Saturday, November 27, 2010


This is going to be complex.
One of the tenets of Conflict Communications is that people belong in groups.  We are all members of at least one and usually many groups.  Whether that is a tribe, a school, a tradition, a family, a club, a profession or something else.  People don't survive well on their own-- either physically or psychologically.

Groups have rules.  You can call them mores (pronounced moray, like the eel) if you want to go all anthropological/sociological.  A group without rules isn't a group. NOT because rules are the bedrock of social control but because rules are the bedrock of identity.  Dietary laws may or may not have had survival value in the past.  The fact that they continue even when they do not is a sign that their primary value is one of identification.

There is no identification value in common sense.  Any society that survives will value, for instance, trust within the group and productivity.  No society will survive that doesn't value self-preservation (and this is one to look at because what someone says they value or what a group honors, like martyrdom, doesn't actually happen all that often.  The words and the music of many cultures are not truly in accord.)

This means the identity value is in the silly stuff-- the stories and myths and ritual.  A Christian is not defined as someone who is meek and kind to others and honors his parents.  A Christian is defined by the belief that a man-god got nailed to a Roman torture/execution device and quit being dead three days after being buried.  

You can follow every law and rule and live with what people might call perfect Christian ideals, but if you don't believe that piece, you can't be a member of that group.

So every group has mores that are arbitrary if not down-right weird, because those are where the group identity rises.

And this is where the edge-walkers come in.  I can't speak for everyone, but one of the things about almost dying is the way it clarifies things.  Lots of things are bullshit and once you see that, once you see the value of breathing when someone has tried hard to stop you AND you see the inevitability of the end-state of not breathing, your identity doesn't come from labels and rituals.  Maybe, in the end, your identity doesn't even need to be.

So loving your neighbor makes sense, because there is only so much time to get loving in... but heaven doesn't matter.  Heaven is not good or bad or true or untrue.  Heaven DOES NOT MATTER.  The rituals and the myths do not matter.  If I like you, what do I care about the patch on your shoulder or which party you vote for or where your ancestors came from?  If your waiken has forbidden you from eating birds, other than some menu switching, your myths don't affect my friendship (or dislike) for you.

When the edge-walker gets to this understanding, he is neither fish nor fowl.  He does fit into a tribe, in his own mind.  He values what he values- the good works and the people themselves.  He does the right thing.  He will give his life to protect these people, myths and all, and will not feel slighted or ashamed to do it.  He is one of them, on a deeper level than they can probably feel because it is not a matter of ritual and the random chance of birth.  The edge-walker chooses.

But he will no longer be accepted as one of them.  Without the rituals and the myths, the trappings, he cannot be identified.  "Because he serves us and will die for us does not mean that he is one of us."  He hears it rarely, but sees it again and again.  This is the separation, one of the most unexpected and disturbing things if you spend too much time on the edge.


Kai Jones said...

The described path is not the only way to the described identity.

I think you're overgeneralizing. People don't have the same reactions to the same experiences. Some people turn more religious after a near-death experience.

Josh Kruschke said...

I believe near death experiences only make you more of what you already are, or it breaks you. If your identity is tied to the rituals and myths, as Rory put it. Near death will ether validate or invalidate those beliefs in your mind.

Until my early 20's I felt that there was something wrong with me as it seemed everyone around me seemed to be speaking a different language. They seemed to value different things and had this need to belong to the group even at their own expense. You want a crash course in group dynamics join the military. I survived it barely, but with a compulsive need to beable to live and function in society.
I still get the urge to go Jeremiah Johnson. I'm at the point now where I'm pretty good at fitting in and communicating, so if they don't try to force there rituals and myths on me we're all good. I did find out that I like to talk and get to know people so maybe I'm not as independent as I onces was, but being able to step out side the group is freeing.
Sorry your posts tend to make this deluge of thoughts pop out of my head.

Bob Patterson said...


Interesting post. I know many edge-walkers who came to the edge thanks to higher education. In fact, my exposure to books and not to inmates led me to the edge. Given that you say "you can't speak for everyone" I suspect you already realize that there are many paths to the edge. However, I thought I'd clarify it for your readers.

I tend to take the evolutionary track on rules: Joining groups, creating rules, etc. increase your group's chance of survival. It's true that some rules may no longer apply. However, I think they still exist and are followed thanks to millions of years worth of genetic wiring. I do think that there is an identity component but I also tend to think it's still all wired to survival.

Tens of thousands of years worth of evolutionary development take just as many years to evolve past current wiring.

I'm over-educated, no longer religious, not a huge fan of American sports and often critical of both political parties.

Consequently this makes me a defacto outcast from many groups. Granted, I do feel good by serving others in a higher education setting. But, again, I can link it back to group survival: Imparting critical thinking skills in some small way might just help our species survive.

I will say that I know what you mean by separation. I also have to be honest and say that on some days being separated from some of the larger groups gets damn old.


Steve Perry said...

There are a lot of folks who are introverts -- non-joiners by intent, whose default tribes require minimal social effort. And those groups to which they choose to belong tend to be ones that offer a narrow range of interest. Guy who never goes anywhere except to the chess club. Or karate class. Belonged to the group for ten years, but doesn't know anybody's last name, where they live, what work they do.

The lone wolf -- and most men I know tend to feel that's who they are. Classic fortune-teller stuff -- you have a scar on your knee; you feel like an outsider. Sometimes, people don't understand you. Everybody nods.

I can put on a great show at a con, wear the lampshade, amuse the audience, but left alone, I mostly stay home, an introvert. I work alone, and if not for family and a couple of interests that require other players, I don't go out much by choice.

Thing is, I never get bored.

In a complex society, social skills are necessary, and folks who'd rather be home than out partying sometimes neglect learning the mores adequately. Routinely pissing off everybody in the room is a clue that somebody needs to be reading Miss Manners. It's a survival characteristic. If you do it and don't care? You likely have a bolt over-torqued.

Somebody who says, "Hey, I don't do all that social bullshit, I tell it like it is!" is playing a social game.

There's also a trick high-functioning sociopaths have down -- if you can't feel it, fake it, and the best of them are most adept at it. (Though that chemical thing sometimes comes in -- people tend to really like them or really dislike them at first meeting.)

Sometimes guys who have been to the mountain come back and lose a lot of bullshit. Sometimes, they don't. Dancing with Death can be addictive -- the rush of victory full of big ju-ju.

Anonymous said...

Wow, *that* hit home...

Josh Kruschke said...

Steve P.-
When you say, "non-joiners by intent," what do you mean or better yet do you think it's by conscious choice, general lack of desire to do so, both or does it matter?
I've always woundered if it was just me, and never had a forum to ask and wouldn't you know it it be over a computer sitting at my desk at home.

Steve Perry said...

If you are an extrovert, you'd rather be out with folks.
An introvert, you'd rather stay in.

The basic difference, as I understand it, is how people recharge their batteries. Extroverts hit the clubs, boogie to the max, and seem to draw energy from the people around them. My brother is such -- people used to go out with him just to watch him part. Being with people gave him juice.

Introverts tend to like it quiet and uncrowded, and they juice up better that way. Home, alone, that's their milieu of choice.

Most of us aren't completely one or the other, we tend to have bits of both, but toward the ends of the scale, that seems to be how things shake out.

Lot of mountain men, people who live in the forest or away from civilization, I expect would score higher on the introvert scale than most folks.

Most of us have enough social skills to pass for the other if need be. Johnny Carson, the comedian and talk show host was an introvert by nature, but he could entertain fine. I can sing, dance, and make a crowd laugh, but for me, it's tiring. When I'm done, I'm worn out.

People tend to go where they enjoy themselves, given a choice. Most introverts aren't big-time joiners because that requires *attendance* -- so they -- and by "they," I mean "me," -- choose the places where they go accordingly.

Josh Kruschke said...

Thanks Steve I always thought I was just lazy and I just had to push my self. I thought extroverts where just willing to put more energy into socializing never thought theyed be recharged by it.

Maija said...

Synchronicity? Words by Lui Ming this week:

"When we use the terms "ism" or "ist" we immediately forfeit the enormity of the self-existing possibilities; we discredit our completeness ... question is what is the comfort we imagine that comes from such restraint? if we see our real situation "ism" and "ist" disperse .... we need not condemn or negate these terms just relax and float out around em ... I have a great respect for what I have learned in contextual settings (isms) but the best of them point out beyond "identity" ... just as we do not need constraint - we do not need "freedom" either ... perhaps gentleness"

Anonymous said...

Much of living life is just acting on natural balances. Our efforts may be either stabilizing, or forces of change to them. At that level I think life is what we make of it. We need to just remember that in time the big world will eventually overcome any resistances and find its greater balance regardless.

Internally, the limitations of even our best definition of self can be difficult to accept. But shedding all identity having no literal meaning may be too much of a burden. People say life is about family and friends because connections are grounding. They are real experiences. We don't want to be leashed to them, but we probably do need some degree of context. There is comfort in it. It feels like control. And, so much of what unbalances people is about fear and control.

This manifests in all kinds of ways, but these seem to be root drives in people that actually hijack choice. It is ironic that the fear of not having or losing control is what might insure it is lost.
-Billy G.

ush said...

"This means the identity value is in the silly stuff-- the stories and myths and ritual"

Ever notice that the Profession of Faith (the big group number) in the catholic mass doesn't mention anything about values, morality or the like? It's the belief in a list of supernatural events that defines a roman catholic apparently.

Anonymous said...

From "Ancient Warfare" (ISBN: 978 0 7524 5471 9). It is basically a bunch of essays by academics about warfare in the Bronze Age.By Deborah J. Shepherd, The Elusive Warrior Maiden Tradition - Bearing Weapons in Anglo-Saxon Society.

"According to those,..., who have discussed the myths, world view and hypothetical culture and society of the Indo-Europeans, the warrior played a dominant role as protector of the Home territory against the outside Other. In this decidedly territorial role, the warrior was the guardian of boundaries. His place ... at the edge of the ordered community, in the face of the unknown, put the warrior paradoxically outside his own society and among or nearer to the Other. His fearsome behaviour and ritual ethic of ferocious, heedless courage made him a less than ideal dinner guest. ... In fact, the warrior was often feared and shunned by his own people, who none the less acknowledged their need of him...."

- John.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.