To belong or not to belong
Updated: Feb 25
Several weeks ago, quite possibly months, a friend of mine raised a topic at me that she found intriguing. She asked, “Why did I carry my passport with me at all times?”, which requires a bit of a background - I have been carrying my passport on my person in lieu of an identification card, which on several occasions has prompted a similar response from most people approximating the question ‘but why though?’ and a concern ‘what if it gets lost?’. My response would usually be in two parts, the practical and the hopeful. Wherein the practical one was that I have no other alternative, and the hopeful one was about what if I had to go to London at a moment’s notice.
I can imagine a version of me from the past embedding this story into how I finally made it to London, in a manner that relatively, and metaphorically, seems out of the blue to most with whom I have spoken to about this. But, as things stand, that would not be true. The connection between the hopeful rhetoric and the circumstance of my life is as bleak as it is just a fortunate happenstance in the latter case.
But, I suppose, I do find the conversation I had with my friend about the passport as an excellent segue into something that does tie the trinity the way I see fit; the trinity of the passport, London, and my self. And that something is a question about belonging, and to be precise, the question to belong or not to belong. And it is a question because an understanding of it is pending or, the understanding, in some sense, is amid itself. There is an interesting passage by Heidegger that, in ways more than one, compels me into this inquiry. He says -
Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence- in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself. Dasein has either chosen these possibilities itself, or got itself into them, or grown up in them already. Only the particular Dasein decides its existence, whether it does so by taking hold or by neglecting. The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself.
[…] The question of existence is one of Dasein's ontical ‘affairs'.
The question of belonging might very well be one of the many questions that seem to, then, form the corpus of what the question in the final statement of the extract, seemingly, purports to be. Do I think my writing style is discursive and contingent? I suppose it is. Is it because it has to be? Not really. Then why? Because the alternative, no matter how simple and straightforward, would be inauthentic. This run-up, if you will, is pertinent not because the manner in which the writing follows results in an answer posed by the question, but it is precisely in the manner in which the writing follows that the answer exists.
The word ‘belong’ comes to mean ‘to go along with’. If we were to take the first line of the aforementioned extract, then ‘in terms of a possibility of itself: to be itself or not itself’ opens the inquiry further for one either has to go along with and not go along with insofar as what is implied is an agency of one’s belonging. To be fair, there is a considerable extent to which a sense of belonging falls prior to the formation of one’s sense of self, within the assemblages that norms belong to as Butler (2005) explains “So, in living my life as a recognizable being, I live a vector of temporalities, one of which has my death as its terminus, but another of which consists in the social and historical temporality of the norms by which my recognizability is established and maintained. These norms are, as it were, indifferent to me, to my life and my death.”
But do I think that this relative majority transcends our limited agency? I am not sure although, it is far easier to assume that it does. But to assume that would be to accept the deterministic framework, which seems un-empathetic to human history in the face of its vicissitudes. Although, somewhere between these two ideas, we’ve forgotten or, even better (or worse), we have misled ourselves, in ways more than one, in assuming our condition. We have started going along, as it were, the line of being closely resembling a deterministic framework, manifesting as complacency, conformism, and subservience to an exterior.
Does this analysis imply freedom, exception, or immunity of any order? Of course not. I suppose that my contention lies not in the outcome of the agency but in the nature of the agency, which is implicated within our perspective towards the pathway of the meaning of life. I, for one, think Viktor Frankl came close to the perspective that seems to belong properly within the framework of human vicissitude. He said, “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” The disjunction between action and talk weighed and continues to weigh upon me. But the happenstance of history culminated into the collapse between the two, closely approximating a mode of being wherein I write therefore I belong.
These historical priors inaugurated every subsequent instance ranging from deciding to carry the passport to deciding to move to London. Notice the key words here, ‘inaugurated’ and ‘deciding’. For the former is cognisant of the preceding norms and the latter of agency, for it seems true that “the norm does not produce the subject as its necessary effect, nor is the subject fully free to disregard the norm that inaugurates its reflexivity; one invariably struggles with conditions of one's own life that one could not have chosen. If there is an operation of agency or, indeed, freedom in this struggle, it takes place in the context of an enabling and limiting field of constraint” (Butler, 2005).
This, then, seems to be the starting point for understanding belonging, that which takes place within the aforementioned context. Belonging, in my estimate, would be our response to the understanding of our agency, for the question that is posed, often by the others but also our selves (vis-à-vis, the position-ness of inner dialogue), is not to whom or to where or, even, what do you belong to but what do you believe it to be. Belonging in the traditional sense would, then, be the consequences of the belief itself.
As things stand, this conclusion might be as anti-climactic as it is of an emancipatory nature to me. Does that mean that we belong where we end up in response to where we feel we ought to? Maybe. Does that mean our sense of belonging is as happenstance an occurrence as life itself? Maybe. The question that is raised, possibly as a contention to the preceding questions, is that - what does our acceptance or refusal to the sense of belonging we find ourselves in, as a facticity, mean? And that is where Viktor Frankl meets Heidegger, for the question asked by life, as presented by the former, gets straightened out through existing itself alone.
Butler, J., 2005. Giving an Account of Oneself. Fordham University Press, First edition. New York.
Frankl, V., 2011. Man’s Search for Meaning. Ebury Publishing, New edition.
Heidegger, M., 2019. Being and Time. Harper & Row, Seventh edition. New York
Karsten, A. (2014). Writing: Movements of the self. Theory & Psychology, 24(4), 479–503. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354314541020
 In reality though, she asked, “why did I carry my password with me at all times?” which derailed that part of the conversation.  Given that I did not have a driver’s license, and by the time I started carrying my pan card, the passport became a nonchalant part of my ensemble.  There’s a distinction between me and my self, which is precisely why the usage is as intended.  One can question auto-ethnography for having faults that one can envisage or, even, envision. But, in doing so, one accepts the reductive position of separating the selves and faults, as it were.  One might wonder and even ridicule the agency of belonging if one were to pre-emptively assume that one just belongs.