A Note on Identity

What do people mean when they talk about their “identity”? Taken literally, the term should stand for a person’s uniqueness, but the way the word is normally used, it instead seems to refer to group membership. By defining one’s “identity” in terms of membership in some group, instead of defining yourself as an individual, you are adopting the behaviors, ways of thinking and ways of perceiving of a certain group. This means a restriction of freedom. It is a product of and an inroad for commerce, control and power. The use of the word “identity” in the sense of “group membership” (e.g. as the member of a “nation”, “religion”, “party”, “race”, “class”, “culture”, “ism” or whatever) is misleading. True identity is individual and individualistic. It may comprise group membership, but in a reflected, and that means distanced, mode. The person who defines herself or himself, or rather is defined, in terms of the membership of some group does not really have an identity. Such an assigned “identity” is a fake. An individualistic “identity”, however, must be reflected and creative and is, as a result, potentially open and thus unstable in its nature, so the term “identity” does not really fit. People should separate their need to belong from the idea of adapting themselves to some model. You can find a group of people, a circle of friends, without sacrificing your real identity (i.e. your freedom, potential and autonomy) to some model of how you should be, how you should perceive and think and how you should act. Don’t sacrifice your identity for the sake of some identity.

A society is free if it enables people to develop an identity. A society that classifies people into groups, assigns “identities” to them or coerces them to adopt “group identities” is not truely free.

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