The phrase “all politics is local” was originally coined by the US politician Tip O’Neill. It suggested that political successes and relationships are based on those issues at the most local level geographically. My contention is that in fact politics is not centralised around geographical regions, but rather around identities. Furthermore, it is my contention that there is no such thing as one identity. Instead there are many, and thus politics should evolve to become far more fluid and relativist in order to cope with our various different identities. The discussion will therefore focus on the philosophy behind this hypothesis, and thus whether it is accurate or not. I will print this description for those who come on the day. But for those who want a little to read in advance, please read on.
Philosophically, the term ‘identity’ is a relational term. A simple way to describe it would be to say that the extent to which one thing can be described as being identical to another determines its identity. Or said differently, the terms identity and identical are philosophically related. For instance, the claim that a book at time t1 is the same book at time t1+1 is an identity claim. Such claims have been debated for thousands of years. Indeed it was Heraclitus, speaking in the 6th century BC, who said:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” To clarify, identity is usually distinguished from personality by saying that one is about defining a person, whereas the other is talking about traits and characteristics. Perhaps because of this defining tendency, identity has re-emerged in many debates and across many fields. In modern academia, its ascribed importance seems to be growing at a very fast pace. Indeed it poses numerous questions, of which those below are but a handful.
Thinkers & Thoughts of Note
o Mathematical/classical approach:
o Leibniz’s Law: “x is the same as y if and only if every predicate true of x is true of y as well.”
o Aristotle: In logic, the law of identity is the first of the three classical laws of thought. It states that: “each thing is the same with itself and different from another”: “A is A and not ~A”. By this it is meant that each thing (be it a universal or a particular) is composed of its own unique set of characteristic qualities or features, which the ancient Greeks called its essence.
o ‘Physicalist Approach’: o Common/’natural’ belief: We have one identity, which remains the same over time. The playful child is still the same person as the cranky old person ranting about the times.
o David Wiggins and Eric Olsen: The bodily continuity criterion for personal identity states that for a person at a particular time (t1) and a person at a later time (t2) to be numerically identical (meaning, retaining a single identity which has persisted over time), the person at t1 (P1) and the person at t2 (P2) must possess the same body, even if said body has undergone change. o Psychological theories:
o John Locke employed the memory as the sole criterion for identity. Later the theory was revised, by Lockeans and others, to include a plethora of psychological factors, not solely memories, as means of accounting for one’s singular personal identity over time. These theories focus primarily on either psychological continuity or psychological connectedness.
o Narrative Identity Theories:
o The identities of persons are self-created narratives – claims that story-telling is the mode in which we represent ourselves to ourselves, present ourselves to others, and represent others around us. The narrative theorist is attempting to capture that element of experience in which we say, “Hey, tell me your story,” or “I know you, I’ve heard stories about you.”
o On this account, who one is (and is not) is contingent upon the stories of one’s past, and the stories of who one wishes to become; the goals one possesses and the actions taken to arrive at those ends; the values inherited narratively or arrived at through reflection and self-story-telling; and one’s ‘emplotment’ as a character in one’s own story.
o There is no identity:
o Bertrand Russell: "[I]dentity, an objector may urge, cannot be anything at all: two terms plainly are not identical, and one term cannot be, for what is it identical with?" In other words it is nonsense to describe something as identical as something else, and meaningless to say it is identical to itself.
o Fichte, Schelling and Hegel: There are no indistinguishable, separate things. The ideal and the real are both in essence images of the whole, ultimate reality. Is a piece of paper identical to itself if I write on it? At time A, when it is without writing, it is clearly different to time B. Yet time is a single dimension of this ‘one’ object. Once the whole is seen, an object cannot be labelled as identical to itself, for nothing is truly separate, and all aspects of the whole are self-contradictory.
o Trans-world identity theory: If there are parallel worlds, then surely the same object exists elsewhere differently. How then can it be identical with itself?
o We cannot ever know:
o Early David Hume: We cannot know. All ideas are derived from impressions. You can’t describe the colour red sufficiently enough to give someone a true idea of redness, unless they have already seen it. Therefore, since nobody has any distinct impression of the self as something independent of an array of perceptions, and that array of perceptions is always changing, nobody can have any idea of ‘self’. Therefore the idea of self that we create is merely an illusion. We are in sum total no more than a bundle of perceptions.
o Later David Hume was more confused on the subject of identity. He realised that he was elevating perceptions to the status of substances. And furthermore he realised that the self must exist, for it takes a self to ground our knowledge, and act as the subject of our perceptions.