Picking up the thread from We, myself and I, we are exploring an alternative understanding of who we are. We (I’d vote to include any life form capable of self-consciousness, but I’ll leave that for another time) are life becoming aware of itself. This happens through individual life forms, which exist for relatively short periods of time. But a conscious mind trying to make sense of the world while learning to function through a particular body and brain could easily confuse this individualized manifestation of life with individual existence.
It might sound a bit strange, but it is a simple, logical extension of the assumption that life is one phenomenon working itself out in the aftermath of the Big Bang. And is it really stranger than our uncritical acceptance of permanent or semi-permanent individual identity and the incredible apparatus it requires in common understanding? Magical souls that have beginnings but no end, somehow joined to us but later separated by a deity who acts now and again in magical ways while otherwise letting evolution run its course over billions of years? Or the accounting system that justice requires, which evaluates and sums every one of the zillions of acts and motives of each one of the billions of people past, present and future?
This isn’t a proof or an argument. I am suggesting we step back and take a new look at our concept of self. The alternative understanding proposed here might seem a strange fit, but perhaps that is like the chafing of a new shoe or the ache of a muscle we haven’t exercised in a while. What if it could lead to simple, logical ways of understanding foundational concepts such as justice and love? There is more to say on the self, but maybe it would be good to see what happens when we apply what we have talked about so far. So let’s look at justice.
Simply put, I have as many reasons as I need to advance my interests over yours by whatever means I deem necessary if I see you as disconnected from me, as other. The religious sense of people as brothers and sisters, or as children of God, and the humanist concept of mutually advantageous cooperation both attempt to bridge the divide of self-interest, but with obviously limited success. Certainly they work in some cases, but these scattered awakenings are too few and far between to impact human society on the scale needed to chart a new path of partnership with life.
On the other hand, if the very concepts of self and other are based in error, in self-delusion, then no one has any reason, let alone any right, to take more than an equal share of what life has to offer. And the same goes for a community or nation. If self-interest expands to include the unity of life, the one and only self, then justice reduces to reality. And the Golden Rule reduces to fact: What you do to others you do to yourself.
If a person harms another or the natural world, that person actually is harming life, including himself or herself. There is no need for appeal or judgment. Justice simply comprises the consequences of actions, whether or not they are seen to rebound on the actor primarily responsible.
You might object that this still ignores the “injustice” of natural disasters, for example, or of birth defects. But since there are no ultimately separate individuals, no one is the victim of injustice. There is pain, but properly understood and felt we suffer as a whole. Just as we feel the pain when someone close to us, someone we identify with, is involved in tragedy, so we will feel the pain of the world – and respond to it – if we stop isolating our selves from it.
This sensitivity could be overwhelming for an individual, but this comes from grasping only part of the reality. An expanded sense of self must identify with the totality of life – birth as well as death, creation as well as destruction. Hinduism preserves great wisdom in the dance of Shiva, which symbolizes creation as well as destruction.