26 May 2016

When we face choice and say “Yes, I will do that. I am that kind of person,” we use our identity to justify our choice of action. The choice might not be the most convenient, but it matches our preconception of who we are.

When we decide whether to make our bed in the morning, whether to drive above the speed limit, whether to drink coffee or take a nap when tired, our identity has a say in the decision. If we consider ourselves tidy, we’d make our bed. If we value getting to our destination ten minutes earlier, more than we worry about the increased risk of a speeding ticket or an accident, then we’d speed up. If we value performance right now, vs performance over longer period of time, we’d drink the coffee.

We are free to decide which side we value more. This is how we define our identity. By making the decision, or abstaining from one, we pick one side over the others.

Whether we pick our own identity by free will, or whether others give it to us is another topic. It is a discussion worthy of its own essay.

Defying our own identity is the least convenient thing for us in the whole world. Some people prefer to die that to betray their cause. They’ve got their identity so attached to their cause, that they are ready to lose their lives, but not their identity. The perception of identity influences the choices. This is not restricted to life-and-death situations. The individual perception of identity affects all choices, regardless of scale.

Identity influences actions, but it works the other way around too. We know that when we are happy and entertained this causes laughter. But it is also true that if we smile and laugh we feel happier and more entertained. It’s the same with actions and identity. When we take certain actions, even at random, they influence our identity.

Whenever we are facing a choice, and we don’t have a confident opinion on which side to take, we don’t have identity at stake. It doesn’t exist in the context of this decision.

The decision that we make is random. We make that decision based on random factors at the time, not based on our perceived identity. We decide based on temporary convenience.

Subjectively, though, we try to justify. And that’s a fallacy. The random environment factors had put us in a position where option X was better that option Y. We ended up action X, but then we thought of ourselves as X-type of person. Not Y-type.

But then, when we execute the action, we bind our identity to that decision. We seek to justify the action, and random is not good enough justification for a rational human being. It is a lame reason. But it is the true, objective reason.

We mutated our identity. We were not an X-type person at the time of making the decision. But after we did X, we became more of an X person. When the time comes again, we’d be much more likely to chose X.

But there is no good reason to prefer X or Y. They are both valid options. I’m not talking about what’s “rational” here. The definition of being rational is to take the action which maximizes value. But in the absence of a value system, rationality is nonsense. Choosing X vs choosing Y would lead to a different parallel universe.

But can we know which parallel universe is better? We can’t, unless we have a value system.

But how do we know which is the best universe to be in? We don’t, unless we have value system.

A value system only makes sense in the context of making actual decision. So “value system” is not the important concept. Identity is.

Coming back to the moment of choosing X vs. Y, we couple the outcome, the decision, with the inputs, the situation and our identity. We choose based on the situation, but then we change our identity towards what we chose.

As a result, we end up identifying ourselves by the situation’s convenience. The next time, we will make decision based on the new situation and our identity, which got influenced by the previous situation. Thus, the old situation ends up having a disproportionately larger effect on our lives. Therein lies the fallacy.

This is a powerful way to manipulate people.

Others, or “the system” can exploit this by putting us in situations in which we repeatedly chose X. Over time, we’ll end up doing X out habit even when we could do Y. When that is the case, it is certain to say that whoever defined the environment, manipulated our identity.

To reduce the fallacy’s effect, we need to explore doing both X and Y, and admit to ourselves that those were fully random actions.

If we want to discover our true identity we need to let go of our past actions. To forgive ourselves for our mistakes and not take ourselves seriously for successes. To be good and bad. To be lazy and hard-working. To be respectful and to be rude. To see how it feels.

Then, we’ll see which one we prefer.

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I write these posts to clarify my thoughts and improve my communication. They are mainly written for myself, and my future self, but I'd love to hear any comments you might have, especially if you disagree with what I've written, or if you've found it valuable in any way. Message me on Twitter @themitak or email me at comments@dimitarsimeonov.com.