Monday, February 4, 2008

Tapping Topic: Identity

Tapping Topic: Identity

What does it mean to have an identity? What forces constitute the identity of a person in society? Arguments can be made for socioeconomic class, race, gender, ideology, and culture all having a major influence on the concept of identity. Is there a complex dialectical relationship between all these terms of identity, a prioritization of these terms, or do they relate to identity independently of each other? How does identity function in relationship to the decision making subject?

I would like to frame this question in terms of a particular thinker, namely, Jean Peal Sartre. Sartre talks about identity as a construction that gives meaning to the subject by allowing him to participate in various shared economies of signification, which one could also refer to as a world, e.g. the business world, the academic world, the sports world, etc. He also claims that there is a problem when the radically free existential subject attempts to conform to a specific identity as though it were the static essence of his being, and Sartre refers to this problematic self deceit as an act of bad faith. So in this Sartrean context, do all identities run categorically against a basic principle of human freedom, in other words, are all identities an exercise in bad faith, or is there a space in this philosophy for the utilization of identities for radical progress? It seems there is a critical space that Sartre wants us to inhabit with relationship to identities, and the guiding principle of his critique would be that the radical freedom of the subject is valuable.

Perhaps we should question this freedom with relationship to our identities. Does this freedom to choose your identity exist in the first place? Is society built on a plethora of radically free subjects, or is this simply a mythology abstracted from the way society actually functions? Does Sartre underestimate the value of these dialogical economies of meaning that form subjects to be able to participate in society in relationship to personal freedom, or this freedom the very conditions for the possibility of a society that can be just?

Let’s discuss.

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