Archive for the ‘Jung’ Category

Who am I?

January 15, 2009

Thomas asks Who am I?

What do we mean when we refer to the “I”? What is the self fundamentally? Nietzsche instructs us: “become who you are.” But how is this possible? In becoming, I am changing, and thus I am different after I change than I was before. But it was I who changed, and so the I is in some sense a constant.

Ah, the Ship of Theseus paradox, Platonic forms, and all that jazz. The I that is changing is the I that changed, but the I is an abstraction. There is no concrete persistence, only interpretation makes it so. Everything is in a state of flux. Carl Jung talks of one of the ego’s functions being ‘stability of identity’. He sees this function as essential for our making consistent decisions in an otherwise world of chaos. To order (rationalise) is human and wise, but it is also to misunderstand.

I think it is useful to distinguish between self as self-identity (the socially-constructed ‘I’) and biological entity (‘bio-self’) , although we are both and the two aspects are intertwined. The bio-self may be more accurately seen as a force in particular contexts, rather than an entity.

I have taken “become who you are” (Pindar, in full “learn and become who you are”) as a strictly ethical imperative dealing with ‘authenticity’ of behaviour. It means become that projection of yourself (self-identity) that is most virtuous, or that gives you the greatest sense of self esteem/self-expression. Our self-identity is socially constructed, conditioned by upbringing, peers, etc.; we don’t have control over it by default. However, we can create a new narrative or conception of self, and through meditation pursue and fulfill it. “Become who you are” is an indictment to courage, to understand and master yourself, recognising both the reality of your circumstances and your freedom to choose an empowering, life-affirming response to them. Courage is not the popular image we have of it (e.g. Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies), but rather the simple, dispassionate recognition and passionate, thankful embrace of our ability not to impose excessive, restrictive, ever-fictional interpretations (rationalism) on phenomena, your self-concept, your past, limits on your behaviour and self-expression, and the world in its entirety.

But whose (or what’s) authenticity of behaviour do we refer to? Some objectification of our’s, the name matters not. An object is a point-in-time focus of consciousness to which we may attribute behaviour and/or qualitative/quantitative properties. The bio-self will always be an abstraction due to it never being concrete, however it can be well defined as body in the traditional vernacular. The reference of self-identity, however, cannot be defined. To attribute any essence to it would be ‘bad faith’. It would not be who you really are because in restricting yourself (and your behaviour) through a particular self-defintion you deny the freedom that you have not to be defined. Once you label me, you negate me (Kierkegaard).

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