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Fr. 601

March 12, 2015

It is perhaps unsurprising the legal subjectivity, understood narrowly, fails to embrace the concrete particularities which set one self apart from another. For this reason, we have posited that this lack must be supplemented with a grammar of identity, allowing us to fill out a more complete image of self and, specifically, individual. The question is then precisely what goes into this image and how we go about setting it out. We have previously gestured to different facets of individual, conceived by Taylor along demographic lines (religion, political orientation, nationality, language, etc.).

Yet the way in which these parameters interact remains rather vague and is not without competitors in the elaboration of individuality. For diverse metrics for setting out self exist and put forward rivals claims, making it difficult to see how a grammar of identity stands out from a crowd of rules-of-thumb and personality tests. While more nominally empirical methods, such as Enneagrams or the Meyer-Briggs test, attempt to make sense of our habits and preferences along social psychology lines, another such metric recently making the internet rounds proposes a streamlined method for determining our key traits: simply take note of your activities at 10am and 3pm, peak hours of concentration and mental energy.

Undoubtedly, the appeal of this metric lies in its simplicity; it is an easy rule to retain and apply in daily life. Certainly, it is not without its problems: reliance on the structure of an 8-5 workday, differences in individual schedules, energy levels and priorities, conflation of work and passion, and so on. Accordingly, our results come out somewhat skewed by the predominance of Western work culture, and the image of self is less than complete. Much the same could be said of personality tests like those mentioned above, which tend to rely on our intuitions concerning social interactions and interpersonal traits rather than historical considerations making up our identities. By what means might we aspire to a more complete, more historical picture of self and, more narrowly, individual?

One way forward might lie in the synthesis of models already at hand for incorporation into a broader picture of self. Yet it is unclear whether such a synthesis would differ in kind from those currently available. Indeed, broadening the scope in this way seems to amount to little more than mere quantitative difference at the level of inputs. If the number of data is greater and the takes on identity more varied, this does not ensure that the resulting understanding of self will itself prove greater. Quite the contrary, such an image could emerge rather more disorganized than before. In short, increasing the quantity of inputs fails to change the root of the problem.

Thus, the question becomes how to make our attempt at an image of self through a grammar of identity qualitatively rather than quantitatively different from other such images. Although we might single out a different set of parameters, concrete and historical, in outlining a new metric, it is difficult to see what sets this set apart from any other. Perhaps these parameters would have a causal priority over others in the sense that the former determine elements of identity and personality that take shape in the latter.

Somewhat differently, we might imagine that, instead of isolating a few essential personality types to which all individuals would be assigned, a grammar of identity would identify a number of placeholders (religion, political orientation, nationality, language, ethnicity, income, etc.) allowing for different values and, by extension, different combinations of values across cultures and subcultures. In short, such a grammar would have plasticity in its favor over and against a more rigid metric of a personality test type. Hence, we might consider causal priority and plasticity two means of getting at a qualitatively different approach to self and individual.


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