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Musing about identity and related concepts, via the 5 Things meme

Quite a few people tagged me, but I felt it was reasonable to try the 5 Things thing out just once. And, amongst others, I tagged Ron Silliman. And Ron chose Jordan Davis as one of his 5.

Jordan has this to say, exercising his right by declining to pass the 5 Things on:

.forgive me for asking: who are you, anyway? who am I to you. That’s the flaw in the premise of the meme that gets me. Can’t say what someone doesn’t know if you don’t know who someone is.

I don’t think it’s just a flaw in the premise of the meme; it’s a flaw in the premise of how people, particularly in the West, perceive things like identity.

I spoke about it at reboot earlier this year during the Graveyard Slot, talking about things destined for death. And identity abd privacy as we knew them were on the list.

In many cultures identity is defined by what you stand for, what groups you belong to. Some of these groups may be based on simple things like geography or blood, but most such groupings are complex and form an integral part of identity.

As Chris and Doc and Dave reminded us many years ago, markets are conversations. Relationship before conversation. Relationship way way before transaction.

So in a way Jordan’s absolutely right. Without who are you and who am I to you the 5 things meme appears to have little meaning.

But Jordan is also slightly off track. There are many cultures that trust first, that welcome strangers into their midst, that believe in being open and transparent. These are good things to have, things we’ve lost.

We need to claw back some of the stuff we’ve lost. Stuff that hides under the bushel of identity and privacy and confidentiality.

There’s a line in one of my favourite films, Local Hero:

We don’t lock doors here.

That too is something we’ve lost. We need it all back.

Posted in Four pillars .


12 Responses

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  1. Stephen Smoliar says

    What is Hecuba to you or you to Hecuba? This injunction applies not only to actors but to all of us in the “roles” we play (our “presentation of self,” as Goffman called it) in everyday life. However, there is also a grander scheme of things that I tried to capture in a diagram I prepared for my blog entry at:

    http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-Mff23hgidqmHGqbcv.lfskakEtS6qLVHUEMFUG4-?cq=1&p=69

    This is my attempt to capture what I feel is the most important lesson from Plato’s “Theaetetus” dialogue. Survivors of the knowledge management movement may recall that Nonaka used to advertise this as the dialogue in which Plato defined knowledge as justified true belief. While this dialogue DOES address the question of how to define knowledge, it actually considers FOUR definitions (the last of which is “justified true belief”), ALL of which are deftly taken apart by Socrates, meaning that NO satisfactory definition has been found at the end of the dialogue.

    What we HAVE learned from Socrates, however, is that the concept of knowledge is tightly coupled to three other key concepts: memory, being, and description (which may be a poor translation of the Greek λόγος). “Being,” in turn, needs to be sorted into the being of OBJECTS and the being of SUBJECTS, i.e., the AGENTS who engage with objects; and this latter class of being has to do with IDENTITY. So, when you ask how people “perceive things like identity,” you are actually pulling at a thread that is tightly woven to many other critical threads, including the thread of knowledge itself!

    At this point I have to refer the curious reader to the body of the above blog entry, as well as the diagram. That is where concepts such as George Herbert Mead’s symbolic interactionism come into play. I like to say that the motto of symbolic interactionism is: “No perception without personal interaction.” For my money this is the underlying premise without which the assertion that “markets are conversations” cannot make any sense. Indeed, it is also the premise behind Habermas’ theory of communicative action, which argues that “communicative action” (as Habermas defines it) is THE FUNDAMENTAL PREREQUISITE for understanding. Since it seems valid to assume that markets can only operate effectively within a context of understanding between buyers and sellers, Habermas’ theory ultimately explains WHY markets are conversations; but I am afraid that this kind of foundational thinking has gotten lost amid the 95 theses of the Cluetrain manifesto:

    http://www.cluetrain.com/

  2. Ric says

    To a certain extent, my feeling is that this is what the 5 things meme was about – to share some things that weren’t likely to be known to others in this virtual context, so that they WOULD “know” you/me better. Now, both you and I flirted with refusing the tag too, but for myself, there was nothing I “exposed” about me that isn’t something I would have exchanged in a face-to-face conversation with anyone that was likely to read it, if I had the opportunity to meet them in the flesh.

    This IS a double-edged sword, as I am unlikely to meet in the flesh the potential number of people to read my 5 things, but this is surely a physical limitation that those of us in the echo chamber at least, are happy to leave behind?

  3. Marquisdejolie says

    Chain letters and blog tag are pathetic. Might as well sign up as a pen pal to some lonely hearts penitentiary inmate club. Better yet, go out to a park Edward Albee style and strike up a conversation with a stranger on a park bench ala “Zoo Story.”

  4. JP says

    I assume you mean “chain” blog tags. Tags by themselves help all of us.

    The reason that many of us thought long and hard before joining any of these 5 or 10 meme things was linked to your objection to chain letters, something about them we didn’t like.

    yet these are different from traditional chain mail. Everyone can see everyone. There is no use of fear or threat. There is no promised pyramid scheme payoff. In fact it doesn’t even work predictably, which is what makes it interesting.

    The jury is still out as far as these things are concerned, You may be right. You are probably right. But we won’t kniow unless we try these things out.

    And it’s how I found out that people like you exist. Sad as it may sound, I had never thought about homeless/itinerant bloggers. Makes me think quite differently about access and power.

  5. Stephen Smoliar says

    Marquisdejolie has an interesting suggestion for anyone who knows how “Zoo Story” transpires (or knows enough about Albee to make some educated guesses about the back-story)!

  6. Stephen Smoliar says

    JP, I suspect I had better make one of my “loyal opposition” statements about the value of tags. While I have no doubts about the ways in which tags I assign are useful to me, I cannot say that tags assigned by anyone else to anything else have had much value. This is the old Wittgenstein conundrum again: Words only convey meaning in the context of how they are used. I know my own contexts of use well enough to use my own tags; but I doubt that any amount of my reading of your texts will provide me with a use-model that will allow me to negotiate your tags for my own use-purposes. If I need to find something on your blog, I’ll stick to the search engine!

  7. JP says

    Stephen, you’re reduced to using the search engine as a generic way of using tags, unless you could use your own. But you can only tag what you experience. The rest you have to rely on someone else’s tags, and try and bridge them somehow.

    Yes I have read Albee’s Zoo Story, if it’s the one about two guys on a park bench. Calcutta liked its literature. I could have got the local equivalent of a Cliffs Notes for it as well, but I never saw it performed. Beckett yes, other Albee yes, but not Zoo Story.

  8. Stephen Smoliar says

    JP, actually, what I am getting at is that there are far more things in our experience than are dreamt of in the worlds of both search AND tags. Neither is particularly useful when it comes to DESCRIBING experience. Tags are too impoverished, as Wittgenstein has demonstrated; and search does little more than afford us the benefit of tags without imposing the burden of tagging. I tried to clarify some of these points is morning on my own turf at:

    http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-Mff23hgidqmHGqbcv.lfskakEtS6qLVHUEMFUG4-?cq=1&p=233

    What I really want to get at is that description, at least when it is most effective, is a LITERARY FORM. If we do not treat it that way, we may be able to hit on one or two useful generalizing abstractions; but, to invoke a semiological argument, those abstractions are unlikely to take us over the bridge from denotation to connotation (to name just one problematic issue). This is why I was so excited when A9 first appeared. It gave me the ability to do an exact search inside a collection of books on a specific well-turned phrase, knowing A PRIORI that this was the thread I wanted to follow. It promised liberation from the confines of concepts and the keywords that label them; but, as we know, it turned out that they could not construct a large enough search space to support that strategy.

    Your own comments about Albee illustrate my point. Just about everything Albee wrote up to and including WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is about people who CHOOSE TO DEVIATE FROM THE NORM. As a result, his texts are all basically encoded representations of the gay world he inhabited, in the tradition of previous writers who had mastered that art of encryption, such as Melville and Forster (to choose one example from each side of the pond). “The Zoo Story” is thus a latter-day morality play; but it intentionally leaves open the question as to whether or not the “moral of the story” is about the “deviant” character or about the society in which that character is embedded. For those with even a vague sense of Albee’s personal experience, the play is a literary description of that experience. For the rest, many of whom wrote reviews when the play opened, the play was a literary description of the suffocating climate of the Fifties in the United States.

    One of my former colleagues was from Peru. I remember talking with him after reading ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. He said that absurdity was the only form of expression in a country that repressed free expression as a matter of policy. Albee’s absurdity arises from a repression that was IMPLICIT in the fear-based conformity in the world of his youth. This takes us back to the search question. All one can really take away from such a text is the memory of particular turns of phrase. When we have the power to search on such phrasing, we shall begin to approach dealing with implicit connotation as well as we can now deal with explicit denotation.

  9. Seth Wagoner says

    One of the very few memes I’ve done (in my LJ, where they’re rampant) was “10 things I’ve done that you probably haven’t”. Similar problem there. But it’s supposed to be an amusing form of title construction rather than the literal truth, and people generally understand that it’s a list of things that anyone likely to be reading their post wouldn’t know. In other words I think Jordan’s being a bit pedantic here.

    Hey, did anyone at Reboot bring up the fact that death (as we know it) is also destined for death? Probably within the next 50 years? Sure, we’ll argue for a long time about whether that simulation of you is really you, or whether it’s really a good idea to develop therapies to cancel out the effects of biological aging one by one (AdG is getting a headstart on this argument over at sens.org), but I would say that in about 50 years we’ll have to admit that for humans, death just ain’t what it used to be. Amazing thought really .

    Oh and Local Hero was one of my favourite films too – the theme, plot, acting and visuals were great but what I really loved was the soundtrack. I recall making tape on which I had repeated the theme tune “Going Home” for an entire side (I think the other side was a continuous repeat of “Telegraph Road”)

  10. Jordan says

    Hi – wanted to send you an e-mail but I can’t find the address on your site and my best guesses at your address care of your domain have bounced back. Please advise –

    Jordan

  11. travesti says

    Hey, did anyone at Reboot bring up the fact that death (as we know it) is also destined for death? Probably within the next 50 years? Sure, we’ll argue for a long time about whether that simulation of you is really you, or whether it’s really a good idea to develop therapies to cancel out the effects of biological aging one by one (AdG is getting a headstart on this argument over at sens.org), but I would say that in about 50 years we’ll have to admit that for humans, death just ain’t what it used to be. Amazing thought really .

    Oh and Local Hero was one of my favourite films too – the theme, plot, acting and visuals were great but what I really loved was the soundtrack. I recall making tape on which I had repeated the theme tune “Going Home” for an entire side (I think the other side was a continuous repeat of “Telegraph Road”)

  12. travestigaleri says

    Oh and Local Hero was one of my favourite films too – the theme, plot, acting and visuals were great but what I really loved was the soundtrack. I recall making tape on which I had repeated the theme tune “Going Home” for an entire side



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