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The Defining Factor in Humans: Vertical & Horizontal Identities

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The Defining Factor in Humans: Vertical & Horizontal Identities

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Every human that is born is unique. They carry their own personality, culture, mental capacity, physical appearance amongst many other things. Vertical identities are traits and characteristics that children inherit from parents. Horizontal identities are traits that people develop on their own, and are not passed down from parents. Humans are inseparable from the circumstances and conditions that they were born into and cannot choose their own identities. The ability to choose is simply non-existent, and people’s personalities are molded together through a combination of who they are around and where they are. Even though horizontal identities are not always inherited, they are heavily influenced by the experiences someone is exposed to at a young age, which is a direct result of the background that they were born into. Their childhood experiences may revolve around constantly being outdoors, and as a result would influence that child to develop a strong opinion about nature and the outdoors.

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Society and the environment around someone pushes them into conforming to what is deemed as normal, forcing people to not live their life as they choose but due to the circumstances that they were born into. Many times when someone tries to choose their identity for themselves, they are looked down upon or shamed by others, thereby giving particular horizontal identities a negative connotation. Many of the characteristics that define humans are identities that are either passed down through genetics, or heavily influenced by one’s parents. Vertical identities passed down through genes are traits such as skin color, race, and culture that cannot be changed, since they are part of physical appearance and someone’s background. They are an essential part of who a person’s identity as a whole. Vertical identities often play a crucial role in a child’s upbringing, specifically with regards to culture. A child that grows up in a household where both parents are Korean will learn about Korean culture and traditions, regardless of whether or not they wanted to be born to parents who are Korean. It isn’t a choice, it is simply something that is accepted and learned to live with.

Horizontal identities are characteristics that are obtained by someone based on their ideology and belief. It is believed by some that horizontal identities are a way for someone to choose who they want to be and a method for them to express themselves. However, our horizontal identities are heavily influenced by one’s parents, since a child is brought into the world and raised by those same parents. In Andrew Solomon’s article titled “Son”, Andrew was given a choice of color of balloon, and after Andrew’s mother forced him to take the blue balloon instead of the pink one, he believed that his favorite color still being blue was evidence of his “mother’s influence” and that her encouragement “has shaped [his] life”. While Andrew may have had his own ideas about what he wanted, his mother reshaped what he wanted, and that has had an effect on him that has lasted up to present day. This shows that even though someone may want to formulate their own beliefs and ideas about what they want for themselves, in the end it still ends up being influenced by their parents. He tried choosing for himself, but inadvertently took the balloon that his mother wanted him to take.

In Franklin Foer’s “Mark Zuckerberg’s War on Free Will”, Foer described how Facebook “nudges users in the direction it deems best for them”. Facebook, while attempting to show that they are a place where people can go and have freedom, is attempting to manipulate and control its users based on what it believes to be right for them to see. In this case, both parents and social media platforms like Facebook try to encourage people to be themselves and to express their individuality, but deep down they are molding people into what they believe is the best way they should live their life. Human identity is also determined by the environment that someone lives in. Social media is in widespread use in the world of today. People post and share what they believe is relevant and what they want the world to see, and social media companies strive to make users see only what is relevant. Companies like Facebook present themselves “as platforms for personal liberation”, where users are not confined or restrained to express their beliefs, ideas, or what they would like to share with the world (Foer 56).

In reality, Facebook chooses for users what kinds of posts they should see. The posts that someone sees may have a great deal of influence on them and will shape their opinion on the world. Humans aren’t choosing their identities, but it is being chosen for them. Vertical identities are typically “respected as identities”, while horizontal identities are “often treated as flaws” (Soloman 371). In this case, the environment that we live in contains social media, and it plays a huge role in society regarding what is deemed as acceptable and what is not. Someone who is not accepted because of their identity risks being cyberbullied or trolled on the internet. With these looming fears, its easier for someone to accept identities that everyone else in their environment wants them to accept and move on with their life. Home environment also plays a crucial role in deciding what is acceptable versus what is not. If someone grows up in a household where everyone has similar traits and interests, they will not try to be different.

The natural thing to do would be to conform, and to be seen as part of the entire group. If they do happen to try to be different in any way, they risk being seen as an outsider and left by themselves. Regardless of what someone may actually believe, the environment that they live in forces them to live the same way that other do around them, in the fear that if they are different in any way they will be rejected. The same applies on social media platforms. The free will for users to choose is not there. It’s up to the engineers of algorithms to decide what will happen next. Engineers have become “the dominant force in American life” in the sense that since social media is controlled by those who write the code for it, they decide what is right and wrong on their platforms (Foer 62).

With the vast number of people on social media platforms, it makes sense that users simply accept changes and modifications that engineers make simply because everyone else will continue to use social media. Being born into a specific environment shapes the identity of a person, through those that they live around as well as on social media platforms.When people try to choose their own identities, they are typically not accepted well by others. Whenever a child tries to choose a horizontal identity for themselves, many times parents will see that child’s new found horizontal identity “as an affront” (Solomon 371). Parents do not see a new horizontal identity as something good, and do their best to rectify the issue that they see.

A child identifying with a new horizontal identity is shown that it is not something good, and are taught that they should live a certain way that society and their family believe they should live. Children look up to their parents to tell them right from wrong, but when parents shut out horizontal identities altogether, they create a set of rules that the child must live by. Eventually as they grow, if people don’t abide by those rules, then they aren’t accepted by their parents and society. Companies like Facebook work the same way a parent does to a child. Facebook’s engineers control its platform and what its users see. When Facebook believed that it would be a great benefit if more people were to vote, they acted on that by “amping up the social pressures that compel virtuous behavior”.

Similar to how a parent tries to advise their child to do the right thing and tries to steer them in the right direction for their own benefit, Facebook does the same to its users. If someone chose to not vote, Facebook still tried to pressure them into doing so regardless of what the user wanted to do or not. A person has no control with regards to changing the beliefs of every single person around them, so they are not free to go astray and choose for themselves while being accepted. This only adds to the fact that humans are tied to the circumstances that they are born into, and are not able to choose their identities and beliefs for themselves. As you can see, humans are forever bound to the contexts that they were born into. Vertical identities are passed down from parents, and horizontal identities are greatly influenced by the people that someone is around. The environment someone lives in pressures them to conform to what is deemed as normal so that they will not be rejected.

The world of today has social media, which greatly influences the way people think and see themselves, as well as the way that others view them. Humans want to fit in with the rest of the world, and being an outsider or someone that takes a different path doesn’t not give someone the gratification of being like everyone around them. In addition, parents do not typically respond well to children that are not like them, and play a huge role in their child’s identity. After identifying an identity at a young age, parents attempt to fix this “error” that they see by any means necessary.

In conclusion, humans are bound to the circumstances that they were born into since both vertical and horizontal identities are a result of inherited genes, the environment someone lives in, and need to conform to what society deems as acceptable.

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