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Musing on identity - Zer Netmouse
August 28th, 2007
10:01 pm

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Musing on identity
From Master and Commander, by Mr. O'Brian,

   'Identity?' said Jack, comfortably pouring out more coffee. 'Is not identity something you are born with?'
   'The identity I am thinking of is something that hovers between a man and the rest of the world: a mid-point between his view of himself and theirs of him - for each, of course, affects the other continually. A reciprocal fluxion, sir. There is nothing absolute about this identity of mine.'


This seems rather sympathetic to my own experience.
Your thoughts?

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From:howardtayler
Date:August 29th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)
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The difference between how you see yourself and how you are seen by others (taken as individuals, not as an entity) is like the difference between the acid and the base in a battery. Bridge it, and you get current. Energy. POWER. This is why personal contact and real communication between individuals is so wonderful.

But to say that "identity" cannot exist without The Other is misleading. Certainly if you're completely alone your self-image will be different than if you have someone to talk to besides rocks and trees, but that's just the difference between the socialized and the unsocialized you.

At your core you have an identity that is yours and no-one else's. Perhaps identity is the wrong word. Or maybe, given that English is hell-bent on redefining and overburdening existing words, we don't have a RIGHT word. Certainly in the context of "online banking" and "going to the DMV" there is a concept of identity that is fairly rigid. If your DMV identity can change depending on who is behind the camera, it's not reciprocal fluxion. It's fraud.

Ultimately I believe what Hogarth told the Iron Giant. "You are who you choose to be. YOU choose."
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From:atdt1991
Date:August 29th, 2007 05:00 am (UTC)
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I think I'm pretty solidly behind your ideas, beyond the first paragraph at the least. I don't see self-identity and imposed identity as necessarily relating. I think, personally speaking, that getting the identity imposed by others close to one's self-identity can be an excellent state of being (if you happen to like yourself, that is), but it is only in specific social circumstances that they interrelate.

A problem with the idea, in my opinion, is reducing the complexity of one's social interaction with the world into one thing - "Other". For I have my mother, who never seems to have a word of praise for me to my face but praises me to others, my potential significant other, who may see me as noble and lionhearted or as cowardly and vicious, my friends, my coworkers, and those people I run into every day who make their own judgments about me.

All of them have different opinions about who I am, and some of them have more impact than others. I would not say that that impact is easily defined as, say, one person believing I am dishonest pushes me further toward self-identifying as dishonest. Depending on the circumstances it may be true or at least compelling, or it may be a repulsive impression... and of course how one communicates their impressions vastly changes the way in which those impressions are interpreted.

I think self-identity and imposed identity are too complex, too disordered/random, occasionally to be defined in any simple equation. One simple experience as a child can significantly alter one's self-identity for, perhaps, life, and may not involve any predictable social interaction.
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From:netmouse
Date:August 29th, 2007 11:48 am (UTC)
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Aside from judgments, we receive from other people their hopes for us, in either subtle or direct ways, and most certainly we choose who to be, but our choices will be very different in the face of people whose expectations we know or imagine and either plan to satisfy or disappoint, depending on how we like them.

Those people cannot claim ownership of your identity, but they influence it by influencing your choices - by being strong forces in the environment through which we navigate, both practically and emotionally (noting that the choices we make are based on our perceptions, which are imperfect, so that a person's influence may often be different, even contrary to what they'd wish, were everything clear and straightforward - yet at the same time the influence of other people can sometimes clarify, and thus avoid our making that sort of mistake. It is all every which way).

Further, everything we choose to do changes who we are, in that it leads to experience, which I think is probably the main shaper of men.
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From:sylo_tode
Date:August 29th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
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Identity is how you define yourself, but you only define yourself in relation to others.
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From:sraun
Date:August 29th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
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I don't know if I agree with that. I think there's a point where there is me, and there is not me, and I know what parts are me. But, at this level, we don't have the language to talk about it. I can accept your statement with the caveat "when we talk about it with others".
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From:sylo_tode
Date:August 30th, 2007 10:18 am (UTC)
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"when we talk about it with others"

And, thus, you are defining yourself in relation to others. When we talk about it with others, we are getting their input. Their input is based entirely on their experiences or observations of others with similarities.

Identity is what separates us from others. Without an "other" with which to compare, we just are and there's no need for an identity.

How would you identify yourself without making any comparisons to others?
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From:atdt1991
Date:August 29th, 2007 05:04 am (UTC)
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However, as far as identity goes, I do identify with "There is nothing absolute about this identity of mine". I do believe that I choose my identity, in small and large ways, each day, and that every day I have the choice to change my identity by my behavior and my thinking.

That change is just as authentic as any subconscious change, IMO. I think the idea that we are one thing from birth to death is a concept we've struggled with since long before written language, and continue to struggle with to this day, and I just do not believe that it is necessarily so.
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From:sraun
Date:August 29th, 2007 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Something that has, IMAO, some bearing on the question. I'm quoting Aral Vorkosigan, talking to Miles, A Civil Campaign, Chapter 15:
Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.

I think there may be a similar distinction to be drawn for identity - you have the portions of your identity that are internally you, and the portions that are related to your interactions with the outside world. Unfortunately, I'm not certain what to call the two facets. Public identity and private identity don't quite work.
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From:netmouse
Date:August 29th, 2007 02:58 pm (UTC)
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oh, very relevant, thanks!

The concept and process of self-knowledge are two things I'm working very hard on right now. Honor is indeed internal, and yet we tend to define our own understanding of that based on past or potential future impacts of our judgments and character - on others as well as ourselves - do we not?

At least, I am mindful of the fact that with all honorable intentions, ignorance and lack of consideration especially may lead one to do something that must cause re-examination of one's inner stance and bearing.
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From:netmouse
Date:August 29th, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC)
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(else we do not grow)
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From:childe
Date:August 31st, 2007 03:44 am (UTC)
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This hits a chord pretty deep within me. Resonates.
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