Monday, February 9, 2009

Paul Graham writes something worth reading

Paul Graham: "Keep Your Identity Small"
I finally realized today why politics and religion yield such uniquely useless discussions.
I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan.
Which topics engage people's identity depends on the people, not the topic. ...
...indeed, you can have a fruitful discussion ... so long as you exclude people who respond from identity.
This is correct, and well put. But I disagree with the title, taken as advice, and the last paragraph, taken as advice:
Keep Your Identity Small
Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

2007APR081822Image by bootload via Flickr

The problem is that Identity just didn't develop in humans to make them dumber. A great deal of your effectiveness and personal power comes from your Identity.
  • If you identify yourself as a Provider, you will be able to accomplish more for your families needs in good times, in bad times, and, especially, in the very worst times.
  • If you are running a Democratic campaign, your most effective workers will identify themselves as Democrats.
  • If you identify your worth as a person with the label Electrician, you will operate on a higher plane of competency than your colleagues that don't identify their worth as such.

2007DEC131726Image by bootload via Flickr

If I had to try to develop my best advice in this area, I would say:
  • "Make your deepest expression of Identity explicitly"
  • "Use slightly more labels than you otherwise would"
  • "Stay resolute inside your Identity, with all its labels"
  • "In brief and infrequent times of personal downtime, allow yourself to critically examine all the labels of your identity, and change them if they are unlikely to help you secure what you now greatly value"
What you risk, by not using slightly more labels than you otherwise would, is foregoing the power that labels provide.
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