Below you can see excerpts from the book by Markus Gabriel, "Moral Progress in Dark Times; Universal Values for the 21st Century", (Ullstein Buchverlage, 2020); Original title: “Moralischer Fortschritt in dunklen Zeiten; Universale Werte für das 21. Jahrhundert“.
(I have coloured my commentary green).
"Chapter Three: Social Identity
People are always part of different groups: For example, we are family members, workers, citizens, refugees, lobbyists, wine drinkers, neighbours or walkers. The list of our group affiliations is quite long, and none of us really overlooks all our social interconnections. Society as the entire fabric of individual socio-economic processes, which sort people into groups and which people in turn consciously help to shape, is too complex for anyone to be able to survey it as a whole. Although some subsystems control other subsystems (for example, politics controls the economy and the economy conversely controls politics), no one controls everything because no one can even know how this would be possible."
In this example of the thinking of a relatively young philosopher, we can already see well the most important problem in our modern consideration of our identity. In Gabriel's listing of the various groups in which people are always a part, everything is correct except for family membership. Membership of all other groups is either voluntary or (as in the case of choosing a kindergarten or a religion) decided by the person's parents. Membership of a family, however, is not. This affiliation is regulated (or controlled) by Nature. (There is some evidence that the sex of the newborn can be influenced by the choice of the time of fertilisation along the monthly cycle, but other characteristics of the child are usually hardly "selectable" by the parents).
So, in the search for each person's true identity, one must recognise and accept one's family affiliation, unlike one's affiliation to all other groups during one's life, as a natural characteristic, for life. Many people of the present day think they can terminate this affiliation if they are not satisfied with their own family. But it is only an illusion. Egoistically, one can live without one's own family. And also die. From an evolutionary point of view, however, family relations cannot be replaced by belonging to any other group. That is why, in my latest book ("Me, You, and All of Us"), I plead for a restructuring of our world community, for a Familiar Democracy that could be based on the natural demographic hierarchy of human groups.
Markus Gabriel went on to write: "A stereotype is a description of action that distorts reality, by means of which one attempts to explain the behaviour of a person with reference to his or her group membership. ... Stereotypes are dangerous because they easily lead people to misjudge other people's actions, as well as their own, morally and to react wrongly in return." This is true, and one must always remember this, even when philosophising.
Markus Gabriel then goes on to look at the question of a person's identity: "To overcome misleading identity thinking, we have to start with the main question of identity: What actually is identity? This question leads into philosophical shallows, since it has determined the entire history of philosophy in various variants for more than two thousand five hundred years. ... In order to bring clarity into this tangle, one can first distinguish four forms of identity.1. Ontological identity
What does it actually mean that each of us is someone? Why am I me and not someone else? ...
2. metaphysical identity
As a human being, with which real existing object that is in reality am I actually identical? Am I a refined animal capable of speech? An immortal soul that has entered a human body? A pattern of neuronal activity? A brain stuck in a body as a control centre? A dream? A thought in the mind of God? Or something else entirely? ... In fact, these metaphysical questions have not been clarified, which by no means makes them unimportant, since the meaning of life depends on them.
3 Personal identity
Am I the same all my life? Am I the same as I was thirty years ago? Will I be the same when I die, or will someone else die who I have become, who is in my skin? ...
4. social identity
What does it mean to me that I am a father, the author of these lines, a university lecturer, a German, a Rhinelander, a wine drinker, a neighbour, a husband, a philosopher, the director of a research institution, etc.? Each of these roles is associated with rights and duties that are partly determined by the fact that they have been and are being studied in social science and are interlinked with institutions of the democratic constitutional state that determines margins within which one can be a father, author, German, neighbour, wine drinker, etc."
Aren't you (who are reading these lines) missing something very important in this list, as I am? In all four forms of identity, what is missing for me is the connection of the human being, who asks himself all these questions, to his own family.
Ad 1. "What does it mean that the human being is someone at all?" It is clear to me: his parents, his family have (ideally) invited and accepted him to live with them.
Ad 2. "Or something completely different?" Yes, exactly, something (almost) completely different. Not an "object" but a structure. And specifically a hierarchically organised structure of material-spiritual units (which I call matter-spirit quanta). I am writing here - (almost) completely different - because I too tend to consider an immortal Creative Potential, an immortal soul, as our origin (see post UP11: "Our souls are our origin"). Probably not much research has been done yet on a familial association of "kindred souls"; but it would be the right time for it.
Ad 3. "Am I the same all my life?" No, I am not. With each deceased member of my family, a part of my Creative Potential (my soul, if you will) has also returned to the pool of Universal Creativeness of Humanity. And the other way around, with each new born member of the family, an additional part of this Global Potential has also appeared in my "personality".
Ad 4. "Each of these roles comes with rights and responsibilities". That is true. And this very connectedness makes the greatest difference. Duties to one's family, if taken seriously and nurtured over generations, lead to one of the greatest paradoxes of our present. The criminal clans are often far superior to any state because their family ties seem to be unbreakable by any state punishment. Would it not be time to support the same strong bond in peaceful, non-profit, charitable activities of the people? The state must be at the service of families at all stages of the demographic spectrum, not the other way around. That is precisely the purpose of my activity here. I will probably not live to see its completion. But the direction of the restructuring of our world community is what I am trying to show you. So look closely.