A Nonfiction Book

Belonging Again (Part 49)

O.G. Rose
15 min readMar 20, 2024

Is “meaning” and “belonging” similes? If not…?

Can meaning give us “rest?” This question brings to mind “The Meaning Crisis,” as discussed by Dr. John Vervaeke, and “meaning” certainly seems necessary for a fulfilling life. In fact, it would seem that those who believe in X who don’t have a purpose can be as alienated and “restless” as those who don’t believe in X (suggesting why ultimately we need X/x) (please note I will be using “purpose” and “meaning” interchangeably in this section, though distinctions can be made elsewhere). Light without something to shine it upon is a bright void, but a void all the same. Humans need purpose, and at the end of the day sports, college, sex, creativity, work, desire, acts of peace, acts of justice, acts of inclusion, acts of the therapeutic, acts of self-denial, and so on are all examples of possible sources from which humans can derive meaning (some more powerful than others). Meaning is an essential human need.

Insomuch as purpose is found in a given x is to the degree that given x helps a person “rest,” even if it is the case that the given x doesn’t provide full rest. Likewise, a person who believes in X but lacks purpose (an x to “shine” that X through and upon) is a person who may have some rest but not complete rest. X without x provides some belonging as can x without X, but it would seem both are needed for “belonging again.”¹ Purpose is necessary (after all, a problem with Pluralism is that it makes all purposes feel “contestable,” making it harder to ascribe to a purpose we need), but purpose doesn’t seem to be enough in of itself, precisely because those who ascribe to it know that they chose it versus it choose them (from God). Immediately this makes the purpose feel like an extension of the self and will, and so an expression of the therapeutic triumphing. Can this feeling be overcome?

At this point, I think we must consider the difference between “meaning” and “belonging,” which though remarkably similar are not identical. It seems to be the case that all belonging entails meaning, but not all meaning entails belonging, even though “the feeling of having meaning” can be identified as “the feeling of having belonging.” Feelings do not tell us what they mean, and so we must decide what we are feeling in the experience of that feeling, and we can call belonging “meaning” and meaning “belonging,” contributing to confusion. Basically, the discovery of ways to generate meaning for individuals will not guarantee the reestablishment of sociological conditions necessary for belonging, and unless meaning and belonging are regained together, “meaning-making practices” will easily only contribute to atomization, tribalization, a loss of “shared intelligibility,” and the like.

Writing can be a deeply meaningful activity, but writing can also contribute to a person feeling like he or she doesn’t belong, for no one around that individual understands the person’s work, thinks writing is a good use of time, or writes themselves; as a result, the writer can feel alone and like he or she “doesn’t belong.” In the act of writing though, a person can become “self-forgetful” and lost in a “flow” in which the problem of “not belonging” is “practically irrelevant” and forgotten, and indeed such a practice can be rejuvenating and life-giving (I support “flow” and think philosophers need to make it central to their thinking). On the flipside, there have been times when I was around people similar to me who shared my beliefs, thus giving me “belonging,” and yet it felt meaningless due to a lack of creative work. In this way, we can see that “meaning” and “belonging” are not identical but ultimately need one another.

If there is “a loss of belonging,” there will also likely be “a loss of meaning,” because without belonging it seems that meaning becomes very fragile (it becomes x without X). Belonging is a product of the sociological conditions which “support us” in our meaning, which is to say that we need belonging to feel like we are not “crazy” in our “meaning-making practices.” Yes, we might be able to train ourselves not to care what others think, but this is the accomplishment of a Deleuzian Dividual and minority of people, and ultimately would suggest a strategy of isolationism and atomization. Indeed, it’s important to have faith in oneself and not be controlled by the expectations of others, but at the same time “not caring what others think” is not a foundation for a social order.

When I can have meaning and also feel like I belong, then I’m able to “feel secure in my meaning,” which is to say I’m not anxious about it or uncertain. At the same time, if I have belonging but no meaning, then the fact I belong will matter little to me. Meaning without belonging can lead to atomization, while meaning in belonging enables socialization but at the risk of collectivism. We can associate “meaning with releases” and “belonging with givens,” and ultimately we dialectically need both. Generally, we could say society is more interested in “belonging,” while individually we are more interested in “meaning” — until that is either gets one without the other, and then we can prove pathological. “Belonging” and “meaning” clearly overlap, and I would argue that for most of history they have been “practically identical” and that it really didn’t matter if we conceptually conflated them, which is to say “The Belonging Crisis” has often been “The Meaning Crisis.” But things have changed. (We’re freer.)

We need both “meaning” and “belonging,” and the loss of one can lead to a crisis of the other. Again, the need to consider a difference between them is likely new, for it was the case that for most of human history, “belonging” and “meaning” mostly overlaid. It was difficult for an individual to find a meaningful activity that radically divided that individual from the community (except perhaps artists and outliers), and when people felt like, “I belong,” they tended not to be as concerned about meaning. Furthermore, in Non-First World Nations, where Freud didn’t believe psychoanalysis was so needed, people were not as concerned about meaning — survival was an accomplishment, and thus fulfillment could be found in it. Today, in the West mainly, where survival is often far easier, survival alone does not fulfill us. We don’t find meaning in the activity, and worse yet we also don’t find “belonging” because “givens” are gone. Our problem is double.

For most of history, “meaning” and “belonging” were merged like two rivers which crossed into one another; today, mainly thanks to technological advancement, the two have been divided. Why I think it is important to catch this division is because we might make a mistake of believing we will fix the problems of “belonging” if we fix the problems of “meaning,” which we have reason to assume because in the past these categories overlapped and constantly intersected. But this is why noting the distinction is so critical: otherwise, we may end up radically disillusioned if our “meaning-making practices” don’t generate the “belonging” we might be reasonably expecting based on history. On the notion of “belonging,” a section from The Pearl by Steinbeck strikes me as useful to consider:

‘It is wonderful the way a little town keeps track of itself and of all its units. If every single man and woman, child and baby, acts and conducts itself in a known pattern and breaks no walls and differs with no one and experiments in no way and is not sick and does not endanger the ease and peace of mind or steady unbroken flow of the town, then that unit can disappear and never be heard of. But let one man step out of the regular thought or the known and trusted pattern […]’²

The paragraph starts with something that sounds beautiful and worth longing for, and yet ends suggesting that we should be careful for what we envision sweetly. I agree, which suggests that we broke down “givens” for “good reason” — how might we restore them without the same potentials for oppression? There’s certainly good reason to think we need to figure this out, for:

‘This indeterminate or open-ended future and the lack of a binding past mean that the souls of young people are in a condition like that of the first men in the state of nature — spiritually unclad, unconnected, isolated with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone. They can be anything they want to be, but they have no particular reason to want to be anything in particular.’³

And according to Naipaul:

‘The world conquerors, the establishers of long-lived systems, have [always understood that] men are bound together by a larger idea. The people to be conquered see less, know less; their stratified or fragmented societies are ready to be taken over.’

If this reflection from V.S. Naipaul is correct, it would seem everyone under Pluralism is ready to be subjugated. Is this the first “historic age” in which everyone is primed to be controlled? If we cannot be Children, we will be childish, and parents will arrive (like in Tocqueville).

The main reason “meaning” and “belonging” have been divided is technology (which is notably mixed with economics). The material and technological condition for most people in most of history were radically similar: where a person lived had a significant influence on a person’s material condition, which similarly shaped his or her neighbors, naturally generating relative degrees of “shared intelligibility.” If I was born in a rural area, I would likely share a life that had a lot to do with farm work; today, it is very possible for a person in one house to spend a lot of time online studying philosophy, while a neighbor drives to a job involving consulting in Europe, while another neighbor works at a factory. Thanks to birth control, one married couple might have children while another does not, while one group of people might be familiar with sexuality outside a marital context, and so on; in the past, it was generally fair to assume that people who were having sex were married and that they would have children, while those who were not married were not having sex and would not be married. No, this was not always the case, and nor do I mean to suggest that this “assumption” was necessarily good: the point is only that “shared intelligibility” was easier to establish, and in this it was also easier to believe like we knew where we “belonged.” If we “belonged,” precisely in participating in this “belonging,” our life was “meaningful” (as reinformed metaphysically and cosmologically by religious narratives, so please don’t take me to be saying that these didn’t play a role). Please note that “belonging” can be oppressive, for if people “belong” doing x, that could suggest a problematic “ought,” as indeed history shows. To stop this oppression, we “rightly” opposed “givens”…

We are not nearly as bound by our materiality as we once were, and though liberating, this greatly limits “shared intelligibility,” which hurts “belonging” precisely in increasing our access to ways of gaining “meaning.” This is key: because we are not bound by our “material condition” so much, we have countless more ways to gain “meaning,” and yet this is precisely a reason why “belonging” is hard to gain, and yet we tend to conflate “meaning” and “belonging” (especially emotionally), which means we are basically doomed to fail from the start. As we gain meaning, we could lose belonging, and as we gain belonging, we could lose meaning, which basically means we are likely never to gain the feeling and “existential stability” for which we are searching. We are searching for stability which results from a combination of “meaning” and “belonging,” which today we uniquely must combine while in the past these two were more naturally combined due to the material and technological condition. And in addition to this unique problem, we also lack the cosmological and metaphysical narratives found in religion that helped us feel as if the universe was full of meaning. This didn’t mean our particular life had meaning, no, but at least it could feel like the universe had our back — but not now.

“Meaning” and “belonging” are not identical, and so addressing one will not necessarily address the other (though it may). If we find meaning in art but it doesn’t fit into anything larger, the “meaning” might start feeling like a distraction, but likewise “belonging” could feel like an oppressive standard against minorities. From my own story, I can say that there was a difference between writing and finding meaning in this activity since I was child, and encountering other people and communities of people who also engaged in creative writing and philosophy. There was a “shared intelligibility” that was very unique and enhancing, and I’m not sure if I would still find meaning in writing today (or find the activity so life-giving) had I never found and encountered others with whom I could enjoy “belonging.” At the same time, there has also been a noticeable difference in character between creatives who believe in some X and/or creators who I would consider Children — the role of X seems like “a third thing” which is needed to underline “meaning” and “belonging.” Thus, there might be three fundamentals:


A Child is someone who has all three of these, and if we need all of these, then we need an X/x. Ironically, everything today feels like an X/x — a “both-ness” — unstable: where X is deconstructed, x “practically becomes X,” and where X is believed in, x is “really” fitted in X. Hence, all of us seem bound for some kind of X/x, so what’s the problem? Indeed, perhaps the problem is not X/x but our orientation to it. Is our challenge just a way of seeing? Is the move from A/A to A/B just “a matter of eyes?” Perhaps.

A Child generates a “created X” that functions as a source of “meaning” and “belonging” in the generation of that X, which suggests that what we should focus on is the ability to “create X” (which is notably paradoxical). If this can be accomplished, then “meaning/belonging” can come as well, but how does a Child decide what “created X” he or she will generate? Mustn’t the Child decide on purpose first, which would fall under “meaning?” Indeed, that seems like a fair focus, and in fact belonging might come last in emphasis, for the Child needs the “created X” before belonging can be realized (which seems to be realized in the same act of “meaning” as “meaning/belonging”). Alright, does that mean “meaning” is primary? Maybe, but then as we discussed in “The Map Crisis” by O.G. Rose we cannot say “meaning” is everything, and furthermore I don’t think “meaning as created X” is possible without courage and a cultivation of the subject in a manner that can handle “dialectically working through negativity.” This all in mind, if a focus on “meaning” is somehow fundamental before “belonging,” it will be critical that we determine in what sense we discuss “meaning” and according to what practices it might be gained. This will have to be kept in mind throughout Belonging Again (Part II).

Regardless, the point is that “meaning” and “belonging” are not technically identical even if historically they tended to almost always “practically” seem identical. This is important to note, because it means that an experience of meaning which isn’t a “created meaning/X” will not necessarily also provide “belonging,” for “belonging” requires something greater than ourselves into which we can fit ourselves, and that requires us to treat something that we create as authoritative over us (just as Nietzsche taught). In this way, if we are to emphasis and focus on “meaning-making practices” as primary, by this we must mean “creating an X,” which is to say we must be discussing the topic in the context of Will and Childhood. If in that context, I have no problem with the focus on meaning, but I would stress that “meaning” in this context requires a profound work on the subject. It means meaning requires Nietzsche, and Nietzsche demands hardship. Meaning is a product of dignified suffering, courage, and sacrifice.

Our Secular Age is “confusion’s masterpiece” (“X is dead”): Pluralism and Globalization are historical moments in which we cannot easily “belong” nor go back: we are dragged forward like Klee’s “angel of history” according to Walter Benjamin — like a bird ‘on an invisible wire attached through space dragged,’ carrying ‘frustration into Eternity.’⁵ To achieve “rest” and escape “confusion’s masterpiece,” (an illusion of) withdrawal will be tempting. However, ‘[s]ince total isolation from the global culture necessarily requires near total isolation from the global economy, the costs of this posture are very high indeed.’⁶ Should we pay these costs? If we affirm that we should, we might be dooming millions to poverty and starvation. Is this moral? Perhaps. Perhaps Duginism may work out (as considered in The Absolute Choice). Perhaps not.

A main claim of this entire paper is that “belonging” and “meaning” are not identical categories. Where there is “belonging,” there tends to also be “meaning” (though not necessarily), and so the concepts can overlap and can also “feel” similar. However, there are distinctions, and this work has hoped to make those distinctions clear. Sociologically, “belonging” is more important than “(individual) meaning,” for “meaning” could destroy the society if it leads to atomization. However, if society is no longer possible who cares? Again, historically, it was “practically” not a mistake to conflate “meaning” and “belonging,” but now this distinction must be considered and maintained. We absolutely need meaning, so I am not saying that work to help people gain meaning is meaningless: my point is that addressing “The Meaning Crisis” will not necessarily address “The Belonging Crisis.” However, perhaps “The Belonging Crisis” cannot be addressed because it is not possible for the majority to become Children or “Absoluter Knowers,” which would actually suggest that it is a better use of time to focus on “The Meaning Crisis” (assuming by this we also take into account courage and other principles noted in “The Map Crisis” by O.G. Rose). Is this the case? Perhaps, but before accepting that conclusion, I think it is worth the effort of Belonging Again (Part II) — but that will be up to readers to decide.

Assuming they are possible, the “Absolute Knower” and Nietzschean Child must internally create something that he or she then projects into the world as external and irreducible to the Child, which the Child then follows as authoritative and “not merely subjective.” In this way, we can say that “intrinsic motivation” is the act of internally creating a value that is then placed in the world as authoritative (externally), while “extrinsic motivation” is the act of being motivated by something external that is then internalized. There is both an internal and external dimension involved in all forms of motivations, but the order is different and critical. Again, as Children, we internally create an X that we then put in the world as an X over us — the fact the X was internally created doesn’t mean we have power over it. No, we create X and then give the power to X, which then empowers us to strive, seek, and refuse to yield (to allude to Tennyson). This is similar to the idea in Christianity that God created humanity and then made humanity have freedom to such a degree that humanity could kill God on the cross. In this way, God gave humanity power over God, and yet God could at any point reduce the universe to ash. A similar model seems to be at play in Nietzsche.⁷

To be an “Absolute Knower” and Child, we must “handle the negativity” of feeling like nothing can be trusted and nothing is “given” (of “being Ludwig,” per se). Perhaps it is only through a crucible of madness, of suffering a feeling that “the earth is unchained from the sun,” that we can become the Children of Nietzsche. If the majority cannot handle this, then perhaps there is no hope for addressing the problems explored in “Belonging Again.” But, to offer a strange beam of possible hope, if there is no God, then it would follow that every person who has believed in God has indeed “self-created/imposed” on themselves an X which is ultimately an x, so this would provide reason to think that the majority of people could in fact be Nietzschean Children, yes (and if God does exist, then can we be Children of God)? A fair point, but there is a difference between “unconsciously self-creating/imposing X/x” and “consciously self-creating/imposing X/x” — what Nietzsche is asking us to do is the later. Consciously and knowingly “self-creating/imposing X/x” is a whole new ballgame. Sure, but Dostoevsky warned that if God didn’t exist, everything would be permitted. This in mind, Peter Berger wrote that ‘if God [did] not exist, any self [would be] possible.’⁸ And indeed, this seems to be the case, so who are we? Children?





¹“How to Make a Place of Rest” by O.G. Rose is an example of a work trying to help people find purpose and “rest” in our Pluralistic Age, but without X, it is questionable how long the “rest” it provides will last.

²Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1992: 41.

³Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1988: 87.

⁴Naipaul, V.S. Among the Believers. New York, NY: First Vintage Books, 1982: 133.

⁵Allusion to The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.

⁶Berger, Peter L. and Samuel P. Huntington. Many Globalizations. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003: 9.

⁷Paragraph inspired by Matthew Stanley.

⁸Berger, Peter. A Far Glory. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1992: 122.




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O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose