THE METAMODERN IDENTITY PROJECT
From the Publisher
Image (top) from Björk, “All is Full of Love”
THE UNDERSTANDING OF IDENTITY IN METAMODERN CULTURETo my friends from all cultures and lifestyles: When did we make the societal leap from our friends into those specific kinds of friends? As a child I can remember meeting my first African American kid. We hadn’t been taught there was a difference beyond skin color yet, not until we got a little older. It didn’t matter what color anybody was; it was cool to be different. When did all that change? How did my friend coming over for dinner become my black or gay friend coming over for dinner? Why do we feel compelled to justify that dynamic by politely seeking approval?
It is important to note that according to evolutionary science, in the centuries to come most of the population on Earth will come to look like Brazilians. Sexual identity issues have been around since the dawn of man. It’s only now that we’re finally beginning to engage the concept in a forcibly civil manner.
Identity Crisis begins a series of essays and perspectives focusing on gender and racial issues that we as an emerging society are accountable to. We attempt to be politically correct by acknowledging our differences while accepting and including them. To appreciate the differences is to recognize the differences. In opening a dialogue between all races, genders, religions and cultures we hope to engage one primary question that’s often avoided, but always present at the core of the identity vortex.
QUESTION: “Are not the public policy initiatives and pro-active mindsets behind how we recognize, accept and include those differences; the same social mechanisms that will ultimately continue to keep us separate?”
UNDERSTANDING THE PARADIGMS OF IDENTITY
John Howard Griffin, left in New Orleans in 1959, asked what “adjustments” a white man would have to make if he were black. (Don Rutledge). “Late in 1959, in New Orleans, a shoe-shine man suffered a sense of déjà vu. He was certain he’d shined these shoes before, and for a man about as tall and broad-shouldered. But that man had been white. (From the Smithsonian)
Racial, sexual and cultural discrimination (nationalism) have always been at the root of America’s societal issues. We have come to expect through the numbing effects of commercial and social media, the non-stop dystopian violence and psychological abuse permeating our info-matrix boxes daily. Black Lives Matter is generating heated discourse. The factions are choosing sides and many of us are getting caught in the middle, frustrated with walking on eggshells every step of the way. Much of this divisiveness can be neutralized by taking a step back and observing human behavior through history. The first step to solving a problem is to isolate it. We never isolate it. We bicker and divide within the two-dimensional dialectic always overlooking the bigger sociological picture; the documented and repeated historic causes and effects that have led to our perspectives on race, discrimination, segregation and entitlement today.
The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of Its Troubles, by Richard Rothstein
IDENTITY CRISIS: THE QUEST TO FIND OURSELVES
By Peter Alexander
Until recently, the importance of identity in our culture has presented itself most often as a matter of one’s credit cards: grandmothers worrying their hands into knitting mittens over online financial bogeymen. With the cover of Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner cast into a different light the question of identity and who we truly are, both as individuals and as a society.
Image from Vanity Fair
Caitlyn was born Bruce, and in 1976, won the gold medal in the men’s decathlon (right). She has procreated with women and raised children. Yet, by her own account, has never identified as being a man. She is a woman. Her previous behavior constituted a public masquerade and a private lie, one which she has chosen to live no longer. Caitlyn is recognized as transgender, and for her public declaration of this identity in a climate of gender discrimination, ESPN recently awarded her the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. But what exactly are we celebrating when we honor her actions? And what is it to be transgender?
In order to understand what it is to be transgender, we must first define gender in metamodern culture. This proves to be a slippery notion indeed. For the purposes of my argument I will be using the following as a working definition: gender is a socially constructed set of behaviors assigned to individuals according to their biological, sexual composition. One’s gender identity is distinct from one’s sexual identity. The very notion of “transgender” is predicated on this definition; in our culture to be transgender is indicated by the lack of identification with the behavior culturally assigned to one’s biological composition.
This can manifest itself as a biological male who identifies with the behavior culturally assigned to a woman (e.g. Caitlyn Jenner) or vice versa, as well as persons of either sex who do not identify with any particular gender role. Whether or not gender is actually a social construct is a relevant question, but one which I will not address here.
Our progressive metamodern culture celebrates Caitlyn, we celebrate the right of individuals to express themselves as they choose. Rather than live a lie, Caitlyn has sloughed off the expectations of society and chosen to express herself as she knows herself to be truly. In this way, when we celebrate her actions, we celebrate freedom, the most American of freedoms: the freedom to be who we want and live the life we choose. At the same time, we do not celebrate this type of freedom universally, as is evident in the case of Rachel Dolezal.
Rachel Dolezal was the president of the local chapter of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington. She is an adjunct faculty member in the department of African-American studies at Eastern Washington University. On her application for citizen police ombudsman, she identified herself as African-American. For this, the city investigated her for being in violation of their code of ethics and discovered that both of Rachel’s biological parents are identified as white. She has been publicly criticized and, as a result of the negative media attention, she has withdrawn her application and resigned her posting as chapter president. Nonetheless, Rachel still identifies as black.
When juxtaposed, the experiences of these two women bring into question the nature of race and gender relative to identity in metamodern culture. In both cases, each woman’s self-conception and expression thereof stands in stark contrast to the cultural definitions of who they should be according to their biological composition. They live life on their own terms and refuse to repress what they know to be the truth about themselves. Nonetheless, we only recognize one woman’s claim to authenticity. Through these actions are we saying that race is less important than gender? By what principle do we justify the praising one woman and the shaming of the other?
I am unwilling to articulate such a principle here. It is my position that relative to our identities, race is no different than is gender in that race is also a socially constructed set of behaviors assigned to individuals based upon their biological composition. If one accepts this position, then what is shameful is not the actions of Rachel Dolezal but our treatment of her, particularly in light of how we have treated Caitlyn Jenner.
Our freedom to self-conceive is central to our metamodern culture (but not explicit) and to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and reason enough why we should celebrate Caitlyn Jenner. But if we are to declare ourselves defenders of freedom, defenders of that type of freedom, then we must shame the manner in which Rachel Dolezal was treated. If we are truly to give meaning to Caitlyn’s actions, if we are truly to recognize her as a woman, then we must recognize Rachel as black; to do otherwise is to mistake form for content.
IN RESPONSE TO: IDENTITY CRISIS
By Sasha ViasashaDue to my interest in this topic, I watched the Dolezal drama unfold with intense interest. My main problem with Rachel Dolezal is how she contrived to actually benefit from her position as an “advocate”, professionally and financially. She actually used it on forms to receive preferential treatment, to me that’s kind of an ethical issue. some of that’s been lost or buried in the media. It’s one thing to enact blackness, but her case was so problematic because she was an opportunist. People instinctively recoiled from her because they felt she was not operating in good faith. After being ‘outed’ (I would say found out), she told the media that she ‘owed a conversation to her board’. That’s where her head was. Not to the black community. Her audience is clearly white so that says a lot. Telling that it has gotten so much attention, I think she was meant to serve as a warning to those who would presume to cross culture lines, but in general I think she’s a bad example and a bit of a train wreck. I think the trans community was right to throw her under the bus.
I do think there is something essentially different about gender and race. For one, it seems to me that race is historically produced much more so than gender. I know there is a distinction made between sex and gender, but I don’t quite buy into the ideas that there is nothing essential about gender. There are many weak points where this theory breaks down. Storytellers & priests have long enacted femininity. In Jungian psychology the maiden represents the whole psyche. in contrast, race changes and mutates via biological and cultural reproduction, producing entirely new forms, if you will, but the original duality of male/female yin/yang remains. And yet femininity does have its own historical baggage and ax to grind. It’s so incredibly complex, and no matter what stance you choose, contradictions emerge. It’s kind of a fascinating puzzle, but maybe not the firmest ground to build a stable self.
Rachel Dolezal (left). Photo from clarionledger.com
I believe cultural cross fertilization is healthy, normal and in fact the way that civilization has evolved. Both vanquisher and vanquished have always adopted aspects of each other’s culture. I think its natural enough for certain groups to cry cultural appropriation at times but it goes too far. For example, some Africans are now frustrated with Afro punk and those African Americans who wear their native garb. So, those African Americans become cultural orphans in a sense. I think the tendency to police cultural borders is a reactionary one coming from institutional power, those I believe, who are most interested in enforcing differences and preventing both renaissance & rebirth because it threatens their world and worldview.
Though some people are becoming cultural and social orphans, I don’t think the right thing is to demand recognition or to be legitimized, or to frame it as a right. This means assimilation, which amounts to annihilation. I actually believe this is where the greatest possibilities exist. The trans community has been pioneers in breaking this ground, but they are actually menaced in their quest for social approval. I think Jenner is a dangerous temptation, a temptation to sink into middle class respectability and forsake the quest. I believe you sometimes have to undergo social death to forge a new identity. I don’t think social approval or social acceptance is a “right” that anyone has. Safety, yes. Equal protection under the law, yes. But social approval? Social death can be a stress test of authenticity for identity. From social death can come a powerful rebirth.
Joe Haldeman, a Vietnam veteran released a novel in 1974 entitled The Forever War. He engages you with challenging perceptions of the future. It’s a story about a soldier who has, during his four year enlistment, been engaged in inter-stellar combat for literally centuries in relative Earth time. The story takes place beginning in Mandella’s 1997. Here is a partial plot synopsis from Wikipedia:
“Mandella, with soldier, lover, and companion Marygay Potter, returns to civilian life, only to find humanity drastically changed. He and his fellow soldiers have difficulty fitting into a society that has evolved almost beyond their comprehension. The veterans learn that, to curb overpopulation, which led to worldwide class wars caused by inequitable rationing, homosexuality has become officially encouraged by many of the world’s nations. The world has become a very dangerous place due to widespread unemployment and the easy availability of deadly weapons. The changes within society alienate Mandella and the other veterans to the point where many re-enlist to escape, even though they realize the military is a soulless construct. Mandella attempts to get an assignment as an instructor on Luna, but is promptly reassigned by standing order to combat command. The inability of the military to treat its soldiers as more than highly complex valuable machines is a theme of the story.”
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