We have probably written about this before, but here we will try to outline the true duality of our existence in as much depth and breath as needed : That between our individual identities and our systemic roles.
Human beings are mostly identical. We have races but we are one species. Still we can vary a lot, in fact we are all perfectly unique. Our parents will know us in and out and will never mistake us for some other child. To employers or anyone we sell to or who we buy from the picture looks very different. We are just workers, suppliers, customers. Who or what we are as individuals doesn’t matter at all, as long as we behave in a certain way, as long as we assume a certain role.
This duality of our lives, on the one hand our identities and qualities and on the other our roles, this is what is interesting, because we could not be just identities, and we could not be just performing a role to achieve the society we are in. I want to explore why that is the case and what the consequences are. Is our society, in order to conform us to the best possible consumer, pressuring us into roles? How do we retain control over our destiny if we allow our individuality to be ignored? How can we get satifaction from being unique, but also from having a meaningfull role ?
An individual human being can be man or woman, or something inbetween. The variation of individual traits is endless. Hair color, figure, skincolor, with musical sense, with language skills, temperament. Then once we develop a personal taste what that ends up being is completely unpredictable. This makes us a better fit for one lifestyle or another, and attracts us and makes us attractive to different kinds of other people.
A role an individual can have is actually a set of specific skills and qualities that if the individual posesses them, they can perform the role. This can be ‘ability to fry a burger’ or ‘ability to model rocket combustion processes’ or ‘ability to sing and play the piano’. Every person has a set of skills and qualities that would be minimal to optimal for a certain role. Eveyone that fits the requirements could have a shot at peforming the role, and our society is ultimatly a system of roles, not so much a system of identities..
We know role systems as companies, bands, footbal teams, as soon as individuals have to perform in a certain way to make the system work, to make the company thrive, band produce palatable music, footbal team compete, then the members of the system have a role. The result is impossible to create as a single individual, only the system, the organization, can produce it.
There is in fact a gap between roles we could play and roles we play, even though some roles we can play, as for instance a member of a band, is a joy. We could give care to someone or train a football team. Those roles are fun and fulfilling. But also systems, organizations or companies that would emply some people, don’t exist even though perhaps the people that would be needed are available.
For instance, in some places one could create a bakery, get some people that like to bake bread in the morning to work there, not get the bread from the megafactory or from beyond the horizon. But the people of the bakery don’t know they’d like to, or that they could (of course the economy tries to tie them to costs and debt so they have to look for paying jobs). In this sense there is a definite gap between what people can do, and what they actually do.