The Individual

It is difficult sometimes to come to terms with the complexity that our world entails. Not merely in the physical sense, but more so in terms of the machinations that the human mind has indulged in over centuries of intellectual evolution. Some words and the concepts, thereof that have often intrigued the otherwise serene disposition of mine, are the motivation that spurs me on to debate, deliberate, answer some questions and question the answers.

The first word is ‘Identity’. Is identity really an indispensable part of one’s being? Is there a definition to it? Is it really as important as the individual? First things first – the age we live in allows an individual to shape, reshape, construct, deconstruct and reconstruct his identity to an extraordinary degree. You can choose your religion, your god, your spouse, your belief systems, your values, your gender, your sexual preferences and so much more. Choice is the operative word of this age. Freedom. That again is a heavy word, filled with interpretations and connotations not universally acceptable. Identity, we thus see, is dispensable to some degree. But then, the fundamentals don’t change. Of the more physical of these fundamentals are your DNA and your fingerprints. The question, however, is: are there any other, deeper fundamentals? Who are you? You are not your name, your sex, your religion, or your beliefs. You are not the books you like, the authors you read, the people you interact with, the ideologies you profess, or the culture you are a part of. Perhaps you are a little bit of all these things. Are you, however, anything more than them? You are an individual, aren’t you? Can an individual, however, survive without a collection of individuals termed society? If not, are you really, then, an “individual” – isn’t your identity divided amongst myriad beliefs and institutions? If yes, where do you assert your individuality unless there is a society to acknowledge it? Can you assert your individuality without relation to anything external? That is the key question.

Let us come to the second, perhaps the more important part. Is there a definition to identity? Now, you might wonder how come I managed to question the fundamentals of one’s identity without even defining it first. Well, as you might have discerned, the line of attack were the things – the concepts that you identify yourself with. The fact that you identify yourself with a concept does not necessarily mean your identity is confined to it. You are more than the particular concept. You identify yourself with many more concepts, tangible or otherwise. However, when all your concepts are taken together – aren’t you any more than them? The operative definition that occurs to me is: your identity is a composite of all that you identify with. This is not to say there is nothing more to it. There might be. But this is the most general definition I can think of – if there is anything more to it, you will surely, by definition, identify with it and this “more” will be a part of your identity. But that is a mere play of words, or so it seems. The definition, you see, is operative and not fundamental. This definition doesn’t really answer the key question I raised: Can you assert your individuality without relation to anything external? But then, I don’t think this definition was meant to answer this question.

Now for Identity and Individuality: Using the operative definition of identity above let me reframe the key question, “Is your Individuality distinct from your Identity?” Note that here the obvious connotation of this paraphrase is: Identity is something external to the Individual by definition. And if you cannot assert your individuality without reference to your identity, are you really an individual?

Ravi Kunjwal

[Image Source:]