Obvious identity fail

Paul Graham points out something important: religion and politics are generally unfruitful topics of discussion because people have identities tied to them.

An implication:

The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it’s right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can’t think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

This seems obvious. For one thing, if you are loyal to anything that incorporates a particular view of the world rather than to truth per se, you have to tend away from believing true things. 
Ramana Kumar says this is not obvious, and (after discussion of this and other topics) that I shouldn’t care if things seem obvious, and should just point them out anyway, as they’re often not, to him at least (so probably to most). This seems a good idea, except that a microsecond’s introspection reveals that I really don’t want to say obvious things. Why? Because my identity fondly includes a bit about saying not-obvious things. Bother. 
Is it dangerous here? A tiny bit, but I don’t seem very compelled to change it. And nor, I doubt, would be many others with more important things. If you identify with being Left or Right more than being correct to begin with, what would make you want to give it up? 
Ramana suggests that if having an identity is inescapable but the specifics are flexible, then the best plan is perhaps to identify with some small set of things that impels you to kick a large set of other things out of your identity. 
What makes people identify with some things and use/believe/be associated with/consider probable/experience others without getting all funny about it anyway?
As a side note, I don’t fully get the concept. I just notice it happens, including in my head sometimes, and that it seems pretty pertinent to people insisting on being wrong. If you can explain how it works or what it means, I’m curious.

One response to “Obvious identity fail

  1. Hmm… identity as the driving force of character.For example, people with a tendency to be honest and fair will likely identify with these traits (“I am honest and fair and I feel good about it”), which will make them derive pleasure even from actions which hurt them, but are honest and fair.This might explain (at least some) sociopathic behavior as people identifying with stuff that causes them to behave that way. E.g., identifying with “I always get my way” might lead a person to ignore all moral considerations in getting their way, and they will feel good about it.The answer to your question, I think, is that people identify with stuff spontaneously, based by what we fancy, backed by hardly any conscious thought. (Witness sports fans identifying with their teams.) We have to exert conscious effort so as to prevent over-eager identification.I agree with Ramana that you are better off identifying with a small set of core values, preferably self-consistent ones, rather than a larger bunch of stuff. A larger identity is more likely to be inconsistent, as well as to contain bits that are counterproductive.With respect to your identifying with saying the non-obvious, everything is obvious if one is smart enough. This does seem like one of those identity bits that are counterproductive and undermine your other efforts. Perhaps it will help if you discover the reason why you adopted this as part of your identity in the first place, and take a while to see why it was likely silly.


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