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The Great Amnesia

What if the whole world forgot to hate?

Try a thought experiment with me. What if you woke up tomorrow and everyone had amnesia?

Not everything. We could still speak and do things, but we all had lost our episodic memory of who we are and what we have experienced. If this happened, how many Jews, Muslims and Christians would there be in the world. How many political philosophies, nations, cultures, religions and belief systems would remain?

The answer of course is none, nada, zero.

Every person would have lost their identity, their story of self. We would still be here, and there would still be physical differences such as race, sex and size. There would be differences in language too, along with abilities, orientations and talents. Everything that makes us human would remain, but we wouldn't have a story about it.

Would that mean the end of war, conflict, racism, sexism and other types of prejudice? Probably not. Differences would remain, and we would still probably form tribes and violently compete for resources. We would form new collective identities over time, and probably create new prejudices. However, it would give us a break form the old ones for a short while and the opportunity to try something new.

There would be some pretty big downsides though, because we would also have forgotten our families, our jobs and our relationships. Parents wouldn't know who their children were, and vice versa. Friends wouldn't know each other, and lovers would have forgotten their love. We would also lose the richness of our cultures and lose the gifts of our history, the accumulated knowledge and skills of a thousand generations.

Life would become absolute chaos pretty quickly, so this isn't a solution to the world's problems, but it could point us to one, deliberate amnesia. What if we deliberately forgot our histories, or at least forgot to care about them. What if we forgot to belong to our tribes, races, genders, nations, religions and cultures. What if we ignored the millions of grievances we carry with each other because of those histories.

What if we chose to belong only to one group, human beings. Would that be the end of war, conflict and prejudice? It could be. It could be the beginning of a new world in which all people had a new start free from the burden of our horrible histories. It could be the dawn of human rights, human responsibility and humanity itself. It could be a new future, if we could just let go of our pasts.

And we can, because they aren't real. I'm not saying they didn't happen, but they are not happening now so in fact they have become merely figments of our imagination. Indeed, all identities are figments of our imagination.

The past is just a story we keep telling to ourselves and each other. Similarly, our identities, our stories of self and our stories of group belonging, are completely made up.

Religious identities, national identities, gender identities, racial identities, cultural identities, political identities - all imaginary constructs made of words and images. How many genders are there? How many races are there? How many sexual orientations are there? How many religions are there? How many do you want is the answer?

It's a bit like asking how many types of unicorn there are? As many as you like to imagine. Even within these arbitrary group identities there is endless scope for division. How many sects of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Feminism or political philosophies can we create? Endless numbers of them.

Every group identity, from the racial to the political, is imaginary. The world is full of human beings, with some rather minor physical variations, but 99% of what we are we have in common. These extrinsic identities we create seem to make us forget that and to constantly divide us into warring factions, killing each other and hating each other because my imaginary story about the world is different to your imaginary story about the world.

This is crazy, and lazy, and makes us all into monsters, so why do we do it?

Because we falsely believe that this will keep us safe from the other people we falsely believe to be the monsters. Humans are a social animal, with very poor defensive and offensive capabilities. A human being alone in the wild is some other animal's breakfast, but as a group we are the apex predator, so we group together to survive, forming tribes based around some commonality of appearance or location or belief.

At this basic level forming groups of belonging does keep us safe, until other people do the same thing, and we start arguing over which group gets the land, and the food. History is tribal warfare over limited resources, and everyone has been doing it, but it is hard to admit that.

If we really admitted this we would also have to admit our own culpability in tress passing against our neighbours, and that is emotionally difficult to do, because it brings guilt, so we justify it with righteousness and make the other group the villains in our story. Of course, they return the favour.

What if we had the improbable courage to admit that we are just as much the villain as they are, and the extraordinary decency to stop our own violence?
What if we forgot to be the victim of history, and decided to be the hero of the future, the ones who say 'one tribe, one world, one future'.

What if the only identity we had was 'human', with some minor variations of appearance, desire, values and culture. We don't have to forget our diversity, only our division, and we achieve this by remembering our commonality.

I choose humanity, in all its glorious colours, creeds and variations, but mostly its commonality.


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