7. Layers of Kinship

This is the seventh of nine articles that lay out guiding, foundational principles for this project:

My own nature is a rational and a civic one; I have a city, and I have a country; as Marcus I have Rome, and as a human being I have the universe; and consequently, what is beneficial to these communities is the sole good for me.”

~Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6, Section 44

When starving, or violently attacked, one does what one must to survive, often calling upon seemingly supernatural strength and instincts.

It follows that in most cases, one will defend the well-being of one’s parents, siblings, spouse, or especially children more robustly than that of a stranger.

It further follows that the defense, love, and honor of one’s own people and culture is normal, natural, and beautiful.

I understand that well-meaning people see tribal affinities and a drawing of the lines between “us and them” as the root cause of much suffering and conflict.

It is of course possible and indeed good to see humanity as the big “us” while still maintaining the “us” of your people and culture.

Just consider the same ideas on smaller levels.

Loving one’s children does not mean one hates other, non-related children.

The world would not work if parents did not feel a burning love to rear and protect their own children, but rather, maintained an evenly spread, lukewarm affection for “all children.”

Of course, parents with children may still express a concern and love for children other than their own in varying ways. Simple as it sounds, amidst all of the current confusion, we do well to remember that different expressions of love do not negate the basic presence of love.

This is the same way that people have always lived within cultures and societies while still maintaining the tighter “us” of their immediate biological family. Here we observe how the nested levels of identity manifest in an order that ripples out from individual to family to the wider society.

There are certainly times to defend oneself, one’s family, one’s culture, one’s unique ethnicity and race if attacked. A failure to do this is a failure to live and embody the unique energies, traditions, and shared history that animate a given people.

It breaks a chain.

It fails your ancestors and your descendants.

It is a failure to love.

To let this break down because of current propaganda regarding globalism (in its negative aspects) is to lose a battle, a battle that often begins as existential rather than physical. It constitutes violence either way.

Artificially and forcefully severing natural group affinities is psycho-spiritual lobotomy.

You are the heir to the struggles and lessons of many generations. That this needs re-affirmation testifies to the havoc that modern ideologies have inflicted upon our humanity.

Life has always presented people with hardships, but the experience of meaning and fulfillment through one’s connection to the extended family of their community, people, and culture used to essentially function as a birthright.

Modern popular culture is not a substitute. Witness contemporary individuals, atomized and alienated, starving for real connection.

What about the notion of a person’s ideas (and how they live out their beliefs and ideas) taking precedence over their cultural or ethnic background?

A fuller discussion of this hearkens back to the previous post on identity.

If properly integrated into a holistic understanding of self and identity, we can see and meet another person in their fullness of character.

And we can in turn meet them in our own fullness.

Thus, we meet each other in our complete dimensions, not solely as members of such-and-such groups, while still maintaining each of our connections to our own unique ethnic and cultural lineages and experiences. Indeed, those cultural and ethnic connections function as important ingredients in an individual’s fullness of being.

Identity is multi-faceted, and when we focus too much on just one aspect of our identity, we can get distorted and lopsided.

Ideas and world views are so primary, such “first dominoes,” that they can indeed form one of the biggest “chunks” of our  identity.

But to then say that all cultural and ethnic aspects of identity are null and void goes too far, throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I could theoretically devote the rest of my life to studying and integrating Japanese culture into my mind, live in Japan, etc. but I will never, ever “be Japanese.” I am someone of European heritage, raised in the United States with a Western education. This is a world of limits, lines, and contrasts, like it or not.

We’d also do well to carefully remember that specific world views and ideas don’t just come out of nowhere. Rather, they’ve been discovered, developed, and expressed through specific groups, cultures, and peoples.

This kind of discussion about the primacy of ideas requires our caution. While important, such a discussion can easily slip into overly-theoretical meanderings, and thus useless and perhaps even damaging conclusions. This owes to the fact that similar ideas can still express differently through different people.

Even basic, unifying absolutes must find specific expressions through specific cultures in specific times–something to be celebrated and cherished.

Furthermore, in keeping with one of the main themes running throughout all of these articles: we run into dangers when we isolate just one part of identity while forgetting about its interdependence with the other parts of our identity.

Considering identity as a holistic system is vital. All aspects of our identity play a role, one doesn’t negate another.

While we may temporarily focus on this or that aspect of identity during a discussion, we must ultimately place it back within the swirl of all the other aspects that comprise our identity.

These varying aspects of identity ultimately congeal to form the “recipe” of one’s self-understanding and orientation towards the wider world.

In dealing with other groups and cultures who exhibit marked differences from one’s own, there are of course times to extend olive branches, kindness, charity, and friendship to these “others.”

That is, as long as they demonstrate potential for reciprocity and their own attempts at understanding.

The failure to do this, just like the failure to defend your own culture at appropriate junctures, is also a failure of our humanity and love, just with wider implications.

Indeed, many peoples are currently being artificially turned against one another, baited into new cultural and racial conflicts. Sometimes this occurs under the surface-level guise of goodwill. We must be smarter than that, we must be better than that.

As the final foundational article on Love will expand upon, it is possible to “love humanity” without getting hoodwinked.

Without losing yourself.

Without letting violence in through the back door.

And without losing your connection to the people and civilization that birthed you.

Having said that, it still stands that those who claim there are “no others” are clinging to a fallacy.

There has never existed a wholly self-contained, abstract human individual, bereft of any influence, hermetically sealed off from the time and place and context of that individual’s birth and rearing. This notion flies in the very  face of what it means to be human.

We are not just animals, of course… but we are also not angels, floating concepts, incorporeal.

The trick is to live in this world of contrasts without letting the contrasts consume you.

To appreciate differences without lashing out and trying to make everyone and everything else like you…nor giving in and letting yourself be molded and pushed around by everyone and everything else.

A good question to ask oneself each day, a question for the person who wants to live as a whole human, is

“what can I do today that is good for:

myself
my family
my community
my nation/people
humanity
the planet
and Life itself?”

Sometimes, we can find ways to address all simultaneously. What a thought.

But recognize that in cases of being attacked (physically or existentially), you indeed still help and still love “humanity” at large by specifically defending your own native interests, your people, your patch of the garden.

Sometimes, someone else decides you’re their enemy, whether you like it or not.

This concludes the seventh of nine foundational articles for this project. The next article in this series is A Taxonomy of Feelings.