Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Self, Identity and Free Will

Self and Identity have great relevance when we think of ourselves in terms of our political and social identities and their implications. We consciously or unconsciously, adapt to our given identity at various stages of self-development. Self-development can be conceptualized in a variety of ways depending upon which developmental psychologist you refer to i.e. from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional (Lawrence Kohlberg), or from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric (Jane Loevinger), or from mythic to rational to pluralistic (Gene Gebser) etc. Identity or perhaps more accurately, our current stage of development, influences us in our everyday life choices--choices that can range from mundane to momentous, from love to hate, from peace to war. For instance, religious, national and ethnic identities have been and continue to be major factors behind choices which lead to conflict and violence. But our choices may seem to us as if they were based on reason and “free will” rather than some unconscious or rationalized aspect of our identity. Since identity we are born into is a chance of birth, and every choice we make has a predominant unconscious dimension to it, how can we be sure that our choices are rational and optimal? Murathan Mungan, contemporary Turkish poet asserts that "all types of identities--ethnic, national, religious, sexual--or whatever else, can become your prison after a while. The identity that you stand up for can enslave you and close you to the rest of the world." Do you agree?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Self & Identity: Introduction

Over the last few decades, the intertwined concepts of self and identity have been systematically researched from many perspectives and some of the findings are nothing less than paradigmatic. In much of the 20th century, behaviorism and psychoanalysis dominated academic psychology but now with the emergence of cognitive science and cross-cultural research, the understandings of self and identity have made immense progress and have significant implications for matters as salient as perception and personality, ethics and education, aesthetics and politics, culture and metaphysics. Indeed, our whole experience of being in the world, as unique individuals as well as members of specific groups, is influenced by such understandings.

From one perspective, identity is the group within the self; from another perspective, it is the self within the group. Much of what we desire to do or what happens to us in the world is significantly influenced by the way world perceives us, and the way we define ourselves--consciously or unconsciously. The process of making the unconscious (biological, cultural, personal), relatively more conscious over time, is indeed what distinguishes human beings from all other animals. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the human capacity for objective self-awareness is that it allows human beings to control their own behavior, to make thoughtful choices and take full responsibility for them.

The purpose of this month-long discussion will be to disseminate and integrate some major interdisciplinary thoughts about self and identity and discern their implications for self-awareness and self-education.

Please share your thoughts and observations as we develop this discussion. Thanks.