Humans are very complex beings. As banal as that sounds – it is true. And I am not talking about biology here, but rather I wish to draw your attention to the complexity of human associations and the way that we organize each other. Is it not strange that in the time-span of our lives, we manage to link ourselves with so many different groups, factions, and ideas etc. which dictate our behavior? We constantly acquire labels, constituting who we are and what we are all about. This process of labeling is our identity.
Start from the very beginning – birth. When a child is born, they receive their first labels -“Congratulations, it’s a boy!” That’s the first one. Next – race. Although racial discrimination is discouraged in our ‘modern’ society, we still label one another according to the color of our skin. For most people, these labels will stay with them for the rest of their lives. That does not mean they have to like them, but it is these signs which constitute the primary edifice of anyone’s identity.
Now consider an individual; one without society, without a habitat, without anything. They are just a naked person standing in the middle of a white space. They still carry with them the two labels described previously but they cannot use them, because without other people, they are meaningless. They could be a boy, but without the opposite sex, the term means nothing. There is no identity because there is nothing and no one to distinguish from. Therefore, identity is impossible without society, without other people or without a place.
Now introduce society into the picture. Suddenly, the concept of identity is very relevant. One needs to be distinguished from others through gender or race, but also by name. Now we have an individual who can present themselves to others, and those others will be able to distinguish the person from themselves. That is the most primordial way of establishing identity – through differences.
This rather simplistic picture easily becomes complicated. For example, I am a man, I am caucasian, and my name is Lubo. Add my place of birth – Bulgaria, and you can statistically have about 1000 people with this description. In order to single me out from the crowd (which is the purpose of personal identity), you need a lot more information than that. The easiest way for you, and for me in that matter, to distinguish another person as an individual, is to present their relationships with others – their political affiliations, their club memberships, where they went to university, are they married etc. And suddenly, the labels pile up. With so many, how do you present yourself? Usually, you have a gradation – you start with the most important label you have and then you move down the list to the least important one. Yet, the problem comes from the fact that other people also have lists about you, with what they think is important at the top. And that is called human association and interactivity (from inter-action, not that virtual crap).
Trying to identify yourself without your surroundings, without your context, is simply impossible. You need those things, because they are an inseparable part of who you are. If you try to find your identity by looking inwards, you will never be able to do so. The only possibility of success is if you interact with others and compare your actions with theirs. That is how morality comes about – two people act in their own way, one is labeled ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’. It is society that does the labeling in this case. Often, it is society which presents you with a set of labels and you can choose which ones you want – should you be socialist or democrat; are you a fan of Arsenal or Chelsea; did you go to Oxford or Harvard etc. What these group affiliations do is allow you to find a place in the world where you belong as an individual. But you are never simply an individual because you are a member of a larger group with similar characteristics.
The fact is that we associate with others with whom we share interests. That is how we get the labels we choose. What we do not choose, we often cannot change (unless you aspire to be like Michael Jackson). So, it is not a good idea to try to change the labels, but what you can do is shop around and choose the right ones. This is all a matter of preference, but you can be sure that if you have made the right choice, you will not be disappointed. It is a complicated process, make no mistake about it. Many people are confused when they have to choose their affiliations. The important thing is to make a choice.
N.B. I have not discussed the issue of religion here, because it will make matters a little more complicated. If we start distinguishing ourselves according to religious association, then trouble looms because we notice that Christians, Jews and Muslims are not that different from each other due to the monotheistic character of their religion and the similarity in religious practice. Yet, if we go further to the more general side, and distinguish between monotheistic and polytheistic religions, then we can roughly divide humanity into these two categories. And then the atheists stand up and want to be recognized as well. So, in the end, we are left with people who believe in God and people who do not. That is such a general category that if anyone would wish to mention it somewhere on their identity list, it would be closer to the bottom. Therefore, I would prefer that people do not stress their religious identity, because it is rather superfluous to their person.