Saturday, April 7, 2007

Another Approach to Identity

As I recently observed, in at least one corner of the blogosphere, the reaction to the "Kathy Sierra incident" has led to the challenge of "Getting Identity right." This has set me to fretting about the all-too-human condition of going out to romp in concepts that one does not really understand. My own reaction to Kathy Sierra's situation was to try to bring some clarity to the concept of governance, quite a challenge in the face of national and corporate organizations trying to keep it as muddy as possible! I have tried to do the same with the concept of morality, with the result of sparking some interesting conversational insights over at confused of calcutta.

As intimidating as these two concepts may be, dealing with them feels like a walk in the park when compared with identity. The good thing about the conversations at confused of calcutta, though, is that they always seem to come back to question of what we do, rather than what we know; and that may be useful guidance in this case. Indeed, J. P. Rangaswami, who runs that blog, is very big on conversations; so what happens if we try to think about questions of identity in terms of the conversations we conduct?

As I see it, the problem that we face, particularly in cyberspace, is that we must all cope with the challenge of communicating in a social world that is about as far from a Habermas-style ideal speech situation as you can dare to get! We need to start taking lessons from those who have such communication skills: anthropologists whose bread-and-butter come from communicating with “alien” societies, psychiatrists who cannot “heal” the psychotic without first communicating with them, and actors who have mastered the art of communicating through an “other” persona. Perhaps if we addressed the question of principles of conduct (a key element in Kant's conception of morality) in terms of such communication skills, the “question of identity” will take care of itself as a corollary!

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