excerpted from the June 4, 2009 Dow Theory Letters remarks http://www.DowTheoryLetters.com/
Below is a subject that I've long wanted to write about. So excuse me if I take up a lot of space on my identity theme.
"Know Thyself" -- The following is what I think is wrong with the world. It's a worldwide lack of IDENTITY on the part of the great majority of the earth's population. There are three levels of existence -- (1) the highest level is who or what you are. (2) the next lower level is what you're doing or what you have done. (3) the lowest level is what you own.
An example of level 1 is Jesus, who changed the world based on who he was. An example of level 2 is George Patton, one of the great generals of World War II, whose daring exploits amazed the world. As for level 3, we have John Rockefeller who possessed fabulous wealth or today we have Bill Gates.
Most people on this earth have no identity, no "self." As a result, they often pick an identity such as I'm a "Yankee fan" or I'm a "Texan" or I'm a "race-car driver" or I'm a "blood." To lack an identity means you are mindless fodder in this world, and you're open to join any group that fascinates you or that fits into your personal fantasy.
People long to have an identity -- to belong to something which gives them an identity. People without an identity can be dangerous. When you have an identity you have a self -- you are centered, and you can stand as a person with your own strong convictions.
I've always been fascinated with the Nazi phenomenon, which I fought against. When Hitler came to power, the German people adored him. They crowded the roadsides as Hitler rode by in his armored Mercedes, and they gave him the Nazi salute as they cheered their hearts out. Some women broke down in tears as their beloved Führer drove by. The German people were proud to be Nazis, and they were mesmerized when Hitler spoke in his hysterical voice.
This was the rebirth of Germany, and their new leader was a God. Hitler's brain-washed army swore allegiance to their amazing leader as though he was a living god. Hitler could do no wrong, and once again Germany was a land of proud Germans with a new and proud identity. Hitler's army did their leaders' bidding, even if it involved murder on the most colossal scale in all history. The German population, most having no identity, finally found an identity -- it was to be a member of the "master race," a proud conquering Nazi.
You look at what the Nazis did. Burning down village after village in Russia. Murdering millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people, Poles, Slavs, and you think -- it required thousands of Germans to do this. How could this have happened? It happened because most of the German people (like most people) lacked an identity. They simply followed the orders of their leaders, and the leaders followed the orders of a sadistic madman.
"Why doesn't this occur in America," I ask. It's because Americans have an identity. Their identity, handed down from generation to generation, is "independence and freedom". The history of tyrants and would-be dictators in the US is that they don't survive. Huey Long was shot dead. Joseph McCarthy was run out of the Senate. J. Edgar Hoover has become a joke.
This is why I have no use for organized religion or for nationalism. Both provide their followers with an identity - "I'm a Jew, I'm a Catholic, I'm an American, I'm a Frenchman, I'm a Crip." But without having a personal sense of identity, who the hell are you? Do you know who you really are? If you know yourself, then you probably have an authentic identity.
If you have a real identity, you follow no one without examining their cause. If you have an identity, you are an original, you follow no other person, nor do you accept any specific philosophy or thought process out of hand. Why do men go to war, knowing that they may be killed? Because some "leader" told them that the patriotic thing to do was to take up arms and kill other men. Why do people accept the thinking and orders of some ego-driven mindless leader? It's because "I'm a Republican, and I follow my party's lead" or "I'm an American, and I fight for my Country right or wrong."
We live in a world of the mindless, a world of 4 billion souls who for the most part lack an identity. The ancient Greek aphorism, "Know Thyself" was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Know thyself -- it's something we should still live by in today's propaganda-filled modern era.