Identity Consciousness Pervades Our Times
By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Seems that when a line of thought enters my awareness, from then on I notice its appearance all over. This has happened with the concept of ‘Identity’. For our purposes identify is the image or idea of “Who I Am”. Other people often attribute an identity to me, which may or may not match the idea I have about who I am. It goes deeper than appearance because identity can drive my action, as I put my ideas of who I am into action.
It Keeps Turning Up!
I discovered that in randomly chosen reading from the last two months, identity has been a central theme, driving the action or as the background to it. Canadian, American, British authors, fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. It seems that in Western cultures we’re faced with having to deal with who we think we are and the interaction between that sense of self and the impacts of our native cultures and those in which we now live.
This differs from the subject matter of earlier writing, which told tales, described events, noted character and behaviour, but took for granted that people were who they were.
I think this preoccupation with identity matches the historical times in which we’re sitting.
Embellishments to Simple Experience
In times and places where surplus food and goods were available for the population and all weren’t bent to the task of surviving, opportunities grew for imagining and producing items that weren’t purely functional. There might always have been a class of artisans, in the workshops of great patrons, the lords and ladies, but from medieval times onward more and more ordinary people could participate in creation of style, fashion, decoration. Embellishments on the natural world could become more part of everyday life. A carver, when he finished making the cart or a table for the master, might now have time and materials to whittle a pretty bird for his mother to sit on the window sill. Art slowly came to the masses.
Oops! Artifice Challenges the Status Quo
What difference would that make, apart from increasing the number of objects for women to dust and clean? Some identify this as the introduction of ‘artifice’. That’s a powerful term because it suggests a state of mind in which a human is permitted to improve on ordinary life. Accepting all that is, and the way it looks, isn’t the only option.
But once it begins to seem normal to improve upon the bare realities of one’s existence, are we then stepping away from acceptance of our lot? If we become aware that there is more, or different, or improved objects or circumstances, do we not then become more critical of how things are and consider maybe changing something in our environment? Not everyone, but those with capacity and energy left over after a hard day’s work might be the ones to start putting out more questions about how to improve things.
But this gets the poor old human into dangerous territory. Questioning creates conflict. Non-acceptance, in a seriously religious culture such as existed in Europe, is a form of challenging God. More safe to keep your head down and stick with the familiar. Becoming different from one’s base of safety – family, church, neighbourhood, village –can leave you out there, on your own.
But as the centuries have passed, in Western cultures (I can’t speak for others) change has been embraced as a fact of life. It is considered normal for the young to question whether this is all there is. Young adults strike out with all their questions and criticisms and create a life that they hope will be an improvement on the state of the child in the home. They hope to become the person they want to be, if they can figure out who that is.
I think there’s a direct line from a society’s production of surplus to the common quest for an adult identity that requires some attention.
Other Movements Leading Toward Identify Consciousness
Many other societal changes have led us toward being conscious of becoming who we believe ourselves to be.
- In Canada at this time, encounters between different cultures is accelerated beyond what has occurred in any place or time in the world’s history.
- Technology brings changes we’re only beginning to understand. One new dichotomy is between the technologically adept and those who are not at home in the cyberworld . Computer technology itself raises one issue after another – for instance, see in June 16th Toronto Star, “Privacy, the self and human relationships” by Don Tapscott. http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1211648–privacy-the-self-and-human-relationships Access to information and to other’s opinions makes for daily communication beyond any method previously existing and may open us to new insights about who we are.
- The development of the study of the psyche opens another big door to identity consciousness Psychotropic drugs, used by thousands of Canadians, are altering the daily experience of the users, simply by removing impediments to encountering reality with comfort and capability.
- Approval of individual expression in childhood is relatively new. In many families children are invited to make choices about what they will eat, what clothes they’ll wear, what their room will look like, what the family leisure activities will be. Persistent individuality within a consumer culture is fostered.
- Permission to explore gender identity has hardly ever been more enabled.
- 6. Possibilities of travel, of learning, of new kinds of work exist.
I’ve hardly covered all the forces pushing us toward being conscious of Who We Are.
But I want to spend more time on this exploration – and I hope you’ll let me know through Comments when you’ve had enough OR if you have thoughts to add on the topic.