Who am I?

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So many of us believe our identity is formed by what we love.

But what do we mean by “identity?”

What do we mean when we ask “Who am I?” Most of us are referring to our personalities – what we love, what we like, whether we’re introverted or extroverted. And we become passionate about these things because our culture tells us they are vital to who we are.

I disagree.

Sure, we all have personalities, quirks and preferences. But I don’t think those are intrinsic.

So much of our personalities and preferences are learned behaviors that can be unlearned. They are important, but when I talk of identity, I want something concrete – beyond “who am I?” and moving toward “what am I?”

Our culture is humanistic in orientation. We default to humanism in a lot of our thoughts without realizing it because we’ve been saturated with it our entire lives.

Humanism assumes a kind of atheism and, without burdening atheism with a moral judgment, there’s an inescapable logical result when you take it down to its philosophical foundations.

If there is no god(s) and naturalism is right, then the only thing preventing us from doing whatever we want whenever we want are societies, and if you don’t give a fig what other people think about you or what the repercussions are to what you do, then there is nothing to stop you from flaunting society’s conventions.

It’s a deep rabbit hole, but if there is only naturalism, then morality is only a social convention we’ve all implicitly agreed to.

There is nothing inherently “wrong” or “good” about anything; we’ve just all come to a consensus that some things are good and other things are bad.

And in our individualistic age, who is to say that society has anything right?

Most of us seem to rely on majority public opinion on any given topic, but we see people screw things up all the time – so what if the lemmings all say one thing? Who says they know what they’re talking about?

Nietzsche was right – triumph belongs to those who have the will to seize it, to bend the world toward their desires. The Sith have their revenge.

A common response to this kind of thinking is, “Dude, don’t be an a-hole.” But, seriously – if naturalism is true, this isn’t thinking like an “a-hole;” it’s thinking like a winner. Like someone who is freed from the chains of convention and realizes life is what he or she makes it.

This is only thinking like an a-hole if naturalism is false; you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

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This is why you see so many people with identity crises – we don’t know who the heck we are because subconsciously we think humanity is just another animal who happened upon the universe, so, our “identity” is whatever we want to make it. A lot of us wake up one day thinking, “Wait, what am I doing? My life is about an office job, an unhappy marriage, ungrateful kids, and debt? Nah…I choose, uh…..this [insert idol here].”

Like it or not, we all worship something because we all look for something for our life to be about – our identity.

And when culture tells us our life is about “me” and whatever I want it to be about because there is no greater meaning other than whatever it is I want, then suddenly my opinions and preferences become so much more than opinions and preferences – suddenly I’m heavily invested in them because these are mine, and that’s all I have.

This must be who I am, this must by my identity, how dare you question it?

There is, however, an alternative.

Perhaps our identity as humans is found by realizing we are here for a purpose; that there is more to the universe than meets the empirical eye.

If we believe that we have a purpose, suddenly all sorts of things stop having a death-grip on our self-conceptions.

Suddenly I don’t identify myself by my race, my gender, my sexuality, my opinions, my preferences, my personality, because I realize they aren’t who I am (maybe the world becomes a little less polarized? God, we could only hope).

They aren’t my identity, because my identity is only wrapped up in what I was created to be, and maybe – since we are all human – in some sort of important way, we all have the same basic identity.

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5 thoughts on “Who am I?

  1. I’m intrigued by the argument put forward.
    “the only thing preventing us from doing whatever the heck we want whenever we want are societies, and if you don’t give a fig what other people think about you or what the repercussions are to what you do, then there is nothing to stop you”

    Totally right, but except for the 1% of the population who are psychopaths (sorry, Antisocial Personality Disorder) we all do care what other people think of us – we all do want relationships and so we do all conform to the group norms -however they come about.

    • Thanks for your comment, Hannah! Absolutely, we do all care what others think (minus that 1%). What concerns me is, if we assume naturalism, I am not sure what reason there is to justify said care other than a fear of being labeled a psychopath. If I am understanding Nietzsche and Foucault correctly (and I certainly may not be), they are advocating that – at one level – we shouldn’t care what society thinks about us (though most of us do), because that is an unnecessary constraint we allow to be thrust on us. Not that they are explicitly stating to go full-out psychotic, but that is the logical extent of that line of reasoning (that even the definition of “psychotic” is a social construct, so it is a phrase that has no meaning unless we choose to accept that social limit).

      At its best, this rationale would result in a sort of Ayn Rand-like person who moves through life utterly at the discretion of his or her individual impulses while magnanimously not resorting to completely destroying the rest of us in the process. One can certainly choose to accept the limits of society within this kind of framework (I’m thinking of Richard Rorty in particular here), but one has to admit that this is only a choice that one is not compelled to make for any other reason than one does indeed care about others.

      But I am concerned that, eventually, it will become far too common for several folk to tire of this choice and give in to the constant temptation presented in this worldview of just doing whatever I want no matter what. Hitler was famously a close student of Nietzsche; Nietzsche himself ended up completely losing his mind; and (allegedly) Foucault ended up intentionally spreading AIDS through bathhouses before he died. And yet, these philosophies continue to directly influence much of our contemporary thought.

      I don’t like that, but I think that is what you get if you let this thought play out all the way through.

    • That is to say, what we rightly acknowledge to be psychotic kind of thinking implicitly has this stigma removed within this worldview. In particular I’m reminded of this section quoted from an article that covered a workshop of scientists and philosophers called “Moving Naturalism Forward” –

      “One notable division did arise among the participants, however. Some of the biologists thought the materialist view of the world should be taught and explained to the wider public in its true, high-octane, Crickian form. Then common, nonintellectual people might see that a purely random universe without purpose or free will or spiritual life of any kind isn’t as bad as some superstitious people—religious people—have led them to believe.

      “Daniel Dennett took a different view. While it is true that materialism tells us a human being is nothing more than a ‘moist robot’—a phrase Dennett took from a Dilbert comic—we run a risk when we let this cat, or robot, out of the bag. If we repeatedly tell folks that their sense of free will or belief in objective morality is essentially an illusion, such knowledge has the potential to undermine civilization itself, Dennett believes. Civil order requires the general acceptance of personal responsibility, which is closely linked to the notion of free will. Better, said Dennett, if the public were told that ‘for general purposes’ the self and free will and objective morality do indeed exist—that colors and sounds exist, too—’just not in the way they think.’ They ‘exist in a special way,’ which is to say, ultimately, not at all.

      “On this point the discussion grew testy at times. I was reminded of the debate among British censors over the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover half a century ago. ‘Fine for you or me,’ one prosecutor is said to have remarked, ‘but is this the sort of thing you would leave lying about for your wife or servant to read?'”

      Full article here: http://m.weeklystandard.com/articles/heretic_707692.html?page=1

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