Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare (1597) is where I would like to begin thinking about what makes someone who they are. Juliet believes that Romeo’s name really means nothing in the grand scheme of their love. In the end, however, we find out that is not exactly the case.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
1 Essence before Existence
Usually, online identities are the topic of my musings. But Christmas brought another type of identity to my attention: Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Old Saint Nick, Kris Kringle. He was presented as the embodiment of humankind’s good will. His avatar reflected the culture in which he found himself. To be conscious is to be engaged in a world that embeds and defines the subject (Davies, 2002). Existence is “self-making-in-a-situation” (Fackenheim 1961). I realize that he is legendary, historic and folkloric, but he is not digital to my way of thinking. He is online, as are we all; but that is not where he resides. He is an Avatoid in the same manner as Hatsune Miku is (Adrian, 2014a).
“An Avatoid could be defined as an avatar that has taken on the real personality traits of the human(s) that created it and whereby the personality traits have evolved to become uniquely those of the Avatoid.” (Id) Avatars were essentially a passive construct designed to represent the human creator(s). Avatoids are now an actively evolving construct effectively independent of its original creator(s) (Laker, 2014).
Avatoids beg the existential question: does essence precede existence?
The notion of identity is one of the most important questions posed by Western culture; ‘self’ is the measure of reality (Bolter, 1984). “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.” (Sartre, 1992) To existentialists, human beings—through their consciousness—create their own values. They must determine a meaning for their life because they do not possess any inherent identity or value at birth. By determining the acts that constitute him, he makes his existence more significant. Frank Outlaw is attributed with saying it best:
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Post-modern identity is a self-aware identity. The mechanisms running and ruling today’s world are complex social relations which require maximum flexibility. Therefore, we relinquish the attempts to maintain a single constant ‘self’ (Turkle, 1995). Identity is carried with an individual from context to context, both online and offline. This leads to hyper-identity which is related to identity as a hypertext is to a text (Filiciak, 2003 and Foucault, 1980). It is more of a process than a finished formation, a complex structure that is updated incessantly by choosing from the multitude of solutions. Throughout history, technological advancements have allowed the ‘self’ to act in assorted ways in diverse communities, without anyone being the wiser. Hence, it can be suggested that what is changing is not the ‘self’, which remains unitary, but the effortlessness with which the ‘self’ can manipulate its appearances in different physical spaces. It exists in the state of continuous construction and reconstruction (Giddens in Gauntlett, 2002).
According to an existential view, understanding all of the truths of natural science is not enough to know what a human being is. Existentialism does not deny the validity of the physical and psychological sciences, it merely concludes that human beings cannot be fully understood in terms of them; nor can they be understood by supplementing science with a moral philosophy. Some moral theory can encapsulate important qualities of the human condition. Nonetheless, neither moral thinking (governed by the norms of the good and the right) nor scientific thinking (governed by the norm of truth) is adequate. Thus, ‘existentialism’ may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that the norm of authenticity is necessary to grasp human existence (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2010).
Martin Heidegger’s (1927) Being and Time was an inquiry into the ‘being that we ourselves are’ and the introduction of ‘authenticity’ as the norm of self-identity, tied to the undertaking of self-definition through freedom, choice, and commitment. He first posed the question of what it means for me to be. Jean-Paul Sartre’s (1992) catchphrase, ‘existence precedes essence’, introduces existentialism’s most distinctive notion, namely: no general, non-formal account of what it means to be human can be given, since that meaning is decided in and through existing itself.
What is essential to identity? What makes someone who they are? It is not fixed by type but by what they makes of themselves, who they become. The fundamental point of existentialism is the idea that one’s identity is constituted to ‘exist’ not because of nature nor of culture, but purely to ‘exist’ and to do so with authenticity.
Authenticity: In German, Eigentlichkeit (own sensitivity – google translate), is defined as that attitude in which I engage in my projects as my own (eigen). By what standard are we ‘to be’? In what manner are we to be a self? Standards traditionally derive from the essence that a particular thing embodies and if there is nothing that a human being is, by its essence, supposed to be, can the meaning of existence at all be determined? Existentialism does not provide substantive norms for existing, ones that specify particular ways of life. However, it provides a distinction between what I do as ‘myself’ and as ‘anyone’; as such, existing is something at which I can succeed or fail (SEP, 2010).
The norm of authenticity is the recognition that I am a being who can be responsible for who I am. Hence, authenticity equates with a certain kind of integrity. I am not waiting to be discovered. I may choose whether to commit myself to something which may allow me to ‘become’ what it entails; or I may simply occupy space inauthentically drifting in and out of various options. Nehamas (1998) and Ricoeur (1992) argue that “the measure of an authentic life lies in the integrity of a narrative, that to be a self is to constitute a story in which a kind of wholeness prevails, to be the author of oneself as a unique individual.” On the other hand, an inauthentic life would be one without such integrity. A life wherein one allowed their life-story to be dictated by the world around them. Nonetheless, one may authentically commit oneself to a life of chameleon-like variety. No one can tell who is authentic merely by looking at the content of their lives (SEP, 2010).
Authenticity reflects liquid identity as to the process of self-making. Do I succeed in making myself, or will who I am merely be a function of the roles I find myself in? Thus, to be authentic can also be thought as a way of being autonomous. By resolutely choosing a certain way of being in the world, I have given myself the rule that belongs to the role I come to adopt. The inauthentic person, in contrast, merely occupies such a role, and may do so irresolutely without commitment. The possibility of authenticity is a mark of my freedom and identity (SEP, 2010).
3 Liquid Identity and the Law
Liquid identity no longer poses a challenge for legal theory. The law is beginning to catch up to this conception of self by using image rights to protect these various ‘selves’. The Guernsey Image Rights Ordinance is about protecting personalities. Section 3(1) IRO defines “image” as:
(a) the name of a personnage or any other name by which a personnage is known,
(b) the voice, signature, likeness, appearance, silhouette, feature, face, expressions (verbal or facial), gestures, mannerisms, and any other distinctive characteristic or personal attribute of a personnage, or
(c) any photograph, illustration, image, picture, moving image or electronic or other representation (‘picture’) of a personnage and of no other person, except to the extent that the other person is not identified or singled out in or in connection with the use of the picture.
Law is built on the concept that the self is a unitary, rational actor. Nevertheless, Sherry Turkle (1995), has contended that “the ability of the agent to represent herself as a different person in different online communities, without anyone being able to trace one identity to another, effectively creates multiple ways of knowing, which can be thought of as multiple selves.” This is another way of describing liquid identity. The ‘multiple selves’ exist purely because a unitary higher-order actor, deciding rationally, chose to generate and then occupy them. This higher-order actor is the ‘self’. (Id.) At any given moment, one can actively create himself. One’s ‘self’ arises just to be revoked a moment later and replaced by another ‘self’ – equally as real as the previous one. Some, like Michel Foucault (1980), have stressed that “there is no inside ‘self’, no essence making me who I am”. For Foucault, people do not have a ‘real’ identity within themselves; that’s just a way of talking about the self – a discourse. An ‘identity’ is communicated to others in your interactions with them, but this is not a fixed thing within a person. It is a shifting, temporary construction (See also, Adrian & Laker, 2014).
What makes this current of inquiry distinct is not its concern with ‘existence’ in general, but rather thinking about individual existence requires new classifications not found in the conceptual repertoire of ancient or modern thought. Today, individuals can be understood neither as substances with fixed properties, nor as subjects interacting with a world of objects.
Who I am, my essence, is nothing but my manner of coordinating with the world around me. In this sense, identity is self-made in situations. According to Charles Taylor (1985) we are ‘self-interpreting animals’. What we are cannot be separated from what we take ourselves to be. So what is in our name?
According to Edem v Information Commissioner,  EWCA Civ 92: “An individual’s name constitutes their personal data.” Although the Court noted that a name may not constitute an individual’s personal data where the name is so common that without further information (such as its use in a work context) a person would remain unidentifiable. Further, the Court endorsed the approach advocated by the ICO in the following passage of the ICO’s guidance:
“It is important to remember that it is not always necessary to consider ‘biographical significance’ to determine whether data is personal data. In many cases data may be personal data simply because its content is such that it is ‘obviously about’ an individual. Alternatively, data may be personal data because it is clearly ‘linked to’ an individual because it is about his activities and is processed for the purpose of determining or influencing the way in which that person is treated. You need to consider ‘biographical significance’ only where information is not ‘obviously about’ an individual or clearly ‘linked to’ him.” (Id; see also, Adrian, 2014b)
So, Juliet was somewhat correct. What is in a name? Only what meaning we choose to give it. Unfortunately, sometimes we choose meaning without having enough context. Or in the case of Hatsune Miku and Santa Claus, the meaning changes with each further encounter they have with other identities.
• Adrian, A (2014a) Hatsune Miku: When Dreams become Reality available at https://angelaadrianaticondia.wordpress.com/tag/hatsune-miku/
• Adrian, A (2014b) Your name is an aspect of your personality as well as your personal data available at http://www.icondia.com/library/name-aspect-personality-well-personal-data/
• Adrian, A & Laker, K (2014) Personality: Not Just A Pretty Number available at http://www.icondia.com/library/personality-just-pretty-number/
• Bolter, J. D (1984) Turing’s man: western culture in the computer age, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press
• Davies, E (2002) Synthetic mediations: cogito in the matrix, Toffts, D, et al Ed. “Prefiguring cyberculture: an intellectual history”, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
• Fackenheim, E (1961) Metaphysics and Historicity, Milwaukee: Marquette University Press
• Filiciak, M (2003) Hyperidentities – post-modern identity patterns in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, Wolf, M.J.P. & Perron, B. Ed. “The video game theory reader”, London: Routledge
• Foucault, M (1980) Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings 1972–1977, Gordon, C. Ed., London: Harvester
• Gauntlett, D (2002) “Anthony Giddens: the theory of structuration”, extract of media, gender, and identity: an introduction, London and New York: Routledge
• Heidegger, M (1962) Being and Time. Tr. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row
• Laker, K (2014) Hatsune Miku: The Future of Personality available at http://www.icondia.com/library/hatsune-miku-future-personality/
• Nehamas, A (1998) The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault, Berkeley: University of California Press.
• Ricoeur, P (1992) Oneself as Another. Tr. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
• Sartre, J-P (1992) Being and Nothingness. Tr. Hazel Barnes. New York: Washington Square Press
• The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (2014) Existentialism (2010) by The Metaphysics Research Lab, Centre for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University, Library of Congress Catalogue Data: ISSN 1095-5054 available at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/existentialism/#KieSinInd
• Taylor, C (1985) “Self-Interpreting Animals,” in Philosophical Papers I: Human Agency and Language. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press
• Turkle, S (1995) Life on the screen: identity in the age of the Internet, New York: Simon & Schuster