For identity

A year ago, I wrote Against identity, where I argued that identity is an inelegant hack. After all, why call yourself a widget-maker when you can just make widgets? Why call yourself a Jazz-liker rather than just liking Jazz? In making sure we have the right labels for things we sometimes forget that the labels can never mean more than the things they label. You can call a spoon a fork if you want, but you still can't eat soup with it.

While I still believe that, I've come to soften my position a little. Identity is not useful for you, or for people close to you, but what about everyone else? You label a drawer because it takes less time to look at the label than look in the drawer. Obviously, the drawer could be mislabeled, or it could have more things than fit on the label, but that's still going to save a lot of time compared with having to look through every drawer for every thing.

So when you introduce yourself to someone new, what do you do? It's all very well to say "I am a complex person with lots of different interests", but what information does that actually give? It's like those people who like every kind of music. Good for you, but it's going to be tough to go anywhere with that. Sometimes you gotta be prepared to reduce, to find a shallow representation of yourself that someone can understand at a glance, something proportional to their mild level of initial interest, something they can sink some hooks into and build associations from. Leave the complex inner world for later.

But it's very important to hear what I'm not saying. These labels are for other people, they're not for you. You have the time and the energy to understand yourself without labels, so best not to get too worked up about "I'm a this" and "I'm a that", especially not in place of the hard work of actually doing things. The causal arrow only goes one way: doing something → being someone, not the other way round.

In fact, it might not be a terrible idea to get this kind of external identity in an external way: ask people close to you who they think you are. If it doesn't match up with who you want people to think you are, then I guess you've got work to do.