Please see below selected recent identity-related change.
- It is an ongoing mystery: What makes you and your childhood self the same person. Across a lifetime of physiological and psychological change, some centre holds. Eudora Welty called it “the continuous thread of revelation.” Walt Whitman saw it as something “independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal.” Complexity theory traces it to the "quantum foam". According to Maria Popova, the best shorthand we have for it is soul..
- Western philosophy typically conceptualises the self as a stable, controlling entity, comparable to a pilot, while Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism argue that the self is an illusion, a by-product of our thought processes. Modern neuroscience provides evidence that may align with the Eastern view, revealing that the left hemisphere of the brain constantly creates narratives to interpret reality, leading to a mistaken identification with these self-narratives. This false sense of self, which is often equated with the incessant internal dialogue, can contribute significantly to human mental suffering.
- The self is a complex and dynamic construct influenced by personal experiences, cultural background, and beliefs about oneself and others. However, interactions with others can affect our sense of self, and the concept of self is not static, but rather constantly evolving through social interactions and the ongoing construction of our identity.
- Joan Didion observed that “we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” Jane Ellen Harrison knew it when, in her meditation on the art of growing older, she cautioned that “you cannot unroll that snowball which is you: there is no ‘you’ except your life - lived.”
- In poor countries, many are born without birth certificates or identification, a problem that leaves them unable to participate in society because they can’t prove who they are. Those without papers can’t open bank accounts, and governments can’t track transactions conducted entirely in cash, meaning they can’t tax people they can’t find. Aadhaar, a biometric ID system issued in India, now uses thumbprints and iris scans to establish identities and bring people onto the grid. It provides a unique 12-digit number to every user and allows authorities to transfer funds for state pensions, fuel subsidies, and other government help directly into bank accounts created for people who’ve never had access to such things.
- Further reading:
- A Psyche article argued that gender identity affirmation is about respect for transgender people and their human dignity. It is not for society to dictate the truth of an individual’s existence. What we can and should do is focus on our own ability to help others feel seen as their true selves, nurturing social environments that support mutual recognition and affirmation for all people and their multitudinous social identities. By recognising and affirming the various identities we express, we can celebrate our shared humanity.
- The microbe population living in our gut and on our body outnumber our body cells by about 3:1, weighs 2kg and is essential to life. Two thirds are specific to each one of us and shared partially in families and social groups. Like your face being similar to relatives but not the same, your microbiome is dynamic, ever changing and influenced by a number of factors including diet, hormonal cycles, environment and travel - it also influences immunity and many illnesses
- A digital identity is the electronic equivalent of something like a license or passport that can be used to prove one's identity. As simple as login credentials or more complex like a digitally signed credential from an authorised party such as a state agency or employer, a digital ID links identity to access. The European Commission proposed its own bloc-wide digital ID in 2021 that would be usable with any public or private online service like applying for a loan, filing a tax return, applying for university, checking into a hotel, or renting a car. USAID meanwhile released a report discussing the need for digital ID systems and balancing the risks to individuals and institutions.
- Can we be reduced to a body, a mind or a particular social role? An emerging theory of selfhood explored this complexity and concluded that the self is not singular but a fluid network of identities.
- HBR argued that work provides us with more than money. It gives us recognition, status, belonging, self-esteem, and reinforcement of our self-concept. Research also shows that having a strong work identity (defined as how important your job is to who you are) can be tied to your wellbeing. But what happens if you lose your job? Being let go is a difficult experience, no matter the circumstances. But when your personal identity is heavily tied to your job, losing that job - even if it is through no fault of your own, such as in an economic downturn or a restructuring - can seem catastrophic, causing an existential crisis or what the authors of the book Difficult Conversations have called an “identity quake.”
- A legal identity is not just about opening a bank account: access to healthcare and a right to vote may depend on it. But just under 1 billion people in the world can’t prove who they are, according to the World Bank. Ensuring everyone has a legal identity, including birth registration, by 2030 is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It prompted the World Bank to launch its Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative in 2014.World Bank data showed that at the end of 2020 there were just over 987 million people in the world who have no legal identity, down from 1.5 billion in 2016. The majority lived in low-income countries where almost 45% of women and 28% of men lack a legal ID.
- Remote working could lead to more prejudiced views as people fall into "isolated silos" when not meeting others from different backgrounds in the workplace, suggested a study by the Woolf Institute of 11,701 workers in England and Wales which showed that work plays a significant role in people meeting and establishing friendships with others of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. The data showed unemployed people are 37% more likely to only have friends from their own ethnic group and that three-quarters of those employed worked in ethnically diverse settings.
- Tribalism has become a pervasive part of modern political discourse, and its impact is varied, according to a study from the University of Bath, which highlighted that, while previous research into tribalism has already shown that it can be an innate human quality that befalls most groups, when coupled with the unique characteristics of social media, however, can mean we’re particularly vulnerable to disinformation.
- We know that genes determine many of our characteristics - like our height, our eye colour, whether we can roll our tongues. But how about how likely we are to get divorced, our exam scores or the food we like? Research now shows that is not just our bodies that are determined by our genes, but our entire lives. Robert Plomin, the world's leading behavioural geneticist and author of Blueprint, explained in an IAI course the ground-breaking research he's done studying twins, and how his findings prove that DNA differences are the major systematic force that shapes who we are as individuals. He dispels the common misunderstandings regarding what it means for a trait to be heritable, and looks at how a lack of focus on genetics has long slowed the development of medicine and psychology
- A concept that would have been unthinkable before 2020 is something some governments around the world are now considering. "Immunity passports" - a document that would certify that the holder has had coronavirus and will not carry or contract the disease again, could potentially open a way out of lockdown restrictions for the holder. But would it create a niche group of antibody-carrying people that can date, travel and work as they wish - while others are still limited by health precautions? One psychology professor says such a concept could create "a mutli-tier society and increase levels of discrimination and inequity".
- According to IAI, we write to know we aren’t alone. We read for the same reason: to lose ourselves in the lives of other characters; to surround ourselves with the sights and sounds of other lives; to join imagined communities we can take on as our own. Diaries allow us to practise ideal identities and to resolve future hopes and fears. In 1949, Sylvia Plath set down a manifesto for her future self in the pages of her journal. She chose not to write, but to type her entry, for this was a distinctly formal arrangement with herself: a private audition for her emerging public self. Casting herself as ‘The Girl Who Would be God,’ seventeen-year-old Plath automatically granted herself the leading role in her private drama: as omniscient creator, magus and maker. Any memoir will be partly fictional and partly true depending on what we choose to fixate on. Whatever personal truth we come to in the process of weaving our memories together, some part of this tapestry will always be built upon distortions and exaggerations.
- Roughly a billion people around the world lack any form of personal identification at all, including half the population of sub-Saharan Africa alone. Lack of ID deprives citizens of access to government services and can put people at risk of deportation, discrimination, and statelessness.
- Many people with high-pressure jobs find themselves unhappy with their careers, despite working hard their whole lives to get to their current position. Hating your job is one thing — but what happens if you identify so closely with your work that hating your job means hating yourself? Psychologists use the term “enmeshment” to describe a situation where the boundaries between people become blurred, and individual identities lose importance. Enmeshment prevents the development of a stable, independent sense of self.
- Quartz noted that, sometimes for some people, the only thing better than being yourself is pretending to be somebody else. From noms de plume to CB radio code names, anonymity can be liberating. The internet offers unprecedented ways to cloak our real identities. Some people create digital entities that look and behave just as they do in real life. Others use anonymity to commit crimes and perpetuate violent rhetoric. Some find ways to explore new parts of their personalities, to try on different versions of themselves. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of digital avatars.It’s big business, too. Online gamers hand over real cash to customise their digital appearances. In the future they may even be able to tweak different elements of their online personae, including their voices.
- The human body, some now claim. holds its own genetic language, which travels the body through generations. Within weeks of conception, cells from both mother and foetus traffic back and forth across the placenta, resulting in one becoming part of the other. Something similar also occurs during organ transplantation. The phenomenon, known as microchimerism, raises the question of to what extent does our DNA define who we really are.
- More and more people now identify themselves through their work. According to Jobvite’s annual Job Seeker Nation survey, 42% of American workers define themselves by the jobs they perform and/or the companies they work for, and that number rises to 45% among those under the age of 40. Furthermore, of the 42% who say that they define themselves through their work, 65% say it’s “very important” to who they are as people.
- Globally over 26 million people have taken some kind of consumer genetic test, and in just five years, forecasts suggest, the industry will be worth $2.5 billion as more and more customers desperately want to understand their genetic material. But the designs of these popular tests raise ethical questions: white nationalists, for example, have reportedly used ancestry tests to try to prove their “purity”.
- There are currently at least 10 million people around the globe who are considered stateless: they are citizens of no country. This can be the result of wars and displacement, changes in laws, governments, or borders, or specific government decisions to strip certain people of citizenship.
- Prospect argued that the chief question of politics is no longer “what do I have?” but “who am I?” Identity politics is having a profoundly disruptive effect on democracies the world over. Which groups deserve protection? Should we give special attention to majorities just like we do to minorities?
- The American Society of Human Genetics declared the concept of "racial purity" meaningless from a scientific standpoint. The society, which is the largest professional organisation of scientists who work in human genetics, called the ideas of white supremacists about genetics "bogus," "discredited" and "distorted". The ASHG also claimed that as far as the scientists are concerned, the age-old concept of race is wrong and humans cannot be split into subcategories that would be biologically different from each other.
- Research found that people who perceive their personalities as constant across their roles are more likely to behave ethically than those who think of themselves differently in each role. Being good matters more to this first group because if they behave immorally, they see themselves in a poor light across the board.
- Around the world, over 100 countries are pushing their citizens towards standardised biometric national identification systems to improve the provision of government services and reduce fraud.
- BBC's Start the Week addressed identity politics:
- Francis Fukuyama sees as the great challenge to liberal democracy as identity politics. He believes that today’s descent into identities narrowly focused on nation, religion, race or gender have resulted in an increasingly polarised and factional society.
- Birkbeck Professor of Politics, Eric Kaufmann, looked at populism, immigration and the future of white majorities.
- Student activist Roseanne Chantiluke argued that for too long issues of race have been side-lined to maintain the status quo. She was involved in the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford and to challenge imperialist attitudes within the University.
- Sexual politics, power and identity are at the heart of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Director Josie Rourke explored what happens when the actors playing the powerful male Deputy and the powerless female Novice alternate from one act to the next.
- Once politics was about left and right, argued the Institute of Art and Ideas, but following Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of other populist anti-immigration leaders in Europe, many argue politics has now become tribal - about open versus closed borders, nowheres versus somewheres, global versus local.
- India’s Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Aadhaar, a massive biometric identification scheme containing the personal details, fingerprints and iris patterns of 1.2bn people. Aadhaar started as a way to plug leaks in government welfare but expanded to include nearly all contact with the state. Critics hoped the court would strike it down. It did not. But a nuanced verdict, including a blistering dissenting opinion, allowed all sides to claim victory, believes The Economist.
- Further reading:
- Why do some countries fall apart, often along their ethnic fault lines, while others have held together over decades and centuries, despite governing a diverse population as well? Why is it, in other words, that nation-building succeeded in some places while it failed in others, asked Aeon?
- The Atlantic noted that these are boom times for consumer DNA tests. The number of people who have mailed in their saliva for genetic insights doubled during 2017, reaching a total of more than 12 million. Most people are curious where their ancestors came from. A few are interested in health. Some are adoptees or children conceived from sperm donation who are explicitly looking for their biological parents. DNA testing companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA regularly tout happy reunions on their websites.
Foreign Affairs argued that humans, like other primates, are tribal animals. We need to belong to groups, which is why we love clubs and teams. Once people connect with a group, their identities can become powerfully bound to it. They will seek to benefit members of their group even when they gain nothing personally. They will penalise outsiders. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their group. While this may seem like common sense, the power of tribalism rarely factors into high-level discussions of politics and international affairs.
The more we learn about self-knowledge, the clearer it is that we all lack insight into ourselves and how others see us. Benjamin Franklin was right when he wrote: “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Human nature hasn’t changed in the intervening 250 years, but we do know more about why and when we struggle to see ourselves clearly. This, in turn, suggests there may be ways to improve self-knowledge, said New Scientist.
- Identities are always at some level imagined, believes Eurasia Group, arguing that what people choose to focus on differs widely from country to country, according to a 2017 study by Pew Research. A few findings:
52% of Hungarians see place of birth as the most important attribute of national identity, while only 13% of Germans say the same.
84% of Dutch say being able to speak the national language is very important to being truly part of the nation, but only 59% of Italians share this view.
56% of Poles believe sharing national customs and traditions is central to national identity, while just 26% of Swedes agree.
In the US, a large majority (70%) believes speaking English is important to being truly American, but only 45% see culture and tradition as a central national attribute.
Research claimed that great benefits would accrue to those who are willing to share their genome. By making their biological source code open, a person allows others to "work" on their kernel, to mutually find and remedy bugs, to share investigations into rare bits, to pool behaviour results, to identify cohorts and ancestor codes.