What Makes You, You?


What makes you, you? And what does it mean to be true to yourself?  On a personal level, we all wrestle with these questions. But the way we answer these questions has cultural consequences as well.

One view of “self” claims that “living authentically” means being true to your desires. “If it feels good do it.” Or, in more modern parlance, “You do you, man.”  The corollary, of course, is that to deny myself my desires (or to expect someone else to do so) is essentially denying yourself the chance to be who you really are.

You find this view of “self” in the arguments in favor of redefining marriage.  “If you have the right to marry the person you want to marry, I should have the right to marry the person I want to marry too.”

Justice Kennedy echoed this sentiment in the Obergefell decision that redefined what marriage is as a legal matter. “The opportunity to marry is integral to human dignity.”

The unspoken premise underlying this argument is that there is no objective reality that should prevent me from being able to be who I want to be and do what I want to do.

My feelings define what is true.

It is clear, however, that that this does not extend just to marriage.  Only minutes after marriage was redefined, we were told that the ability to self-select ones gender was the next crisis of human dignity.

The sentiment is identical.

“If you have the right to be the gender you feel you are, I should have the right to be the gender I feel I am.”  The arguments appeal to the libertarian in us all because, “Hey, if you can do what makes you feel whole, it’s only fair that I get to do what makes me feel whole, right?”

The challenge with these arguments is that they require us to affirm a person’s worth by affirming their desires before pausing to ask whether it’s objectively true or good.

“Hey, if believing 2 + 2 = 4 makes you happy, I should be able to believe that 2 + 2 = 137 because that makes me happy.”

“Right on, Bro.”

The idea that each of us is the sum of our feelings will inevitably lead to irrational outcomes (more of which can be seen here).

But it does something more—and worse—as well.

While we all have impulses and desires, we all understand that many of our impulses and desires are not helpful because we have something else as well: the ability to reason.  That ability to reason allows us to consider what qualities make for an honorable and upright life, which, necessarily allows us to make judgments about what habits, behaviors, or choices are inconsistent with what we know to be virtuous.

However, in a culture which believes people live authentically solely by fulfilling their desires, the use of our reason to conclude that some feelings should be suppressed is judgmental and denies others human dignity.

And who wants to be guilty of that?

We can all understand the appeal in believing that the purpose of my existence is fulfill my desires. I mean, who doesn’t think that sounds good?

Still, despite the insistence of modern progressives that the path to personal fulfillment is being true to our desires, we live in a world in which our desires are trying to destroy us.  We know this because those of us who are indulging our desires most intentionally and consistently are also the most miserable.

So I ask again, what makes you, you? Are you a rational being capable of making choices despite how you feel, or you are defined by your desires?

By viewing ourselves as the sum of our desires, we deny ourselves the chance to be something better.  And, at some point, we’ll discover that we are now convinced that feeling female actually makes it so.

5 replies
  1. Ron Zielinski
    Ron Zielinski says:

    If (according to culture and popular thinking) the pursuit of personal desires/pleasures and feelings are the epitome of human endeavor why do we applaud those who sacrifice willingly to help others? The soldier who dives on a grenade to save his buddy receives a medal. The fireman who runs into a burning house to save a child overcome with smoke often receives honor from his community. On a more mundane level, a married couple–forsaking all others–remains faithful to each another for 50 years is recognized by family and friends for their accomplishment. How we admire the single mom who against all odds works two jobs while playing the role of mom and dad to her children. An ancient wise man (Solomon) wanting to try everything “done under the sun” denied himself nothing he desired and came to the conclusion that it was all “vanity, a chasing after the wind”. An even wiser man (Jesus) said that to be his disciple, we had to “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.” The standard we live by can be high (sacrifice for the sake of others) or low (personal desires). The choice is always ours.

  2. Keith McGowan
    Keith McGowan says:

    Our values, not our desires, make us who we are because our values inform how we respond to our desires. Desires acted upon without discernment are simply impulses.

  3. Galen Danis
    Galen Danis says:

    This weekend Bremertonians will be treated to a topless march down a busy suburban boulevard.

    A married (heterosexual) couple is determined to make folks aware how unfair it is for men to feel happy going shirtless in public while denying the same freedom to women.

    It seems like they could win this one, one way or another, for the law now declares that a lady, on a hot day (or for any other reason,) may declare herself a gentleman.

    One can only imagine the sponsorship revenue from a women’s tennis final at the U.S. Open should the contestants choose an alternate gender for the match.

  4. Lawson Smith
    Lawson Smith says:

    “A human being can reflect within himself upon those things that he perceives outside of himself by means of his bodily senses; and he can also reflect on a higher level upon what he thinks on a lower. For everyone can say, “I have thought this, and now I think this;” also, “I used to want this, and now I want this;” and again, “I understand this because it is so; I love this because it is of such a kind”; and so on. Hence it is clear that man thinks above thought, seeing it as if it were beneath him.” — Divine Providence, section 75, by Emanuel Swedenborg


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