Friday, January 14, 2005

Nature of Identity - shown through crisis

A NYT story points out that identity is a matter of relationships or records of relationships - and the tsunami wiped both away, leaving some people without identities.

(thread link)


Blogger Mark Wahl said...

A similar problem has been identity documents for refugees, whose governments have been unwilling or unable to issue them generally-accepted forms of documentation, or postwar situations where it is impossible for governments to issue documents because the traditional issuing authorities no longer exist. After WWI, in order to allow refugees to have a suitable document for enabling international travel, Fridtjof Nansen's League of Nations High Commission for Refugeees issued passports to the stateless, as did the IRO after WWII. Currently, there are refugee, emergency and other 'exceptional' identity documents issued for travel purposes besides the passport; this site has a list of 120+ kinds of identity documents issued to non-nationals that a immigration inspector might be presented:

Mark Wahl
Informed Control Inc.

4:55 PM  
Blogger cme said...

Here's Mark's link
, I hope.

11:02 PM  
Blogger bob blakley said...

I believe I've already said (can't remember for sure) that "the document (e.g. birth certificate) is the identity, whereas it's commonly thought that the document "records" the identity by referring to some ineffable but unchanging characteristic of the "identity-holder".

I agree that these unfortunate people no longer have identities. Now they have to establish new ones. They will probably try to "claim" the ones they had previously - or at least the ones somebody had previously.

This is where identity gets really dangerous. When you're first born, there's no trouble in issuing you an identity, because there are no stakes. Your identity doesn't entitle you to much. When you're an adult and you show up without an identity, there are very high stakes - especially if the identity you claim has a lot of money or authority associated with it. (The opposite direction is also a problem. If you try to lose an identity, it's a big deal if there are lots of liabilities associated with the identity).

1:19 PM  
Blogger cme said...

If you want to define the word "identity" that way, fine. I still say it's just a written reminder to people who would testify personally as to someone's identity.

But, that's just choice of definitions.

The one nit I would pick with Bob's comment independent of definition is that someone newly born might still stand to inherit - and therefore even at birth the identity is not without strings.

3:49 PM  

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