action. The males who participated had a strong identity, a strong identification with, a stream of thought, that defined them as both part of a particular victimised group, and different from another group, i.e. Middle Eastern men. The Middle Eastern males who retaliated in a similarly violent fashion also had a strong identity that defined them as the victimised group, different from the other group. No matter who was right or wrong, ego alienated both groups from each other. Hence, the discord.
Tribalism is thus pure ego. So too is racism, ideological extremist, and fundamentalist religion. Any set of beliefs that encourage adherents to view themselves as separate from others outside the group, thus alienating them from others, are totally dependent on ego for their existence.
So… what is the antidote? What is the opposite of EGO?
The opposite of ego and egotism is the understanding that we are, essentially, all the same – that underneath the chaos of life, underneath our cultural, social, and economic conditioning, underneath our education or lack of, underneath our public faces, underneath the various ego identities that we all wear like clothing to blend into various crowds… at the basest level (and in the absence of some serious mental dysfunction), we are actually all the same.
We all have fears, insecurities, and desires. Some of us are lucky enough to have hopes and dreams too.
And when our fears and insecurities are roused, we feel the same way. When our desires are not met, we feel the same way. When someone gets something that we desire, we feel the same way. When we are insulted or mistreated, or our groups, our tribes, are insulted or mistreated, we feel the same way. When the things we care about are threatened, we feel the same way.
The actions we then take as a response to these feelings in us and the thoughts they generate will depend on genetic factors, our education, personal temperament, maturity level, environment, cultural and social factors, our personal histories, and the like. But with the understanding of ‘sameness’, oneness, whatever you may call it, we can actually develop the ability to see the humanity even in those that are opposed to or very different from us. That doesn’t mean that we condone or even sympathise with what they think, say, or do – and nor should we. It simply means that we are free to not act towards them in a purely reactive fashion – as we often do with each other and, in particular, with those who are antagonistic towards us. We don’t let their actions determine our actions. We transcend the situation, transcend the divide.
It is this understanding of the sameness of people that allows us to step back and perceive the cycles of cause-and-effect that characterise so much of our interactions and lead to discord. This understanding is what I call higher consciousness, or ‘Enlightenment’.
To me, ‘Enlightenment’ is twofold:
1) the state of mind of understanding of the inherent ‘sameness’ of people… even those we don’t like or who would want to harm us. AND
2) then being able to choose the most civil way of interacting with those people, and transcending the usual cause-and-effect processes that characterise so much of human interaction, that create so many problems and so much needless angst.
So, there you have it.
Ego begets alienation, alienation begets violence.
The only lasting solution? Raising people’s consciousness.
How do we do that, in practical terms? How many ways?
That’s the million dollar question…
P.S. I was going to post this yesterday, as promised, but had some technical issues with my account, so I couldn’t post anything. Just saying 😉