Well for one thing, I think those college students just haven't fully thought through the implications of their beliefs. This is something known as cognitive dissonance and it is something everyone is guilty of to some degree. I myself have found a lot of conflicting beliefs in my mind that I had to sit and think about for a while before resolving. It's really easy to come to believe that one thing is the way things should be without actually applying it to any of your other thoughts and behaviors - this often results in hypocrisy. (Though, you can be hypocritical without having relevant cognitive dissonance). It's also possible to believe two conflicting ideas at once without ever realizing it. When emotions and opinions get involved, people often forget to analyze problems and break them down, instead resorting to gut instinct, and gut instinct typically hides conflicting ideas.
Let's talk about identity. What kind of identity? Online identity? Social identity? Legal identity? No, in this case we want to discuss personal identity: what someone identifies as to themselves, even if they don't tell others; and physical identity: what someone is physically identified as by others. In most cases, personal and physical identity are mostly the same: a person who thinks they are a man also tends to have the physical properties of a typical man. An example of when they don't line up is with homosexuality - which, in my opinion, is a very misleading word.
To me, a human has three identities: their personal identity, their sexual identity, and their physical identity. All three of those things can be in any combination - they could all be the same, they could all be different, or a couple could be the same and one could be different. The word homosexual by definition should mean that a person's sexual identity is one which is attracted to others with the same physical identity as the person, but this doesn't account for a person's personal identity at all. It has been used to account for it, however, and so the term is now ambiguous and I will cease using it, because ambiguity is annoying. (By the way, note that sexual identity does not mean "do you have man parts or woman parts" - that's what physical identity is).
In the above video, none of the featured students seem to be able to explain even one of those three identities - some may not even know there is more than one in the first place. The interviewer has a physical identity of 'short white male', which could potentially be changed via surgery and other means. He then suggests that his personal identity may be 'tall Chinese woman', without ever mentioning what his sexual identity could be. (Since I get the strong impression this is a thought experiment and he doesn't actually personally identify as a female, I'm going to refer to him as a male). It is important to note that his personal identity is something only he can know for sure, and we just have to trust that he isn't lying about it. (Well, okay, if brain mapping technology gets far enough we could eventually find out if he is lying and know for sure what his personal identity is, but that's a discussion for another decade).
To be clear, it's perfectly fine if he personally identifies as a Chinese woman, but nobody will ever convince me that he physically identifies as one until he goes through the surgery to make it real, and I don't think it's healthy for him to believe he is taller than he really is. If he robs a bank and I am a key eye witness, I'm going to tell the police about a short white man, not a tall Chinese woman. If he dies and centuries later his bones are dug up and examined, he will be identified as a short male. If he so desired he could go through all the surgery to change those facts, or if the medical field advances far enough he could even swap bodies with someone else (exchange their brains) and thus break many people's perceptions of identities in the act. But if all it takes is swapping brains to change physical identity, what is physical identity?
The way I see it, our brains are the only thing that really matters in most cases. Yeah, our physical bodies matter in some cases, but most of the time they don't. Yes, the brain is physical too, but what surrounds it is merely an avatar. I see our physical bodies as avatars for our physical brains. You've probably even seen the movie Avatar and should at least have an idea of what I mean. It's perfectly fine to customize one's avatar if it isn't to their liking; most people probably aren't born with an avatar they actually want, but the cost of changing it varies from expensive to extremely expensive. So, most people just accept that it isn't worth the time and money to change their avatar when they have more important things to do, like researching a cure for cancer or taking out the trash. Ideally, one's avatar need only be modified to be suitable for the task it needs to perform (which in most cases means correcting birth defects and repairing injuries), but the cosmetics industry exists for a reason. People are vain, and vanity is still an integral part of our culture. (Also, I'm aware of mental disorders and the likes, and that's a whole different can of worms). But I digress.
Back on topic, the college students in the video don't seem to understand (or aren't able to adequately explain) that the interviewer's avatar is now and most likely will forever be, a short white male. They don't even seem to be comfortable with the idea that they can refer to the avatar as a separate thing. They're probably worried about sounding racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted. This is, in my opinion, the biggest problem with society at the moment: confusion of the three identities, and intolerance for intolerance. (The latter being rather ironic).
Recall, the three identities are the personal identity, the sexual identity, and the physical identity, and any combination of them is perfectly fine (to me, anyway). When people confuse two or more of these identities as the same thing, or when they are afraid to talk about one or more of them, it leads to problems. The college students seem to be unable or reluctant to talk about the interviewer's physical identity, instead confusing it with or prioritising his personal identity. How does this happen? Let's break down the conversations:
- "Good for you. Okay. Like... yeah."
- "Nice to meet you."
- "Wait, like... what? Really...?"
- "I don't have a problem with it."
- "I'd ask you how you came to that conclusion."
Responses 1, 2, and 4 are all accepting of the new information, but dodge the question. Response 3 is skeptical, asking for clarification. Response 5 is...well, we will have to come back to this guy.
- "I mean, I might be a little surprised, but I'd say: good for you! Like... yeah, be who you are."
- "I would maybe think you had some Chinese ancestor."
- "I would ask you how you similarly came to that conclusion, and why you came to that conclusion."
- "I would have a lot of questions, just because, on the outside I'd assume that you're a white man."
- "I wouldn't believe that immediately."
- "I probably wouldn't believe it, but I mean, I... it wouldn't really bother me that much to go out of my way and tell you 'no, you're wrong', I'd just be like 'oh, okay, he wants to say he's seven years old'."
- "If you feel seven at heart, then... then so be it, yeah, good for you."
- "Probably not, I guess, I mean unless you haven't completed first grade up to this point and for some reason you need to do that now."
- "If that's where you feel, like, mentally, you should be, then I feel like there are communities that would accept you for that."
- "I would say so long as you're not hindering society and you're not causing harm to other people, I feel like that should be an okay thing."
Back to "what would your response be" but now going to the next extreme: height mismatch.
- "That I would question." "Why?" "Because you're not! No, I don't think you're six foot five."
- "If you truly believed you're six five, I don't think it's harmful. I think it's fine if you believe that. It doesn't matter to me if you think you're taller than you are." "So you'd be willing to tell me I'm wrong?" "I wouldn't tell you you're wrong."
- "No, but I'd say that I don't think that you are."
- "I feel like that's not my place as, like, another human to say someone is wrong or to draw lines or boundaries."
- "No, I mean, I wouldn't just go like 'oh, you're wrong, like, that's wrong to believe in it', because I mean, again, it doesn't really bother me what you want to think about your height or anything."
But that isn't what happens in these selected responses. Response 2 is directly pointing out the problem, but not very confidently at first. Response 3 is amazing - rather than confront the false information, they would rather ignore it because it isn't affecting them, it isn't "harmful". Except it is harmful - it's harmful to the person who believes they are a different height than the actually are. If I were to take this to the next extreme, I would bring up suicide - "I don't think it's harmful" would get you investigated by the police for negligence. Okay, so believing you're a different height than you really are is more mundane than that, but I still think it is negligent to not tell someone about a potential problem that directly affects them. Look at part I bolded, "I wouldn't tell you you're wrong." To me, this means she believes he is wrong, but she isn't willing to say so. This is a conscious decision to be negligent. People have told me that it's disrespectful to say certain things to people, but there are also times where is is disrespectful to not say certain things to people.
Responses 4 and 6 both start with "No", so I assume they take place after "So you'd be willing to tell me I'm wrong?" was asked. Response 4 then reads as, paraphrased, "I would not tell you you're wrong, but I would tell you I don't think you're right." - so, lack of confidence. Response 5 is astonishing to me. The only way I can rationalize response 5 is to imagine that this person believes we all exist in our own separate pocket universes and can in no way have any effect on each other. This simply isn't true - society works because we draw boundaries, and court cases work because we admit that some people are wrong. We all affect each other, whether we like it or not, and not drawing boundaries or telling people they're wrong is very close to giving in to chaos.
Response 6 is like response 3 - "it doesn't bother me". Again, I see this as negligent - someone has an obvious disconnect between what they believe to be true and what is actually true, which is usually a sign of a mental disorder, and instead of telling that person about that disconnect and helping them to realize there may be a problem, these people are opting to keep away and not think about it. Obviously there's a time and a place, but previously these people were giving altruistic responses and have suddenly switched to selfish responses. It seems very strange to me.
- (a) "Sure." (b) "Yes."
- "If you thoroughly debated me or explained why you felt that you were six foot five, I feel like I would be very open to saying that you were six foot five, or Chinese, or a woman."
Where Conclusion Guy takes the spotlight, everyone else seems to fall flat, defaulting to a generic response that evades the question, or barfing out a mindless response that is not well thought out and will likely make them feel pretty embarrassed after the fact. One of the comments on the YouTube comment section points out that many responses include the phrase "I feel" - I don't fully understand the implications of that, but I noticed it too, and I think it has to do with the pressure the students were feeling causing them to give gut responses.
The world isn't magically going to become an easier place to understand. People need to take the time to learn and think. Learning is one thing, but you can learn all day long without thinking at all. Some even go as far as saying that you aren't learning unless you're thinking, and I'd tend to agree. So, people need to think about the implications of their beliefs. I split identity into three parts when I took the time to think, and as a result a lot of things make a lot more sense to me now. I feel a lot more comfortable talking about things that would have previously left me confused.
You should probably also take some time to think things over. Once you've done that, move on with your life! You've got other important things to do. I appreciate that you read some random 20-year-old's half-assed blog about identity that sounds like it might be preaching some kind of strange identity religion, but please get back to curing cancer after you've thought things over. Also, take out the trash. That's important too, because it gives you time to think.
So, this blog post about my thoughts on identity turned into an informal essay where I break down a video, followed by a cheesy 'how this affects the world' set of paragraphs that I was compelled to write out of habit. Interesting. Well, at least it's safe to say that ninjas identify as ninjas.