Monday, October 22, 2007


"Some fashions (tongue piercings, perhaps?) flower once and then disappear, hopefully forever. Others swing in and out of style, as if fastened to the end of a pendulum. Two foibles of human life strongly promote this oscillatory mode. First, our need to create order in a complex world begets our worst mental habit: dichotomy, or our tendency to reduce an intricate set of subtle shadings to a choice between two diametrically opposed alternatives (each with moral weight and therefore ripe for bombast and pontification, if not outright warfare): religion versus science, liberal versus conservative, plain versus fancy, Roll Over Beethoven versus the Moonlight Sonata. Second, many deep questions about our livelihoods, and the fates of nations, truly have no answers -- so we cycle the presumed alternatives of our dichotomies, one after the other, always hoping that, this time, we will find the nonexistent key."

--Stephen Jay Gould, "Dolly's Fashion and Louis' Passion"

This FreeDarko post explores some ideas on "the collective" and "the individual." Reading it, I was forced to discover yet another dichotomy I fundamentally reject, another dichotomy I replace with "Both/And."

My values have been moving (slowing, and with purpose) toward the communal, and yet my attitude toward the community is largely viewed in individual terms. I still demand that as an individual I can freely choose my community; participation in a community of choice is in many ways an individual act, still firmly based on existential freedom. And I still demand to be allowed to be an individual within the community: a community should be a collective of individuals, and any community which requires individuals to subsume themselves into it is not a community I want to belong to in this world (the next? who knows).

So for me, a community should be freely chosen (as an individual), and should allow individual identities, values, and needs to participate openly within it. It is no less the collective, and power and meaning can come from the collective. And yet it is no less the individual, an existence created by and allowing for individual choice and being.

I reject the dichotomy, what Stephen Jay Gould calls "our tendency to reduce an intricate set of subtle shadings to a choice between two diametrically opposed alternatives." In this post-modern existence, I again choose Both/And, the reality of both individual and community.

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