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A Post-Identity World
Identity. I do not think much of this term. What do I identify as? A part of me wants to be called a philosopher, as I am "doing philosophy" daily according to my understanding of philosophy.However, while I sometimes slip up, I follow Epictetus' advice and do not identify as a philosopher.
‘Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them.
I have reasons for this, the first two being superficial. Many people think philosophy is useless, something done by people with too much time on their hands, so they wonder about useless things like if trees make sounds when falling in forests when no one hears them. Essentially, many think philosophers are useless people, untethered from doing real things in the real world.
Additionally, calling oneself a philosopher when one is not a “professional philosopher” opens one up to ridicule from those who do philosophy inside academia. Professional philosophers love making fun of the likes of Ayn Rand, Sam Harris, and Jordan B. Peterson, considering them unserious people, perhaps colored with a tinge of jealousy over their success.
While being made fun of is fun with Stoic capacities, I prefer not to be considered a useless or unserious person. However, these are not my motivating reasons; more mild deterrents. The deeper reason for not identifying as a philosopher is that calling oneself a philosopher is like calling oneself a breather. Everyone has a philosophy, and everyone does philosophy. Some people do philosophy better than others, just like some people breathe better than others. Yet, calling oneself a philosopher strikes me as a superfluous identifier to adopt. What do I identify as if not as a philosopher?
Well, I am writing more often these days. I turned on the paid feature for this Substack in May. In June, I started following Substack's best practice of having an editorial schedule, deciding to challenge myself and post three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. This schedule has been enjoyable, and I feel I have been coming into my own as a writer, improving my writing skills while advancing my thinking and creating entries I am proud of.
Having people support me to write or, more accurately, to do philosophy via writing is a great feeling. Do I want to identify myself as a writer, though? I feel more uncomfortable with this identity than the philosopher one. I do not vibe with people who take themselves too seriously as writers. I will not identify as a writer. What is my identity, then?
There are many descriptive identifiers I have that are accurate enough: I am an animal, mammal, primate, human being, male, man, white person, German/Ukrainian, Canadian, Orthodox Christian, husband, son, brother, aspiring friend of virtue, “niche internet micro-celebrity,” and someone who “larps” as a Stoic online.
When people use the word identity, they refer to their “personal identity,” the thing on their list of descriptive identifiers they feel most emotionally attached to. They want others to notice this about them first and foremost. The term for this phenomenon is “master status.” Within sociology, master status refers to the predominant defining characteristic of an individual, holding significant sway over them, shaping their life path, whether ascribed or achieved.
Ascribed status refers to things one is born with, their race, sex, class, etc. Achieved status refers to things gained throughout life, such as being a parent, spouse, or an occupational role like a doctor. Many people today identify with the status of their occupational role. This status is such a ubiquitous assumption that the infamous "So, what do you do?" question instigates many social bondings, leaving people who do philosophy but do not identify as a philosopher at a loss in how to respond.
There is also a new phenomenon of making up one's identity, aka self-ascribed status. If ascribed status is reality assigning an identity to a person, self-ascribed status is a person assigning it to themselves. The TikTok generation is an example of this, identifying as cats or "otherkin," aka something non-human. I appreciate that identifying as something other than what reality assigns has psychoactive effects, opening up new possibilities.
Playing with one’s identity and getting into a state of actually believing in it can be alchemic. For example, cat identifiers may be cultivating shamanic capacities, stumbling into an animistic realm, embodying animal spirits through their new identities, or maybe they are just having fun. Still, reality has limits, and suffering will ensue if those limits are not respected by those tempted to play beyond them.
Those who are self-ascribing will be going against those who are other-ascribing, which is everyone. “Social identity” is the identity assigned by a group of people or the group of people existing in our heads. Ascribing someone an identity is like casting a spell on them and self-acribing an identity onto oneself is like being a spellbreaker. However, the spellbinding/spellbreaking process can create a feedback loop that is hard to break out from, only entrenching a person more into their identities or having them react in ways that are maladaptive to the whole.
One way to see the culture war is as a spell-casting war of identity, with spellbinders and spellbreakers attempting to control the destiny of bodies by defining who they are and who they can be. A possible way to exit the war is to define what identity actually is. I get the strong sense that most people who frequently use the term do not know what they are talking about.
Is identity merely a series of factual or aspirational identifiers?
Is identity what someone prefers others perceive them as?
Is identity what a group of people actually perceive another as?
Is identity something less tangible than all of the above?
Regarding the latter question, the philosopher Derek Parfit teases out an answer through a thought experiment:
Suppose you enter a cubicle in which, when you press a button, a scanner records the states of all the cells in your brain and body, destroying both while doing so. This information is then transmitted at the speed of light to some other planet, where a replicator produces a perfect organic copy of you. Since the brain of your Replica is exactly like yours, it will seem to remember living your life up to the moment when you pressed the button, its character will be just like yours, and it will be in every other way psychologically continuous with you.
Parfit’s response to this thought experiment is that what makes an identity is not any factual or aspirational identifiers, personally preferred or socially perceived, but what he calls “psychological continuity.” The connectedness between psychological elements such as memories, experiences, beliefs, and desires is what really makes an identity.
While I appreciate the philosophical creativity of this argument, Parfit, like many academic philosophers, is reductivist regarding identity. A non-reductivist position would be to believe you have a soul. I believe I have a soul. This belief may be why I never think about identity. Maybe people who overtly focus on their identity have forgotten they have a soul, so they try to grasp threads of their fleeting psychological continuity, attempting to anchor their existence in something continuously perceivable to others.
The identity game is a fool's errand. The less foolish move is to love all the factually accurate identifiers, have no undue emotional attachment to any of them, and aspirationally play with what's possible within the contours of reality. This non-attached play will be helpful in sensing the mystery that you are.
A post-identity world will be an ensouled one.
I changed the name on this Substack to Less Foolish on April Fools' Day in an entry called "Becoming Less Foolish." A month later, after integrating the part that had a weird relationship with money, I turned on the paid subscribers features on this Substack in an entry called "The Fool at the Root of All Evil." In June, I started following Substack's best practices, having an editorial schedule of three weekly posts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
I have written 478 entries in total on this Substack, and since June, I've written 37 entries. I am happy with my writing output thus far. However, it is time to slow down with my writing and pivot to other creative projects. I do not identify as a writer, after all.
I will still post new entries every Saturday. If you have just discovered this Substack, consider becoming a paid subscriber to support my writing. I also included my ten most favorite entries since starting to write regularly again in June:
The Dildofication of Philosophy. A playful description of how popular philosophy has become dildofied.
A Wisdom Moment. An encounter that illustrates living less foolishly.
Who Are You Living For? The principle that is at the base of my philosophy.
How to Properly Answer the “Do You Believe in God?” Question. My relationship with the "Do You Believe in God?" question.
Audience Release > Audience Capture. My response to the phenomena of “audience capture.”
Transperspectival Masturbation. A summary of the transperspectival project I’ve been on with The Stoa, discussing its failure modes.
All Communities Are Terrible Communities. The entry is the first in my 5-part series on terrible communities. This series has been getting around lately, and I have been getting a lot of positive feedback on it.
Your Writing is Not Special: A Guide on How Not to Become a Narcissist. I offer a new definition of narcissism and suggest a strategy to avoid becoming a narcissist.
Minimum Viable Philosophy. I finally wrote about what "my philosophy" is: a hyper-minimal Stoicism bespoke to me.
“I distinguish between "doing philosophy" and "having a philosophy." The former is an inquiry into the unknown, aiming for greater clarity and being surprise-ready by whatever values unfold. The latter provides someone with their "is and ought" coordinates—how to understand reality and how they ought to live in it.” - “Transperspectival Masturbation,” Jul 20, 2023