The Otherness Project

Belonging and the hive mind

In the beginning, belonging had very little complexity. Humans moved in groups no bigger than 100 individuals, following the food as the seasons changed, they never settled down.
In a world with no settlements, no government and no possessions they owned everything and nothing. Free to roam, they could take whatever they needed. Living as members of a small nomadic group they must have exercised a strong group affinity: they did not need to feel a sense of belonging, the simply belonged.

Our ancestors belonged to a tight net of kinship, and very little ownership. Settlement reversed this trend: ownership became increasingly important as kinship became less obvious. In our modern urban society we form loose connections to disparate groups, many of them virtual. With little social stability we take comfort from our possessions, which feel more permanent. We are attached to what belongs to us rather than what we belong to.

The increased anonymity and size of groups we belong to, the weak and distant nature of our inter-human connections, does not seem to faze us. It is not surprising: we can easily replace kinship with sameness since our comfort comes from the numbers rather than the quality or strength of the relationship. Instead of your family member, whom you cannot choose, you can now form groups with huge numbers of like-minded individuals. You can draw comfort from knowing that “everyone else” in your group shares your own preferences. Sameness has replaced kinship as the security blanket.

For those who feel no affiliation to sameness groups, virtual communities don’t make sense either. Sharing what you are doing or thinking at any given moment with the virtual world, is incomprehensible to otherness. Lifelong pseudo-extroverts, they eschew real exposure. If they participate at all, they invoke in the virtual world the same smoke screening techniques they often use in everyday life. Obfuscation is a second nature for otherness. Their instincts warn them against being conspicuous.

It is quite reasonable: the others, the minority, are naturally wary of the crowds. Hardly a generation passes without atrocities committed by the masses against the different. A spasm of incendiary emotions can turn everyday dormant disdain into murderous rapture. The other can never truly relax, nor fully trust the tolerance of the rest. Disconnected from the strength and safety conferred by group membership, otherness individuals need to find strength in themselves. Emotional self-sufficiency is therefore the bedrock of therapy with otherness people.

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