Some random thoughts on identity

Greg Sheridan has an op-ed about the value of religion and being religious in The Australian. I don’t want to comment on his argument per se, but rather riff off one of his comments.

I have faith that I am the son of my parents. I have no real empirical evidence for it. 

Actually that’s not true.  There is plenty of evidence that Greg Sheridan is the son of Mr and Mrs Sheridan. Now before we get into gory detail – I don’t know Greg Sheridan’s parents so I’m actually just generalising. I’m also assuming he is not adopted and was never told and that he is not illegitimate. This is a very simply story: married couple have a baby and how do we establish identity.

In the first instance there is social affirmation. At some point Mrs Sheridan would have been noticeably pregnant. She and her husband would have told people they’re having a baby.  People would then observe at some point Mrs Sheridan going to hospital and reappearing with a baby. Family and friends and the community at large would observe a young human being introduced to people as being a specific individual called Greg. Mr and Mrs Sheridan would then, over time, invest resources in Greg’s upbringing while telling the world that he is their son. Economists call this a costly signalling model. Consistent with Greg Sheridan’s broader argument a lot of people at his church would perform the verification – from observing the pregnancy, and actually attending the baptism, and various confirmation, first communion, etc. where people get to observe the (same) child at various ages.

At the hospital the staff would have observed a woman giving birth and then immediately the baby would be labelled “Baby Sheridan” or something similar. A paper trail would be established in the hospital records. A birth notice might have appeared in the Hatched, Matched and dispatched section of the newspaper.  Then comes the second mechanism – government records. A birth certificate confirms identity.

So contrary to Greg Sheridan’s claim – there is plenty of evidence he is who his parents claim him to be.

Thinking about identity is actually a lot of fun – how we confirm our identity is a rich mix of social behaviour and government action. That mix is important for economic interaction and the exercise of property rights, not to mention government control over society. The mix also changes over time.  I’ve got a PhD student who will be looking at this over the next three years, so watch this space.

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45 Responses to Some random thoughts on identity

  1. Sentinel Man

    Why do academics need to over analyse even the most simple situations.

  2. Craig

    It astounds me how seemingly intelligent people make the stupidest statements as if there is something deeper or meaningful in delivering this thought. Seriously Greg, you are a complete twat.

  3. NuThink

    At the hospital the staff would have observed a woman giving birth and then immediately the baby would be labelled “Baby Sheridan” or something similar. A paper trail would be established in the hospital records. A birth notice might have appeared in the Hatched, Matched and dispatched section of the newspaper. Then comes the second mechanism – government records. A birth certificate confirms identity.

    It has happened that babies get mixed up and wrongly labeled. So there is that possibility. Mistakes are made in the real world.
    https://brandongaille.com/20-babies-switched-at-birth-statistics/

    Out of 4 million total births, about 28,000 babies get switched ever year.

  4. candy

    It sounds a very interesting article to read, if you were a subscriber and could do so.

    So unless you can read the article, thinking about that one sentence is pointless, so I will read others’ comments on the article with interest, thanks to anyone who posts.

  5. jupes

    It astounds me how seemingly intelligent people make the stupidest statements as if there is something deeper or meaningful in delivering this thought. Seriously Greg, you are a complete twat.</blockquot

    Not a complete twat.

    Sometimes Sheridan makes a lot a sense but then he will say something totally ridiculous. This is the bloke who reckoned Kruddentrop was a good foreign minister.

  6. jupes

    Woops. I must have pressed the wrong button at some point.

  7. RobK

    He could get empirical evidence via DNA analysis to butress his faith should he be that way inclined.

  8. Tel

    I have faith that I am the son of my parents. I have no real empirical evidence for it.

    I always thought he looked a bit like the postman.

  9. RobK

    I think a birth certificate indicates the parents acknowledge said person is their child and the state registers the same in a legal sense.

  10. Leo G

    I have no real empirical evidence for it.

    The outcome of a failed experiment.

  11. I’ve got a PhD student who will be looking at this over the next three years, so watch this space.

    Sentinel Man
    #2536812, posted on October 29, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Why do academics need to over analyse even the most simple situations.

    Heh, my thoughts exactly. We’ll be watching this space for a less than useless “academic” to bring out a “oooohhhh super dooooper paper” no less and then an even less than useless pimply faced adviser will read it and recommend to an even less than that useless minister who will draft up some new laws and regulations and justify it because science/a PhD tells us.

    I used to think first we kill all the lawyers, but am now convinced first we kill all the professors and grad students, use the lawyers to get us off of the charges. AND THEN kill all the lawyers.

  12. Hmm

    Tel gets it in one.

    What Sinc points out is a list of circumstantial evidence, not empirical evidence. Unless you were there at the point of conception, one cannot be sure Mr Sheridan is Greg’s dad. Even then, such an act could have been provoked to cover Mrs Sheridan’s dallying sin.

    Unless a DNA Testing Lab is accredited, there is no certainty the DNA is being tested from his Dad (as opposed to his father), who’s DNA may have been provided by his mother, under the pretence of being Greg’s Dad.

  13. Sparkle Motion

    Wouldn’t be that hard to get empirical evidence. He could look at relatedness to his parents with the most basic DNA fingerprinting etc. Quite an odd piece.

  14. Barry 1963

    He sounds as kooky as Malcolm Roberts.

  15. Sparkle Motion

    Why do academics need to over analyse even the most simple situations.

    I think it comes from being exposed to bogus arguments like Sheridan’s just once too often. Evidence for parental identity is easy to conceptualise and relatively easy to obtain.

    The comment pulled out in isolation highlights the lightweight intellectualism (ostensibly faith>evidence) that runs through the piece.

  16. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    Gay marriage will produce many more people who don’t know who their real parents are. Where will the records be, will there be any in the world of Parent One and Parent Two instead of mothers and fathers?

    Yet children generally suspect if they are not biologically related to their parent/s as the story of many adoptees shows; and also children of the ‘milkman’ can get suspicous. So do others around them have suspicions about who is related biologically and who isn’t. Children look like and have the features and often the interests and capacities of their biological parents. If they don’t, they start to wonder why.

    Records are kept for social reasons but mostly they tell a biological story. When they don’t, watch out for trouble.

  17. GerardO

    Congratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Sheridan on the birth of their “special” son, Gregory.

  18. C.L.

    Family and friends and the community at large would observe a young human being introduced to people as being a specific individual called Greg.

    They also would have noticed the toddler was oddly fond of General Suharto.

  19. closeapproximation

    This was Sheridan’smost stupid and vacuous article ever. I normally like his columns a lot.

  20. Suburban Boy

    Just following on and endorsing the comment from Lizzie:

    The general proposition that the parents named on a birth certificate are the child’s actual parents is sound, although of course not fool-proof. But while the most obvious (traditional) source of error is when the wrong man is named as the father, other exceptions have been created in recent times as acts of policy.

    The first is naming fictitious parents for adopted children, and the second (as Lizzie mentioned) is naming at least one fictitious parent for children legally recognised as the children of a homosexual relationship.

  21. C.L.

    Given that Sheridan sold out his religion for the gay ‘marriage’ lobby, I’m at a loss to understand what he has to offer in any discussion of religious identity.

  22. Shine a Light

    This looks like an old guy navel gazing without a safety net or more daring using an ambilical chord as a bungee jump.

  23. Infidel Tiger

    Sheridan never saw a war or lefty cause he didn’t identify with.

    Abbott showed bad judgment when he became friends with Greg. It was an early sign that bad judgment would undo his prime ministership.

  24. cynical1

    I have no real empirical evidence for it.

    After reading that shite, the parents will disown him anyway.

  25. RobK

    Carl Jung did quite a lot of work on identity but I’d rather not go there.

  26. twostix

    Out of 4 million total births, about 28,000 babies get switched ever year.

    I don’t understand how they manage this, for every one of my children the baby was never out of sight or control of us for even a minute.

    I presume there’s still places where new born babies are stolen from their mothers and housed in 20th century industry inspired warehouses?

    The medical industry really is psycopathic.

  27. pbw

    St Augustine, Confessions, Book VI, Chapter V.

    7. Still, from this time forward, I began to prefer the Catholic doctrine. I felt that it was
    with moderation and honesty that it commanded things to be believed that were not demonstrated–whether they could be demonstrated, but not to everyone, or whether they could not be demonstrated at all. … After that, O Lord, little by little, with a gentle and most merciful hand, drawing and calming my heart, thou didst persuade me that, if I took into account the multitude of things I had never seen, nor been present when they were enacted–such as many of the events of secular history; and the numerous reports of places and cities which I had not seen; or such as my relations with many friends, or physicians, or with these men and those–that unless we should believe, we should do nothing at all in this life. Finally, I was impressed with what an unalterable assurance I believed which two people were my parents, though this was impossible for me to know otherwise than by hearsay. By bringing all this into my consideration, thou didst persuade me that it was not the ones who believed thy books–which with so great authority thou hast established among nearly all nations– but those who did not believe them who were to be blamed. Moreover, those men were not to be listened to who would say to me, “How do you know that those Scriptures were imparted to mankind by the Spirit of the one and most true God?” For this was the point that was most of all to be believed, since no wranglings of blasphemous questions such as I had read in the books of the self-contradicting philosophers could once snatch from me the belief that thou dost exist–although what thou art I did not know–and that to thee belongs the governance of human affairs.

  28. Fisky

    Abbott’s best friends include Noel Pearson, Cate McGregor, and Greg Sheridan. Then there’s his sister, Ms Forster. What a weird guy he is.

  29. True Aussie

    Why do academics need to over analyse even the most simple situations.

    Academics need an excuse to parasite off the taxpayer. They have no useful skills and no real value to offer society which is why they hide in a makework job leeching off others instead of throwing themselves into the free market.

  30. Just a few thoughts:
    -Michelle Obama is the mother of two children, presumably sired by Barak.
    -There is not one picture showing lovely Michelle Obama being pregnant – during the two pregnancies.
    -There is no record in any hospital that Michelle Obama gave birth – twice.
    -There is no birth certificate for either of the children (there is no certificate for Barak or Michelle – there is a birth certificate for Michael Robinson before he becomes her).
    -There is not one picture showing two girls as babies either with Michelle Obama or Barak.

  31. Crossie

    After all this is the man who assured Australia on the morning of American election that Hilary will win, you can take it to the bank. I take no notice of him.

  32. Shine a Light

    You would have to have indulged in at least one bottle of gin to reach this area of mental incapacity. Hopefully, our honoured friend has sobered up.

  33. Nato

    https://newrepublic.com/article/92857/against-identity

    an interesting read on identity, if it’s on your mind, you might enjoy.

  34. Rabz

    I have faith that Sheridan is a purveyor of quality j’ism. I have no real empirical evidence for it, as I never read his columns.

  35. Entropy

    Fisky
    #2537111, posted on October 30, 2017 at 1:54 am
    Abbott’s best friends include Noel Pearson, Cate McGregor, and Greg Sheridan. Then there’s his sister, Ms Forster. What a weird guy he is.

    And yet, those relationships earn him no brownie points from those who if it was, say Rudd, would argue these friendships were cause for idolatry and celebration.

  36. Entropy

    Out of 4 million total births, about 28,000 babies get switched ever year.

    Aren’t little nuggets on extraction, weighed, bagged and tagged immediately? I recall that was the procedure at the hospitals I attended.

    I am suspicious of the milkman though, they offspring all seem too good looking, talented and smart and to be mine.

  37. Viva

    Well I am the daughter of the milkman (and so are my six siblings) although one is convinced she is the offspring of the postman lol.

  38. Viva

    By the way, the point Sheridan was trying to make is that we all every day perform acts of faith without realising it – that the sun will come up, that the car will stop at the crossing, that the ceiling will not crash down on your head.

  39. hzhousewife

    Records are kept for social reasons but mostly they tell a biological story. When they don’t, watch out for trouble.

    This is why I think all Birth Certificates should record the strict biological parents, and whatever else spurious data the “parents” want if they wish as well. But most definitely the genetic parentage.

  40. Ez

    I’m disappointed.

    I was sure Sinc was taking us down a 300-400 word path, detailing all the ways paternity is confirmed, before the turn where he shamelessly mentions how a quick DNA sample at birth could be instantly entered onto a blockchain ledger; then discuss efficiency vs privacy issues, government control of data, etc. 🙂

  41. RAZOR

    From Sparkle Motion

    The comment pulled out in isolation highlights the lightweight intellectualism (ostensibly faith>evidence) that runs through the piece.

    Not sure if you intended that your comment applies to Sinclair. I, for one do so apply it. Sinclairs comments appear to me to place a straw man in view to knock (what appears to be -( cannot read the article)) the case for a belief in a God such as the Christian and Jewish God. Ok, bad example of faith, but there are examples which further Sheridan’s cause. Only recent news out of the Cern experiments is that the fact that matter and anti-matter actually remained separate at the begining of the universe is what allowed the creation of matter. In a maths sense, an unbalance is required to prevent the total destruction of the both. BUT no such discontinuity exists in the evidence from physics. It has been stated that It is thus as valid to have a faith in a God creator as in some failure in the laws behind the universe with the former being more likely.
    I, for one have now wasted some time on a frivilous pursuit. I just take a stand against the concept that if one proves Sheridan’example wrong then you prove the inexistance of creator being.

  42. BoyfromTottenham

    Sinc,

    I’m not sure what specific meaning you apply to the term ‘identity’. Did you mean a legal ‘identity’ or ‘identity’ as belonging to a social group? These are quite different things I would say.
    Regarding legal identity: Having worked on a couple of national Identity Card type projects, I learnt that under Common Law there seems to be no such thing as an ‘Identity Document’ (e.g. a Passport is merely a ‘travel document’, a Driver’s Licence is merely a permit to drive a vehicle, etc.), whereas under Roman Law there is – they are created for each citizen when they turn 16 (iirc) by the parents taking their child to the local police station and registering he or she, whereapon the individual is issued with an ‘ID’ card. Implementing an ID card (or system) in a Common Law country is rather fraught, because to be effective it involves obtaining hard evidence that every person is who they claim to be, which can be surprisingly difficult – think of a child born overseas during civil unrest or war, or an Aboriginal child born to illiterate parents in a very remote area without medical assistance.
    Regarding ‘social’ identity, I won’t go there – too far out of my bailiwick.

  43. DM OF WA

    If the birth certificate of a president of the USA can be forged then surely one can have a reasonable doubt the validity Greg Sheridan’s birth certificate!

    But seriously, it is relatively easy at this point in time to collect a range of evidence to support the hypothesis that Mr Sheridan is the biological child of his parents. The matter could be put beyond reasonable doubt by one or more independent DNA tests. However, no one is actually going to do that; too costly, inconvenient, and lacking consent: illegal.

    But how certain of the truth would we be say, one hundred years in the future? By then almost all physical sources of evidence will have been destroyed. The eyewitnesses will be long dead. Only a few unreliable written records may be available. What was once accepted as indisputable fact will become industinguishable from fiction. Far fetched? Not if you have have any experience tracing family history!

    This is how historical revision begins. E.g. Did Jesus exist?

  44. Damienski

    There is not one picture showing two girls as babies either with Michelle Obama or Barak.

    Didn’t President Obama have a son named Trayvon?

  45. Chris

    Given that Sheridan sold out his religion for the gay ‘marriage’ lobby, I’m at a loss to understand what he has to offer in any discussion of religious identity.

    I think for anyone to work in media again, they have to say this shit.
    Its like Scott Adams backing Hillary, openly admitting it was too dangerous not to.

    (I just bought Adams’ book ‘How to fail at almost Everything and Still Win Big’ – its provoking!)

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