I really like this concept of identity construction being balanced between our private conception of ourselves, and the public perception of who we are. There are a bunch of obvious consequences that fall out of that split. For instance, when one’s desire to be maintain a certain social identity is strong, it can overwhelm one’s private identity. So we see people sacrificing their beliefs in the name of belonging to a certain group.
There are also more subtle ways to use the dichotomy. I’ve talked before about how we can use other people to help modify our own behavior. Using the terminology of today’s post, by choosing an appropriate social identity, we help to reinforce the private identity that we are trying to create for ourselves. For instance, I will often write about things in this blog to spur myself into doing them. Sometimes it works (e.g. playing more ultimate), sometimes it doesn’t (e.g. catching up on my book reviews). But the act of making a pronouncement in public gives me more impetus to do something than my own (unfortunately weak) self-discipline can provide.
The whole question of identity also plays into the end of the retconning post, where I said “There are a multiplicity of meâ€™s, waiting to be called into being by my actions.” Our identity is chosen by our actions. It’s partly a matter of how we construct our self story, but I think it can be more insidious than that. For instance, if I decided I were a conservative Republican, I would start taking actions that reinforced that social identity, like listening to Rush Limbaugh or watching Fox News. I would have to do that to be able to talk to the other people that share my social identity. But it would also have the effect of starting to shift my private identity since it would present a certain worldview without acknowledging the existence of other interpretations, as discussed in my post about conservative postmodernism. Our private identity is inevitably warped by the prevailing bias inherent in the actions necessary to preserve our social identity.
The private and the social identity mix into each other in all sorts of unexpected ways. We may not even recognize the different people that we are in different situations, believing that we are always ourselves (like Granddad’s axe). I had a moment like that a couple days ago – I was at work when I received a phone call from Beemer. We chatted for a bit (he was checking on plans for a wedding next month) and then I hung up. After I got off the phone, I realized that Beemer, being a TEP, had induced my Perlick persona, which is much louder, laughs more, and is generally more assertive. Given that I’ve mostly been quiet and keeping to myself at work (my Eric persona), it was a weird moment of cognitive dissonance as I realized that I had just switched personas without even realizing it. And it wasn’t even a different location or anything – just talking to a friend on the phone. There’s a whole ‘nother journal post about finding a crowd I’m comfortable enough with in New York to be Perlick rather than Eric, but I’ll deal with that another time.
Man. There are definitely some ideas somewhere in this morass that need to be teased out and refined, but I’m a bit too braindead to do it right now. There’s the angle of how we may act a certain way to preserve a social identity, but acting that way has the effect of shifting our private identity over time. I’m trying to think of a case where private identity can shift the social identity; in the sense of the social identity as public perception, I guess it’s any time when we decide to change who we are regardless of what other people think, and people slowly adjust to the new us. Anyway. Food for thought if I ever get my brain back.