From my Facebook post this morning .

It is quite normal for human beings to claim “religions” as cultural identities. Normal we say “I am a Jew” or “I am a Sikh,” meaning that we belong to people of the Jewish or Sikh culture, those who subscribe not just to the systems of “right belief” and “right behavior” of those “religions.”

All of this is because THE most important social reality for human animals is that they are hardwired to need a tribe. If I do not have assurance from the other members of a tribe that I belong to and with them, I have no “identity.”

This is wholly natural for primates. Yet human primates are still trapped in the pitfalls of imagination- and language-based tribalism. Imagination and language may make us human, yet they also disconnects us from real life.  They move us into an abstract world of ideas and notions–and of the words by which we struggle to evoke those ideas and notions in others.

Words carry us further away from real life, because they are mere nicknames for our ideas and notion–which are merely imagined representations of what our brains can piece together about how life actually is based on sensory data.

So if my “identity” depends upon my human tribe affirming my “membership,”1 that may only mean that we agree to the same “right belief,” which—in our divorce from real life—depends on sharing words “in the right order” and behaving according to what we think that we agree those words “mean.”

"Digital Identy," by The NetHope Solutions Center

Notice how far my “identity” has been removed from my inward reality; how much my words and behaviors must be constrained by abstract tribal expectations. I am no longer a “member” of my tribe because of kinship, because of how I look and feel and smell to my peers. Words and the behaviors required by them determine my membership.

And I must somehow force my inward ideas and notions—and, worse, my feelings, which are the inward representations of what my emotional responses mean to me—to match tribal expectations. Or at least I must be able to seem to. I am no longer who I am; I am my “identity.”

Image: “Digital Identity,” from the “Digital Identity in the Humanitarian Space” webinar of The NetHope Solutions Center (2/14/2019).

  1. See “Faith and practice” versus “membership” (11/2/2020).

1 comments On Identity

  • Wim Nusselder, a Quaker friend of mine, added the following as a comment on my Facebook post:

    Thanks, Mike. It reminds me of [my poem] GENESIS 3.

    From my meta-perspective identity is part of (one of the layers of) reality. (Experienced) reality has physical, biological, social and intellectual/symbolic layers, with evolution/God transcending and changing them (for the good, I believe).

    Identity belongs to the intellectual/symbolic layer, which refers to all other layers, to itself and to the spiritual transcendence of all.

    My poem refers to the reference of that which I want to identify with to that transcendent, evolving/creative reality and to the reference of that which I actually identify with (‘I’) to all else.”

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