Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

What are the pros and cons of identifying with the group instead of with the self?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) March 12th, 2011

This concept, in my mind, builds on an idealized idea of village life. Everyone living in a village is blood, even if they aren’t blood. Everyone takes responsibility for everyone else—so that if someone wasn’t doing well, others would help him or her to do better. Kids participate in all the social activities with adults and learn through doing.

One of the things I am interested in is the notion that judgments wreak havoc on many people’s psyches. If you didn’t identify with yourself so much as the village, then it wouldn’t matter what you think of yourself, or what other people think of you. Your primary identity would be associated with the group, not the individual self. You couldn’t see yourself as others do, because no one would be focused on any particular individual. You couldn’t have bad feelings about yourself because you didn’t identify yourself as separate from anyone else.

Can you imagine having an identity tied to a group, rather than to yourself? What would happen in a society like this? How would it be different from life as we currently know it?

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23 Answers

6rant6's avatar

Certainly people do that – we identify ourselves as part of or allies of teams, nations, educational organizations, social groups, fanbases! The list is endless. We take offense and take up on arms on behalf of those groups. We exult at their successes.

I suppose each of us is a unique Venn diagram of our alliances – family, location, politics,belief systems, and the like. Each of picks and chooses where our allegiance goes.

How does your vision look different? Do we only get to belong to one group? Amish or not kind of thing?

wundayatta's avatar

@6rant6 I’m thinking of this as more of a permanent connection—not like fans or citizens. It is a connection that that makes your individual sense of self seem much less important, or even irrelevant. Your identity is the tribe or village or even company you are born or adopted into. In other words, you are not yourself, you are the group in question. And not by brain washing. It’s just that it makes sense to be the group and no sense at all to have a separate identity.

12Oaks's avatar

There are a few cons of being in a group. Worst of all is you run the risk of having someone speak for you when you could do it yourself. They will bargain for the collective, possibly screw you and others over big time, and expect to get paid for that service. Stuff like that is just no good for anybody directly or indirectly involved in the long or short run.

Also, I have learned something after becoming a parent. You can’t expect others to do the parenting for you. It’s not your neighbors job, it’s yours. Schools not only shouldn’t be involved in parenting decisions, they belong nowhere near anything like that, and are there simply to educate if parents choose to send them to school, and trying to place their noses where it doesn’t belong is one of the most harmful things one could do for a child. It does NOT take a village, but parents as a unit, to raise your kid.

incendiary_dan's avatar

One huge pro is that it easily enables a stable gift economy.

john65pennington's avatar

For years, I have identified myself with two groups: my band members and my fellow police officers.

I have had absolutely no repercussions for associating with either group.

But, just think if a police officer were a member of the KKK. What would be your thinking here?

incendiary_dan's avatar

Also, identifying with a group and with oneself are not mutually exclusive. I imagine a person with a healthy ego would be able to optimize their identification of either as the situation called for.

listener's avatar

I heard a famous chef once said“i’m a new yorker first,american next” I guess we can’t separate ourselves from group identity because a classless society is an impossibility.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@listener Classless society is how humans have lived for over 90% of our history. The link I provided is one big component of that. Also, identification doesn’t particularly have to do with class.

Summum's avatar

Wow what a great question. I have groups that I belong to and most of the groups agree with me on things that are very important to me though each has a distinct personality that is theirs and theirs alone. In the group I will protect and identify with them and be there for any member until one shows that trust is no longer an issue. But I have found that being individual and self motivated is the only way to live this life. Way to often we are let down by those we love, those we trust and in live in general. Life is a hard thing and a learning curve for us all and until we can learn how to be single and ourselves a group will not help. I am myself and there is a strength in knowing that and also knowing that life is what it is. I am in no way dependent on another but understand we need each other to progress. I hope you understand what I am saying.

Nullo's avatar

Groups are collections of individuals, and individuals have a tendency to do their own thing – even within a group. Sometimes the individuals behave in radically different ways, and you see everybody else scrambling to distance themselves from them.
Groups provide solidarity, support, resources, direction, community, all that.

listener's avatar

@incendiary_dan yes sir i agree that humans have lived in a classless society, but even then they already have an order or a system that they follow, for example the sexual division of labor in which men hunt and women gather, with that women were identified to be weak and only good for homemaking. And from what i read in the link you provided there is already a social hierarchy we can identify as a class of people practicing a system identifiable only to certain group. I guess it would be the same if we talk of nationality,religion,culture,profession and etc.
My point is, an individual cannot escape his identity as belonging to a group because of certain practices and traditions. Which made me conclude that a classless society is an impossibility.

6rant6's avatar

@wundayatta It seems to me that what we call groups of people who identify with their membership to the exclusion of everything else is a “cult.”

Cult members generally express high satisfaction with the mission and performance of the group. I can see the freedom that could come with relinquishing one’s responsibility to come up with the right thing to do to some corporate authority, and the delight one could feel in claiming the group’s accomplishments.

The obvious problem with a cult is that it’s hard for it to progress if it rejects everything, including knowledge, that people outside the group have to offer. Cult’s are naturally subject to the manipulation by individuals who purport to show the same allegiance but actually have other agendas. Trust is a basic requirement for such groups to function. If they aren’t members of other “trust circles” how can they see that their mission is being subverted?

incendiary_dan's avatar

@listener I won’t turn this into an anthropology lesson, because frankly I’m not getting paid for it, but your synopsis of hunting and gathering life is way off the mark, particularly your assumptions about the motivations of gendered division of labor (particularly because it is far less rigid than many people think).

Earthgirl's avatar

I am not a “joiner” in general so I feel very uneasy about the idea of belonging to a group without a separate identity. The problem with groups is that, by their very nature, they tend to engage in group think. Also, there develops a tribal mentality. That mentality seeks to squash any thought or action that threatens group solidarity. Even if the goals and ideals of the group are noble and forward thinking they aren’t and can’t be perfect. Tribal mentality also results in the dynamic whereby outsiders from the group, the “others”, who don’t belong , to be seen as enemies. We find it all the time in ordinary society. The person who is different, and does not “fit in” is ostracized. No thank you. Community support is nice, but not if it comes at that price. Sense of self is something I think is best arrived at by searching inside of yourself for the answers to life’s questions. I am not saying to turn your back on others and become a hermit. Not by any means. I just cannot relinquish personal autonomy and freedom to a group membership.

mattbrowne's avatar

Our dependence on specialization and the division of labor. Most Robinson Crusoes die pretty quickly.

6rant6's avatar

@wundayatta & @Earthgirl

So now I’m wondering, if enlightenment is the goal, is it best pursued by treating all (wo)men as members of your group, or by standing alone?

wundayatta's avatar

@6rant6 I don’t recall saying that enlightenment was the goal.

I suppose this has to do with my experience, which is an unusual one that is not available anywhere but where I live. It is basically a ritual (think religious ritual in spirit, but definitely not in form), except the ritual is different every time. We all are individuals throughout the ritual, but we find ways of relating to each other through improvisation, just like in conversation, except this is physical (dance and music).

At some point during the course of the ritual, during most instances of the ritual, and to a greater or lesser degree, we become aware of each other—of connecting to everyone in the room. We are all dancing together even though we may not even be able to see the others.

There is no dogma to this ritual. Everyone brings what they bring, psychologically or socially. They use that as an opening to add experience to the connected group. The forms of the ritual allow us to connect, using our stuff as fodder, but also using what others bring.

Everyone gets out of it what they get out of it. No one is told they have to think this or that. There is an expectation that people will be polite and won’t do anything that might endanger anyone else, or make them fear being hurt. However, ultimately, you are responsible for taking care of yourself, as well as everyone else. Not that anyone is forcing you to. That’s just the culture of the thing.

People from many different beliefs and types of employment and skill levels come together this way, and everyone becomes equal. Newcomers generally seem to feel that they’ve been doing it forever after one ritual. It’s so easy.

There is no group think, but there is group experience. There is no path to enlightenment because there are no paths anywhere, except out of your head and into your body.

I think it is a spiritual experience, but that’s because that’s how I define spiritual: a sense of connection to that which is outside of you, only it feels like it is inside you.

I suppose that if enlightenment was the goal, it would happen through the group experience. But I still don’t know what enlightenment is, so I can’t say if it ever happens. But it isn’t the goal. Awareness is the goal. Feeling the connection between us and the All is a benefit, but even that is not the goal. The dance itself is the goal. Having fun is the goal. Enjoying other people is the goal.

It’s a ritual, but it isn’t religious. There are no attempts to control minds or have them believe anything in particular. Either you enjoy it or you don’t

This is what I have in mind when I think of identifying with the group. It is a deeply significant and mindful connection with the group.

6rant6's avatar

@wundayatta Adding the concept of enlightenment to the discussion was my idea. I wasn’t accusing you of wanting to be enlightened.

I’m not clear how your ritual/dance relates to the original question. If someone was behaving dangerously you would have to recognize and act on that. If someone were trying to repurpose the group to fulfill their own agenda, you might need to identify that and oppose it or at least confront them on it.

I think your ritual sounds lovely. But it’s smallness, and relative non-criticality mean that you can afford to let down your guard. But only to a point. I can’t see how this extrapolates to a broader experience like, say, life. And I can’t see what this has to do with your identity being given over to the (hypothetical) group.

wundayatta's avatar

@6rant6 This is the model for a group that I had in mind. Ignore the particulars of the experience. It is a different way of modeling interactions that doesn’t take away your individuality and supports your creativity. It is also a way of melding everyone’s contributions together into a coherent whole.

There can’t be opposition to the group because there is no set way to do things. The organization forms on an ad hoc basis and is structured as is necessary. If someone tried to repurpose the group, they would fail. Their contribution would still be one part, together with everyone else’s. People would vote with their feet, and form an alliance with those whose organizational structure they admire. The person who is alone would still be a part of the group—an important outlier.

The group I used is not the focus. The focus should be on the organization. That is quite critical It’s about a different model of organization. They teach us in school that a group is far smarter than an individual. But most people hate groups because they feel like their work is ruined in the group. That’s not a good model for a group.

A group needs equal value for everyone—or rather, equal participation. The value of an individual’s work is adjusted on an ad hoc basis and folks come into alignment with various ideas.There is no need to enforce cooperation. You only want what people give voluntarily.

There is no need to let down your guard. One of the important rules is that you take care of yourself. You are responsible for yourself. You can take risks if you want, or you can align yourself with someone else. If someone comes along, careening out of control, you don’t work with them.

What happens is that people develop a different kind of connection with others. It is based on mutual respect, but it feels larger than you, alone. It is larger. People working together in this way feel like they are part of something much larger than the people who happen to be present.

Summum's avatar

I want to build a group that buys some property and we grow food and learn to become totally self sufficient and not rely on others. I would love to do this and I am talking to a few that want this as well.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Summum You might be interested in www.rewild.info. I’m a moderator there.

Nullo's avatar

Here’s an interesting group-identity angle: there is virtually no looting in the aftermath of Japan’s disaster. Purveyors of food and drink in the afflicted area are giving away their stock.

JenniferP's avatar

I don’t know. I am a loner and I like it that way. I only have a couple close friends.

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