Development of an individual’s identity parallels recorded history

All people share a similar sense of the progression of their identity. Maturation feels like a slow, calm process in which good ideas replace bad. No one tells stories of when they were 12 and a bad idea permanently infected them and changed their life for the worse. Not unless that idea is now gone from them. There’s another entity that claims to go through a similar progression: recorded history. It tells of a series of battles in which good defeats evil.

You may argue that recorded history does not show such a progression. Many “evil” empires prospered and defeated many good ones in history. This is true, but none considered evil are currently on top. Similarly, someone could acknowledge their bigotry, but only if they’ve now overcome it. None say it currently rules them.

We understand that history is strongly biased by it being written by the victors. Let’s consider that our identity suffers from the same bias. Our mental development is similar in many ways to recorded history if we consider ourselves battlegrounds for ideas. The victorious ideas which we now possess write our own history for us. Each tells a story of how it beat an inferior idea for its spot.

What are the implications? One appears when we consider how history would look if Hitler had won. It would not read, “And the dark forces of evil marched all over the face of the earth.” It would look very much as it does now, implying good defeated evil yet again. Who knows how many Hitlers won in our history. The Native Americans’ history probably considers us to be one of them.

Similarly, who knows how many Hitler ideas each of us possess? How many snuck in by defeating better ideas and have drastically changed our lives for the worse? The point is that we could never know. Once these ideas get in using whatever methods necessary, they sit in judgment of whatever they conquered. Of course, judged by their own standards, they’ll decide that they are better and you’ve improved.

We also notice that “Hitler ideas” seem to conquer individuals as an army. People don’t possess a single damaging idea. They usually have many. Using history as a model for identity, it’s easy to see how this could happen. Once one gets in the door, it is now poised to let all the others in through what is effectively an unguarded entrance into that person’s mind. For example, if I let in the idea that one race is inferior, then that will have no problem letting in the generalization that many others also are, or even that another is superior. It only has to combine the simplest logic with the original idea to let all the others in.

8 thoughts on “Development of an individual’s identity parallels recorded history

  1. I don’t think that maturation does feel like a slow calm process. It seems to me that the process moves in fits and starts, it’s just that many of us prefer to forget the more violent processing fits.

    What is the difference between a ‘good’ idea and a ‘bad’ idea, and likewise the difference between a ‘good’ empire and a ‘bad’ empire?

  2. Slow and calm were probably the wrong words. Progression is the key term. We experience something bad or learn something new and call it an improvement. It’s not, “Phew, that incident ruined me.” or, “That idea really is a step back for me as a person.”

    I don’t draw a specific line between good and bad idea/empire. It’s not necessary to the argument. I only have to prove that a distinction exists somewhere. You’re free to draw it yourself using utilitarianism or hedonism or Kantianism. Regardless of which you choose or switch between, you’ll think you’re always moving toward betterment as a person, which is most likely not the case.

  3. This focus on progression (or “process” to use a term I relate to) as opposed to anal fact collecting is fascinating to me, like looking at reality through a million “corrective” eyepieces, a million distorting mirrors. It could explain why neo-cons and lefties give different views of history even in the last 20 years, while both laugh smugly at one another. Have you ever heard of the study of memetics? How one idea defeats another in an evolutionary vein? If you’ve never heard the term I’d suggest reading up on it; its “process” can be attributed to the success of civilization, rhetoric, religion, or advertising … interesting stuff …

  4. I find memetics very interesting—ideas watching out for themselves and “using” people. Similar to Dawkins and genes watching out for themselves leading to our emotional programming vs. individuals watching out for themselves.

    I consider these “identity-shifting” disciplines. The person no longer has the identity. (Identity just being whatever doesn’t change rather than some philosophical concept.) Instead, the ideas or genes are the center of our view in these fields, and they manipulate the world around them and appear to have goals and try to survive like something with traditional identity would do.

    I suspect there are a couple more fields that fall into this category. Marx’s description of commodity fetishism shifts identity away from humans to a sentient market. And the new self-sampling assumption of the anthropic principle I believe invalidly assigns identity to the individual when it should really be assigned to their thoughts and make the assumption worthless (upcoming essay).

    And maybe there is another undiscovered field that could be called societics that would say that society tries to benefit itself beyond just powerful people trying to consciously obtain more power. It may be discovered that marijuana is illicit and caffeine is abundant through some interesting historical events that are best described with societics.

  5. “self-sampling assumption of anthropic principle”? I suppose I would have to read your essay to understand what you mean here …

    Though your last point worries me, if I’m interpreting you accuratly. The notion that the whims of society are subjected to a flowing elusive undercurrent (another “society lense” if you will) —seems to me a fairly dubious meme. It would be a useful tool for people in power to justify how they act, however irresponsibly or erroneously or agenda-motivated. I see a similar argument strain in the idea that “god works in mysterious ways …” justify the irrational tide of human actions as somehow above human control or understanding by necessity and you open the door, so to speak, to latent excuses and flagrant scapegoating. As in, if the current leaders or movers of society were acting as a natural evolutionary social force subconsciously, then their power would equate to divine autonomy, similar to kings speaking for god … if society’s subconscious or genetic will—and even its beneficial will—is behind the inconsistencies of legislature … hmmmm … I’ll think I’ll end my train of thought on that last toot …

    I’ll be interested in your the essays you come up with concerning these topics …

  6. SSA and anthropic principle are the latest craze. There’s a philosopher with a good discussion on them, Nick Bostrom.

    My hypothetical “societics” does raise a lot of problems, many of which I hadn’t considered until you brought them up. However, science only says what is, not what is right or should be. I come up with ten times the ideas that I write down here, and often they seem depressing at first. I keep them around and continue digging and end up finding something deeper that’s uplifting.

    I think it’s important that if you’re doing science, you only look for the truth and not its implications. To be thwarted by possible problems would suggest that you know the truth in advance and are trying to avoid it. For example, when you say that societics would lead to justification for oppressive leadership, that’s a presumption of what societics will find to be true. That’s not science at all. Knowledge of how things occur leads to the best ways to fight it. Societics may give us the ability to dismantle the whole system with a few careful laws that we have the ability to lobby for.

    Check out this reply to another essay that takes one of my ideas and makes racist conclusions. I come up with stuff equally worrisome myself that I don’t see any way out of. I’ve accumulated a lot of anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that women have an inferior conception of friendship. It’s scarily compelling. Certainly not something I’d like to make an essay of, but what can I do?

  7. Indeed, what can one do? sounds like the justification for why engineers of military weapons disconnect themselves from the pandora’s boxes they open … but yes, I agree, what can one do? it is something to think of nonetheless, the effficacy of ideas and where science and biases can be used to equally malicious or uplifting ends … sorry to put a damper on your idea, it just got me thinking … I suppose I was more interested in the similarities/contrasts in individual or social autonomy these ideas bring about, more than a focus on depressing conclusions, that’s why i ended my thought, i suppose, too much fanatical worrying … yes, scarily compelling, suggesting that there is a force which exists in human societies that secretly leads our collective paths … my concern is the relief of personal responsibility it might entail … there seems to be a lot of complexities within this idea that you could explore …

  8. A quick point which doesn’t really alter the essence of your enquiry into ID is to refer to your words:

    “Many “evil” empires prospered and defeated many good ones in history. This is true, but none considered evil are currently on top.”

    This is because history is written by the victor and it would be an insightful and modest victor indeed who volunteered themselves as Evil. Arguably the US is relatively Evil when compared to the Swiss or the French. War crimes and economic exploitation tend to be associated (historically at least) with evil states of being. Perhaps the apathy of the US people has redefined this matter?

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