Identifying Identity

“Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.”

— Voltaire

God knows that I am not interested in God, but in the quoted sentence, ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him‘, Voltaire has established a pattern: If X did not exist, it would be necessary to invent X. Identity is a possible X. Time and now are other possible Xs.

I’ll focus on identity. That identity is a social construct may be technically correct, but so what? My position is that identity doesn’t exist, yet people–including me–identify. We search for identities that don’t exist. What I was when I looked is no longer there. And if someone invents a new attribute of identity, we tend to evaluate how we relate to it. Among other things, cognition is a difference engine.

“The mirror is a worthless invention. The only way to truly see yourself is in the reflection of someone else’s eyes.”

— Voltaire

When the concept of race is brought up—as invalid of a concept as it may be—, we assess how we relate to it. Sex, gender, self—it’s all the same pattern.

I’ve written on race identity in the past. Given it’s a fiction for the human species, it’s a moving target even within the realm of identity, a moving target in its own right. In my estimation, race is a conflation of colour, class, and culture—evidently, the 3Cs. So, although I don’t believe the concept of race is valid for homo sapiens sapiens, I still have a sense of what the users of this term mean. Besides colour, which I feel is the primary attribute, couched in this notion is cultural affinity as proxied by national original, another nonsensical notion.

In my case, I was raised as a WASP. My family background is white, Anglo-Saxon (Norwegian), and Protestant (Northern Baptist), so in the US I am afforded privilege. Were I to play it up, I should be able to parlay this into better jobs, better housing in better neighbourhoods, with access to better networks, and on and on. And even though I don’t play that game, I still accrue some of these benefits. Others I eschew. But I have options. This is the nature of privilege.

I don’t identify as white, nor do I identify as black or brown. This mantle is cast upon me. I can deny the notion, but I am helpless. Just as the black person can’t escape being identified as being black, the white person is similarly chained to their whiteness. In the United States, historically, a white person can deny the attribute of white, but simpletons will still consider them as white. But this is not a disadvantage to overcome. Some might argue that with a shifting colour landscape these days are coming to an end, but they haven’t ended yet, to the chagrin of the white folk who want to continue to ride the wave of privilege. People of colour, on the other hand, likely want to see this wave crash (and burn, if that’s possible).

But I’ve gone off the plantation—or is that reservation? No matter. Identity is nothing more than a connected locus of stateless states. It’s an n-dimensional snapshot of everchanging moments. The relationship between identity and identification might be viewed by analogy as the relationship between sex and gender, both social constructions in their own right. As with sex, identity is assigned. Except in rare cases, one doesn’t have the option of denying their biological sex. As with gender, identification is a space where you can self-assess. It’s just as pointless, but it somehow makes us feel better.

As with Voltaire’s quip, if the Self did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. And invent, we do. As with objects in physical space, there is more absent than there, but that doesn’t prevent us from imagining it as real and present. In the end, identification is a heuristic that has survived as an evolutionary fitness trait. For what it’s worth, it affords us the capacity to differentiate between friends and enemies, us and them. But it also can be over-indexed and lead to unwanted or at least unexpected results. The question is how much energy should one expend on identity formation and assessment?

Authentic Authenticity

Although I have written about authenticity in the past, I’ve been wanting to delve deeper for a while. I’ve been engaged in a discussion thread, which has motivated me to accelerate. This acceleration has forced some trade-offs, but I feel I can present a cogent position nonetheless. This segment will be more editorialising than academic, and I expect to short-shrift the historical perspective. Perhaps I’ll expand on these aspects in future.

I expect this graphic to serve as a visual reference to abbreviate some typing. Below, I reference the captions of the cards in order.

Self-Oriented Authenticity

Let’s commence with some definition and exposition.

Self

This is the unadulterated core of a person’s existence. The religious might term this as a soul. For those who favour reincarnation, this is the bit that travels from time to time, body to body.

Identity

Identity is a shell formed around the Self based on environmental inputs such as social cues. It’s about perception. Essentially, the goal would be to mimic the Self. There are several challenges to this notion. I’ll return to this, but one of these is identity composition.

Identity Composition

The notion of identity is that it is a composite of various dimensions, each of which is a social reflection if not actively socially generated. Combined, these dimensions constitute identity. Does one self-identify as athletic, intelligent, witty, gregarious, quick-tempered, altruistic, and on and on. Does one have a certain gender identity? What about sexual orientation? Occupational identity? Identities around affiliations of religion or philosophy? Identities related to personae—a worker, an entrepreneur, a day-trader? Mother, father, sibling, coworker, student…

In the end, the picture illustrates that identity is a bundle of particular identities. Presumably, these identities can shift or reprioritise by time or place. You may choose to hide your Furry identity from your mum and coworkers—or your preference to identify as a CIS male with a sexual orientation toward women and yet prefer to wear dresses.

This brings us to authenticity.

Authenticity

Facile authenticity might be thought of as how well aligned your behaviours are with your identity and your Self. According to the mythos, the perfect trifecta is that these are all in perfect alignment—like Babushkas, Russian stacking dolls, neatly nested. This notion has some practical problems already hinted at.

Authenticity Composition

The first challenge is an extension of the identity composition problem. As Identity is multidimensional, so must authenticity be. If one dimensionalises identity into some array from 0 to 6, then in a perfect arrangement, each of the expressions of these particular identities needs to have a corresponding authenticity pairing. Yet this is unlikely.

Performance

In practice, we need to look at how a person performs and compare that to their self-identity. This creates a challenge. How another person identifies a person may not align with their self-identity. We may have no insights into how a person sees themself. This is the reaction we have when someone we ‘know’ commits suicide. S/he seems so happy. S/he had everything. We see smiling depression.

Assuming we have some magic identity lens, we are left with a self-alignment challenge. A person has no access to their own Self, and others have less access still. This is where psychoanalysis fails practically and succeeds economically. They get paid to divine the Self, but that pseudoscience is for another day.

Regarding the illustration, we see a derangement of performances. This is in a lesser state of disarray because the Self is sublimated, but we notice that dimensions 1 and 3 are aligned, whatever they might be. Dimension 0 is off centre, but it somehow remains within the bounds of identity. But dimensions 2, 4, and 6 are ostensibly inauthentic. This person claims to be a vegan, yet is eating Wagyu beef in a teppanyaki house.

And dimension 5 is absent. This person identifies, say, as a musician, and yet plays no instrument efficiently. Whether s/he claims to be a musician or just feels that s/he is a musician seems beside the point. There is no performance. There is no expression.

Summary

Not even a summary. This was a concise download of my current perspective. I hope that it at least provides something to react to. If you have any perspective to lend, feel free to comment below.

Find Yourself

Find your self. What is this self you are searching for, and who is you in the first place?

You and self are taxonomical references—conveniences—, yet they don’t actually exist.


πάντα ῥεῖ : The only constant is change

Heraclitus of Ephesus

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy rules. Things decay. We can see this in the great structures of our ancient past. Try as we may, without energy, everything falls apart.

There is no you. The you that was born is not the same you that attended kindergarten, that graduated high school, dated, worked, or died. Even in a short span of time, you switch personae. Can you be multiple yous simultaneously? Are you only expressing some instance or another? I’m not buying it.

No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same person

Plato, attributed to Heraclitus

When Heraclitus said that no man ever steps into the same river twice, it’s not only the river that has changed; the person has changed, too. It’s not the same person.

Woman in River

For the sake of convenience, we create this sense of identity, whether for ourselves or for others we want to categorise in some form or fashion. But they aren’t the same either.

It’s like the physical object that appears to be solid and yet is more space than material. It’s a matter of convenience, but it’s a trompe l’oeil. Yet again, your senses have deceived you.

Does this impact survival or some evolutionary progression? Apparently not. Not if you are here to read this. But that doesn’t make it real. Perception is reality.

But what about identity politics? Can’t a person choose their own identity? Sure. Choose away. It doesn’t it real.

When you search for yourself, you may actually find something, but what you find is not likely you.

I’ve written about the difference between sex and gender. Both are taxonomical creations. Whether a society accepts the distinction between sexes, genders, or even of the distinction of sex and gender is up to that society.

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

Simone de Beauvoir, Second Sex

As with sex and gender, identity is a social construct. As such, its acceptance into a society is yet again a rhetorical effort.