A simple definition for Identity

With all this discussion about how identity cam be composed, both of groups and of individuals through groups, it may make sense to take a step back and get a working definition of what “identity” means in the first place.

I will start with my unresearched definition, based solely on reflection and we can revisit and revise based on what centuries of philosophers have to say about it.

To start let’s simply consider identity as the embodiment of thought and action. Embodiment can mean physically, in a person, or ideologically in a group, or around the idea of a person (their spirit – colloquially). Thought and action must be taken together, for thought is unknowable in many cases even to the thinker. Even when thoughts are transcribed to paper this is more the combination of thought and action. Communication of an idea is only a proxy for though and the communication involves some action.

With this base, somewhat objective layar for identity, it is worth considering the layers of perception which truly form the prism of identity. The concept of identity seems to appeal to a singlar instance, but is multifaceted and changes the object depending on the angle of view – much like a prism. There are two basic angles that are most important – the self (or identified) and other (non identified).

  1. From the identified (or inside) perspective there is what one (or a group) thinks of itself, and
  2. what they think others externally think of it.
  3. From the non identified (or outside) perspective there is what the outsider thinks of the identified, and
  4. what they think the identified thinks of itself.

It may sound trivial at first, and indeed may be if all the angles are aligned, but there are interesting conflicts that arrise when each viewing angle sees the identified in a different light.

Let’s take an example. 3/4 alignment with #3 exclusion

1. I think i’m a nice person

2. I think other people think i’m a nice person

3. Other people think that i’m not a nice person

4. Other people think that I think i am a nice person


another example with a different sort of 3/4 alignment with #1 exclusion

1. I think i’m unattractive

2. i think other people do not think I’m attractive

3. Other people think that I am attractive

4. and think that i think i am attractive


These simple examples show the ways in which perception creates a cloud of identity. The objective nature, while fundamental, is not ultimately what creates the real identity. Identity is mostly about perception by the self and other. It is this perception which lasts in history, and it is this perception which can spread. Identity like any other concept is a personal meme that can have infectious properties, and react with personality memes in a positive or negative fashion.

This ending statement with the examples should be provocative enough.



About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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