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.

Identifying Identity

“Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.”

— Voltaire

God knows that I am not interested in God, but in the quoted sentence, ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him‘, Voltaire has established a pattern: If X did not exist, it would be necessary to invent X. Identity is a possible X. Time and now are other possible Xs.

I’ll focus on identity. That identity is a social construct may be technically correct, but so what? My position is that identity doesn’t exist, yet people–including me–identify. We search for identities that don’t exist. What I was when I looked is no longer there. And if someone invents a new attribute of identity, we tend to evaluate how we relate to it. Among other things, cognition is a difference engine.

“The mirror is a worthless invention. The only way to truly see yourself is in the reflection of someone else’s eyes.”

— Voltaire

When the concept of race is brought up—as invalid of a concept as it may be—, we assess how we relate to it. Sex, gender, self—it’s all the same pattern.

I’ve written on race identity in the past. Given it’s a fiction for the human species, it’s a moving target even within the realm of identity, a moving target in its own right. In my estimation, race is a conflation of colour, class, and culture—evidently, the 3Cs. So, although I don’t believe the concept of race is valid for homo sapiens sapiens, I still have a sense of what the users of this term mean. Besides colour, which I feel is the primary attribute, couched in this notion is cultural affinity as proxied by national original, another nonsensical notion.

In my case, I was raised as a WASP. My family background is white, Anglo-Saxon (Norwegian), and Protestant (Northern Baptist), so in the US I am afforded privilege. Were I to play it up, I should be able to parlay this into better jobs, better housing in better neighbourhoods, with access to better networks, and on and on. And even though I don’t play that game, I still accrue some of these benefits. Others I eschew. But I have options. This is the nature of privilege.

I don’t identify as white, nor do I identify as black or brown. This mantle is cast upon me. I can deny the notion, but I am helpless. Just as the black person can’t escape being identified as being black, the white person is similarly chained to their whiteness. In the United States, historically, a white person can deny the attribute of white, but simpletons will still consider them as white. But this is not a disadvantage to overcome. Some might argue that with a shifting colour landscape these days are coming to an end, but they haven’t ended yet, to the chagrin of the white folk who want to continue to ride the wave of privilege. People of colour, on the other hand, likely want to see this wave crash (and burn, if that’s possible).

But I’ve gone off the plantation—or is that reservation? No matter. Identity is nothing more than a connected locus of stateless states. It’s an n-dimensional snapshot of everchanging moments. The relationship between identity and identification might be viewed by analogy as the relationship between sex and gender, both social constructions in their own right. As with sex, identity is assigned. Except in rare cases, one doesn’t have the option of denying their biological sex. As with gender, identification is a space where you can self-assess. It’s just as pointless, but it somehow makes us feel better.

As with Voltaire’s quip, if the Self did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. And invent, we do. As with objects in physical space, there is more absent than there, but that doesn’t prevent us from imagining it as real and present. In the end, identification is a heuristic that has survived as an evolutionary fitness trait. For what it’s worth, it affords us the capacity to differentiate between friends and enemies, us and them. But it also can be over-indexed and lead to unwanted or at least unexpected results. The question is how much energy should one expend on identity formation and assessment?

Slotrocket

Being in a band is hard. It’s like being married to a bunch of partners, and if you are a band and not just some cat with some supporting characters, you’ve got artistic differences to consider. This is where I soured on direct democracy.

Slotrocket is the name of one of the bands I performed with. We played under this name exactly once, but let’s rewind to the democracy bits.

Skipping a lot of the details, I played bass in this line-up. It was a 3-piece with a focus on alt-post-grunge-nu-metal, but we all came from different places musically. The drummer came from speed metal, death metal, and maths rock. The guitarist-vocalist came from Classic Rock, Grunge and Nu-Metal. I came from all sorts of places, but I wanted to focus this project on the post-grunge thing. For the uninitiated, this is the likes of Seether, Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin and so on.

We didn’t have a name. Since we only played with friends and at parties and sometimes provided the backing for live karaoke, it was just us. We did arrive at the name of Breached, but it turned out that a Canadian band was already calling dibs on that, so we just let it slide—especially when they released an EP in the vein of early Incubus.

But then the guitarist-vocalist didn’t want to hold both roles. Too much effort. He didn’t care which. In the end, they found a female singer who was interested. It seems that there was a mixup in communication. They asked if I minded if she joined us during our next rehearsal. I figured it was just another live karaoke session, so when I said yes, it turns out that she was now a member of the band. Truth be told, I didn’t think a female would cop the vibe I was seeking. She was no Lacy Sturm or Amy Lee. She didn’t know any grunge material as she was more of a Country gal. But that’s not the story.

The story is the name. We deliberated for well over a month to settle on a name. We decided to create a spreadsheet. We’d all force rank the entries. And each of us had infinite veto votes to kill an offending entry from the list.

Skipping ahead a few chapters, I liked Rapeseed. It was a benign word that sounded edgy. The boys were fine with it. Notsomuch, the girl. There was no particular rush until we booked a gig—the gig. We’d need a name to promote.

I came up with Slotrocket. Again the boys were fine with it; her notsomuch. However, she didn’t veto—later claiming that she didn’t think we could possibly be serious. Since I booked the date and created the adverts, everything seemed to go under the radar—or under the rug.

A bit before the show, I was distributing material and advertising on our media outlets (as it were) and she caught a glimpse of the promo mats. Let’s just say that she was not amused. Still, when the time came, we performed.

OK, so I skipped over some stuff—the months of pouring over a spreadsheet. Our goal was unanimity. The name didn’t have to be everyone’s top pick, but we did need to attain a consensus view. As it happened, two of the biggest decisions came about by accident, and they both resulted in hard feelings.

It’s not that the 3 or 4 of us couldn’t have eventually come to a unanimous decision amounting to all of our first choices, but this would have taken time—and who knows how much.

One may feel justified accusing me of allowing perfection to be the enemy of the good, but that’s just something apologists tend to say, as they defend their preference for democracy.

Descent of Man

Joe Talbert, singer and songwriter for IDLES, shares some of his perspective with us. Cued is a bit on masculinity, particularly the toxic variety.

Interview with Joe Talbert of IDLES

For me, it’s a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but the IDLES bring some of the lost energy back into music. I’m old enough to remember the first Punk wave of the 1970s and the next waves as well as the ripples.

The Descent of Man clearly explains how masculinity as a construct is dangerous, problematic, and … bullshit

Joe Talbert

I’ve always been out of step with my music interests, ability, and availability. In the ’70s, I was raised on the Classic Rock of the day, from the Beatles and Stones in the ’60s, to Zeppelin and Sabbath in the ’70s before focusing more on the likes of Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, and then Allan Holdsworth. In the mid-’70s, came vapid and syrupy, saccharine pop and the nonsense that was Disco. Thankfully, this was disturbed by Punk on one hand and Eddie Van Halen on the other. Then there was New Wave and the Hair Bands.

When I wanted to play Rock in Japan, I had offers for Country. My mates in Los Angles were into retro when I was into Progressive and Jazz Fusion. I did get on a Blues kick for a while, but I didn’t really feel like I could pull it off—some affluent white kid and all. Besides Hair Bands in the ’80s, there was a Euro-synth wave, but I wanted something more complex and experimental. By the ’90s, I finished grad school and was career-oriented. I fell in love with Grunge and post-Grunge, but that was a personal endeavour. I did finally play that in the 2000s as covers sprinkled with originals, but it was a side-gig not designed as a career. That train had sailed. Nowadays, I still dabble, but I’m not all that motivated to compose much.

Anyway, IDLES is refreshing. I don’t critique it as music. It’s not particularly melodic or harmonic. It’s about the message and the energy. There’s a beat that drives, and there is instrumentation and vocals. It’s an experience.

IDLES – Car Crash (Live on KEXP)

But this isn’t about the music. It’s about the notion of normalcy. In this clip, Joe talks about his longing for normalcy. Maybe that’s just normal, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion of normalcy, so I’ve never longed for it. Truth be told, my preference is for people to realise that it’s all a control mechanism.

Joe was influenced by therapy and The Descent of Man by the artist Grayson Perry. In this book, Perry, clearly giving a nod to Darwin’s earlier work, takes on toxic masculinity and attempts to reframe the very notion of masculinity. Like normalcy, I am not interested in gender roles either.

I worked as a statistician for a couple of years way back when, so it turns out that I have a perspective on normal. The problem with the notion of normal is that deviation for normal is seen as broken. Social sciences and pop-psychology have done this. Foucault wrote a lot on this phenomenon. I won’t address his work here.

Joe viewed himself as broken because he bought into the narrative. He feels better now. He feels he’s in a better place. Perhaps this was necessary for him. I can’t speak to that. It’s not a goal I aspire to. Perhaps I’m privileged. I can’t say. For now, I get to enjoy the respite Joe & Co afford us.