Even the beneficiaries of hypertrophy have found it difficult to cope with extreme cultural change … they are sociobiologically equipped only for an earlier, simpler existence. Where the hunter-gatherer fills … one or two … roles out of … several available, his literate counterpart … must choose ten or more out of thousands, and replace one … with another….

Furthermore, each occupation—the physician, the judge, the teacher, the waitress—is played just so, regardless of the true workings of the mind behind the persona. [D]eviations … are interpreted … as a sign of mental incapacity…. Daily life is a compromised blend of posturing … and of varying degrees of self-revelation. Under these stressful conditions even the “true” self cannot be precisely defined….:

“…Self, then, is not … half-concealed behind events, but a changeable formula for managing … during them. Just as the current situation prescribes the official guise…so it provides where & how we will show through, the culture … prescribing what … we must believe ourselves to be….”

Little wonder that the identity crisis is a major source of modern neuroticism, and that the urban middle class aches for a return to a simpler existence.

E. O. Wilson (also quoting Erving Goffman), On Human Nature

Particularly the phrase “changeable formula” stands out to me. I think this means that our self-concept, seen as a function ƒ, takes the_environment as an input. (And that input has a nonzero derivative, i.e. it’s not a trivial input.)

Not only that; “the environment” isn’t limited to what_happened_in_our_early_years. We might feed that early_environment variable in as well, but in addition immediate conditions can change our self-concept. In equation form:

  • Self = ƒ (   ∫ early life,    present situation,   ...other stuff...  )

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