“Theories are concealed narratives...we should not be taken in by their claims to be valid for all time.” - Jean-François Lyotard
Beliefs, theories, ideas: things we grab on to in the course of our individual development and using them while forming our own individual identities. A lot has been said about the subject of “identity”, the ideas about who we are and what our purpose is supposed to be in this life of ours. Some find identity and meaning in many different things. We are thrust into this world without being asked. We merely appear by the choice of others. We don’t have a choice in the matter. No one is asked to be born. We become vaguely aware of ourselves at a young age and then move on from there, our personalities developing, our interests, our ideas, everything. We eventually come into contact with others and this furthers our development for better or for worse. It’s the same story for each and every one of us. We come into existence and then are expected to figure it all out. For thousands of years, man has tried to figure it all out but in the end, the so-called “answer” is still quite elusive. In my opinion, no one has figured out anything definitive. We still ask the same questions that the ancients did and we seem to be no further along than we were then in discovering “the answer.” But there are plenty of beliefs, theories and ideas, everything from philosophical to psychological, to political and where you stand depends on your own personal perspective.
There was once a time when things were taken for granted to be factual - like the idea that the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around it; Aristotle’s idea that the starts in the sky were “celestial spheres” revolving around the earth; the Church once debated the idea that women were not fully human and didn’t have souls; Americans once debated the idea that African Americans were only three-fifths a person. Then of course you have the Hollow Earth theory where some people believed (and some still apparently believe) that we live inside the earth and the sky is merely the top of our enclosure. These are things we all now know to be false and quite frankly, ludicrous. But for a time, this was the prevailing wisdom and people genuinely believed these things to be true. We can look back from a twenty-first century perspective and laugh at its lunacy. So with that in mind, who’s to say the things that we firmly believe in now won’t be viewed just as ludicrous five hundred years from now, providing there’s still a planet for people to live on?
There is philosophy: another attempt by mankind to find answers and explanations to things. Everyone from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle all the way through the modern age from Kant to Hegel to Neitzchie, Jaspers and Sartre, through today’s post-modern thinkers such as Lacan, Lyotard, Baudrillard to Derrida. Thousands of differing and sometimes outright contradictory theories and yet, like religion, we must take on faith, since we really don’t know for sure how much of it is really valid or just the musings of some interesting (or deranged) minds. How do we know for sure any of it is valid? Each one trying to work out the meaning of it all and trying t find an answer.
Religion is supposed to serve this purpose. For millennia mankind looked above or within himself to try to find the answer to the big question of “Why?” yet there are no answers there either. Differing cultures, differing religious thought sometimes contradicting one another or even outright war with one another. People will cling to their beliefs and theories as “the answer” to all things yet again, no one knows and nothing has been solved or answered and the evidence of this is today’s continuing conflict over those differing ideas.
Science also attempts to answer things as well and for a long time many scientific theories have proposed the answer to some very complicated questions. Yet now we have something called Quantum Mechanics and String Theory where it has recently been discovered that things are not at all what it once seemed to be, that what was once thought to be ordered and explainable turned out not to be the case at all.
Psychology also tried to work these things out, yet there are plenty of differing theories about that as well - from Freud to Rank to whoever else is out there trying to work out the meaning as to why we are who we are. For a long time Freudian psychology was taken to be the answer then others emerged, contradicting those theories and laying forth their own ideas, some of which do not connect with others at all.
Political theories: another attempt to find the answer and to help forge individual identities. Men of the Enlightenment had their ideas and tried to put them into practice in both the forming of the United States and in the French Revolution yet they were quick to discover there wasn’t a flawless plan at their disposal, no matter how optimistic it may have been for them at the time. The United States tried to form a nation based on these Enlightenment ideas yet still contended with the problem of slavery and whether or not the regular farmer or shopkeeper should be in the same class as those actually running things. The French Revolution devolved into a nightmare of executions and bloodshed, culminating with Robespierre declaring himself God. Marxist theory tried to discover the answer through economics and the idea of communitarian living but that devolved into Stalin and Pol Pot with more bloodshed, oppression and conflict. Ayn Rand and her Objectivist theories, as well as the economic theories of Ludwig Von Mises and the Austrian school of economics spawned a Libertarian movement which sought to solve all our problems through embracing a pure, unexpurgated form of Capitalism which of course devolved into greed, theft and criminality. People embracing political theories in the attempt to forge an identity for themselves and have arrived nowhere even close to discovering any definitive answer to anything.
This is not to say that religion, philosophy, psychology, politics or any other idea doesn’t have merit or something to offer. It absolutely does. But I’m beginning to believe that there isn’t any one-size-fits all agenda here like so many people do. We navigate our lives picking and choosing those things that we find solace in, adapting them to our own individual lives based on whatever experiences we have. The religions of the world are supposed to give mankind a moral compass, a message, a belief in something greater than himself, the promise of an afterlife, and most importantly, an explanation of why things are the way they are. The political theories attempt to give us order and find a better way to live within a society of very differing people. Psychology attempts to find the reasons why we act the way we act and philosophy attempts to discover the “why” to all of it. All valid theories and ideas but no better than any other idea, apparently. Merely ideas man came up with to try to give meaning to their lives and forge some semblance of order in an otherwise chaotic and uncertain existence.
So where does this leave us? I don’t know and that’s precisely the point. None of us really “know” much of anything since whenever a theory is posited, it always unravels into a million differing variables which always provoke more questions than it does answers. And maybe that is the point. Maybe it’s the journey and not the destination that informs us in some way. Maybe we’re supposed to learn about ourselves through traveling the road towards some elusive answer and discover that we each have to find meaning in our own individual lives and that there is in fact no one, all encompassing “answer” to anything at all.
Then again, what do I know?