The Identity Engine

the identity engine — A hypothetical "central processing unit" within each individual which generates most of their behavior. The identity engine is attempting to seek one thing above all else: the preservation of ones own sense of self-esteem and uniqueness.

The engine can be thought of as a black box. Sensations, memories and impulses go in, and behavior comes out. Inputs to the box can range from hunger and lust to a mugger with a gun demanding your wallet. The behavior that comes out can be explicit words or actions, or it can be an inner fantasy or obsession that no one else ever knows about.

The traditional view of human behavior is that people are responding to inner "drives" like seeking food, mating and something called a "survival instinct". While these drives certainly exist, the trouble with this theory is that people rarely act upon them in a straightforward manner. In fact they often do things that directly contradict those drives. If a survival instinct were the highest human motivator, why would people do apparently dangerous things like climbing cliffs and jumping out of airplanes?

The answer lies in the black box, which receives the drives as input but doesn't necessarily act upon them. The identity engine twists things around in a characteristically human way. What it wants most of all is to preserve its own positive self-image.

The identity engine says: "I am somebody significant, valuable and unique." Nearly everything the engine does is attempting to preserve that delusion.

This is an overwhelming need that is genetically engrained in everyone, and it starts to be expressed by children almost from birth. Every child wants to be unique and valuable, not just eat, sleep and avoid pain. How and why this need exists is a bit of a mystery, but it is certainly present and is much more powerful than any traditional drive.

The cheapest and easiest way to serve the needs of the engine is fantasy. It may be difficult to become president, a war hero or a famous movie star, but it is easy to fantasize about these things. Our multimedia industries provide drugs for this purpose: movies, novels, soap operas and video games where you vicariously become the center of the universe. Once enveloped in these fantasies, people can easily ignore all other drives, to a point just short of starvation.

Unfortunately, we all have to deal with reality from time to time, and it isn't nearly as accommodating as fantasy. Reality often tells us we are worthless, meaningless and empty and that we are only one tiny gnat among billions. Especially in dysfunctional families, reality is not friendly to the ego.

If you are faced with unpleasant messages from reality, you can respond in one of two ways: (A) You can work to actually become a significant, valuable and unique person in the outside world, or (B) you can manipulate your inputs so it seems that way. The identity engine doesn't care, unless you have it specifically tuned to respect reality.

If you don't feel you can achieve "A" because you have been beaten down so much, then there's always "B", which usually boils down to "shoot the messenger." There are so many ways to shoot him that we can't begin to address them here. Most of the human behavior that we regard as bizarre and incomprehensible, like masochism, sadism, self-mutilation and nearly all the behavior of teenagers, is actually an expression of "B"—the attempt by the identity engine to achieve self-esteem through trickery. It may make no sense to us on the outside, but it always serves some purpose in preserving a person's identity and immediate inner self-esteem.

We can delve quite deeply into how being bound, gagged and tortured by a beautiful dominatrix preserves ones self-esteem, but it does. The identity engine has twisted ways of doing its work which are built upon the basic assumptions about life that a child learns in his earliest years. Maybe being tortured is just what you need to feel good about yourself and restore the sanity of the universe.

Everyone seeks self-esteem, but how it is processed can vary greatly from one black box to another. Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men (and women)? You do, if you pay a little attention. The operation of the identity engine is consistant over time and can be understood from the outside, simply by observing inputs and outputs.

Just don't expect it to be "logical" in any objective sense. Each person has their own strange internal logic, and you have to learn to deal with it.

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Started: 12/19/05