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May 1, 2017 / Congau

Forming Our Identity

Our identity is what we are; what we really are and not what we think we are. It is a fact. We are made up of our genes and formed by our habits and that is all there is and all there can be. Everything is either nature or nurture.

Does our identity extend to the collective? Is our identity determined by whatever group of people we are related to? In a sense, but that must depend on facts.

What facts? Our genes are inherited from our parents and partly shared with our extended family, so there is clearly something in our blood that defines us. So far that is a fact about our blood. But that fact can hardly be expanded too far. The blood relation that connects us to our family cannot include the nation and the race in any meaningful sense. The similarities of personality that we sometimes see in people of the same family, is in no way found in a larger group, let alone a whole nation. Blood as a physical fact, therefore, cannot determine our collective identity.

That leaves nurture; the development of our habits. Certainly there are customs and patterns of behavior to be observed within a country and people who come from the same geographic environment do have things in common that may be elements of their identity. The language we speak as our mother tongue and the customs we have acquired – those are facts about our identity and they have not been chosen and can hardly be changed.

They are facts like any other physical fact. If your native language is Greek and you have always lived in Greece, then you are Greek no matter how much you imagine that you are Chinese.

We have no choice and therefore there should be no feelings involved. Yet nothing seems to arouse more feeling than this so-called national identity. One is often proud to belong to a certain nationality. How can you be proud of something that is not your doing? Unavoidable facts that are nobody’s achievement should be devoid of feeling for a rational man. But man is not rational and there is war in the world.

We don’t form our identity; our identity is formed.

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