I readily admit to being provocative, sometimes edgy, and polemic, but not without qualification. I keep coming across Strawson’s work, and I agree with much of it, though I feel he’s an edge case in the eyes of many. Even when discussing Strawson’s views with others, I get ‘the look’, this incredulous half-cocked quizzical glare.

In fact, I am reminded of an online conversation altercation I had recently on the topic of identity, cutting to the chase, here’s the big reveal:

You are intentionally being contrarian for no reason other than attempting to appear worldly and intellectually superior.

All living people have an identity. Every single human being. It’s not a philosophical argument. It’s basic vocabulary. Just because another culture has a different name for it, doesn’t make it untrue.

Out of courtesy I’ll withhold the ‘identity’ of this individual, save to say it is an undergraduate.

I think it’s obvious to consider the notion of identity to be self-referential. I am supposed to have a self with some concomitant identity, and so are you. According to the dictionary definition, shared by the student I engaged with, individuals possess some distinguishing character or personality. This is vague. Presumably, there needs to be some constellation of characteristics to make them distinguishing. I don’t suspect that I’m allowed to be identified by non-distinguishing features.

I’m imagining a Ku Klux Klan meeting somewhere in America. Seeking ‘Sam’, I ask the doorman where I can find him. He knows Sam and conveys that he’s a white guy wearing a white sheet with a pillowcase with eye holes.”

Never mind, perhaps I should have referenced penguins. I suppose that’s why they tag them. Is that their identity. It doesn’t feel right. I’m rambling.

Identity is predicated on the notion of the self. I’m partial to Strawson here, but I think I am somewhere in the middle. I understand that the standard narrative is that we construct a narrative to represent our self. This creates a heuristic. But life is not a story.

The problem with this concept is that people configure this narrative differently. Using video vocabulary as a reference, I can think of several approaches straightaway:

  1. 60 FPS (frames per second)
  2. 15 FPS
  3. Dropping frames

There is a memory component. I can also think of only capturing high-lights, low-lights, or some combination. My event-triggered home security camera system captures certain movement and sound, but different cameras capture different frames under different conditions, for differing durations, at different intervals, and at different fidelity. Moreover, it also captures certain aspects of any given frame.

Add to this false memories and misremembered content as well as conveyed narratives that you include in this composite. Examples from my life are stories I heard my mum telling her friends over and over as I was growing up. I have no native memory, but if I were to reconstruct a sense of self, I’d want to include them with native memories.

Memories of my early life are fragmented, and I don’t remember anything before age 5 or so. And even then, I can recall maybe 2 or 3 events unprompted. If asked if I remember this or that event, I may or may not, and it might be true or not.

I can’t claim the same lack of continuity as Strawson, I do feel that it might be substantially weaker than that of the general public. Just reflecting back top of mind, I remember these select events:

  • Relating my judo lessons to my grade three classmates
  • Being bored to tears in grade four because I had been demoted to a ‘standard’ class and being re-promoted to advanced placement classes when I ‘acted out’ due to shear boredom
  • Being adopted by my stepdad and taking his last name in grade four
  • My mate, Carl, also being adopted and taking an entirely new name—not just the last name
  • Various domestic abuse episodes
  • Choosing the coronet as a grade five school band instrument because my dad wouldn’t allow me to play the drums

After this, I can start to remember more and more, but not significantly so. I can remember certain classmates and interactions, teachers, friends and neighbours. If I stitched it together as a single filmstrip, it would be underwhelming and wouldn’t likely make much sense to anyone else. And who could even identify dramatic effect?

In stop motion parlance, there is a notion of keyframes and tweening. The aforementioned events would serve as keyframes. Tweening is the interpolation between these frames that morph and create the appearance of motion. This tweening never actually happened. It’s only realised during playback. How much of self and indentity are this filler?

At this point, I am thinking that what I am doing is setting the stage to say that the self is incomplete and imperfect, but I am leaving room for its existence. And of course, it exists. It’s a phenomenon, and we’ve labelled it. What more can one ask for?

I’m still trying to put it all together, but my ‘I’ keeps changing. How can I tame Haidt’s elephant?

“The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.”

― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

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