Currently Reading

Identity Equals Boundaries (?) by Veronika Kéri

4 minute read

Read Previous

The Great Reset and the New Social Contract by Mario Alexis Portella

A Hungarian Book to Read During Christmas – Abigail by Szabó Magda by Lili Zemplényi

Read Next

Opinion

Identity Equals Boundaries (?)

The concept of ‘identity’ plays a significant role in today’s private and public life discourses. A lot of people from various different scientific fields use the expression in politics, psychology and sociology. It even became a legal term in the theory of ‘constitutional identity’. Despite the comprehensive use of the word, the meaning of it seems to be rather vague, indefinite. It can not be the goal of this article to give an academic description of the idea. These are simply reflections by a conservative approach on the possible meaning of identity, and also on what use its application could have in the modern world.

Originally, identity became a part of the circle of academic life as a psychological term. It was Erik H. Erikson (1902–1994)a  Danish–German–American psychologist who introduced the concept. He explained the meaning of identity through the theory of psychosocial development in 1950. Erikson defined identity as a ‘fundamental organizing principal which develops constantly throughout a lifespan’. He also claimed that identity involves experiences, relationships, beliefs, values, and memories that make up a person’s subjective sense of self.[1] The biggest Hungarian authority on the topic, Ferenc Pataki emphasized that identity is one of the most essential psychic transmitter between the individual and society. [2] According to him, the most relevant function of it is to place the individual permanently into the ‘social space’ of its existence.[3] Since Erikson’s theory appeared, there have been heated discussions on the meaning of identity.

All in all, this does not mean that identity is solely a modern concept. The word is of Latin origin and it means sameness. They have been using the principle of identity in the field of logic since the Greek tradition: principium identitatis meaning that ‘in reality everything is equivalent to itself and it is only conceivable as something that is equivalent to itself’. [4]  Consequently, we have a principal which means that we are ‘self-same’. The most important question regarding this definition is the following: is our identity a mere self-definition or does it have determined elements too? This question instantly takes us in the middle of today’s most heated, “conflicted”, but also essential discussions. If the answer to that question is: ‘I am who I claim myself to be’, than the concept of identity does not seem as complicated anymore. From this point of view it would be impossible not to be “self-same”, or to have a lack of identity.

Consequently, we have a principal which means that we are ‘self-same’

All in all, this does not mean that identity is solely a modern concept. The word is of Latin origin and it means sameness. They have been using the principle of identity in the field of logic since the Greek tradition: principium identitatis meaning that ‘in reality everything is equivalent to itself and it is only conceivable as something that is equivalent to itself’. [4]  Consequently, we have a principal which means that we are ‘self-same’. The most important question regarding this definition is the following: is our identity a mere self-definition or does it have determined elements too? This question instantly takes us in the middle of today’s most heated, “conflicted”, but also essential discussions. If the answer to that question is: ‘I am who I claim myself to be’, than the concept of identity does not seem as complicated anymore. From this point of view it would be impossible not to be “self-same”, or to have a lack of identity.

Approaching the issue from the angle of a certain level of determination – and I think, this could be seen as the conservative point of view – one could say that identity means to have limits, or otherwise to have boundaries. Identity can be understood as a particular framework we were born with that ensures our natural completion as a living phenomenon. Accordingly, it is constantly changing within us. However, besides its ever changing nature, the most important element of this phenomenon is the boundaries it provides. If we lose these life-giving limits, between which our life is supposed to unfold, we also lose our living-space, our fate and finally, ourselves.  As the famous Hungarian poet, Attila József put it: ‘I am more than most: Each ancestor am I, to the first cell.’ It is likely that this is one of the most precise definitions for the boundaries and limits that I was referring to.

Accepting the reality one is surrounded by, does not mean the approval of it

Nonetheless, we are aware of the Christian approach to the history of mankind. Since the Fall, this history has been about nothing else, but the crossing of the given, natural boundaries. One of the most beautiful and insightful stories is the one of Icarus and Daedalus. Icarus made himself wings, he had to, because they were not part of his naturally given “self-sameness”, those were only fabricated tools and the power he gained through them intoxicated him and caused his death. It belongs to the fundamental nature of humans to demolish borders. If we are aware of that fact than why are Christian-conservative people so concerned about modern days progression? First of all, it is obvious, that knowing, understanding and most importantly accepting the reality one is surrounded by, does not mean the approval of it. One has to point out that according to Christian the—but also most of all other religions—worldview, the nature of man has been compromised, corrupted, thus the basis of its actions is wrong.

Then again, the most brilliant authors of the twentieth–century already warned us about the dangers that human identity is facing in the modern world. José Ortega Y Gasset, for example, defined the situation of the modern world as follows: ‘We are living in a levelling period; there is a levelling of fortunes, of culture among the various social classes, of the sexes. Well, in the same way there is a levelling of continents…’.[5] (The Revolt of the Masses, 1929) Then, there was Aldous Huxley and his Brave New World in 1931, where he prophesised about gene manipulated individual that are drunk on “soma”, deprived of their own lives for the benefit of consumerism, for the benefit of society. In 1949, George Orwell’s dystopia, 1984 also described the nightmare of the manipulated mass man, who has lost every inch of itself, of its own perception of the world.   

How did they know? What did these great minds understand in that early stage of a changing era? The common ground of these thinkers was the recognition of a tendency that was and has been sacrificing real individuality for the sake of the collective. To turn real personality into mass thinking and mass behaviour. And the tool to achieve that goal has always been the demolishing of real identity through tearing down limits, boundaries that humans need to pursue to be able to live with integrity, and to experience real freedom in their lives. This is why conservative people get more and more anxious these days: they still think of identity as a principal that gives humans the necessary boundaries in order to survive, and they see these essential elements of life fade away… In a way, conservatism was always about “border-protection”, especially in the progressive, modern world. That is why it is vital for Christian-conservative thinkers to interpret and emphasize the importance of this seemingly hijacked concept, identity.  


[1] https://www.verywellmind.com/identity-versus-confusion-2795735

[2] György Csepeli, Szociálpszichológia, (Budapest: Osiris Kiadó, 2001), https://www.tankonyvtar.hu/hu/tartalom/tamop425/2011_0001_520_szocialpszichologia/ch09s07.html, accessed 21. Dec. 2021.

[3] Ferent Pataki, ‘Identitás – személyiség – társadalom’, Szociálpszichológia, (Budapest, Osiris Kiadó,1997), https://www.tankonyvtar.hu/hu/tartalom/tkt/szocialpszichologia/ch10s06.html#id587280, accesed 21. Dec. 2021.

[4] Pataki 1997. 

[5] http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/revolt.pdf

Tags: