Abstract: It is not against identity that we must go to war but against the desperate individualism that ejects all traces of collectivism. History of an intellectual misdirection that lasts.
“We never stop putting an end to identity” attacks Jean-Marie Durand in Philomag, commenting on the essay Le Siècle des égarés (The Century of the Lost) by Julia de Funès (2022). Worry about the “invasion of identity concerns” in our societies. For Julia, identity freezes us in dogma, narcissizes us, prevents us from evolving. She wants to replace it with the ‘sense of self’, which humanizes, distinguishes, and makes escape. It is nicely said and at the same time it is to be completely wrong target, for not having understood what identity really is. Durand’s commentary makes the observation: “[Identity] this uncertain concept oscillating between identification that aims at the same and individualization that singularizes the self.” But will the essays that confuse them improve the situation?
So what is identity? The definition is not so vague. It is, within the assembly of representations of the mind, those that have the most noticed importance so far, grouped in a solid core, attractor for thought, filter for the adhesion of new concepts, these having to obtain the identity visa. It is therefore by the very nature of its definition that identity freezes, preserves. It is the foundation of the stability of the mind. Without it, we would be a mass of chaotic thoughts decomposed and perpetually diluted by the flow of information.
The Great Quest
This gives us in passing the explanation of the frenetic search for identity that agitates our contemporaries. The fundamental nuclei of our personalities have never been so threatened, eroded by the multitude of contradictory information, and by the society of the spectacle, whose job is to shake up every certainty. The human identity of the twenty-first century is falling into disrepair among many owners. Is it any wonder that they spend most of their time looking for plans to rebuild it?
The invasion of identity concerns that worries Julia de Funès concerns above all people who have lost it. Julia is a doctor who looks at the symptom without dealing with the etiology. She is also a well-to-do, endowed with a rich identity, who scrutinizes with a suspicious eye those poor who would also like to enrich themselves.
Identity Gold Rush
I don’t know anyone who would portray their identity as fixed. Especially today. Who are most vulnerable to wokism and conspiracy theories among us? Usually those who feel their identity fraying between their fingers, to the point of catching up with the first plot comes. “If I am no longer anywhere, it is because there is a general conspiracy against me.” The sense of self is there. But its object has disappeared. What am I? What am I but permanent anxiety about this disappearance? Will I discover tomorrow that I am in fact a specter crossed by real beings and events?
Conspiracy influencers have a strong identity, that of the guru hungry for power over others. Around these attractors, followers form a gas of anxious molecules, attracted only by the possibility of a response to their fundamental anxiety, to their identity emptiness. Countering gurus is not to “put an end to identity” but to propose other rich and attractive identities, more than the clonal identities of science and the right-thinking.
Expanded natural competition
But the identity market is saturated, competitive. How to make a place for yourself? The difficulty is increasing. The wealthy are the graduates, the scholars, the leaders, the senior civil servants. Identity is like money. Its wealth is defined in relation to that of others. It takes a lot of small ones to raise the big ones. The distribution of the few large fortunes does not enrich the countless small purses much. Everyone tries to preserve their small capital watching for their likes.
The race for identity is therefore human, natural, almost a vital impulse. It is certainly not this that should be questioned. Nor is it the anchoring of identity, since our contemporaries have more and more difficulty finding it and staying there. Previous generations were much more deeply rooted in their history, culture, social background, professional caste. In fact today everything goes faster and those who try to cling to a belief seem, a few months later, unnecessarily attached to it. The anchor scrapes the bottom of the river of information and irritates the ears of those already downstream. There is no longer an identity that holds and therefore identity would become a flaw? Again, it is the rich who make fun of the poor and their concern for identity money.
Let’s look at the core identity
Our social problems are wrongly attributed to identity, as much by Julia de Funès as by Paul Audi in his autobiographical Disturbing identity, where he sees identity as reductive: it is the concept itself that is reduced to “identical”. And we must dive back into the functioning of the identity core to understand where the error comes from.
Our essayists see identity as a mental hierarchy and in this sense they are absolutely right. Going down this hierarchy we should therefore come across micromechanisms common to all humans. To reduce oneself to one’s identity would then be to seek the “same” in oneself, “the identical to others”, and paradoxically to distance oneself from one’s individual identity. On the contrary, it would be by rising in the hierarchy, by aggregating a multitude of additional social criteria, that we would lead to our truly particular identity.
Confusion between identity and personality
This engineering of the mind is correct but describes the accession to personality, not identity. Identity is something else. It is positioned in the middle of the hierarchy, neither entirely innate nor entirely acquired. Identity is a reduction only for the look that descends this hierarchy, the one that starts from the lofty personality and sees standard instincts at the bottom. For this look, identity is a step backwards, an abandonment of personal sophistication. This is the one used by our essayists, obviously endowed with a brilliant personality.
It is quite different from the ascending look at the mental hierarchy, the one that starts from our primary impulses. For this look, identity is a sum of instincts, rules, mimics, assurances, shared feelings. A crucial addition: it is the stable representations that strengthen our mental scene. Without this set of stability, our personality would be labile, evanescent, broken down by the slightest accident in life. Identity is the essential foundation of a healthy personality. Only those who have never experienced identity instability can believe that identity is a reductive vision of the human person. I make an analogy: suppose that the human body is partly made up of radioactive and unstable atoms, with a short lifetime. Would we think that it is reductive to worry about the proportion of these atoms in our physical body, that it is a detail compared to the much greater presence of the brain?
The real culprit
Well, if the culprit of all our evils is not identity, what is it then? It is the individualistic tug-of-war, of course. The imbalance between individualism and collectivism, within identity, is now obvious. That is to say, by encouraging people to further individualize their identity, by bringing it back to the personality, our essayists will paradoxically accentuate the Wokist and conspiracy tendency, instead of diminishing it.
But how could they realize this, if they confuse the targets? The confusion between identity and individualism also extends to universalism confused with collectivism. “Identity dogmatisms are exacerbated and universalism loses its prestige,” says Julia de Funès. Since when is universalism a goal for humanity? Isn’t it, on the contrary, diversity that has made our success as a species? Every identity strives to expand, claims to become universal, that is its role. But the outcome of identity rivalries, the universal consensus, it is collectivism that makes it possible to achieve this. It is it whose prestige is in free fall. It is the drive to belong, not that of universalism, that is declining. The universalist is a burgeoning individual impulse, “the world belongs to me,” while the collectivist is an even more essential individual brake, “I am part of the world.”
Connected by viruses but no longer by memes
The world is sick of the collapse of collectivism in the face of individualism, on many levels of our mental scene. Levels of representation of the self and society. The essays cited only reinforce this individualistic bastion, this terrifying imperative that today one must be different from others, even in the smallest aspect of everyday life. The inadequacy of the discourse of our intellectuals is serious. Discourse distorted in addition by a definition of identity that is that of personality and not the popular.
The world is confused by the confusion of terms. They must be given a transdisciplinary meaning. Identity does not have the same meaning for the world of entertainment, philosophers, sociologists, neuroscientists. How can we talk about identity without eclectic knowledge, especially without theory of mind?
Julia de Funès against identity drifts, Philomag 2023
Disturbing Identity, Paul Audi 2022