characters and communities

I have recently given up trying to reconcile my many different traits. I am an american and a european, a ‘christian’ and an ‘atheist’, an economist and a green-eco-half-freak. I used to think i needed to come up with a unified self that would give me one specific direction/goal towards which to live my life, but this proved rather complex and practicably impossible. Even were i to come up with decent compromised between my different characters, i would in effect end up inhabiting a no-man’s land where no one would recognize me as one of theirs. This ‘unified self’ would be rather artificial.

Instead, i have gone with the other solution of maintaining the legitimacy of each character while simply keeping them balanced. This means that i allow myself religious moments that substantially contradict my other more scientific perspectives, recognizing that these are two distinct worldviews that are both, when all is said and done, wrong – in their own way. This has actually had a real impact upon my moods since i no longer perpetually despair at making sense of it all.

The question remains of whether or not this is a stop-gap manoeuvre that simply indefinitely postpones the task of reconciling my characters to myself, or whether it represents a necessary psychological change in our pluralistic world: it might be that an immediately unified self has now become an illusion and that we must learn to live with selves that encompass many characters and that are unified only on a higher level.

Below i offer a more systematic account using the concepts of ‘character’ and ‘weak communities’ that explicitates the above idea, though, practically speaking, its probably not very useful, nor even novel.

People can perhaps be fruitfully understood as bundles of different characters. Each character is associated with a specific community to which that person belongs.

The concept of a community is a way of dividing up and making sense of the world. A community can be weak or strong, depending upon how many of the following features it embodies:

  • a (strong or weak) ethic
  • a (strong or light) world view
  • a (strong or light) culture
  • a (loose or tight) togetherness
  • a language

The more of the features and the stronger the features a community embodies, the stronger the community.

One of the many problems of our times is that people often belong to more than one community, and at times more than one strong community. These different communities often prescribe (moral) behaviors that are incompatible, fostering clashes that forbid any easy perception of being one self. Sometimes i feel like an american and at other times i feel much more european, but i can neither simply decide to henceforth be only european and never american, nor can i reconcile the two antagonistic worldviews. (americans are usually for the death penalty, for war, against abortion and against big government. europeans are against the death penalty, against war, for abortion and for big government!) The only reasonable solution seems to be to maintain both and only try to (temporarily) reconcile them with respect to specific problems at specific points in time, ie when they both come to the forefront at the same time with opposing ideas/deeds. Only at those specific moments will i try to figure out which character has the better claim, resorting more to justice than to truth in order to decide.

This anthropology thus works with a view of people as the confluence of multiple characters, which all represent 100% of me. Michael is thus not made up of 20% american, 20% european, 15% christian, etc… but he is 100% american, 100% european, etc…! Of course, his body is that which keeps his many characters together, but his body is not his self, since no one ever interacts with his body without one of his characters being in place. And of course, many traits of his personality (though not all) are shared by all these characters, but once again there are always one or more characters giving life to his body and personality. Michael has no essence that could be socially experienced stripped of all his characters.

One of the weaknesses of this conception of a ‘character’ is obviously that it is too strong, that all these supposed characters flow into one another and change so often that the body+personality definition of a person seems a good enough approximation of who someone is. ‘Characters’ are superfluous conceptual additions. Nevertheless, the fact that i am often torn between different worldviews nevertheless requires some explanation and solution. All suggestions welcome.


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