Inquisitor: Who are you?
Delenn: I am Delenn.
Inquisitor: Unacceptable answer. I already know your name. Who are you?
Delenn: Delenn! [shocked]
Inquisitor: If you repeat an unacceptable answer, the penalty will be increased. Who are you?
Delenn: I…I am the ambassador for Minbar.
Inquisitor: Unacceptable. That is only your title. What other people call you when you choose to hide behind formalities. Who are you?
Delenn: I, uh…I’m the daughter of…[shocked]
Inquisitor: Unacceptable. What a sad thing you are. Unable to answer even such a simple question without falling back on references and genealogies and what other people call you. Have you nothing of your own? Nothing to stand on that is not provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by others? How can you be expected to fight for someone else when you haven’t the fairest idea who you are?—Babylon 5, “Comes the Inquisitor”
One of the most dangerous questions out there is the seemingly innocuous “Who are you?” Most people’s first impulse is to respond just as Delenn did above. Quick superficial answers. Names and labels provided by others, or society in general. Some reject those labels, and fight them tooth and claw, while others accept them and take them upon themselves. But when you strip all that away, what makes you, you?
Identity is a nebulous thing. Trying to lay hands on it is like chasing a well-oiled ferret with a jetpack in zero-G. Ultimately, most just don’t even bother with it, and go on with life. There is nothing wrong with this. Still, the better you know yourself, the better idea you have of if you’re following the path best for you.
Another way of looking at this is a series of masks. We present one mask, one facet of our identity to our co-workers. We present another to our friends, and possibly another to our family. Some may be in several of those categories and see more sides of us. And before you say you never do that, just think: do you discuss your sex life with your family or co-workers? Do you take the same attitude at work as when you’re at the bar with friends? So you share your baby pictures or stories of dumb things you did as a kid with your co-workers? It’s not something we do consciously, but something we have to do in society to survive.
I consider myself fairly honest, in that fashion. I seldom try to present myself as something I’m not just to fit in the group. Even still, there are things I don’t voluntarily share with my co-workers, because I know how they’d react – how they view those concepts is completely different from how I view them. I don’t actively hide these facets of myself, but I don’t trot them out either and wave them in people’s face going “Look how special I am!”
That’s actually probably something that deserves it’s own entry, actually – how dangerous labels can be, to ourselves and to others, so I’ll leave that alone for now and get back to the subject of identity.
Now I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the program called Second Life. It’s got a reputation for raciness, but then what on the internet doesn’t? What it really is is an online environment where you can be whatever you want to be, and build whatever you want to build, within the limitations of your skills, imagination, and resources. I mention the last part because SL allows people to sell their creations in-world for a SL money called Lindens, so you aren’t necessarily limited to what you can make yourself, which is a very good thing.
For some, it’s simply a chat program, albeit a very graphically pretty one. For others, it lets them explore their creativity, for good or for ill. And for yet others, it allows them to explore their own identity – in a world where you can be anything, what would you be?
It’s actually kind of interesting to see the sort of breakdown out there, between the various types. A heck of a lot of people out there basically take their physical selves as a template, whether they realize it or not, and then change all the things they wish they could change(or think they wish they could change) based on society’s images of the ideal (wo)man. In other words, lots of buff guys who could crack peanuts with their pecs, and women that a thin breeze might snap in half, with breasts as large as their head. Now a lot of these are probably in the first group I mentioned, who just are using it as a glorified chat program(and possibly trolling for virtual sex), but I have to admit that however shallow of me it is for it, whenever I see one of those I find myself just shaking my head internally – is that really how they would wish to be? In a world of Adonis and Aphrodites, where everyone is almost exactly the same, what then? (Not to mention the overtones that some of these lay on top of those physical images…)
There is a second side to that however – genderswapping. While there are many I’m sure that have made an avatar of their dream girl and then go and look to get laid virtually, for those who might be more comfortable as the opposite gender, it allows them to present as that gender and not have to deal with all the crap they would in the real world. It’s 100% up to the individual whether or not they want to reveal what sits behind the keyboard.
Of course, the same freedom to express yourself led to a large furry population as well. To borrow a quote, on the internet no one can tell you’re (not) a dog. Given the misunderstandings among the general population about what furry is(in no small thanks to certain media outlets) if you see one you know at least that that is an identity they’ve claimed for themselves. For some, it is another mask to put on, while for others, they may feel it is the mask they take off. It may be symbolic, or they may just find that species of animal really intriguing.
Again, when you have the freedom to be anything, what you choose can be telling.
Identity is also rarely static. We experience things; we learn; we grow. Who you are at 20 may not bear much resemblance to who you are at 60. You’ve had 40 years to learn more about yourself. 40 years in which you’ve changed the world, even if just the tiniest bit, and for it to have affected you.
There’s a lot more I could write, but I think I’ll leave it for there for now, as it is getting late. Babylon 5 however did love to ask the hard questions. And so, whomever may be reading this, I ask you:
Who are you?