March 10, 2011

I Drink, Therefore I Am

If yesterday's post seemed a bit odd, well, perhaps it was. But fiction was my first literary love, and I think there is exploring to be done of the intersection where it meets coffee. That is, since coffee is so omnipresent in our society, consumed by most every person most every day, those contexts are ripe for exploitation in fictional scenarios.

But that's enough about that, for now. I'm interested today in the matter of identity. Specifically, I'm interested in the matter of self-identity, how one sees and defines one's self.

If it's true that the majority of Americans do drink coffee, and that some plurality profess enjoyment of it, then it probably follows that we might call that same number "coffee drinkers". Technically, it's correct. They are consumers of coffee, so the label fits.

But whether we might call them that - while important, generally - is not terribly relevant to this specific conversation. They drink coffee, and so we might call them coffee drinkers - but would they self-identify as such? That is, if we asked them to list defining characteristics, would coffee consumption make the top ten? Top five? Would it ever be mentioned?

The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends on the person, and not simply whether they drink coffee, but how much a part of their day it is. This can have to do with chronology, but I think self-imposed significance is more important here. If a daily jaunt by Starbucks is the highlight of your day, then it probably doesn't matter that you don't park there for three hours.

That's the tricky thing about self-identification. Since it's that one person doing it, it's entirely subjective, based on nothing more than some self-image and fickle influences thereon.

Were I to take the Orwellian track, I might use this as evidence against the very idea of self-identification. That is, since it's only one person's opinion - and not a very credible opinion, frankly - it is basically irrelevant. What matters is how people perceive you. Granted, an individual has some room to influence this perception, but it is hardly a choice.

Now, let's take a step back, and exhale. That's a bit all over the place, and truthfully, you could run yourself in circles ad infinitum.

The answer might be as simple as this: It's self-identity; you get to choose. Having evidence to support that choice helps, of course, but it's not a prerequisite for making the choice.

But that seems an unsatisfactory answer, given all the verbal wrangling it took to get there. But I think, in this case at least, it makes sense. Coffee, omnipresent though it is, is viewed by most as a mundane necessity. Calling one's self a coffee drinker is, in some ways, akin to labeling one's self a food eater. It almost goes without saying; so indeed, why say it?

When you feel that you ought to, basically. And if you feel that it's important enough to mention, then you're probably right. I'm generally all for objective criteria, but not in this case.

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