Self-Identity

I readily admit to being provocative, sometimes edgy, and polemic, but not without qualification. I keep coming across Strawson’s work, and I agree with much of it, though I feel he’s an edge case in the eyes of many. Even when discussing Strawson’s views with others, I get ‘the look’, this incredulous half-cocked quizzical glare.

In fact, I am reminded of an online conversation altercation I had recently on the topic of identity, cutting to the chase, here’s the big reveal:

You are intentionally being contrarian for no reason other than attempting to appear worldly and intellectually superior.

All living people have an identity. Every single human being. It’s not a philosophical argument. It’s basic vocabulary. Just because another culture has a different name for it, doesn’t make it untrue.

Out of courtesy I’ll withhold the ‘identity’ of this individual, save to say it is an undergraduate.

I think it’s obvious to consider the notion of identity to be self-referential. I am supposed to have a self with some concomitant identity, and so are you. According to the dictionary definition, shared by the student I engaged with, individuals possess some distinguishing character or personality. This is vague. Presumably, there needs to be some constellation of characteristics to make them distinguishing. I don’t suspect that I’m allowed to be identified by non-distinguishing features.

I’m imagining a Ku Klux Klan meeting somewhere in America. Seeking ‘Sam’, I ask the doorman where I can find him. He knows Sam and conveys that he’s a white guy wearing a white sheet with a pillowcase with eye holes.”

Never mind, perhaps I should have referenced penguins. I suppose that’s why they tag them. Is that their identity. It doesn’t feel right. I’m rambling.

Identity is predicated on the notion of the self. I’m partial to Strawson here, but I think I am somewhere in the middle. I understand that the standard narrative is that we construct a narrative to represent our self. This creates a heuristic. But life is not a story.

The problem with this concept is that people configure this narrative differently. Using video vocabulary as a reference, I can think of several approaches straightaway:

  1. 60 FPS (frames per second)
  2. 15 FPS
  3. Dropping frames

There is a memory component. I can also think of only capturing high-lights, low-lights, or some combination. My event-triggered home security camera system captures certain movement and sound, but different cameras capture different frames under different conditions, for differing durations, at different intervals, and at different fidelity. Moreover, it also captures certain aspects of any given frame.

Add to this false memories and misremembered content as well as conveyed narratives that you include in this composite. Examples from my life are stories I heard my mum telling her friends over and over as I was growing up. I have no native memory, but if I were to reconstruct a sense of self, I’d want to include them with native memories.

Memories of my early life are fragmented, and I don’t remember anything before age 5 or so. And even then, I can recall maybe 2 or 3 events unprompted. If asked if I remember this or that event, I may or may not, and it might be true or not.

I can’t claim the same lack of continuity as Strawson, I do feel that it might be substantially weaker than that of the general public. Just reflecting back top of mind, I remember these select events:

  • Relating my judo lessons to my grade three classmates
  • Being bored to tears in grade four because I had been demoted to a ‘standard’ class and being re-promoted to advanced placement classes when I ‘acted out’ due to shear boredom
  • Being adopted by my stepdad and taking his last name in grade four
  • My mate, Carl, also being adopted and taking an entirely new name—not just the last name
  • Various domestic abuse episodes
  • Choosing the coronet as a grade five school band instrument because my dad wouldn’t allow me to play the drums

After this, I can start to remember more and more, but not significantly so. I can remember certain classmates and interactions, teachers, friends and neighbours. If I stitched it together as a single filmstrip, it would be underwhelming and wouldn’t likely make much sense to anyone else. And who could even identify dramatic effect?

In stop motion parlance, there is a notion of keyframes and tweening. The aforementioned events would serve as keyframes. Tweening is the interpolation between these frames that morph and create the appearance of motion. This tweening never actually happened. It’s only realised during playback. How much of self and indentity are this filler?

At this point, I am thinking that what I am doing is setting the stage to say that the self is incomplete and imperfect, but I am leaving room for its existence. And of course, it exists. It’s a phenomenon, and we’ve labelled it. What more can one ask for?

I’m still trying to put it all together, but my ‘I’ keeps changing. How can I tame Haidt’s elephant?

“The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.”

― Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

What is Consciousness?

This infographic helps to articulate various notions of consciousness. Not much more to add.

I think I am partial to emergent theories, but I favour property dualism over emergent. The dualism employed in property dualism doesn’t feel accurate. It’s not dual so much as it just hasn’t been described yet.

I don’t think that physics can express or descriptively characterize everything that exists.

The Silence of Physics | Galen Strawson | Talks at Google

I want to accept the Buddhist notion, but I can’t seem to not differentiate.

I don’t feel I have enough information on the remainder of these. I could lean on the name and short description, but I feel this would necessarily establish me firmly in Dunning-Kruger territory. There may be even more hypotheses than are captured here.

Identity and Responsibility

Self and identity are cognitive heuristic constructions that allow us to make sense of the world and provide continuity in the same way we create constellations from the situation of stars, imagining Ursa Major, the little dipper, or something else. The self and identity are essentially expressions of apophenia.

Consider this thought experiment about responsibility. Rob decides to rob a bank. He spends weeks casing the target location. He makes elaborate plans, drawing maps. and noting routines and schedules. He gets a gun, and one day he follows through on his plans, and he successfully robs the bank, escaping with a large sum of money in a box with the name of the bank printed on it. Rob is not a seasoned criminal, and so he leaves much incriminating evidence at the scene. To make it even more obvious, he drops his wallet at the scene of the crime containing his driver’s licence with fingerprints and DNA on the licence and other contents of his wallet. He leaves prints and DNA on the counter where he waited for the money. This wallet even contains a handwritten checklist of steps to take to rob this bank—the address of the bank, the time and date. All of this left no doubt about who robbed the bank.

The self and identity are essentially expressions of apophenia.

Using this evidence, the police show up at Rob’s apartment to arrest him. They knock on the door and identify themselves as law enforcement officers. Rob opens the door and invites them in. All of the purloined money is still in the box with the name of the bank printed on it. It’s on a table in plain sight next to the gun he used. All of his maps, plans and, surveillance notes are in the room, too. They read him his rights and arrest him. Things aren’t looking good for Rob.

Before I continue this narrative, ask yourself is Rob responsible for robbing the bank? Let’s ignore the question of whether Rob has agency. For this example, I am willing to ignore my contention that no one has or can have agency. Besides, the court will continue to presume agency long after it’s been determined that it is impossible because agency is a necessary ingredient to law and jurisprudence.

Is Rob responsible? Should he be convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to incarceration? Let’s make it even easier. This isn’t Rob’s first offence. In fact, he’s been in prison before for some other crimes he committed. He’s no first-time offender. Why do you think that he’s responsible? More importantly, why should he be convicted and sentenced? What should his sentence be?

Consider that the money has been recovered, no one was injured, and Rob didn’t resist arrest. At first glance, we might consider both restorative and retributive justice. I’ve purposely made it easy to ignore restorative justice as all the money was recovered. This leaves us with retributive justice. What should happen to Rob? What would you do if you were the judge? Why? Hold that thought.

Let’s continue the narrative. All of the above happened, but I left out some details. Because of course I did. After the heist, Rob returned home and he lost his balance and hit his head rendering him an amnesiac—diagnosed with permanent retrograde and dissociative amnesia. Because of the retrograde amnesia, Rob can’t remember anything prior to hitting his head. Because of the dissociation, Rob has no recollection of anything about himself, not even his name. In fact, he now only responds to the name Ash. (This is where I debate whether to have Rob experience a gender-identity swap, but I convince myself to slow my roll and focus on one thought experiment at a time.)

Because of the retrograde amnesia, Rob can’t remember anything prior to hitting his head. Because of the dissociation, Rob has no recollection of anything about himself

To make this as obvious as I can consider, Ash has no recollection of Rob, robbing the bank, or anything about Rob. Ash doesn’t know Rob’s friends or family. Ostensibly Ash is a different person inhabiting former-Rob’s body. To make it even easier, Ash is not feigning this condition. So, let’s not try to use that as an out when I ask you to reconsider responsibility.

If my experience serves as a guide, if I asked you about your response to whether Rob was responsible and what his sentence should be, you would be committed to your same response and for the same reasons, so I won’t ask again.

What I ask now is if Ash is responsible and what his sentence should be. Keep in mind that we should be able to ignore the restorative element and focus on the retributive aspect. What should happen to Ash? What would you do if you were the judge? Whether your response has changed or remained the same, why would you judge Ash this way?

Here are some considerations:

  • Retributive justice might serve as a lesson to other would-be offenders.
  • The public may not believe the amnesia excuse—even though you, as judge, are convinced thoroughly.
  • Ash does not believe he committed the crime and does not comprehend the charges.
  • Ash was surprised to discover the money and gun and was pondering how it got there and what to do with it when the police arrived at his apartment.
  • If released, Ash would not commit a crime in the future. (My thought experiment, my rules; the point being that Ash was no threat to society.)
  • From my perspective, Ash is a different person. Sentencing Ash is ostensibly the same as sentencing any person arbitrarily.

The purpose of this experiment is to exaggerate the concept of multiple selves. Some have argued that there is no self; there is just a constructed narrative stitching discrete selves together to create a continuous flow of self-ness.

Is Ash responsible for Rob’s action?

I’m interested in hearing what you think. Is Ash responsible for Rob’s action, and why or why not? Let me know.

Subjectification of Foucault

My love affair with Foucault goes way back. Joseph Campbell is said to have spent five years (1929–1934) living in a shack, engaged in intensive and rigorous independent study. In my dreams, I’d spend five years with Foucault, Galen Strawson, and David Guignion.

Michel Foucault is likely the most well-known of these three, and I’ve written a few Galen Strawson-related posts lately, but who the hell is David Guignion? I’ll tell you. David is a PhD philosophy student studying conspiracy theories if his bio is up to date and otherwise relevant. I’ve shared some of his content and insights over the years.

The reason I love David is that he introduces me to contemporary philosophers I had not been aware of as well as material or perspectives on classical philosophers to broaden my horizons. I think it’s safe to say that David and I are both Foucault fanboys. Hell, I don’t even have a tee shirt with Foucault’s likeness, so he’s even ahead of me in that game.

So, where’s this all leading, you ask. And I’m glad you did. A couple of days ago David posted a clip on YouTube called Michel Foucault’s “The Subject and Power”. I was drawn to the mention of Foucault, but I decided not to visit. I get so many distractions on my anti-agency endeavour—and that’s not even accounting for the sheer quantity of research—, and I didn’t need yet another. But the synchronicity was determined.

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I decided that I’d just let the video play as I fell into slumber. Spoiler Alert: That never happened. Topic after topic caught my ear, and it took all of my will to not get out of bed and start reading and writing. But it was almost 4 am, so that worked in favour of remaining supine—though alternately prostrate.

Kumi Yamashita, Building Blocks (2014)

My thesis is that the free will versus determinism or indeterminism debate is not inherently critical to the agency versus structure debate. My position is that agency has little breathing room and no material degrees of freedom to matter. Foucault’s subjectification or subjectivation makes the same argument. In effect, this is an argument about structure over agency. It’s about conscious and unconscious forces to conform. Full disclosure, I identify most as an indeterminist, but in the end, I don’t think it much matters. I disclose this being it may provide a clue as to how I ended up here—of my own free will, it goes without saying.

I’m not going to summarise David’s summary because you can just watch his clip for yourself. But the gist of it is that we are all subjectivised or moulded. Foucault tries to convince us that this is the crux of his decades of teaching, but to me, it still comes down to power—to the pressure that creates these diamonds. Diamonds have no free will; they just become diamonds. And so it goes for humans cum subjects.

Not to come across like Rousseau, but I am still interested in understanding what happens to those outside of this sphere of influence.


Cover Image Credit

Kumi Yamashita

BUILDING BLOCKS  2014
H200, W300, D10 cm
Carved wood, single light source, shadow
Permanent Collection Otsuma Women’s University, Tokyo, Japan

No-Self, Selves, and Self

An idea that Galen Strawson mentions is that of the self and the case of self and selves. I’ll presume he also considers the case of no-self, but I haven’t heard his position on this—at least not yet.

About the No-Self

In the East, Buddhism teaches the notion of no-self or non-self. Anattā (अनत्ता) captures the idea of the everchanging. By this doctrine, nothing is permanent. Any separation from this is merely an illusion. In principle, this leads to the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is suffering
  2. Suffering is due to attachment
  3. This attachment can be overcome
  4. There is a path to achieve this (the eight-fold path)

Life just is suffering.

There are many incantations of this, but these four capture the essence. The points here are that life just is suffering. No one escapes this fate—not wealth nor power—because we become attached to these things. The self (or Ego) is another attachment. In identity politics, people tend to get upset when you don’t accept or at least identify with their self-perception. Personally, I don’t believe in identity, but I understand how it is meant idiomatically, so I can operate in this space.

About the Selves

What Strawson says (at the risk of misinterpreting him egregiously), is we have many selves. We are a composite of time slices. As he quipped, each Planck time moment is a new self. We tend to construct these selves into a single self—I suppose in the manner that a 2-hour film shot at 60 frames a second would consist of 432,000 frames and yet have a continuity analogous to a self.

Self, No-Self, Selves Depictions

About the Self

In the West, the notion of self is as ubiquitous and uncritically accepted as rights, private property, and Democracy. As their Declaration of Independence reads, some things are self-evident. This self is obviously constructed, so let’s look at how these selves are merged.

Selves to Self

Cognitive processes function to stitch these time-sliced selves into a cohesive narrative about ourselves. In fact, it tends to pick out keyframes of memorable events. Strawson posits that there are (at least) two types of people: Those who create these identity narratives, and those who don’t. Given the pressure toward self, especially in the West, it may be awkward or uncomfortable for those who don’t toe the line in this arena. And if you don’t abide to the notion of self, don’t worry, you’ll be burdened with at least one, more likely one per person you interact with—or observed by. As in the US justice system promises relative to legal representation, if you don’t have one, one will be appointed for you. (I’ll spare you another psychology cum pseudoscience rant.)

There are two types of people: Those who create these identity narratives, and those who don’t

Some religions attempt to solve compositing the selves into a self by introducing a soul that acts as a core. In some belief systems, this sole is even able to serve as a core for some future incarnation and some versions of karma carry with it burdens of past lives.

I am partial to the Selves interpretation. Some Gestalt and apophenia—not to be confused with apotheosis, albeit perhaps related—serve to do the heavy lifting. I don’t think that any (or at least many) people disagree with the idea, even if one is partial to the notion of a self, that a person is not the same at 1, 10, and 100. We can identify this person as Sanjit, at each observation, but Sanjit is materially different at each point. We just construct a narrative as in the case of the film frames. I can’t imagine it’s easy for a person indoctrinated into a world of ‘self’ that seriously grasping a sense of ‘non-self’.

It seems, I’m disrtracted and rambling at the moment, so I’ll end here. I think I’ve captured the essence of my thoughts.

Incidental Racism

I am a racist. Well, to the extent that there is only one extant human race but some choose to construct races out of ethnicities, skin colour, and other allele expressions, I am a racist. It’s difficult to escape the distinction that the perpetrators and targets or victims of these fabricated races.

The haters need to create a target group to feel superior over. The do-gooders need to be able to identify groups who have been harmed or historically underserved. Of course, there is a right way and then there’s this wrong way. In a manner of speaking, it’s an easier effort to broad-brush people into race categories. No mind that they have no basis in biology or in science more broadly. These people have issues with science, mainly because they don’t feel fully included in their designation as soft scient and social science. They get pretty defensive when they get called out as pseudoscience, but if the shoe fits. Playing these race games only underscores the pseudoscience charge.

All of this said—or by this tepid definition—, I am a racist. Here’s why.

I am a racist

When I see a person from a designated group, I consciously reflect: that’s a human who’s been identified as an other—sort of like an endangered species, they need to be protected. Sure they can protect themselves, but they need assistance. Besides, they deserve extra attention because of so many centuries of not only neglect but of malice. Perhaps not that person in particular, but since we’re broad-brushing.

Where my racism comes into play is that I’ll smile and nod; I’ll engage in phatic exchange; I’ll hold a door; I’ll recognise them as a person—as a human; I’ll feel a slight boost of empathy and compassion. I’ll see this person as different, whereas without this constructed designation, I’d only see another person. But I’ve been instructed to see them as different.

Growing up around Boston in the 1970s, a time of desegregation and forced bussing, my best friend was a negro. That’s how we labelled blacks or African-Americans or whatever the latest label is. He was very aware of his colour. We’d joke about it as kids tend to do. He was coloured. I was a cracker. To us, his colour (or race, if you prefer) meant nothing to us.

My family were racist, though they’d deny it. To them, Lenny, my friend, wasn’t an individual. He was a part of that larger race construct. Sure, he was an individual, too. He was my friend who played baseball with me and shot hoops in the driveway. But to me as a child, race didn’t yet exist. I hadn’t yet been indoctrinated into the race nonsense. Lenny may have experienced things differently.

Don’t get me wrong, looking back, Lenny did conform to racial stereotypes. His dad was an absent parent, an alcoholic shipworker, who spent more time at the shipyard and in bars. I barely even saw him. His mum was a large woman, who was very nice to me but was frustrated with her lot in life and the lack of emotional support from her husband.

Lenny was the youngest of three brothers, but he had a younger sister, Karen. His brothers were high school basketball stars, as it were, in a suburb. Tookey was the oldest and tallest. His given name was Raymond, but only his parents called him Ray. Steve* was also a football star, who went on to play at Boston University during the Doug Flutie years.

It wasn’t until I joined the military that I learned about race. This was mainly about the people of colour who had joined the military owning to economic necessity and the promise of a better life. This outlook was not unique to what we now refer to as BIPOC. The majority of enlisted personnel were victims of the system they at least tacitly believed in. If I were to be so bold, I’d say there were two flavours, the bitter and the hopeful. I won’t elaborate further.

Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles and was steeped in Hispanic/Latino culture—primarily from Mexico and Central America. Again, I was an observer. I participated with people connected to this culture. I don’t particularly abide by any culture. I don’t view it as important, but this also means that I have no culture to defend either. Maybe that’s a significant difference. If I’ve got no cultural ego to defend, then I am not threatened by other cultures that I might feel as encroaching.

Don’t get me wrong. Whilst I tolerate cultural expression and say ‘to each their own‘, I do find traditional clothing and rituals to be silly or quaint. But so do I find some of this silly in what would be said to be my cultural heritage, whether ethnically to Norway or nationally to the United States. I’ll spare the commentary.

I picked up enough conversational Spanish to get by—mostly phatic speech and politesse—, so if I am interacting with a Spanish speaker, I will use what words I know: gracias, de nada, compromiso, desculpa, por favor, and even pendejo doesn’t go to waste. I’ve also been known to utter merci, danke, spasibo, xièxiè nǐ, or domo arrigato (mister roboto, cuz let’s be honest here).

This is my racism or my sensitivity to culture. To be honest—and why not be honest, am I right?—, this has not always been without controversy. Arbitrarily, I might spam gracias, merci, or domo to a whitebread American. In most instances, they’ll nod and acknowledge the intent and accept it or respond with no problem, you’re welcome, or even de nada or de rien. I’ve even gotten a German bitte in response to a domo, so I suppose I am not alone.

I think it’s safe to say that most Americans know what grazie or merci mean. Perhaps not domo. In one encounter, I said domo to a non-Japanese Asian and was immediately derided with an I’m not Japanese. From her perspective, she may have felt that she had been homogenised into being Asian and she wanted to be identified as whatever her heritage was. She never shared this information with me. Perhaps she was Korean or Cambodian, Vietnamese or Laotian, Chinese or whatever. But she did communicate that she wasn’t Japanese. She might have been under the impression that from my perspective, I saw that all Asians look alike.

From my perspective, I could have as alternatively exchanged a merci. This would not have likely triggered the same emotional response—I’m not French. On the one hand, I felt bad for triggering her—despite that not having been my intent. On the other hand, I didn’t feel I needed to engage her free-floating rage. So I’m a racist.

In my own defence, studies show that people are more able to discern people within their own ethnicity. I’ve shared this story before. When I lived in Tokyo, I was dating a woman whose dad was Japanese and her mum was Chinese. I had met her once, and I was to meet her at a train station. I’d be lying if I told you I had no trepidation about not being able to recognise her in a crowd. My, perhaps narcissistic, consolation was that she’d recognise me being taller and ‘Caucasian’. I can’t really say ‘whiter’ because although I was brought up to identify Asians as yellow (and Indigenous Americans as red), most Japanese were a lighter shade of pale than I (or most so-called ‘white’ Americans) were. I’ve always been suspicious of these colour attributes, but I won’t go even further down this rabbit hole.

In the end, I see colour. I see the history.

In the end, I see colour. I see the history. Even though my family didn’t even move to the United States until World War II, somewhat exempting me from culpability, I still recognise the injustice that still prevails. With empathy, I want things to be better—to be more inclusive—, but cultural homogenisation is not the approach I support. I support tolerance.

If I feel that a certain costume is silly, so be it. I don’t have to wear it. When I was growing up in the 1970s, I felt that my own clothing options were silly—polyester and bellbottoms? No thank you. This is just a preference thing. I don’t like to wear headcovers—hats or caps. Do I care if you wear a headcover? No. Might I think you look silly? Sometimes. Do you want to know what else I think looks silly? Beards? What’s even worse? Moustaches—or as I am more apt to call them, pornstaches. Am I going to judge you are being less of a person because of any of these? No. I could go on and on about my reaction to certain accoutrements, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I have worked and interacted with people who prefer to present themselves in these ways, and these people have risen to the occasion and disappointed in the same ratio as people who dressed like me or looked more like me, so clearly it’s not a factor.

In summary—and despite the fact that there is only one human race—, I admit to being a racist. I do recognise that negative and positive stereotypes exist, as well as I know that these are vague generalisations. I know white people who can dance and Asians who suck at maths. I know Mexicans who aren’t gardeners and Italians who couldn’t cook to save their lives. I even know black people who can swim—but not my friend Lenny; he can’t swim. Sometimes stereotypes happen to encapture a person.


* As I was writing this, I decided to perform a Google search for Lenny. We lost contact decades ago because he adopted Jehova’s Witness religious beliefs that didn’t allow him to socialise with persons outside of his religion, so we parted ways. But I did locate Steve. I reached out to Steve on LinkedIn. Unless I’m mistaken, we probably haven’t communicated with each other since 1978—that’s 44 years— when he went off to college. I always admired Steve, the way we sometimes admire our big brothers. Steve was Lenny’s big brother, and Lenny looked up to both of his big brothers.

Steve responded on LinkedIn. We exchanged best wishes. Maybe one day I’ll ask him about his experience with race. It doesn’t seem to be a topic one can engage in because of the lack of shared perspective and the hot button triggers just waiting to be tripped.

Myselves

Disappointed from the start, I was hoping to have coined a neologism in myselves, but I’ve been beaten to the punch. Although my spell-check doesn’t appear to agree, myselves is a legitimate albeit nonstandard term.

Followers of my content will recognise that I don’t fully subscribe to notions of self or identity, so being a philosopher and linguaphile I am constantly on the search for another way to describe my reality.

Galen Strawson — What Are Selves?

I became aware of Galen Strawson through Daniel Dennett and who I share perspective on in a recent post, Testudineous Agency. In an attempt to better understand his position, I resorted to a Google search and unearthed some first-person narratives. I find I share a certain affinity with him.

Ostensibly, Strawson feels that free will and moral responsibility don’t exist. But he goes deeper. He acknowledges that not only do the concepts of free will and moral responsibility not have shared meaning for unequivocal communication, but even if we parse the terms more fully into free, will, moral, and responsibility, we still don’t come to accordance. More on this later.

In the case of myselves, one of my first reactions was to consider the anti-plural-pronoun application-as-singular-object-reference cohort: It’s not proper to refer to he or she as they and him or her as them—or for that matter, his or hers for their.

As for me—the me interacting with this keyboard in this moment—, the idea of thin-slicing my differentiated selves, nanosecond by nanosecond, picosecond by picosecond—or by femtoseconds or attoseconds. Or why not Planck time slices?  

Just a short post for now. I’ll see where is ends up.

What are women?

I stumbled on Lily Alexandre’s What Are Women vid on YouTube. And despite already being in the midst of a dozen other things, I decided to watch it. Well, I’d been up all night and super tired, so after ten minutes I listened in bed until the end. After a few minutes, I felt compelled to respond on her channel. And then I was awake, so I figured I comment here as well—despite 2 or 3 of the dozen things I’ve got going on are draft posts here.

Lily presented her points well. And save for a few nits, I agreed fully. Getting the nits out of the way, I feel she took some shortcuts by (admittedly) overgeneralising the historical record of European gender history and anarcho-Communist hunter-gather or hunter-horticultural roots. I don’t disagree with the story point, but it’s a disservice to play the same game as the promoters of the primary narratives. Just say something along the lines that there is more about the historical record that we don’t know than we do, but there is evidence of X, Y, and Z. I recommended David Graeber’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Moving on.

I recommend listening to her piece directly, as I am going to editorialise rather than fully recount it. Where she ended up is where I want to start. Adopting a Foucauldian perspective, the definition of woman is only important to those who want to employ it to control women, to gain power over them. Any definition of woman is going to exclude some who identify as women and include some who don’t.

A quick aside: When I was in my young twenties, I loathed being called sir, the polite title. It wasn’t the maleness that this suggested; rather I didn’t identify with the maturity aspect it conveyed. Whilst I identified as a male, neither did I identify as a boy nor a man. Sir tried to impose this on me. At least when someone attempted to label me a gentleman, I could retort that I wasn’t wearing a tophat and tails. Gentlemen, I viewed as Rich Uncle Milburn Pennybags, AKA Monopolyman—monocle and all. Did Mr Monopoly wear a monocle, or was that Mister Peanut? No matter.

Mr Monopoly

As anyone who’s read a few of my posts knows, I don’t really buy into the whole notion of identity. I’m not much of a fan of ranks and titles either, in case you wanted to know.

As I was listening, Lily got to where woman is defined in three words: adult human female. In my head, I’m already arguing against it. Like when watching a horror suspense movie—Don’t go in there! Alas, then so did Lily shoot it down as well. Each of these words is arbitrary. Admittedly, all words are arbitrary by definition, but these words have their own challenges

Adult

In turn, adulthood is defined differently depending on time and cultural place. Nowadays, in the West, 18 is probably the arbitrary cutoff most used. This is the age of majority as far as entering into legal contracts are involved—though people can’t drink alcohol or buy cigarettes until they are 21. And the brain continues to develop past 30. It may actually never stop, though it does shrink after 45, so there’s that. We could opt for a less legalistic litmus in favour of a naturalistic approach. As she points out, we could argue this happens at the onset of menses—but that’s a slippery slope on several accounts. Firstly, some females are precocious and might commence their cycle as early as 12 or 10 or even 8. We’re going to need to return to this litmus for the definition of female, so let’s continue.

Human

As she points out, human is ill-defined, and we’ve got a history of dehumanising people. Don’t get me started on negroes and indigenous Americans. This allows legal systems to simply rescind one’s human card. That’s no woman; she’s an animal—blah, blah

Female

And we arrive as female—the synonym we’ve managed so far to kick down the kerb. Lily didn’t spend too much time here, but this is attempting to tee up a CIS defence—a genetics double-X defence. We’ve already touched on the arbitrary categorisation. The intent here is to exclude. This is Beauvoir’s otherness. Derrida’s subordinate pair to the dominant male term. But we’re not discussing intent at the moment. Let’s regard the definition:

Female / ‘fi meɪl / noun

  1. a person bearing two X chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries, and developing at puberty a relatively rounded body and enlarged breasts, and retaining a beardless face; a girl or woman.
  2. an organism of the sex or sexual phase that normally produces egg cells.

Here, we see the double-X defence, but what about XXY and so on?

We get stuck in a circular logic loop at some point because the definition of female concedes that it is synonymous to girl or woman. A woman is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a…

Normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries may not intentionally be trying to exclude transgender females. Rather, some XX females may have some genetic anomaly, and more probably, some women have their uterus and/or ovaries removed due to medical reasons.

In closing

Words have use, but if the intent of object words is to do more than describe, beware an agenda. As for gender words, I have no use for them. As for sex terms, I don’t really have a use for them either. Detouring to Saussure for a moment, we’d got female, the signifier noun, and the signified.

Parental Advisory

There is one and only one situation where I have any concern about the genital manifest, and that’s when I am performing some sex act—talking Crying Game here. I even admit that this is my own shortcoming, but I live with it. Your mileage may vary. Other than this extremely limited scope* of events, it really doesn’t matter.

Anyhoo, this impromptu post has run its course. Watch the vid yourself, and tell me or Lily or both of us what you feel—perhaps even what you think.

* Limited scope of events: Come on now. Don’t be judgy. It’s not that limited.

The self as a centre of narrative gravity

As with ‘identity’, ‘self’ is a fiction. I’ve commented on this time and again. To be fair, I haven’t done much direct research on the topic. It just always felt a bit specious to me. Yet again, I feel that hubris and apophenia get the best of humans.

And then I am reading Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained—published in 1991 no less. Skimming further, I find he published an article from which I lifted the title of this post.

I’ve long adopted his position on consciousness—well before reading this book some 30-odd-years after it was published—, but to find this was a pleasant surprise.

In a nutshell, the self is a confluence of events. His centre of gravity approach is borrowed from physics. In this television interview, he does the topic better justice than I would.

This is a well-behaved concept in Newtonian physics. But a center of gravity is not an atom or a subatomic particle or any other physical item in the world. It has no mass; it has no color; it has no physical properties at all, except for spatio-temporal location. It is a fine example of what Hans Reichenbach would call an abstractum. It is a purely abstract object. It is, if you like , a theorist’s fiction. It is not one of the real things in the universe in addition to the atoms. But it is a fiction that has nicely defined, well delineated and well behaved role within physics.

Daniel Dennett

Plus, why not hear it from the source?

Before this, I viewed it more as individual frames from a film—appearing to have motion and contiguity but in fact, is an illusion that takes advantage of human sense perception deficits and cognitive gap-filling functions.

Superinstitutional Heros

I’ve never been a comic book guy or into heroes or superheroes. In fact, I have always had a thing for the underdog. This article points out The Batman’s Privilege Problem. I’ve skimmed a few comic books and graphic novels, and I’ve seen a few movies, but I am not really steeped in this space to speak to the nuance—and there is probably a difference between comics and graphic novels, but like I said: not inters. I just don’t identify with most of it. Not the violence. Not the Truth, Justice, and the American way of legacy Superman. But I do sense a privilege problem. Defenders of the status quo. I wonder if comic book aficionados tend to be more politically Conservative.

A quick Google search, and I’m mostly correct. Evidently, Marvel authors trend toward the Right. This article ranks some figures Conservative, Centrist, and Left, although the Left feel more Liberal than Left, and they are all constitutionalists. Apparently, X-Men were born of the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. Still not my bag. Where are the Anarchists? At this rate, I’d settle for a Marxist.

One last mention: this piece points out that even where there are prominent social justice issues raised in one or another comic, the subtext (or overarching meta) is Conservative. This likely creates tension in a manner of speaking, but it creates dissonance for me.

I don’t have much more to add, but the article caught my fancy. It resonated for me, and having not posted for a while, I figured what the hell.