There is nothing until it is perceived. The thing itself is nothing until it is “discovered”. This Idealist concept can be applied to our own identities. We are not how we perceive ourselves to be, but how we are perceived to be when we are “discovered”. Nevertheless, we want to be known in the way we want to be perceived as being and not in a way that those who don’t really know us misconceive us to be. Freedom, therefore, becomes a struggle against mass-perception which is itself a molding force, an attempt to make the individual conform to the way it tells us we should be perceived.
Perception, and therefore identity, can be measured qualitatively and/or quantitatively. In an oppressive regime of imitation, the quantitative is promoted to the detriment of the qualitative. For example, it may be more important the number of likes or friends on your Facebook site than the depth of communication you have with those friends. Nevertheless, without depth of communication the quality of perception remains superficial and regarded as weak. To be superficially perceived has a reciprocal effect on one’s identity. My life is more meaningful and satisfying if I perceive and am perceived in a deep way than if I am conceived of in a wide-spread way. Nevertheless, that is not the trend. In the future we might measure the meaningfulness in our lives through the quality of information that arises from a Google search of our name. This sounds terrible, but the Internet has already become a determining factor in our being perceived and our quality of perceiving.
But if transparency is a vital force in our identity, how do we explain or qualify our fundamental need for privacy? Our need to hide ourselves for whatever reason: because we want to transgress; because we want the peace and silence of privacy; because we are tired of being misunderstood …?
Privacy, in this sense, is linked to freedom. A distrust is found of the way we are perceived because we are perceived in a way we don’t want to be perceived. Very few of us have the strength to openly flaunt our vices for fear of the judgement that will fall on us. De Sade is still the great hero of freedom: by standing naked before society he sacrificed his identity to society’s conceptions, relegating that identity to that of transgressor. In reality, he must be admired for his freedom, but un-esteemed for his superficiality and for the psychological and physical cruelties that his emancipation inflicted on his own victims. In fact, if we examine de Sade’s case closely, we see that freedom is intrinsically impossible. If our identity is always suspect to perception, it is forever subject to judgement.
We cannot escape perception in order to be free, quite the contrary, we have to confront it with our transgressions. With that which, for the eye of the perceiver, are our darkest perversions. The free spirit must inevitably dirty itself in order to obtain that freedom. In this paradox we find reflected the Faustian concept of a pact with the Devil. The soul can only be freed if you are prepared to stain it with your perversions. But who dares?
Can there be a better control mechanism than this?