I and Thou

Close Relationships

Shared Consciousness

The notion of a self alone is popular but individuality is more of an illusion than a fact. A sense of a common or shared consciousness pervades individual consciousness. Each human is born with a deeply imbedded sense of social involvement. Each human will bond to parents, siblings and a few other individuals. Each human will seek affiliation with other humans and will select a few among many to be intimates and close associates. Each human will exploit, avoid or reject others who are not close associates.

Human tendencies were not invented by society and are not going to change until the construction of the human brain changes. The mind of each human is mapped into the minds of other humans and the dominant experiences of each human are observing others, desiring the company of others, working with others, playing with others, feeling others, talking to others, thinking about others, dreaming about others, strategizing about others, conflicting with others, loving and hating others, making love to others, missing others when they are gone.

The challenge of really understanding how humans operate has been taken up by numerous individuals and many modern disciplines. No idea of human society can be correct if it ignores human social continuity with all other living creatures. Modern humans tend to emphasize individual thought and expression; however, thinking is a group activity. Speech connects individuals in to “thinking” groups. Written publications link large numbers of humans in common patterns of language-dependent thinking. Movies and television link even larger numbers of people in visual action sequences that simulate real experiences. Electronic media collect individuals into a “global village,” offering a variety of human expressions than they would not encounter in their local village. The new interplay between local and global references is a novel determinant of human conduct.

An individual often has the impression that he or she is acting alone, and may incorrectly take credit for the knowledge he or she obtains from literature, radio, television, movies and public discourse. While speech and written language can facilitate, enhance and accelerate group thinking, language comes complete with assumptions that are often wrong and descriptions of events that may be inaccurate and misleading.

The human tendency is to suffer loneliness and to become despondent or suspicious and hostile when alone for extended periods. Paradoxically, the path to enlightenment involves going beyond this innate need for others to pass though states of declining dependency toward a healthy and sane independence.

One of the main struggles of human existence is between self-interest and group interest; between bonding, belonging and being a free independent spirit. There is no final resting-place for humans because this dialectical struggle between alone and together is a tense interaction that dominates the human experience everyday of every life.

Humans are social animals and generally depend on each other to provide context and meaning. "Thinking" is largely talking, a social activity. Isolated individuals with talk to themselves and will tend to lose track of what is important and real without interactions with others. Humans interact continuously and although they may not agree with one another, still seek and require consensus about what is real and true.

Humans build a culture from sharing experiences and reporting conscious experiences. Culture has simple roots - the interaction of humans in small groups and the interaction of groups. The complexity grows as the numbers and variety of groups proliferate, the rules of conduct multiply. In a modern urban society, access to life’s essentials involves increasingly complex interactions with others. Humans have a deep tendency to form groups, to develop and defend boundaries and to treat outsiders as enemies. All groups have interests, privileges and costs of membership. All groups have hierarchies and competition for privilege and prestige. Membership in a group is a high priority for every human and isolation from a group is aberrant or symptomatic of psychopathology.

Loneliness is suffering, and remedies for loneliness are highly valued. Although there is a strong drive in humans to feel free and independent, freedom usually means loneliness and the drive to be accepted into a group is stronger than the drive to be free. A human tendency is to suffer when alone and to become suspicious and hostile when alone for extended periods. The strongest drive is to have a deep bond with one person, the soul mate, lover and custodian. Devotion frees.

The dialogue between good and bad in human affairs is constant, predictable and universal. Moral behavior turns out to be as innate as immoral behavior. Religious, political and legal organizations assume moral authority to proscribe those attitudes and behaviors, which are innate but undesirable. Rules are often arbitrary and enforcement requires punishment for breaking the rules. The essential task is to encourage members not to harm other members of the group. There are different levels of harmful consequence from attacking a person’s social status and pride to killing them.

The ideals of unconditional love and perfect tolerance professed by some religious organizations are difficult to achieve and are associated, in practice, with contradictory results. Religious groups routinely generate prejudice, discrimination and harmful behaviors. Faith is commitment to the beliefs of one group only. Members of other groups who do not share your faith are aliens and usually become enemies. Enemies are outsiders who threaten the security and well being of group members. People with a strong sense of group membership will exaggerate the value and relevance of faith and tests of faith are used by religious groups to separate true members from impostors. Faith is often described as desirable and virtuous by group leaders, but the faith of one group will often lead to the death and destruction of another group.

  • The book, I and Thou, focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others and are distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways. The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and fun.

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