Independence or Belonging?
I must admit to being biased towards one end of this question: for me, belonging is far more important than independence. First of all … as I see things, humans are not made for independence at all. What made us human is the way we're able to cooperate. It's been that way for a million, three million, more years, since well before we've been human. We're the offspring of social-living ape-like creatures, and we've been living socially for all the time since. Look at what a human being in and of itself is. Take away every trapping of human civilisation, place a lone human being in an African savannah devoid of other humans or any human influences, and see how well and for how long he or she manages to find food and elude predators, never mind achieving a richly fulfilling and meaningful existence.
Our dependence on other humans today encompasses every aspect of our lives. We eat food grown, gathered, processed by others; we wear clothes made by others; we live in houses built by others, and so it goes on. We are incredibly intricately interwoven in relationships with others, in a vast variety of ways. We are incredibly dependent upon the entire fabric and structure of a society which humans built together with each other. Not just materially, but even more, our minds are shaped by those of others, including what we believe we need, what we believe to be capable of, and what makes us happy and content.
Can we then in any way even speak of independence? Perhaps, still. We feel ourselves to still be more than merely things made a certain way and forced to function a certain way. We are still individuals. Every single human being remains unique, with a suite of characteristics not present in the exact same configuration in any others. Perhaps in our minds we are most independent. We think our own thoughts, undergo our own experiences, and those can differ wildly from those of other human beings.
At the same time, our thoughts are not ours and ours alone. The way we think comes from a great variety of influences that molded us since infancy or even before. We interpret our experiences with material brains that have a fixed and limited set of 'ideas' which get coupled to the contents of our experiences, our reactions to them and our evaluations of them. Individuals can differ wildly in their interpretations of similar experiences, but not limitlessly wildly.
So what makes sense is that we try to maximise both independence and belonging. In a society that is tolerant, accepting, supportive and fair, an individual person can maximise his or her individual uniqueness *while* belonging to a greater group, a greater whole. Everyone can bring to society that which only he or she can bring, or bring best.
That is the kind of society I long for myself. I speak as someone who is indeed wildly divergent from 'normal' humans, and who's had to live in a quite intolerant society for all his life. My 'people' have no room for me, no thought of someone like me, they can't even imagine someone like me existing. I don't fit into any conceptual category that they have. They can't come to know me for who I really am, even if they wanted to, because they lack the concepts needed to know me. I am very much an alien, a persona-non-grata, an outcast. At the same time I have a huge need for friendship and companionship. In my dreams, things are different. In my dreams, the people there know me and accept me. They're *able* to know me for who I am because the dream society doesn't have the kind of rigid (and I would say ridiculous) dogmas that ensnare the minds of people in the 'real world' I'm living in. In my dreams, people can dare to be different. Some of the folks I dream about are so wildly different from 'normal' people that they wouldn't be believed to be real if they somehow could escape from my dream world and present themselves out here. Yet, they're still people, and fine people for all that. People like them might exist, might perhaps exist in the future, may even exist right now, somewhere they can dare to be who they are. They may look alien and they may do alien or bizarre things, but so long as they're not hurting anyone, what's the problem?
My dream society might be far-out, but I don't think impossible. It is not necessary to have a society where everyone is in a mental straitjacket. We can still have a society, an ordered society, that allows for a much greater spectrum of human beliefs and behaviours. Such a society can still be peaceful and constructive; people can still find mutual interests and ideals and work together. It is only necessary that people truly respect each other and make a commitment towards behaving responsibly towards each other. A vast amount of diversity can exist under an umbrella like that. And that is what I think we should strive towards. In a truly accepting, supportive and fair society, we can fully work together and become together the best that we can be. Individually we can achieve far, far more, while also belonging and being of value to one another. Anything less than this, is a squandering of human potential.
Back to me personally. I would like to live in a society where I felt I belonged, where I could both help and contribute to the lives of others, as well as be helped and have others contribute to my life. I find greatest joy in shared joy. When I am out in nature, it doubles the richness of the experience if I have someone with me who equally appreciates it and with whom I can share it. And think about it … with more than one person involved in an endeavour, perspective enlarges. Another person can point something out to me which I wouldn't have seen on my own. Another person can add to my appreciation of something by adding his or her own appreciation of it. Experience becomes multiplied, multi-layered. We enlarge each other's worlds. I want to be able to share in this way, everything that means anything to me. Simple things like this going on explorations into natural regions, or watching the same movies or reading the same books, discussing these, or listening to music together. Or intense discussions over philosophical issues. It's not necessary to share the same tastes, beliefs or values with the other person – but there has to be mutual respect and some basis for fellow-feeling.
In a sense, every person is an entire universe. Every person is to him or herself, the centre of a specific universe, and every personal experience goes from that centre, building that person‛s universe outward from there. But somehow it is possible for people to bring these universes together, by the incredible ability to communicate – not just verbal communication, but every kind of communication or communion, every way in which we influence or impinge on each other. ‛Belonging‛ means to me, that this should be acknowledged, and that the bringing-together of experience-universes should happen with care and consideration, with harmony, with mutual consent and goodwill. And ‛independence‛ means that we should equally honour the distinctness, uniqueness and equal validity of every one of these experience-universes that are embodied in other people.