[The following is a transcription from part of a talk Jonathan Evatt gave in late 2013. It relates to the role of conditioning in forming our sense of identity, and the ways in which perspectives arising from our conditioning can separate and divide us.]
All that makes you different, from the so called enemy is a variation of conditioning. If you are from, for instance, the United States, what makes you American is conditioning. If I am from New Zealand, what makes me a New Zealander is simply my conditioning. And yet … The fundamental reality is that as a New Zealander and as an American we are almost exactly the same. All that differs is this conditioning.
So why would we let that stand in the way. Why would we let this minor difference stand between us? And exactly the same applies to someone from Pakistan, or Israel, or India, or Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan. Again the similarities, the commonality we share is massive compared to that which differs between us.
It is like comparing a whole solar system to a small piece of rock. We are both solar systems, so vast, so similar, yet there is a piece of rock in my solar system that has a slightly different orbit. Just a small piece of rock. Otherwise these twin solar systems are for all intents and purposes identical. Yet because of this small piece of rock, with a slightly different orbit, would it be accurate to say these solar systems are fundamentally different? For all intents and purposes they are the same, and for all intents and purposes you and I and an Afghani, and an African, and a Chinese, and Korean, we are all the same. We all need to eat food. We all desire and feel hungry for food. We all enjoy satiating our hunger and our taste buds.
With nice flavours and delicious things. We all enjoy chocolate to varying degrees. If we are women we all menstruate up until a certain age, and we all go through menopause. We, men and women, all have emotional swings, times of a great clarity, times of less clarity. We are all going through the ups and downs of life. Within our societies there are those who pray and believe in a creator. Who give thanks for their meals and all that they receive. And there are those who don’t. Within our societies there are those who follow a Christian religion, Muslim religion, Hindu religion, Russian Orthodox religion. Within our American society, within our New Zealand society, our Finnish society, our Korean or Israel society we find people, members of these societies who follow all these various religions. To varying degrees.
Again, all of this is simple conditioning.
You are I are essentially the same. We have the same potential for greatness. We have the same potential to be ‘damaged’ and shaped by trauma, abuse, and a negative environment. We have the same potential to flourish in an environment that is loving, supportive, and kind. You and I have the same potential for genius, for reverie, for passion, for kindness, for hatred, for love, for fear. And you and I feel all of these things or have felt all of these things at different and various times in our lives.
For the most part, we all have hands and feet. We all have the same digestive system, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, pancreas, spleen, gall bladder. We all have an appendix that may or may not flare up in our life and need to be removed. We all have tonsils that may or may not become infected and need to be removed or treated. We all have to take care of our health and hygiene. And yet due to our conditioning we may have different ways of dealing with these facts.
For instance, I have a friend who was conditioned to shower at least twice a day for close to an hour each time. She was conditioned to brush her teeth 4 to 7 times a day. Her mother’s traumatic childhood conditioned her to feel dirty and in need of cleaning. She then passed this conditioning on to her daughter, my friend.
We have different ways of perceiving the nature of disease, the nature of sickness. And yet these difference are ultimately exceedingly small. We are essentially the same. All that stands between us are variations of condition. To help put that into perspective, what is this conditioning? What do I mean by ‘conditioning’? Sure we are more than that?
An example of find helpful is that of what’s referred to as ferrel children. These are children that are not raised by humans, they are raised in nature with animals. There is a well known case of a girl in Russia. She was raised by dogs. She was raised by dogs from when she was a baby until she was 7 or 8, when she was discovered by the neighbours of where she was living. By the time she was discovered this girl behaved exactly like a dog. She had a very dog-like bark. She would bark just like a dog. She got around on her hands and knees, and did not know how to stand up on two feet. She urinated like a dog, she ate like a dog, she licked things like a dog. If you simply changed her outside appearance to that of a dog, you would be sure she was a dog. Because her behaviour was based on her conditioning, and her conditioning was that of a dog. Even now, decades later, although therapists have gone to great lengths to recondition her to be more human-like, she will still never be like other humans in terms of her behaviour and way of internalising the world. There is still, let’s say, ‘abnormalities’, from a human therapeutic perspective, in her way of processing the world, of relating to the world. She doesn’t form bonds with other people in the way you or I might. Because when the aspects of her brain and neurology related to social bonding and connection were developing, there were no humans around. She was living with dogs. She bonded with dogs, with other animals.
There is another man from Fiji, at one time known as the Chicken Boy. This boy was raised in a chicken coop, by chickens. When he was discovered, he behaved just as a chicken would behave. He scratched at the ground and in the dirt with his feet. He pecked with his head and nose at the ground and other objects. He slept roosting on a high perch, just as chickens do. He had no language. He made chicken noises. He had the same potential for human genius as you and I, or as an Einstein, or as a Lord Rutherford, or a Buckminister Fuller, or as a Walter Russel (all recognised geniuses of the 20th century). The same potential. The same body. The same physiology, the same basic genetic make-up. And yet, at an apparent level, he is very different.
What differentiates him from you and me, is just his conditioning. Nothing more.
The conditions in which we are raised. And then when we look at it, let us, for instance, take America for example: What is the ‘American condition’? There is such a diverse variation of conditions even within what we refer to as America. That you could take examples of people from the various extremes of those conditions, and there would be a great difference between those Americans than there is between the average American and the average person raised and living in Kuwait. Sure, we speak different languages (which is also a result of conditioning), but that minor detail aside, the average people across many cultures are for the most part the same. Relative to the differences that exist between the people from the extremes within our own society.
For example, the difference between someone who has lived on the street most of their life, is involved in street drugs and street crime, who engages in crime just to get by, in order to survive. They are doing what they need to do in their world, based on their conditioning. Compared to a multi-billionaire, who has lived with extreme wealth her whole life. Who doesn’t have to think about her survival. Who is driven around in limousines, in a Rolls Royce. She is driven around by a chauffeur, and dropped off at meetings, golf clubs, and social events.
These people are fundamentally the same, and yet they have different conditioning which makes them into a different expression of human being.
This is all within what we call ‘America’, ‘New Zealand’, ‘Canada’ or ‘France’. There is likely a greater difference in conditioning (and the subsequent social behaviours) within our own society, then between the averages of one society and another society.
So what is it that stands between us?
What is it that makes us identify ‘the other’ and to view that ‘other’ as something different, as something unknown, as something to be afraid of?
What is it that brings up a feeling of, ‘Let’s bomb those fuckers off the face of the Earth’, as I once saw on an interview of people on the streets of New York. It was shortly after 9/11 and they were interviewing people about what they thought America should do in response to the ill-founded and irrational allegations that Iraq was involved. People were being asked about what should be done to Iraq. Most of these people were not able to even point out where Iraq is on a world map on which the country labels were mixed around or missing.
Who are those people that we refer to ‘bombing off the face of the Earth’ if not ‘us’, WE THE PEOPLE, humanity?
And, let us assume the official stories about 9/11 are accurate—let us make that huge leap of faith—and assume that 9/11 was the result of a group of people from the Middle East coming to America and flying planes into buildings, and committing these horrendous acts. Not that we—we the people—have ever been presented with credible evidence to suggest that is in fact what happened on that day, but let us just assume that it is true. We might be dealing with 50 people at the most. Let’s say 200 people were involved. 200 people conditioned in a particular way, that resulted in them engaging in that particular act. What is it in us, in our world view, that makes it possible for us, in considering those 200 people, that our reaction is to annihilate the country they happened to come from, the society they have been conditioned by? The culture, the society they come from.
What makes it possible for some of us—in this case America, and the various countries that allied with their response—to respond that way?
And yet strangely within our culture, we also relate a similar way to our own people. To the people of ‘our culture’. We let differences stand between us. Many of us will show kindness to one people, toward someone we consider to be like ‘us’ or ‘me’, or our family, partner, wife, husband, or my child, (which are all just ideas, by the way). And yet many of us won’t extend that same level of kindness toward someone else, toward someone we view as different. Our acts of kindness are conditional. Our acts of love, if we can really call them that, are conditional.
For many of us, who we love and who we don’t love is a product of our conditioning. And therefore it comes loaded with conditions. You must look a certain way, you must behave a certain way … And only then I will love you. Fail to meet my conditions, and I will ignore you, or treat you with animosity, or even hate you. I may even try to destroy you.
What is this that stands between us? It is nothing more than an idea. A misconstrued idea that results from misperception that we are different. When in reality we are something like 99.9999% the same. Even what makes you and me different from a mouse or a dog, on a genetic level is just a tiny percentage of variation in our DNA. For the most part, at a genetic level, we are the same.
What makes you different from that dog in terms of behaviour—as opposed to your physiology—is simply a question of conditioning. As the so called “Dog girl” from Russia shows us, if you or I were raised since birth (or a very young baby) by dogs, you would also behave like a dog. You would believe you were a dog. In fact everything that makes us human would be missing. You would have practically identical ways of responding and relating to the world as a dog. You would bark and growl when you felt threatened. You would gnarl your teeth at an approaching human you felt was there to harm you. You may even bite into their leg like a wild animal, like a dog.
So what stands between us is an idea. An idea that we hold in our mind, in our concept of self, other, and the world. And it is that idea that makes us see each other as different. When in fact we are almost entirely identical.
If you are American, you have an idea of what it means to be ‘an American’. Although even that idea is a fallacy. It can’t be rationalised. We can’t logically explain that idea in a concise and uniform way. Because there is so much variation within the collective of people who identify themselves as ‘Americans’.
The same applies to the collective we refer to as ‘Canadian’, or ‘New Zealanders’, or ‘Pakistanis’, or ‘Indians’, or ‘Israelis’, or ‘Iraqi’, or ‘South African’. And of course there are plenty of people who relate to themselves Americans whose ancestry originates in Africa. They look like Africans, they have the genes of Africans, they even have some of the conditioning—handed down to them from their parents—of Africans, and yet they are considered to be ‘Americans’.
We each have our own idea of what it means to be someone from our culture. And yet ultimately there is one idea that we all share and agree on, within each culture. If I am American, I adhere to the idea that, ‘I am American’. I adhere to the political idea that along the so-called borders of ‘my country’, inside those borders we are Americans, and outside those borders the other people are something else. ‘You’, ‘they’, ‘the other’ is something else. Not American. And we extend this political idea, this concept, to other people around the world. People who also believe a similar idea about themselves.
That they live within and are defined by a political border. A complete fiction, of course, it has been conceptually created by man and yet has no basis in reality, it is just an arbitrary line we utilise to differentiate our concepts of regions and countries from one another. A border — those people beyond this border, that’s the others. Refer to as, ‘Them’. Those of us inside the border; well, that’s ‘us’, ‘we’, ‘me’.
With all the variations of other ideas we may hold collectively within a society. Our religious ideas, our political ideas, our environmental ideas, our economic ideas. With all the varying kinds of education we may have received, all the varying kinds of socio-economic conditions and upbringing. All of that exists within this border, within what ‘we’ define as ‘us’. Despite all this variation, the one idea we all hold on to is that, ‘I am a New Zealander’, or ‘I am an American’, that ‘We are Americans’, ‘We are Canadians’. ‘We are French, and we are proud of it’. And if a member of our society does not adhere to this idea, the typical reaction is that they are traitors. They are not to be trusted. They are traitors to the idea that we are ‘Canadian’, so we look down on them, we frown upon them.
We call them ‘unAmerican’, and may even try to lock them up. And there were times in history were someone would be put to death for such an act of not adhering to the idea of being identified with their country. They would be considered treasonous. Simply because they don’t adhere to the idea, to the concept, that defines a nation.
For whatever reason such a person has broken loose from the confines of this one idea. And yet the rest of us who adhere to that idea, find them threatening. As if they can somehow cause harm to our idea, our national identity. ‘They’ are among ‘us’. Even though they were born in ‘here’ (within the idea of our national border) ideologically this person is one of ‘them’. They don’t belong here anymore. So we want to get rid of them, or lock them out, out of harms way. Because as soon as a member of a society makes that shift to no longer identifying with being, for example, an American, now they are ‘the other’ and are walking among us.
A recent example is that of Edward Snowden. He revealed classified or secret information which was politically sensitive—which was sensitive within the idea of what we call ‘America’. He failed to adhere to the belief that to be ‘American’ I must support the way in which the American government operates; that, on some level, I must fundamentally agree with it. In this sense, he disagreed with the status quo idea of what it means to be ‘American’. And in good conscience he acted on that. And, by doing so, many ‘Americans’ transformed him into a member of ‘them’, and outsider who is an ‘enemy’. As a result, he had to physical remove his person and body from within the borders of the idea we call ‘America’ to another location on the Earth.
Many people within ‘America’ reacted with the perception and judgement that Snowden ‘is so un-American’. ‘How could he…’. His actions are considered by the US Government to be treasonous. And according to their ideas, he must be put to trial and punished for his ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’ actions. Even though what he revealed are Governmental crimes and misuses of power against we the people—the ‘American’ people, and the people of the world at large. The Government of the idea we call ‘America’ was revealed to be acting outside their jurisdiction as a Government of a democratic society, a government that claims to stand for the ideals of democracy, and supposedly goes to war with other nations who they claim are a threat to the idea of democracy. It was revealed that this Government was behaving in a way normally associated with fascism, with a dictatorship.
Yet that Government masquerades as a being a democracy. As representatives and upholders of the rights and freedoms of the people. Servants of the people. Yet instead they are tracking and monitoring every move those people make. It’s a government that increasingly serves corporations over and above the well-being of the people. And, at any moment that government can use their collected information against the people.
Even though what Snowden spoke out against is what America would define as anti-American, somehow the ideas about him have, for many, been twisted around such that he is the enemy, he is the one who is behaving in an un-American way. Snowden saw the US Government was behaving in ways he believed to be un-American, acts that went against the founding principles of America. Acts that didn’t accurately represent what it means to be ‘American’. A country based on the idea of being ‘the land of the free’, the of being the self-claimed epitome of democracy in the world. A country where the government is for the people, and stands by the people, and serves the people.
What he saw going on didn’t fit in with that idea, so he revealed what he knew. And for that he is, by many, being ostracised, and he can’t return to his country of birth without being locked away. The country where his family live, where the people he loves and who love him live. The people he is closest to. The places he loves and is most familiar with. He can’t return to those things. All because his idea of what it means to be American, differs significantly enough from the status quo idea of what it means to be ‘American’, and what the government believes it means.
Ironically, for significant periods of American history, I am sure Snowden would have been seen as a national hero … Yes, a national hero. Just as the founding fathers of America are still upheld as national heros, because they defined an idea—an idea for a country that stood out against tyranny, and the control and domination of the ideas that were, at that time, prevalent in Europe.
The religions ideas and economic ideas that were use to keep people suppressed. People were controlled by debt and banks, and were controlled by religious institutions. The founding fathers stood for an idea that was different from all that. The idea that humans have equal rights. The idea that people have essential freedoms. Freedoms of speech, of religion, etc. God given rights and freedoms, as opposed to rights granted by an overbearing government. The idea that a government should never suppress or encroach upon the rights and freedoms of the people it represents.
I am certain in those days, Snowden would have also been seen to be a hero; as a man standing for a noble idea. But in this day and age, within America, the status quo idea of what it means to be American has dramatically changed from what it once was. It has changed so much over time that many of us look upon the acts of someone like Snowden as someone ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’. Yet this implies we must also look upon the founding fathers of the American idea, as also being ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’, or mistaken. Does it not?
Because what they stood for is not what America represents any more. It’s different. It’s as different as America is in its ideology to Iraq, or Kuwait, or India. Things that define humanity as ‘them’ and ‘us’, and ‘we’ and ‘they’. And yet, humanity, in our commonality, in our universality, shares the same potential to rise up beyond these ideas that separate us. Ideas that set us apart and against one another. Ideas that establish and provoke separation, aggravation, and animosity. And it is only when we transcend these ideas, these concepts of nationality, these ideas of political borders and jurisdictions, etc., that we may take a step closer to, further along the path toward, expressing love and kindness toward our fellow human beings. Irrespective of nationality, skin cover, language, religion.
We will experience the fact, the physiological reality, the sociological reality, the ideological reality that, for all intents and purposes, we are the same, … you and I. It’s just an idea that sets us apart. And I don’t subscribe to that idea.