Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Issues With Self-Examining Identity

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of how we define ourselves as a person. I've started the idea of making an "About Me" video once every year to chart the progress of me as a person. I refer to vlogging as a form of "visual autobiography" which is in itself problematic in terms of representation and its inherent constructed nature. The basic issue is that because I choose what to present myself as, I thus create a subjective representation as a front to the world as a whole. It isn't an inherent fiction, but is not an accurate reality either.

So how does one define the self accurately? I'm not sure there is a system that is all encompassing that enables an individual to properly define and convey identity and individuality through anything but prolonged exposure to a person. Think about who you are as a person (an abstract and intangible idea) and then try to describe it in words. For example: I am a nice person. But what is nice? Nice as a word is solid, without spectrum, and thus suddenly creates both a strict and confined category, but also an inherently subjective one as you are now trying to convey to someone else your meaning through a sign system that is flawed because you have your own personal idea of what "nice" is based on your context and personal history, that is not the same as their idea of what "nice" is. I'm nice because I don't actively insult people. Someone else's idea of nice is that they go out of their way to be considerate of helpful to others. To some this then is very nice. This "very" thus creates a sense of spectrum. There's nothing to compare it to and if you did, you cannot convey the comparison point to another person without assuming they innately understand that too from their reference point in the hopes that they align.

Creating a list of qualities that describe a person begins categorising yourself based off unclear criteria. There is no objective scale to the validity and intensity of these criteria. You can be a bit nice, just nice, very, not very, extremely, a lot, pretty, normally, often nice, etc... These then create approximations as guidelines. Well isn't that enough? We are surrounded by the subjectivity and issues of connotation vs denotation of language in our everyday life. This issue here is a universal issue and thus as it is normalised isn't it irrelevant? A person does not need to be definable by words (seeing as this is in itself difficult and vague).

Well we then must examine how someone constructs their own identity. There are so many different factors outside of personality traits that a person can find as an integral part of their identity. For example their sexuality, nationality, or their commitment to a specific community such as Nerdfighteria. They then divide these into either facets of defining features. Now I'm a nerdfighter, but I don't view this as an integral part of who I am. It is an addition to me, not what defines me as a person because, as I see it, it has not altered my personality, merely aligned perfectly with the qualities I already held as part of the core of who I am. Other people choose very much so that being a Nerdfighter is what they are. Similarly a person can have a strong patriotic association with their country, but others may simply think of themselves as "Australian" simply because that is where they happened to be born. Another way of looking at it is this: Lindsey Stirling plays the violin and she is a violinist. Einsten played the violin, but he is a physicist. The things we do and are play smaller or larger parts in how we construct our own identities given how much weight we attribute to them.

I personally have no patriotic sense of Australia in a nationalistic sense, but I do love the idea that due to geography I am Australian. When summer comes, it is an Australian summer. When the air wraps around you like a warm blanket and the eucalyptus leaves have dried out and saturated the air with their scent. Native birds fly overhead and there is this very sense that is Australia. There's no politics involved, this is simply a shared experience of atmosphere and iconic flora/fauna that others around can identify with on a personal level. It is my childhood, it is my day to day life, it is not merely a tourist experience but a strong sense of seasonal nostalgia.

We now find that simply listing "I am Australian" is an over simplification of a person because we both require a definition of the category, but also the motivation for that category. Identity is inherently complex not just as a concept, but to explain it.

I also recently thought about my self-conception of my identity as a fixed point vs the reality of its fluidity. When driving along I realised that I often describe myself as an introvert who hates making phone calls because they stress me out. But I am increasingly more capable of picking up phones and just making phone calls. Suddenly reflecting upon my identity in terms of personal qualities had proved problematic because it had solidified it when in actuality it was in flux. I'm 21, I have not finished going through big changes in my life to reach a point of safety and calm in my development as a person. In fact, that might never come. After University is moving out, dating, marriage, children, as children grow up and change so does my role as a parent, middle age, children moving out, retirement, etc... death of loved ones destroys the idea of me as a part of a bond between two or more people.

How can I understand my identity if I never examine it? But if I examine it I create a constructed image that can become outdated. Schroedinger's Self-Conception. Self reflection becomes important to self understanding. Alternatively identity can remain as an abstract concept not consciously understood but demonstrated through actions and thoughts without having to filter through the subjective personal bias of your own insecurities and self esteem. One of my favourite faux-philosophical questions to ask in a satirically-pretentious fashion when asked "who are you?" is "who are any of us? Can we really know the self?" Only now have I started to really think about it in depth.

Of course we know who we are... we are who we are who we know we are. You are as you are. But you don't need to put it into concrete words because they will always be inadequate for appropriately encompassing the complexity that is you. A person can be defined by their interaction with their surroundings and that is good enough I think. After all, words are but ideas, but actions are demonstrations of those ideas. I'm not a musician because I can play an instrument but because I play it with the purpose of engaging with it in a sense that demonstrates that I am. I am Australian because in my mind I react to the stimuli in a way that I find suits my abstract idea of what it means for me to be Australian. I have only managed to put it into words through practice of expression and over 2 decades of experiencing that stimuli so that I have adequate knowledge to construct those sentences.

So yeah... define yourself through actions not words I think is the eventual conclusion to this.


Marilena said...

Great post. Have you ever read 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder?

Bilby P. Dalgyte said...

Alas, I have not. It looks interesting though.

Marilena said...

You should check it out sometime - it's quite eye opening.