Identity

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Full Title or Meme

Identity is a real world concept that allows us to associate Identifiers and Attributes to entities, individual or corporate. It is not definable in sufficient specificity to be of any value in definitions of digital concepts.

Context

Identity in the real world is modeled in the digital world by these four elements (all of which are able to be fully defined):

  1. Identifiers or names that are assigned to a continuing presence in the digital world,
  2. Attributes that are asserted for the entity and may be validated for greater trust,
  3. Behaviors that are recorded about the entity over time,
  4. Inferences that are determined by some intelligent evaluation of the above elements (this has the danger of becoming stereotypes).

To be of value in the digital world it is necessary to assure that an identifier continues to apply to the same real-world entity, even though that entity may change any of the other above elements over time. In this definition the real-world legal name is just an attribute as there are cases where it legitimately changes.

Problems

It has become too difficult to create any kind of computerized representation of a user to satisfy all the of requirements for identification, privacy and recognition of user identity

Identity can become Toxic

Most of the effort in Identity Management has focused on individual Users or Enterprises. The other part of Identity involves Identifiers for groups of individuals. As reported in Appiah's book[1] we learn that people tend to identify with others that share some set of Attributes, whether that is bridge players or white men. As that happens humanity's nemesis, tribalism, starts to rise between the people in "our tribe" and "the others". This tribalism is increasing becoming a nemesis of the internet as well. Since any Enterprise that collects Attributes about an Entity on the internet will have strong incentive to segregate those into groups with the same set of Attributes, the danger arises of the creation of stereotypes that can foster tribalism where the Identity of the individual is sublimated into the Identity of the tribe.

Demand for Recognition

From the other direction, the [User] can demand recognition as belonging to some Identity group in order to qualify for some preferential treatment. According to Fukuyama, populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. This idea is also explored by Socrates[2] using the Greek word thymos which is evident even in children and dogs, beings whose reactions are not naturally controlled by reason. The term is generally taken to refer to our instinctive response when we feel we’re being disrespected. We bristle. We overreact. The demand for identity cannot be suppressed indefinitely; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.[3] Until we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.

The Road to Serfdom

The Road to Serfdom[4] is a book written in the early part of WWII by Friedrich Hayek, where he warns "of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning." He further argues that the abandonment of individual identity and classical liberalism inevitably leads to a loss of freedom, the creation of an oppressive society, where the bulk of society identifies with a dictator, resulting in the serfdom of the individual, a tribe of national porportions. Hayek challenged a wide-spread view that fascism was a capitalist reaction against socialism. He argued that fascism and socialism had common roots in central economic planning which focuses exclusively on the health of the state, or in capitalist societies with the Gross National Product, rather than individual identity and well-being. The Road to Serfdom was inspired by the writings of the 19th century French classical liberal thinker Alexis de Tocqueville on the "road to servitude".

Self Worth

But what about the value that many people experience by identifying with a noble cause? Isn't that a benefit to society? Many of the majority communities in the United States have embraced the Identity aspirations of immigrants and people of color in ways that their parents could not have imagined. "The identities that people embrace today are the identities their children will want to escape from tomorrow."[5] Cities, like Chicago, embraced their ethnic enclaves, until they didn't. Seattle has recently renamed "Chinatown" into the "International District". Clearly Identity is a concept that has been in flux at least as long as people of one culture have migrated into regions with different cultures. Eventually things seem to get sorted out, after the people that are invested in the old Culture die off, are killed off, or driven off.

Solution

  • Abandon the use of the term Identity in any taxonomy used in computer networking.
  • The term can continue to be used in any ontology that does not need a high level of specificity.
  • Find some constructive way to represent human Identity that is:
  1. cognizant of the human desire for privacy, and
  2. cognizant of the human desire for recognition as fully a part of human economic society, and
  3. cognizant of human individual and commonweal responsibility each for their own destiny.

References

  1. Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (2018) ISBN 978-1631493836
  2. Plato, Republic. (380BC) ISBN 978-0486411217
  3. Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. (2018) ISBN 978-0374129293
  4. Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. (1944) Routledge ISBN 978-0226320595
  5. Louis Menand, What Identity Demands. (2018-09-03) New Yorker