People Without Boundaries – redefining our identity

Globalization and the global community are words used to address a phenomenon causing the breakdown of geographical boundaries among the nation states of the world.   We are slow to recognize that the collapse of local borders in our community-based structures is also occurring.

As the world becomes borderless, ultimately everything we do will become borderless. Physical and geographic boundaries are becoming less important as people align more around issues than physical or geographic dimensions.  Thus, conventional approaches to association and organization are redundant and will have to be rethought, redeveloped and restructured. 

We are reaching a stage in human societal development where a new order is evolving. New forms of communities, education, economics and religions are appearing that are no longer tied to physical commodities or geographic boundaries. Technology which allows unlimited alliances is causing a shift in the context of community and its components which allowed us orderly functions.  Our sense of identity which is tied to these components and categorized by structure or geography is being challenged.  Geography and structure no longer delineate our sense of identity.

Our ability to connect or meet people with similar interests is allowing us to form communities of similar interests no matter the location of the participants. Physical structures are becoming hindrances and albatrosses to future  development because of the cost of sustaining them and the unwillingness of many to allow their collapse. People’s identity has been intertwined with the physical or geographic entity to which they relate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the farmers and fishermen/women who have wrapped their identity around their occupation which in turn is defined by physical and geographic space. Similarly, academics, clergy, state officials and many other workers and professionals have become what they represent rather than what their talents and abilities might suggest.

There is a need for us to look at the formation of present-day communities and why and how they are structured. In the case of economic communities, it could be argued that they were formed to enable people to combine efforts and support one another. For example, in farming communities people could share equipment and labour and thus become more self-sustaining.  Fishing communities were not much different in that they allowed people a support-environment to pool their activities in order to accomplish tasks too demanding for one individual.  Manufacturing communities evolved in much the same way: people congregated around the production facility in order to share in the commercial benefits that were derived from whatever commodity was produced.

Social communities evolved from people congregating for moral support, social contact or as a means to maintain ethnic origins or religious beliefs. The diversity of rural communities developed oftentimes because some of these people wanted to remove themselves from their existing social environment.

As society evolved, people recognized the opportunities that were available by combining resources to provide infrastructure and services that made life more comfortable. Communities eventually became the mechanism for the provision of basic municipal services such as common water, sewage disposal and roads. This creation of services created a need for more organized management, local government and subsequently, less direct local input.

As other forms of social communities evolved over the years to share religious beliefs, academic knowledge or more socially related issues, the tendency was always to tie communities to a physical space as a means of identity. Churches, universities, and schools and the myriad of local organizations and clubs are examples of the structures that became the medium of affiliation for identifying people’s relationships with others. These processes served as further catylsts for people to identify and attach themselves to the geographic space that was bound by whatever parameters were agreed upon or officially deemed necessary for future growth and expansion.

Academic communities are now interconnected by sophisticated communications networks. Inter-institutional sharing and learning between colleagues in similar disciplines have become the norm. Delivery by media of religious and spiritual messages has transformed our perception of religions and the role of churches. The internationalization of charitable, service and social organizations allows participation in divergent groups irrespective of where we happen to live. (People in such organizations who travel will often attend club meetings in other provinces or foreign countries to fulfil their membership obligations).

It is becoming evident that the present physical or geographic institutions are not the best mechanisms to impart knowledge, offer spiritual support, create basic infrastructure and municipal services or provide economic security. Yet many refuse to acknowledge that this diversity of information, experiences and knowledge has caused fundamental shifts in our thinking and beliefs.  A major consequence is the growing questioning of many institutions and fundamentals in our society.  The unwillingness to release ourselves from outmoded concepts and structures is jeopardizing social stabilization and bankrupting our  economies. The ensuing result is fear, uncertainty and a real quest for different mechanisms to provide stability. We may have to go back to the beginning and study why these structures were designed and to what purpose.

The ultimate fear of the unknown, inherent self-interest and the desire for comfort – all human traits – are the greatest obstacles to change of any sort. The natural tendency is to protect rather than to risk. This tendency forces us to compound pain rather than deal with it as it occurs. For most of us,  only when the pain is unbearable will we risk action, especially if we are unsure of the action or its results. That is why, ultimately, we resist changing our structures, systems and methodologies. This resistance is even more prevalent among those who achieve power over others.  Their unwillingness to share what they have becomes an obsession.  And those who have little power are unwilling to take control, often out of fear of the responsibility.  In both instances, only when the pain of their status becomes unbearable will most people take charge and realize that there are no limits except those they impose on themselves.  The unfortunate outcome is that many never take control; some of those that do, participate in activities, often illegal, which are detrimental to the whole of society.

While people strove to become more independent (often from an inherent human desire for freedom), they attempted, albeit unconsciously, to inhibit this drive, largely because people fear freedom and its ultimate responsibility. Perhaps that is why we so often endure oppression.

Physical nature is designed to be balanced, in that every action causes another action. Thus, as we take from nature’s treasures, we must endeavour to contribute something in return. Human society, being a part of this system, is no different. We are all ultimately interdependent on each other and ultimately dependent on nature. That truth does not negate using, changing, developing new means to make life more pleasurable, but it means that we have to recognize how we impact each other and our environment whatever action we take.

The reality is that humans cannot create but only change and mould what already is.  Whether these changes are positive or negative is our ultimate decision and our only ability. Any theory of economics predicated on creation of wealth is ultimately flawed. What we are actually doing is establishing artificial criteria for the measure of the commodities that we ultimately value in our society. Economics began as a mechanism to better provide people with stable food supplies. It then evolved into the provision of other useful commodities to make life easier and is now moving into providing information and knowledge. It could be argued that food and shelter in developed societies have such little value that we give it away (e.g. food banks and government supported housing). What we must realize is that people shift their economic values. Currently that shift is to information and knowledge-based commodities.  Economic theory, developed around physical commodities, is being usurped by economics based on information and knowledge – commodities which have no physical or geographic parameters.

Most conventional social theories and organizational structures tied to physical things are also flawed.  Education, once available only through institutions, is now readily accessible to all and sundry through a multitude of media.  Communities are now developing around people’s interests and concerns not necessarily related to geography.  Conventional religions with churches as their focal point are being outpaced by self-help groups, mystical gurus  and polished professional media moguls.

We have arrived at a point in history where we must revisit basic human values in order to develop methodologies which quantify what those real values now mean. What are the things in today’s society that have true value?  It is most obvious that physical commodities and physical infrastructure (e.g. real estate) are becoming less and less a measure of value. People are realizing that such things are only a means for gratification which over the long term lose their appeal and value.  Ultimately we will need to revisit history to ascertain true societal values.  Hence, our efforts must focus on spiritual (i.e. human) issues rather than physical ones.

What we may find is that the real shift began as developed countries accumulated more and more wealth – wealth which often was obtained from more disadvantaged areas.  Mechanisms had to be developed to distribute this wealth.  Initially, jobs were invented to provide a means to share this wealth, as well as a means to control how much would be shared and by whom.  As we progressed, we developed social structures to assist those not able to participate in our invented work.  People, being creative, ultimately saw these entitlements as a means to share without experiencing the pain of doing work that was often considered demeaning or demoralizing.  Eventually, we diminished the role of traditional jobs as a form of wealth distribution.  Meaningful activities for those who are aware and educated are what we now consider worthwhile jobs. The result is that the majority of jobs in society have now been created around information, public service, and finance. These are the activities on which people now place value.  The dilemma for society today is how to share the wealth with those not educated in the fields on which society has placed value.

Joblessness is becoming a real issue in most developed countries. Anger rages between those who have and those who have not. This real difficulty results from our perception of jobs and their purpose in developed societies.  Despite the fact that in recent years what people do, how they live and how they interact socially has gravitated away from physical or geographic parameters, we still envision work as a physical activity, especially, for those in society without sophisticated education. We still believe that only physical work has real value, despite the fact that most people in our world now do less and less physical work than ever before in history.  Our training schemes, make-work programs and many of our social programs are all premised on physical, not intellectual or cultural, activities.  The result is a diminishing effect on people rather than an advancement of human values, self confidence and innovation.

We must realize that we are only compounding the situation by trying to get more and more wealth from sectors that society has relegated to having the least value – natural resources, commodities and industrial production.  In essence, the shift of value from physical activities to those which are service- or information-oriented (many of which are publicly funded) has been happening over an extended period of time.  As a result of this shift in values and expectations we have generated a problem.  Social welfare, as a tool to distribute, wealth is at best ineffective and at worst creates dependency. The control has shifted from industrial and financial elites to bureaucratic elites who now control the wealth and, hence, much of the perceived power in our society.

An interesting quirk of humanity is that those who attain power are generally unwilling to relinquish it.  We have created huge public services that have lost perspective on their role. Public servants too often feel that government is about the business of maintaining their positions and status, not about serving the needs of society as a whole.

The real challenge for the nineties and beyond is the encouragement of people-participation, the provision of forums which link people with disparate interests so that real communications can take place and the legitimacy of those disparate interests can be recognized and understanding achieved.  We must provide mechanisms to allow people to understand and legitimize their own talents, skills and beliefs.  If we focus on people, their talents, capabilities, needs and ambitions, community relationships will emerge.  New methodologies and mechanisms will be required to support this fermenting milieu.  In this respect, we can note the growing trend in self-help, support and religious groups which are not tied to any conventional structure.

The challenge is to establish a process to encourage dialogue among the many diverse and disparate groups in society.  This dialogue must lead to meaningful communication, an understanding of the fundamental shifts and the need for greater empathy.  We must overcome the entrenchment of outmoded thinking, biased special interests and a fear of cultural diversity or we will face chaos, upheaval and a regression from the advances society has already achieved.

The task will be accomplished only with strong leaders who are willing to challenge and to risk and who have compassion for all involved. The process will be the same as before in history, only now the mechanisms and tools will be different.  We must realize that communications tools enable us to broaden the discussion beyond any boundaries and to cross any culture or language.

We will have to recognize our intellectual and spiritual progress, appreciating that they are inseparable. We are, indeed, approaching a new phase of consciousness in human society. Obviously not everyone is at the same level, nor likely to ever be.   But the key is to develop new mechanisms that allow learning to be shared across society. Education and the resultant wealth will have to be more evenly distributed.  We must endeavour to ensure that those less-fortunate are able to evolve to more advanced states of understanding and, subsequently, to be economically more self sufficient.

For this to happen there must be a restructuring of institutions from those that are physical and geographical to ones that are more people-centered.  This will be further progression in the historical march of humankind to more individual freedom and, ultimately, more individual responsibility.  This approach will allow people a new opportunity to deal with identity – the search of humans since the beginning of time.  It will provide an opportunity for people to tie their identities more to themselves than to physical and geographic boundaries which, as we have witnessed, can so easily can change in value. This new emphasis will shift the focus to human development in order to encompass both the spiritual and intellectual; it will provide a new economic foundation based truly on information and knowledge. This true education will possess a wealth-sharing component founded on real needs, with jobs based on meaningful experience. In this way will people be able to contribute to the betterment of society and the enhancement of the environment.

The constant march of people towards a more holistic and meaningful society may be delayed by the misdirection of those who would seek their own individual gains over the those of society as a whole; it cannot be stopped.  Far too predominant has been the suspicion (if not the belief) that humankind is motivated by self-service and greed, in effect, prone to evil. It may be instructive for all of us to understand that the inherent goodness of humanity, which is the basis for all spiritual beliefs and religious phenomena, is the value that must be restored to prominence in our search for peace, justice and prosperity.

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