Sunday, December 13, 2015

The meme of identity

Some memes are so central to our being that we may find the thought of them being memes almost repulsive. Still, taking that risk, I am suggesting that human society has seen an increasing ascendance of the meme of identity. This meme is summarized as follows:

"There is a core self that is 'I' for each human being. This self is immutable, continuous in time and transcendent. The sovereignty of each individual is founded upon this self. The core identity of an individual is this self. One finds one's true self over a period of time. If one is true to oneself, life is full of possibilities. If one is not true to oneself, there is anguish and suffering."

I would guess that this identity meme arose in the intellectually curious amongst those having the luxury of not having to work/fight for subsistence - a subset of the early priests. I would further guess that this meme was the preserve of the elite classes till recently - say till the beginning of industrial revolution. Why that might be so is simple: the rest had way too much on their mind - what with the food gathering and the plague and the rituals of being a part of a society. They clearly were not automata - but were quite tightly bound by their roles and the requirements of being alive so as to leave little time for reflection. In a sense, their identity was mass-produced by their social context and installed in their minds without much variation subsequently. The elite classes with the luxury of spare time and energy could probably muse about the questions of who one is and what is one meant to do. The latter also requires some freedom of action to be answered with anything other than the role-based activities in the given social context.

More recently, as a larger and larger part of the society has been able to afford spare time and energy - and as the legacy systems of identity definition have crumbled around the world - there is a massive growth in the meme of identity - especially its definition and further 'nurture'. Gradually over the last several decades, more and more of human beings are starting to ask - who am i? Few of them of course have stopped to wonder if the question itself is relevant. That reluctance is probably driven by the already weakly established mass-produced identity meme. The social context always installed a simple version of the identity meme in each one of us anyway. It is just that in recent decades, the spare time and energy has meant that there are mental resources available to most of us to attempt refining this meme further.

I have gradually lost interest in the identity meme. As i noted above, it is based on an already established meme of the same type but simpler construct. There is nothing more sacrosanct than that to the notion of identity. As noted in another one of my blogs, the locus of self is not inside one's head but in the social context. As I read Metzinger, Dan Dennette and Bruce Hood and watched a few other videos related to the topic, I have anyway concluded that the self is an illusion (it is not unreal, it is just far less than it seems). However, as I observe the simple as well as 'profound' human reflections I can't help but feel a sense of amusement at the notion of 'core self', 'true nature', 'real identity' and so on!!!