The Identity Pyramid

Identity Politics on Earth and the Universe at Large

What do you most identify as? A Woman? A Christian? An African-American? A New Yorker? A Teacher? A Pisces? An Atheist? An Athlete? A Millennial?

Over the last few years, we've seen a rise in identity politics, a discussion on how our internal identities shape our beliefs in the world around us. Some criticize this as a poison to society, stating that identity shouldn't be a factor when considering policies. Others, of course, disagree. The problem with either side of the argument is that it forces a binary narrative onto societal issues, with little room for nuanced debate. Not all topics are relevant to identity, but many are. For example, when talking about the broad strokes of an idea like freedom of speech, identity should not come into the picture; everybody should have this right regardless of their identity. Yet, on the other hand, if someone incites violence through speech toward a specific group you identify with, you have every right to push back against it and work towards political solutions that prevent it. This is a big reason why identity politics is so prevalent today, as there is still a lot of work to do in creating freedom and equality for many worldwide.

Recently, I was in a conversation where this topic came up, and we were wondering aloud what group we most identify with. Initially, we answered with our religion, nationality, or gender. But then someone said, “Living Being." 🤯

As I continuously write about in this newsletter, humanity is at a tipping point, with a future that will encompass infinite wonder or one that will end in untimely destruction. So maybe, I most identify as a Homosapien. Our species is the most advanced on this planet, the most intelligent, the epitome of life in the universe as we know it. We have so much potential, and I so desperately want our species to achieve it. But then I thought about the answer Living Being. Humans are only one of the millions and millions of species on this planet. And yet, we treat them like they are insignificant, tragically causing many of them to go extinct. Animals feel pain. Can have pleasure. Are intelligent. Yes, we are the most self-aware, but what gives us the right to play judge, jury, and executioner for all of evolution's creation? If aliens came down to visit us and judged us on our ethical stance toward life, what would they say? As someone who eats meat, I don't feel great about the answer.

In addition to animals, there is another new form of life that one day may qualify as a Living Being, artificial intelligence. Some may find AI unnatural in their silicon bodies; others may think that we can act like gods and control their lives since we are their creators. If we do these things, we will only be repeating our past mistakes, unable to see past our primary identities to the broader kinship of life.

The point of this is that we all have an identity we most connect with, starting from our immediate family to things like our nationality. But as we go further up the chain, we get to Living Being. Even Earthing may not be sufficient, as Living Being includes other life in the universe. And why not? Our moral concern for the magic of complex life should not just be limited to our planet. If we meet friendly aliens, wouldn't we want to be equals with them?

Opening our eyes to a wider identity helps us push for equality. We can even see how the march of history is a stepping stone of granting equality to different identity groups. And yet, large identity populations like gender, sexuality, race, and more still do not have equal rights and opportunities. In order to overcome global existential threats like climate change, malevolent AI, nuclear warfare, and more, we must learn to move down the Identity Pyramid and share as much of a bond with Living Beings as we do with the humans we love the most.

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