Identity and Individuality
At the turning of the Modern Age, we hear a great deal about “identity crisis” or post-modern “loss of self”, and what is called “identity politics” as being a response to the stresses on identity, even though identity politics is very divisive and is part of the fracturing process of Late Modernity, particularly where it is identical with the hyper-partisan. By its very nature, then, it presents a challenge to the principle of universality.
There is an assumption, which I have read in many places, that the conditions of present life have proven that individuality is, indeed, divisible, and so is something of an illusion or is merely a construct that can be deconstructed and re-assembled. Self, identity, personality, individuality are treated as if they are all one and the same thing. But identity and individuality are not the same thing at all, so fears about individuality being extinguished are due to a confusion of identity and individuality.
During the course of a day, you don and you shed multiple identities without even thinking about it. You are never one identity. Your awareness actually circulates through different identities; even of the persons of grammar, for example — at one moment you are a “you”, then an “I”, then perhaps a “he” or “she” (maybe an “It”) and then a “we”. The essence of yourself nevertheless abides despite these transforms.
Similarly, during the course of the day you may be a lover or a friend, a husband or a wife, a brother or a sister, a son or a daughter, an uncle or an aunt, perhaps a grandfather or grandmother. You are embedded in a field or matrix of grammatical relations and symbolic forms in which you are constantly assuming and un-assuming identities or personae of all kinds without in the least losing your sense of individuality, even when you are not present in the “I am” form, but perhaps present in the “we” form or the “thou” form, and so on. So, during the course of a day, even, you are continuously shedding identities without the least compromising or negating the implicit individuality of your awareness. Isn’t that so? The “I” form or the “we” form is only one of the identities that your individuality may assume. This essence or awareness is your true nature. The other things called “identities” are masks or roles, including the ego-form “I”. This essential awareness that abides despite all these transforms of identity is your soul — the “You of you” or what Gebser calls “the Itself”.
It’s possible for consciousness to become stuck in a form and assume that this form is its “self”, especially the “I” form. This is the problem of “point-of-view” perspectivist consciousness that Blake calls “Selfhood” and which Gebser describes as “deficient perspectivism”. This selfhood is indeed divisible and is the thing that is typically called “identity”. We have merely assumed that the individuality is contained within this Selfhood as ego-nature or “I” form or persona of grammar. That’s a false assumption. Lost souls are souls that become trapped in identities and live exclusively in and through that form and as that form. Fact is, though, we are all inherently shape-shifters, polymorphous, multidimensional and multiform.
Now, some psychologists or sociologists will insist that the fact that we change identities all the time proves there is no true “self”, but a multitude of selves, and therefore no such thing as an “individual” per se. Well, you can certainly turn the tables on this argument. They are simply dealing with superficial truths, not essential truth. The mere fact that we can be aware of the abiding nature of awareness through all these selves despite this multiformity and constant shape-shifting proves the continuity of the individuality, doesn’t it? The implicit awareness of being “one”, whole and entire without division, abides despite our constantly donning and shedding of identities. The problem is that individuality and identity have become totally confused in the same way the whole and totality have become confused, or universal and uniform have become confused, or what is golden and what is leaden have been confused, to put it in Hermetic terms.
Again, we see the implicit dynamic of Nietzsche’s description of nihilism: “All higher values devalue themselves”.
I do not fear for my individuality. Not even death can part me from my individuality. For if death could do that, then individuality would indeed by chimerical and of no account or value whatsoever. “The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao”. So says Lao Tze. We might put that equally as “The individuality that can be named is not the true individuality”. The awareness that abides despite it’s continuous formations, reformations, and transformations is the real “You of you”, and it abides even into your dreams when you are supposedly “unconscious”.
Examine your life, and you will see that it is so. “Wherever you go, there you are” actually works here, despite it’s apparent silliness, and has much the same meaning in this context as Hinduism’s Tat Tvam Asi — “thou art that”. Your implicit or core awareness is the field, spread out through a matrix of relationships and symbolic forms.