The dirt god syndrome
Carlos Basurto | Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Truth be told, there is a recurring issue I have found that has proven to be both deeply saddening and terrifying. That is, to encounter those who suffer from the dirt god syndrome.
Though there are many others more intelligent and prepared than I who have appropriate declamations against its dangers, I wish to explore this issue from an existential perspective.
For, after all, what makes you you? I mean not to be talkative, but many would agree that the sum of relationships in your life has an influence on the person you become or, at the very least, how you act. You are a child of someone, a parent of another, a student to many, a teacher to yourself. You own a body with particular and occasionally unchangeable characteristics capable of perceiving emotions and live in a household with beliefs: some cultural, others social or economical and perhaps a few political. You have an origin with a traceable and determined point in space and time and must deal with the consequences of such an existence. All that is to say, a portion of your identity can be understood with the pieces offered to you by everything and everyone around you.
This is the fundamental issue at hand because, ultimately, those fragments are not you. Not really, not in the manner in which it ontologically transforms you. I like to see them as reference points, lighthouses that remind you of the general shape and scope of the shore before the sea of the self. They may help you remind yourself regarding the position you inhabit in the universe at a given time, but in the end, they are not to be confused with the building blocks that conform or even generate the self.
These reference points have nevertheless proven to be quite useful so as to act in a particular desired manner and their hierarchy serves the purpose of guidance towards what matters most. Only by holding certain reference points over others can one have a solid grasp on what is important to them. A parent can only truly ever be a great guardian if they consider their relationship to their child — and all of the social responsibilities it conveys — to be an imperative element of how they ought to act. If they do not care or do not consider themselves to have the want to play the role of a parent in a genuine way, they will never succeed in properly raising their children.
Still, even on these occasions, the parent must uphold an individual identity. Otherwise, the parent runs the risk of becoming dependent on the child to make sense of their individuality (of which they lack a true one). Any minor inconvenience that takes place with their relationship will not only result in the understandable and reasonable set of complex emotions that make one upset, disappointed or conflicted, but rather, it will also threaten the semblance of who they are as a person. Worse yet, it turns what could have been a beautiful relationship into an object of desperation for the parent, for their child becomes naught but a tool for understanding the parent’s world and identity — rather than an individual worthy of the same opportunities and respect. This is unhealthy in many ways and will not allow the parent to properly perform their role.
Thus, regardless of how positive or important a reference point may seem, the distinction must always be made: the reference points are meant to offer guidance, not override the self. When one loses sense of the self, in their panic, they may mistakenly take arbitrary reference points to be their identity. They will begin to understand only in relation to a particular reference point. They ask not, “what do I want to do?” but “what would a good student want to do?”
Then, they are entirely at the mercy of the reference point. They cannot comprehend anything without it, becoming the foundation for who they are. She is not Amy, she is a good sibling and nothing else beyond that. Anything beyond that scope is either irrelevant or unapproachable — Amy exists not, only as an archetype of siblinghood. This leads to obvious psychological conflicts, but the danger is made apparent when one realizes “good student” or “good sister” can be replaced with anything at all and have the same strength for the speaker. That is, forces of evil or other lost individuals can coerce those with fragile senses of self to cling to their chosen arbitrary archetypes for their benefit.
This is possible due to the fact that the reference point becomes unequivocally unquestionable. To reason against it threatens not only something a person believes in, but the very fundamental sprouts of their logic and worldview.
The reference point transforms into law, it becomes divine word.
This is when they begin to believe in the dirt god.
Some reference points, under specific circumstances, can be framed so as to be perversely convincing. It matters not that these reference points may ultimately be nothing — lines drawn in the sand separating countries, sporadic and arbitrary distinctions between races or sexualities – for subjectively, through the help of conniving actors, they can become a matter of life and death, matter worth killing and dying for. These people can make dirt itself seem like God.
The dirt god syndrome is the resulting irrational veneration of a frivolous and frequently harmful conclusion due to supplanting your identity with what is, ultimately, a trivial reference point. A clear example of this is state-centered mania, such as nationalism or patriotism. If you suffer from the dirt god syndrome, being an American becomes not simply a way of knowing where and when you are, but your identity depends on your being an American and, if convinced that you must commit certain actions to retain that sense of self, the lengths you could go to strike down threats are completely unconscionable.
Yet, how could you not? The very soil you were born on is your God.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.