Are Identity and Postmodernism Compatible? (What Am I if I’m a Banana?)

A rambling essay that might have some meat on its bones but I’m too lazy to labor over hours and hours of editing to polish this turd any more cause I already got more stupid shit like this to put out.

Conclusion: which do I need more, an editor or a shrink or both?

postermodernism

There’s been a lot of talk coming from the “intellectual right” about the ills of postmodernism and I gotta say much of it is darned compelling. But the more and more you hear about a single thing being the primary harbinger of most (if not all) of what’s wrong (everything from identity politics to political correctness to PewDiePie and the Spring Break ‘Butt Luge’ – if you’re that ideologically driven), it’s always seemed a decent strategy that when most things seem to be going in one direction, maybe it’s best to start looking round at what else is going on and maybe how what’s being vilified doesn’t necessarily explain everything. Maybe it’s worth considering that there’s just a bit of hysteria going on and the reality is that some fancy new kitchen gadget that slices potatoes and carrots and whatnot is more hype than anything that’s gonna significantly alter your culinary efficiency or transform kitchen tedium to delight. Sorta like how creeping Communism was gonna be America’s downfall but look at all the harm capitalism’s done in outsourcing all our blue-color work. We got all eyes on the boogeyman of Ruskies and the hippie culture while the hero’s stealing outta the cookie jar (e.g. destroying the unions and sending the jobs overseas). Ah, shucks.

So here we got Postmodernism being trumpeted out as the Ivan Drago of post-enlightenment thought but the more I think about it it darned sure seems like there’s at least some other ways of explaining things. In other words, things might just be a little more complicated than our contemporary version of dirty hippies and the Socialist Labor Party.

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In rejecting the tautology of absolute social illfullness of postmodernism, my first inclination is to examine society’s shift toward increased political polarization as a symptom of a lack of personal meaning or unified/cohesive identity (i.e. if asked “what are you?”, a fairly simple, somewhat obvious answer might be, “I’m human”. The more complex question might then become, “then given your human existence, what is your purpose?” And from that, I guess the problem is, can there be purpose without identity first?) It’s this form of identity through meaning/identification, which most likely presupposes and might even require a form of (at least accepted) truth or at least definition as a prerequisite. This is what I hope to explore here with full credit given to Jordan Peterson as a catalyst for many of these ideas.

So first – with the full realization this is just the rambling of a Burger Beer drinking, wrestling mask wearing moron –  it would seem there are fundamentals for a society to function as a cohesive/supportive entity for its citizens. Things like: social connectivity, stable economy, stable government, stable institutions for spiritual expression. So let’s break a few of these down. Not only reliable, let’s say, but institutions we can have faith in. Faith that they will support our interests. Let’s go:

1. Social Connectivity: In the digital age (but not necessarily because of it), it sure seems we live more and more metaphorically distanced from one another. Where’s faith to be found in the bond within families when half of marriages fail? And children see and are directly affected by those consequences? How socially connected are when when we can’t name the individuals (parents and children) of the families living in our immediate perimeter?

When we’ve become so disjointed, both immediately (family) and communally (neighbors) and the science seems to suggest that social networks are fundamental to happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction…whatever……how do we blame this disintegration solely or even mostly on postmodernism?

At a minimum aren’t there economic forces at play here? And perhaps even biological (contraception) and educational and psychological? Don’t we have to say that postmodernism as well as economic and  perhaps even biology are all playing their respective parts? And who among us, scholar or layman, know the ratio of each even remotely? But if you tell me you know and I want to believe that I know because not knowing is unsettling, then we can join forces to mutually reassure each other of our rightness, with feels far better than being alone and adrift in uncertainty, right?

2. Stable Economy: How you expected to sleep well at night if you don’t know if tomorrow or next month or next year you’re gonna be able to pay for your kids clothes, let alone their college (even if you’ve got a job next you probably won’t be able to pay for their college). And how might that instability undermine an individual’s  happiness/satisfaction/well-being?

How do we explain this economic instability through postmodernism and not global economics? And no, asshole, that’s no reference to Jews!!!!

3. Faith in government: our choices were Trump and Hillary and enough people said, “fuck the whole thing” to give us Trump (not that Hillary would have been any better, really). And everybody know this. Everybody knows corporations turn the gears of the government as much if not more than the citizenry. So?….the system’s fucked and has been for a long time. That isn’t breaking news.

How does postmodern ideology account for that? How does postmodernism account for pre-post-modern political corruption (e.g. ancient Rome?)

4. Stable institution of spirituality and morality: on this one, a few names and scandals are surely enough.

Names: Jim Jones, Jim and Tammy Fae, Jimmy Swaggart, most megachurch pastors

Scandals: 2010 Vatican Bank CEO investigated on suspicion of money laundering (not to mention the Vatican Bank’s implicated involvement in the Banco Ambrosiano collapse in the 1980’s).

Catholic Church pedophile scandal with thousand of children worldwide knowingly molested while the church simply moved pedophiles around rather than sanctioning them.

So when the churches corrupt themselves, and plenty of folks are left scratching their heads asking, “if we can’t trust them, then what can we trust?” – ourselves (through atheism or agnosticism) or some new-age bullshit or Scientology or astrology? Most of us are too goddamned lazy to hit the treadmill with any regularity, let alone have the intelligence, will and discipline to discover and apply some all encompassing moral code for ourselves, for Christ sake (sorry Nietzsche). And ya can say I don’t rape or murder or steal and I don’t believe in God so, since I can do it and others can too, why do we need religion? Well, maybe not everybody’s as intelligent or as disciplined as you. Look around. Are they? Is it reasonable to expect that they might ever be, no matter how hard you drill it into their heads that they oughta?

Let’s say sometime back in the 17th century, before the advent of bacteriology (not microbiology) there was little way of knowing the source or cause of the village water well’s contamination that was killing people. It coulda been bacterial or parasitic or viral or a fungal or a mold or even a chemical. The science simply didn’t exist to either identify or understand what the hell was happening. But maybe the folks were at least smart enough to observe that people who drank from the well were consistently getting sick and dying compared to those who drank from a farther away stream and began putting two and two together to conclude the problem was with the well. And whether they created some tale about that well being cursed by a witch or one of their Gods, so long as it kept ’em from drinking from that well, a false belief in the “truth” of the witch’s spell was a better than no understanding of the material reality of that well being poisoned by E.Coli – a lack of understanding that, without the superstition, kept them drinking from the well.  So here we got meaning/understanding (bad well) trumping material truth (the empirical truth that the well is contaminated with bacteria).

plague

Now I get how the hyper-rational side will claim:

1. Such silly beliefs hamper scientific progress. The quicker we stop spreading this nonsense of witches’ spells, the sooner we can move on solving the real problem – making the necessary bacteriological discoveries and then moving on to antibiotics. But when we abandon the witches’ spell too soon, we also run the risk people continuing to drink from that goddamned well and the whole village dying.

2. Then there’s the argument that having one village believing in punishment by witches and another believing in punishment and reward by gods of the sun or the moon or water do nothing but inhibit a broader and  nuanced understanding of ourselves and our world. That we are not governed by witches or moon gods and the sooner we all acknowledge that, the better. Then we can begin to forming a rational basis for living and existing peacefully as separate villages with a common understanding based on reality. We can develop systems of morality based on self-evident rationality or experience.

But here’s the problem: we’re mostly stupid. The supposition in this that for most people, reason…not the fear or threat from creatures or deities conjured up through superstition…..will guide the majority of us to better results. But this implies intelligence and will and discipline in an age when we’re as dumb and lazy as ever. When people are pumping their asses full of silicon caulk and believing an orange man is a wise choice for leader.  When people believe the world is only 2000 years old or that it’s fucking flat. A certain amount of the populace bought Pizzagate. Isn’t this testament enough to people’s stupidity? Ages and ages of ongoing stupidity. Being nowhere close to being disciplined toward reason to see beyond that nonsense? We’ve got what?……millions and millions of years of ancestral stupidity behind us and it’s still with us…..and in a lot of ways evolution ain’t found a way of weeding it out. But we think we’re gonna weed it out of ourselves?

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Well, I’m just not convinced. And it’s too bad that when another water well gets corrupted that we’re not at the point of identifying the microbiological cause and the pharmaceutical solution. But if one village blames it on a witch and another on the Water God, then it’s better than having no belief at all which keeps everybody drinking  from their respective poisoned wells. Without the superstition maybe both villages die. With their superstitions, both villages live and eventually prosper and eventually fight over who’s explanations over their respective contaminated wells is right. And they’ll fight and kill but they’ll live. They’ll live to eventually discover some things about microbiology and pharmacology and maybe someday start breeding between their villages.

Now I ain’t saying that when religion works well that it’s a perfect solution, but what I would argue that we’ve not found a better solution yet. And this gets to the point of Jordan Peterson versus Sam Harris about truths, or, at least what I extrapolate from that conversation. And Peterson’s controversial claim along the lines that meaning is more important than matter. I’ll explain my interpretation by means of the example of the contaminated water well.

There’s truths and maybe the truth is there’s no better way to maximally curtail the inherent idiocy of humanity than through their own choice of fear and superstition (you can impose fear through tyranny but that doesn’t seem to work as well as allowing for the freedom of self-imposed fear and perhaps even self-imposed tyranny). The problem is when you got freedom you got the freedom to choose stupid beliefs. But what’s the other choice? Abolish stupid beliefs through tyranny when those beliefs are what folks want? That’s a hard sell.

As Paul Thagard Ph.D. wrote in Jordan Peterson’s Flimsy Philosophy of Life for Psyhchology Today:

“But philosophers since Plato have recognized many problems with basing ethics on religion. First, different religions have different prescriptions, and Peterson gives no argument why Christianity is morally superior to Islam, Hinduism, or dozens of alternatives. Even within Christianity, there is much disagreement among Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons.  For morality to be based on religion, you need to be able to make a reasonable decision concerning which religion to choose.”

But what if choosing that religion is akin to choosing a mode of transportation on both a macro and micro level. On the macro level, given the scale of the economy, world population, etc. the world has evolved into one running primarily on automobiles as the primary source of transport. Now you could argue whether going back to horse and buggy or replacing a significant percent of autos with bicycles or trains or planes would be better. So, though imperfect (as any system will be), perhaps it’s the most practical for solving the problem of getting people and things from point A to point B. And perhaps religion as an ethical framework is similar – imperfect but better than any other solution we’ve found. And once we decided on cars or religion, isn’t choosing Catholic, Protestant, Mormons, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim not unlike choosing Toyota or Kia or Ferrari or Ford? Each got its pluses and minuses. Even choosing between diesel or hybrid or electric or regular gas. You can argue which is better, but the overarching thing is we’re sticking with motorized vehicles. We got nothing better. We’re not gonna keep this economy flowing by going back to trains or bicycles or horses. Maybe the future will bring about teleportation but for now we got cars and maybe until Jesus comes back or Watson gives us all the answers, we’re stuck with religion.

So here’s the greater part of my thesis. When the foundations of a society start to crumble (civil society and our civil relations, faith in our leaders and government and economy and our institutions of moral guidance) what else do you have left but yourself? There ain’t nothing left. Just faith in that Cartesian truth that, “I think therefore I am.” I am a conscious being therefore I can at least have faith in my own existence. And maybe this is the root of our current perverse obsession with identity.

And if a civilization that fails us at almost every level and all we’re left with is ourselves to provide the stability that much of civilization is supposed to, then it makes sense that we’ve got all this gender fluidity and Otherkin nonsense. And Black Lives Matter and Proud Boys and the Alt-Right or the Feminist or LGBT Left and the New Atheists and Evangelicals. All this fucking tribalism and identity politics and trying to find satisfaction in what I might be rather than what I am. In other words, if I’m feeling like shit as mrobins71 version 1.0 maybe if I choose version 2.3 I’ll feel better (sorta like being up to date on your Windows 10 or Android Lollipop or the most current version of Skype).

nuts

You see, it’s a cumulative failing of our social institutions that’s the cause – not something easily reducible to a single, absolute cause (e.g. postmodernism). That’s just bald fucking ideology!!!!!

I got to thinking back to when I was a kid and sorta caught up in the whole punk rock/thrash metal scene. And how much of that silliness carries itself over into today. There’s still “pimp” culture and hip-hop culture and if ya start fucking around with golf or NASCAR (by promoting it to anybody not middle to upper-middle class and middle to lower-middle class white respectively) there’s gonna be some uproar cause essentially these are people’s safe spaces -subcultures or activities in which people feel safe. They understand the rules and what’s going on and they’re mutually accepted for that. But then you go fucking with ’em and people start getting upset because it’s what they know and, by extension, part of themselves. For shit’s sake, I hear there’s even something of a conservative drag queen culture. So it all starts to make sense, ya know…there we go off into these silly little camps…social, political, cultural, religious, whatever and we cling to them more and more tightly, like a life ring tossed to a drunkard spilled from a ship’s deck, as the foundations of a civilization crumble. Cause even if the government don’t look out for me and my parents were too fucked up to set a decent example, at least I know what it means to be punk rock. The punk rock ethic’s pretty narrowly defined by attitude and style and the whole tribe gets it and accepts it and it feels better to be with them than nowhere. It’s stable, which, as a part of it, makes me stable. Cause when the foundations crumble, there’s nothing left but yourself and who and what you are. Nothing left but your identity.  So it makes sense that when the culture you know, “your culture”, starts getting upended with girls starring in action films or driving around the NASCAR track, or those transitioning to female through hormone therapy wanna be part of drag queen culture, or the argument that corporate America bought up hip-hop was some sorta ploy to silence progressive voices while promoting the same ole racial stereotypes of violence and materialism. I suppose you can point to Ice Tea and Ice Cube as prototypical examples that pop culture, corporate America embraces for having played along so well. Anyway, it makes sense that there’s so many causes and sub-cultures for people to rally behind.

But if we’re gonna replace all the traditional foundations with individual and/or group identity, this strategy has problems, at least threefold. First, scattered/incoherent identities.  Second, identity by attachment to not well understood causes. And third, lack of definition for individual identifiers.

So now we go clinging to all these scattered identities…..a pinch of Christianity here and a dash of firearms enthusiasm there and a quarter cup of boiling right-wing politics that means if I’m gonna keep the whole thing from separating…..I gotta somehow reconcile a lust for gun rights with a Christian (just plain human, really) empathy for those that keep getting senselessly killed. And that’s not an easy formulation. It’s like making a pecan pie with too much or too little butter or eggs or corn syrup – too much or too little heat – and what’s supposed to come out nice and gooey comes out a runny mess.

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And the same bullshit goes on on the other side. Like squawking about rights for those that ain’t got enough rights or equality when it’s really about power. But it doesn’t so much matter that the content of the ideology jives. It don’t matter whether the pecan comes out perfect or runny or burnt or tasting like pie crusted shit. The important thing is that you know what you are, the components of that pecan pie….therefore the pie, no matter how foul.

Molecules are composed of functional groups. There’s alcohols and esters and amines and phenyls. And the larger the molecule gets, the more functional groups you attach, the less stable it can become. One bond breaks and the whole thing falls apart.

Then we got identity based on affiliation to some grand cause: pro- or anti-capitalism, nationalism or anti-nationalism, theist or non-theist, etc.

So there’s this video where some guy argues with JBP about activism and “isn’t activism a social necessity” or some bullshit like that. And that by JBP focusing so much on individualism doesn’t mkae much room for activism and you could see this fellas activism was more or less a point of identity to him so it makes as much sense that he’d be bothered to hear that answer as “no.” But that make sense, right?

First, for whatever grand causes or causes that this knucklehead figures he’s go so well figured out that he’s obligated to go on the internet or on the stump in the town square or whatever he’s doing to change is mostly likely absurd. And utterly egotistical. And unless the issues is anything short of utterly incomplex, then it’s close to as likely he’s on the wrong side as not.

Which brings up the question, let’s say there’s some complicated social problem and ideology A would have it painted as black and ideology B would have it painted as white. Whereas a true understanding of the problem is somewhere in between….between say 4 and 6 on a grey scale of 0 to 10. Is this how it gets worked out or not? Of those participating in the debate, there’s 300 pounds of might pulling the issue to the left and there’s 315 pounds of might pulling the issue to the right. As such, stasis finds itself at 6.5 on the grey scale with everybody exerting maximum effort for pull on their side. And then, what if the problem is really at 4.0. Then, in a sense, everybody’s effort is a waste if we’re not at reality (or maybe not since we’re closer to reality than without the countervailing force?). And with everybody on the left exerting all their effort in hope of getting it to 0 and vice versa on the right, everybody’s trying to move things far beyond reality. Everybody’s essentially pulling with maximum effort toward the witch poisoning the well or the water God punishing the village when the reality isn’t even anywhere in between.

Ya see, most folks think they got a bunch shit figured out about the way society and people and all that shit works. But take a simple experiment. Let’s say I got $3000 and average credit and an average job and my car goes to shit so I might need a different one. What’s the best plan?

Spend it all to rebuild the transmission when the car’s already got 170,000 miles on it?  Use that $3000 to lease? Or as a down payment on new? And if new, an economy car or SUV? Or buy used? And what make? Chevy? Hyundai? Lexus? Volkswagen? You see, there’s no clear answer. There’s lots of variables and it’s different for every person. But if you can’t look at your  neighbor and say with relative certainty what he oughta do in a relatively simple situation of this, even taking into account all his variables, the answer isn’t black and white. A lease might be better, with a lower monthly payment and the warranty. But you’re stuck with limited mileage. There’s unlimited mileage on the new car, but a higher payment and you’re stuck with the repairs but at least you’ll trade in value. And then there’s used, which can be a great value, but never really know what you’re getting. And no matter new or used, there’s the question of quality of make versus cost. There’s Japanese cost for Japanese quality versus American cost for American quality. SO if some asshole can’t figure that out with much certitude, how’s he got environmental policy all figured out? It’s pure fucking egoism which ain’t helpful for him or anybody else when he’s tugging on the wrong side of problem with all the confident in the world of the exact opposite.

What he might do is get his ego in check and set the example of how to go about the world humbly, not some over inflated ego fathead. And if we all did that….at least tried….then the world might become a better  place. Better, but not perfect. It will never be perfect. But a bunch of egomania loudmouths squacking back and forth amonth tier tribes is probably a far worse place to exists than a civilization filled primarily with humble beings doing their best to care for themselves and their families and neighbors who are self-aware enough to know they don’t know much. Otherwise it’s just a battle between two tribes of idiots, leading to more shitty governments and institutions that fail us over and over and over…..leaving us with nothing but self which we flick around like a limp dick when we’re left with nothing else. And getting back to the question “what is your purpose?” who do you answer that when civil society and the government and economy and moral institutions and the family structure are so broken?  Is your purpose to serve that utterly broken system? Perhaps we’re awash with nothing to tether ourselves to. And awash in that sea of uncertitude, as long as you’ve not yet drowned, then there’s still you. And if you don’t know what you really is, at least some ideological identification is better than absolutely nothing, which the foundations of society are currently mostly supplying.

Then there’s the other problem: that of specific identities. In a postmodernists utopia I can be anything and for sake of argument I decide to be a banana. But isn’t the the mere decision to be something…anything….predicated on certain truths? The truth or definition of a banana as having a specific composition that’s distinct from say an orange or  pineapple? To accept any sort of identity there are “truths” that must be accepted. So existence or being is predicated on truths (or at least definitions) otherwise shit goes to ooze like that pecan pie with too much butter!!!!! The truth at if I am a banana then I am not an orange. and what I am, regardless of name, is physically, compositionly distinct from any other fruit. and even if not empirical truth, then at least accepted truth, which to deny is just being contrary for the sake of being contrary (nihilistic). and you can identify the peel as the p-e-e-l or get all clever and decide you wanna identify it by l-e-e-p or maybe even something altogether different. or fuck around and say a banana isn’t defined by it’s peel (as it is still a banana when naked and peeled) but it’s the same goddamned thing as a human a human born without limbs. it’s still human.

The point is there’s several ways of considering how identity as a solution to the corruption of the traditional foundations of society might be just as flimsy a foundation.

banana

Shit. What the fuck do I know. Who am I to figure it all out when I don’t even got myself figured out. So what am I? A wrestling mask wearing, Burger Beer drinking “writer”? Well, I seem to know what writing is (but not good writing, obviously). And I seem to know what a wrestling mask is. And Burger Beer. For now, I’ll just leave myself at that.

burger

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