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Identity compulsion

December 12, 2016

Just as humanity is not determined by physiology, so an individual’s identity is also independent of his physiology.  Identity is a choice arising from the basic factors of individuality and will that contribute to a person’s existence as a human being.  No man can be compelled to have an identity which he has not chosen or at least acquiesced in, nor can he be expected to act in a given way because of his presumed identity.

If physiology is not responsible for identity, then there is also no link between genetics and identity.  A human may carry genes that are predominantly African, or Asian, or European, but those genes do not carry information that will determine his identity.  Furthermore, it would be inaccurate to assume that his identity and interests are aligned with those of other individuals who share a similar genetic background.  If brought up among those whose genes are similar to his own, he is likely to share personality traits and and intellectual outlooks with them, but that is an effect of socialization, not genetics.  No physical urge drives him to share their habits and goals.

Behavior and geographical origins are equally poor determinants of identity.  To a certain extent, an individual’s behavior is influenced by his physiology; however, his behavioral inclinations do not compel him to incorporate them into his identity.  He may suppress, embrace, or rationalize them in any way he chooses.  In the end, it is his will, rather than his body chemistry, that makes the decision.  Likewise, though geography may impact a man’s physical makeup through the foods that it provides for his consumption and the difficulty or ease of survival in a given area, its influence on his conception of himself is minor compared to that of his own thoughts and decisions.

This is not, on the whole, the way that most humans have come to understand identity.  They are unaware of their own role in shaping themselves and tend to attribute large portions of their own identity – as well as the identities of others – to external factors.  A man born with a large proportion of genes from a minority ethnic group is considered, and usually considers himself, to be a member of that minority.  A male who prefers sex with other males is considered to have a homosexual identity; a man born on the west side of the Franco-German border is called a Frenchman even while an infant born a hundred yards to the east at the same moment is called a German.  Furthermore, these are not classifications alone; they have come to determine what society expects from someone who, they assume, shares an identity with an existing group.  A black man born in the United States is expected to accept the genetic fiat and ally himself socially and politically with those who share similar ancestry or be called a race traitor.  A gay man is expected to make his sexual preferences the core of his identity and allow the activism of those with the same preference to guide his actions if he doesn’t want to be labeled a self-loathing homophobe.  And a Frenchman is expected to further the interests of France rather than Germany or be called, simply, a traitor.

Society cannot determine identity.  Only the individual can do that.  By permitting a society to define him and to expect certain actions from him on that basis, he not only surrenders part of his humanity, but also contributes to the continued misunderstanding of identity as a compulsion rather than a choice, as something that has its origins in the group rather than the individual.

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