Bah Humbug

Besides being neither a Christian nor a consumerist, I’ve never been a fan of Christmas. The spirit of joy and selfless giving are welcome memes, but they are slogans and platitudes. As an exercise in altruism, giving is rarely selfless. It’s more often tit for tat. Don’t reciprocate giving something to someone who’s given to you, and you’ll see my point. I won’t deny that I witness people in greater joy in the season—some people; neither will I deny the offsetting despair and malaise—the stress of maintaining face and keeping up with the Joneses. The higher rates of seasonal suicides might be a sign.

Christmas is a marketing scheme. If you need something, or if you have kids and they need something or want something that you’d like them to have and can afford it, just get it. Why wait? Why make them wait? It seems pointless and cruel. And this doesn’t even take into account the parents who manipulate their children but threaten withholding at Christmas if they don’t comply with whatever family or societal edicts you are trying to impose upon them.

Economically, gift-giving is what’s known as a deadweight loss. In most cases, the gift of cash allows the recipient to spend it in a manner optimal to their own situation. If they happen to buy the same jumper you would have purchased, then you can feel comforted by your knowing that you would have given the same thing. Perhaps you found the perfect item on some distant shore that they wouldn’t have visited. This is an exception. But a gift from Amazon or Best Buy doesn’t fit that bill.

If I want to give a gift, I will. If it’s coincident with a birthday or a holiday, so be it. But if it’s not, that’s fine, too. As humans in the West, we are already so indentured to too many things to count that we don’t need another fetter. Put up a tree. Put up a menorah. Put up a flag. Put up an Anubis statuette. Unfortunately, the lines are blurred between wanting to and having to.

In the end, Christmas is one performance I’d like to opt out of. Whilst I find that most people are hypocrites, the hypocrisy is trebled during the holidays. ‘Tis the season.

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.

Insurrection Bandwagon

There was a recent insurrection at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. I won’t take any more time discussing whether this is hyperbole or real. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to the solution.

From the perspective of propaganda, it’s been an effective message. It’s gotten Trump haters and supporters to view Trump as a common enemy—some of them anyway. Some people and entities can’t performatively distance themselves fast enough or scapegoat him loudly enough.

Whilst I do feel that much of the hullabaloo is performative, I’m not going to focus on the performative aspect. This serves to amplify, but it’s not the central message. Instead, I’d like to frame this through the lens of René Girard’s mimetic theory of conflict and resolution.

Adopting Girard’s vantage, we can see each of mimetic desire, scapegoating, mimetic crisis, ritual, sacrifice, and culture.

Mimetic Desire

In a social context, mimetic theory is about creating in-groups and out-groups—and intentionally so. Groups have rules, by which membership is governed. Symbols are employed to amplify belonging and compliance. At it’s core, mimetic desire employs mimesis—imitation. Monkey see, monkey do.

Here, society is the prevalent in-group. From their perspective, this is the us of the in-group versus the them of the out-group. Girard noted that us versus them is evident in many contexts—whether in the wild or otherwise—, and it can be exploited. It’s about creating a flag to rally around—in this case literally, figuratively speaking.

The mechanism of mimetic desire is to coalesce the focus on some object. From the positive dimension, the desire is to belong, but mimetic desire doesn’t have to be positive. As in this case, it can be negative. The masses have assembled for a common cause of vilifying one Donald J Trump.

Mimetic Crisis

The insurrection is the mimetic crisis. It broke the rules. It’s unclear how all of the many rules that were broken in the four preceding years were able to fly under the radar. To some extent, the US government is constructed of two nearly equal in-groups. They each belong to the institution of institutionalised government and so-called Republican ideal as an expression of modern Democracy. They share some common beliefs, but this sharing diverges dimensionally and methodologically. The telos are multi faceted, and each group prefers different facets—and the facets desired by the public are different still.

At first—to borrow from Kübler-Ross—, there was denial by the Trump-aligned party of sycophants. These Trump-aligned Republicans (read: Neoconservatives; UK: Tories) were also aligned with the outgroup, leaving them vulnerable to ostracism. Meanwhile, the Democrats (read: Liberal/Neoliberal; UK: Labour) secured the moral high-ground and control of the larger in-group. They painted themselves as the adults wearing big boy trousers (over their Pull-Ups).

Scapegoating

Scapegoating is instrumental in mimetic theory. It’s a mechanism to build solidarity and cohesion through exclusion. Narratively, it operates to distinguish acceptable behaviour versus unacceptable. In almost all instances, scapegoating is an object to project blame.1 The remaining members have received the signal.

Here, we have two entities to scapegoat 2: the insurrectionists and the Instigator in Chief, soon to be ex-president, Donald Trump.

Ritual

Ritualistically, scapegoats need to be bear the brunt of the anger of the in-group and associated friends and family. There are procedures to follow. These rituals play out in the House in the form of impeachment, and in the Senate in the form of conviction. For the uninvited guests, the traditional court system ritual

Part of the outrage is performative ritual. Certain entities are checking the boxes suggested by their PR teams. These same entities had nothing to say for the past four years as they’ve enriched themselves at the expense of the American public and world, but this was the last straw. They vowed to cut off support and funding —until they don’t, but by then no one will be any the wiser. People have both short attentions spans and memories.

There is no requirement whatsoever that rituals produce anything. As hard work is its own reward, ritual for the sake of ritual is all that’s necessary. Rituals needn’t be authentic or heartfelt. Simply mime the parts, and you’re all set. Plus, you get full credit—participation points just for playing.

Sacrifice

One ritual is to sacrifice the goats, but we need only exile the offending members. In Christian lore 3, there are actually two goats—a sacrificial goat and an emissary goat—the scapegoat. The sacrificial goat is, obviously, sacrificed—burnt offerings—, but the emissary goat was released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities. This is the excommunicated, the shunned.

Culture

Where performatism really comes in, is cultural signalling. People and other entities work overtime to signal they are on the winning side. This includes everything from Oscar-winning performances to cringeworthy Razzie-candidates. Those in the public eye tend to go overboard. It’s good to remember that an empty vessel makes the most noise.


  1. The notable exception to this scapegoat-blame relationship is the Christian Christ myth, where Jesus acted as a scapegoat but was without blame.
  2. Trump and the Scapegoat Effect, The American Conservative, David Gornoski, September 1, 2016.
    An interesting article discusses the Trump-scapegoating phenomenon that also mentions René Girard’s work.
  3. Leviticus 16:21–22

Watch Dogs: Legion

I’m not a gamer. OK, so I have been known to play some games, but I’m not very good at them and don’t justify committing any significant time improving my playing skills. Besides, I’m fairly occupied outside of the gaming experience. Part of it, I think, is that games I don’t identify with the experience gaming offers. Driving games? No. Flying games? Nope. Shooting games? Nah. Puzzle games. For a few moments, then naw. Building games? Farming games? Role play games? Not so much. That said, many friends and associates play games, so I remain somewhat aware and occasionally participate badly. My son plays certain games, so I am aware enough to allow for a communication thread in the same way I am somewhat conscious of sports because my brother steeps himself in sports. But in practise, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Marcus Rashford and Alex Verdugo.

All of this said, I come upon a piece from a few months ago. Ultimately, it reads like a philosophy on gaming. In the piece, the author, Austin Walker reviews Watch Dogs: Legion and explains why it doesn’t live up to its meta potential. I haven’t played any of the Watch Dog games and might not ever, but his point seems to be that they had the best talent and could have been edgy, but they didn’t. He offers some possible solutions on the edge, but he leaves a fuller solution to the game makers.

For those unfamiliar with the context of Watch Dogs: Legion (as I was), it’s a collaborative anti-establishment game. It promises to rail against the oppressive, ultraconservative, fascist powers through collective action, but as Walker writes, this activity is performative. In the end, nothing changes beyond some superficiality.

Perhaps, this, itself, is the commentary: Nothing changes except at the margins, but I don’t think this was the intent. Instead, it’s about a place to redirect one’s anger and frustration, except there is no resolution. Perhaps it’s supposed to be more about the journey than the destination, but I’m not buying that either.

In any case, rather than summarise Walker’s work, I link to it to speak for itself. And despite its deficits, it still feels it reserves a space not yet occupied by other properties yet, so a little more imagination could inch it into just the right place.

Ref: https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkdy5y/watch-dogs-legion-review

For the record, the last game I enjoyed playing with friends was 7 Days to Die, which I’ve played on and off since 2013 or so. It’s come a long way since it was first released. Interestingly, it’s still in Alpha—some 8 years later, so I’m not sure what that even means anymore.

Žižek’s Essentialism

So, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole. Again. This time, it’s Žižek. Again. I’ve still not read any of Žižek’s own work, but people mention him often and he is a shameless self-promoter. In this video clip, he responds to whether gender is a social construct. Unfortunately, he conflates gender with sex, and his examples cite transsexuals not transgenders.

sex is about biological sex assignment

To set the stage, sex is about biological sex assignment—the sex category you are assigned into at birth: male, female, or other for some 1.8%. This is a simplistic categorisation: penis = male; vagina = female; both or neither: rounding error. In some cases, a decision is made to surgically conform the child to either male or female and ensure through prophylactic treatment that this isn’t undone hormonally in adolescence.

gender is about identity

Gender is about identity. As such, it is entirely a social construct. All identity of this nature is a function of language and society. In this world—in the West—, females wear dresses (if they are to be worn at all) and males don’t—kilts notwithstanding. In this world, sex and gender have little room for divergence. so the male who identifies as this gender (not this sex) is ostracised.

The example I usually consider first is the comedian Eddie Izzard—a cross-dresser. He’s probably a bad example because he does identify as a male. He just doesn’t wish to be constrained by male role restrictions and wants to wear the makeup that’s been reserved for women in the West at this time.

Žižek eventually gets to an argument about essentialism—so we’re back at Sorites paradoxes and Theseus again. At the start, I could argue that the sexual distinction has few meaningful contexts. For me, unless I am trying to have sex and/or procreate, the distinction is virtually meaningless. For others, only procreation remains contextually relevant. In this technological world, as Beauvoir noted in the late 1940s, strength differentials are not so relevant. End where they are, sex is not the deciding factor—it’s strength.

Žižek’s contention seems to be that the postmoderns (or whomever) disclaim essentialism in favour of constructivism but then resolve at essentialism as a defence because ‘now I am in the body originally intended’. I’ll argue that this is the logic employed by the person, but this person is not defending some academic philosophical position. They are merely engaging in idiomatic vernacular.

I am not deeply familiar with this space, and if the same person who is making a claim against essentialism is defending their actions with essentialism, then he’s got a leg to stand on. As for me, the notions of essentialism and constructivism are both constructed.