Identity has three parts. There is inner identity, that is how we feel or experience ourselves. There is presentation, that is how we assert that identity to others.
Inner identity is something our brains do. It is not a noun, it is a verb. It is an activity to create identity inside. This is evidenced by cases where people lose their identities. Dissociative Identity Disorder maybe rooted in a seizure, or seizure-like condition, of the left temporal lobe producing several identities which can co-exist.
There are also short term identity lapses. These have no exact understood physical reason. The most common is the dissociative fugue. This is characterized by a person simply leaving their old identity, often fleeing to some place far away, or forgetting the details of their old identity. It is not common, but not that uncommon either. At two tenths of a percent of the population, you probably have met more than one person who has experienced it.
It is for these reasons that critical theory describes identity as "constructed." However an even better way of putting it is that identity is maintained. The assemblage is still present, and in the case of dissociative fugue can be reassembled.
This is inner identity, or rather inner personal identity. Even when the personal identity is lost, other kinds of identity remain, such as national or gender identity.
There is also role, which is how people present their identity. Role and identity are related and reinforce each other. It is an old observation that people become the parts they play. When most people talk about identity, what they really mean is the interaction between inner identity, and role, that is the expression of identity.
Roles involve both habitual behaviors, and provisional ones. The involve props, activities and other "proofs" of identity. Much of role creation involves creating habits. This means that role becomes part of the substance of inner identity, we keep doing our role even if we forget the identity it is part of.
Then there is the public identity that other people ascribe to us. That is, the name on the driver's license, or on the user account. The face, the style, the pieces which allow people to place us in the world. To see where we come from, to see what we have at risk. Our public identity is often associated with what we have to lose.
These are not isolated in the sense that we have an inner identity which is pressured if it is not accepted, we present that inner identity, and learn behaviors that get the right response from the world. If a person has an identity as an athlete, they will do what needs to be done to run races or whatever their competition is. If a person has an identity as a femme fatale, she will learn to dress and walk and talk the part until it works.
Identity fragments when the inner activity of identity can no longer take the behaviors, memories, touchstones of identity, and get the results back from the world. When people treat us because of our public identity in a way different than that accords with our inner sense of ourselves, we often shift that public identity.
Now, since one can't start out with a successful identity, and because we often want to try on identities that we cannot wear, there is "play" and imagination. We often dream or imagine ourselves with other identities, whether it is a different body, or job, or spouse in a dream, or playing a game. We call them plays because people play identities.
Identity then is three parts, and virtuality is the place of creating a different road to identity. The first road that I have described is the road through interaction with a fixed outside, and a largely fixed analog avatar. It invovles shaping that avatar, and the inner identity, to match what works with the interaction of the outside. In a virtual situation, the world, and the avatar, are changed to meet the identity, and the interaction is with this changed avatar. Since there is no firm line, all real changes also involve some amount of changing the world: making acceptable what was not. This goes back to the triad of the negotiation of desire, possibility, and acceptability. Inner identity is linked to desire, the role is possibility, and acceptability is public identity.
Virtuality has existed as soon as people could take imagined identities, and begin constructing or making real totems of those imagined identities. A shamanistic figure, is a virtual identity. These identities merge and are fused, with the virtual being a more powerful name for the real than the real itself.
To understand this, consider the dreamline stories of first Australians, who arrived there over 40,000 years ago. They then split into a variety of language groups. The describe characters and shapes, for example in indigenous astronomy, one figure in the sky is the "emu" which is not stars, but the black patches in the milky way. They also describe locations. One location described is the area around the great barrier reef, parts of which are now submerged. The aboriginal description matches the geography some 10,000 years ago. For comparison, Homer's Iliad is not even 3000 years ago.
The landscape of australia is then filled with dreamtime stories, through which the aboriginals moved, and from which they came. The dreaming is a metaphor for inner identity, and the virtual identities which fill it. They connect with the real world, in that they take places, characters and realities from the real, and are more real than the real world, in that they are more vivid, more powerful and more memorable.
My next post will look at the nature of the Dreaming and Dreamtime, and talk about how the shamanistic elements of dream time show a virtual reality, which is the collective creation of the story telling and transmission of those stories. This produces a definition of a virtual world: an intersubjective truth whose consistency is not maintained by externalities, but by inter-textualities, and inter-oralities.