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?

We’re All Conservatives These Days

I’ve always taken the Libertarian Political Compass to be a bit interesting, like fortune cookies and tarot readings. Along with other tests like MBTI and IQ tests, it feels like it might be useful. In fact, it is. It facilitates signals tribal affiliation. Whenever I take the test, I always trend to the lower-left corner, so I can smugly reaffirm my Leftist leanings—if you interpret leanings as up against the wall and on the floor.

When I commented on a forum that I felt that (presuming the X-Y axes of this scale without even mentioning it) Liberals and Conservatives in the United States are each Right of Centre and Conservative—they just want to Conserve different things, someone replied with a link to this video by Halim Alrah. Whilst I won’t comment on his class materialism claim—at least not now—, I do feel it makes me not only double down on my claim but to toss more into the Conservative bucket list.

Besides noting that each aspect is defined in the abstract, he tacitly makes a point with which I agree: all professional and most amateur politics are Conservative: Conservatives want to conserve the 1950s; Liberals want to conserve the 1960s and some of the 1930s and ’40s; Leftist Marxists want to conserve the missed opportunities of the 19-teens, and I suppose the Progressives want to conserve the 19-teens as well. Bully!

all professional and most amateur politics are Conservative

Politics are inherently backwards-looking and fraught with appeals to tradition, each cherry-picking which traditional narrative fits their bill whilst suffering from selective blindness in areas that didn’t quite work out or fit the narrative. Or they want to cash in a mulligan and try again. Or they feel with 20/20 hindsight, they can Groundhog Day the hell out of it. In some hundreds of generations, we’ll be bound to get it right. Even Libertarians and Anarchists cling to ideas of the past. As I’ve mentioned before, I am an anarchosyndicalist, and though that has never been instantiated to scale, it is nonetheless an idea almost two hundred years old. Hardly novel.

I am not a traditionalist, but neither I am not claiming that every tradition is rubbish. But what worked in the past may not actually work in the present or in the future. As the title of a book that I am fond of reminds us, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, so these political armchair quarterbacks are operating on bad assumptions. All are operating on nostalgia and historical reconstructions of what might have been. Perhaps they excel at Risk or Sid Meyer’s Civilisation. Whatever the mindset, it’s taking a rearview mirrored approach.

So, what’s in a name anyway? If Conservatism doesn’t denote anything and only connotes a bunch of old white guys as a synonym for Tories in the UK and Republicans in the US; and where the Republicans and Democrats could both merge into a single Oligarchy Party (or Kleptocratic Party depending on one’s mood)?

In the end, we need a new way to describe the political sphere if we wish to promote discussion and build alliances, but perhaps that’s never been the goal.

Authentic Authenticity

Although I have written about authenticity in the past, I’ve been wanting to delve deeper for a while. I’ve been engaged in a discussion thread, which has motivated me to accelerate. This acceleration has forced some trade-offs, but I feel I can present a cogent position nonetheless. This segment will be more editorialising than academic, and I expect to short-shrift the historical perspective. Perhaps I’ll expand on these aspects in future.

I expect this graphic to serve as a visual reference to abbreviate some typing. Below, I reference the captions of the cards in order.

Self-Oriented Authenticity

Let’s commence with some definition and exposition.

Self

This is the unadulterated core of a person’s existence. The religious might term this as a soul. For those who favour reincarnation, this is the bit that travels from time to time, body to body.

Identity

Identity is a shell formed around the Self based on environmental inputs such as social cues. It’s about perception. Essentially, the goal would be to mimic the Self. There are several challenges to this notion. I’ll return to this, but one of these is identity composition.

Identity Composition

The notion of identity is that it is a composite of various dimensions, each of which is a social reflection if not actively socially generated. Combined, these dimensions constitute identity. Does one self-identify as athletic, intelligent, witty, gregarious, quick-tempered, altruistic, and on and on. Does one have a certain gender identity? What about sexual orientation? Occupational identity? Identities around affiliations of religion or philosophy? Identities related to personae—a worker, an entrepreneur, a day-trader? Mother, father, sibling, coworker, student…

In the end, the picture illustrates that identity is a bundle of particular identities. Presumably, these identities can shift or reprioritise by time or place. You may choose to hide your Furry identity from your mum and coworkers—or your preference to identify as a CIS male with a sexual orientation toward women and yet prefer to wear dresses.

This brings us to authenticity.

Authenticity

Facile authenticity might be thought of as how well aligned your behaviours are with your identity and your Self. According to the mythos, the perfect trifecta is that these are all in perfect alignment—like Babushkas, Russian stacking dolls, neatly nested. This notion has some practical problems already hinted at.

Authenticity Composition

The first challenge is an extension of the identity composition problem. As Identity is multidimensional, so must authenticity be. If one dimensionalises identity into some array from 0 to 6, then in a perfect arrangement, each of the expressions of these particular identities needs to have a corresponding authenticity pairing. Yet this is unlikely.

Performance

In practice, we need to look at how a person performs and compare that to their self-identity. This creates a challenge. How another person identifies a person may not align with their self-identity. We may have no insights into how a person sees themself. This is the reaction we have when someone we ‘know’ commits suicide. S/he seems so happy. S/he had everything. We see smiling depression.

Assuming we have some magic identity lens, we are left with a self-alignment challenge. A person has no access to their own Self, and others have less access still. This is where psychoanalysis fails practically and succeeds economically. They get paid to divine the Self, but that pseudoscience is for another day.

Regarding the illustration, we see a derangement of performances. This is in a lesser state of disarray because the Self is sublimated, but we notice that dimensions 1 and 3 are aligned, whatever they might be. Dimension 0 is off centre, but it somehow remains within the bounds of identity. But dimensions 2, 4, and 6 are ostensibly inauthentic. This person claims to be a vegan, yet is eating Wagyu beef in a teppanyaki house.

And dimension 5 is absent. This person identifies, say, as a musician, and yet plays no instrument efficiently. Whether s/he claims to be a musician or just feels that s/he is a musician seems beside the point. There is no performance. There is no expression.

Summary

Not even a summary. This was a concise download of my current perspective. I hope that it at least provides something to react to. If you have any perspective to lend, feel free to comment below.

Foucault Identity

‘Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: Leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.’

—Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & the Discourse on Language

I am going to take liberal liberty with Foucault’s quote. This is another take on Heraclites’ ‘never the same man, never the same river’ quote. It can be taken as a commentary on identity and impermanence. Effectively, he is taking the position that the concept of identity is a silly question, so don’t bother asking about it. Then he defers to people who insist on it anyway.

To be fair, creating a sort of contiguous identity does simplify things and creates categorical conveniences.

Vendor: ‘Wasn’t it you who purchased that from me and promised to pay with future payments?

Zen: ‘There is no future. There is only now. And I am not the same person who purchased your car.

Perhaps this is where the saying, ‘Possession is 9/10 of the law‘, a nod to temporal presentism.

In any case, some systems are predicated on their being identity, so a person benefiting from that system will insist on the notion of identity.

Clearly, I’m rambling in a stream of consciousness, and it occurs to me that Blockchain offers a solution to identity, at least conceptually. In the case of Blockchain, one can always audit the contents of the past in the moment. And so it carries the past into the now.

If one were able to capture into an archive every possible historical interaction down to the smallest unit of space-time—neutral incident recording, indexing and retrieval challenges notwithstanding—, one could necessarily attribute the record with the person, so long as they are otherwise inseparable. (We’re all well-aware of the science fiction narrative where a person’s history or memory is disassociated, so there is that.)

Anyway, I’ve got other matters to tend to, but now this is a matter of historical record…

Can Metamodernism Sublate Modernism and Postmodernism?

I’ve been hearing that metamodernism is the next stage in the march of history toward progress. Metamodernism will synthesise modernism and postmodernism into something better that before. It’s what’s for breakfast.

I’ve heard about metamodernism in the past, and everytime I review some material I discount it and move on. This time, I’ll react to it. My colleagues in some other online fora have suggested metamodernism (Freinacht) or post-liberalism (Pabst), who see their solution located in the middle between conventional polarities. The attempt here is to adopt Hegel’s dialectic approach, so we’ve got a starting point, an objective, a lens, and a framework. Sounds good. Let’s go. But what are we trying to reconcile?

Ideas attributed to Modernism are

  1. Faith in science
  2. Development and progress
  3. Democracy
  4. The individual
  5. A meritocratic social order
  6. Humanity can recreate nature by virtue of her reason

Ideas attributed to Postmodernism are

  1. Critical questioning of all knowledge and science
  2. Suspicion towards all grand narratives about “progress”
  3. Emphasis on symbols and contexts
  4. Ironic distance
  5. Cultures have been oppressed and ruined by modern society
  6. Reveals injustice in “democratic” societies
  7. Relations create the individual
  8. A multicultural order where the weak are included
  9. Humanity has destroyed the biosphere

Metamodern Ideas

  1. How can we reap the best parts of the other two?
  2. Can we create better processes for personal development?
  3. Can we recreate the processes by which society is governed, locally and globally?
  4. Can the inner dimensions of life gain a more central role in society?
  5. How can modern, postmodern and premodern people live together productively?
  6. How can politics be adjusted to an increasingly complex world?
  7. What is the unique role of humanity in the ecosystems of nature?

Reviewing the Modern List

I want to be careful not to construct a strawman or create a false dichotomy, so perhaps I do have to backtrack to touch on the Modern list.

Faith in science is exactly that—faith—and is not warranted without recognised and articulated assumptions.

The notions of development and progress rely on underlying teleological goals and values that are not universally agreed upon and don’t benefit participants in the same manner and to the same degrees. There are winners and losers.

Democracy is a specious notion that I’ve railed against time and again. This is simply one form of political organisation among many. There is no reason to elevate this form over many others.

Moderns do have an rather fixed notion of what defines the individual. A Postmodern is not very likely to accept this notion except as a snapshot that can only be interpreted within a narrowly defined context.

A meritocratic social order is a Modern concept ripe with metanarrative support.

That humanity can recreate nature by virtue of her reason—notwithstanding the odd use of ‘her, evidently a nod to Mother Nature—, there is a elevated notion that reason is a superior mechanism. I’d extend this to include the notion that many people—not just the elite—are capable of ‘reason’. Yet again, all of this is questionable.

Critiquing the Postmodern List

At the start, I’ll suggest that Metamodernism is an attempt by Moderns to re-established ground lost to Postmoderns under the auspices of reconciliation. This does not appear to come from a disinterested mediator. The constituents of the Modern list look orthodox enough for my purposes, and I wish to spend some time parsing the Postmodern list. These lists don’t appear to be equivalent, as there is more editorialising in the PoMo list. I’ll skip the the first 4, taking them as given.

That cultures have been oppressed and ruined by modern society is quite value-laden. I’d be more inclined toward cultural constructs rely on unspoken metanarratives that leads to unbalance and disrupt the playing field. Employing the term ruin is a hint that the author is a Modern out of their element. To ruin would presume a notion of something to ruin with some teleological metanarrative in play.

That PoMo reveals injustice in “democratic” societies is interesting. First, the quotes around democratic suggests that the author finds claims of democracy to be specious or finds the term is at least at times misapplied. I can’t be certain. In the end, it’s not important because it seems to be acting as an unnecessary filler anyway. I better rendering might be the phrase ‘reveals injustice in societies‘. Full stop.

Relations create the individual feel legitimate. Identity is unnecessary in a vacuum. Although Identity is a dynamic and ambiguous concept. I don’t think this will affect my assessment.

A multicultural order where the weak are included is prescriptive. This, again, is a misinterpretation by a modern. That a Postmodern makes a claim that a culture has inequalities and inequities, it does not follow that s/he is promoting some particular solution—include the weak. Emotionally, this may indeed be the reaction by a Postmodern—perhaps myself included—, but this is not part of the philosophy that points out the discrepancy. It’s an annex.

Attributing the claim that humanity has destroyed the biosphere to Postmoderns is a huge stretch. I don’t believe this is an idea initiated by Postmoderns, and I don’t think this perspective is disproportionality held by Postmoderns over some other cohort.

Perusing the Metamodern List

Now to react to the metamodern list. Having already inspected the list, I’ll point out that every one of these questions has a Modern perspective—the need to construct and resolve over a need to deconstruct and explore.

How can we reap the best parts of the other two?

Ok. The concept of best here is a bit disconcerting since best is value-laden and relies on context, which further relies on some set of narratives.

Can we create better processes for personal development?

Again, what is this person we are developing? What is the telos? Why this telos and not another?

Can we recreate the processes by which society is governed, locally and globally?

This is a binary question, so I’ll assume the author meant more. We already know this answer. It’s yes.

The question this implies is ‘what might it be?’ We already know this answer, too. There are any number of organisations and processes of government, none particularly better than the next.

Can the inner dimensions of life gain a more central role in society?

Where is the inner dimensions idea even come from? Why would anyone even accept the notion, and why give it any preference let alone credence? Not to be a dick, but why give anyone a role? The apparent metanarrative here appears to be democracy or at least participation, but there is not reason to accept this as better or worse than alternatives.

How can modern, postmodern and premodern people live together productively?

Why ‘productively’? This is another Modern notion foisted on the solution. Aside from the productivity red herring, this is a somewhat valid question, though it does elevate the notion of an inclusive society, and there is not reason to accept this as a preference, again, without some underlying metanarrative treatment.

How can politics be adjusted to an increasingly complex world?

This feels a bit emptier that the other list entries. Again, the answer depends on the goals and expectations, so it requires this context.

What is the unique role of humanity in the ecosystems of nature?

Really? Humans need to have a unique role? This is obviously a Modernist-Humanist notion that elevate humans. I could see an argument where humans can be unique but not elevated. Again, what world would that be in? With notions of progress and productivity, it should be obvious that we’re again operating with some underlying metanarratives in place.

So What?

Reviewing metamodernism again, I can see why I forget about it shortly after I encounter it. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder that I’ve trodden this ground before. In summary, it’s painfully apparent to me that so-called Metamodernism is simply an attempt by Moderns to repackage and re-gift Modernism through the same old lens, but I’m not buying it.

Along my quick review of information on Metamodernism, there is a large metaphysical/spiritual element that is quite unlikely to resolve to either rationality or Postmodernism.

I may investigate other flavours of this concept, whether post-post modernism, post-liberalism, but from what I can tell, these are backwards looking toward Classical Virtue metaethical models. Besides having nostalgic value, I’m not a fan.

Mimetic Desire

People influence one another and, when they’re together, they have a tendency to desire the same things, primarily not because those things are rare but because, contrary to what most philosophers think, imitation also bears on desire. Humans essentially try to base their being, their profound nature and essence, on the desire of their peers.

“Mimetic Desire: Shakespeare Rather than Plato.” When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer, by René Girard and Trevor Cribben Merrill

Although I have some reservations—or at least reserve some latitude—, I tend to agree with Girard. Desire is a social construct. Desire is separate to needs. Desires are wants. As accomodated in Economics, we don’t need what we want, but we want what we need. We desire what we need.

we don’t need what we want, but we want what we need

What Girard is essentially saying is that I want what I want because you want it. This is independent of value in an economic sense. Memetically, the value of an object increases relative to the perceiver simply because another person wants it. In my reckoning, I’d separate want from desire or at least elevate desire to a higher degree of wanting.

Girard termed this triangular relationship between subject (you), object (the thing), and the mediator (the influencer) mimetic, to mimic. I suppose some of this might be considered to be memetic, but I also suppose that memes serve to simplify rather than serve as a distinct transmission vector.

circa 2016

My question is—exacerbated during this pandemic—how does this operate in isolation? I consider myself. I am not an ascetic by most definitions, but I am somewhat of a minimalist. My only ‘vices’ are my computer and my guitars. I used to be a professional musician—though most of that was spent on the other side of the console—and I was a Gibson snob. From the perspective of emotional desire, I still am. There is a certain nostalgia, but I don’t play out anymore, and I’m not seriously recording, so I don’t need the same perceived quality of an old Gibson.

Guitarists know that different guitars give different sounds. I’ve owned as many as 10 guitars at a time, and each had its purpose. Some was feel. This guitar was for Blues, this was other for Grunge, and that was for Jazz…and that for Fusion and that for a retro sound. This one had a fast neck, and this one sustained for days. This one was tuned à la Keith Richards, sans a string, to an Open G, and the was set up for Drop C, and of course there was the Standard-tuned one for good measure

Jason & Me circa 2012

Did I need 10 guitars? No. Did I need 1? Not really—not unless I wanted to be a musician, desired to be a musician, so the degree of freedom was l, given this other desire. Having 1 guitar for a guitar player is not the same as a painter with only one colour of paint, but it almost feels like it. It’s certainly a convenience, and it allows players to express themselves artistically.

The question isn’t why I desired a guitar, but why I wanted to be a musician, and of all the instruments, why the guitar—and why did I prefer this genre over that. I’ll admit that my tastes are rather eclectic, but all that says is that I mimic eclecticism or eccentrism. My parents are not eclectic. Most of my friends are mainstream whitebread people—none I’d deem eclectic.

I’m rambling. Just because I don’t remember the source of my desire doesn’t mean there is no source. Perhaps it’s a composite source. I can’t say. Perhaps the outcome I’m naming, say eclecticism, is incorrect, so I am seeking the wrong source.

circa 2004

My point was that I don’t need a Gibson to be satisfied. First, I’ve already owed them, and I don’t have the same performative needs. But I still want to play, and I still want to exercise some artistic freedom, so I still have a few guitars.

To wrap this up, I’ll leave with an unpaid mimitec endorsement of Harley Benton guitars. The last guitar I purchased was this Harley Benton Black Paisley TE70. It’s very fit, and I picked it up for about €200, which included shipping and handling. They are German-built. When I was a kid, a guitar at this price range would have be borderline unplayable and won’t sound shite-like. These aren’t €1,000 instruments, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 5x value differential. They are build solid and have been given extra care not previously seen in down-market instruments. If I wanted to spend another €200, I could upgrade the pickups and for a bit more swap out the electronics to bigger potentiometers—but I won’t. I was planning to splurge and spend €50 on locking machine heads. Nope. Good enough. At €200 a pop, I could afford all sorts of configurations, but even that desire has waned—at least a bit, at least for a while.

circa 1984

Mauvaise Foi

I find the notion of authenticity interesting. I believe that Heidegger was the first philosopher to promote the issue. As I have a contention with matters of identity in general, the notion of authenticity has no foundation in my eyes. As I don’t believe that the notion of identity is valid, it follows that I don’t ascribe to notions of authenticity either—the question is: authentic to what?

Essentially authenticity can be described as ‘being true to one’s own essence or true self’—whatever that might be. Heidegger presents authenticity as a response to our place in the world. An inauthentic person conforms to society and in the loses their own identity in the process to become assimilated into the society.

Carl Jung had a related concept, individuation. This is where a person strips off all of the ego and superego to get to the core of their being, to unpeel the onion, but to find a centre—and to become that true unadulterated self. This is not what Heidegger means by authentic.

To Heidegger, an authentic person remains true to themself within the constraints of society. As with Camus’ acceptance of the Absurd, Heidegger’ authenticity accepts the ‘real world’ as is it whilst retaining with awareness one’s self, even if this is more limiting than Jung’s individuation or Sartre’s freedom with no excuses.

Sartre’s vein of Existentialism contained within it the notion of authenticity. This is in common with other Continental philosophies. According to Sartre, when people hyper-constrain their identities to preclude their larger humanity, they are operating in bad faith, mauvaise foi (eidétique de la mauvaise foi). A while back, a story from an incident in 2013 was circulating on social media, where a Spanish runner, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, assisted another runner, Kenyan athlete, Abel Mutai, who errantly believed that he had already passed the finish line, so he stopped with another 10 metres to go.

The reaction was split—some praising Anaya for his humanity and other chastising him for not following the rules of the competition. These critics are guilty of mauvaise foi, of prioritising the minuscule for the larger picture. In fact, all sports do this. One might argue that all competition does this, but this is a matter of perspective. I think that Sartre’s scope was a bit narrower than this, but I believe it’s not off-point.

Evidently, I am just typing stream of consciousness, and the stream has come to an end.

And so it goes

Diversity of thought

Je m’accuse. I’m such a bad blogger. I haven’t been focusing much lately, but given the recent events around #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve been doing some thinking. A lot has been said about diversity and inclusion—whether for black lives, females, LGBTQ+, or some other class—, but the issue is more complex and dimensional than a problem with intersectionality.

There is something to be said for experiential diversity, and the benefits of virtual cross-pollination may have some advantages, but much of this is superficial diversity-washing, enough to claim a public relations participation award.

I keep Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex close to the top of my mind much of the time, but this is more than just about feminism. It’s about otherism—the otherness that creates outgroups.

In Beauvoir’s parlance, there are men and there are not-men—others. This is similar to Baudrillard’s dog/not-dog distinction but with more intention, so we arrive at an orthodox/not-orthodox pairing.

Taking workplace diversity as a frame, that they accept blacks, or women, or disabled, or some other identified class is superficial because the common thread is an acceptance of the prevailing meta-narratives, not only of Capitalism, Democracy, meritocracy, authority structures, and the like. As long as you comply with this mindset, sex and gender, the colour of one’s skin, or disability is cosmetic.

To some extent, there will be some diversity of thought. There will be some cultural perspectives, some generational perspectives, and some gender perspectives, but all of these are aligned to the overarching narrative.

In the world—in the United States anyway—, it’s OK to be black or Hispanic as long as you act ‘white’ or ‘American’. Speak with a neutral accent. Listen to mainstream pop. Don’t wear culturally identifiable clothing. This will ensure acceptance. In a way, this is a faux pas of Donald Trump. He comes across as vulgar to those who hold this perspective.

The diversity that’s missing is one that would do things differently. When a woman ascends to a CEO position, she has done so by more or less mimicking the path a man would probably have taken, making similar decisions. Ditto for a black. Double ditto for a black woman.

People outside of this narrow path will not ascend. I’ll ignore the question of whether this is even a worthwhile aim, A woman who takes this path may have to break through a glass ceiling, but for those of us with a more diverse mindset, the ceiling is stainless steel—a meter thick.

But this is for more than CEOs. I am a self-aware eccentric, and although I colour within the lines my thought is typically outside of accepted boundaries. Luckily, I’ve had the good fortune to work with the right people in the right environments to capitalise rather than be hampered by this difference. I’ve been lucky enough to operate with relative autonomy because over the years I’ve generally met or exceeded expectations on my own path.

During a review—or at least a conversation—about a decade ago, a manager told me that he had no idea how I operated but that he didn’t want to interfere for fear of breaking the goose laying the golden eggs. I know this was difficult for him to do and to admit because he is a very structured thinker and felt compelled to create repeatable structures (despite ignoring the structure when it came to him—and, thankfully, me).

This same person—whom I admire despite our having different worldviews—also noted that I operate as a director or orchestrator rather than a typical leader. I feel this is spot on. Even as early as high school, I articulated that I did not consider myself to be either a leader or a follower. I was a self-professed adviser, so it’s no surprise that I find myself in consulting and advisory roles. I realise that in the United States, the world is constructed to be more diametrically than it would otherwise need to be, so I end up being a veritable unicorn in most settings.

As those who know me, my first career was in the entertainment field, where diversity is more part of the rule than the exception—though there are still many normies there, too. My ex-wife asked me countless time why I left the music industry, or didn’t stick to academics or activism, each with their own level of interest to me.

The problem is that this diverse perspective is not something a resume can convey very well as there needs to be a great deal of trust, which is not typically in place for new hires, so many, let’s say, organic and creative thinkers, get left out of the equation to the detriment of cultural diversity.

American Exceptionalism

It’s sometimes difficult living in such a narcissistic place. I’ve lived in and out of the US, but I seemed to have settled here for now. I’ve lived on each coast, the Southwest, and the Midwest. I’ve visited all but four states—notably, Wyoming, Montana, and North & South Dakota, so you might recognise the trend.

Currently, I reside in Delaware, but my office is in Manhatten. As a consultant, I am most often wherever my client is. Combined, I’ve lived in LA for well over a decade, my earliest youth was spent in and around Boston. In my 20s in the 1980s, I spent my formative years in Los Angeles, the centre of the music industry at the time, where I was a recording engineer and musician. I had left my roots in Boston with various pitstops along the way to settle in LA, but I returned to Boston in the late ’80s to attend university and grad school. In Boston, I was married and then divorced, an event that gave me leave to return to Los Angeles, where I got married again and relocated to Chicago, where I spent over a decade as well. Divorced again, I relocated near Philadelphia for work and settled into rural northern, Delaware.

To the uninitiated, the US have two cosmopolitan cities, NYC and LA. By population, the third largest city, Chicago, is an oversized farm town. It qualifies as a city on the basis of population, and it’s not a bad place to be, but it lacks the cultural diversity and buzz of a NY or LA. There is none of that in Philadelphia and even less in Delaware.

Donut

The United States are like Australia. It’s ostensibly like a doughnut—empty in the middle, except to say the top and bottom don’t offer much either. So this is not to say that there aren’t valuable things, lessons, and people in these other areas, but by and large, even with the Internet and social media, they are still a decade and more behind.

When I lived in Japan—and I realise that I am coming off as some sort of culture snob—, I was taken aback at how far they seemed behind my frame of reference, having come from an affluent, white, East Coast, family. On one hand, their technology was off the charts and, owing to the exchange rate, it was cheap. Besides the exchange rate, the mark-up was enormous. Americans have no sense of value, and so as much as they exploit other countries, the last laugh is on them.

Americans are not some monolithic entity. There are many dimensions and divisions. To say Americans [fill in the blank] would be disingenuous. To listen to the politicians—especially the ones on the Right, and not just the fringe—you might be left thinking that American are all narcissistic assholes. In fact, this is the same cohort that leaves you feeling that the US have never left the Dark Ages with their religious superstitions.

Much of the country is actually in the 21st Century, but when you try to assess some average sentiment, this vocal minority makes it seem we live in perhaps the fifteenth century.

Roman General Lucius (John Cusack) — Dragon Blade Film

Even behind these anachronisms, there is still a sense of American exceptionalism—or perhaps there was a time that they were exceptional in some bout of nostalgia. You can cherry-pick some dimensions and claim to rank high on the scale but any exceptionalism only happens by adopting a frame. Many who come to the conclusion that the US are or were exceptional tend to fetishise Ancient Greece and Rome as well. In my opinion, it’s indoctrination, but there has to be more than this. There needs to be a certain gullibility gene that creates the propensity to believe these narratives. Without going off the rails, it might be fair to say that this genetic predisposition might have been the reason humans have evolved this far. I’d like to think it’s merely vestigial, but I’ll presume that this is only wishful thinking.

Americans, like most people, have a sense of identity, whether personal or to groups. And like the personae we project as individuals, we have myriad group personae as well. Perhaps there is already a term for this. If not, I’m not going to coin a term now.

Like individual identity, people defend their notion of group identity, and they tend to over-estimate. More than half of people consider themselves to be average or better than average in looks or intelligence and so on. Clearly, this defies statistics, but it is not merely an attempt to assuage some cognitive dissonance; you can come to a defensible position by picking some attributes that might excel (on some subjective aesthetic scale) and then overvaluing these attributes relative to the entire domain. Perhaps a person is taller than average and has been told s/he has beautiful eyes. It would be easy to discount other factors and place oneself in a higher rank due to these two factors. It works like this for national identity.

In the US, they will focus on some economic indicator, argue that it is important and captures broader coverage than it does, and then reference it as proof of exceptionalism. Meantime, the population is being indoctrinated into accepting this narrative, and much effort is spent trying to convince the larger world that this attribute is important.

In this MAGA Age of Make America Great Again, it’s helpful to remember that it never was and never will be great. And that’s OK. It’s also helpful to remember that the ‘good ole days’ are rarely as we remember them in the rearview mirror.

Paradox

How can one simultaneously be an SJW (Social Justice Warrior) and be a non-cognitivist? How can one who doesn’t believe in the notion of identity nonetheless defend it? How can someone who doesn’t believe in the notion of justice seek it? And how can a conscientious objector apply a ‘warrior’ title to his own identity?

(Viscerally, I am an SJW—at least I consider myself so (because I just said so, right?). As a non-cognitivist, in particular, an emotivist (Ayer), an expressivist (Moore), and a prescriptivist (Hare), why should I care? And isn’t this somewhat paradoxical or perhaps hypocritical?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I used to consider myself an Existentialist Nihilist, and I still have a fondness for this particular worldview. In many ways, at a more mundane, pragmatic level, I operate as an Existentialist, but that’s only because, in the realm of workaday political philosophy, one cannot be so ethereal, as it were.

Even though I don’t believe in any higher purpose for humans or life, I still have an urge for survival, and I recognise that no man is an island, that there is safety in numbers. At least this is my adopted metanarrative. I don’t feel that I am some rugged individual. I rely on others, and I’d prefer amicable relationships over adversarial.

I’ve always valued a sense of personal identity and autonomy, but only as an emotional response. I’ve also never felt the urge to control the identity co-opted by others. This means that if you are gay, straight, trans, pan, or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Jesus, Sermon on the Mount

If you are a CIS-male and want to wear a dress or enhance your breasts, it’s none of my concern.

FULL DISCLOSURE
Although I respect a person’s choice to, say, be trans in whatever shape or form, I don’t consider myself to be pansexual, so I wouldn’t presume that I am going to date that person. Whether this is a prejudice or preference, I am not going to argue the semantics.

Anyhoo….

Despite understanding that identity doesn’t ‘really’ exist and in the end, it doesn’t even matter, I will (and do) vocally defend the ‘right’ of a person to express this identity.

So, perhaps also paradoxically or hypocritically, I’ll comment on someone’s fashion sense —and trust me; I am no fashion maven. So just because I won’t deprive you of your ‘right’ to express yourself the way you chose does not mean I have no opinion (positive or negative) about how you present yourself, and it doesn’t mean that I won’t make a joke or make light of how you express. I am not a fan of politically correct (PC) speech, a trend American Liberals are on the wrong side of.

Intersex Person

In the end, there is the space of objective reality and the space of workaday life. For some accident of history and evolution, I have been thrust into a world where I need to interact with people who believe there is more then there actually is and they subscribe to some metanarrative. Unfortunately, unlike Neo in the Matrix, I am not able to cut through the bullshit, and so my dominant strategy is just to play around. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

As an emotivist, I am an SJW because it is visceral to me.

As an expressivist, your sense of morality expressed through mores and customs hold no water, and I won’t abide by the restrictions they impose.

As a prescriptivist, I think that you should share my emotion in the spirit of do unto others…

Interestingly enough (or not), I am a fairly typical (albeit eccentric) white male. My self-expression differs more in my beliefs and speech than in my physical person or attire. Talk to me for more than a few moments, and this will become immediately apparent.