I am liberal, angry, Aries, impatient, intolerant, loving, forceful, kind, intense, educated, brother, son, father, grandfather, friend, forgiving, humble, proud. Which defines me? Any? All? Am I modern? Post-modern? And who are you? To whom do I answer? What philosophy? Religion? Country? Club? We live in a complex world, a fast world requiring quick judgement with little information. We are quick to categorize others – but reject simple categorization of self. So who am I?
Searching for the modern identity is a favorite pass time for modern day philosophers – or should I say post-modern day? That depends on who we ask – and where we look for a baseline. Is our baseline the first homo-sapiens, the civilized Greeks or Romans, the dark ages, middle ages, Copernicus, the age of enlightenment, the United States founding fathers, Freud, Marx, Truman. Does any of this inspire an answer to the question: Who Am I?
Recent philosophers define modern and post modern. Charles Taylor wrote ‘Sources of the Self, The Making of the Modern Identity‘. Taylor examines moral philosophy and moral consciousness using the lesson of history and religion. Taylor speaks to the evolution of moral thought – from Plato to rationalized Christianity Taylor weaves the fabric of man’s moral evolution. Does Taylor answer my question: Who Am I?
Richard Tarnas, author of ‘Cosmos and Psyche‘, argues we are in the post-modern era. Tarnas postulates that the evolution to modernity began with with the discoveries of Copernicus. Human thought was no longer Earth Centered – we recognized our true relationship to the Cosmos. Tarnas attempts to marry the ancient philosophies with new found science, synchronizing the collective of man. Tarnas, like Taylor, look to the evolution of western thought. (To our redneck readers – western thought is not about The Lone Ranger). Does Tarnas address the central issue of this post: Who Am I?
These modern philosophers are great fun to read, to study – but their ideologies fail to grasp the mystique of the individual. They would not dispute this claim; they never tried to define an individual. Who Am I? – Simply put, I am an individual, educated in our contemporary world. The question is important to each of us as individuals – we can observe the making of humanity – but we have power only over ourselves.
As an individual educated in the late 20th Century some philosophers might accurately predict a few outcomes – and even then they would be painting with a broad brush. At the beginning of this post I identified many of my characteristics – and none of these characteristics define my being.
Why do I care? And why should you care? I care because my identity defines my relationship to others. And I am often at odds with others. While searching my soul for the source of conflict I talked with others whom I respect and who know me well.
One said, “You are a liberal. You seek change. You seek progress. It is the destiny of the liberal to have conflict.”
Another said, “You are Aries. It is in your nature to be forceful”.
Another said, “You were raised by a former soldier suffering from PTSD – a product of World War Two. You have taken on the characteristics of the adult child of a traumatized soldier”.
And yet another: “You are the product of a modern liberal arts education. You have learned truth and you are compelled to fight for moral justice”.
And one more, “You are the third of of six boys, raised with turbulence, where conflict resolution was forceful and resolute”.
All true enough (whether one believes in Astrology or not, I am Aries). The problem is in trying to pigeon-hole any given individual. Freud and Jung and the modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapists speak in the language of the masses. Taylor and Tarnas speak of the whole – not of the parts. Jung’s postulate of synchronicity speaks to the whole being greater than the parts – certainly plausible – but not useful in answering the question: Who Am I?
I do not remember a time in my life when I was not in conflict with someone. Others have tried to console me with their philosophical and psychological explanations. They are all true, correct, and defining. Is that the answer? Is my combustible nature the result of being born an Aries, raised with PTSD, a forceful man, educated in the liberal arts – a confluent mix destined to invite conflict?
There is an answer, but it may not be knowable. All of the above is true. All of these life experiences contribute to who I am. But there is more – the unknown box of the Johari window, the mystique of the individual. The human brain is, and always will be, a mystery. Sure, we can dissect it, CAT Scan it, MRI it, PET Scan it, drug it, deprive it, enrich it, educate it, improve the oxygen flow, and wear helmets while riding a bicycle – but in the end – they mystique of the individual remains a mystique.
It turns out that we are not dogs or cats or even elephants. We are not just brothers, sons, and fathers, not just educated or uneducated, not just male or female, not just a product or our environment. We are unique. Each of us, unique.
How frustrating? I am loving and kind – yet forceful and resolute – I am in conflict with others. Is there a way to stand up for moral and social justice without being in conflict? Does the answer rest in compromise? Perhaps, but some principles cannot be compromised – some ideals too precious – some people too defenseless.
Is this as simple as humility and pride? Character traits of choice?
I do not know. I do not know.