#52: Why does where we live seem to matter more than who we are?
This question is putting the cart before the horse. Who you are matters much more than where you live.
Still. Thinking about it more, I can see how the inverse does sort of seem to matter more, at least to many people. So why is that?
It has to do with identity. For a great majority of people, where they live is interwoven into the fabric of their personal identity. This works on multiple levels, the most macro of which deals with continental geography.
Things are done slightly differently in, say, North America than they are in Africa, or South Asia. Now, that’s not to say the French, Italians, and Germans identify as similar to one another. But at the end of the day, they’re all European, and there is a tensile solidarity in that. An identification that matters.
As we scale down our focus of “where you live” from this point, the pattern of identification-with-location repeats itself again and again. And make no mistake about it — from countries, to provinces, to cities, to neighbourhoods, to streets, to dwellings — it’s the same pattern. Where you live is one of the most important factors that makes up who you are. This does not necessitate that you dislike or fear those living in a different part of the world, or country, or city, or neighbourhood (as pervasive as this phenomenon might be), but it does create a thing thread of division between people. A data point of difference, that factors into the calculation of someone’s identity.
The first question you ask someone you’ve just met (especially on the road) is where they’re from. If they’re from the same country as you — oh nice, what city? Same city — no way! Whereabouts?
It’s natural. We all do it. And the logic — fundamentally flawed as it may be — is still reasonably sound: the closer we live together, the more we can identify with each other as human beings.
You can even further pare down the focus of this example. We both live on the same street! But I live here, in a room in that shared house, and you live there, in that new luxury condo. We both live in the same building! But I live here, four stories up, facing a wall, and you’re up there, on the penthouse floor. I can’t believe we’re both on the same penthouse floor of the same condo! How fucking crazy is that!! But I live here, in PH1, and you’re over there, in PH4.
You’re likely to respect, maybe even appreciate, your neighbours across the hall. You might even give them Christmas presents, invite them over for the occasional dinner, and feed their cat when they’re on holiday. Sure. That sounds good. But, you know, more than that isn’t really needed. I mean they’re just the neighbours after all.
As myopic as it may be, the temptation to classify and stratify people — ourselves included — based on where they live is one that is difficult to circumvent.
They’re not us. They live across the hall.
Another reason why where you live may seem more important than who you are has to do with socioeconomic disparity.
In other words: Privilege. Or lack thereof.
In countless cases, the socioeconomic circumstances of one person, or a community of people, or even a whole nation, may be so precarious that its impact pervades and dominates all aspects of life. Who cares who they are, look at where they live. Look at how they live. What good is a piano prodigy if she’s got to walk ten miles a day just to well out some drinking water?
A final point:
I think I’ve come up with an answer to the question, though it requires going back and telescoping one level higher than the aforementioned macro definition of “where”.
We all live in the same place. In a tiny corner of a gargantuan galaxy, on an infinitesimal rock we call The Earth. We are all of the same race, evolved from the same place. We are all One Family.
The most important issue facing humanity are the consequences of the long-forgotten understanding that the planet is our home, and that we need to respect it to survive. We are all inhabitants of the same place. The abandonment of a lifestyle that strives to live in harmony with nature — and subsequent rape of the planet’s resources — is the only issue that matters today. We are facing down the barrel of an E.L.E. There, I said it. It’s happening. There is nothing to be done. No remedial measures, no matter how well-intentioned, are going to get us out of it. The only question is, will it happen in this generation, or the one after that, or the one after that?
In this light, yes, who you are matters less than where you live. We live together, in the same place.
We are in this together, and we don’t even know it.
There’s an example of something that is sad and beautiful, at the same time.