Unify Individual & Collective Wellbeing

Conceptualizing Unified Cultures

Uni­fi­ca­tion, in its true sense, does not dull or sup­press, but rather hon­ors the fullest expres­sion of diver­si­ty. The ways in which we each uni­fy the dif­fer­ent parts of who we are—our aspi­ra­tions, lim­i­ta­tions, and realities—and weave them togeth­er defines who each of us are as indi­vid­u­als.

Though we might not always be aware, we are indeed all inte­grat­ed with­in a state of inter-being. The more we fail to notice the ever-present inter­con­nect­ed­ness of life, the more we mis­take our place on this plan­et. One of the great­est errors we as humans make is to see our­selves as sep­a­rate from nature. This sense of sep­a­ra­tion can have dras­tic con­se­quences.

E pluribus unum / One from many

There are two dif­fer­ent ways of regard­ing rela­tion­ships: either through a lens of atom­iza­tion or through the per­spec­tive of holis­tic inte­gra­tion. In soci­ol­o­gy, atom­ism refers to a frame­work in which the indi­vid­ual is the pri­ma­ry unit of analy­sis by which every­thing else is under­stood. In con­trast, holis­tic inte­gra­tion states that all the var­i­ous parts of a sys­tem are inter­con­nect­ed. We believe in the impor­tance of describ­ing sys­tems such that each piece of the puz­zle is acknowl­edged for its neces­si­ty. In this way, a sense of belong­ing cor­re­sponds to bal­anced inte­gra­tion and inter­re­la­tion.

The col­lec­tive requires the indi­vid­ual many times over. Con­verse­ly, the indi­vid­ual van­ish­es with­out the col­lec­tive to sup­ply con­text. Among the near­ly infi­nite expres­sions of life, the web of human activ­i­ty is dis­tinc­tive in its emis­sions of light and gas. We also sig­nif­i­cant­ly con­tribute to out­pour­ings of love, which occurs through res­o­nant con­nec­tions between indi­vid­u­als.

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all togeth­er” — John Lennon, “I am the Wal­rus”, 1967

Still from “Spa­tial Bod­ies”, AUJIK, 2016
“Hyp­no­sis”, Iris Van Her­pen

When we feel a sense of con­nec­tion, we are more in touch with our true selves. The acknowl­edge­ment that every­body is going through some great jour­ney, strug­gle, or even suf­fer­ing can serve to alle­vi­ate the heavy ten­sion that some­times dom­i­nates the thoughts of our dai­ly expe­ri­ence. We can feel ela­tion when we exer­cise our innate dri­ve to con­nect with oth­ers or with a place. Feel­ings of sep­a­ra­tion from one anoth­er and the envi­ron­ment also cut us off from our­selves. When we feel deprived of sup­port­ive rela­tion­ships, it becomes more dif­fi­cult to find mean­ing, so we sub­sti­tute mean­ing with sen­sa­tion. We end up look­ing for solace in tem­po­rary dis­trac­tion, liv­ing only for iso­lat­ed instances of sen­so­ry stim­u­la­tion. With rep­e­ti­tion of over-stim­u­la­tion, our sens­es can become dulled, leav­ing us per­pet­u­al­ly dis­sat­is­fied. In this state, we are in great need of find­ing ways to come togeth­er.

“Ulti­ma­tum”, Jake Ama­son x Zach Jack­son, 2016

Com­mu­ni­ty plays a crit­i­cal role in the devel­op­ment of unity—it’s built into the word itself. How might we con­cep­tu­al­ize and exam­ine the idea of a com­plete­ly uni­fied civ­i­liza­tion? Adopt­ing dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives than our own may help. Even shift­ing between dif­fer­ent points of view with­in our own out­look can help open our minds and modes of expe­ri­ence.

In The Prac­tice of Every­day Life, the writer Michel de Certeau describes two points of view with­in a city: that of the voyeur and that of the walk­er. The walk­er is always in the midst of expe­ri­ence. Vision is lim­it­ed to what is near­by. She or he only expe­ri­ences the sights and the sounds of what is imme­di­ate­ly in front of each step tak­en. How­ev­er, for the voyeur, expe­ri­ence is shaped by her or his van­tage point high above. From this per­spec­tive, every­thing appears more expan­sive. The voyeur is able to see what’s around every cor­ner, and over every hill. She or he can see the wider scope of our world with greater con­text, although per­haps less detail.

Each per­spec­tive holds val­ue. Where­as the walk­er expe­ri­ences the imme­di­a­cy and inti­ma­cy of life down on the street, the voyeur’s posi­tion allows for a view of how the city is orga­nized on the whole, and pro­vides insight into the inner work­ings of gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions. Yet, isn’t the wis­est option to find a way to expe­ri­ence both per­spec­tives? We believe that only by hav­ing first-hand expe­ri­ence as both a walk­er and a voyeur can one real­ly under­stand how best to maneu­ver the var­i­ous inter­con­nect­ed facets of con­tem­po­rary life.

Unify Individual & Collective Wellbeing

Difference Enriches Interactions

Uni­fi­ca­tion need not imply uni­for­mi­ty. What are the prin­ci­ples that will enable all peo­ple every­where to be val­ued for their unique gifts?

“Always remem­ber that you are absolute­ly unique. Just like every­one else.”— Mar­garet Mead

“Uni­ty in diver­si­ty” is a mil­len­nia-old con­cept, although, it could be said that it has nev­er been more impor­tant to under­stand it than today. Glob­al­iza­tion, for bet­ter or worse, has shrunk the world, and the state of our future depends on our abil­i­ty to cre­ate a uni­fied human response to the prob­lems we face.

Sufi schol­ar Ibn Ara­bi, born in the 12th cen­tu­ry, wrote on the idea of a “uni­ty of being”. This meta­phys­i­cal world­view posi­tions God as the one truth, the sin­gle enti­ty that defines all real­i­ty. All oth­er beings or beliefs emerge from this God as a sin­gu­lar source of life. All diver­si­ty is con­sid­ered to be root­ed in this essence, count­less valid expres­sions spring from this one, sin­gle truth. At the risk of appro­pri­at­ing and dilut­ing a rich cor­pus of philo­soph­i­cal thought, adopt­ing this idea may prove help­ful to over­come the chal­lenges of widen­ing dis­par­i­ties in mod­ern glob­al­ized soci­ety.

The bold vision of team­work, we believe will empow­er all who par­tic­i­pate, relies on a rad­i­cal diver­si­ty of skills, per­spec­tives, and iden­ti­ties. Humans have the capac­i­ty to over­come lin­guis­tic rel­a­tiv­i­ty by learn­ing more lan­guages and by becom­ing more famil­iar with oth­er cul­tures. An old east­ern Euro­pean proverb imparts, “The more lan­guages you speak, the more human you become.” The more we can each embrace and incor­po­rate diver­si­ty into our own lives, the more we will con­tribute to a more diverse, and whole­some, net­work of inter­ac­tions.

We are always in flux. Change is still our most reli­able con­stant. And with change will come con­flict. But con­flict is not to be feared. Con­flict cre­ates oppor­tu­ni­ty for the emer­gence of points of view that did not pre­vi­ous­ly have a plat­form. The clash between dif­fer­ing points of view can come to define cul­ture and help us under­stand his­tor­i­cal moments. We will like­ly nev­er elim­i­nate con­flict. It might even be occa­sion­al­ly nec­es­sary. But con­flict can be dealt with pro­duc­tive­ly if we accept that it is the means by which new modes of think­ing and liv­ing can come to be.

The basic build­ing blocks of human life are all the same, no mat­ter who you are or where you come from. We each need clean air and water, nutri­tious food, suit­able shel­ter, and authen­tic human con­tact. And cru­cial­ly, we all need the plan­et in a healthy state in order to con­tin­ue to help pro­vide us with these neces­si­ties. But beyond these base needs, we have more high­er-lev­el pri­or­i­ties like: the need to feel under­stood, to be loved, to be respect­ed for who we are, and to live in align­ment with our per­son­al val­ues. At our most fun­da­men­tal lev­els, we share these uni­fy­ing require­ments of our being. All diver­si­ty of view­points ulti­mate­ly emerges as inter­pre­ta­tions of these shared needs.

Some­what counter-intu­itive­ly, some uni­for­mi­ty is required to pro­tect diver­si­ty. Intu­itive­ly, we under­stand that all peo­ple must have equal rights, equal oppor­tu­ni­ties, and equal free­dom from oppres­sion to ade­quate­ly thrive. Even more para­dox­i­cal­ly, some forms of intol­er­ance must be main­tained in order to main­tain tol­er­ance. The need to be intol­er­ant of those who advance intol­er­ant ideas was explained by philoso­pher Karl Pop­per in his 1945 work, The Open Soci­ety and its Ene­mies. With­in its pages, Pop­per wrote:

Walthers Man­u­script, intend­ed as a sci­en­tif­ic text­book for monks, c.a 1200

“If we extend unlim­it­ed tol­er­ance even to those who are intol­er­ant, if we are not pre­pared to defend a tol­er­ant soci­ety against the onslaught of the intol­er­ant, then the tol­er­ant will be destroyed, and tol­er­ance with them. ” — Karl Pop­per

While sup­port­ing the use of ratio­nal argu­ment as the first line of defense against intol­er­ant ideas, Pop­per con­cedes that respond­ing with force can become nec­es­sary if the intol­er­ant group in ques­tion have them­selves denounced the prac­tice of ratio­nal argu­ment and begun to use vio­lence.

Despite all the vari­ance in our expe­ri­ences and per­cep­tions, we can still gen­er­al­ly find a way to con­nect to each oth­er on a human lev­el. We all have to fig­ure out how to make our indi­vid­u­at­ed, and ever-chang­ing, thoughts and inten­tions work in har­mo­ny with one anoth­er, so we’re not in a con­stant bat­tle zone of con­flict­ing pat­terns.

Var­i­ous ways of con­struct­ing and inter­pret­ing real­i­ty show us the incred­i­ble vari­ance of the human con­di­tion. To be a human is to be a tiny dot on an immense­ly, vast spec­trum of expe­ri­ence. The entire human species itself rep­re­sents anoth­er dot on an even larg­er spec­trum of being that stretch­es through time and space. To hold that truth in your brain is one step toward a greater tol­er­ance for oth­ers. This acknowl­edge­ment of uni­fi­ca­tion through dif­fer­ence might help ease the ten­sions that arise when our unique dif­fer­ences come into con­flict with one anoth­er.

17th cen­tu­ry illus­trat­ed ver­sion of “Mar­vels of Things Cre­at­ed and ­Mirac­u­lous Aspects of Things Exist­ing”, Zakariya al-Qazwi­ni
“Liv­ing Pho­tographs”, fea­tur­ing 18,000 peo­ple, Mole & Thomas, 1915
Unify Individual & Collective Wellbeing

Individual & Collective Ecosystems

Rugged indi­vid­u­al­ism might be a roman­tic notion, but ulti­mate­ly a lone­ly one. At a time in which the glob­al pop­u­la­tion is climb­ing toward nine bil­lion, there’s not a lot of room to be alone. All the more rea­son to learn how to live togeth­er and hon­or uni­ty with­in mul­ti­plic­i­ty.

“You are not just a drop in the ocean, you are the mighty ocean in the drop.” — Rumi

The ancient African con­cept of ubun­tu can be trans­lat­ed to, “I am because we are”. This con­cept acknowl­edges the one­ness of all that exists in var­i­ous states of rela­tion­ships. We are also well served to remem­ber that we, as indi­vid­u­als, are actu­al­ly many peo­ple at once. We can vary accord­ing to the state we’re in at any giv­en moment. And that, like a crys­tal, each facet of a mul­ti-dimen­sion­al per­son is vital to the over­all integri­ty of the indi­vid­ual.

In the nov­el, A Wrin­kle in Time, the book’s vil­lain is IT, the hive mind that cor­rects all behav­ior that devi­ates from the estab­lished norm. This aban­don­ment of self, and total sub­mis­sion to anoth­er author­i­ty, is a peren­ni­al threat to each of our right­ful claims of author­i­ty over our own lives. Any coer­cive means of sub­ju­gat­ing indi­vid­u­als to the con­trols of an exter­nal force—whether reli­gious, gov­ern­men­tal, or otherwise—is, with­out excep­tion, wrong. Indi­vid­u­al­i­ty is beau­ti­ful and bio­log­i­cal­ly nec­es­sary. Our lives can, and should, have many par­al­lels to the lives of oth­ers but, at the end of the day, we must ulti­mate­ly con­tin­ue along our indi­vid­u­at­ed jour­neys as dis­tinct waves of ener­gy.

We feel it’s impor­tant to dis­cern the sig­nif­i­cance of the indi­vid­ual in a right­ful con­text of the col­lec­tive. Free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism is quite con­tra­dic­to­ry in its treat­ment of the indi­vid­ual. As a the­o­ry, it con­cep­tu­al­izes us all as lit­tle autonomous units, mak­ing ratio­nal choic­es in our own self-inter­est. How­ev­er, this is illu­so­ry. Con­sumer choice is not indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. We are grant­ed a par­a­lyz­ing­ly vast range of choic­es with­in a suf­fo­cat­ing­ly small range of expe­ri­ence. Often, our mode of liv­ing is large­ly dic­tat­ed from above by the insti­tu­tion­al forces that con­trol the flow of cap­i­tal.

The “sov­er­eign con­sumer” was a term ini­tial­ly pro­posed in 1936, by econ­o­mist William Harold Hutt, sug­gest­ing that the ulti­mate source of author­i­ty over the mar­ket should be the indi­vid­ual choic­es of con­sumers. In this frame­work, the con­sumers are the “boss­es” and they shape soci­ety by vot­ing with their mon­ey, there­by par­tic­i­pat­ing in a per­ma­nent elec­tion. His­to­ri­an Niklas Olsen deems the idea of the sov­er­eign con­sumer as the key actor of neolib­er­al­ism. But the prob­lems with this idea are fair­ly evi­dent. First of all, any sys­tem that equates an unequal­ly dis­trib­uted resource (mon­ey) with vot­ing, is inher­ent­ly unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic. Sec­ond­ly, nobody is born a nat­ur­al par­tic­i­pa­tor in a mar­ket. They are taught the rules and the restric­tions accord­ing to a cer­tain order estab­lished long before they came into the world. Main­te­nance of a mar­ket order implies a type of coer­cion, most often per­pe­trat­ed by those who ben­e­fit most from it.

“The Great Bar­ri­er Reef of Aus­tralia”, William Sav­ille-Kent, 1893

Orga­niz­ing our­selves around the prin­ci­ples of mutu­al aid is a way to rec­on­cile indi­vid­u­al­i­ty with col­lec­tiv­i­ty. Mutu­al aid describes a form of vol­un­tary exchange between par­ties in which all involved reap the ben­e­fits. Basi­cal­ly, mutu­al aid means coop­er­a­tion. We can con­sid­er it the polar oppo­site of com­pe­ti­tion, the defin­ing fea­ture of today’s econ­o­my. There are sev­er­al pre­req­ui­sites to allow this type of unmedi­at­ed coop­er­a­tion to func­tion well through­out soci­ety. There must be no insti­tu­tion­al­ized pow­er imbal­ance. There must be no prof­it motive, in which one par­ty accu­mu­lates more resources to the detri­ment of the oth­er. It must occur in a con­text in which basic needs and civ­il rights are guar­an­teed to all. And final­ly, all par­tic­i­pants must be free to rep­re­sent them­selves in the demo­c­ra­t­ic process, as well as be giv­en equal foot­ing to do so.

Peo­ple would be free to live as they pleased, pro­vid­ed they do not infringe upon the rights of oth­ers. “Do no harm” is espe­cial­ly applic­a­ble as a mode of con­duct in a soci­ety orga­nized by mutu­al aid. Freed from coer­cion, all human activ­i­ty would be tru­ly vol­un­tary. The rights of the indi­vid­ual could be ful­ly expressed with­in this col­lec­tive con­text. Work­ing hours would be based upon need, not inflat­ed to trig­ger growth. And all peo­ple would have real auton­o­my over how they choose to spend their valu­able time.

Rick reads a breakup let­ter from Uni­ty, his hive­mind lover—Rick and Morty S02 E03

Coop­er­a­tion is by far humanity’s great­est strength. There is no aspect of cap­i­tal­ist com­pe­ti­tion that could not be achieved just as well through coop­er­a­tion. Russ­ian sci­en­tist and rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Peter Kropotkin, inter­pret­ed the evo­lu­tion­ary con­cept of “sur­vival of the fittest” from a per­spec­tive that takes “fittest” to mean “most skilled at coop­er­a­tion”. He argued that this skill amongst com­mu­ni­ties of ani­mal species has his­tor­i­cal­ly been the great­est indi­ca­tion of suc­cess­ful sur­vival and devel­op­ment. We have an innate tal­ent for coop­er­a­tion, but have orga­nized our econ­o­my in a way that makes it dif­fi­cult to prac­tice. Rela­tion­ships based on mutu­al aid have been inte­gral to our eth­i­cal evo­lu­tion and have the great­est poten­tial to pro­pel us ever fur­ther. We can ele­vate the impor­tance of indi­vid­u­als by sit­u­at­ing them with­in strong and sup­port­ive col­lec­tives.

Ron Cobb, Los Ange­les Free Press, 1969
Unify Individual & Collective Wellbeing

Cohesive Specialization

Spe­cial­iza­tion allows us to bet­ter under­stand nuances and speci­fici­ties, but when it comes to areas of study, we can become ensnared in that lev­el of detail. Work­ing across dis­ci­plines is nec­es­sary to achieve a holis­tic out­look. Make sure to share what we find inspir­ing, learn from oth­ers, and learn more about our­selves.

Con­tem­po­rary soci­ety is shaped by hyper-seg­men­ta­tion. Sharp lines are drawn between roles, work is com­part­men­tal­ized into dis­tinct silos. In the search for effi­cien­cy and order, tasks are bro­ken into small divi­sions and addressed indi­vid­u­al­ly while human activ­i­ty is divid­ed into parts, with each per­son respon­si­ble only for a nar­row­ly defined task. The unbe­liev­able com­plex­i­ty of our glob­al orga­ni­za­tion neces­si­tates some form of divi­sion and spe­cial­iza­tion of labor, but this comes with draw­backs. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion between dis­ci­plines is often lim­it­ed, and a holis­tic under­stand­ing of the greater whole some­times becomes dif­fi­cult to see.

The sto­ry of the blind men and the ele­phant tells the tale of the dif­fer­ent respons­es that sev­er­al blind men have when they’re forced to touch this unsee­able ani­mal for the first time. With­out the sense of sight, the men instead explore the ani­mal pri­mar­i­ly through their touch, each one in turn declar­ing their con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of an ele­phant based on the small part of the larg­er whole that they’re touch­ing. One, as he holds the creature’s trunk. declares it to be sim­i­lar in nature to a snake. Anoth­er runs his hands over the elephant’s broad flank and deduces that it must be akin to a wall. This con­tin­ues, until all have deliv­ered their con­flict­ing state­ments based on their cor­re­spond­ing inter­ac­tions with var­i­ous body parts of the ele­phant. The dis­agree­ments between the men esca­late, in some tellings ris­ing even into phys­i­cal vio­lence, as each of the men find them­selves unable to rec­on­cile the oth­ers’ con­clu­sions with their own expe­ri­ence.

Satyam Bhuyan, 2019
Holi fes­ti­val, Jen­nifer Latu­perisa-Andresen, 2016

This sto­ry can be tak­en to illus­trate a range of insights into human nature. At its most basic, the mes­sage is: it is impos­si­ble to under­stand the whole of a thing by look­ing at only one of its parts. None of the men are strict­ly wrong, but their sub­jec­tive inter­pre­ta­tions are incom­plete. Through inter­change and the direct shar­ing of their respec­tive expe­ri­ences, they would all be able to enrich their own knowl­edge. And yet, mere descrip­tions are not enough, they have to invite the oth­ers over to feel it for them­selves. We must all rec­og­nize the lim­it­ed range of what our obser­va­tion allows. In order to bet­ter grasp the mys­ter­ies of life and the tremen­dous amount we do not know, we need to work togeth­er and be open to what oth­ers are expe­ri­enc­ing.

We must all look to tran­si­tion across illu­so­ry divi­sions of craft ver­sus indus­try, of art ver­sus sci­ence ver­sus spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, or any oth­er false sep­a­ra­tion of human endeav­or. None of these divi­sions are serv­ing us as peo­ple. In fact, they’re often caus­ing us harm. Issues with over-spe­cial­iza­tion can be seen in hotbeds of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, as evi­denced by cul­tur­al fall­out from com­pa­nies in Sil­i­con Val­ley. The influ­en­tial busi­ness­es head­quar­tered there tend to lack work­ers with back­grounds in the human­i­ties, and are instead sat­u­rat­ed with employ­ees arriv­ing there from STEM fields. The tech­ni­cal bril­liance of their work­force is unde­ni­able, but scan­dal after scan­dal has shown us that includ­ing those more famil­iar with ethics and human­i­ties would help to avoid these pub­lic rela­tions dis­as­ters and rein­state pub­lic trust in these insti­tu­tions. But, at present, seem­ing­ly nobody at these com­pa­nies is voic­ing these con­cerns. Or nobody is lis­ten­ing. This prob­lem is down to the myopia of the workforce’s rel­a­tive spe­cial­iza­tions. We need to lis­ten much more and to more dif­fer­ent views. By com­mit­ting to being recep­tive to the expe­ri­ences of oth­ers, we will become more informed and insight­ful.

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