On ‘Identity’ at Fjällnäs

On some views, the trajectory of human history is most essentially driven by a struggle for recognition. Recognition means being seen and acknowledged. It requires consciousness of oneself as being a certain way, and a recognition of that self-understanding by something other. It is in and through this process that identity comes to be formed.

The history of our species involves progressive attempts to articulate responses to the phenomenon of identity. In the social and political sphere, identity can either play out on the level of the individual or of the collective. On the level of the individual, the question concerning identity asks whether there is such a thing as the essence of a person. What is it that makes me the particular and unique individual that I am? To what extent am I a product of my time, and is there something about personhood that endures while the world around me remains in flux?

On the level of groups, identity is what distinguishes one group from another, and we might ask questions such as what makes a nation a nation, or a family, or a club. We anticipate considering the role of our geography, of our values, religion, ethnicity, or ideology in the shaping of group identities. In an age of digital interconnectedness people belong to tribes that extend far beyond geographical boundaries.

But we might also wonder about the limits of our ability to identify, and think about the tensions that can arise between assignment and conscious identification, such as with gender. Perhaps identity is a fiction, something that we can do without, a remnant of a past that is to be overcome. Buddhism teaches us about the value of de-identification, perhaps even positing that the very existence of the self is an illusion. Does identity dissolve into non-identity, into a state of oneness? And can technology help with dissolving these boundaries? Or does it erase our individuality by making us cogs in a large technocratic system?

We envisage discussions that will be difficult. But as our political classes pull further apart and conversation between ideologically opposed views breaks down, we seek to create a space where opposing views can be voiced, and heard. Indeed our hope is that participants will respect at least one principle: However seemingly outrageous, biased, or ill-informed a perspective may seem, it is the view of a fellow human being, and often borne of personal experience. Beyond establishing what is right or correct, what we truly care about is a willingness to be vulnerable, and the potential for mutual understanding and intimacy that this opens up.