People are continually compartmentalizing their lives, their minds, and their selves; this is particularly true in regards to individual beliefs and understandings. By dividing up life into different boxes, each sealed tightly against possible corruption by the others and the vast majority of them packed through unthinking adaptation of cultural norms, most people go through life with a vastly incoherent world view and belief system. This compartmentalization can take the form of attempting to ignore the indivisibility of beliefs (indivisible because you either have a certain belief or you do not), or it can take the form of not professing any real beliefs and merely adopting contradictory beliefs based on cultural norms and unexamined emotional divisions.
Consider religion and philosophy, each of which was created in an attempt to answer questions about the nature of the human situation and to discern how human beings should live. Yet for those who profess to hold specific religious beliefs, such beliefs almost always exist only as a piece of their Self. People may pray and worship (to whatever degree of frequency), and may profess an internal faith in some deity or teaching, but they almost always incorporate it into their lives as opposed to incorporating their lives into it. Religious beliefs become a piece of them, but people do not give themselves over to the beliefs they profess to hold. Because people employ this type of compartmentalization, they often behave in a self-contradictory fashion. To use an example in religion, the duality of citizen and believer is created. Compartmentalizing beliefs into only a part of the Self is what allows Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists to say they believe in teachings that proclaim killing to be wrong, and at the same time pay for the building and deployment of massive military arsenals.
For the philosophers, where does philosophy lead? For almost all academic philosophers, and for most armchair philosophers, their understanding of different ideas on existence and reality are evident only in their mind and speech and not in their life-style. Through this trap of intellectualism they become tied up in the theoretical side of philosophy, and do not put the beliefs and notions that they accept into action. Why is it that so very few philosophers have decided to live in a way that embodies a specific set of philosophical beliefs, to live in a way that is profoundly different from traditional modern life-styles?
We cannot, of course, think that the existence of compartmentalized lifestyles and mindsets is confined to those with specific religious or philosophical beliefs. Every person has some set of philosophies, values, and understandings that they follow in life, which are displayed in the way they live. The vast majority of these values and beliefs have been adapted, unquestioned, from society’s traditional ways of thinking, and only because they are compartmentalized do people not realize they are contradictory.
Take funerals as an example. Some comforting words are said about death, people wear black and look somber, and then the whole affair is neatly tied up with lunchmeats and mingling. Why are people only aware of death at funerals? Naturally, it’s because only on these occasions are people personally affected by death. But should this be the only time we are aware of death? What kind of consciousness does that lead to? A consciousness in which death has been compartmentalized and its reality distorted.
Compartmentalizing is evident in our contradictory approaches to violence. We encourage inner-city youth not to get guns to protect themselves, while we support other youth who join the military and are taught to shoot, bomb, and destroy as a means of conflict resolution.
To move on to another example, few people consider it inappropriate to spend $30 on new jeans despite the fact that 60 million people starve to death each year. Allowing one’s little sister to starve to death would be conceived of as a monstrous action, but allowing someone else’s little sister to starve is unquestioned. The idea we should understand is that if one believes it is wrong to spend money on things like new clothes while a child in one’s presence is dying of starvation, one should act from that same philosophy towards all children, regardless of their location. This is a consistent philosophy, but one which virtually no one lives by.
Likewise, the average dog-owner loves their dog and protects and feeds it each day, but he or she most likely also eats meat. This complete lack of understanding and of consistency occurs because one animal is categorized as a "pet" (quite arbitrarily, according to "cuteness" or "companionship ability") and the other as "meat." Again there is faulty compartmentalizing, and in this case compartmentalization leads to almost inconceivable extents of torture and slaughter.
Philosophers and religious (we could even generalize and say intellectuals as a whole) often claim to have a certain set of beliefs, but they compartmentalize those beliefs and do not embody or live them. The majority of others do not even claim to have certain beliefs or philosophies, getting by only on cultural norms and unexamined emotional divisions.
When will people learn that a) beliefs are of the utmost importance, and b) beliefs cannot be compartmentalized? Philosophy should not be something in one’s head, but something that one lives. Religion should be something one lives at all times. Knowledge is valuable only insofar as it allows people to understand the world and their selves better, and live with meaning, purpose, and cohesion. Beliefs are something to embody, something to be lived, lived without making room for the irrational and empty norms of mainstream culture.
Is there no one who has a consistent belief, a consistent understanding? Is there no one living the resultant lifestyle of such beliefs and understanding? For that is the key point: what we really believe will be evidenced in the way we live, and our philosophies and beliefs are only as unique, as authentic, and as cohesive as our lifestyle, our daily way of being. So I ask again, is there no one living a lifestyle based on a consistent belief system?
Where are the prophets? Where are the ascetics who live in the hills The greatness of an age is marked by the existence of such men and women, but where are ours? There are a few, certainly, and praise and admiration are due to those people, the few, the resistant, the whole.
The rest of us wallow in disjunction. We say we believe in something but do not live it, we love one person and starve another, we advocate both nonviolent and violent conflict resolution, we pet one animal and slaughter another. In other words, we bear the marks not of individuals dominated by beliefs we have accepted on our own and molded into a consistent ethic, but rather as individuals dominated by beliefs and lifestyles that we have adopted as features of a culture that promotes a disjointed, emotionalized, compartmentalized, and radically incoherent way of life.