Whither IDentity

Abstract: This article once more discusses identity and concludes that identity is a concept that belongs to the Era of Government. The article subsequently refines Quintessence's description of DonParagon's Vision of the Future, i.e. the Post-Government Era. The picture below first appeared on the frontpage of the December 1994 issue of Optionality, with Personal Development as its theme and with Plan your Selves as its first article.


In today's world, there are many multinational organizations, with staff spanning the globe and staff frequently moving from one country to the other. Tourism now is the most important source of foreign currency for many countries. Free trade opens up national borders, globalization brakes up one national icon after the other.

In an increasingly global world, what is the future of citizenship and of associated issues such as passports, visas, migration, border control, etc?

Citizenship goes hand in hand with nationalism. In the strictest sence, citizenship implies that one can only live and work in one nation. Some countries allow their citizens to take up citizenship of other countries. Other countries have treaties that allow citizens to live and work across borders. But specific activities, such as voting, becoming elected, jury duties and working in the army or even in government employment in general, are often regarded as too sensitive to be opened up to foreigners.

Will citizenship become increasingly irrelevant, as national borders are progressively opened up? Or will citizenship adapt to modern times, such as in the above examples of multinational treaties and multiple citizenship?

B. Citizen of the World

How attractive is world citizenship? Should an organization such as the United Nations be allowed to issue passports to civilized people, so that such people can more easily travel the world using such passports, work abroad, etc?

Alternatively, with work restrictions being progressively relaxed, it becomes more and more easy to obtain work permits in other countries. While work permits and tourist visa are mere stamps in a single passport, another approach is to obtain multiple passports. At the moment, immigration is typically governed by criteria such as age and education of the migrant. Alternatively, passports and citizenship could be commercialized, in the sense that people who put up sufficient funds could buy the priviliges associated with citizenship of a specific nation. Buy enough of them and you could indeed call your self a citizen of the world.

In the song Citizen of the World, DonParagon ridicules citizenship and associated concepts such as passports, arguing that a Visa in one's hand (i.e. a Visa credit card) is worth more in today's online global world than a stamp in a passport.

To some extent, the European colonial empires achieved something close to world citizenship for their respective citizens, as they were entitled to freely move throughout the empires. The Roman Empire literally covered the entire world, for as far it was known to the Romans at the time. Subsequent European Empires each spanned the globe, in the sense that colonies were set up all over the world and it was relatively easy for citizens of the motherland to migrate within the respective empire. Of course, while citizens of the motherland were allowed to freely travel throughout the empire, people from abroad could often hardly even travel within their own country. Imperialism is invariably based on one country dominating and exploiting other countries.

The concept of citizenship is so tied up with the concept of nationalism that any idea of an international passport is absurd. Similarly, trying to obtain multiple passports glorifies the concept of nationalism, whereas DonParagon predicts that the whole concept of nationalism is becoming irrelevant. DonParagon thus only uses the concept Citizen in an ironic sense, arguing that one becomes a Citizen of the World by rejecting national borders altogether, rather than by craving for numerous passports or for some kind of super passport.

C. Alternatives

Governments tend to classify people by national identity. But does this focus on national identity not essentially take things out of context, especially in situations where one's national background is becoming less and less relevant? Doesn't it make more sense to look at interactions, interlinked relationships and the dynamics and trends that shape events, rather than to focus at identities? In terms of networks, can the nodes be seen as separate from the network? Without the network, without the flows of information, do nodes exist at all?

In the above case, the node (citizen) is part of a national network, that is in turn part of a patchwork of international relations. But just suppose that governments fade away, as DonParagon predicts. What will happen to all these identities? Of course, people will continue to exist, but they will no longer identify themselves as citizens of a specific country. Instead, each person will focus on how relationships with other people and it will be that relationship that will express what they are, rather than a piece of paper that is issued from above by a national government. In a global world, who wants to be identified as part of a national network?

Nationalism effectively selects a single identity for each person and sticks that on them as a permanent label, as if such a single identity is the one and only truthful one, whereas each attempt to deviate from this will be regarded as fraud. Obtaining multiple passports does not constitute an escape from this system, it merely duplicates such a system. In today's world, an identity that is sufficiently versatile and flexible to change fluidly with the dynamics of time and adapt quickly to changing circumstances, such an identity is not accepted by any government. The bureaucracy tries to mould people into single, 'stable' personalities, based on identifyers such as gender, age, place of birth and the color of one's skin.

A deeper question is whether multiple identities is an oxymoron, a concept that is in conflict with itself, an internal contradiction? Is it national sovereignty that makes identity an expression of intolerance? Or is identity by definition a singular, exclusive concept?

D. Forget about Identity!

It may be that the very concept of identity is suffocating. It may be that, to liberate oneself, one needs to shake off the very idea of a singular identity, consciousness, soul, person, etc. Instead of looking for identities, why not take another approach. Perhaps the concept of identity is merely imposed by society, in an effort to explain and predict events, on the basis that a person with a given identity will most likely act in a predictable way.

If the world changes to the effect that it becomes ever harder to predict events based on the fact that someone can be identified as someone with a specific nationality, as a male or female, as a child or adult, etc, if all those identifiers lose their usability, why then hang on to these efforts to categorize people? Why not simply assume that people are people? Why even try to define people? Why create boxes to fit things in? Why not take the whole concept of identity from its pedestal?

Indeed, DonParagon argues that identity is merely a creation of language, of social grouping, of a specific culture. DonParagon foresees cultures that do not identify people, but that build on creativity, improvisation, etc.

D. Vision of the Future

Back in early 1996, DonParagon's Vision contained (among other things) the following elements:

The above picture represented the shift in the basis of society (bold, in the right-hand box) from a nomadic Pre-Government Era, through an Era of Government with a territorial focus, to a non-territorial Post-Government Era. In short, DonParagon's Vision predicted that the basis of society in future would shift from territorial to non-territorial.

The August 1996 issue of Optionality had as its theme Virtual Presence, arguing that people's virtual presence was becoming more important. The article the coming Post-Government Era (C), predicted that the Post-Government Era would be predominantly characterized by virtual presence, whereas earlier issues would speak of a non-territorial basis.

In the August 1996 issue of Optionality, the article Versatility in Personality also introduced the new keyword of personality.

The graphical picture of DonParagon's Vision therefore took on the following shape, again showing the charactaristics of the Pre-Government Era, respectively the Era of Government, followed up by the Post-Government Era, this time for two keywords (in bold): personality and presence.

In DonParagon's Vision of the Future, identity and personality are seen as moving towards more flexibility and versatility. But one can question whether concepts such as identity and personality really belong in DonParagon's Vision of the Future at all.

In the song Vision of the Future, DonParagon says that all you need to see is that you need optionality, in order to be. For DonParagon, this is a choice, an attitude that people will adopt after careful consideration. This is much different from the way governments have always labelled and categorized people. Governments like to use identifyers such as age, gender, color, place of birth, etc. People are not given much choice in the identity that governments like to enforce upon them.

In this respect, the article Versatility in Personality was not much of an improvement compared to the earlier article Plan your Selves (December 1994), which attempted to break out of the restrictive concept of one-self. Adopting a versatile personality may, at worst, be interpreted as a weakness, at best as a struggle to get out of the Government's straightjacket. This doesn't give enough credit to the proud and assertive attitude expressed in DonParagon's songs. The problem is that any concept such as identity, ego, self, personality, etc, presumes fixed values by which a person can be identified. Therefore, it makes more sense to use the concept attitude, as an attitude generally is regarded as something that can be changed and that can be adopted by will.

It makes more sense to say that, in the Post-Government Era, people will no longer adopt the patriotic attitudes that are so heavily promoted by nationalistic politicians. Whereas personality has problems moving beyond a singular identity, attitudes will easily take on the form of presences that extend beyond a single point, just like it takes many nodes to make up a network. But rather than conforming to the rules of a single, global network, attitudes will take on the form of presences that each are separately shaped by new cultural values, that are largely self-determined, and that are interworked by links, contacts, experiences and expectations, each of which built up and shared on the basis of mutual agreement and appreciation.

Secondly, Virtual Presence is seen by many as an escape into a fantasy-world, an Utopia, a dream that is not real. Accordingly, DonParagon's Vision has often been rejected as the fantasy of a dreamer, a poetic world that will never become reality. Therefore, Quintessence has decided to use other keywords, to better reflect DonParagon's Vision. Rather than going back to say that the Post-Government Era will be characterized by its non-territorial basis, Quintessence prefers to focus on the keyword lifestyle, arguing that people's lifestyle will become borderless.

Accordingly, Quintessence plans to use the following elements to describe DonParagon's Vision:

DonParagon's Vision can now also be found under the domain name visionofthefuture.com which features the lyrics of the song Vision of the Future. An associated logo will be:

  instead of the older  

This logo represents both the name Vision of the Future and the concept optionality, through the ticked checkbox.

Of course, Quintessence is well aware of the inevitable shortcomings of any verbal description of DonParagon's Vision. One of the obvious problems is that articles like this one are largely based on the written word, which is regarded as an inferior means of communication by DonParagon himself. More future adjustments may therefore be necessary, or preferably an audiovisual production may better express DonParagon's Vision. But for the time being, this looks like the best description Quintessence can give at the moment. Meanwhile, Quintessence will be the first to agree that, for the best impression of DonParagon's Vision, one should listen to DonParagon's songs. Film producers are invited to contact Quintessence to add 'video' to DonParagon's Vision.

Appendix:   A Borderless World speaking a single Language?

As discussed in the above article, a borderless lifestyle better describes the characteristics of future times than virtual presence does. Borderless is also preferable to non-territorial, as borderless both refers to the absence of physical (territorial) borders, as well as an absence of tribal, ethnic and linguistic borders.

This opens up new discussions, such as whether there will be one global, borderless world in future and whether the dominance of English constitutes a decrease in linguistic diversity. Firstly, DonParagon has always rejected the idea of one global world, whether this is a global village or a borderless world. In DonParagon's Vision of the future, singularity will be a thing of the past and one, single, united world or market simply does not fit in with this. Instead, Quintessence suggests to describe future times in terms of a borderless lifestyle.

On the point of linguistic diversity, DonParagon argues that much verbal communication is being replaced by non-verbal communication, e.g. communication through icons, animation and by audiovisual means. As a result, many issues that are currently causing problems, will phade away as this shift becomes more manifest. Concepts such as me and we can cause many identity-crises, but as largely linguistic constructions they will lose their relevance as the dominance of verbal language disappears.

In other words, the dominance of verbal language is disappearing and the fading away appears to be most evident for languages that are only spoken by smaller groups: these languages are dying out. But the disappearance of the dominance of verbal language equally applies to a language such as English. Compared to other verbal languages, it may seem as if English is becoming ever stronger, but just like other verbal languages, English is in fact in retreat.

Instead of speaking English, more and more people recognize all kinds of icons, logos and signs, which are part of visual languages, whereas English is deeply rooted in verbal language. Technological developments such as the Internet, multimedia PCs, videoconferencing and video-on-demand over Cable-TV, they all add a powerful visual element to what used to be predominantly verbal communication. Even on radio, advertisements are full of slogans, jingles and catchy tunes, rather than that they are focusing on the content of the words. As DonParagon says in the song Improvisation Time: I don't care much for harmony, poetry, melody and symphony, all I need is some good rhythm and rhyme!

 Support Optionality
[ Quotes | Reviews | Poems | Philosophy | Politics ]
 Optionality Magazine
 Optionality Discussions
WEBdesign by  Quintessence all rights reserved
 Vision of the Future