Identifying Identity with Russell McCutcheon

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

David Kirkpatrick expressing his ideas about how a person only has one identity

Russell McCutcheon:

It’s no accident, of course, that “integrity” has a direct relationship with the Latin adjective “integer,” as in the word we today use to name whole numbers, in distinction from their parts, i.e., fractions. And so it carries with it the connotation of being complete, perfect, even unblemished. But there was a time when this modern sense of the word might have described not Mark Zukerberg’s apparently ideal person—one who is, I guess, consistently, transparently, and rigorously themselves in all occasions—but, instead, one who was able to moderate that apparent self, all depending on the requirements of the setting, something determined by the other social actors involved (e.g., it’s not “a black tie event” until someone shows up in a black tie). I’ve written on this classical sense of pietas before, I know, but it seems relevant once again to point out that wholeness might instead be the social fiction created by the artful management of the innumerable fractions, some of which may have no common denominator; for the quality of consistency or uniformity is surely the last thing one wants—whether in ancient Rome or in Facebook’s headquarters—when moving from interacting with social superiors at work to the barista at the corner coffee shop to friends at the bar or family at home. These once taken for granted distinctions are obviously challenged not just by the eternal present of the virtual world, where we post and tweet and, now, yak anonymously, but, more importantly perhaps, by Facebook’s own quest to monopolize ownership of that world and thus ownership of the means whereby we produce those selves. Now, we all know that routinizing the process, narrowing down the inventory, the actions, and the variables, was a key to the invention of the cost effective assembly line; so we might ask how different this is in the case of what Facebook fabricates? So it makes perfect sense, it seems, that Zuckerberg would predict that “[t]he days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” After all, accomplishing this is probably part of their business model, making his sage prognostication akin to insider trading, whereby he rigs the game he’s trying to win at. No wonder he repeated it three times in one interview, back in 2010—commercials never come on just once.

But despite his hopes, I still think that few of us now, and in the future, will have the social capital to get away with, say, farting during meetings and then tweeting about it—though perhaps, with the fortune he made after Facebook’s initial public offer back in 2012 (despite its shares being worth about 3/4—and that’s a fraction, not a whole number!—of their initial value after the first three days of trading), Zuckerberg’s office now stinks with integrity.

To read the other posts in this series, search the Real Name tag.

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