Monday, November 29, 2004

Who do you say I am?

The question of identity. How do we know who we are? Where does our "sense of self," come from? Not in the Western philosophical tradition sense, but in the everyday, walking around talking, sense. Phenomena, but not phenomenology (there is a time and place for everything). Here is what's on offer.

Identity comes from those around us, and who we surround ourselves with. We identify with our group, and shape our personal identities from the group we accept, and which accepts us. When that group betrays signs of change in its identity, we either accept it, or are threatened by it. Witness the animosity last night as one example. Trolls are the other. They're identity is formed either in argument with others here, or just in opposition. Or, probably more correctly, they are threatened by our community, since it calls into question their community, and their identity. When identity is threatened, we attack.

So some are threatened by gay marriage; or identify with religious fundamentalism; or even with materialism, logical positivism, what-have-you. It can be understood in terms of threat response, or identity acceptance. Some think it explains the roots of violence in the world: "we" are attacked, and "we" must respond, in order to remain who "we" are. Verbal or physical, it's all a matter of degree.

This is the scenario being painted now, between the "red" and the "blue" states: us v. them, where "they" are against everything "we" stand for. But the question for us is: who are we? Democrats? Progressives? Liberals? Right (as in correct, true, sounder in our thinking than "they" are?). It is our identity that is under challenge. Is there a response better than: "Destroy them. They are the problem?" In the battle over identity, when do we declare victory? When our identity is the only one permitted? Isn't that what we accuse them of wanting to do?