The Extended Emotional Body

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 5:26am in



The simplest way to think of identity and identification is that it creates an enlarged emotional body.

If someone I identify with is hurt, I hurt. This suffering shows up on brain scans, it’s not theoretical.

If, on the other hand, I completely don’t identify with someone else, their pain doesn’t both me. This is why, for example, most slave societies say that slaves are sub-human. Plato believed most slaves were meant to be slaves, and that slavery was only wrong if someone was not naturally a slave. Race theory and so on.

The Romans were refreshingly honest about this, “You’re a slave because you, or the people from whom you are descended lost a war.” They also made it very possible to stop being a slave, perhaps because they didn’t think of slaves so much as “other.” It wasn’t an intrinsic category, you just had bad luck.

This extended emotional body goes beyond people. You can identify with animals and feel pain when they are hurt (Nietzche went insane when a man whipped a horse savagely). You can identify with plants, or with objects and ideas.

People piss on Korans and Bibles and burn flags precisely for this reason: It hurts people they want to hurt. People tell you your ideals are wrong to hurt you or to protect their ideals from harm so they won’t be hurt. Be really aggressive to a believer about how “God isn’t real.” It hurts. Tell an American patriot his country is evil. Etc.

Conversely, if another person we care about does well, we’re happy. If the country we identify with wins a war we may feel good. Or, if we think the war is wrong, we may feel bad. The extended emotional body created by identification gives us vast possibilities for increased happiness. Check in on a sports fan when “their team” wins the championship.

Identification with people and objects and ideas we really have nothing in common with is a large part of how we scaled our societies to grow beyond the number of people we could personally know well. We’re all Americans or Germans; or we’re all descended from the same ancestor; or we all believe in Zeus, and thus won’t attack another worshipper of the greatest of all Gods, let alone the wanderers who are under his sacred guard.

Identity, however, leads to a wide variety of pathologies. We don’t actually know these people, they don’t actually know us, and as for the ideas, well, they may be bad for us, but because we identify with them, we can’t see that clearly.

Identity makes it hard to find truth, because when we discover that something we identify with isn’t what we thought it was, maybe it’s not good or even perhaps, that it doesn’t even exist, it hurts. Humans avoid pain.

Identity also allows us to be manipulated. Odds are, your interests have essentially nothing in common with those of the people who run the Democratic or Republican parties, or the CEO of the company you work for, or the leader of your religion. But many many people identify with these organizations or people and acquiesce to their authority, even when that authority is terribly harmful to them.

Identity is a prosthesis. It lets us do things we can’t do without it. But beyond identifying with people we personally know and like, it isn’t natural, and it is very easily abused.

Everything I write here is free, but rent isn’t, so if you value my writing, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.