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Identity vs. Belief

I was watching the movie Terminator Salvation on HBO today, when I realized that the movie's plot has so many parallels in today's context. The movie's plot revolves around (apart from John Connor), a cyborg Marcus Wright, who himself believes that he is human. He is sent by SkyNet (the evil brain of machines) to pull John Connor (the protagonist and purported savior of human race) into a trap.

However, in the movie's climax, Marcus even after realizing his true identity of being a machine, sides with the humans assisting Connor in saving hostages in SkyNet's custody and also finally helping Connor destroy SkyNet. The plot of course, written to please the masses, takes an optimistic's view of which squad Marcus sides with upon being made aware of his identity as a machine. The plot assumes that Marcus sides, not with his identity but his beliefs - his belief in shared human values, in the "goodness" of human race and "evil" in machines.

While the talk of a cyborg, being faced with an identity crisis sounds too far fetched; the philological principles in question are closer home to today's sociopolitical context. The conflict between our identities and our beliefs has never been more prominent in the history of the human race than today. May be it would be more prominent in future but this is the first time such conflict has come out so clearly.

Come to think of it - we all today face this conflict. We are all being brought up to believe in the modern principles of freedom, democracy, independence, libertarian thoughts, egalitarianism and religious tolerance. Our identities in the internet connected world is defined by our use of technology and tools which are a gift of the modern civilization to us.

However, we also have faith systems - an alternate set of beliefs belonging to a deprecated world - which today serve as "Identities" for us: identities such as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Paris etc. The faith in creationism, faith in destiny over science, faith in religious supremacy, faith in age old sacred myths and age old traditions binding us to our identities of belonging to a religious sect, community, may be caste or creed; and nationalities.

We constantly face the conflict between our identity and our beliefs - we are faced with it when we are told to consult some religious guru to suggest a cure to a disease instead of going to a doctor; we are faced with it when we are told to respect the institution of marrying within one's community / caste (and for Hindu's outside one's Gothra); we are faced with it when we are told that X place is the birthplace of your deity and hence a temple should be constructed at the site; we are faced with it when one is told that our religious scriptures describe same-sex relationship as unnatural or that slavery is a natural state; we are faced with it when one talks of bombing fellow citizens because they don't belong to your religion.

In this conflict of our beliefs in modern institutions of freedom and libertarian thought (which I am assuming are built through the modern education system) and that of our identities as Hindu, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Jews - mostly our beliefs win. Most of us remain committed to the modern world principles.

But there are times when our identities win over our beliefs. A David Headley and Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev brought up in the modern secular liberal American society; a Yasin Bhatkal brought up in contemporary, multi-cultured, secular India; and several educated Indian followers of Tantriks and other quacks are isolated but socially costly cases where identity has won over beliefs.
Louis Fischer wrote of Gandhi - 'Gandhiji's ideas can be ascribed to some inner quality of his mental eyesight that kept him from seeing people as a mass. He never saw or judged Indians or Frenchmen or Christians or Muslims in millions. He considered each human being too holy, too important to be the mere instrument of a remote impersonal terrestrial power called state." - See more at: http://www.nikhilkulkarni.in/2006/02/individuals-advocate.html
Just like Gandhi, we also must strive to think in a way where our beliefs continue to win over our identities and we can create a cohesive, tolerant and vibrant human race without conflict.
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