Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Self-Definition

Recently I read a piece from Disinformation on women who insist militantly on dressing provocatively (AKA "sexily"?) and not allowing themselves to be defined as "asking for it" or for others to define them as "sluts." (They're calling themselves "sluts," much like homosexuals and African-Americans took re-appropriated the words, "faggot" and "nigger." The piece is here, and links to the original.)

For the record, I am 100% on their side. And not just because I like checking 'em out. I do check 'em out. But I think we ought to be more relaxed about nudity. And I have never thought a woman was "askin' for it" when she got raped, just because she went, at 10PM, to a bar with three pool tables, lots of Harleys parked out front, Stevie Ray Vaughan blasting from the juke box, and she wore hot pants, a halter top and heels. Maybe my mom raised her son to think that women should be able to express themselves that way; I don't know. Some critics have asserted that college undergrad women who go to frat parties and drink way too much, then allow college men to come back to their place for more partying "deserved it." No way. It's rape. She is guilty of being criminally ignorant, that's all. Anyway...

[I am well aware of the problem is saying it "is" rape, outright. I know it's at times not that easy to determine "consent." Each incident needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis, obviously. But "just look at what she was wearing" and "she was askin' for it, dressed like that" are never valid defenses, in my eyes. The case must be more about human actions than the way anyone was dressed.]

The playwright Edward Albee caught some flack a few months ago for asserting that he's a playwright who happens to be gay, and not a "gay playwright" or a "gay writer" or a "gay artist." And at first I thought, "What's the big deal?" Well, we know the deal: some of the more well-meaning politically militant in the homosexual "community" (I never liked the term: it implies a balkanization of some sort, and that there is "a" gay community, when I know plenty of gays and they're quite a disparate group, I hesitate to say they're not one "homogenous" group as the term "community" implies, as it might seem like a stab at a lame joke, but there it is.) insist on claiming every talented homosexual in their turf wars of Identity Politics. To be talented and gay and to reject the label of a Gay Artist is, to some caught up in these politics, to put at risk some posited solidarity against the repressive elements of Control. To reject the label is to open oneself to accusations of "false consciousness." Etc. I am also 100% for Albee's right to assert he's a writer who happens to be gay. Or as simply A Writer. Or as a Nice Guy. Or a Dodger fan. Fine!

                                                "But I tell you I am Napoleon!"


From where I stand, I'm sorry it's even an issue. But it is an issue for some. That's a basic Reality Test: when you stop thinking about it or taking it seriously, does it go away? In this case, no. It's part of our collective "reality" and we must deal with this stuff, in some way.

[Caveat: when your "friend" says over and over he's a "stand-up guy," that you can trust him, and then he rips you and others off over and over, it's a different story. For obvious reasons. Then people in his circle will call him "So-and-So the Thief"and he must change his ways in order to be labeled in a more desirous way. When Bush 43 called himself "The Education President" the appropriate response was to laugh and point, and snicker, or feel disgust. You can self-describe all you want, but there's gotta be some semblance of "reality" to it!]

Any democratic, liberal society is, to me, one that allows everyone to pursue their own "identity." To allow some In-Group to be able to dictate how we can describe ourselves is, to me, a nightmare society.

Recently I labeled the Tea Party as "beige fascists." Assuredly a Tea Party member would take issue with this. And then I would say WHY I used the term. And she would counter with something. She's a True American, probably...<cough>

I put the term "identity" in quotes, because I reject the basic Western idea that we have one "self." I just think the idea's wrong, and leads to all sorts of contradictions, puzzles, and problems. (Note well the next time you hear someone say, "I can't believe I did that! What was I thinking?") Hey, maybe it was all that postmodernism I read in the 1990s. I see the one solitary "self" as being a convenient legal fiction in order to assign guilt and "cause." Which seems fairly limited in justice to me, as of this date.

But we do seem to have putative, convenient-fiction senses of our selves as social beings, having to do with the presentation of ourselves in everyday life. And I assume, based on neuroscience and sociology, that these selves are mutable. And I love that! We change over time. We ought to change, or probably something's wrong. And we can get feedback from friends, family, strangers, etc, telling us, "You seem different now." And that's data for us to think with. But only we can say who we are.

I have had it pretty damned easy, being a hetero white guy. And getting to Know Thyself seems ever-more difficult, the older I get. The more I know, the more I find I don't know! Which is...bracing.

Identity Politics has always seemed like a basic mistake to me, but I think I have a deep understanding as to why it caught on so strongly. I see it as ultimately divisive, but I might not see it that way if I were gay, or muslim, or of African physiognomy...

Let us revel in diversity! Vive la differance! (Or however you spell it.)

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