Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First Person Plural

We need to abandon the idea that each of us has one cohesive identity.

Everyone possesses multiple personalities, each with their own set of motivations, goals, and quirks.
Call them what you want, but there's always the rational part, the mind, driven by cool rationality, always thinking it's calculated what's best for you. Then there's the emotional part, the heart, driven by irrational passion. Always close by is the libido, driven by the desire to fuck and be fucked.

These identities don't always agree with each other.

John Mayer put this eloquently in his infamous Playboy interview:

"I've got a Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock. I'm going to start dating separately from my dick."

We don't all have racist cocks, but we've all experienced conflict in our attractions. A person can be perfect on paper—attractive, smart, lots in common—but the heart just doesn't supply the thumpity thump that the mind insists it should. Worse is the vice versa; someone's who's objectively oh so wrong, but the heart's on one shoulder whispering sweet lies of encouragement, while the cock's feverishly tugging on the other shoulder, insisting, yeah, the heart is right.

The research I'm doing for my PhD lends some empirical support to these ideas. The answer to a question often depends on how you ask it. If you ask someone to think the question through then write down a response, it's mostly the mind, with its smarty-pants ability to handle language, that answers. But if you ask too quickly, or too indirectly, for the mind to interject, the other identities get more of a chance to answer. And sometimes their answer is completely different than the mind's. 1

Almost literally, each person is people. "I" is a plural pronoun.

It's why we love the werewolf (ok, maybe not all of us), and his relatives, Dr. Jekyll, Bruce Banner, and Tiger Woods. We all recognize that struggle between the rational side and the unfettered emotional side. But we're also repulsed by it; we wish there was only one cohesive personality calling the shots.

But it's the mind that figured out language, so it's the one you hear from. It's the one writing this post. The heart and libido are still on our shoulders, whispering things the mind forgets to say, but it's still the one that controls which words get out. Maybe that's why we have this illusion of a cohesive identity. The mind is the loudmouth of the group, doing all the talking, pretending it's got its shit together. But that doesn't make the others any less important in determining our actions. When it comes down to what it really means to be human, they're all equal partners.

Maybe that's okay. Maybe we should just accept it. Go with the heart's opinion one day, go with the mind's another, and let them work out a mutual agreement based on the consequences. Can't I all just get along?



Note: The title of this post is stolen from Stephen Braude.

1 More concretely, I am speaking about implicit measures of attitudes. The technique used in my research is called the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP); for more information, Google up articles by Keith Payne.


Jen said...

This isn't exactly what you're talking about, but made me think of a recent interview on cbc/Q, with this person. It was really interesting - a kind of crazy idea but I can't say that I'm surprised that someone has tried it.

Forest City Fashionista said...

This is a great post, and I'm in complete agreement. It's taken me years to figure out that I need to listen to the rational part of me more, instead of the emotional/libido parts when it comes to dating, and pay more attention to the emotional/libido part of me when it concerns the rest of my life! It's a constant internal struggle for domination, and each day a different winner.

Anonymous said...

wow. i am glad i read this.

Tatiana said...

The cool thing with that is that some of us are prone to introspection enough that we know when each part is driving so to speak, and can decide whether to go with the flow or rein in the non-logical parts. It's the people that don't have a clue what drives them that are funny to watch.

Candice said...

One of the best posts I've read in awhile, and I totally agree.

Anonymous said...

If I never have to hear about John Mayer's racist dick again, I'll be okay.

Maybe we just need to redefine "person." Just because I'm multi-faceted, does that necessarily mean I'm more than one person?

Phronk said...

Jen: Wow, seems like an extremely fascinating person. I missed that episode of Q but I'm downloading the podcast now.

FCF: It is quite the struggle. I think I often have the opposite problem; listening to my rational part too much when it comes to dating. Sometimes overthinking things can ruin them.

Carrie: Thanks! Glad you read it too.

Tatiana: Haha, yeah, not even being aware of it can be a mess. Introspection brings its own problems, but I think leads to better decisions in the end.

Candice: Thanks!

Shine: Good point. I guess the assumption, in our society, is that "person" refers to a single-faceted identity. A single person has a single personality. Maybe we need to be more like hybrid vehicles; whether they're running on gas or on batteries, they're still a single car.

Anonymous said...

Still with the Christmas

Phronk said...

Haha there's still snow outside!

TS said...

Awesome post. I've had discussions and debates about these things... whether I like it or not, I completely agree.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

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Phronk said...

I guess that's spam, but I think I'll just leave it there.

Mark said...

Yes, it's almost like we all have an internal monkey, lizard, fish and human being in us, vying for control...

Phronk said...

I read something that someone wrote about that sometime somewhere.

Jay Ferris said...

My inner hulk is in charge 95% of the time, most notably at both ends of the eating cycle, i.e. shopping and pooping.