Natalie and I (and Dan and Dave) went to a fascinating lecture last night on ‘Knowledge and Prejudice’ by Dr. Miranda Fricker at the State Library. It’s given me lots to mull over. And my experience of listening to such an eloquent lecture — delivered with such excellent diction — helped me realise how far I’ve come from my undergrad days as a knee-jerk anti-liberal (philosophically).
For now there’s one thing in particular I’d like to reflect upon. Dr. Fricker sensitively explored the possible mechanisms of ‘institutional racism’ (in relation to the 1999 Macpherson Report on the police handling of a racially-motivated murder in metropolitan London).
Crucial to her account was a contrast between the beliefs and commitments we hold relative our practical-identities — e.g., our roles as parents, children, students, local music society members — with the beliefs and commitments we hold as private individuals. The commitments attached to the ‘hats’ I wear (as someone with various roles in a range of institutional and family systems) as opposed to the commitments I hold as the ‘real me’.
I can sympathise with this contrast. I know what it feels like to have an underlying ‘real me’ that’s different from — or playing catch-up with — the hats I happen to wear. For instance, I sometimes find myself not only not wanting to fulfil some of my commitments as a student but seriously questioning their claim on me — not wanting to be someone who’s always tied down by deadlines or whatever.
Now my finely-honed postmodernist instincts instruct me that it’s quite probable that this sense of the ‘real me’ — despite its seemingly intuitive reality and authority (not to mention convenience as a way of shirking various ‘merely institutional’ commitments) — is illusory. When it comes to my identity, that is, I suspect it’s hats all the way down.
But I’d like to press further. What is it that generates this sense of having a ‘real me’ beneath — or over against — my role-specific identities? Why does it seem so intuitively obvious, undeniable, and even authoritative?
In short, who (or what) is this ‘real me’, and where does it come from?