Categorically Certain

Identity and Freedom

Mandelbrot Set from WikiMedia Commons

Most sensible people accept that there is an objective reality out there, albeit wonderfully complex. Once we start assigning labels, things become more subjective because we have to choose what little to take into account and ignore everything else. Moreover the categories we choose to make sense of reality may seem simple from a distance but almost invariably end up with endlessly elaborate fractal “coastlines” the closer we look.

Categories such as “living” or “species” have such boundaries that are open to interpretation where different experts disagree and Pluto can sail on through the firmament completely unaffected by a vote by some primates billions of miles way that expelled it from their category of planet.

All that being said, Identity is a very special case. Why ?

Because, when it comes to identity in all its myriad aspects (gender, religious, national, cultural and so forth), there really is only one true expert, only one person whose opinion matters and that is the person who is experiencing that identity. For identity is a lived experience so much richer from the inside than the outside.

If you live deep in the interior of your category where everything seems very simple and reassuringly monochrome, great for you, but it is unscientific and unjust to deny that the coastline exists. Moreover acknowledging this coastline doesn’t have the slightest impact on your experience of your own identity.

If you are so rigid and simplistic that you can only feel secure by attempting to straighten out the coastline and build high walls around your category, then you are dictating other people’s identity to them, which makes you a Dictator, at least in this regard.

Gravestone of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Abdus Salam with the word Muslim removed by order of the Pakistani Government

And if you are unlucky enough to be impacted by the proclamations of dictators, remember this. While its very reassuring to have the external validation of a just society and fair individuals, pompous assertions or pieces of paper may affect what borders you can cross or which bathrooms you can use but they can have not the slightest impact on your actual identity which is yours and yours alone.

It goes to the very heart of what it means to be human. Wonderfully ineffable, much of the uniquely personal experience of your identity will forever be beyond the ability of mere words to describe. It just is.

So if you care about freedom and genuinely wish to be tolerant or even if you just want to be considered a liberal, there is only thing you can do:

Just Be and let others Be themselves.



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Declan Brennan

Declan Brennan

Software Engineer, Entrepreneur, Lover of Science and Diversity in all its forms, Skeptic.