We need to abandon the idea that each of us has one cohesive identity.
Everyone possesses multiple personalities, each with their own set of motivations, goals, and quirks.
Call them what you want, but there’s always the rational part, the mind, driven by cool rationality, always thinking it’s calculated what’s best for you. Then there’s the emotional part, the heart, driven by irrational passion. Always close by is the libido, driven by the desire to fuck and be fucked.
These identities don’t always agree with each other.
John Mayer put this eloquently in his infamous Playboy interview:
“I’ve got a Benetton heart and a fuckin’ David Duke cock. I’m going to start dating separately from my dick.”
We don’t all have racist cocks, but we’ve all experienced conflict in our attractions. A person can be perfect on paper—attractive, smart, lots in common—but the heart just doesn’t supply the thumpity thump that the mind insists it should. Worse is the vice versa; someone’s who’s objectively oh so wrong, but the heart’s on one shoulder whispering sweet lies of encouragement, while the cock’s feverishly tugging on the other shoulder, insisting, yeah, the heart is right.
The research I’m doing for my PhD lends some empirical support to these ideas. The answer to a question often depends on how you ask it. If you ask someone to think the question through then write down a response, it’s mostly the mind, with its smarty-pants ability to handle language, that answers. But if you ask too quickly, or too indirectly, for the mind to interject, the other identities get more of a chance to answer. And sometimes their answer is completely different than the mind’s. 1
Almost literally, each person is people. “I” is a plural pronoun.
It’s why we love the werewolf (ok, maybe not all of us), and his relatives, Dr. Jekyll, Bruce Banner, and Tiger Woods. We all recognize that struggle between the rational side and the unfettered emotional side. But we’re also repulsed by it; we wish there was only one cohesive personality calling the shots.
But it’s the mind that figured out language, so it’s the one you hear from. It’s the one writing this post. The heart and libido are still on our shoulders, whispering things the mind forgets to say, but it’s still the one that controls which words get out. Maybe that’s why we have this illusion of a cohesive identity. The mind is the loudmouth of the group, doing all the talking, pretending it’s got its shit together. But that doesn’t make the others any less important in determining our actions. When it comes down to what it really means to be human, they’re all equal partners.
Maybe that’s okay. Maybe we should just accept it. Go with the heart’s opinion one day, go with the mind’s another, and let them work out a mutual agreement based on the consequences. Can’t I all just get along?
Note: The title of this post is stolen from Stephen Braude.
1 More concretely, I am speaking about implicit measures of attitudes. The technique used in my research is called the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP); for more information, Google up articles by Keith Payne.