December 2, 2009

"The Death of the Old Order": Resurrection, Community, and Identity

 Every few months someone stands up in Fast and Testimony meeting to express their gratitude for their spouse who they say has made them who they are today. In the past I have interpreted this by default to mean "I really love my spouse." But lately I've thought about the phrase more literally. I have realized more and more that who I am, my identity itself, is wrapped up tightly with my own spouse, my friends, my work associates, the community and country I live in, and the Church I belong to. I like to feel independent and largely self-determined. I like to act, but I have realized I am also "acted upon," for good and ill (2 Nephi 2: 13-14).

The revelations of Joseph Smith talk about what I've understood as eternal individuality. You and me are one of many eternal "intelligences":

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be (D&C 93:29).

The revelations discuss what seems like eternal community, past and future: 

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones... (Abraham 3:22).

And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy" (D&C 130:2).

I'm considering the relationship between individuality and community and how one affects the other. Depending on the approach to the question and the tools used to assess it, we might arrive at different conclusions. An evolutionary biologist may see things differently than a clinical psychologist or a cultural anthropologist or a prophet of God. Right now I want to focus on how environment and community affect individuality, and I am taking it for granted that such is the case. In Fahreed Zakaria's book The Post-American World he talks about the effects of globalization. With better means of transportation and communication the world is shrinking in new ways. Signs of "westernization" are seen in countries all over the world. In Japan we might stop in at McDonald's or Starbucks, we'll hear Michael Jackson songs playing in stores. Some are seeing signs of the "death of the old order" with the rise of what Zakaria calls "mass culture." McDonald's, blue jeans and rock music are crowding out older ways of eating, dressing and singing. Zakaria notes there are still very distinctive differences in culture despite the increasing similarities, though Japan may seem to some like “another prosperous and modern Western country with some interesting quirks”1. A full fourth of the world can speak and understand English on some level. Zakaria wonders whether a common language makes people think in similar ways.

All this is to say the proximity and accessibility leads to interchange of ideas, products, hairstyles, goals and desires. All of this change worries the status quo: “We have left the past behind and there is an underlying unease that there will be nothing left of us which is part of the old." Zakaria recognizes that many values are slower to change. Nevertheless, "in general, and over time, growing wealth and individual opportunity does produce a social transformation. Modernization brings about some form of women’s liberation. It overturns the hierarchy of age, religion, tradition, and feudal order. And all of this [thus far] makes societies look more and more like those in Europe and North America."2

People throughout the world not only help to shape but are shaped by the individuals around them and the larger communities of which they are a part. How does this idea of change affect the LDS views of individual intelligences and the continuation of sociality in the (anachronistically-called) afterlife? Will the very makeup of "degrees of glory" and those of whom those degrees are comprised provide such a different backdrop so as to change our very identities? The possibility of losing parts of our identity we currently consider important, maybe even fundamental. I've already seen some of this sloughing off occur in myself when I think back to who I was in High School and how the circumstances affected who I was. When I consider how much my surroundings, including those I love, affect who I am I can't help but wonder about who I will be in eternity. In certain ways the very act of resurrection will cause us to lose parts of ourselves, though I'm inclined to think it will be for the better. Suddenly, Eric Clapton's song became much more interesting to me.

Would you know my name
if i saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
if i saw you in heaven?

Fahreed Zakaria, The Post-American World, W.W. Norton & Co. (2008), p. 79. 

Zakaria, pp. 80-81.

Image: Sam Brown, "it's much less crowded on the inside" 24 April 2007, Exploding Dog Comics.


Dan Ripple said...

"In certain ways the very act of resurrection will cause us to lose parts of ourselves, though I'm inclined to think it will be for the better."

I hadn't thought of that before. Interesting. I like it.

BHodges said...

thanks dan!

WVS said...

This is rather profound stuff. 2500 years ago, life was so constant because technology did not change. The present out of control locomotive of culture change seems connected with what happened in the US in the first part of the 19th century. Telegraph and roads. And then railroads really got it moving. Homogenization.

BHodges said...

WVS, the world has expanded and exploded. Geological studies extended time into the distant past and astronomical discoveries expanded space astronomically. Time and space have become so much larger, longer, whatever you want to call it, in the past few hundred years.

BHodges said...

WVS, also, I want to add something that is sort of related. It played a part in my formulation of this post. I was thinking about the social nature of knowledge, how we are becoming more dependent on authority because of the increase of specialization:

"But there is no such thing as an individual knower. Our very thought, our very language, is a phenomenon completely dependent upon a social context; it is only through comparing our experiences with those of others, with the world, and with our thoughts that we can achieve any knowledge at all. According to Shapin, "It is incorrect to say that we can ever have experience outside a nexus of trust of some kind.”

Ironically, the scientific and industrial revolutions have so fragmented knowledge that the individual knower is further from determining the truth herself than ever before. The amount of available information is overwhelming and the founts of new knowledge are too far removed from any given individual. The modern seeker for truth must therefore rely far more heavily on trust than the medieval peasant did."

See Allen R. Buskirk, "Science, Pseudoscience, and Religious Belief," FARMS Review: Vol.17:1, pp. 273—310. I also was inspired by some stuff by John Durham Peters, a brilliant communications theorist, but couldn't find the exact reference. He planted the seeds from which this post grew.

WVS said...

Buskirk's point is an interesting one. But one thing I've been reminded of this year is how real discovery can be dependent on the synthesis of knowledge rather than specialization. Such synthesis can spawn new specialization of course. It is true of course that the cutting edge of many fields is inaccessible to the average person but this extends to experts too. In my own case, I have a fairly narrow knowledge English and mathematics. I can't tell you what the issues are in geometric topology. I can't even tell you what the issues are in most of partial differential equation theory, and that's where I cut my teeth. While I know something about text criticism, I could not intelligently discuss what goes on with many parts of literary criticism. I know something about quantum field theory, because I've been sitting in a seminar about it.

But the peasant was trusting in ignorance. What was beyond his ken was white space, magic, religion. We're still just as ignorant, but we have a bit more understanding about how ignorant we are --- perhaps.

BHodges said...

All this would make a fascinating topic for a blog post I don't have time to write!

BHodges said...

This blog post also leans toward an interesting reading of the Spirit of Elijah. Communication theorist John Durham Peters has noted that D&C 128:15 and 18 seem to outline something of a "communitarian conception of identity and even salvation." Verse 15 and 18:

And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect....It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.


Anonymous said...

Well you know, it's kindof like how a particle can also be a wave....

There's my qualitative contribution. :)

BHodges said...


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