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What is identity? Do you identify with anything?

+4 votes
is it necessary to have a sense of place or a role in the world?

Can you honestly say that you don't identify with anything and are comfortable with it?

I challenge you to honestly answer this one
asked May 14, 2015 by anonymous
i like the main question.

the last 2 sentences, though, seem rather directed (and almost defensive). can you elaborate?

i second f@'s comment. and rather than 'identify-myself-as ______', i attempt to simply 'describe myself as ____' in more active terms, the latter being far more provisional, ephemeral, and far less reified, procrustean. admittedly, our language (here, english), makes it very difficult to indicate which is being indicated, though.

also, you may find apio ludd's short essay helpful.

edited to add that there's a really sweet piece (chapter 14) illustrating the pitfalls of 'caging' to be found in kent nerburn's Neither Wolf Nor Dog. when one 'cages' themselves in identity they can only cage all else.

i really enjoyed that apio ludd essay (and the website as well), AF.

thanks for posting the link.
but it's unclear because i don't understand the mechanism of identity either!

6 Answers

+2 votes

while i agree that the question sounds defensive and is underexplained, i expect that rs666 is trying to walk a line between those who over-identify with a label, and those who imagine that (or talk as if) they can walk unencumbered through the world.

another way to talk about this (may be triggering! lol) is that the most common demographic for egoists (in my own experience, anyway) are white men, people who have already had the most intense training in being alone and "self sufficient."

to address the question that i think you're asking rs666, i have mixed feelings (as i have said on other identity-focused threads). i both believe that it means something to be seen as being something (a race, a gender, etc), and i think it means less than/different from what identity politicians say it means. but i haven't found more clarity than that.

i look forward to other people's responses.

ps: if you're asking a question that you think is especially challenging, it can be an act of good faith to answer your question yourself--which can also be helpful in showing what you're looking for.

answered May 14, 2015 by dot (50,460 points)

and those who imagine that (or talk as if) they can walk unencumbered through the world.

 perhaps it's a question of how 'encumbered' is perceived, interpreted, and carried, by me as well as by others. what encumbers each of us is dependent upon a shit-load of qualifications, no?

another way to talk about this (may be triggering! lol) is that the most common demographic for egoists (in my own experience, anyway) are white men, people who have already had the most intense training in being alone and "self sufficient."

no triggering here, but a response perhaps.i may very well concur that your 'demographic' commonality (or is this just the old stereotype in action? ;-)  may be the case. however, this needn't entail any absolute sense of 'self-sufficiency.' personally, i tire of the charge, implied or otherwise, of the 'free-floating ego' when nothing is further from my own and others' (ex: McQuinn, Bellamy @FRR) reading of 'egoist' writing (ex: Stirner). just sayin'.

and solitude may be one of the best remedies (for white dudes?) for being enveloped in a culture of non-stop talk, contradiction, posturing, lying, and god-creation...one form of which being 'identity/identifying.' i like my 'solitude' on the rocks...particularly desert and mountain rocks next to streams.

edited to add: oh, and just so's ya know, i'm a little on the darker side of 'white': olive skin, black hair, dark brown eyes. but then again, maybe this makes me a lighter shade of dark? ;) racists seem to think so.

i liked the response the answer, it's not triggering it's something i already know and im trying to figure out, part of identity seems illusory but also it seems like we all need to feel "at home" to a certain extent. As some here have already expressed i hate identifying with anything, it seems like it has to become me completely, i remember when i was a kid i was confused by the idea of religion in a catholic school because i couldn't agree with anyone of them entirely

the white dude thing...i don't know. i thought it was interesting how when i went to baltimore to visit a female anarchist friend-of-friend shortly after the riots during demonstrations we had some major disagreements as far as individualism/egoism but we both seemed to agree in feeling we didn't have a reason to do anything in "solidarity with the oppressed black people of baltimore"

the thing i like about egoism is it's purely a negation, it would feel even more rediculous to declare myself as an egoist than any other identity/label because it basically just seems to be describing the human as an animal

yes, 'egoism' is a crappy label. i like mcquinn's 'critical self-theory' a little more, but it sounds a bit academic and cold to my ears. perspectivism may be another option, but most people seem to think perspective/perception to be somehow grounded in 'subjectivity' (which is just plain silly to me).

stirner himself wrote about 'the unique' and 'ego' as simply a name with no conceptual content. for me 'egoism' is pretty easy to understand, but then i don't consider 'the unique' or even 'ego' in terms of thinginess either. more 'place,' a matter of more of 'where' and 'how' than a 'what.'

edited to add: same goes for 'property' within a stirnerian context as i read it. property isn't a 'thing' but property as in quality of you, your unique, way of participating, interacting, as only you can.

yeah i just assumed stirner's "property" was synonymous to philosophical characteristic, and this must be the case since he definetely doesn't like property in the private property sense
+2 votes
i don't "identify" with much, as in i "am" this or that. even the anarchist label has not served me well.

sometimes i feel uncomfortable with this lack of identification, particularly when all the people around me in certain situations (like a gathering of friends or family) seem to speak primarily in terms of identity (their job, gender, financial status, political party, religion, age group, etc.).

but most of the time, i feel much more uncomfortable when i try to fit into some sort of identity. for example, when people ask me "what do you do?" (as in for a job) and i tell them that i gradually stopped working, they almost always respond with "oh, you're retired!". no matter how hard i try to explain it, they don't seem to accept my refusal of the label or "identity" as a retired person. despite that, i'd feel much more discomfort by identifying as retired, than i would if i told my story of how i came to not work at this moment.

answered May 14, 2015 by bornagainanarchist (8,110 points)
edited May 14, 2015 by bornagainanarchist
same i hate it when people ask me what i do, i just generally have to sidestep the question
sometimes i say something like "today i played the piano, walked some trails, and turned a compost heap. i don't know about tomorrow." at least i tend to get a variety of responses to that. :)
+2 votes

I don't think that we can just shuffle off identity as we are using the word here. I am partly who I am (my own unique self, as some people would say) because of the forces at play beyond my control - my genetics, my physiology, my upbringing, and the way everyone else encounters that same tension between themselves and external forces. For them, I am one of those external forces, and we encounter each other as external forces.

I am white. I had a long and stupid argument with a friend who tried to claim the position that in Europe ethnicity is more nuanced. What he couldn't seem to understand (or accept?) is that in the context of where he and I live, race and whiteness are different than they are in Europe (I sense that this is shifting, but that nationality still plays a different role vis a vis race than it does in the US).

Being white, as it is understood here doesn't mean I am bad. It means that the other people I am likely to interact with will perceive me in particular ways. That will both effect and affect how I am experienced as an external force by them. Likewise, it will influence the ways they engage with me.

Should I build my politics around kowtowing my desires to the reality of this? No. Should I be aware of what that means as a real person as opposed to an einzige? It depends on my goals, but I personally prefer to be aware of the ways I move through the world impact the people I share it with, however I choose to engage those people.

answered May 14, 2015 by ingrate (20,790 points)

as a real person as opposed to an einzige?

i'm unsure as to why you see a dichotomy here, or an opposition between einzige and an awareness of how you impact others.

that may have been unfair of me. I experience use of that term most frequently deployed as a sort of egoist rhetorical weapon. The jab was, at least in part, a stab at jargon (and the ideology or agendas behind it). My whole answer is about my awareness as an... individual(?) as it relates to those around me.

ingrate: "Being white...means that the other people I am likely to interact with will perceive me in particular ways."

i suppose that some people probably do perceive me in particular ways due to the color of my skin, but i usually feel unaware of that, as i don't perceive myself (or others) in any particular way because of it. at least, i don't think i do. i do often give attention to how i think someone perceives me, but not based on things that i can't change (my skin color, age, gender, country of birth, etc.).

baa- I totally get that, but I also don't think that as a person with (presumed from our interactions here) similar identity markers we can just pretend that an idea like identity (a thing - concept, reified) ain't real. It does affect how we engage with others.

I mean, I hope it doesn't for you, but I find that difficult to believe.
ingrate, what your bringing up gets at the reason why privilege is both a useful concept and a worthless concept. Often conservative white people (as in, people who believe there's nothing wrong with our society as a whole) seem to totally ignore what position they have in our society just because the current strange modern layout makes it possible to do. However, the problem is that a lot of people tend to assume that privileged people don't have lots of fucked up problems and difficulties of their own, and i would never expect anyone around here to understand the concept of "white privilege" because there are so many poor white people in west virginia with mental illness and drug problems who don't even have control over their own minds.

united in seperateness! lol
+4 votes
As Apio Ludd points out, identity  means 'the same as.' For this anarchist one can never live according to an identity. There is no way that one concept, one quality of this living, ephemeral matrix-right-here can ever encapsulate my entirety. It seems contradictory to say, on one hand, that I have an identity, or my identity is such-and-such, and then engage a multitude of desires and participate in experiences lying outside the conceptual bounds of this identity.

I like drinking wine. I enjoy hiking. My skin is white-ish. I engage in conversation. I enjoy relative solitude (one can never be completely alone) I love my partner. I hate the sound of rumbling engines. I speak English. I really resonate with hummingbirds. I have certain ancestors. I have no deep ties to family.

Can I identify, that is 'be the same as' all of these simultaneously? No. I cannot say "I am wine drinker", without shunning all other qualities (properties) of self, this unique 'here.' 'I' cannot be consider only one quality. 'I' cannot be considered a Procrustean bed.

The figure 'I' simply is an end-point of language indicating an active place unfolding in this instance before you...and also without your particular perception of this occurrence. At the end of the day, 'I' and 'you' are unspeakable, ineffable, precisely because no single, or even set, of qualities/properties may be abstracted and still considered as 'me' and I am inseparable from them. I am a web, a net, a matrix of innumerable qualities/properties/relations...including relations with 'you.' Innumerable because these qualities themselves shift, remain open to the interpretation of 'you-there' and 'me-here' as I live this, 'my' life.

 'I' is far more indicative of what is loosely called 'Amazonian Rainforest' than the Cartesian-non-wet-dream of subject(point)-in-space, or an empty vessel to be filled with content.

Edited for typos, grammar, but will still probably add more thoughts later.
answered May 14, 2015 by AmorFati (7,400 points)
edited May 15, 2015 by AmorFati
+4 votes
this is such a relevant question to me, yet i don't feel like i have a good answer. i like some parts of the other answers i have seen here.

i have a related question: is "identity" always somehow related to a group? can individual identity exist without group identity?


i see identity as simply how one sees oneself; or worse, how one defines oneself. (the distinction there being between dynamic and static). of course it also plays into how we see (or define) others. it consists of the entire realm of ever-changing characteristics, behaviors, limitations, desires, etc, that constitute who i am. it is difficult not to then use some label to (attempt to) serve as a shortcut for describing that identity - which is so nebulous, so dynamic, so absolutely non-static. yet, labels are essentially static. and unfortunately, the way identity is typically used in (so-called) radical circles, there is something very static about it.

which points to a distinction that i make. there is unique, individual identity, which is what i refer to above. every individual has some unique set/combination  of attributes that makes up who they are in that moment. of course much of that comes as a result of looking at ourselves in relation to others. trying to come up with a meaningful label that can accurately describe all those attributes, much less continue to describe them as they change over time, seems pointless. so it makes sense that a name/nickname does as well as anything - it does not try to describe every attribute that makes up the individual, it merely labels the individual. the description comes from knowing that individual in any given context. and will almost always be something more complex than a simple label.

on the other hand, there is group identity. that is when a number of individuals share some (usually) single characteristic/attribute/desire/whatever. it is a common thread for the group, and it is the basis for whatever bond might exist between them all. unfortunately, in too many cases, their individual identity becomes subsumed by the group identity. everything unique about them becomes secondary to that one non-unique attribute. so the complex, dynamic, growing human being named joe becomes identified as "black".

when an individual defines themselves based on a group identity, that is where i tend to find dogma, ideology, reification, rigidity, and a general lack of individual freedom.

group identity is one way - maybe the primary way - we tend to see and define others, at least those we do not know individually. it is usually based on some visual physical marker. as dot has pointed out elsewhere, there are situations where that can be useful, no question (eg, someone in a cop uniform can realistically be assumed to have certain attributes, and being able to see that up front serves a very meaningful purpose for me). but far more often i find group-based identification to be detrimental to the kinds of relations i want in my life. stereotypes, predjudices, projections... these are what i usually see coming out of such group identity assessments. those physical clues serve to facilitate us putting others into rigid, pre-defined boxes, without actually knowing who those other individuals are. minimally useful to me.

at the risk of putting most of you to sleep, i'd like to use an analogy from computer (relational) database theory. [actually i am moving that to a comment below.]


dot said:

"i both believe that it means something to be seen as being something (a race, a gender, etc), and i think it means less than/different from what identity politicians say it means. but i haven't found more clarity than that."

i don't disagree with that.

ultimately, who/what i am in any given moment is a conglomeration of innumerable influences. there are many group identities that may well factor into that; to elevate any one of those into a label that is supposed to accurately identify the complex individual that i am, seems (almost always) useless.

yes, i bear a cock, like half the humans on this planet. yet i despise being lumped into the group identity labeled "men". as i have said about both my wife and my long-term partner: she is twice the man i am, and i am more of a woman than she'll ever be.

it is the same reason why, back in my early teens, i refused to join the street gang that most of my friends were in. i hung out with them much of the time, did most everything they did; but i did not fly their colors or follow their rules. i rejected the idea of being subsumed by a group identity. yet, i did get the same hand-made tatoo they all had (albeit smaller than the rest), which (in retrospect) was clearly somewhat of a concession to that group identity.


wow, lots of words with little to say.
answered May 15, 2015 by funkyanarchy (10,830 points)

[the database analogy i moved from the answer above]

a table is a collection of individual rows, where each row contains one or more columns of data. the term "identity" is often used to refer to the column (or columns) of data that uniquely identify a given row, and distinguish it from all other rows. so, an example:

"person" is a table, and every row in that table has the columns "name", "phone_number", "age".

name                    phone_number      age
dot                     111-222-3333      77
funkyanarchy            222-333-4444      25
amor fati               444-555-6666      92
bornagainanarchist      666-666-6666      33

now, one might look at that data and think that the name column is sufficient to uniquely identify any row (person) in that table. but once the table gets large enough, there is very likely to be some duplication. so then how would you identify dot (our favorite @101 dot) in the table once there are several rows with the name "dot"? well, if you knew her phone number and her age, you could try identifying her by those descriptive attributes. however, descriptive attributes can (and usually do) change over time.

so, most experienced database designers have an additional column that explicitly serves as an "identity" column. that identity column never changes, while any other column may well (even the name). the identity value has NO meaning other than to accurately identify any individual row. kind of like a label, but absolutely unique, and without the baggage that comes with most labels.

id      name                    phone_number      age
000100  dot                     111-222-3333      77
000200  funkyanarchy            222-333-4444      25
000300  amor fati               444-555-6666      92
000400  bornagainanarchist      666-666-6666      33

[sorry, sometimes i just find interesting analogies in the world of computer programming.]


Many words, much to say.

Well done funky@; you've raked over all the issues i could think of, and articulated them well.


[as to your addendum::  i notice you've put bo@ in the '666' area code ;)

the issue i have with an 'identity' field, is when someone like google gets ahold of it and it can no longer be contained and quarantined.  -  though my thoughts on google people involve trees, ropes, and ravens, and 'bad things may happen'*.]

(*'btmh' is a running joke in programming circles, but you knew that...)
thanks, cb. and yes, i figured anyone "born again" should be in 666. one of my sister's friends was born on 6/6/66 - just a hint of envy here.
i noticed the 666 reference too...ouch!....on the other hand, you pegged me at 33 years old, so i don't feel too sore.
as the cantankerous elder of the tribe at 92, i wonder...perhaps i'm approaching being born again 666 a second time? judging by the numbers (4,5,6) my world is dilated and my cranium is poking through, yea?  3 births in a life ain't too bad. :)
+3 votes
Nihilist anarchist or just anarchist. It isn't necessary to have a sense of place or play a role in the world. I can't honestly say I don't identify with anything. I identify with many things.

I am not considering the other answers to this, but I definitely could identify with many more things, though I also think this need to identify as something if you are to do or think something is a bit over specialized. I'm not too pressed on it.

Anarchists benefit from not trying to fit within a worldview defined by those that alienate/separate us from our power. To me, the insurrectionary anarchists were getting something right when they proposed permanent conflictuality. Anarchists need not define themselves as part of any tendency and only reveal what little thought they want about their own way of thinking within the context of what they do.
answered May 17, 2015 by hpwombat (3,910 points)
hpw::  when you say "sense of place", do you mean 'a cog within the machine', or do you mean 'the soil where lie the bones of my forebears and children'?

Personally, i'm dealing with issues of 'Place', and of 'Exile'; though tangential to the given question, i'd appreciate any thoughts you might offer.