Identity and Words

A person just declared to the world that they identify with a certain group. Their DNA contradicts that assertion.  Who am I talking about?

Bruce/Caitlin Jenner
Rachel Dolezal

Bruce Jenner says, “I’m not a man. I am a woman.” The world says, “You go girl!” Rachel Dolezal says, “I am black” and the world responds, “No you aint!”

Why the double standard? What does it even mean to identify as black or female or any other label? Why do we feel the need as humans to classify things?

It turns out that classification is a critical part of human intelligence.  Our brains only have so much memory and CPU. We can’t unpack every single nuance about every single person. We need to group things together or we will lose our minds from the amount of data to be processed.

It’s impossible to treat all of humanity individually. We need to put labels on things so that we can make assumptions about them.  Assumptions that may be wrong some of the time.  Why do we make these assumptions? Simply to alleviate the mental workload of remembering all the details about each person. I can barely remember people’s names!

This line of thought led me to other labels.  Someone told me they are a “Designer”. I looked at their work and thought, “Not really.”  What does being a designer mean? If you WANT to be a designer, does it make you one?

What about being “Smart”? IQ clearly doesn’t measure things like empathy or awareness of others, which sometimes get thought of as “smart”.

Take an easy one. I’m “tall”. 6 foot 2 inches.  In the NBA I would be considered short, but compared to the average population I am tall. If I lossed my legs in a freak tractor accident, would I still be tall? Could I identify myself with tall people?

If I scan my consciousness into a nanobot swarm would I still be human?  What if I just has everything except my brain replaced with cyborgish material?  Is there a line?

Words are our most powerful tool to understand the world around us. Yet, they fall apart in almost every single instance of scrutiny.  Words are like humans.  They last a long time, but one good hit to the head and they die.

We either need better words or better brains.


One reply on “Identity and Words”

I thought of mr./ms. Jenner too when I heard about this. I think better brains are needed, we won’t get them, so words will have to do.

Whatya think?