I’ve pointed out on several occasions that identity – as in “self-identity” or “personal identity” – is a construct that emerges from social interactions; it is something that is actively made, not something we simply have or is “given” to us. The evidence for this claim is much too dense for me to spend any more time rehearsing it (some representative discussion and citations can be found HERE.) So I will treat the fact of the constructed nature of personal identity here as a, you know, fact. And while the intention to construct an identity might, in some sense, be “built in” to us, the actual construction itself is something we must learn from our interactions with others. Were the construction primarily or exclusively instinctual, then the identity formed would be no more “constructed” than a bird’s nest is “designed;” the bird just gathers sticks and puts them together in the pattern that is instinctive to the bird.
No, our personhoods, our selves, our identities, come to be assembled through our various forms of community based interactions. Obviously our genetic background provides a significant input beyond just our outward appearances. Things as diverse as shyness and psychopathic tendencies, intelligence and aesthetic tastes, all have a significant genetic components. But these things can be cultivated or suppressed, discovered or ignored, rewarded or punished, in unboundedly varied ways. Sociopaths might be born, but not every sociopath becomes Ted Bundy (some become Bernie Madoff or Martin Shkreli.) So how these biological bits and pieces come to be assembled into the persons we are is an open ended, and highly creative process. So what happens when that process is artificially truncated in some form or other? Continue reading