“Identity is dynamic, not fixed or static. It is an evolving program of inner development.”
Wayne Teasdale (The Mystic Heart)
We don't know exactly when or why human beings developed self-consciousness, but it was very early in our existence. Conscious intelligence is defined as “the ability to reason how cause and effect are related, to understand change, and to be insightful.” According to E. O. Wilson, it emerged in human beings because of the need to manage complex social situations. “...to feel empathy for others, to measure the emotions of friend and enemy alike, to judge the intentions of all of them, and to plan a strategy for personal social interactions...the human brain became...highly intelligent.”
If you study a pride of lions you will see fairly complex social interactions within a limited range. A pride orients itself around its alpha male and female. Same thing with a band of gorillas—there's the dominant silver-back, to whom everyone else defers. The rules are clear, and those who try to disturb them are punished, sometimes killed. As human beings have evolved, we have learned how manage difficult interactions without punishment, or death. If we had not developed this ability, our evolution would not have been assured. The ability to negotiate complex social interactions requires a high degree of consciousness—both of self, and of others, of conditions in the environment, and of the potential of any given situation to go one way or the other.
Identity, whether individual or national, is a fluid thing. I am not the same person I was as a child, and neither are you. To try to hold onto my childhood identity now that I am an older adult would be pathological. As we learn, as we experience the various stages of maturity, as our world reach expands, our identity changes because our consciousness changes. Our world-view changes. As a nation, we are no longer a cowboy country, we no longer have a slave-based economy, and we aren't pioneers. The country has evolved past the industrial age of cotton ginning, steam engines and open air smelting of raw ores. We are entering an age in which we do not yet know what will replace the industries of yesterday, and that is disorienting, but trying to hold onto those industries would be as unnatural as my trying to keep my childhood identity.
Greater consciousness is the way forward. Each of us must become truly self-aware, and leave behind the backward-tugging of herd mentality. So far, our evolution has been forward. Let's hope that trend continues.
In the Spirit,