Archive for May 10th, 2007

Who dat-a

Someone called “John Reid” says that the most valuable thing we own is our identity. He also says that it is ‘our most precious possession’ and an ‘increasingly precious asset’.

Fine. The only thing is that you cannot own your identity. Nor is it an asset that you can get shot of. I am who I am only in relation to other people. If I owned my identity, surely I could do something to change it, or to get rid of it. But because identity is a historical thing, attempts to change it or get rid of it are vexed. I might try and change my name to Nissan Micra 88-D-4097, but I would still end up being known as the madman who used to have a fairly normal name. My normal name would still be there in the background. That is only on the public side. My identity is also bound up with own my memories. I cannot decide  arbitrarily that I have spent the last 50 years hunting down fugitive Nazis, since a) I have not reached 50 and b) I have all these contradictory memories which make this impossible to carry off, like watching Crimewatch in my school uniform. This part of one’s identity can prove very difficult to shake off.

I personally do not see how I ‘own’ my kidneys, since they are not attached to my body because of some sort of contract, but because I was born with them. However, I could understand how, in a social sense, I could ‘own’ them because of the fact that I can exchange them -or at least one of them- for cash. But I cannot exchange my identity.

When “Reid” talks about ‘identity’ he is really talking about the means by which others can verify that I am who I say I am. Having such means is a good thing, as I would not like to arrive home to find another man sleeping in my bed, eating my porridge etc, and claiming the right to do so based on the fact that he is really I.

These means also entail making it pretty much impossible for me to be anyone other than who I say I am. Maybe this is also a good thing, but it has nothing important to do with my identity in terms of how I know myself.

But “Reid” conflates the two notions -identity as a personal fact, and identity as an administrative function- to make it seem as though having an identity card is very important. I suspect that one of the reasons he performs this sleight of pen is because he sees people purely in terms of units to be managed and administered. The outworkings of this approach could be very bad for one’s sense of identity.

Head Line News

Not sure where this one is leading. Maybe an extended essay on the production of cancer stories in newspapers: I think they are of the same order of things as astrology readings. Today’s gem in the Herald AM claims that oral sex increases risk of cancer.


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